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Creighton, James Edwin (1861–1924)


James Edwin Creighton, an American idealist philosopher, was born in Pictou, Nova Scotia. Creighton was educated at Dalhousie College, Halifax (A.B., 1887), where one of his teachers was Jacob Gould Schurman, whom he later followed to Cornell University. He was appointed fellow in philosophy there in 1888 and studied in Leipzig and Berlin, returning to Cornell in 1889 as an instructor. He received his Ph.D. in 1892 with the thesis "The Will; Its Structure and Mode of Operation," and became associate professor. In 1895 he was elected Sage professor of logic and metaphysics, succeeding Schurman, and held that chair until his death. He received LL.D. degrees from Queens University (1903) and from Dalhousie (1914). While Creighton was dean of the graduate school at Cornell from 1914 to 1923, his flexible policies stimulated student initiative, but the administrative demands on his time limited his literary output. He was coeditor of the Philosophical Review from 1892 until 1902, when he became sole editor, and he was American editor of Kantstudien from 1896 until his death.

Convinced that the intellectual life is a social venture, Creighton was a cofounder of the American Philosophical Association and in 1902 became its first president. His vigorous instruction influenced the development of philosophy in American education through the efforts of his students, twenty-two of whom honored him with a volume of articles, Philosophical Essays (New York, 1917), commemorating twenty-five years of his teaching.

Creighton's "speculative idealism" grew out of his view that philosophical inquiry must occur in the context of the history of ideas and must begin with "the standpoint of experience." But experience is not a simple, isolated particular which can be understood by analysis. Finite individuality has system implicit in it, and can be understood as a part of the order of the universe. It is unity in plurality and identity in difference. It is permeated with meaning. In short, Creighton identified it as the "concrete universal."

Thus, with Bernard Bosanquet, Creighton held that philosophical judgments are ways in which experience progresses toward its goal of intelligibility, and the task of such judgments is to disclose the implications of the dynamic coordinates of experience: mind, nature, and other selves. Reality cannot be identified with mind, will, or personality but must be comprehended as a system in which each entity plays a part as an individual and as a significant function of the purposeful whole. Epistemological problems traceable to Immanuel Kant's emphasis on the centrality of the knowing subject are artificial because mind by its very nature is already in touch with reality. Subject and object cannot be viewed as ontologically discrete but are correlative. Accordingly, Creighton dissociated himself from neorealism, which regards truth as a quality of single propositions; from pragmatism, which fails to see that thought modifies the internal structure of experience itself; and from Berkeleianism and other "mentalistic" idealisms, which interpret nature as a phase of mind, thereby transforming experience unnecessarily into an order of ideas instead of accepting objective reality as a direct intuition. Such idealisms, even Josiah Royce's absolutism, issue in subjectivism and thus deny the objective world. Creighton maintained that this conclusion would render all thought chaotic because the objective order is the presupposition of all rationality.

Appointed to the Carus lectureship in 1924, Creighton planned to develop his views on historical method in philosophy, but death intervened. He wrote virtually nothing on ethics, aesthetics, or religion, unlike his idealist contemporaries, but certain details of his system can be inferred from his excellent critical discussions of competing movements.

See also Bosanquet, Bernard; Idealism; Kant, Immanuel; Pragmatism; Royce, Josiah.


works by creighton

Translator with E. B. Titchener, of W. Wundt, Lectures on Human and Animal Psychology. London: S. Sonnenschein, 1894.

Translator with A. Lefevre, of F. Paulsen, Immanuel Kant. New York: Scribners, 1902.

An Introductory Logic. New York: Macmillan, 1909. The fifth edition (New York: Macmillan, 1932) was revised by one of Creighton's colleagues, H. R. Smart.

Studies in Speculative Philosophy, edited by H. R. Smart. New York: Macmillan, 1925. Fourteen of his 38 major articles were posthumously published in this volume, which is the best single source for his views, containing a select bibliography and his most representative essay, "Two Types of Idealism."

works on creighton

Blau, Joseph L. Men and Movements in American Philosophy. New York: Prentice-Hall, 1952.

Cunningham, G. Watts. The Idealist Argument in Recent British and American Philosophy. New York: Century, 1933.

Townsend, Harvey G. Philosophical Ideas in the United States. New York: American, 1934.

Critical discussions of Creighton's work can be found in the three books listed above.

Warren E. Steinkraus (1967)

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