Skip to main content

Hocking, William Ernest (1873–1966)


William Ernest Hocking, the American idealist and philosopher of religion, was born in Cleveland, Ohio. He spent his early years in the Middle West and studied civil engineering at Iowa State University. Private reading stimulated an interest in philosophy and led him to study at Harvard, where he was influenced chiefly by William James and Josiah Royce. He completed his undergraduate and graduate studies at Harvard University and spent most of his long teaching career there, retiring in 1943.

Although his philosophical system embodies elements of pragmatism and realism, it is primarily an affirmation of Other Mind, or God, as ultimate reality known directly and intuitively. Hocking thus stands in the idealist tradition in modern philosophy and referred to his own position most commonly as "Objective Idealism." Primitive experience, involving the knowledge of other selves and the world, is conditioned by an immediate awareness of Other Mind, standing in an IThou relationship to the self. Both sensory and emotive experience have cognitive connections that point beyond self to Other Mind. Hocking's emphasis is on feeling linked inextricably with idea, so that the two are joined in immediate consciousness as an "ideafeeling couple." This concept of the union of idea and feeling is the source of the strong strain of mysticism in Hocking's philosophy, but it is a mysticism that does not abandon the role of intellect in clarifying and correcting intuition. He advances the "principle of alternation" between intuition and intellect as fundamental to the appropriation of metaphysical truth.

In his first book, The Meaning of God in Human Experience (1912), Hocking developed an empirical philosophy of religion, grounded in the tradition of classical idealism and at the same time drawing heavily on the mystical experience. In so doing, he sought primarily to defend idealism against arguments of the pragmatists and realists, and he has continued this defense over the years. His Gifford Lectures of 19381939 and other later works show a continuing concern with the problem of "meaning in experience," of "fact and destiny," which challenges man to go beyond his day-to-day existence and seek understanding in the wholeness of things. Thus, as a philosopher Hocking dealt primarily with metaphysical and epistemological questions in a manner in which religious sensitivity played a prominent part.

At no point in his long career did Hocking devote himself exclusively to intellectual issues. He played an active role in seeking United States acceptance of the League of Nations and in the 1920s and 1930s he was especially interested in social and political problems of the Middle East. After that time he participated in a study of freedom of the press in the United States and was active in support of the United Nations and other political and ethical causes. These active concerns found expression in at least ten books and scores of articles and extended his influence far beyond the realm of academic philosophy.

See also Idealism; James, William; Royce, Josiah; Other Minds; Pragmatism; Realism.


Hocking's major work is The Meaning of God (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1912). Among other works that develop his philosophical and religious views are Human Nature and Its Remaking (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1923); The Self: Its Body and Freedom (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1928); Types of Philosophy (New York: Scribners, 1929; rev. eds., 1939, 1959); Living Religions and a World Faith (New York: Macmillan, 1940); and Science and the Idea of God (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1944).

Rouner, LeRoy, ed. Philosophy, Religion, and the Coming World Civilization: Essays in Honor of William Ernest Hocking. The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1966.

Rouner, LeRoy. Within Human Experience: The Philosophy of William Earnest Hocking. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1969.

Richard C. Gilman (1967)

Bibliography updated by Christian B. Miller (2005)

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Hocking, William Ernest (1873–1966)." Encyclopedia of Philosophy. . 20 Feb. 2019 <>.

"Hocking, William Ernest (1873–1966)." Encyclopedia of Philosophy. . (February 20, 2019).

"Hocking, William Ernest (1873–1966)." Encyclopedia of Philosophy. . Retrieved February 20, 2019 from

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

The Chicago Manual of Style

American Psychological Association

  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.