Philosophy Shifts From Religion To Science

A History of Philosophy in America, two volumes, by Elizabeth Flower and Murray G. Murphey (Putnam’s, 1977, 972 pp., $30,00), is reviewed by Erling Jorstad, professor of history and American studies, St. Olaf College, Northfield, Minnesota.

In this massive work, the first survey since Herbert Schneider’s A History of American Philosophy (1946), two University of Pennsylvania scholars chart the major currents of American philosophical thought from the Puritans to C.I. Lewis (1883–1946). Unfortunately, this leaves out the contemporary scene (including A.N. Whitehead). But the rich, thorough text is reward enough.

Christian readers will applaud the fairness and accuracy with which the authors document their major contention that “the most striking characteristic” of American philosophy “is the complexity and intimacy of the relationships among science, religion, and philosophy.” But they may be less than persuaded by the authors’ contention that these three fields have such intimate and complex ties “that it is often unclear what if any distinction can be made among them.” If anything, this study documents what we know so well: the slow but pervasive decline of interest in theological foundations for philosophical thought after Jonathan Edwards, a decline that by the middle of the twentieth century, led philosophy to regard natural science as its paradigm.

But the several virtues of this work must be commended. Rather than serve up an exhaustive encyclopedia, the authors carefully present their choices of significant movements, dominating figures, and leading academic institutions: the Puritans, early scientific thought, Edwards ...

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