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Pragmatic engagements: Philipp Frank and James Bryant Conant on science, education, and democracy

Abstract

This essay examines the relationship between Philipp Frank and James Bryant Conant in light of two issues that engaged leading American intellectuals in the mid-twentieth century: the place of metaphysics in higher education and the responsibilities of intellectuals as educators to defend democracy against the rise of totalitarianism. It suggests that Frank’s relationship to pragmatism was nourished by his professional and intellectual relationships to Conant and that each of their contributions to our understanding of science is inseparable from their efforts to engage their fellow intellectuals as well as the public about these pressing issues of their day.

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Notes

  1. See e.g. Frank (1963), Uebel (2011), Wuest (2015), Nemeth (2003).

  2. Frank to E.C. Kemble, Feb. 9, 1939 and Feb. 25, 1939. Frank to Harlow Shapley, April 7, 1939, all in Harvard University Archives, Harlow Shapley Papers (HUA-HSP).

  3. The words Hutchins quoted appear in Notes et documents, Issues 22–25, Institut international Jacques Maritain, 1981.

  4. See “Notes,” The International Journal of Ethics 48, No. 1 (Oct, 1937): 141–42; (Gilbert 1997: 85).

  5. Frank to E.C. Kemble, March 17, 1939; see also Frank to Kemble, Feb. 25, 1939, HUA-HSP. The surviving copies of these letters do not include the year 1939 in their dates; but their context and proximity to other letters in Shapley’s papers indicate this year and I have dated them accordingly.

  6. Frank to P. W. Bridgman, March 24, 1939; Carnap to Bridgman, March 16, 1939, HUA-HSP.

  7. Shapley to Frank, April 3, 1939; April 10, 1939. Frank to Shapley, April 13, 1939, HUA-HSP. On Shapley’s active career, see his autobiography (Shapley 1969).

  8. Conant to John Boyer, Sept. 12, 1952, James B. Conant Personal Papers, Harvard University Archives.

  9. See Kallen (1946a, b, c, d), and Neurath (1946a, b).

  10. Gilbert (1997: 340) n. 53; Frank to Shapley, June 22, 1940, HUA-HSP.

  11. See, e.g., Bryson et al. (1950, 1964).

  12. For perspective on Frank’s (1950) I am indebted to Nemeth (2003) which nicely summarizes Frank’s engagement with democratic theory.

  13. “WW diary May 20, 1947,” Rockefeller Archive Center, Tarrytown, NY, Rockefeller Foundation papers 1.100, box 35, folder 281. WW is Warren Weaver, to whom Frank also reported “Mr. Conant’s continuing interest in their work” in the unity of science in November, 1949 (“WW diary Wednesday 23, 1949,” folder 282).

  14. Rudolf Carnap to Louis Finkelstein, March 24, 1942. Jewish Theological Seminary of America Archives, General Files, Box 4.

  15. Conant (1947: 31), 106. See also page 64. Conant made similar points earlier in Conant (1944: 406).

  16. See, e.g., Frank’s essay “Logic and Metaphysics in Modern Science,” (in Frank (1949: 286–303), Frank (1957a: 30, b). On Conant’s earlier adoption of “conceptual schemes” from his Harvard colleague L.J. Henderson, see Isaac (2012). For an example of a Harvard political historian adopting the phrase from Henderson, see Brinton (1965: 9).

  17. For a useful comparison of Kuhn’s Structure with Conant’s writings, see Wray (2016).

  18. The Google N-gram, which indexes and counts the appearance of words and phrases in published book (https://books.google.com/ngrams) shows vividly how “paradigms” overtook “conceptual schemes” and “Thomas Kuhn” overtook “James Bryant Conant” by 1970.

  19. Kuhn to Frank, n.d. (probably December 1952). Thomas S. Kuhn Papers, M.I.T. Libraries, Box 25, folder 53.

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Reisch, G. Pragmatic engagements: Philipp Frank and James Bryant Conant on science, education, and democracy. Stud East Eur Thought 69, 227–244 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11212-017-9289-6

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Keywords

  • Philipp Frank
  • James Bryant Conant
  • Thomas Kuhn
  • Pragmatism
  • Education
  • Democracy
  • Philosophy of science