- Edward Scribner Ames’s Unpublished Manuscripts ed. by John N. Gaston and W. Creighton Peden
Reviewing the work of a single author collected and edited by someone other than the author presents itself as a uniquely difficult task. The principles that ordinarily serve to structure and facilitate the review process—logically analyzing a thinker’s argument, judging her contribution to the field, relating her work to the wider context of current intellectual debates or trends, and so on—prove to be of limited or no use. Yet this doesn’t mean there exist no principles by which to critically evaluate the content and significance of such types of works. The principles at one’s disposal merely happen to be those of curation rather than creation.
Now there are surely as many ways to curate a body of work as there are to create one, so I’ve chosen from a potentially wide pool two curatorial principles to guide my assessment of Edward Scribner Ames’s Unpublished Manuscripts, published by Cambridge Scholars Publishing. The first involves creativity of organization: in what ways does the editor(s) allow us, the readers, to see the scholar’s work in a fresh and revealing light? The second is care in stewardship: [End Page 286] does the editor stay true to the work’s authorial intent, while making cosmetic improvements where those improvements prove unobtrusive and necessary for a clear and meaningful presentation? In the space that follows, I will assess John N. Gaston’s and W. Creighton Peden’s curation of Edward Scribner Ames’s unpublished lectures, papers, and sermons against both of these principles.
As to the first: the organization of the work is straightforwardly chronological. This is not for any lack of effort or creative imagination on the part of the editors, however; it reflects instead a commitment to presenting Ames’s philosophical and religious views as they progressively unfolded during his long and fruitful career. The editors’ decision to stick to a purely sequential mode of presentation is to be commended. While a thematic analysis likely would have proved more intriguing, especially given the current post-/late-modern age’s fascination with hermeneutic interrogation of texts and discourses, the risk such an analysis carries of distorting the original message is sometimes simply too high. For a thematic treatment of Ames’s primary ideas, the reader is directed to the concluding sections of Peden’s Christian Pragmatism: An Intellectual Biography of Edward Scribner Ames (1870–1958), a companion volume to the present work from the same publisher.
Within the manuscripts themselves, two figures stand out as important voices in the development of Ames’s thought, as Peden duly notes in a brief but illuminating introductory essay. Those figures are John Locke and William James. Considering his substantial influence on the Chicago Schools of philosophy and theology, of which Ames is a foremost representative, William James is the less surprising figure here. It is John Locke whose appeal demands further explanation, for certain of Locke’s methodological commitments seem, on the surface at least, antithetical to the naturalism and radical empiricism of the Chicago Schools (such as his notion of secondary qualities, his support of mechanical explanations, or his commitment to a divine command theory of moral obligation, to name a few). Ames diffuses this possible worry in a dynamic lecture given at the Art Institute of Chicago in 1928 by situating Locke’s philosophy within its particular historical and social context. This empathetic hermeneutic method is one Ames urges us to adopt when assessing the claims of any thinker or system of philosophy (124), and one lent credence by recent work falling under the apropos title of “embedded philosophy.” Even admitting the defects and inherent limitations of early modern philosophy, Ames finds in Locke’s letter on Toleration (1689) a protopragmatist philosophy of religion that locates authentic religion in an individual’s ethical comportment toward the world, not in the authority of creeds and institutions. This points to a larger...