Arthur Oncken Lovejoy (October 10, 1873 – December 30, 1962) was an Americanphilosopher and intellectual historian, who founded the discipline known as the history of ideas with his book The Great Chain of Being (1936), on the topic of that name, which is regarded as 'probably the single most influential work in the history of ideas in the United States during the last half century'.
Lovejoy was born in Berlin, Germany while his father was doing medical research there. Eighteen months later, his mother committed suicide, whereupon his father gave up medicine and became a clergyman. Lovejoy studied philosophy, first at the University of California at Berkeley, then at Harvard under William James and Josiah Royce. In 1901, he resigned from his first job, at Stanford University, to protest the dismissal of a colleague who had offended a trustee. The President of Harvard then vetoed hiring Lovejoy on the grounds that he was a known troublemaker. Over the subsequent decade, he taught at Washington University, Columbia University, and the University of Missouri. He never married.
As a professor of philosophy at Johns Hopkins University from 1910 to 1938, Lovejoy founded and long presided over that university's History of Ideas Club, where many prominent and budding intellectual and social historians, as well as literary critics, gathered. In 1940 he founded the Journal of the History of Ideas. Lovejoy insisted that the history of ideas should focus on "unit ideas," single concepts (namely simple concepts sharing an abstract name with other concepts that were to be conceptually distinguished). Abstract nouns like 'pragmatism' 'idealism', 'rationalism' and the like were, in Lovejoy's view, constituted by distinct, analytically separate ideas, which the historian of the genealogy of ideas had to thresh out, and show how the basic unit ideas combine and recombine with each other over time. The idea has, according to Simo Knuuttila, exercised a greater attraction on literary critics than on philosophers.
Lovejoy was active in the public arena. He helped found the American Association of University Professors and the Maryland chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union. However, he qualified his belief in civil liberties to exclude what he considered threats to a free system. Thus, at the height of the McCarthy Era (in the February 14, 1952 edition of the Journal of Philosophy) Lovejoy stated that, since it was a "matter of empirical fact" that membership in the Communist Party contributed "to the triumph of a world-wide organization" which was opposed to "freedom of inquiry, of opinion and of teaching," membership in the party constituted grounds for dismissal from academic positions. He also published numerous opinion pieces in the Baltimore press. He died in Baltimore on December 30, 1962.
In the domain of epistemology, Lovejoy is remembered for an influential critique of the pragmatic movement, especially in the essay "The Thirteen Pragmatisms", written in 1908.
William F. Bynum, looking back at Lovejoy's Great Chain of Being after 40 years, describes it as "a familiar feature of the intellectual landscape", indicating its great influence and "brisk" ongoing sales. Bynum argues that much more research is needed into how the concept of the great chain of being was replaced, but he agrees that Lovejoy was right that the crucial period was the end of the 18th century when "the Enlightenment's chain of being was dismantled".
- "The Entangling Alliance of Religion and History,"The Hibbert Journal, Vol. V, October 1906/ July 1907.
- "The Desires of the Self-Conscious,"The Journal of Philosophy, Psychology and Scientific Methods, Vol. 4, No. 2, Jan. 17, 1907.
- "The Place of Linnaeus in the History of Science,"The Popular Science Monthly, Vol. LXXI, 1907.
- "The Origins of Ethical Inwardness in Jewish Thought,"The American Journal of Theology, Vol. XI, 1907.
- "Kant and the English Platonists." In Essays, Philosophical and Psychological, Longmans, Green & Co., 1908.
- "Pragmatism and Theology,"The American Journal of Theology, Vol. XII, 1908.
- "The Theory of a Pre-Christian Cult of Jesus,"The Monist, Vol. XVIII, No. 4, October 1908.
- "The Thirteen Pragmatisms,"The Journal of Philosophy, Psychology, and Scientific Methods, Vol. V, January/December, 1908.
- "The Argument for Organic Evolution Before the 'Origin of Species',"Part II, Popular Science Monthly, Vol. LXXV, July/December, 1909.
- "Schopenhauer as a Evolutionist,"The Monist, Vol. XXI, 1911.
- "Kant and Evolution,"Popular Science Monthly, Vol. LXXVII, 1910; Part II, Popular Science Monthly, Vol. LXXVIII, 1911.
- "The Problem of Time in Recent French Philosophy,"Part II,Part III, The Philosophical Review, Vol. XXI, 1912.
- "Pragmatism Versus the Pragmatist." In: Essays in Critical Realism. London: Macmillan & Co., 1920.
- "Professional Ethics and Social Progress,"The North American Review, March 1924.
- "Plans for the Future,"Free World, November 1943.
- "Leibnitz, Gottfried Wilhelm, Freiherr Von,"A Cyclopedia of Education, ed. by Paul Monroe, The Macmillan Company, 1911.
- "The Unity of Science,"The University of Missouri Bulletin: Science Series, Vol. I, N°. 1, January 1912.
- Bergson & Romantic Evolutionism; Two Lectures Delivered Before the Union, September 5 & 12, 1913, University of California Press, 1914.
- Campbell, James, "Arthur Lovejoy and the Progress of Philosophy,", in: Transactions of the Charles S. Peirce Society, Vol. 39, No. 4, Fall, 2003.
- Diggins, John P., "Arthur O. Lovejoy and the Challenge of Intellectual History,", in: Journal of the History of Ideas, Volume 67, Number 1, January 2006.
- Duffin, Kathleen E. "Arthur O. Lovejoy and the Emergence of Novelty," in: Journal of the History of Ideas, Vol. 41, No. 2, Apr./Jun., 1980.
- Feuer, Lewis S., "The Philosophical Method of Arthur O. Lovejoy: Critical Realism and Psychoanalytical Realism," in: Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, Vol. 23, No. 4, Jun., 1963.
- Feuer, Lewis S. "Arthur O. Lovejoy," in: The American Scholar, Vol. 46, No. 3, Summer 1977.
- Mandelbaum, Maurice. "Arthur O. Lovejoy and the Theory of Historiography," in: Journal of the History of Ideas, Vol. 9, No. 4, Oct., 1948.
- Moran, Seán Farrell, "A.O. Lovejoy", in: Kelly Boyd, ed., The Encyclopedia of Historians and Historical Writing, Routledge, 1999.
- Randall, Jr., John Herman, "Arthur O. Lovejoy and the History of Ideas," in: Philosophy and Phenomenological Research"', Vol. 23, No. 4, Jun., 1963.
- Wilson, Daniel J., Arthur O. Lovejoy and the Quest for Intelligibility, University of North Carolina Press, 1980.
- ^Simo Knuuttila (ed.) Reforging the Great Chain of Being: Studies of the History of Modal Theories, Springer Science & Business Media, 2013 p.3
- ^Arthur O. Lovejoy, [The Great Chain of Being,] (1936) Harper & Row 1960 pp.5ff.
- ^"The Thirteen Pragmatisms, The Journal of Philosophy, Psychology, and Scientific Methods, nowThe Journal of Philosophy, Part I, 2 January 1908 p. 5-12. Part II, 16 January 1908, p. 29-39
- ^William F. Bynum: "The Great Chain of Being after Forty Years: An Appraisal", History of Science 13 (1975): 1-28
The last fifteen years have seen a number of attempts to imagine what lies “beyond” the linguistic and cultural turns of recent decades in historiography. The impulse is derived, one suspects, from the need for academic cultures to declare current established practice “dead” in favor of some new departure. We have had thirty years of discourse study, cultural analysis of texts and meaning, attention to the constitutive power of language, and suspicion of reading texts as unmediated referential documents. It seems inevitable that voices would arise declaring the attention to culture and language exhausted, asking us to turn away from language and culture and plant our feet on some firmer ground. Academic disciplinary cultures, try as they might to abandon modernist commitments to a belief in progress in which today's know-how trumps yesterday's ignorance, can't seem to transcend their nineteenth-century origins. We know, or think we do, that the humanities are not the bearers of progress in knowledge, that we are no wiser than our forebears, that the holy grail remains as far out of reach as it ever was. And yet we act as if we can expose the shortcomings of our intellectual ancestors and in doing so inaugurate a new and better understanding of the realm in which human beings act and create meaning. Hence a new generation, having decided that it has either absorbed the lessons of the cultural and linguistic turns or realized what a constraining dead end such a turn represents, advocates a departure for more fertile ground.