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  • Reply to Critics
  • Marilyn Fischer

many, many thanks to barbara lowe for organizing this panel and to Judy Whipps, Barbara Lowe, Scott Pratt, and Danielle Lake for their responses to my book. I could not imagine a better set of respondents. All of these scholars know Addams's work well and read Jane Addams's Evolutionary Theorizing with care. I thank them for bringing out aspects of the book that deserve comment.

A historian friend of mine describes philosophers as "refugees from time." I think this is true. Philosophers write about Addams, who had a forty-five-year writing career, as if she wrote everything the same afternoon. When I started this project, I wanted to trace how Addams developed her thinking over time, with a particular focus on how she came to her conception of pacifism. I began with her earliest published essay, "The Subjective Necessity for Social Settlements," given in 1892. Although I had read the essay many times, phrases I had never noted popped out at me. For example, Addams writes: "We are perhaps entering upon the second phase of democracy." I didn't know what she meant by democracy's second phase, or even by its first phase. She goes on, "The social organism has broken down" (4). Is the social organism an outdated way of referring to society, I wondered, or is something else at stake? Then, in describing the motivation for social settlements, Addams comments that there was "something primordial" (4) about one of the motives. "Our very organism holds memories and glimpses of that long life of our ancestors" ("Subjective Necessity" 10). Whatever does that mean? How can our "organism" hold memories? Which ancestors?

I realized there was a deeper story to uncover, namely, that Addams was working right at the center of the dominant intellectual paradigm of her day, that of social evolutionary theorizing. I decided to trace the story of how Addams worked inside this paradigm by digging out her sources and [End Page 137] analyzing how she constructed her texts. Because Addams wrote for a lay audience, she largely hid her sources from view. I felt like an archaeologist and philologist, checking every phrase of Addams's texts and tracing them back to larger conversations among intellectuals of the day. In order to show how Addams constructed Democracy and Social Ethics, in chapters 1 through 6 of my book, I examine essays that Addams wrote during the 1890s, and in chapter 7, I show how she revised these essays for Democracy and Social Ethics. The thesis of my book is that Democracy and Social Ethics is conceptually untidy because it is constructed upon three different accounts of social evolutionary history. Yet it is a rich and enduring text because its looseness gives readers' imaginations greater range.

The responses by Lowe, Whipps, Lake, and Pratt are informed by their own histories as scholars and teachers. This fact points to how a book is more than pages between covers; it is an encounter between author and reader to which each party brings the sum of their own experiences. I will respond to the main points raised by each critic.

I am grateful to Judy Whipps for highlighting some of the main conceptual moves I make in the book. She begins by asking why I claim that Addams was a scientist and Democracy and Social Ethics a scientific text. The answer is simply—chronology. As I read Addams's early essays, I realized that she and her peers were breathing a different intellectual air than we breathe today. To understand her writings, I had to learn to breathe that air by acquainting myself with the full panoply of meanings and associations evoked by a particular word or phrase at the time and circumstance in which it was uttered. I read literally thousands of books and articles from every field written in the late nineteenth century. Historians like to say that "the past is a foreign country; people thought differently back then." Even though I was studying texts written in English just over a century ago, it felt like a dive into a distant culture. I immersed myself in this literature until Addams's...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1944-6489
Print ISSN
1930-7365
Pages
pp. 137-144
Launched on MUSE
2021-03-06
Open Access
No
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