Lovejoy, Arthur Oncken

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Lovejoy, Arthur Oncken

(b Berlin, Germany, 10 October 1873; d. Baltimore, Maryland, 30 December 1962

epistemology, history of ideas.

Lovejoy was the son of an American father, the Reverend W. W. Lovejoy, and a German mother, Sara Oncken. He was educated at the University of California (Berkeley) and did graduate work at Harvard, where he came mainly under the influence of William James. After teaching for brief periods at Stanford, Washington University, and the University of Missouri, he went to Johns Hopkins in 1910 and remained there until his retirement in 1938.

Lovejoy’s epistemology was based on tin premise that experience is irreducibly temporal. He held that the time series was irreversible and dates absolute. From this premise he argued that if two apparently similar (or for that matter different) objects have different dates, they are existentially dual, whatever their causal relations may be. Therefore, the sensory impressions which presumably arise in the human brain must be existentially different from their “objects” Stars, for instance, are seen at dates later than the date at which the light rays, which Cause our vision, left them. The star that we see is thus not the star of the date at which we think we see it. This illustration would be true for any visual object and our impression of it. Lovejoy’s epistemological dualism was expounded in detail in Revolt Against Dualism (1930), along with critical analyses of various forms of monism. Because of his temporalism, he attempted to refute some of the inferences drawn from the special theory of relativity; later, in conversation with the author, he repudiated the papers in which the refutations appeared.

Lovejoy’s epistemological dualism was accompanied by a firm belief in the causal efficacy of ideas. He argued against all forms of anti-intellectualism and favored freedom of speech and conscience. He was one of the organizers of the American Association of University Professors and chairman of its committee on academic freedom for several years. A pronounced intellectualist, he became interested in the history of ideas. In collaboration with Philip Wiener, Lovejoy founded theJournal of the History of Ideas in 1940. His historiographic program consisted in analyzing ideas into their component elements and then looking for a given elemental idea in various fields, regardless of the context in which it first appeared. He argued that a given idea—evolution, for instance—might begin as a theory of biology, but could turn up in theories of art, religion, or social organization.

Lovejoy also believed that ideas often begin as simple descriptive labels but take on eulogistic connotations as time goes on; the historian must become aware of these connotations and of their influence on thought. His most famous example was probably his analysis of the meanings of “nature” and its derivatives. He pointed out that authors are frequently unaware of the ambiguity of their ideas— ambiguities that have accumulated over the centuries —and thus fall into unconscious inconsistencies of thinking. His most influential contribution to the history of ideas is undoubtedly The Great Chain of Being (1936), preceded by certain chapters of Primitivisin and Related Ideas in Antiquity (1935). He realized that to complete a detailed history of any idea would require the collaboration of many scholars.


I. Original Works. Lovejoy’s works include “The Thirteen Pragmatisms,” in Journal of Philosophy, Psychology and Scientific Methods, 5 (1908), 1–12, 29–39; “Reflections of a Temporalist on the New Realism,” ibid., 8 (1911), 589–599; “Some Antecedents of the Philosophy of Bergson,” in Mind, 22 (1913), 465–483; “On Some Novelties of the New Realism,” in Journal of Philosophy, Psychology find Scientific Methods, 10 (1913), 29–43; Bergson and Romantic Evolutionism (Berkeley, 1914); “On Some Conditions of Progress in Philosophical Inquiry,” in Philosophical Review, 26 (1917), 123–163; “The Paradox of the Thinking Behavtorist,” ibid., 31 (1922), 135–147; The Revolt Against Dualism: An Inquiry Concerning the Existence of Ideas (La Salle, III., 1930); Primitivism and Related Ideas in Antiquity (Baltimore, 1935), written with G. Boas; The Great Chain of Being: A Study of the History of an idea (Cambridge, Mass., 1936); and Essays in the History of Ideas (Baltimore, 1948), which includes a complete bibliography up to 1947.

See also “Buffon and the Problem of Species,” in flentley Glass, Owsei Temkin, and William L. Straus, Jr., eds., Forerunners of Darwin (Baltimore, 1959), 84–113; “Kant and Evolution,” ibid., 173–206; “Herder: Progressionism Without Transformation,” ibid., 207-221; “The Argument for Organic Evolution Before the Origin of Species, 1830–1858,” ibid., 356–414; “Schopenhauer as an Evolutionist,” ibid., 415–437; “Recent Criticism of the Darwinian Theory of Recapitulation: Its Grounds and its Initiator,” ibid., 438–458; Reflections on Human Nature (Baltimore, 1961); and The Reason, the Understanding, and Time (Baltimore, 1961).

II. Secondary Literature. See George Boas, “A, O. Lovejoy as Historian of Philosophy,” in Journal of the History of Ideas,9, no. 4 (1948), 404–411; Maurice Mandel—baum, “Arthur O. Lovejoy and the Theory of Historiography,” ibid., 412–423; W, P. Montague, “My Friend Lovejoy,” ibid., 424-427; Marjorie H, Nicholson, “A. O. Lovejoy as Teacher,” ibid., 428–438; Theodore Spencer, “Lovejoy’s Essays in the History of Ideas,” ibid., 439–446; H. A. Taylor, “Further Reflections on the History of Ideas: An Examination of A. 0. Lovejoy ’s Program,” in Journal of Philosophy,40 (1943), 281–299; and Philip P. Wiener, “Lovejoy’s Role in American Philosophy,” in Studies in Intellectual History (Baltimore, 1953), 161–173.

George Boas

Arthur Oncken Lovejoy

views updated May 21 2018

Arthur Oncken Lovejoy

Arthur Oncken Lovejoy (1873-1962), American philosopher, helped establish the history of ideas as a separate scholarly field.

Born in Berlin, Germany, on Oct. 10, 1873, Arthur Lovejoy emigrated to the United States. He received a bachelor of arts degree from the University of California in 1895. In 1897 Harvard awarded him a master of arts degree. After studying at the Sorbonne in Paris, he organized a department of philosophy at Stanford University in California. However, he resigned to protest what he felt was an unfair dismissal of a colleague. From 1901 to 1908 Lovejoy taught at Washington University in St. Louis. After 2 years at the University of Missouri, he moved to Johns Hopkins University, where he spent the rest of his teaching career, with occasional trips to Harvard as visiting lecturer.

For many years Lovejoy's primary influence came through his teaching and short articles, as well as through the History of Ideas Club he helped organize at Johns Hopkins. Not until relatively late in life did he publish book-length expositions. The Revolt against Dualisms (1930) reflected his desire to establish a philosophical position somewhere between the popular extremes of "idealism" (which made the universe dependent upon consciousness) and "realism" (which argued for an objective existence independent of consciousness). His philosophical focus on the transitional dimension of being and knowledge coincided with his interest in intellectual history.

In numerous essays and two books, Primitivism and Related Ideas in Antiquity (1935) and The Great Chain of Being (1936), his most important work, Lovejoy elaborated a scholarly discipline best described as the study of the history of ideas. Whereas most intellectual historians had emphasized the external relationship of thought to environment, Lovejoy stressed internal analysis to demonstrate how the meaning of ideas changes through the ages and how "unit-ideas" manifest themselves in the thought of men outside the philosophical profession. Essentially, his was a philosopher's method, which may explain why historians and literary experts in the field did not often attempt to duplicate his approach. The Great Chain of Being evoked much admiration but little imitation; the Journal of the History of Ideas, which Lovejoy helped found and edit, maintained his high standards of philosophical analysis. He died on Oct. 30, 1962.

Further Reading

For a succinct statement of Lovejoy's philosophical position see his essay in George P. Adams and William Pepperell Montague, eds., Contemporary American Philosophy: Personal Statements, vol. 2 (1930). Some of his most important contributions to intellectual history appear in his Essays in the History of Ideas (1948). There is little biographical information on Lovejoy. A good background work on modern philosophy is John Passmore, A Hundred Years of Philosophy (1957; rev. ed. 1960)

Additional Sources

Wilson, Daniel J., Arthur O. Lovejoy and the quest for intelligibility, Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1980. □

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