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American Philosophy


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A William Ernest Hocking Reader: With Commentary by William Ernest Hocking, edited by John Lachs, D. Micah Hester (The Vanderbilt Library of American Philosophy: Vanderbilt University Press) (Hardcover) During the early decades of the twentieth century, William Ernest Hocking (1873–1966) stood at the front ranks of American philosophy. The author of seventeen books and numerous articles, he held a prestigious chair at Harvard for more than twenty years and was second only to John Dewey in the breadth of his thinking. Today, however, he is virtually a forgotten figure, and his once-influential writ­ings are out of print. This volume, which combines a rich selection of Hocking's work with incisive essays by distinguished scholars, seeks to recover Hocking's valuable contributions to philosophical thought.

This volume offers ample evidence of the con­tinuing power of Hocking's philosophy to provoke thought and debate. The accessibility of his writings and his emphasis on the continuities and unifying connections among human beings make his work especially relevant in a world fractured by differ­ences large and small.

CONTRIBUTORS: John Howie, Bruce Wilshire, Vincent Colapietro, LeRoy S. Rouner, Tom Buford, Douglas R. Anderson, John Stuhr, John E. Smith, George L. Kline, Robert Cummings Neville.

Predominantly influenced by the positions of William James and Josiah Royce, the American idealist philosopher of religion, William Ernest Hocking was professor of philosophy at Harvard from 1914 until his retirement in 1943. His long life and career as public intellectual calls attention to diverse interests in human rights and ethical foreign policy. He played an active role in seeking United States acceptance of the League of Nations and in the 1920s and 1930s he was especially interested in social and political problems of the Middle East. In the late 1950s Hocking participated in a study of freedom of the press in the United States and was active in support of the United Nations and other political and ethical causes.

His academic philosophy and writings emphasize  the philosophy of religion. The Meaning of God in Human Experience (1912) is his first and principle work that developed the major positions of his thinking.  His scholarly thought is an empirical philosophy of religion, set within the rhetorical conventions of classical idealism, that also claims serious attention to mystical experience. His other professional works include Human Nature and Its Remaking (1923), The Lasting Elements of Individualism (1937), Science and the Idea of God (1944), The Coming World Civilization (1956), and The Meaning of Immortality in Human Experience (1957) that show a abiding interest with the problem of "meaning in experience," of "fact and destiny," that challenges us to go beyond our day-to-day existence and seek understanding in the intuited and reasoned wholeness of things.

Hocking wanted above all to preserve idealism against the arguments of the pragmatists and realists. This rearguard conservation of the ideal was his consistent position during his long career. Hocking stands in the idealist tradition in modern philosophy and refers to his own position most commonly as "Objective Idealism." Even though his philosophical system embodies elements of pragmatism and realism, it is primarily an affirmation of Other Mind, or God, as ultimate reality known directly and intuitively. Primitive experience occupies the knowledge of other selves and the world. It is conditioned by an immediate awareness of Other Mind, as the generative condition of the self. Both sen­sory and emotive experience have cognitive connections for Hocking that point beyond self to Other Mind. Hocking emphasizes feeling as inextricably linked with idea, so that these two are generatively one in immediate consciousness as an "idea–feeling couple." This notion of the union of idea and feeling provides the basis for his innate mystical orientation, however it is a mysticism centrally values the role of intellect in clarifying and correcting intuition and imagination. Hocking’s "principle of alternation" between intui­tion and intellection as fundamental to the appropriation of metaphysical truth in close to Buddhist Mahayana integral visions discriminate knowing.

Because Hocking mode of philosophical discourse was within the idealist mode, the immediate relevance of his thought has been lost to last two generations of philosophers given the predominance of analytic norms of expression. On the face of it his ideas now have little audience that none of his books remain out of print. Frankly his style of thinking and writing fell out of fashion after WWII. As a philosopher Hocking’s orientation has been with metaphysical and epistemological questions in a way that, if cast in a different  nonidealist cant, would have found favor in Continental thinking and  in the recently reinvigorated philosophy of religion.

Excerpt: Striking things happen in the history of thought. The giants of an age can disappear; when they do, previously unknown figures take their place. It would be comfortable to believe that all of this is to the good and that it is always the cream that rises to the top. But neither Hegelian assurances that nothing positive is lost in the process nor Darwinian celebrations of the survivors seem appropriate: the losses are palpable, and the survivors themselves may soon be submerged.

There is no doubt that excellent philosophers occasionally disappear from the scene. Some of them never resurface. The cost of this to systematic reflection is immense; we lose the guidance of outstanding minds and end up repeating their mistakes. The fruit of decades of investigation goes to waste, and we pursue our projects in ignorance of relevant achievements and useful new ideas.

William Ernest Hocking is one of the important and interesting philosophers who disappeared almost without a trace. His disappearance has been so complete that it is difficult for students and even seasoned scholars of the early twenty-first century to believe that Hocking was a giant in the first half of the twentieth. Few philosophers of his day could match his reputation and his influence. His breadth as a thinker was second only to that of the great American pragmatist, John Dewey. Hocking occupied the arguably most prestigious philosophy chair in the United States as Alford professor of Natural Religion and Moral Philosophy at Harvard (1920–1943)—a post previously held by Josiah Royce—after distinguished service at Yale (1908–1914). Hocking was an international figure, admired in Europe and Asia, and he addressed audiences in countries as diverse as Russia and China. His influ­ence extended beyond the discipline of philosophy to theology, education, law, and political science. His work touched on issues both academic and practical, showing careful reflection and significant depth. Nevertheless, by the time of his retirement, Hocking was a philosopher out of favor, and after his death the visibility of his work rapidly declined.

William Ernest Hocking was born in Cleveland, Ohio, in 1873. His father was a homeopathic physician who, soon after Ernest's birth, moved the family to Joliet, Illinois. Hocking grew up with strong religious convictions, regularly attending the revivals held by the local Methodist church. At the age of thirteen, Hocking came upon Herbert Spencer's work, which shook his faith and captivated his attention, focusing his thoughts on evolutionary philosophy. After working for a few years as a surveyor for the railroad, Hocking saved enough money to attend Iowa State

University as an engineering student. While there, he was introduced to William James's seminal The Principles of Psychology, which broke the spell of Spencer and gave Hocking the desire to attend Harvard in order to study with James.

Again taking time to earn the necessary finances for school, Hocking finally entered Harvard in 1899 and, once again, pursued engineering. But he also took a class with Josiah Royce, which so enthralled him that he left engineering to devote himself to philosophy, earning the BA in 1901. In 1902–1903 Hocking continued his philosophical studies in Germany, working with such eminent philosophers as Edmund Husserl, whose phenomenology exerted a powerful influence on Hocking's thought. He returned to Harvard in 1903 and received his doctorate in 1904. After brief stints teaching at a preparatory school and at the University of California, Berkeley, Hocking joined the Yale philosophy department in 1908. Four years later, he published his first—and some think most important—book, The Meaning of God in Human Experience. In 1914, Hocking was hired by Harvard president Lawrence Lowell to help fill vacancies left by the departures of G. H. Palmer and George Santayana. A few years later Royce died, and by 1920 Hocking, recognized for his exceptional scholarship and teaching, was given the Alford professorship in Natural Religion, Moral Philosophy, and Civil Polity, the department's only endowed chair at the time. He held the professorship until his retirement in 1943.

During his years at Harvard, Hocking wrote a number of celebrated books, though none came to match the influence of his first. His primary interest was in surmounting "the problem of modernity," which he took to be the Cartesian view of mind, denying us a genuine experience of others. In the preface to the fiftieth anniversary edition of The Meaning of God in Human Experience, Hocking wrote:

Modernity completely failed to resolve the dilemma of "solipsism"; and with its inability to find an experience of other selves would follow its deeper inability to find an experience of God. I had for some time been of the belief that these barriers could be surmounted and that they would fall together. In my own experience they did; this book is to that extent autobiographical.

Recognized nationally and internationally, Hocking received many honors, in­cluding the presidency of the American Philosophical Association in 1927 and the prestigious Gifford lectureship on Natural Religion in 1938-1939.

After retirement in 1943, Hocking moved to a farm in New Hampshire and continued to write and lecture in philosophy and politics until his death in 1966.

William Ernest Hocking published twenty books and over 250 articles. At Harvard, he enjoyed the company of such distinguished colleagues as Ralph Barton Perry, Alfred North Whitehead, and C. I. Lewis, and was a major influence in the department when Nelson Goodman and W. V. O. Quine were in residence as doctoral students. He engaged such giant twentieth-century philosophical figures as John Dewey and Bertrand Russell in lively debate. Nevertheless, today most of his books are out of print,' and his work is rarely read and almost never mentioned. What happened? Such questions do not admit of simple, definitive answers. Decline of interest in Hocking's work is due to a number of factors, all of them contingent and perhaps accidental. One is growing distrust throughout the twentieth century of philosophical system building. Another is the current dominance of naturalism, leading to the virtually summary rejection of idealistic speculations. Hocking's philosophical approach went out of style in the last fifty years.

More broadly, the continuing professionalization of philosophy relegated the field to disciplinary isolation, with few contacts to other departments or interest in anything beyond the walls of academic institutions. As a man greatly concerned with practical affairs and the relation of philosophy to the entire enterprise of knowledge, Hocking was caught between a past that celebrated the engaged philosopher and the growing commitment to narrowly academic pursuits. The rise of Anglo-American analytic philosophy in the 1950s and 1960s also contributed to pushing such "older" or "insufficiently rigorous" philosophies as Hocking's to the background and, in some cases, off the philosophical map altogether.

William Ernest Hocking is by no means the only significant philosopher to have been forgotten. Dewey was rediscovered only in the last twenty years; San­tayana and Royce have yet to come into their own. Growing excitement about James is offset by Whitehead sliding out of sight; the recovery of every thinker seems to entail the loss of another. Hocking's obscurity is particularly lamentable: the breadth of his vision, his depth on a vast range of issues, his concern for a "passage beyond modernity," his discussions of a "coming world civilization," his devotion to private lived experience and to social relationships demand respect and justify attentive study.

Hocking's system can be characterized as a dialectical idealism, in some respects similar to Hegel's, which develops the deep connections between individuals, com­munities and the world in which they live. The idealism encompasses pragmatic, empirical, personalist, and phenomenological elements, and presents a unified ac-count of "world historical order." Hocking's starting point is human experience, albeit not of the truncated sort acknowledged by empiricists. He believes that ex­perience rightly understood places us in contact with our fellows and with deeper, religious realities. He views human beings in historical and cultural context and yet manages not to lose sight of the essential unity of the human race. Hocking presents a philosophical system that incorporates the positive elements of nearly all previous thought without becoming an eclectic amalgam of prior opinions. His comprehensive vision shows us our place in nature and offers a strikingly complete account of the realm of values.

His expansive yet unified philosophy addresses not only academic thinkers. It

acknowledges the ambitions of those striving for justice and recognition, treats the claims of cultures different from his own with deep respect, and articulates the hope that human conflicts may be peacefully resolved. In a world fractured by differences large and small, Hocking's philosophy stresses the continuities and unifying con­nections among us. Hocking's exquisite attention to "the other" and his unwavering commitment to moral decency make his philosophy particularly relevant today. It may well turn out that this philosophy, beckoning to us from the past, will acquire new life and be adopted by many as the thought to guide their future.

The development of this volume is a mark of the conviction of the editors, the contemporary contributors, and all others who have played a role in bringing it to the public that we would do well to examine Hocking's thought for the valuable insights it offers. The idea of resuscitating Hocking's philosophy was first conceived by SOPHIA (Society of Philosophers in America), an organization devoted to turn­ing the attention of philosophers to issues of everyday significance. In 1996 and 1997, ten outstanding philosophers offered a lecture each at ten universities on divergent aspects of Hocking's thought. These lectures constitute the critical/appreciative portion of this volume. Several of the authors knew Hocking personally; others have come to appreciate him only through his published work. None of the essays is naively eulogistic about Hocking's philosophy. They offer both criticism and ap­preciation as they develop sound appraisals of what is alive, relevant, and of value in what Hocking left us.

The unavailability of Hocking's books and current ignorance of his ideas would have made the publication of essays on his work pointless. It quickly became obvi­ous to the editors that revitalizing Hocking's philosophy required providing a selection from his writings adequate to form a well-rounded picture of their breadth and depth. That is exactly what we have endeavored to do in this volume. We have tried to bring Hocking back to life by offering a representative selection of his best work. Those familiar with his writings may of course find that not all their favorite essays are included here; unfortunate as this may be, exclusion is a necessary part of selection. In looking through Hocking's corpus, one finds such an embarrassment of riches that there is simply no way to include everything one could reasonably want. We hope the day will come when more of Hocking's books will be back in print; for now, we must satisfy ourselves with a judicious pick from his many gems to reawaken an interest in his ideas.

The combination of original texts with critical and appreciative commentary makes this book an ideal addition to courses in American philosophy and provides a more than adequate introduction to Hocking's thought. Anyone wishing to ex­plore his richly nuanced idealism has at hand here all that is needed for an initial yet substantial assessment of its nature and lasting value. The Hocking selections include elements of nine books and three important journal articles. They cover the general framework and many of the details of Hocking's system. Such essays as "What Does Philosophy Say?" (chap. 1) and "Confessio Fidei" (chap. 16) frame all of Hocking's work by setting forth his view of the scope of philosophy and the outlines of his idealism. Chapters 2-5 lay bare some of the features of Hocking's method and the structure of his metaphysics. Chapters from The Meaning of God in Human Experience and Man and the State (chaps. 6–8) bring out Hocking's attempt to "surmount solipsism by arguing for the dialectically constitutive relationship between selves and groups.

Additional selections (chaps. 9–11) focus attention on Hocking's social and political philosophy, showing how his analysis of selves and groups relates to the politics of liberalism and the future of the liberal state. Hocking's philosophy of sci­ence is covered in chapter 12, in an extract from Science and the Idea of God, in which he argues that the deep meaning expressed in Nature and in human life makes any ultimate distinction between the subjective and the objective inappropriate. This naturally leads, in chapters 13–16, to the central ideas of Hocking's philosophy of religion. Discussions of a purposive and orderly world, of religious faith and of God bring the construction of the edifice of his thought to a fitting completion.

The ten essays that form the second part of this volume respond to the ele­ments of Hocking's thought covered in the selections. They analyze, situate, critique, and defend portions of Hocking's philosophy by reference to recent philosophical developments. These essays are living proof of the continuing power of Hocking's philosophy to engage, to stimulate, and in some cases even to convince some of the best scholars of a new generation. We hope that this collection of Hocking's writings and contemporary responses to his thought will serve as an instrument of returning his philosophy to public attention. It is offered to the public with the conviction that we must no longer permit constructive and valuable contributions to the history of human thought to disappear from sight.

Current reprints:

Human Nature and Its Remaking by William Ernest Hocking (Kessinger Publishing)  Partial Contents: Orientation: An Art Peculiar To Man; The Possibility Of Changing Human Nature; What Changes are Desirable? Liberation Versus Discipline; The Liberator as Disciplinarian. The Natural Man: The Elements Of Human Nature the Notion Of Instinct; Range of Instinct; Survey of The Human Equipment; Will; Mind and Body. Conscience: The Interest In Justice; Conscience and the General Will; Conscience and Instinct; Current Fallacies Regarding Sin; Instinct and Sin; Why Men Sin. Experience: The Agencies of Remaking; The Task of Experience; Methods of Experience. Society: Social Modeling; Main Directions of Social Modeling; Ideals and Their Recommenders; Laws and the State; Institutions and Change; Education; The Right of Rebellion; Punishment. Art and Religion: The Public and The Private Order; Society and Beyond Society; The World of Rebirth; The Sacred Law; Art and Human Nature. Christianity and: Pugnacity; Sex-love; Ambition; The Crux of Christianity

Meaning of God in Human Experience: A Philosophic Study of Religion by William Ernest Hocking (Kessinger Publishing) . 620 pages With the general dissatisfaction with idealism, and in our unclear efforts to win elsewhere a positive groundwork for religion, Mr. Hocking found the sufficient warrant for such a study as this book undertakes. it inquires what, in terms of experience, its God means and has meant to mankind (for surely religion rises out of experience and pays back into it again): and it proposes, by aid of the labors of all co-workers, critics and criticized alike, to find the foundations of this religion, whether within reason or beyond. Contents: religion as seen in its effects; religious feeling and religious theory; the need of God; how men know God; worship and the mystics; fruits of religion.

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