Carr, Herbert Wildon

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Carr, Herbert Wildon

(b. London[?], England, 16 January 1857; d. Los Angeles, California, 8 July 1931),


The eldest son of Benjamin William Carr, he was educated privately and at King’s College, University of London. He became a successful and wealthy businessman and during this period belonged to the Aristotelian Society for the Systematic Study of Philosophy, founded in London in 1880. As secretary, he knew scientists such as George John Romanes and philosophers such as Alexander Bain, Bernard Bosanquet, and Bertrand Russell. He was president of the society from 1916 to 1918, professor of philosophy at King’s College, London, from 1918, and visiting professor at the University of Southern California in 1925, where he lived during his last years. He married Margaret Geraldine Spooner and had three daughters.

Wildon Carr, as he was invariably called, developed his philosophical views in discussions at the then rather unacademic but scientifically oriented Aristotelian Society. He accepted the philosophical idealism that was influential during the 1890’s and early twentieth century; but whereas such leading idealists as Bosanquet and Francis Herbert Bradley argued for a suprapersonal Absolute in which persons were absorbed, Carr held that the ultimate realities are active persons. His inspiration here was Leibniz. Carr believed that the history of philosophy is inseparable from the history of science, and his teaching and writing emphasized this. Belief in absolute space and time, he held, provided a foundation for the materialist view that mind is a determined and evanescent feature of an objective world of atoms in space. He believed that Leibniz, in his correspondence with Clarke on Newton’s Principia and in other writings, had given conclusive philosophical reasons for a relative theory of space and time and for the metaphysical primacy of active perceiving monads. He welcomed the general theory of relativity for providing, as he thought, scientific reasons for the monadism that he had inherited from Leibniz, whom he regarded as the founder of idealism. He stated this thesis in “The Principle of Relativity and its Importance for Philosophy” and expanded it in The General Principle of Relativity (1920). Carr did not say that the principle of relativity in itself proved idealism but rather that it gave support to it in showing that there is no conception of an objective physical world apart from a point of reference and system of measurement. The idea of matter as a space occupancy, he wrote in Cogitans Cogitata (1930), has been replaced by “the idea of fields of force arising from the deformable nature of a space–time continuum.” Carr also criticized mechanistic theories in biology, arguing that both memory and foresight imply a spontaneity that material particles could not have. Here he was influenced by Bergson, whose Energie Spirituelle he translated into English. The Unique Status of Man (1928), based on his lectures in California, and Cogitans Cogitata contain the most systematic expositions of his philosophy.


I. Original Works. Carr’s writings are Henri Bergson. The Philosophy of Change (London, 1911; 2nd ed., 1919); The Philosophy of Change (London, 1914); The Philosophy of Benedetto Croce (London, 1918); The General Principle of Relativity in its Philosophical and Historical Aspect (London, 1920; 2nd ed., 1922); A Theory of Monads. Outlines of the Philosophy of the Principle of Relativity (London, 1922); The Scientific Approach to Philosophy (London,1924); Changing Backgrounds in Religion and Ethics (London, 1927); The Unique Status of Man (London, 1928); The Freewill Problem (London, 1928); Leibniz (London, 1929);Cogitans Cogitata (London, 1930); and The Monadology of Leibniz (London, 1931). He translated into English Henri Bergson, Mind Energy (London, 1920), and Giovanni Gentile, The Theory of Mind as Pure Act (London, 1921).

Alfred North Whitehead includes Carr’s paper “The Problem of Simultaneity” in Relativity, Logic and Mysticism, Aristotelian Society supp. III (London, 1923), 34–41.

II. Secondary Literature. On Carr and his work see‘In Memoriam. Herbert Wildon Carr,” in Mind, n. s. 40 (1931), 535–536.

H. B. Acton