Doctor Moore's Philosophy

Like many young men of his period Addison Moore inherited his philosophic problem from an evangelical home, community, and college; but the problem was rather social than theological. He did not question the scientists' findings nor their interpretation of nature, nor was he loath to reconstruct the documents of the church by the aid of the historian's method. But the inner flame of spiritual life which the church had sheltered and nourished, her great affirmations of a truth to be tested by devotion to the welfare of the human soul and of human society; these had to be brought into intellectual accord with the scientist's nature and the historian's past. While as a youth he had looked toward the ministry, the whole set of the intellectual life of the larger community into which he entered inevitably carried so vivid a mind and emotional nature as his to philosophy. For philosophy promised to reach the profounder meaning of dogma, to discover why its doctrines had expressed men's inner moral life, and why they had been the custodians of the spiritual goods of human communities.

At Cornell University an idealistic philosophy taught an evolution of mind that was also an evolution of nature and an evolution of history. It was an alembic within which the oppositions of creeds and doctrines, the clash of institutions, the warfare between ecclesiastical inquisition and the scientist's laboratory disappeared as moments in the dialectic of an absolute mind. To an eager speculative spirit, this Hegelian philosophy was perhaps the most fascinating resolution of antinomies that philosophic genius has ever exhibited. It fed upon conflicts and its syntheses undertook to distil out and preserve on higher levels the values which conflicting ideas defended against each other. It was the same philosophy of the absolute which Josiah Royce was expounding with a different intonation at Harvard University. In contrast with the traditional philosophy of the American college, that of the Scottish school, the philosophy so-called common sense, which evaded problems and discouraged speculation,

(48) it was profound, adventurous and armed with a dialectic that could cope with any contradiction. It was peculiarly facile in its subsumption of the past while it failed to provide a method for present and future conduct. In England and America neo-Hegelianism was a cultural philosophy rather than a philosophy of action.

At Cornell University then Mr. and Mrs. Moore-- for they were already joined in that companionship of all their varied interests, which lasted, becoming steadily more profound, throughout her life-- settled for graduate study, and Mr. Moore eagerly plunged into absolute idealism. In the following year they came to the University of Chicago. I do not know whether Mr. Moore then felt at all the dissent from absolute idealism which he afterward so vigorously expressed. He came to Chicago to study with Professor Dewey, who had been bred in the same philosophic faith, but whose writings in philosophic journals and especially in the field of ethics already showed that he had broken with the absolutism of idealism and that he insisted upon a doctrine that should be a method of conduct.

Mr. Moore lived through the years here in Chicago, during which Professor Dewey worked out his philosophy of thought, which was also a philosophy of action. He was a member of that historic seminar, papers of which were joined with Professor Dewey's exposition and appeared as the first edition of Studies in Logical Theory, as a part of the "Decennial Publications of the University of Chicago." It placed thought definitely within the act, and dealt in a masterly fashion with the logical problems which this orientation carried with it. In this work Mr. Moore was an enthusiastic collaborator. He published an important study of Locke from the standpoint of pragmatism, and became in the philosophic world after Mr. Dewey the most important and most authoritative member of the so-called Chicago school. The publications by which he was known were his Pragmatism and Its Critics together with numerous articles in the journals, in which he brilliantly countered the assaults of the idealists and the realists upon the pragmatic position. The profound work which he accomplished in metaphysics and logic that was carried on in his seminars was never fully published, but has borne its fruit in the stimulation and training of a long line of University of Chicago doctors who have taken their degrees in philosophy. For years these seminars were the core of the training for those that were going on to the degree in the department.

We speak of the philosophy of a man's life, with the sure feeling that back of his conduct through the years lies some consistent attitude toward society and the world about him which if made articulate would reveal the man to the world and to himself. There have been philosophers whose daily walk and conversation have been living epistles expressing, in the full dimensionality of space and time, the ideas which their published writings have expounded. William James was such a philosopher, whose pages are the transcript of the direct impact of systems of thought and of events and people upon a profound and passionate nature. Spinoza and Kant at the opposite pole of personality, only thought out and wrote down, themselves reflecting the universe that confronted them. And then on the other hand there was Hume whose systematic doctrine issued in a scepticism which his own genial life belied, and a Josiah Royce whose lifelong speculative engagement was a conflict between the finality of his absolute idealism and the contingency of human experience. Addison Moore comes under the first of these categories. His philosophy was his inner and outer life writ large. He was no Epimetheus. He began his speculative thinking with a world which was there, a world that put up to our intelligence the precarious task of living within it, and he refused to arrest action in order to prove the existence of

(49) that world. For him the epistemological problem was an unreal problem. His logic was a running back of all the intricate processes of thought to the competent statement of the problem of life -- life in its deepest sense-- and of the conditions of its solution, and his ethics was the restatement of the conflicting values which are there as means of reaching a larger good which must envisage them all, if the problem of life is to be solved. The relation of thought to life he found in evolution. Evolution was the process of the universe, and thought was the development of intelligence within the struggle for existence of living beings with increasing social organization. And so his philosophy was a social philosophy. It was through communication that social organization appears, and it was through communication that self-consciousness arises with all the intricate apparatus of thinking in its analysis and in its hypothetical rebuilding.

His philosophy was no ponderous armor, whose whole task is to defend its own right to existence, and though he was never more brilliant than in the bright swordplay of polemics, his philosophy never justified itself by the skill of his fence, or the technical defeat of his adversary. It was, what he maintained thought to be a means of action. He was the fortunate man whose inner and outer life was all of a piece. And the most abstruse of his professional undertakings were but parts of the common task of socially constituted and socially organized minds, that of stating their problems in terms of the means of their solution. He went from his seminar to the study of issues national or international, to the political meeting, to the appeal of the oppressed and defeated, to the club and to the theater and to the golf links with the same apparatus of intelligence. He did not sacrifice life to be a philosopher, nor was it necessary to address to him the admonition, non propter vitam vivendi perdere causas.

Addison Moore had something of that unusual combination of lively imagination acuity and subtlety of analysis which characterized Bradley and of that full-blooded vivacity of expression which belonged to James. His very style advertised the fact that the whole man passed into his thought, and that his thought was an integral part of the life which we have lost.


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