SAAP Annual Meeting 2015

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Mind and Matter in Early America: The Berkeley-Johnson Correspondence

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In response to William James’s assertion that he developed American pragmatism, C.S. Peirce remarked that “Berkeley on the whole has more right to be considered the introducer of pragmatism into philosophy than any other man, though I was more explicit in enunciating it”. If Edwards is sometimes taken to be America’s first metaphysician, and Franklin be the founder of an American trajectory of practical action, this paper will instead examine how we might rethink Berkeley’s immaterialism within both the tangled skein of questions of matter and mind in transatlantic and early American thought and, per Peirce’s assertion, as offering another trajectory in American thought. I will do so by exploring how Berkeley’s thought came to North America and in turn influenced the eighteenth-century American theologian/philosopher Samuel Johnson. Their subsequent correspondence provides a rich archive of philosophical speculation concerning the status of matter, perception, noetics, and causality.


Michael Jonik    
University of Sussex
United Kingdom


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