Announcements

A memorial session devoted to Peter Hare's contributions to the study of American philosophy will be held at the March SAAP meeting at Michigan State University.

Calendar of Events

See events in calendar form, here.

Join Us

Join our SAAP team, learn how to become a member...

Donate

Donate to the Society's special projects fund...

SAAP Newsbriefs

Peter H. Hare (1935-2008)

Peter Hewitt Hare died peacefully in his sleep in the early morning hours of Thursday, January 3, 2008. At the time of his death he was SUNY Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Philosophy at SUNY at Buffalo, where he had taught from 1962 to 2001. While at Buffalo, he was department chair during 1971-75 and 1985-94. Hare was the guiding light of the philosophy journal Transactions of the Charles S. Peirce Society, serving as co-editor from 1974 until his death. He also served as President of several philosophical organizations, including the Society for the Advancement of American Philosophy (1988-90), which gave him its highest honor, the Herbert W. Schneider Award, in 1996. A memorial session devoted to Peter's contributions to the study of American philosophy will be held at the March SAAP meeting at Michigan State University.

--John R. Shook

Abraham Edel, In Memoriam, by Peter Hare and Guy Stroh

Abraham Edel, 1908-2007

Abraham Edel was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania on December 6, 1908. Raised in Yorkton, Canada with his older brother Leon who would become a biographer of Henry James, Edel studied Classics and Philosophy at McGill University, earning a BA in 1927 and an MA in 1928. He continued his education at Oxford where, as he recalled, “W.D. Ross and H.A. Prichard were lecturing in ethics, H.W.B. Joseph on Plato, and the influence of G. E. Moore and Bertrand Russell extended from Cambridge. Controversy on moral theory was high. The same was true of epistemology, where Prichard posed realistic epistemology against Harold Joachim who was defending Bradley and Bosanquet against the metaphysical realism of Cook Wilson.” He received a BA in Litterae Humaniores from Oxford in 1930. In that year he moved to New York City for doctoral studies at Columbia University, and in 1931 began teaching at City College, first as an assistant to Morris Raphael Cohen. F.J.E. Woodbridge directed his Columbia dissertation, Aristotle’s Theory of the Infinite (1934). This monograph and two subsequent books on Aristotle were influenced by Woodbridge’s interpretation of Aristotle as a philosophical naturalist. Although his dissertation concerned ancient Greek philosophy, he was much impressed by research in the social sciences at Columbia, and the teaching of Cohen at City College showed him how philosophical issues lay at the root of the disciplines of psychology, sociology, history, as well as the natural sciences.

As Edel’s former student sociologist and political scientist Irving Louis Horowitz has noted, in the 1930s City College was “a special kind of environment, where radical ideas were fought over bitterly, but where the center of gravity was so different from anywhere else in America. The arguments that raged were among varieties of socialist doctrines and varieties of radical theory and not between liberalism and conservatism.” Active in establishing the College Teachers Union, Edel was called before the Rapp-Coudert Committee, a New York State forerunner of HUAC and McCarthy’s Senate committee. His account of this radical movement was published as The Struggle for Academic Democracy: Lessons from the 1938 “Revolution” in New York’s City Colleges (1990).

John Dewey was the preeminent figure in the Philosophy Department during Edel’s student years at Columbia. All his subsequent publications can be seen as a blend of Deweyan and Aristotelian naturalisms. However, his interest was usually not in textual or historical scholarship. Rather, in the spirit of Dewey and Aristotle, he wished to engage in what he called “comparative analysis” of other philosophical viewpoints, including the various forms of analytic philosophy then dominant in the discipline. His philosophical style reflected his personality. A tolerant and modest person, his philosophical writing was never aggressive and dogmatic, as so much of the writing of his contemporaries was. Generously entering into dialogue with his opponents, he tended to interpret differences between philosophical movements as a matter of incomplete perspective rather than a question of incompatible answers.

In his first large-scale work, Ethical Judgment: The Use of Science in Ethics (1955), Edel discussed at length the problem of ethical relativism. This, he found, is not a simple problem. It has what he termed many strands or elements: that morality is a human product, that everything changes, that cultural diversity exists, that ethics depends on variable attitudes or emotions, etc. If everything in life is contingent and temporal, does this mean that ethical judgments must be arbitrary or even indeterminate? Does this mean that ethics reduces to expediency where there can be no solid or rational answers or results that can be counted on? Edel with his naturalism was willing to forego absolute, final or a priori conclusions. If ethics is to truly apply to the world its theories must somehow be tested by experience. Ethics, he claimed, must make use of science and like science be willing to modify its methods and correct its mistakes. This implies that ethical judgments are not arbitrary but, like those of science, they are or can be made careful and rational. Carefulness is itself both a scientific and a moral virtue, testable by its usefulness. Likewise honesty is a value not merely in a moral sense, but also in an intellectual sense. Edel’s basic point was that moral values are not special or peculiar; they permeate and are relevant to all human endeavors.

Edel’s Method in Ethical Theory (1963) carried further his earlier studies to work out, as he said, a methodological approach for ethical theory that attempts to be both critical and comprehensive, one that will do justice to the factual as well as the normative. This raises the so-called fact-value or is-ought questions. Like the problem of ethical relativism, these issues have many strands or dimensions. He did not believe that we can evade such problems or solve them once and for all. His own extensive work over many decades was a demonstration of the need to face anew the problem of how suitable methods can be devised which can make piecemeal but not wholesale progress toward both better theories and better applications. His later essays on these problems were collected in Exploring Fact and Value (1980).

A Deweyan/Aristotelian ethical theory richly informed by social science and history also bore fruit in a holistic and processive philosophy of law. “[T]he law,” Edel wrote, “is less a system of rules or even principles than an institution combining several processes----legislative, judicial, enforcement----in a society’s effort to support a pattern of life regarded as desirable and to meet the indefinite variety of problems that arise in its life. Hence law is throughout saturated with values, values that can be seen in the ethical terms of the good, the right, responsibilities, significant attitudes (virtues), obligations.”

Perhaps more deeply and extensively than any American philosopher of the twentieth century Edel’s philosophical work involved the social sciences. Anthropology and Ethics (1959), co-authored with anthropologist May Mandelbaum Edel, was an attempt to compare moral systems in cultures worldwide. His subsequent publications in the philosophy of the social sciences were brought together in Analyzing Concepts in Social Science (1979).

In some respects Edel’s most original contribution to the tradition of pragmatic naturalism can be found in his treatment of categories and concepts. At the very beginnings of pragmatism William James stressed that concepts are teleological instruments, and Dewey famously endorsed a functional view of logic, but none of this work was given a hearing by philosophers practicing “conceptual analysis” in the middle of the twentieth century. Having studied closely what analytic philosophers had to say about categories and concepts, Edel in his books on Aristotle, an article on categories in The Review of Metaphysics, and numerous essays on concepts in social science and ethics, presented a detailed methodology of conceptual analysis that demonstrated the wealth of resources pragmatic naturalism has to offer.

After teaching at City College from 1931 to 1973 and from 1970 to 1973 at the CUNY Graduate Center, he retired to become a research professor at the University of Pennsylvania. He held visiting appointments at Columbia University, University of California at Berkeley, Swarthmore College and Case Western Reserve University among others. He was an associate at the National Humanities Center (1978-79); senior fellow at the Center for Dewey Studies (1981-82); recipient of the Butler Silver Medal from Columbia University (1959); and a Guggenheim Fellow (1944-45). He served as Vice President of the Eastern Division of the American Philosophical Association (1972-73); President of the American Society of Value Inquiry (1984); and President of the American Section of the International Association of Philosophy of Law and Social Philosophy (1973-75). In 1995 he received the Herbert W. Schneider Award for contributions to the understanding and development of American philosophy from the Society for the Advancement of American philosophy.

In the 1980s Edel gave much attention to the burgeoning field of applied ethics and published Critique of Applied Ethics: Reflections and Recommendations (1994) with Elizabeth Flower and Finbarr W. O’Connor. In 1987 Edel was honored by a volume titled Ethics, Science and Democracy: The Philosophy of Abraham Edel, edited by Irving Louis Horowitz and H. S. Thayer. Edel’s last book was a return to Dewey----- Ethical Theory and Social Change: The Evolution of John Dewey’s Ethics, 1908-1932 (2001).

Edel died on June 22, 2007 in New York City.

In 1934 Edel married May Mandelbaum, who died in 1964. In 1973 he married Elizabeth Flower, a philosopher with whom he authored books and articles. She died in 1995, and in 1997 he married Sima Szaluta, a teacher of French who survives him. Although his son Matthew has died, he is also survived by his daughter Deborah Edel and three grandchildren.

Peter H. Hare, University at Buffalo

Guy W. Stroh, Rider University

Rorty: from Phillip McReynolds' film American Philosopher

Watch an excerpt from Phillip McReynolds' film American Philosopher featuring Richard Rorty (1931-2007).

Rorty: In Memoriam, by Crispin Sartwell

Richard Rorty, who died last week, became the best-known philosopher writing in English by becoming the most hated. Once I saw him give a lecture to an auditorium full of eminent thinkers at the Society for the Advancement of American Philosophy. After he was done giving them his thoughts on pragmatism and truth, they fired away at him for the better part of an hour. Some asked questions. Most simply reviled him and everything he stood for, so hostile that they could barely express themselves coherently. Later at the banquet I asked him whether the experience had been difficult. He just gave the celebrated Rorty shrug and shy grin. "I've seen it before," he said. "They seem to enjoy it." Rorty had encyclopedic knowledge and an accessible public voice rare in academic philosophy. But above all else, he was a provocateur. It's hard for non-philosophers to believe how seriously philosophers take their questions, from the nature of truth to the correct interpretation of the texts of Friedrich Nietzsche. An air of hushed solemnity reigns over the procedures.

Rorty angered people as much by his insouciance as by his positions. Philosophers have spent millennia trying to formulate a good theory of truth. Rorty's approach? "Truth is what your contemporaries let you get away with saying." The formulation was almost a mockery: apparently casual, it gave rise to a thousand counter-examples, since one's contemporaries believe all sorts of jive. It was perfectly Rortyan in that without apparent effort it constituted a maximal provocation and it made people think of Rorty as an arch post-modernist, relativist, or even nihilist. He came to symbolize an intellectual epoch. He called himself a pragmatist and thought we'd better get busy trying to live with no god, no hard truths, even no world apart from our conventions. He had an astonishing combination of cynicism and idealism, a quality he called "irony." One of his articles from the 1990s was called, with typical bold paradox, "Ethics Without Principles." He argued in favor of "liberal democracy," even as he declared that liberal democracy itself was a mere cultural prejudice. And he argued that we must all try to alleviate human suffering, relieve poverty, fight for peace, even though we cannot in some foundational way show that we ought to do so. These positions irritated many people. But what absolutely killed philosophy professors was Rorty's interpretation of the great figures of the Western tradition. The average philosophy professor may spend a decade or a career trying to elucidate the works of Martin Heidegger or W.V.O. Quine. Rorty lined up such figures in support of his own positions in a fundamentally careless way. He quoted them out of context and ignored everything about them he couldn't use. This fact truly enraged people. The Dewey scholars hated him, the Wittgenstein scholars, the Davidson scholars, the Nietzsche scholars, the Derrida scholars, and so on. And every one of them thought they could prove that Rorty was wrong about their particular boy, and that he'd have to listen and take back all the things he had said. In this, they didn't understand him at all.

Richard Rorty was my teacher and dissertation supervisor at the University of Virginia in the 1980s. One semester he taught a course that was focused around the classic book Truth and Method by Hans-Georg Gadamer. Rorty and Gadamer were friends, though Gadamer was a very old man at that point. At any rate, late in the semester Gadamer appeared in our seminar. Rorty introduced him by recapitulating the interpretation of Truth and Method that had been mounted in the previous weeks. As Rorty spoke, Gadamer just shook his big, eminent, bereted head. When the introduction was over, Gadamer said, in German-accented English, "But Dick, you've got me all wrong." Rorty gave the grin and shrug and said "yes, Hans. But that's what you should have said." Gadamer was still chuckling when I went up to him afterward and got him to sign my copy of his book.

In other words, Rorty had little intrinsic interest in the responsible interpretation even of the philosophers that he most admired. What was puzzling to me about that wasn't the irresponsibility, which I thought was a good antidote to the solemnity of the professoriate, but the strange appeal to authority that ran underneath it. Rorty almost pathologically attributed his every thought to other people. The names "Heidegger" or "Sellars" he wielded like talismans: short-hand for whole swathes of argumentation. It was important to Rorty to connect his radical conclusions to an existing tradition or even to the direction of philosophy as a whole. Every time I turned to his writings - which I must say are far more accessible and well-written than most academic philosophy - I wanted to grab him by the lapels and tell him that, next time out, he was prohibited from using any of these names, but would have to speak merely on his own behalf. Rorty had plenty to say, and why he needed to claim that Dewey had already said it - when, as fifty Dewey scholars had shown, he hadn't - was a mystery. At any rate, though I disagreed with almost every position he ever took, Richard Rorty was for me an inspiration. He showed me and generations of students and readers how to think and speak boldly, how to transcend the constraining conventions of academia, and, most important and fun of all, how to piss professors off.

SAAP 2008 Conference (posted May 24 2007)

The 2008 SAAP annual meeing will be in Michigan at MSU, March 13-15, 2008. Call for papers is here.

Pragmatism in Poland Today (posted 4-2-07)

Click here for a report (.rtf) from Wojciech Malecki, University of Wroclaw (Poland)

SAAP 2007 News (posted 3-14-07)

A few items of interest from SAAP 2007. The meeting was very well attended (180+ attendees, which is up a good bit). Beth Singer gave the founders lecture, a literal history of the founding of our society. Joe Margolis received the Schneider Award. The other prizes: David Rondel won the Greenlee; Todd Lekan won the Blau and Naoko Saito won the Mellow. (Am I leaving any out? Let me know.) Two new Executive Committee members were elected, Richard Hart and Gregory Pappas. Also, the graduate students elected Mat Foust as grad. representative to the Executive Committee, and Cherilyn Keall was elected graduate paper session organizer.

The 2008 SAAP annual meeing will be in Michigan at MSU, March 13-15, 2008. Details forthcoming.