All Rights Reserved.
Site last updated
13 January, 2012
History of Philosophy|
by Turner, William (S.T.D.)
 Consult M. M. Curtis, An Outline of Philosophy in America
(Western Reserve University, 1896); A. Leroy Jones, Early American
Philosophy (New York, 1898); J. B. Creighton, Philosophy of Kant
in America in Kant-Studien, II, 2 and 3, III, and 2; Van
Becelaere, La phil. en Amérique (Paris, 1904).
The history of philosophy in America begins with Jonathan
Edwards (1703-1758), a pupil of Samuel Johnson
(1696-1772), who, during Berkeley's sojourn at Rhode Island,
visited and corresponded with the distinguished advocate of
immaterialism. Edwards was, however, influenced more by Locke than by
Berkeley.  In his principal work, which is devoted to the
discussion of the freedom of the will, he maintains that freedom, in
the sense of self-determining power, is a contradiction, that true
freedom (the quality of human action which raises it to the dignity of
virtue) is a disposition of the heart, and that with this idea of
freedom the foreknowledge and providence of God are easily reconciled.
Edwards' Works were edited by S. E. Dwight (New York, 1844).
 On sources of Jonathan Edwards' idealism, cf.
Philosophical Review, January, 1902.
The disciples of Edwards, chief among whom were Jonathan Edwards,
the Younger (1745-1801), and Timothy Dwight (1752--1817),
confined their attention for the most part to the problems of freedom
of the will, the nature of virtue, and the principles of the moral
government of the universe; they also endeavored to supply a rational
basis for the Calvinistic system of theology.
Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790) deserves mention among those who
helped to stimulate an interest in philosophical speculation during the
years that preceded the Revolution. The practical morality and the
sagacious reflections of "Poor Richard" are Franklin's title to
distinction as the "Socrates of America."
At the beginning of the nineteenth century James Marsh
(1794-1842) called attention to German speculation. He was succeeded
by William Ellery Channing (1780-1842), one of the leaders of
the Unitarian movement, from which sprang the New England
transcendentalism represented by Ralph Waldo Emerson
(1803-1882) and Theodore Parker (1810-1860).
The Scottish philosophy was introduced into this country by James
McCosh (1811-1894), who, after having taught logic and metaphysics
at Queen's College, Belfast, came to America in 1868, and was appointed
president of Princeton College in 1869. Dr. McCosh wrote Intuitions
of the Mind (third edition, 1872), Laws of Discursive
Thought (new edition, 1891), First and Fundamental Truths
(1889), Realistic Philosophy (2 vols., 1887), etc. He opposed
and criticised Kant, Hamilton, Mill, and Spencer, and advocated the
common-sense philosophy, substituting the phrase "intuitions of the
mind" for the expression "common sense."
In the writings of Noah Porter (1811-1892), author of The
Human Intellect (1868) and The Elements of Intellectual
Science (1871), the doctrines of the Scottish school are modified
by the introduction of elements from German transcendental
 Cf. Falckenberg, op. cit., English trans., p. 565.
The most distinguished representative of ontologism in America was
Orestes A. Brownson (1803-1876), who was born at Stockbridge,
Vermont. Brownson joined the Presbyterian Church at the age of
nineteen; three years later he became a Universalist minister. In 1832
he became a clergyman in the Unitarian Church, in 1836 he organized in
Boston the Society for Christian Union and Progress, and finally in
1844 he joined the Catholic Church. He died in 1876. In Brownson's
Quarterly Review, of which the first number was published in 1844,
he championed Catholic claims and discussed literary, philosophical,
and political topics of interest at the time. His Works were
published by his son, H. F. Brownson (10 vols., Detroit, 1882), who is
also the editor of a little volume of extracts entitled Literary,
Scientific, and Political Views of Orestes A. Brownson (New York,
Brownson distinguishes between intuition (direct perception) and
reflection. The latter can contain nothing which is not first perceived
directly by intuition: philosophy "begins and ends with thought. . . .
Thought is, for us, always ultimate."  Now, "the careful analysis of
intuitive thought discloses three elements: subject, object, and their
relation, always distinct, always inseparable, given simultaneously in
one and the same complex fact."  This complex fact is "given" by the
action of creation, -- Ens creat existentias, -- in which
subject, object, and the activity of object are synthetically united.
This is at once the primum philosophicum and the primum
psychologicum: "That of which we have immediate intuition in every
of reasoning and without which no such process would be possible or
conceivable, is God the Creator."  "When Gioberti speaks of the ideal
formula, defines it to be Ens creat existentias, and calls it
the primum philosophicum, he speaks of the real, intuitive
formula, not of the conceptual. He presents this formula as the
primum both of things and of science." 
 Works, I, 58.
Among the American representatives of Spencerian philosophy mention
must be made of Laurens P. Hickok (1798-1888) and of John
Fiske (1842-1901). The latter in his Outlines of Cosmic
Philosophy (1874) presents in somewhat popular form the tenets of
evolutionistic philosophy. The former represents an important attempt
to modify the synthetic philosophy so as to render it more compact in
its inherent consistency and more consonant with theistic ideas. For
the Spencerian conception of the mind, as purely passive, Hickok
substitutes the notion of a mind partly passive and partly active. The
activity of mind is, in its cosmic aspect, the active reason of God,
through Whose absolutely free self-limitation there have been created
certain mechanical "forces" which constitute the "thing-in-itself," --
the external world prior to our consciousness of it. 
 Op. cit., II, 42.
 Op. cit., I, 270.
 Op cit., I, 445.
 Cf. Appendix to Seelye's translation of Schwegler's
History of Philosophy (New York, 1894), pp. 467 ff.