The Twelfth Annual Meeting of the American Philosophical Association
James Bissert Pratt
THE Twelfth Annual Meeting of the American Philosophical Association was held on December 26, 27, and 28, in New York City, where it was the guest of Columbia University and the College of the City of New York. As had been the ease with the two preceding meetings, the liveliest interest centered in the debate, which this year was upon the untechnical question of "Agreement in Philosophy," The leaders of the debate were Dr. Schmidt and Professor Pitkin, who maintained the possibility of agreement, and Professors De Laguna and Kemp Smith, who supported the negative side of the question, The discussion was prolonged throughout the morning session of Friday by a large number of speakers from the floor, and in the afternoon it was recommenced with three ten-minute papers by Professor Hall, Miss Elkus, and Professor Tower, after which the open debate continued until it had to be closed in medias res for lack of further time.
Early in the debate it was evident that there was pretty general agreement that agreement itself was at least desirable. Three of the speakers, to be sure, emphasized the value of disagreement as well, President Thilly in particular pointing out that the improved tone of
( 92) philosophical discussion in the last twenty years was due largely to the fact that "the fundamental problems" were no longer considered settled, as they were in the prepragmatic and prerealistic days. All, of course, were agreed that the suppression of individual opinion in philosophy would be the utmost misfortune, and yet nearly all de-sired agreement-agreement upon the old questions, at least, if for no other purpose than that they might go on and disagree about the new ones. The desirability of agreement on our real problems is, in fact, so obvious that Professor Woodbridge characterized the very raising of the question of its obtainability as irresolute if not pessimistic. To deny the possibility of solving the problems of philosophy would, in his opinion, be equivalent to asserting that philosophy has no problems; for every real problem is there to be solved. This view was challenged by Professor Creighton, who insisted that there may be real problems which simply lead to new ones, and that it is inconceivable that we could ever get things settled in such a way that they would stay settled.
The more exact and fundamental discussion of the possibility of agreement turned upon the question whether the problems of philosophy could be isolated and attacked separately as are the problems of science. In support of the negative answer to this question Professor Kemp Smith maintained that philosophy is different in kind from science in that the latter deals only with existential problems, which may be isolated, whereas for philosophy the value aspect must always be a factor in its answers; hence no problem is for it isolable. The philosopher can not divorce any subject from its total context, hence for him nothing can be definitely settled until everything is settled. Somewhat the same view was maintained by Professor De Laguna. The only tools by which we can attack any of our problems must be themselves borrowed from other problems. But in this general form the issue was in danger, as Professor Pitkin pointed out, of being lost in the more abstract question of the nature of relations, of which it was in fact a part. This danger, he suggested, might be avoided by keeping in mind the difference between independence of existence and independence of variation. Doubtless ultimately all problems are related-and those of science no less than those of philosophy; but that is not inconsistent with a relative independence sufficient to allow of practical and temporary isolation. In fact, as Dr. Schmidt pointed out, the history of philosophy proves that isolation of problems is not only possible but actual. The development of philosophy since Plato has been by means of peeling off one special problem after another,-these developing into the special sciences. Two problems may be regarded, for practical purposes, as distinct from each other: when (1) they are not identical, and (2) neither is a special problem of the other.
The question whether the distinctively philosophical or constructive problems can be isolated from the genetic problems of the history of philosophy led the debate, during much of its course, into a side-issue, which was, however, both interesting and valuable, namely, the relation of the study of the history of philosophy to the more constructive work of the philosopher. Professor De Laguna maintained that the genetic method was so essential as a means of analysis that the problems of philosophy could not be attacked without its aid. To which Professor Perry responded that the genetic study of the subject-matter of philosophy was by no means identical with the study of the opinions of various philosophers upon this matter. The upholders of the possibility of agreement in general admitted the value of the history of philosophy as one of many resources in attacking philosophical problems, but insisted, in Dr. Schmidt's words, that the generating problem of the history of philosophy is distinct from the generating problem of constructive philosophy.
A question more relevant to the general subject was whether the history of philosophy showed real progress toward agreement or only increasing disagreement. In the opinion of Professor De Laguna the latter is the case. The progress of philosophy comes not through the solution of any of its fundamental problems, but through the substitution of a new problem-or more likely of two problems-for an old one. The process by which this is brought about is the uncovering of the latent ambiguities of the old problem; thus no real solution is reached, but a deeper mystery. Instead of solving problems we really "side-step" them. The one great problem of philosophy as such is the gaining of a greater appreciation of our own ignorance. Most of the speakers who referred to this subject, however, were more hopeful. Thus Professor Hocking pointed out that there was a great deal more latent agreement in every generation of philosophers than they themselves were aware of, and a great deal more real progress than they themselves could see. Apparent increase of divergence may be compatible with real increase of agreement on the more fundamental issues. This, in fact, as Professor Dewey showed, is the actual condition in science. Doubtless there are more disagreements in science to-day than ever before, but these disagreements are within agreements. They have relatively fixed and definite limits. And we have reason to hope that the same thing may be true-and may be-come increasingly true-of philosophy. In the main the discussion of the history of philosophy was hopeful, though perhaps it was not made sufficiently explicit that even the seeming failures of philosophy and its frequent "side-stepping" of problems were often stages of real progress toward a deeper unanimity.
Possibly the most fruitful part of the debate consisted in the
( 94) practical turn given to the discussion by Professors Perry, Lovejoy, Lord, and others. It was suggested that greater agreement of the desirable kind might be attained if the members of the Association would give up the philosopher's traditional lonely individualism, and make an effort to cooperate with each other, and especially try to understand each other and to be understood. While all were of one mind in this matter, the particular means of accomplishing the last-mentioned aim proved to be the cause of further disagreement. For the question of the value of a technical philosophical language or "slang" was at once opened, and the pros and cons well exhibited. On the whole, however, the general tone of the debate, especially as it advanced, was decidedly hopeful, and the discussion promised to be itself a useful step in the achievement of greater cooperation, if not of greater agreement.
I have dwelt thus at length upon the debate because it aroused more general interest among those present than did the papers, and also because the latter will in due time be published, whereas the de-bate must be preserved in the reporter's account or nowhere. The papers themselves covered, as usual, a wide field in a scattering manner. What unity they had was brought out by the careful and admirable arrangement given them. Professor Boodin's paper on "Individual and Social Minds" and Professor Singer's on "Man and Fellow Man" set going a discussion on the relation of the individual to society, from both the psychological and the epistemological aspects. Kant came in for his accustomed amount of vilification and defense, though the changing point of view concerning this idol of our fathers was rather significantly exhibited by Professor Creighton's choice of ground on which to defend him. For it transpired that Kant's "Copernican Revolution in Philosophy," though doubt-less real, was on an entirely different question and of a quite different nature from what Kant himself had supposed. Hegel too had his defender in Miss Case, whose paper on "Hegel as an Observer of Thought" was a fit introduction to the general debate on agreement. Two excellent papers on social and ethical subjects were read on Friday afternoon, namely, "Jurisprudence as a Philosophical Discipline," by Professor Cohen, and The Case System in the Study of Ethics," by Professor Cox. It is interesting to note that the two subjects which promised the warmest discussion (had time permitted) were ethics and religion. Certainly no other papers found such enthusiastic assailants as did that of Professor Cox, al-ready referred to, and Professor Leuba's treatment of The Relation of the Psychology of Religion to Theology." In both cases, unfortunately, lack of time prevented full consideration, but the zeal with which the short discussions were pursued and the general in-
( 95) -terest manifested by all were tokens that the old-time questions of religion and ethics had not been put so completely in the shade by the newer questions of epistemology and logic as the programs of our meetings would indicate.
Two papers not directly connected with any others were those by Professor Starbuck on "Instinct, Intelligence, and Affection" and Professor Keyser on "Some Mathematical Psychologic Questions." The former of these was the only treatment of a psycho-logical subject in the whole meeting, and was for this reason especially grateful to many of the members who would like to be both philosophers and psychologists, did not space at the Christmas season prevent. It was a pity that the lateness of the hour did not permit Professor Keyser to demonstrate fully that four-dimensional space exists in every sense of the word in which three-dimensional space may be said to exist. Such a thesis can hardly be proved within the limits of a short paper. But it may be said, at any rate, that none of those present doubted Professor Keyser's ability amply to prove his thesis if granted enough time—and enough space.
Lack of space also prevents the reporter from dealing with President Thilly's admirable address on "Romanticism and Rationalism." Without question it was one of the finest presidential addresses to which the Association has ever listened ; but it must be read to be appreciated. President Butler's words of welcome and the reception given by him to the Association at his home must be passed over with a bare mention, as must also the smoker on Friday evening after President Thilly's address, and the final luncheon at the College of the City of New York. These social gatherings, as is often the ease, were among the most profitable parts of the three-day meeting; but like many other good things, they can not be preserved in printer's ink.
JAMES BISSERT PRATT.