Charles W. Morris on Empiricism and the Counter-Enlightenment (Fabricating the “Counter-Enlightenment” Part IV)

The month-long hiatus since my last post can, in part, be attributed to the flood of papers that arrived in the wake of my discussion of English uses of the term “counter-Enlightenment” between 1908 and 1942 and the ensuing holiday festivities. But it also has something to do with the topic itself.

When I started this discussion back in October, I’d planned on focusing on the various errors in Zeev Sternhell’s brief discussion of the term and figured that could probably dispense with the topic in three or four posts. But the history of the concept of “counter-Enlightenment” has turned out to be a good deal more complex than I’d thought.

In this post I will begin by summarizing where we stand and then go on to explore the context surrounding the use of the term by the American pragmatist Charles W. Morris. In a subsequent post, I will say something about William Barrett’s use of the term and, if all goes well, finish things off with a post on what, if any, light this discussion may shed on Isaiah Berlin’s use of the term.

A Quick Recap

To pick up where I left off last time, the term “Counter-Enlightenment” appears four times in English texts published between 1908 (the date of first of the philosopher Charles Gray Shaw’s two uses of the term) and 1942 (when the term was used, in differing ways, by the historian John Tate Lanning and the philosopher Charles Morris). In contrast to the somewhat more frequent usage of the term in German during this same period, the presence of any uses of the English term during the first half of the twentieth century comes as a surprise. Zeev Sternhell’s brief discussion of the history of the term in English assumed that the term first appeared in William Barrett’s Irrational Man (1958), which was (somehow or other) supposed to have been inspired by an earlier usage in Nietzsche (the first post in this series questioned whether Nietzsche’s use of the term Gegenaufklärung had much to do with the subsequent history of the concept). Graeme Garrard’s considerably more careful discussion of the history of the concept cited Barrett’s 1949 Partisan Review article as the earliest use of the term in English. But, thanks to the labors of Henry Hardy, we now know that the term had been kicking around since the beginning of the twentieth century though it was not until Isaiah Berlin’s article in the Dictionary of the History of Ideas that it gained much traction in English.

Henry Hardy

Henry Hardy

Hardy’s research reminds us that those who attempt to establish the first appearance of a term would be well-advised to be cautious. It is possible that there there may be a few other examples to be found in books that Google has failed to make searchable or, perhaps, even to scan. But, in the interest of providing a set of conjectures that other researchers can knock down, I am inclined to think that the pattern of usage that we are likely to find in any future English examples is not likely to differ much from what we have seen in these first four English examples, which tend to echo the emerging German convention for using the term. To review the conclusions we can draw from our earlier discussion:

  1. The term is aways used as a way of characterizing the positions that other people hold, not as a description of beliefs held by the individuals using the term.
  2. The beliefs that can count as examples of “counter-Enlightenment” thought are as various as the different understandings of what constitutes “enlightenment.” While German historians of philosophy used the term to refer to those thinkers (e.g., members of the romantic movement) who they see as opposed to “the Enlightenment,” the term was also employed by nineteenth- and early twentieth-century German opponents of “the Enlightenment” as a pejorative for beliefs that we now typically associate with “the Enlightenment.”1
  3. Though subsequent German uses of the term (and all of the English examples I have found) associate the term with the opponents of what eventually came (first in German and subsequently in English) to be called “the Enlightenment,” there remains an ambiguity in the way in which the term is used: it can function either as a characterization of views that were held in an earlier period (e.g., during the “Romantic Age”) or as a way of describing a continuing opposition to the continuing project of the Enlightenment.

This last point can be seen in the two English examples from 1942. In his discussion of opposition to Enlightenment idea in eighteenth-century Latin America, Lanning was engaged in the historian’s task of exploring the ways in which ideas were appropriated during another period. But the “counter-Enlightenment” that figures in Charles W. Morris’s contribution to the second meeting of the Conference on Science, Religion, and Philosophy is not something that resides in the past; it is a present threat.

Charles W. Morris contra Scholasticism

Though not particularly well-known today, in 1942 Charles W. Morris (1901-1979)

Charles W. Morris

Charles W. Morris

was a figure of some significance in American philosophy.2 Trained at the University of Chicago by George Herbert Mead (whose Mind, Self, and Society he would later edit), he taught briefly at Rice University before returning to Chicago in 1931, where he remained until 1958.3 During the 1930s he was closely involved with representatives of the Vienna Circle, particularly Otto Neurath and Rudolf Carnap, and collaborated with them in the editing of the International Encyclopedia of Unified Science. Though his reputation (such as it is) rests chiefly on his early work on the theory of signs — including his Foundations of the Theory of Signs (1938) and Signs, Language, and Behavior (1946) — in the early 1940s he was beginning to produce a a series of works aimed at a general audience, including his 1942 Paths of Life: Preface to a World Religion.4

The concerns that would inform Paths of Life loom large in “Empiricism, Religion, and Democracy,” the paper Morris delivered in September 1941 to the Conference on Science, Religion, and Philosophy. It opened by drawing a parallel to certain earlier struggles:

Auguste Comte once remarked that the ultimate conflict in philosophy would be between positivism and scholasticism. The scholastics, or at least some who speak in their name, seem to be willing to force the issue into these terms. The more intemperate among them wish to ascribe the dislocations of contemporary culture to the spread of the empirical temper of mind; the more diplomatic wish to limit empiricism to the sphere of science in order to supplement it by the higher truth of a metaphysical philosophy.5

Morris argued that his fellow empiricists “should boldly accept this challenge.”

He must question the analyses of contemporary culture with which he is confronted and in terms of which he is damned; he must attack the metaphysical super-structure which his opponents graft upon the edifice he so laboriously and cautiously erects; he must show that there is a way (or ways) of life — a rich, dynamic, satisfying life — compatible with his attitude; he must deny that his opponents have a monopoly on the defense of the religious and cultural traditions of man; he must see to it that his own attitude clothes itself with esthetic, religious and political symbols adequate to serve in the enhancement and direction of life (213).

So, in order to counter the forces arrayed against it, Morris argued that empiricism needed to broaden the scope. But before we explore the sort of revised empiricism that he had in mind, we need to take a brief look at its enemies. In order to do that, we need to say something about the peculiar venue where he gave his talk.

The Conference on Science, Philosophy and Religion

In a 1995 Isis article David Hollinger discussed the role of the “Conference on Science, Philosophy and Religion” in debates involving science and religion during the 1940s and its history weaves in and out of George Reisch’s 2005 study of the fate of the “unity of science” movement in the United States during the 1940s and early 1950s.6 But we still lack a comprehensive history of the organization and assessment of its impact (any takers?).

Jewish Theological Seminary

Jewish Theological Seminary

The first of its series of annual meetings had been convened in September 1940 a few blocks north of Columbia University at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America. Sponsored by the “Conference on Science, Philosophy and Religion in their Relation to the Democratic Way of Life, Inc.,” this energetically publicized event (an article in the New York Times announced that “seventy-nine of the country’s leading scientists, philosophers and theologians” – including Albert Einstein and Enrico Fermi – had signed on to the Conference’s “spiritual call to arms”) sought “to rally our intellectual and spiritual forces” in the face of the threat of fascist totalitarianism. Its organizers maintained that the “failure to integrate science, philosophy, and religion, in relation to traditional ethical values and the democratic way of life” had been “catastrophic for civilization.” In response, they sought to bring together representatives of the disciplines of “philosophy, science, and religion” in hopes of reaching “a consensus concerning the universal character of truth.”7

It was considerably easier for the members of the Conference to agree on what they opposed – namely, the “anti-scientific, anti-philosophical and anti-religious dogmas” that they saw as providing the foundation for totalitarian systems of thought – than it was for them to specify how to overcome the “departmentalization of thought” that had cut science, philosophy, and religion off from “traditional ethical values and the democratic way of life.” The press release announcing plans for the symposium stressed that the conveners had no intention of depriving any discipline of “its genuine autonomy” and also rejected the notion that “it is possible or desirable that Western religions be reduced to a common denominator.” Yet, at the same time, the group insisted that “our common background gives us a broad basis for a united, democratic American way of life.” Fundamental to that way of life was “the religious principle of the Fatherhood of God and the worth and dignity of Man when regarded as a child of God.”8

Mortimer J. Adler

Mortimer J. Adler

The tension inherent in the attempt to respect the autonomy of disciplines while, at the same time, appealing to fundamental religious values was nowhere more apparent than in the caustic address delivered by Mortimer J. Adler (one of the Conference’s founding members) at the inaugural meeting. As he saw it, the greatest danger to “the democratic way of life” came not from foreign enemies but from forces closer to home.

I say that the most serious threat to Democracy is the positivism of the professors, which dominates every aspect of modern education and is the central corruption of modern culture. Democracy has much more to fear from the mentality of its teachers than from the nihilism of Hitler. It is the same nihilism in both cases, but Hitler’s is more honest and consistent, less blurred by subtleties and queasy clarifications, and hence less dangerous.9

Professors, he charged, were, at bottom, hypocrites: they argued for religious toleration and gave lip-service to the idea that religious belief played an important role in modern society, but refused to recognize that “religion rests on supernatural knowledge” or to acknowledge that “it is superior to both philosophy and science.” That refusal, Adler insisted, paved the way for disaster: “The mere toleration of religion, which implies indifference to or denial of its claims, produces a secularized culture as much as militant atheism or Nazi nihilism.” By the end of his lecture, Adler appeared to imply that Nazi nihilism was, if anything, preferable to the values embraced by American academics.

In a passage that reads like an attempt to reprise Joseph de Maistre’s view of the Terror as God’s revenge on France for the blasphamies of the philosophes Adler suggested that it was possible to view Hitler as part of “the Divine plan to bless man’s temporal civilization with the goodness of Democracy” by “preparing the agony through which our culture will be reborn.” The professors, however, were so thoroughly complicit in the crisis that engulfed modern culture (though the most specific evidence Adler offered of their complicity was their lack of enthusiasm for the Great Books program that his mentor Robert Maynard Hutchins inaugurated at the University of Chicago) that “until the professors and their culture are liquidated, the resolution of modern problems … will not even begin.”

Adler’s rhetoric was extreme, but the notion that the appeal of National Socialism lay in its providing an alternative to the nihilism that had been the bitter fruit of efforts at enlightenment was hardly unusual. An address to the symposium by the Catholic theologian Jacques Maritain made much the same point, albeit in more temperate language. He saw the chief threat to modern democracies as stemming from the “false ideology” that maintained “that a democratic society must be a non-hierarchal whole.” Against this view, he insisted that democracy ultimately rested on an “organic hierarchy of liberties” and that the knowledge of the proper ordering of these liberties required the sort of metaphysical and theological knowledge that modern science and technology tends to erode. For this reason, “an education in which the sciences of phenomena and the corresponding techniques take precedence over philosophical and theological knowledge is already, potentially, a Fascist education” since it can offer no foundations for morality other than “biology, hygiene and eugenics.”10

The 1941 meetings were somewhat less contentious (thanks, in part, to Adler’s absence), though echoes of the inaugural meetings turn up from time to time. Hudson Hoagland, a Clark University biologist who would go on to have a distinguished career in neuroendocrinology, drew the following lesson from a series of meetings with “Catholic and Protestant theologians, professional scientists and philosophers” that he chaired during the winter of 1940-41 at the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

I believe that this conference can be best served if we accept as given certain fundamental differences orientation on the part of philosophers, theologians and scientists, and endeavor to stress not these differences, but rather the common grounds on which we may meet to consider constructive program of action. It is simply a fact that many, if not most, scientists are agnostics. It may be this fact that is the basis for the poor participation of scientists in the New York Conference. It is certainly not due to any lack of concern on their part with the present world crisis. Their agnosticism is as deeply ingrained as is the religious faith of many of their friends.11

And while the opening of Morris’ talk seemed to lay the ground work for a full-throated counterattack on empiricism’s “scholastic” critics, what followed turned out to be considerably more complicated.

Countering the Counter-Enlightenment

The problem, as Morris saw it, was not simply that the empiricist was “faced with opposing forces of great magnitude.“ To make matters worse, “he remains his own worst enemy.”

… he has become distrustful all modes of expression other than the scientific. Ill-adapted himself to such modes of expression, frequently lacking in imagination and non-scientific forms of sensitivity, he has not merely himself failed to round out his own life, but he often seemed to belittle, to restrain, to frustrate those forms of human activity in the arts and religions which, in a pure form, he should encourage and release. (214).

As a result, empiricists were ill-equipped to take advantage of the opportunity that lay before them.

there are large groups of persons among the youth, the workers, the artists, the religionists, the scientists, the technologists for whom the older religious and political symbols — claiming a special metaphysical sanctions – have lost their force. If there is confusion in contemporary culture, there are also deep sources of energy, frustrated aspirations, new beginnings, movements hovering on the verge of consolation, untapped sources of heroism. If the empiricist can overcome his own frustrations, and develop or encourage others to develop a clear program for living, he may rally these forces for a powerful, integrated, and perhaps successful opposition to the counter-Enlightenment and counter-Reformation which threatens to spread over mankind. (214).

In other words, the strength of the counter-Enlightenment was, in part, a consequence of the inadequacies of the forces of enlightenment.

Indeed, in Morris’ account, the traditional forms of religious belief that friends of the Enlightenment had long associated with the counter-Enlightenment had already been significantly compromised: “the traditional symbols of religion have lost much of their power.” And the explanation for this loss lay, in part, with the way in which these symbols had been tied to “the question as to the truth or falsity of certain statements about the universe.” But, far from hailing this as the presage of a day when science would liberate humanity from the sway of religious beliefs, Morris suggested that to see the situation in this way rested on a fundamental misunderstanding of the function of religion: it involved something more than just an attempt to make conjectures about the universe.

the heart of the religious problem lies in the determination of what type of man is to be given allegiance. For if a religion is essentially a path of life, the goal of this path is to become a certain type of person (227).

To understand this aspect of religion, empiricists needed to revise their understanding of the variety of claims that were at work in religious discourse. And this is where Morris’ theory of signification came in.

Referors, Formors, Expressors, and Motivators

In addition to serving as way of referring to objects in the world (what Morris calls their role as “referors”), signs perform three other functions: “the formative, the expressive, and the motivational” (or, as Morris dubs them “formors, expressors, and motivators”). A formor “simply exhibits or determines a certain sign combination.” Formors play the leading role in logical and mathematical discourse, while, in contrast, “scientific discourse” is conducted through the use of “referors”. Morris held that the critique empiricists had mounted against “metaphysical discourse” had consisted largely in demonstrating that it was made up of “definitions masquerading as genuine knowledge” — i.e., formors that were presented in the guise of referors. But such a critique could not capture the full power of religious discourse. “Expressors” (i.e., “a sign whose usage is normally accompanied by a certain state of the user”, a state that the sign “expresses”) and “motivators” (i.e., “a sign whose function is to influence the user or users of the sign”) also played a significant role in it.12 Translating the conclusions of his colleague A. E. Haydon’s Man’s Search for the Good Life (1937) into this terminology, he concluded that

Religious language is charged with expressors which indicate approval by an individual or group of individuals of certain supreme goals of life rather than others; it is rich in motivators which aim to induce a certain way of life believed to lead to the attainment of the preferred goal; and it contains statements about the world which are felt to justify the approved goal and the recommended techniques (233).

Over the next few pages he sketched what would be a central theme in Paths of Life, arguing that the crucial question for empiricists was to craft a set of “expressive and motivations symbols” that could foster an “image of man” that could function as the foundation for a viable democratic order. What was required, in other words, were a set of “motivational symbols” that could equip democracies with the sorts of resources had been adeptly deployed by their Fascist and Marxist enemies.

Two points are worth noting here. First, as I stressed at the close of the previous post, when Morris speaks of a “counter-Enlightenment,” he is using the term rather differently than it was used by Lanning and Shaw. For them, the counter-Enlightenment was something that had taken place in the past. For him, it is a movement that persists into the present: it can be seen both in the noisy posturing of Mortimer Adler and, even more ominously, in the forces that have laid waste to Europe. Second, and perhaps more surprisingly, Morris insists that the success of this counter-Enlightenment resides, to a significant degree, in the shortcomings of the legacy that the Enlightenment has left us. In his talk to the Conference his discussion of this second point is confined to his opening comments on the extent to which “empiricists” have failed to rise to the challenge they face. But it plays a much more significant role in Paths of Life.

Enlightenments, Promethean and Apollonian

I will not attempt to summarize the broader account of “life paths” that provides the overall structure for this strange book — suffice it to say that, for Morris, there are seven, each of which is linked with a different mythical or religious type: Buddhist, Dionysian, Promethean, Apollonian, Christian, Mohammedan, and Maitreyan.13 The most relevant for our discussion are the Promethean, Apollonian, and Mohammedan. It probably comes as no surprise that the “Promethean” project consists of an attempt to shape the world in ways that are conducive to the satisfaction of human ends. For Morris, this stance achieved its “widest application” in the work of John Dewey (92-93). In contrast, the Apollonian attitude sees the world as essentially rational and harmonious, seeks to attain a certain measure of clarity about this order, and pursues policies that tend to be traditionalist. The “Mohammedan” project concentrates on maximizing the interests of a particular community, usually to the exclusion of others.

Like Spengler before him, Morris sees the Promethean stance (with Faust as its archetypal figure) as central to modern societies. In contrast, Nazi Germany and Stalinist Russia exemplify a modern and peculiarly aggressive variant of the “Mohammedan” path. Morris’ account of the Apollonian stance is somewhat more complicated.

The Apollonian temperament has received expression in various cultures. Its features are clear in the cult of Vishnu and in Confucianism; they appear confusedly in Aquinas’ Aristotelianized version of Christianity; they are discernible in the pause of Western culture at the period of the Enlightenment (124).

Much of the difficulty in making sense of Morris’ argument can be traced to the way in which he uses his types to refer both to broader cultural dispositions and to individual character-types and to his insistence that both individuals and cultures are subject to transformations that involve one or another of these particular paths taking on a dominant position in response to the challenges they encounter. The result is a rather complicated account that deserves more time than I have been able to give it.

As an example, here is what he has to say about the fate of “Apollonian” type.14

The Apollonian is an active type of person in whom the promethean component is dominant but held in check by a rather strong buddhistic component. The dionysian tendencies of the biologic level are lowest in strength, and attain a relatively easy social redirection. The result is an individual who, in a stable society, is not given to severe conflicts (124).

Apollonian types find it particularly troubling when the (allegedly) stable world in which they have been dwelling begins to collapse.

When the world to which the Apollonian is attached tends to dissolve, he begins (as is evidenced in Plato) to show anxiety, to feel with Dante that “the last age of the world is at hand,” to become repressive and tyrannical. His latent hostility to all other types of personality now comes out in the open, for they all seem to him agencies of social dissolution — and so of his own personal dissolution. From a nobly conserving force he becomes an inflexible reactionary force (125).

It would probably not be too far-fetched to suspect that Morris must have seen Adler and his fellow “counter-Enlighteners” as prime examples of the reactionary tendencies to which the Apollonian type is prone.

But how does the Enlightenment figure in this? For Morris the Enlightenment was an age when

the typical Promethean culture of Western Europe became dominant, believing to have found in a scientifically oriented technology, the political machinery of representative government, and the agency of universal education the means by which men could continually and progressively modify their lives to the ever fuller satisfaction of their desires. The Apollonian settled down to the new situation, blessed it — and took control of the means to retain the world in his conservative image (192-93).

This, however, is a world that we have now lost:

We live in the backwash of that situation. In the strict sense of the term we are … at the end of a period in which the Promethean voice was the clear voice of the culture. We are in a highly “polytheistic” interim in which … every one of the major paths of life is pressing for acceptance. Both the dionysian and the buddhistic components of personality are making their claims against the dominance which has been given in recent centuries to the promethean component. Men of many types and from many points of view have assessed contemporary culture and found it wanting. The struggle to define the type of man who is to be given preferred status in our culture, and his relation to other types of man — and therefore to define ultimately the form of society — is the content of the new religiosity (193).

That periods of transition tend to produce rather complex character types is clear from the case of Oswald Spengler.

Spengler has been insistent on the relation of a “morality” or system of values to a culture; if we see that a society is characterized by the place it assigns to different types of individuals, it follows that vague statements about the decline of a “soul” of a culture must be translated into concrete terms of the type of personality preferred by the person who makes the judgment. I hazard the view that Spengler was himself an Apollonian in temperament, that he without warrant erected into a norm the achievements Western Promethean man had obtained at the Enlightenment, and turned to the Mohammedan to protect such of those achievements as yet remained. There is no evidence for (nor, I believe, meaning, to) the general statement that the West is in a period of decline; from the standpoint of certain types of personality this statement can be made; from the standpoint of others it cannot. To talk of decline in general is merely to confuse the issue, and invoke the sense of doom (194).

It would seem then that, in Morris’ accounting, we are faced with a situation in which220px-KushanMaitreya both the aspirations of the progressive (and Promethean) Enlightenment and the (now-reactionary Apollonian) counter-Enlightenment are bound to be frustrated. “The actual situation,” he concludes, “is simply that many persons have found the existing society unsatisfactory, and that this society is in a rapid process of change” (194). The character type that, at least for moment, is best-equipped to rise to the challenges of this world is the one that Morris designates as “Maitreyan.” It is distinguished by its ability to achieve a “generalized detachment” from the “dionysian” (in the Nietzschean sense), “promethean,” and “buddhistic” (i.e., potentially nihilistic) tendencies form the basic elements of individual personalities. We would seem to be moving in a landscape that is not unlike the one that John Gray associates with Isaiah Berlin’s pluralism of values.

Democracy — Maitreyan, not Apollonian?

Morris’ talk to the Conference on Science, Philosophy, and Religion ended with an attempt to draw out the political implications of his discussion. Democracy, as he defined it, was “a ‘dream’ of a multiform, diversified, flexible, co-operative society, and a political way of life accepted for its realization” (233)

A democratic society is envisaged as the ideal of a society which (1) is directed to the maximum development of each of its members; (2) believes that this development requires the voluntary participation of the individual in determining the future development of the society; (3) sees to it that each individual receives the material, intellectual, and cultural resources needed for his or her development and social participation, and (4) commits itself to social changes reached through the method of socially made decisions formed in the light of an accurate knowledge of the factors generating any specific problem (233).

This vision, he stressed, involved a commitment “to a goal and a method, and not to a set of metaphysical or religious dogmas, nor to the truth of certain statements about human nature or social systems.” It was an ideal that was, as John Rawls has taught us to say, “political, not metaphysical.”

Democracy is not a religion and can tolerate differences of religion in so far as they operate within the framework of its social ideal; it can tolerate political and moral differences of opinion as to any existing institution as long as the steps taken to change the social structure accept its goal and proceed by its method (234).

Morris’ account of democracy conforms rather closely to what we have grown accustomed to describing as “political liberalism.” But, as we shall see in our next installment, by the end of the 1940s the question of just what “liberalism” meant had become quite contested. And one of the results of that contestation would be a discussion of the nature of something called “the Counter-Enlightenment.”

To be continued …

  1. It should be noted that the variation in what Aufklärung designates is, as I argued in the first post, considerably greater in German and that at least a fair number of the nineteenth-century uses of the term in German have nothing to do with “counter-Enlightenment” as we now understand it but instead refer to “counter-intelligence” or a “counter-argument.”
  2. There is a brief overview of his career in J. Jay Zeman, “Charles W. Morris (1901-1979),” Transactions of the Charles S. Peirce Society 17:1 (1981): 3–24. He also plays a major role in George A Reisch, How the Cold War Transformed Philosophy of Science: To the Icy Slopes of Logic (Cambridge; New York: Cambridge University Press, 2005), a work to which I am much indebted.
  3. As Reisch (39) points out, Morris returned to Chicago in the wake of a mass resignation of the faculty in the Philosophy department that had been triggered by the attempt by the university’s president Robert Maynard Hutchins to appoint his friend and protégé Mortimer Adler to the department.
  4. Though little known today, the book seems to have had an interesting career. It was published by Harpers in 1942, reprinted (with a new Preface) by Braziller in 1956, and reprinted, yet again, by the University of Chicago Press in 1973. Reviews of the first edition were, at best, puzzled; the 1973 reprinting prompted helpful discussion by David Bastow in Religious Studies 11:3 (1975): 378–381. Mention should also be made of a 1994 MA thesis by Harold H. Wilson, Charles Morris’ Maitreyan Path as Via Positiva, which is available for download from McGill University.
  5. “”Empiricism, Religion, and Democracy,” in Lyman Bryson and Louis Finkelstein, eds., Science Philosophy and Religion: Second Symposium (New York: Conference on Science, Philosophy and Religion in their Relation to the Democratic Society, 1942) 213.
  6. David A. Hollinger, “Science as a Weapon in Kulturkampfe in the United States during and after World War II,” Isis 86:3 (1995): 440–454; in Reisch, see especially 159-161.
  7. For the general aims of the Conference, see Van Wyck Brooks, “Conference on Science, Philosophy and Religion in Their Relation to the Democratic Way of Life,” in Science, Philosophy, and Religion: A Symposium (New York: Conference on Science, Philosophy and Religion in Their Relation to the Democratic Way of Life, Inc., 1941), 1-11 and the article “79 Leaders Unite to Aid Democracy,” New York Times, June 1, 1940.
  8. Brooks, “Conference on Science, Philosophy and Relgion in Their Relation to the Democratic Way of Life,” 8.
  9. “God and the Professors,” in Science, Philosophy, and Religion (New York, 1941), 127-8. In Adler’s rather elastic definition, “posivitism” consists of “the affirmation of science, and the denial of philosophy and religion” (127).
  10. Jacques Maritain, “Science, Philosophy, and Faith,” 178-9.
  11. Hudson Hoagland, “Some Comments on Science and Faith,” 34.
  12. Since most of the distinctions that Morris draws can be found in speech act theories it is not entirely surprising that he puts in a brief appearance in Volume I of Habermas’ Theory of Communicative Action (see I:276).
  13. There is a useful discussion of Morris typology in David Bastow’s discussion of the book in Religious Studies 11:3 (1975): 378–381.
  14. In this context, it is worth pointing out that, around this time, Morris wrote a rather interesting article on Nietzsche: “Nietzsche–An Evaluation,” Journal of the History of Ideas 6:3 (1945): 285–293.

About James Schmidt

Professor of History, Philosophy, and Political Science Boston University
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5 Responses to Charles W. Morris on Empiricism and the Counter-Enlightenment (Fabricating the “Counter-Enlightenment” Part IV)

  1. Pingback: “Counter-Enlightenment” in English (1908-1942) (Fabricating the “Counter-Enlightenment” Part III) | Persistent Enlightenment

  2. Pingback: William Barrett, Lionel Trilling, and the “Residual Legatees of the Enlightenment” (Fabricating the Counter-Enlightenment Part V) | Persistent Enlightenment

  3. noir-realism says:

    Another good source is Critics of the Enlightenment: Readings in the French Counter-Revolutionary Tradition by Christopher Olaf Blum (Editor) , Philippe Beneton (Foreword) . It has a representative selection of the conservative counter-revolutionary tradition within France itself: François de Chateaubriand, Louis de Bonald, Joseph de Maistre, Fredéric Le Play, Émile Keller, and René de La Tour du Pin.

    Been enjoying your analysis so far. Brings up a lot of fascinating aspects of history that fall through the cracks when reading polemical writers such as the one that set you off on this chase: Zeev Sternhell. I had read his The Anti-Enlightenment Tradition last year as was interested to see how much was founded in fact or fiction. One sees his ideological mindset right off the bat so should always be wary of exactly an author is up to with such blinkered analysis.

    Anyway, reading with pleasure as you investigate this in this lengthy series. A very important historical analysis much needed.

    • I own a copy of the Blum volume, but have only dipped in and out of it. The one point that Sternell does get right is that the French have resisted the concept “counter-Enlightenment.” But while he thinks this a bad thing (since it allegedly deprives them of a useful analytic concept), I’m convinced they’re missing much. The few explorations I’ve made of the way the French deal with these matters suggests that (1) the battle tends to be waged over the term philosophie (by far the best guide on this is the study of the concepts “philosophe” and “philosophie” by Hans Ulrich Gumbrecht and Gerd van den Heuvel in Handbuch politisch-sozialer Grundbegriffe in Frankreich (München: Oldenbourg, 1985). I’ve also learned a lot from Darrin McMahon’s Enemies of the Enlightenment: The French Counter-Enlightenment and the Making of Modernity (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001).

      At some point I should do a few Ngrams to get a sense of the most popular adjectives that are used as pejoratives in characterizing “false” forms of “philosophy.” As in the earlier German disputes, it’s the adjectives that do all the work in these polemics: all of the contesting parties want to claim that they are the ones doing “true philosophy.” My main objection to the term “counter-Enlightenment” is that it tends to obscure these sorts of contests by making it seems as if the “counter-Enlighteners” where rejecting the very concept of “Enlightenment”, rather than attempt to rescue what they saw as “true enlightenment.”

      • noir-realism says:

        Yes, the notion of the contested enlightenment and the battle over two enlightenments and which would ultimately take the forefront seems to be part of Johnathan Israel’s encyclopedic work as well. You do not mention him, so I’ll assume you have disagreements with aspects of his narrative ploy as well? Either way I tend to agree that some of these newer historians want to impose their categories on history rather than letting the parties themselves tell their own story in their own terms. I think this is the difference between someone like Sternhell who is definitely an ideologue with a message to impose over the narrative. It’s his ideological bent that gets in the way whether it is right or wrong: it is not history as it should be, but is political polemic guising itself as historical investigation.

        I may or may not be sympathetic to his ideological quandaries, but he should have written a different type of tale in regards to this with a different set of scholarly tools. I’m always wary of those hidden presumptions hiding under the surface texture of a text such as his.

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