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The Crisis of Democratic Theory

Scientific Naturalism and the Problem of Value

Edward A. Purcell, Jr.

Publication Year: 2014

"Widely acclaimed for its originality and penetration, this award-winning study of American thought in the twentieth century examines the ways in which the spread of pragmatism and scientific naturalism affected developments in philosophy, social science, and law, and traces the effects of these developments on traditional assumptions of democratic theory."

Published by: The University Press of Kentucky


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pp. C-C1

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. i-vi


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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-xii

Although this book does not discuss the problems of racial conflict in the United States, it grew out of a commitment to what in the early sixties was called the Civil Rights Movement. Engaged in debate and action that assumed certain fundamental and democratic moral beliefs, I became increasingly curious about their rational foundations as ethical propositions...

I: The Problems of Democratic Theory

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1: Scientific Naturalism in American Thought

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pp. 3-12

In the spring of 1934 the hostility created by five decades of intellectual conflict erupted in a debate held on the campus of the University of Chicago. The renowned physiologist Anton J. Carlson, nicknamed "Ajax" by his opponents, glared across a platform at law professor Mortimer J. Adler before a divided and intensely partisan overflow crowd that had...

II :The Undermining of Democratic Theory

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2: Naturalism & Objectivism in the Social Sciences

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pp. 15-30

By the second decade of the twentieth century the ideal of a science of society was firmly entrenched in American thought. Its roots lay deep in the history of Western civilization, especially in eighteenth century rationalism and nineteenth century positivism. In America Darwin had served as the great intellectual catalyst in producing the formal "social...

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3: Methodology & Morals

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pp. 31-46

'The social sciences," declared Leonard White, "have now reached the point where it is open to them to use laboratory methods."1 In 1923 White, together with representatives of a number of departments at the University of Chicago, including Merriam, Lasswell, Park, Thomas Vernor...

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4: Non-Euclideanism: Logic & Metaphor

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pp. 47-73

Since Charles Sanders Peirce's seminal work on logic in the 1870s, American pragmatism had developed a powerful critique of metaphysical first principles. A priori rationality, Peirce maintained, did not mean "that which agrees with experience, but that which we find ourselves inclined to believe."1 Metaphysics did not produce real knowledge, but merely...

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5: The Rise of Legal Realism

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pp. 74-94

The interest in non-Euclideanism manifested by such legal scholars as Jerome Frank and Herman Oliphant was part of a broad and dynamic attempt during the twenties and thirties to alter significantly the assumptions of American jurisprudence. As a field traditionally associated with...

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6: The New Study of Politics

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pp. 95-114

While new movements in law were challenging the orthodox interpretation of the legal process, students of American politics were simultaneously undermining other pillars of democratic theory. Sharing the general intellectual assumptions that characterized the legal realists and most...

III: The Crisis of Democratic Theory

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7: America & the Rise of European Dictatorships

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pp. 117-138

The disappointment with Woodrow Wilson's idealism after the First World War and the parallel resurgence of nativism and elitism had combined with such new doctrines as the irrational nature of man and the impracticability of government by the "common man" to spur a forceful...

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8: Counterattack

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pp. 139-158

In November, 1929 the University of Chicago inaugurated a new president. Robert Maynard Hutchins, boyish-looking at only thirty, became the fifth president of the most dynamic university in the United States. Coming from the deanship of the Yale Law School, the center of legal...

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9: Crisis in Jurisprudence

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pp. 159-178

When Robert M. Hutchins returned to Yale for a lecture appearance after several years absence, he met Thurman Arnold, an old acquaintance from his New Haven days. "Hello, Cardinal/' Arnold greeted his former dean. Philosophically few men could have been farther apart. When...

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10: Crisis in Social Science

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pp. 179-196

Although the lines of combat were not as clearly drawn in the social sciences as in law, the multicornered debate reached similar peaks of bitterness and hostility. The rise of totalitarianism forced social scientists, as it had legal scholars, to clarify their central assumptions and to confront the...

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11: Toward a Relativist Theory of Democracy

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pp. 197-217

"The pressure of events these days," acknowledged one scholar in early 1942, "is continuously turning criticism against social scientists because of the position they take toward values."1 While the late thirties and early forties were surely a rhetorical harvest time for philosophical and religious...

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12: Theoretical Principles & Foreign Policy

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pp. 218-232

In September, 1940, over five hundred American intellectuals gathered in New York City for a special conference on science, philosophy, and religion. A huge tent was erected in the central quadrangle of the Jewish Theological Seminary to accommodate the meetings, and representatives...

IV: The Resolution of Democratic Theory

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13: Relativist Democratic Theory & Postwar America

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pp. 235-266

Much of the turmoil of the forties and early fifties tended to obscure the major developments that were taking place among American intellectuals. The resounding democratic affirmations—often couched in absolute terms —the vocal attacks on relativism and excessive empiricism, the apparent disappearance of pragmatism as a philosophical movement, the so-called...

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14: America as a Normative Concept

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pp. 267-272

The relativist theory of democracy dominated American political thought during the two decades following the Second World War, but in the late fifties it began to provoke increasing criticism. By the mid-sixties the criticism became a swelling chorus that sought to repudiate the...


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pp. 273-315

A Note on Sources

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pp. 316-320


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pp. 321-332

E-ISBN-13: 9780813146034
Print-ISBN-13: 9780813101415

Page Count: 344
Publication Year: 2014