Classics in the History of Psychology

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Christopher D. Green
York University, Toronto, Ontario

ISSN 1492-3713

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The First Twenty-Five Years of the
American Philosophical Association [1]

H. N. Gardiner (1926)
First published in Philosophical Review, 35, 145-158.

Posted September 2000

The American Philosophical Association, founded in 1901, is, historically, an offshoot from the American Psychological Association founded ten years earlier. Thus in the case of the two Associations we have a reversal of the historical order of development of their respective disciplines.

The separation came about on this wise. The American Psychological Association, while defining its object as "the advancement of psychology as a science," and declaring eligible for membership "those who are engaged in this work," nevertheless admitted to membership a goodly number of teachers of psychology who, though keenly interested in watching the developments of the science, could hardly be regarded as engaged in promoting them. Some of the philosophically minded of these members took occasion of the meetings of the Association to offer papers on subjects in which they were more particularly interested, and these papers were accepted and sometimes formed a not inconsiderable portion of the programme. Thus at the Fifth Annual Meeting, held at Cambridge in 1896, eight of the twenty papers read, exclusive of the Address of the President, were of a distinctly philosophical character; they included such topics as "Philosophy in the American Colleges" (Armstrong), "The Transcendental Ego" (Creighton), "Pessimism and Ultimate Philosophy" (Schiller), "The Method and Standpoint of Ethics" (Seth), and "A Generalization of Immediate Inferences'' (Hibben), -- topics evidently inappropriate in a meeting of psychologists. At other meetings the number of such papers was smaller, and at some there were none at all. But at the Eighth Annual Meeting, which was held in New Haven in 1899, the number of philosophical papers totalled about a third of the whole, and the year following they amounted to one half. At [p. 146] this last meeting, which was held in Baltimore, the Association even voted to forego the privilege of attending as a body the discussion before the Society of Naturalists in order to bring the group of philosophical papers into the afternoon of the day on which that discussion was to be held, and so adjourn that night.

The state of affairs described was satisfactory neither to the philosophers nor to the psychologists. The philosophers were fully aware of the anomalies of a situation in which their claims were allowed only on sufferance; the psychologists were disposed to regard these claims as an impertinence and to resent the intrusion of the philosophical camel into the psychological tent. Two ways only seemed open to regularize the procedure: either a separate Philosophical Association should be formed, or the Psychological Association should be so reorganized as to include a philosophical section. Proposals were made in the Association itself in both directions. In 1896, at the Cambridge meeting, Professor Lightner Witmer made the following motion:--

"That the Council of the American Psychological Association be recommended to present at the next meeting of the Association a plan for the formation of an American Philosophical or Metaphysical Association as one of the affiliated or associated organizations meeting with the present Affiliated Societies."

This motion was referred to the Council, but there is no record of any action on it. The second proposal was put forward by Professor E. C. Sanford two years later at the New York meeting in 1898. It was moved and carried

"that the matter of the organization of the Association with reference to a possible philosophical section be referred to the Council to be reported upon at the next meeting," and "that the secretary be instructed to send out during the course of the year a circular letter requesting, for the information of the Council, the opinion of the individual members of the Association on the above-mentioned question of the organization of the Association."

As a temporary expedient it was voted "that the secretary be instructed, in arranging the programme for the next meeting, to [p. 147] gather together the philosophical papers as far as practicable into the programme of one section." This was done not only for the next meeting, but for the meeting following, and in the secretary's report of the latter we find a reference to "the philosophical section of the Association"; but the phrase must be understood in the non-technical sense of a tolerated arrangement, for there is no record that any action was ever taken on Professor Sanford's motions with regard to a possible reorganization of the Association, or that the matter was ever again brought up.

The tolerated arrangement spoken of might have continued indefinitely had not the philosophers taken matters into their own hands, and by founding an independent society ended a situation that was becoming intolerable. The initiative was taken by the Cornell group, headed by Professor Creighton. Sometime in the Fall of 1901 there was a gathering at James Seth's rooms in Ithaca, as I have lately been informed by President Hibben, at which the suggestion of an independent organization was discussed and as a result of which Hibben started the call for an official meeting in New York. In the small group in Seth's rooms were Professors Creighton, Seth, David Irons, Hibben and Thilly. Professor Thilly, then at the University of Missouri, was the President of the Western Philosophical Association, which had been founded the year before, and it is probable that this fact exerted a stimulating influence on the decision. The meeting in New York at which the American Philosophical Association was founded was held on November 2, 1901, following an informal luncheon at the Murray Hill Hotel. The meeting was attended by representatives from Brown, Columbia, Cornell, Princeton, Wesleyan and Yale Universities and Bryn Mawr, Hobart and Smith Colleges. The names of these founders it may be of interest to record; they were Everett and Meiklejohn (Brown), Lord (Columbia), Creighton (Cornell), Hibben (Princeton), Armstrong (Wesleyan), Duncan (Yale), Irons (Bryn Mawr), Leighton (Hobart), and Gardiner and Ferry (Smith). Many letters favorable to the formation of the society were received from other teachers of philosophy who had been invited, but were unable to be present. It was decided that the society should be called the American [p. 148] Philosophical Association, and that the first meeting should be held during the following Easter vacation. Professor Creighton, of Cornell, was elected President, Professor Ormond, of Princeton, Vice-President, Professor Gardiner, of Smith, Secretary and Treasurer, and Professors Armstrong, Everett, Duncan and Hibben were chosen members of the Executive Committee. The Executive Committee was empowered to invite to membership in the Association such persons as seemed to them eligible, a tentative list of names being presented at the meeting. It was also thought that the membership fee should be merely nominal, enough only to cover necessary expenses, and this policy has been continued, in striking contrast to the increasing dues in some other associations, to the present time. It was left to the Executive Committee with the President to draw up a Constitution to be presented at the first regular meeting.

Ten days later, on November 12, a circular letter was sent to college and university teachers of philosophy, and to a few others, informing them of the steps already taken and inviting them to join the Association. I have before me what is perhaps now the only extant copy of this circular; it is, at any rate, unique in this respect, that written on the back of it is, so far as my recollection goes, the only negative response to the invitation that was received. That was from Professor James. James was at the time in ill health, and he gives this as a reason for declining. "I am still pretty poorly," he writes, "and can't 'jine' anything, -- but," he continues, "apart from that I don't foresee much good from a philosophical society. Philosophical discussion proper only succeeds between intimates who have learned how to converse by months of weary trial and failure. The philosopher is a lone beast dwelling in his individual burrow. -- Count me out!" Without comment, as it is printed in the Letters of William James, this expression of personal attitude is quite likely to be misconstrued. I, therefore, add, what is of course known to most of our members, that with improved health James changed his mind, 'jined' the Association (in 1904), became its sixth president, on which occasion he delivered his address on "The Energies of Men," and in the following year took the leading part in the discussion on "The Meaning and Criterion of Truth." [p. 149]

The first regular meeting was held in Earl Hall, Columbia University, on March 31 and April 1, 1902, during the Easter vacation, as planned. President Butler welcomed the Association and, with Mrs. Butler, gave a reception to its members in the Avery Library. There was a full programme of papers, the first to be read being one on "Poetry and Philosophy" by Ralph Barton Ferry. Professor Creighton aptly chose as the topic of his presidential address, "The Purposes of a Philosophical Association," in which he emphasized more especially that of coöperating through discussion in the solution of philosophical problems, in creative productivity, the philosopher being regarded by him as one preëminently dependent on social stimulus and intelligent criticism, and not as "a lone beast dwelling in his individual burrow." The organization was completed by the adoption of a constitution, the ratification of the action taken by the small group of founders, the election of members and the choice of officers. The PHILOSOPHICAL REVIEW was selected, with the consent of the editor, as the organ for publication of our proceedings. The invitation, proffered by Professor Cattell, to affiliate with the American Society of Naturalists and other societies was accepted, and it was voted to hold the next meeting in Convocation Week in Washington. There was an evident desire to avoid isolation and especially to keep in touch with the American Psychological Association. The advantages of the affiliation, however, have not been conspicuously apparent, and it would generally be agreed, I think, that some of our best meetings have been those held -- and these have been the majority -- by ourselves, free from the confusions and dispersions of interest which commonly accompany the larger gatherings.

The membership of the Association, including those who had joined by invitation and the thirty-one elected at the first meeting, numbered ninety-eight. It was voted that these should be recorded as charter members. Forty were in attendance. Of the original members only thirteen, so far as I can discover, have died, but they, alas, were of our best. They include six of our presidents -- Creighton, Fullerton, Ladd, Muensterberg, Ormond and Royce -- whose names, along with those of the others, -- J. P. Gordy, Stanley Hall, William T. Harris, William [p. 150] DeWitt Hyde, James H. Hyslop, David Irons and J. MacBride Sterret -- I need only mention to remind you of irreparable losses and, at the same time, of a great tradition, of which it behoves us, as far as in us lies, to be worthy. William James, our only other deceased president, added early to the Association the lustre of his name, but was not, as I have explained, one of the charter members.

For a year or two after the establishment of the Association the secretary was engaged in correspondence with officers of the American Philosophical Society with regard to our name. They objected to the designation, American Philosophical Association, as an infringement of title and liable to cause confusion with their own Society, of which they were justly proud as having been founded in 1734 by Benjamin Franklin, and as being the first scientific society organized in America. It was, indeed, unfortunate that two bodies having such dissimilar aims should be designated by such similar titles, of which no other seemed appropriate in our own case, whereas the term 'Philosophical' in the case of the Philadelphia Society represented only an historical and antique usage. The other objection, the liability to confusion, has proved in practice purely imaginary, no one, so far as I am aware, having ever failed to make the necessary distinction between the two organizations.

Our name, however, has been modified to meet the demands of other organizations having a similar purpose, and to conform more completely to its own. It may be interesting to trace the history of the change.

I have already referred to the Western Philosophical Association as having been founded in the year preceding that in which the American Philosophical Association was started; it had, in fact, been organized nearly two years before, namely, on January 1, 1900. Some of its members also joined the new Association. The matter of the relation of the two Associations came up at the very first regular meeting of the American Association and was referred to the executive committee to confer with the executive committee of the Western Association to report at the next meeting. At that meeting, which was held in Washington on the last two days of December, 1902, it was voted "to propose [p. 151] to the Western Philosophical Association through its President, Professor Woodbridge, that the two Associations adopt the common title, American Philosophical Association, and that they regard and designate themselves respectively as the Western and Eastern Branch of the Association." The wish was also expressed that the two Branches meet together in the near future. The solution thus early suggested was ultimately adopted, but only after many years and prolonged discussion. For a dozen years there is no mention of the subject in the annual reports; the American Association went complacently on its way, holding its meetings invariably in the eastern part of the country.[2] Meanwhile a third organization had been formed, the Southern Philosophical Association. In 1914 , for the first time, the Association met in a western city, in Chicago, and this meeting was held in conjunction with the Western Philosophical Association. There were not a great many members from the east present, but the occasion was opportune for again raising the question. Accordingly the advisability of amalgamating the three separate Associations into one comprehensive national Association was discussed, and the matter was referred to the executive committee, with three others, appointed by the President. No recommendations were made by this committee at the meeting following, but the year after, at the meeting held in New York in 1916, a committee appointed by Professor Lovejoy, who was then the President, presented what was called a "Tentative Plan for the Amalgamation of the American Philosophical Association, the Western Philosophical Association, and the Southern Philosophical Association." The plan was elaborated in eight articles with explanatory comments. It proposed what was virtually a super-organization, an American Philosophical Association meeting once every three or four years in September, with officers and executive committee of its own, composed, however, of the members of the three Branches, eastern, western and southern, they continuing their respective organizations and operations as before. The report was accepted [p. 152] with an expression of thanks to the committee, but was laid on the table. The matter had grown complicated. Had the committee contented themselves with such a simple formula as that employed in 1902, it is possible that their proposal would have met with more success. But the doubt of any substantial gains in the more elaborated machinery and the sentimental objection, which was strongly felt by some of the members, to surrendering our name, gained the day. The reasons for the action taken were stated by Professor Cohen in behalf of the executive committee as substantially these: (1) the proposed triennial or quadrennial meeting did not seem feasible, while a joint meeting could be brought about at any time when conditions were favorable, and (2) the giving up of the name, American Philosophical Association, by our society would interfere with the effectiveness of our organization, tending in the long run to cut off our valued western members, without being of any help to, or increasing the membership of, the Western Philosophical Association.

However, the matter was not allowed to rest here. Two years later, at the meeting in Cambridge, in 1918, a report of a committee, of which Professor Tufts was chairman, and which had had under consideration the possibility of securing more representative and inclusive meetings of those interested in philosophy, was read and accepted. After arguing for the desirability of such meetings and answering some objections the report set forth three distinct plans by any one of which, it was thought, the end desired might be secured. Plan I involved the enlargement of the scope of the American Association; plan 2 proposed stated joint meetings or congresses of the three existing associations; plan 3, federation in a new organization. Professor H. B. Alexander, a member of the committee, in opening the discussion, read a resolution of the Western Philosophical Association in favor of the third plan and explained in detail the scheme that had been worked out by that Association for putting it into effect. Professor Fite moved the adoption of the second plan. Discussion was postponed. At an adjourned meeting held on Saturday morning, December 28, a substitute motion, proposed by Professor Drake, was carried affirming the wish of [p. 153] the Association to join the Western and Southern Philosophical Associations in constituting an inclusive association and instructing the committee to confer with a committee of the Western Association in regard to the problems involved, and report at the next meeting. A clause in the original motion providing that the name of the existing Association be changed and that the name, American Philosophical Association, be given to the new inclusive Association, was omitted on an amendment proposed by Professor Overstreet. However, at the adjourned meeting in the afternoon Professor Drake proposed as an amendment to the Constitution that "The name of this organization shall be the Eastern Division of the American Philosophical Association," and this amendment was voted at the meeting at Ithaca in the following year.

Since 1919, therefore, we have been a Division of the American Philosophical Association, but so far as appears from the records a national organization, as distinct from its constituent members, has never been established. Committees have been appointed and instructed to confer with the other Divisions on this matter, but no further action is reported. The relation of the inclusive whole to the parts has remained so far purely immanental and might be used as a conspicuous illustration of Nominalism. The practical outcome, apart from the satisfaction of a sentiment, has been one joint meeting with the Western Division held three years ago. At that meeting the executive committee was authorized to appoint a committee of three to confer with a similar committee of the Western Division and present at the next meeting a plan for effecting a working relation between the two Divisions; but this had special reference to the reception and administration of the Carus Fund, and the only report made by the committee was on the selection of a lecturer on this Foundation. There is no record that anything has come of the proposed inclusion of the Southern Association as a third Division. Last year the Association made the graceful gesture of sending greetings to the newly organized society for Philosophy on the Pacific coast, with the hope that this society will affiliate with the existing Divisions as the Pacific Division of the American Philosophical Association. [p. 154]

So much for the name. I come now to matters relating to the work of the Association. All the meetings, except the first, have been regularly held in the Christmas vacation in places provided by the courtesy of local institutions. We have met six times in New York, of which five were at Columbia University and one at Union Theological Seminary, three times at Cambridge as guests of Harvard University, twice in New Haven, in Philadelphia, and in Ithaca, and once each at seven other places. Three times we met in places chosen by the A.A.A.S. We have recognized on occasion our affiliations. In 1902 in Washington we held a joint session with the American Psychological Association, and again in 1904 in Philadelphia. In 1905, at the dedication of Emerson Hall at Harvard we adjourned to hear Professor Ostwald's paper on "Psychical Energy" before the Psychological Association, and the Psychological Association adjourned to hear the address of our President, Professor Dewey, on "Beliefs and Realities." The last, and only other, meeting with the Psychological Association was in 1913 in New Haven, when the topic of our Discussion was "The Standpoint and Method of Psychology"; the record, however, mentions only one joint session, and that was devoted to a report on the findings of the committee on a case affecting academic freedom (the case of Professor Mecklin). In 1904 a session commemorative of Kant (d. 1804) was participated in by members of the Southern Society for Philosophy and Psychology. There have been two joint meetings, as already mentioned, with the Western Association. At all other times we have met by ourselves.

The programme has consisted uniformly of an Address by the President and a miscellaneous set of papers. Often, however, there was a set discussion on a topic selected in advance. The make-up of the programme and the conduct of the meetings have naturally excited a good deal of interest among the members, leading from time to time to efforts at improvement. No attempt, I think, has ever been made to limit the discretion of the executive committee in procuring and accepting or rejecting papers that expressed the views which members wished to present on a philosophical subject and which would go to form the miscellaneous part of the programme. Encouragement, indeed, [p. 155] rather than restriction would seem to be the part of the Association in respect to the production and presentation of original work. But in respect to the special topic of Discussion it has been otherwise. At first the topic was chosen and the leaders in the Discussion were selected by the executive committee, and those taking part in the debate were allowed to develop the subject in their own way. Thus at six of the first ten of our meetings there were Discussions arranged for in advance on the following topics: The Attitude of Teachers of Philosophy to Religion (1902), The Place of Æsthetics among the Disciplines of Philosophy (1903), The Meaning and Criterion of Truth (1907), Realism and Idealism (1908), The Problem of Time in Relation to Present Tendencies in Philosophy (1909), and The Value for Philosophy of Mathematical Methods and Ideals (1910). At this last meeting there was also a discussion of the Platform of Six Realists expounded by its authors. At this same meeting, however, in view of the difficulty of arriving at satisfactory results in the absence of agreement on the meaning of the terms, the executive committee was empowered to appoint a committee of five to prepare, after the selection of the subject for discussion at the next meeting, definitions of terms pertaining to that subject for the use of those participating; and at the following meeting this committee was continued, with the added power of determining the subject for discussion and making the arrangements for its conduct. At the meeting after that the Discussion Committee was instructed to select the topic for discussion at the next meeting by March 1, announce it in the philosophical periodicals and invite all and sundry to submit contributions on the topic for publication in these periodicals. The Committee was further authorized to publish, at its discretion, in pamphlet form, such other papers on the subject as seemed to it worthy at a cost not to exceed $200. And it was voted that at the next annual meeting two entire sessions should be given over to the discussion of the chosen topic. These resolutions failed to produce the desired result. Four years later a more determined effort was made to deal with the subject by a vote calling for the appointment by the President of a committee of twelve on discussion. The report of this committee, [p. 156] of which Professor Lovejoy was chairman, was read at the meeting held the year following, in 1917; it fills four closely printed pages of the PHILOSOPHICAL REVIEW, and consists, besides the preamble, which defines at some length the functions of the Association, of twelve specific recommendations. It is needless to go into details. The essentials of the plan appear to be the choice of the topic for discussion by the Association from two selected by the executive committee out of the number suggested by members; the appointment of a leader to take general charge of the arrangements for the discussion, he to select the other leaders; a preliminary conference of the leaders for agreement on the use of terms and clarification of the issues; and a sufficiently early notification to the members of the results of this conference. Other articles dealt with the mobilization of co-operating forces, such as the publication and preparation of papers bearing on the chosen topic and its treatment in courses of instruction. After lively debate, prolonged into an adjourned meeting, it was finally voted that the report be accepted and the executive committee be instructed to act according to its provisions. The plan operated in a general way for three meetings and then lapsed; for the last four meetings preceding the present there has been no General Discussion. Whether these various attempts to organize the Discussion have improved its quality may be matter of opinion; the last and best considered effort in this direction has certainly not tended to sustain it. Experience, I think, has shown that elaborated schemes of organization with features destined to remain mere counsels of perfection are impracticable; but with this experience in mind it might be well for the Association to take up again this important subject and either revive or revise certain of the provisions in the earlier schemes, or devise new ones, or go back to the original practice and leave the whole matter to the discretion of the executive committee.

It would be interesting, were there time, to speak of the various incidental activities of the Association carried on through special committees, such as the diligent, but unsuccessful, committee on early American philosophy and the committee on International Coöperation, through which, since the War, the Association has [p. 157] given practical expression of its sympathies by grants and gifts of American philosophical literature to impoverished institutions and individuals abroad. Mention might also be made of the donation of a hundred marks to the Fichte Memorial in Berlin in 1909, and of $200 for the sustaining of the International Journal of Ethics in 1916. But the main thing, of course, that concerns us in this retrospect of twenty-five years is the work proper of the Association as exhibited in the papers read and discussed at our meetings. There have been read, I suppose, over 250 papers; what, we ask, have they and the discussions arising from them contributed to the stimulation and advancement of philosophical enquiry? The question cannot be answered simply. We should have to admit that the papers have not always added greatly to our insight and that discussion has at times seemed footless and fruitless. We have frequently been more bewildered than illuminated and sometimes, I have no doubt, we have felt frankly bored or irritated. But this may at least be said, we have reflected in our meetings the best thinking of American philosophers in our time. The future historian, inspecting our records, would be able to derive from them a not inaccurate conspectus of the state of philosophy in America in the first quarter of the century. He would find, moreover, that the period had been one of rather extraordinary activity in philosophical thinking. He would not find much in the way of historical research or the elucidation of the great thinkers of the past, but in almost every other field of philosophical enquiry he would note a keen and lively interest. He would be impressed, I think, by the evidence that American philosophers were doing their own thinking, striking out adventurously into new paths in the spirit, at times also perchance with the crudity, of the pioneer. He would discover among those who had contributed to our discussions the names of those who have been leaders in some of the most significant philosophical movements of our time; I refer, of course, to such movements as those of Pragmatism, of the "New" and "Critical" Realism, and the Theory of Value. It could not, indeed, be said that any important movement in philosophy had been initiated in the meetings of the Association, but they have [p. 158] served to focus attention upon them and have given opportunity for criticism and elaboration of theses. Some papers, at least, have served for their development, and in some cases points of view first presented at the meetings have later been developed into books. It can scarcely be denied that the "lone beast" working in his "individual burrow" and the social group with which he has been brought into contact in our assemblies have exerted upon one another a reciprocally stimulating and beneficial influence. If so, the Association has measurably fulfilled its function. Something too, I am sure, has been gained by the cultivation of friendly personal relations among workers in the same or allied fields; we are far from all thinking alike, but our coming together has conduced to understanding, to tolerance, to liking and to respect.

Some of our greatest teachers have been taken from us. The function of leadership has passed and is passing to others. It is a hopeful sign that the first quarter century of our history closes with an expression of interest so great as that which is represented by the large attendance at this meeting and by the publication within a few months of two or three books by our members -- I refer to such works as Montague's Ways of Knowing and Dewey's Nature and Experience -- which, if I am not mistaken, are worthy to rank among the best publications of American philosophy during the period. It is for the younger members of the Association to carry on the work. They will do it in their own way, but they may confidently be entrusted with the task. For the Association in the next quarter of a century we may repeat the slogan familiar to many of us from our student days in Germany, Vivat, crescat, floreat!



[1] Read at the twenty-fifth annual meeting of the American Philosophical Association at Smith College, December 28-30, 1925.

[2] There was, indeed, a resolution passed at the 13th annual meeting in 1913 authorizing the executive committee to organize, at its discretion, branches of the Association on application of members of the Association resident in or near the place of organization. But this was a different matter.