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Notes and Discussions THE PHILOSOPHER AS HISTORIAN OF PHILOSOPHY: HERBERT WALLACE SCHNEIDER In The Edwardians, the British novelist V. Sackville-West speaks for an older woman character in words that have resonance for many of us: "It was one thing to be admired because one was so lovely, and quite another thing ,to be admired because one was still so lovely" (p. 94). I should like to assure Herbert Wallace Schneider that I am not writing of his work as historian of American philosophy because it is still to be admired, but simply because it is to be admired. In .4 History of American Philosophy, he said "My volume is, of course, not my work in any strict sense" (original edition, 1946, p. x), and he continued with generous references to the work of his predecessors and students. Despite this disclaimer, in the strictest possibPe sense it was Herbert Schneider who created the canon of historical study of philosophy in the United States for his school of philosophic interpretation. It is, perhaps, the distinguishing mark of philosophy that the question, "What is philosophy?" is itself a philosophic question, for the way in which one answers this question must necessarily flow out of one's total philosophic orientation. At a further remove, what one considers relevant to the writing of a history of philosophy, or of any limited part of a history of philosophy, derives from one's answer to the question, "What is philosophy?" Thus in creating the canon of inclusion or exclusion for the historical study of philosophy in the United States, Schneider was imputing philosophic character to what he included; hence he was defining philosophy and revealing his philosophic position. That position sees philosophy as disciplined and systematic reflection upon all the problems of human life, not merely upon the problems of reflection themselves. In regretting that he had not had Arthur M. Schlesinger's Age of Jackson and, even more, Joseph Dorfman's The Economic Mind in A,merican Civilization available during the writing of his History of American Philosophy, Schneider wrote: "It is already clear that political, economic, theological, and metaphysical principles have been more closely associated in American thought than we have hitherto been led to believe and that a truly comprehensive history of American philosophy still remains to be written" (original edition, p. x). Had he been describing his own practice, he might well have included scientific and sociological "principles " with the types he did mention. [212] NOTES AND DISCUSSIONS 213 In one of his earlier historical studies, The Puritan Mind, published in 1930, Schneider came close to setting forth his philosophy of the history of philosophy. His brief statement begins with a reference to historical relativism, expressed in the then fashionable language of relativity theory: The perspectives of history are ever shifting, for human experience, being itself continually subject to change, affords no fixed point of reference for the mind .... Neither the mental world nor the physical has a center and a circumference. The motion of bodies must be measured from points themselves in motion, and the meanings of events are themselves events in a constantly shifting scene. (p. 3) Because of this perspectival relativism, there is no hope that anyone will ever be able to write the ultimate and complete history of anything. "[W]hatever outline history may have at present will sooner or later be lost in favor of new outlines, for it is the ever-changing present and not the past that gives form to history" (p. 4). This is not, however, the whole story, for if the past has no meaning for us save in terms of this present, here-and-now, it is equally the fact that the present has no meaning for us save in terms of that past, there-and-then. "Past and present are in themselves alike mysterious, but they mysteriously illuminate each other; and though things are never intelligible in themselves, they nevertheless make each other intelligible" (p. 3). There is, thus, no ultimately fixed meaning for either present or past; patterns of physical existence are more stable than patterns of intelligibility. Fathers and sons are able to comprehend each other's approaches to...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1538-4586
Print ISSN
0022-5053
Pages
pp. 212-215
Launched on MUSE
2008-01-01
Open Access
No
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