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  • A William Ernest Hocking Reader: With Commentary
  • Michael J. McGandy
A William Ernest Hocking Reader: With Commentary. Ed. John Lachs and Micah Hester. Nashville: Vanderbilt University Press, 2004. xvi + 400 pp. $95.00 h.c. 0-8265-1369-7; $45.00 pbk. 0-8265-1370-0.

The work of William Ernest Hocking (1873-1966) is celebrated and his legacy enriched by this important volume in the Vanderbilt Library of American Philosophy. The fruit of a lecture series sponsored by the Society of Philosophers in America and the Cabot-Hocking Trust, this reader presents essential selections from the Hocking corpus as well as ten chapters, composed by contemporary philosophers, on various aspects of Hocking's philosophy.

Hocking was a distinguished member of the Harvard University faculty (1914-1943) and a philosopher of renown in the United States, Europe, and Asia. The strongest influences on his thought were arguably Josiah Royce (whom he succeeded as Alford Professor of Natural Religion and Moral Philosophy) and William James, while his general bent of thought was idealistic. In the course of his career he presented the prestigous Gifford Lectures (1938-1939) and wrote many books of great quality, including The Meaning of God in Human Experience,Types of Philosophy (which went through three editions as a textbook), and What Man Can Make of Man.

Lachs and Hester aim to revitalize interest in Hocking's philosophy among scholars as well as make his philosophy accessible to undergraduate and graduate students. This volume admirably serves the first purpose. Whether or not the book fulfills its second goal is harder to estimate. The ten scholarly chapters are all appropriately introductory in character, but the presentations are pitched more toward professors and graduate students than undergraduates. The price of the paperback edition will also make undergraduate course adoptions hard to justify. The route to undergraduate students is via their professors, yet, and there is no doubt that this collection well serves the needs of professional philosophers and graduate students with an interest in twentieth-century philosophy.

The main challenge facing the editors, as they readily admit, was paring down Hocking's corpus (20 books and more than 250 articles). With 214 pages out of 400 allocated to Hocking's own words, the choices were certainly hard. Yet few will find fault with the selections. Those new to Hocking will discover key portions of all of the major works presented. Readers familiar with him will be pleased to see important journal articles. This collection is essential for those who want Hocking on their bookshelf because the vast majority of Hocking's [End Page 88] books can be found only in libraries and an occasional used bookstore. Because of this, interested readers will want to know that two books by Hocking, Human Nature and Its Remaking ($37.95) and The Meaning of God in Human Experience ($45.95), were recently republished in paperback by Kessinger Publishing. Perhaps more new (and hopefully less expensive) editions will follow.

The principal deficiency of A William Ernest Hocking Reader is that the scholarly chapters are not edited in order to relate to Hocking's writings featured in the first half of the book. A judicious use of cross-references as well as a bit of rewriting to better match commentary and the selections from Hocking would have been useful. (Spotty indexing will further hamper readers navigating through the collection.) Also the scholarly chapters were not edited to remove some of the redundancy expected in papers given on separate occasions for unique audiences. Most of the repeated matter (e.g., about Hocking's career, his publications, his current neglect) is more than adequately addressed in the editors' introduction and could have been excised.

As to the philosophical matter itself, Hocking's thought is, first and foremost, a philosophy of community. His two most important areas of inquiry were the phenomena of intersubjective experience and the forms of our political lives. The editor's selections from the Hocking corpus—especially from Human Nature and Its Remaking, The Lasting Elements of Individualism, and Man and the State—strongly reflect these interests. The scholarly essays also give serious attention to Hocking's social and political thought. Douglas...


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