The Development of Thomas Davidson's
Religious and Social Thought

by James A. Good

Thomas Davidson (1840-1900), a peripatetic Scottish-American scholar, was part of the emergent "transatlantic community of discourse" among intellectuals in the late nineteenth century who sought a "via media," a middle path between positivism and idealism. [1] Davidson published ten books, at least three-dozen articles, and displayed a unique ability to arrive in a city and quickly organize local intellectuals into discussion groups and reform organizations. There is evidence that John Dewey and William James were both influenced by Davidson's philosophy of religion and his critique of Hegel. Moreover, many British "ethical socialists" claimed Davidson inspired them to study American Transcendentalism. [2] Yet in spite of his accomplishments, historians largely ignore Davidson today. The Romantic philosophy he so enthusiastically developed appeared unprofessional by the close of the nineteenth century as philosophy moved into the Academy. [3] And it is true that Davidson's philosophical writings were generally more venturous than logically rigorous. Nevertheless, Davidson's ideas were influential, primarily because he forcefully expressed them through his charismatic personality and the example of his life. A full history of Davidson's impact is yet to be written. This essay merely begins that larger project with an effort to recover his life and thought.

Davidson was born in poverty in the parish of Old Deer in Aberdeenshire, Scotland and grew up about a mile away in the village of Fetterangus. [4] He received his early education at the local village school and the parish school of Old Deer where the schoolmaster quickly noted his remarkable memory and facility for languages. In a brief autobiographical essay Davidson recalled that at about age twelve, Baxter's Saints' Rest lit "a divine fire" in his soul, "which nothing [could] ever quench." Davidson claimed he was "an orthodox Christian...for some years after," but "then came what comes to most serious young men of my generation, an eclipse of faith followed by various phases of belief and unbelief." [5] At the age of sixteen, already able to read Latin, Greek, French, and German, he won a scholarship to Aberdeen University. [6] After graduating with honors in 1860, Davidson taught Latin and Greek for six years in Scotland and England.

By way of Toronto, Davidson arrived in Boston in 1867, where he fell among "Radicals with whom [he] very cordially sympathized." The Radical Club was organized by Bronson Alcott and held its meetings at the home of Emerson in Concord. [7] Davidson's relationship to American Transcendentalism is complex. Though he ultimately arrived at a philosophy that was similar to Emerson's, at this time he claimed he was under the spell of Comtean positivism. Nevertheless, Davidson was impressed by the Transcendentalists' interest in the German higher criticism of the Bible, which led them to emphasize the mythical and spiritual teachings of Christianity. Like the Transcendentalists, Davidson argued that Christianity needed to be purged of its emphasis upon "material" events and institutions, excessive doctrinal rigidity and Biblical literalism, all of which interfered with its spiritualizing power and caused a neglect of the religious consciousness. [8]

In 1868 Davidson traveled to St. Louis where he was hired by William Torrey Harris, then superintendent of the St. Louis public schools, to teach Latin and Greek and was soon promoted to principal of a branch high school. [9] Davidson quickly became an active member of the St. Louis Philosophical Society, which had been organized by Henry Conrad Brokmeyer and Harris in 1866, and contributed many articles and translations to their Journal of Speculative Philosophy. Although Davidson claims that his "Hegelian friends" showed him "the utter hollowness and insensibility of [Comtean] Positivism," he never became a Hegelian himself. Denton Snider, the self-appointed chronicler of the St. Louis group, alleged that Davidson forsook Hegel after a "tussle" with the Logic because "he got badly thrown." Snider's comments may say more about his relationship with Davidson, than about Davidson's rejection of Hegel. [10] Davidson grappled seriously with Hegel's writings, claiming, "I think I have read everything of Hegel's that was ever published." It was primarily his lifelong commitment to individualism that led Davidson away from Hegel to other German philosophers, especially Schelling and Leibniz. [11] Schelling rekindled his interest in religion and encouraged him to study Plato. Leibniz's monadology reinforced his individualism and led him to Aristotle, who became "like a Mentor" to Davidson. He translated many of Aristotle's works and began an Aristotle society, arousing a "communal interest in the Greek classics" among his peers in St. Louis. [12]

The St. Louis Hegelians' insistence on the practicality of philosophy and on democratic education reinforced principles Davidson already believed. The Hegelians insisted that speculative philosophy—which applied to fields as diverse as politics, history, and education—was a practical and personally edifying activity open to all with inquiring and critical minds, not merely to professionals. The Hegelians advocated self-education or self-cultivation (the German Bildung motif). For W.T. Harris this view of education necessitated support of formal public schooling as an essential process in the education of the individual toward productive citizenship in a democratic society. [13] Though Davidson was critical of formal education, claiming that it "stops with knowing and does not go on to living and doing," he was vitally concerned with the problem of education in a democracy and embraced the notion of self-cultivation. Davidson also criticized purely speculative philosophy, but he believed the Hegelian dialectic was an inherently impractical mode of thought. [14]

Thus Davidson began to develop a critique of Hegel. In this endeavor he was guided by Schelling's and F. A. Trendelenburg's arguments that the Hegelian dialectic did violence to the particular facts of history and science by forcing them into a dialectical scheme rather than letting them speak for themselves. [15] The writings of Schelling and Trendelenburg encouraged many nineteenth-century intellectuals to seek a "logic of life," or of lived experience, as opposed to the formal logic of Kant and Hegel. Philosophical theories had to be tested by actual experience. Along this line, in 1899 Davidson claimed, "Even to this day there is no philosophy of actual experience, no working theory or norm of life, based upon the results of a carefully digested science." [16] Davidson must have been impressed by Trendelenburg's replacement of Hegel's monistic Absolute with Aristotle's pluralistic metaphysics. Though sympathetic to Hegel's organic view of society, in which the components of reality are interrelated as are the components of an organism, Trendelenburg believed Aristotelian pluralism provided a better way to account for the diversity of individual wills in society. Moreover, Davidson would appreciate Trendelenburg's critique of Ernst Haeckel's efforts to employ Darwinian biology in a defense of materialist metaphysics. Trendelenburg argued that materialistic metaphysics could not account for purpose, which was a central principle of Darwinian evolution, because adaptation to the environment is a means by which the organism furthers its ultimate purpose—self-preservation. [17] Yet Davidson could not accept Trendelenburg's depiction of mind as a mere product of biological evolution. Trendelenburg sought to eliminate the philosophical dualism between mind and world by naturalizing mind; Davidson was inclined toward Schelling's Romantic spiritualization of nature. Schelling's Naturphilosophie appealed to many Romantics in its insistence on the original unity of man with nature, a unity that dissolves in the abstractions of conceptual thinking (Verstand) and can be recovered solely through artistic expression. Schelling's philosophy encouraged Davidson and the American transcendentalists to replace reason with feeling and scientific knowledge with spiritual intuition. [18]

After eight years in St. Louis, Davidson relocated to Cambridge in 1875, where he tutored the children of Transcendentalist James Eliot Cabot, befriended Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and William James, and with Cabot's assistance, revived Charles S. Peirce's Metaphysical Club. [19] Davidson's impact upon James was particularly profound. He introduced James to his future wife, Alice Gibbens, and it is said that Davidson imparted a "kind of fury" against Hegel, "to his soul's special comrade, Professor William James." [20] Two years after Davidson's death, James acknowledged his influence in the Varieties of Religious Experience (1902). [21]

Davidson left Cambridge in 1878 in order to pursue his renewed interest in spirituality. Disillusioned with Protestantism, Davidson decided he should travel to Europe to begin a study of Greek Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism. He spent a year in Athens, where he concluded that "the Greek Church...was not the organ of the Divine." Yet as he wandered among the ancient Greek ruins, Davidson had a profound religious experience. He claimed he "burst into tears of joy when [he] saw the glory of the ruined Parthenon," and at Olympia, he felt he was "in the presence of the Divine." From there Davidson traveled to Rome to study the Roman Catholic Church and medieval commentaries on Aristotle. [22] He so impressed intellectuals in Rome that he was permitted to have long discussions with "Cardinals, Bishops [and] Abbots" and was introduced to Pope Leo XIII with whom he discussed philosophy in Latin in the Vatican Garden. Davidson was not persuaded by Catholic theology, but was deeply impressed by the spiritual life of devout Catholics.

In that whereupon the Church prides herself, her dogmatic system, which she calls her deposit of divine revelation, I could find nothing but dust and ashes, or at best mummies of spiritual things that had once been alive...I could not, and cannot now understand how any rational being can hold the Catholic faith. But the Catholic Church has another side, and that side is her organized life. [23]

Davidson's new fascination with the communal religious life led him to the writings of the philosopher-priest Antonio Rosmini-Serbati (1797-1855). He spent a year and a half in northern Italy at the Rosminian monastery in Domodossola. Davidson was attracted to Rosmini's philosophical opposition to both British Empiricism and Hegelianism and was inspired by Rosmini's central doctrine that "the soul has a faculty [Rosmini's "intuition"] which sees God, and that this faculty requires for its cultivation, so that it may live the New Life, a society of the nature of the church." Davidson published a study of Rosmini's thought in 1882, introducing the Italian philosopher to the English-speaking world. [24] Yet Davidson was not an uncritical disciple of Rosmini. He criticized Rosmini's identification of truth with being and was unable to embrace Rosmini's Roman Catholic faith. Most of all, Davidson was impressed with the Rosminian's cooperative quest for a spiritual ideal. He claimed that the Rosminian order deepened his conviction that "we must not only know the truth: we must also live it. And we can live it only by establishing noble and wise social relations." [25]

During his sojourn in northern Italy, Davidson began to develop, in earnest, his mature philosophy. It has been described as a "form of pluralistic idealism...coupled with a stern ethical rigorism..." [26] Increasingly, he preferred to identify his philosophy as Apeirotheism, an appellation he defined as "a theory of Gods infinite in number." The theory was indebted to Aristotle's pluralism and his concepts of the soul and Nous. Aristotle's "soul" is the rational, living aspect of a living substance and cannot exist apart from the body because it is not a substance, but rather an essence; Nous is rational thought and understanding. Davidson argued that Aristotle's Nous identified God with rational thought, and that God could not exist apart from the world just as the Aristotlean soul could not exist apart from the body. Thus Davidson grounded an immanent Emersonian World Soul in a sophisticated Aristotelian metaphysics. [27]

Though initially a panentheist, Davidson's studies in Domodossola—including the work of the Italian Renaissance philosopher Giordano Bruno, Leibniz, Kant, and Rosmini—led him to a panpsychistic monadology, a theory that reality consists of an infinite number of mental or spiritual substances, each with an Aristotelian telos. [28] Human psyches are unique however, because they possess autonomy, which provides the potential to become divine through proper, moral association with other human psyches. This allowed Davidson to reject pantheism, which, he reasoned, led to a God "scattered through the universe...so that the total Absolute exists only in the sum of things taken together." Rather, Davidson argued, God exists everywhere, but he "exists fully or completely" in each monad. Reality is a Göttergemeinschaft, a society of gods; metaphysical, social and spiritual unity is moral rather than ontological. [29]

Davidson's religious philosophy had important consequences for social thought. Apeirotheism was utterly democratic and perfectionistic because it entailed that each individual has the potential to be a God, although restrictive social relations have thwarted the development of most people's potential. For Davidson, because we contain the divine within us, our unfettered natural instincts would impel us to act morally. As individuals became increasingly aware of the divine within themselves, so they became increasingly moral. [30] James believed this individualistic religion made Davidson "indifferent...to socialisms and general administrative panaceas." According to James, Davidson taught that "Life must be flexible. You ask for a free man and these Utopias give you an interchangeable part, with a fixed number, in a rule-bound social organism." [31] Apeirotheism called for the release of each individual's potential divinity through self-cultivation and the nurturing of others rather than through changes in one's material conditions. Davidson was convinced that this release would lead to the only true reform of human society; it was to this task that he devoted the rest of his life. [32]

By 1883 Davidson was in London, where he participated in the activities of the Aristotelian society and founded "The Fellowship of the New Life," later "The New Fellowship." For the next four years Davidson published little as he concentrated on organization and promotion of the Fellowship, which included among its members Havelock Ellis, Ramsay McDonald, and George Bernard Shaw. The goal of the Fellowship was to establish a "residential settlement" in which the members of the group would seek spiritual renewal through "brotherhood and education," and advance social reform through education of the broader community. [33] The model reformer lived a heroic life of religious citizenship, sacrificing particular pleasures and advancing the divine purpose by acting for the common good and demanding heroic accomplishment from others. In so doing, reformers attained perfect freedom by acting in accord with the higher self that is at one with the divine. Specifically, the members of the Fellowship sought to lead a cooperative moral life and bring culture to ordinary Londoners through reading and art groups. As individuals, both within and outside of the Fellowship, attained this renewal, they would recognize themselves to be members of the society of gods and be suffused with love and sympathy for one another. The dominance of love within society would ultimately produce a spiritual fellowship without need of authority. The good society was one consisting of citizens pursuing their moral development through the community. [34]

Within a short time the more politically minded members criticized Davidson's principle of "the subordination of material things to spiritual." As these members pressed the issue of whether 'new lifers' should engage in political activism, they formed a sister group within the new lifers, the Fabian Society. [35] Davidson's disagreements with the Fabians reveal a great deal about his social thought. His British counterparts were critical of his individualism, which they feared was a vestige of classical liberalism. Yet Davidson agreed with the Fabians' opposition to revolutionary Marxism because he was convinced that its focus on economic class promoted sectional interests rather than the general will and confined social reform to materialistic gains. Davidson and the Fabians typically saw the labor movement as a reformist movement based on an ethic of brotherhood, not economic class, and when they spoke of economics they usually described it as a moral discipline, not a science. [36] Nevertheless, because of his conviction that only individual, spiritual improvement could affect true social reform, Davidson had less interest in the structural and institutional elements of political economy than the Fabians. Whereas the Fabians sought to promote political dialogue, debate, and new legislation, Davidson condemned political disputations as petty and narrow squabbling that only accent differences of opinion and maintained that political action missed the mark of spiritual reform. Despite their disagreements, Davidson influenced the Fabians to study Emerson and Thoreau, instilling a strong ethical, even religious, element into their political thought. But Davidson ridiculed the Fabians for viewing themselves as followers of American Transcendentalism and as socialists, claiming that the two were thoroughly incompatible. [37] The Fellowship of the New Life survived for fifteen years after this split, and in 1887 Davidson went to New York where he lectured, wrote, and established a branch of the Fellowship. [38]

Davidson also attended and lectured at Bronson Alcott's Concord School of philosophy (this school met from 1879-88), but finding the atmosphere too ethereal, he sought to establish his own school. He first organized a school in Farmington, Connecticut that met three summers (1888-1890). [39] During the 1889 session, he traveled to the Adirondacks in search of a more suitable location for his summer school where, with the financial assistance of his friend Joseph Pulitzer whom he had met in St. Louis, Davidson purchased the 167 acres that became the location of "The Glenmore Summer School for the Culture Sciences." [40]

Located on East Hill of Mt. Hurricane in the Adirondack wilderness near Keene Valley, Glenmore soon became a haven for intellectual pursuits. Within a twelve-mile radius, William James, Felix Adler (Columbia philosophy professor and co-founder of the Society for Ethical Culture), Prestonia Mann (a Fabian who owned "Summer Brook Farm") already owned property. Stephen F. Weston (a professor at Antioch College and editor of the International Journal of Ethics) and W.T. Harris both had cottages on Davidson's land. In 1891, John Dewey purchased land across Gulf Brook from Glenmore where he built a small cottage. [41]

Davidson envisioned Glenmore as an educational experiment in the whole person in intellect, affections and will. He described the culture sciences as the study of "man's spiritual nature." The purpose of the school was

twofold,—(1) scientific, (2) practical. The former it will seek to reach by means of lectures on the general outlines of the history and theory of various culture sciences...The latter it will endeavor to realize by encouraging its members to conduct their life in accordance with the highest ascertainable ethical laws...to discipline themselves in simplicity, kindness, thoughtfulness, regularity, and promptness. [42]

More specifically, in addition to the literary topics that had been the focus of the Concord Summer School, the programs at Glenmore focused on formal philosophy (e.g., in 1890 a class on the thought of T.H. Green) and wide-ranging social and political problems such as church-state relations. Glenmore attracted a wide and distinguished group of intellectuals from 1890 to 1900. Among others, James, Dewey, Josiah Royce, Hugo Munsterberg, and W.T. Harris gave lectures. As late as 1904, four years after Davidson's death from cancer, James delivered five lectures at Glenmore that were later published as his Essays in Radical Empiricism (1912). [43]

During the winters Davidson resided in New York City where he continued to give public lectures, and from 1892 until his death in 1900, his publications shifted away from abstract philosophical issues to education, ethics, and social justice. In 1898 his defense of individualism and critique of socialism at the Educational Alliance, a settlement house, attracted the attention of a group of eager young men, chiefly Jewish socialists from the Lower East Side. It was there that a young Russian immigrant, Morris Raphael Cohen, first met Davidson. [44] A leader of the Marx Circle at City College, Cohen explained

I was not favorably impressed with his gospel of salvation by education...I was convinced that no substantial improvement of our human lot was possible without a radical change in our economic setup. It was apparent to me that the lecturer did not have any program of social action and was unsympathetic to any solution or procedure except that of ethical exhortation as a way of removing social evils. Completely convinced of my own premises, I took advantage of the question period following the lecture to heckle the speaker, which I continued to do in later lectures, on all possible and many impossible occasions. To my surprise Davidson did not resent my views or my manners but responded to my attacks in the friendliest way. [45]

Cohen and his associates persuaded Davidson that he needed to clarify his objectives. As Davidson lectured on "The Problems Which the Nineteenth Century Hands Over, for Solution, to the Twentieth," he stressed the need for a liberal education as preparation for the new century. [46] After the lecture a young man arose and asked how "people like us who work nine or ten and sometimes more hours a day...who have few books and no one to guide or instruct us, [can] obtain a liberal education?" Davidson replied, "That is...the chief educational problem which the nineteenth century hands over to the twentieth," and much to the amazement of his audience, he committed one night a week to their instruction. [47] Thus was born the Breadwinners' College that Davidson organized in association with the People's Institute and the Educational Alliance, again with the financial assistance of Joseph Pulitzer. The school operated evenings, Saturdays, and Sundays, and was designed to raise laborers to a higher level of intellectual and spiritual power by exposing them to the best culture of the ages. [48] Davidson quickly began teaching a class in "sociology and culture, in accordance with the historical method." He described his goals as disabusing the students of "superficial views of a socialistic or anarchist sort," imparting to them "a healthy attitude towards society, to do away with the vengeful sense of personal or class wrong, and to arouse faith in individual effort and manly and womanly self-dependence." He hoped "to lift their lives out of narrowness and sordidness and give them ideal aims" and to "train them in the use of correct English, both written and spoken." [49] According to Elizabeth Flower and Murray G. Murphey, "Students grew into professionals and teachers, and the list of those associated with the college reads like a Who's Who of the next generation's intelligentsia and reformers." During the summers Davidson welcomed his best students to Glenmore, even providing financial assistance, where they were exposed to some of the best philosophical minds in the country. [50]

In the last two years of his life, Davidson elaborated his mature social philosophy in correspondence with Cohen. He agreed with Cohen "that the present economic condition of society is bad and needs reforming," however, Davidson believed such reform could only be accomplished "through an increase of social sympathy." He feared "economic improvement brought with moral deterioration or with loss of freedom" and claimed that "mere economic socialism...would not necessarily insure economic well-being." Finally, Davidson asserted "that any social or economic arrangements which do not carry with them the assent of the great mass of the people, but are octroyés from above, are enslaving." [51] In his "Lectures to the Breadwinners" Davidson asserted that "through want of education," the laboring classes are "easily cozened or bribed to vote in opposition to their own best interests, and so to condemn themselves to continued slavish toil and poverty, which means exclusion from all share in the spiritual wealth of the race." [52]

Though Davidson's hostility to Marxism never abated, his association with Cohen, cut short by Davidson's death, completely changed Cohen's life. From 1900 to 1918 the Breadwinners' College faithfully continued Davidson's original vision as the Davidson School under Cohen's direction. With the financial assistance of Adler's Ethical Culture Society, Cohen earned a Ph.D. at Harvard and went on to become a leading philosopher at City College until 1938, and a leader in the Thomas Davidson Society which was still active in New York City as late as 1957. [53]

At the time of his death, Davidson was deeply involved in a book that, he claimed, would be his magnum opus. James reminisced, "When I first knew [Davidson] all was Aristotle. Later all was Rosmini. Later still Rosmini seemed forgotten; and I never learned just what point of view replaced that synthesis for Davidson." [54] But it is clear that Davidson conceived the book as a massive work of intellectual history that would discredit "authoritarian" thought and demonstrate the inevitability and value of more democratic perspectives such as his own. His journals show that this task was one of the major preoccupations of the last twenty years of his life. [55] In 1894 Davidson wrote that he had been working on the book for fifteen years and intended that winter to consult original sources of information for it in the libraries of London, Paris, Berlin and Rome. In 1896 he claimed,

My book progresses, but...I must include in it a brief account of Arab thought, if I am to make the second period of scholasticism intelligible....My book will practically be a History of the Rise and Fall of Authority in thought....I am trying to...give a living picture of dogma-limited mediaeval thought in all its relations and ramifications, showing its relations with Greek, Roman, Patristic, and Arabic thought, and its influence on modern thought..." [56]

Although his greatest work never appeared, it would have added little to Davidson's historical legacy. Romantic philosophy was rapidly outmoded as academic philosophers asserted their expertise and credibility through specialization and secularization. Furthermore, whereas Davidson's social activism focused on the poor as individuals, twentieth-century progressive reformers saw poverty as a social ill having many causes, a change inspired by the detailed investigations of the emerging social sciences. Davidson's individualistic ethic of spiritual renewal seemed naive in a rising torrent of urbanization, and institutional proliferation. [57] Nevertheless, as James noted, "the value of Thomas Davidson…lay in the example he set to us all, of how—even in the midst of this intensely worldly social system of ours, in which every interest is organized collectively and commercially—a single man may still be a knight-errant of the intellectual life, and preserve freedom in the midst of sociability." [58]



[1] James T. Kloppenberg, Uncertain Victory: Social Democracy and Progressivism in European and American Thought, 1870-1920 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1986), 3.

[2] An extensive bibliography of Davidson's publications may be found in Robert Calhoun, "An Introduction to the Philosophy of Thomas Davidson" (Ph.D. diss., Yale University, 1923), 265-67. On Davidson's influence see Michael H. DeArmey, "Thomas Davidson's Apeirotheism and its Influence on William James and John Dewey," Journal of the History of Ideas 48 (Oct.-Dec.), 691-708; and Mark Bevir, "British Socialism and American Romanticism," English Historical Review 110 (September 1995), 878-901. It is odd that Bevir mentions Moncure Conway only briefly. Through his association with Marx and Engels, Conway may have done more than Davidson to encourage British socialists to study American Transcendentalism. Lloyd D. Easton, Hegel's First American Followers  (Athens, Ohio: Ohio University Press, 1966), 123-58; Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, Letters to Americans (New York: International Publishers, 1953), 83-84; and Conway, Autobiography: Memories and Experiences of Moncure Daniel Conway  (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1904), 2: 268ff.

[3] On the professionalization of philosophy see Bruce Kuklick The Rise of American Philosophy: Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1860-1930 (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1977); Daniel  J. Wilson, "Professionalization and Organized Discussion in the American Philosophical Association, 1900-1922," Journal of the History of Philosophy 17 (1979): 55; Wilson, "Science and the Crisis of Confidence in American Philosophy, 1870-1930," Transactions of the Charles S. Peirce Society 23 (1987), 235-262; Wilson, Science, Community, and the Transformation of American Philosophy, 1860-1930 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1990); and Edward I. Pitts, "The Profession of Philosophy in America" (Ph.D. diss., Pennsylvania State University, 1979).

[4] Davidson wrote an "Autobiographical Sketch" which was published in the Journal of the History of Ideas 8 (1957), 531-36. This is supplemented by Albert Lataner's "Introduction to Davidson's 'Autobiographical Sketch,'" Journal of the History of Ideas 8 (1957), 529-31. There are many other short biographical sketches of Davidson. See Morris R. Cohen, Dreamer's Journey (Boston: Beacon Press, 1949); William Knight, ed. Memorials of Thomas Davidson: The Wandering Scholar (Boston and London: 1907); Leonora Cohen Rosenfield, Portrait of a Philosopher: Morris R. Cohen in Life and Letters (New York: Harcourt, Brace and World Inc., 1948); and William James, "A Knight-Errant of the Intellectual Life" in Memories and Studies (New York: Longmans, Green, and Co., 1911).

[5] Davidson, "Autobiographical Sketch," 531-32. Richard Baxter (1615-1691), The Saints' Everlasting Rest (London: Printed for F. Tyton and J. Underhill, 1662). Perhaps it is interesting to note that in the famous "iron cage" passage of The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, Max Weber quoted from Baxter's Saints' Rest as an alternative to the stultifying rationalization of modern capitalism. "In Baxter's view the care of external goods should only lie on the shoulders of the 'saint like a light cloak, which can be thrown aside at any moment.' But fate decreed that the cloak should become an iron cage." Weber, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, trans. Talcott Parsons (New York: Scribner, 1976), 181.

[6] Knight, Memorials of Thomas Davidson, 12. According to Lataner, Davidson was also "at home in Arabic, Hebrew, and Sanskrit." Lataner, "Introduction to Davidson's 'Autobiographical Sketch,'" 529.

[7] Davidson, "Autobiographical Sketch," 532. Jacques Barzun describes the "Radical Club" as a "Unitarian group intent on making religion pure of meaningless ritual and superstition." James E. Cabot, William Lloyd Garrison, Alice Howe Gibbens (William James's future wife), Henry James, Sr., and Wendell Phillips frequently attended meetings of the Radical Club. Barzun, A Stroll with William James (New York: Harper and Row Publishers, 1983), 28. Henry A. Pochmann, German Culture in America: Philosophical and Literary Influences, 1600–1900 (Madison, Wisc.: University Press of Wisconsin, 1957), 232. Cf. Julia Ward Howe, Reminiscences: 1819-1899, reprint ed. (New York: Negroe University Press, 1969, originally published in 1899), 285.

[8] Davidson claimed that he "sought to join the Comtist religious society" in England, but that ultimately Comte induced a "spiritual darkness" in him. Davidson, "Autobiographical Sketch," 532. On Davidson's acceptance of the higher criticism see "When the 'Higher Criticism' Has Done Its Work," International Journal of Ethics 7 (July 1897): 435-48.

[9] Though at times they engaged in heated philosophical disputes, Harris and Davidson became lifelong friends. Harris even gave his daughter Edith the middle name of Davidson. Kurt Leidecker, Yankee Teacher: The Life of William Torrey Harris (New York: Philosophical Library, 1946), 346, 494-500. According to Denton Snider, Harris and Davidson "remained friends to life's close, with some little tilts thrown in by the way to diversify old Time's noiselessly monotonous footfalls." Snider, The St. Louis Movement in Philosophy, Literature, Education, Psychology, with Chapters of Autobiography (St. Louis: Sigma Publishing Company, 1920), 542.

[10] Snider, St. Louis Movement, 124. Because they were so much alike, the tone of Snider's comments about Davidson may reflect a rivalry between the two. Snider published (privately) more than forty books, pursued a successful career as a traveling orator, and chose to live in the St. Louis ghetto. After his death in 1925, the "Snider Club" met annually at his grave for some twenty years. In his writings Snider often made derogatory, as well as humorous, comments about Davidson. For example, Snider claimed that he and Davidson "came to be regarded as the two chief pugnacities in the [Concord] School." At another point, Snider claimed that "Davidson could not help being contradictory and critical—delighting far more to kick in the traces than to pull the load." Snider, St. Louis Movement, 357, 236.

[11] Davidson, "Autobiographical Sketch," 532. Davidson's interest in Schelling and Leibniz is reflected by his translations of their writings in the Journal of Speculative Philosophy. "Schelling's Introduction to Idealism," Journal of Speculative Philosophy 1 (1867), 159; "Schelling's Introduction to the Philosophy of Nature," Journal of Speculative Philosophy 1 (1867), 193;  "Leibnitz on the Nature of the Soul," Journal of Speculative Philosophy 2 (July 1868), 62-64; and "Leibnitz on Platonic Enthusiasm," Journal of Speculative Philosophy 3 (Jan. 1869), 88-93.

[12] Snider, St. Louis Movement, 236. Davidson, "Autobiographical Sketch," 533.

[13] The St. Louis Hegelians' effort to Americanize Hegel, primarily by assuaging his elitism, is a central theme of Frances B. Harmon, The Social Philosophy of the St. Louis Hegelians (New York: Columbia University Press, 1943), esp. 97–105. Cf. Mary Forrest Dowling, "The St. Louis Movement: Reconstruction of the Individual and the Nation Through Speculative Philosophy" (Ph.D. diss., St. Louis University, 1972), 123–31. Education was a pervasive theme in the writings and activities of the St. Louis Hegelians. Harris eventually became the first United States Commissioner of Education (1889-1906). Susan Blow was a leader in the Kindergarten movement. Henry Conrad Brockmeyer drafted the Missouri Constitution of 1875 which guaranteed education to all from the sixth to the twentieth year, and eventually traveled to northeastern Oklahoma to take Hegel to the Indians. Snider organized numerous schools in Midwestern cities.

[14] Hugh MacDiarmid, Scottish Eccentrics (London: George Routledge and Sons, Ltd., 1936), 146. Cf. Cohen, Dreamer's Journey, 108; Davidson, "American Democracy as a Religion," International Journal of Ethics 8 (1898), 28.

[15] Davidson was involved in a spirited debate over Trendelenburg's critique of Hegel. Trendelenburg, "The Logical Question in Hegel's System," trans. Thomas Davidson, Journal of Speculative Philosophy 5 (1871): 349-59; 6 (1872): 82-93, 162-75, 350-61. A. Vera, "Trendelenburg as Opponent of Hegel," Journal of Speculative Philosophy 7 (1873): 26-32. Davidson, "Discussion with A. Vera Concerning L ‘Ancienne et la Nouvelle Foi," Journal of SpeculativePhilosophy 8 (1874): 281; and 9 (1875): 434. G.S. Morris, "Vera on Trendelenburg," Journal of Speculative Philosophy 8 (1874): 92-94. W.T. Harris, "Trendelenburg and Hegel," Journal of Speculative Philosophy  9 (1875): 92-94. G.S. Morris, "Friedrich Adolf Trendelenburg," The New Englander 33 (1874): 287-336. G. Stanley Hall, "Notes on Hegel and his Critics," Journal of Speculative Philosophy 12 (1878): 93-103. W.T. Harris, Hegel's Logic: A Critical Exposition (Chicago: S.C. Griggs and Co., 1890), 128-35. Scholars have noted that intellectuals as diverse as Dewey, G. Stanley Hall, Kierkegaard, and Dilthey, were impressed by Trendelenburg's critique of Hegel. Dorothy Ross, G. Stanley Hall: The Psychologist as Prophet (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1972), 38-40; Karl Löwith, From Hegel to Nietzsche: The Revolution in Nineteenth–Century Thought (New York: Columbia University Press, 1964), 116; and Gershon Rosenstock, F.A. Trendelenburg: Forerunner to John Dewey (Carbondale, IL: Southern Illinois Press, 1964), 11, 36-62, 76-100. In his review of Rosenstock's book, Herbert Schneider claimed "the close parallels between Trendelenburg's  and Dewey's logic and psychology, which Rosenstock correctly describes as being much more striking than anything in Morris [Dewey's mentor at Johns Hopkins] seem to me still somewhat of a mystery. I suspect [Dewey] and Harris and Davidson must have discussed Trendelenburg in the Adirondacks during their summer schools." Schneider, Journal of the History of Philosophy 4 (1966): 266.

[16] Quoted in MacDiarmid, Scottish Eccentrics, 147.

[17] Rosenstock, F.A. Trendelenburg, 32-5. Among others, Trendelenburg and Haeckel were involved in a passionate debate about metaphysical materialism and the political implications of teaching evolution in the schools. Erik Nordenskiöld, The History of Biology (New York: Tudor, 1928), 505-26; Ernst Haeckel, Freedom in Science and Teaching, trans. T.H. Huxley (London: Kegan Paul, 1879); and Trendelenburg, Logische Untersuchungen, 2 Bande (Leipzig: Hirzel, 1870, 3. Aufl.).

[18] For this view of Romanticism see M.H. Abrams, Natural Supernaturalism: Tradition and Revolution in Romantic Literature  (New York: W.W. Norton and Co., 1971). On Davidson's criticisms of naturalism see Ralph Barton Perry, The Thought and Character of William James (Boston: Little, Brown and Co., 1935), 1:755-57. Cf. Davidson's critique of Dewey's Outlines of a Critical Theory of Ethics (1891). Thomas Davidson, "Review of Outlines of a Critical Theory of Ethics," The Philosophical Review 1 (Jan. 1892), 95-99. Henry A.  Pochmann, German Culture in America: Philosophical and Literary Influences, 1600–1900 (Madison, Wisc.: University Press of Wisconsin, 1957), 197–98.

[19] James claimed he first heard of Davidson from Cabot in 1873. James, "Professor William James's Reminiscences," in Memorials of Thomas Davidson, 110. Davidson and Cabot probably met in Concord at meetings of the Radical Club in 1867 or 1868. On the Metaphysical Club see, Max H. Fisch, "Was There a Metaphysical Club?," in Studies in the Philosophy of Charles Sanders Peirce, ed. by Edward C. Moore and Richard S. Robin (Amherst: The University of Massachusetts Press, 1964), 24-29; Fisch, "Philosophical Clubs in Cambridge and Boston," Coranto 2 (Fall 1964): 16-18; (Spring 1965): 12-23; 3 (Fall 1965): 16-29; and Joseph Brent, Charles Sanders Peirce: A Life, revised and enlarged edition (Bloomington and Indianapolis: University of Indiana Press, 1998), 83-84. Brent refers to Davidson as "Peirce's friend and former pupil" (84). The early Metaphysical Club included Peirce, James, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., Nicholas St. John Green, , J.D. Warner, Chauncey Wright, and probably John Fiske and Francis E. Abbot. James claimed he first heard Peirce enunciate his pragmatism in a paper read to the Metaphysical Club in the early 1870s. The latter Metaphysical Club included Davidson, James, Nicholas St. John Green, Oliver Wendell Holmes, John Fiske, J.D. Warner, C.C. Everett, George Howison, future professor of philosophy at Berkeley and a former associate of the St. Louis Hegelians, and G. Stanley Hall, soon to become an imminent American psychologist. The latter club was more formal, assigning texts (beginning with Hume's Treatise of Human Nature and proceeding on to Kant and Hegel) and issuing invitations. According to James, the second club disintegrated in the spring of 1879, because the members were "about talked out." Ralph Barton Perry, The Thought and Character of William James (Boston: Little, Brown and Co., 1935), 2: 16.

[20] Snider, The St. Louis Movement in Philosophy, Literature, Education, Psychology, with Chapters of Autobiography, 124. Perry, Thought and Character of William James, 1:732. Barzun, Stroll with William James, 28.

[21] "[T]o conversations with the lamented Thomas Davidson and to the use of his books, at Glenmore, above Keene Valley, I owe more obligations than I can well express." James, The Varieties of Religious Experience: A Study in Human Nature, ed. Martin E. Marty (New York: Penguin Books, 1982), xxxvi.

[22] Snider comments that "When I was at Rome in 1878, who should appear at my quarters one day but my old associate of the St. Louis High School, Thomas Davidson, now in retreat from his once dear Hellas back to the West." Snider, The St. Louis Movement, 236.

[23] Davidson, "Autobiographical Sketch," 534.

[24] The full name of the Rosminian order was "Institute of the Brethren of Charity." Rosmini played an active part in the liberation of Italy and in papal politics during the period of the Risorgimento. Davidson, "Autobiographical Sketch," 536. Antonio Rosmini, The Philosophical System Of Antonio Rosmini-Serbati,  with a sketch of the author's life, bibliography, introduction, and notes by Thomas Davidson (London: K. Paul, Trench & Co., 1882). William James reviewed the book for the Nation 35 (1882). It was also reviewed by J. Burns-Gibson in Mind 7 (1882), 398-409.

[25] Davidson, "Autobiographical Sketch," 534.

[26] Charles M. Bakewell, "Thomas Davidson," Dictionary of American Biography, gen. ed. Dumas Malone (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1932), 96.  

[27] Davidson, Journal, 1884-1898 (Thomas Davidson Collection, Manuscript Group #169, Sterling Memorial Library, Yale University). Quoted in DeArmey, "Thomas Davidson's Apeirotheism," 692.

[28] In this context, panentheism is the view that, not only are man and nature modes or elements of God, as in pantheism, but God also transcends nature. Davidson co-authored a book on Bruno that was published in 1890. Brinton, Daniel G. and Thomas Davidson, Giordano Bruno, Philosopher and Martyr—Two Addresses (Philadelphia: McKay, 1890).

[29] Thomas Davidson, "Noism," The Index  (29 April 1886), 525. Concerning Davidson's views on pantheism, see his letter to Havelock Ellis, 20 October 1883. Quoted in Knight, 41. Cf. DeArmey,  "Thomas Davidson's Apeirotheism," 698.

[30] Davidson, "The Power Not Ourselves," The Index  (15 October 1885), 184. Cf. Davidson, The Philosophy of Goethe's Faust, ed. Charles M. Bakewell (New York: Haskell House, 1969), 157-58.

[31] James, "Professor William James's Reminiscences," in Memorials of Thomas Davidson, 115.

[32] Cf. Anne C. Rose, Transcendentalism as a Social Movement, 1830-1850 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1981), 161.

[33] Knight, "Development of the Society," in Memorials of Thomas Davidson, 26. Davdison, "Organization of the New Fellowship as Drawn Up by Thomas Davidson," in Memorials of Thomas Davidson, 22.

[34] William Jupp, a founding member of the Fellowship of the New Life, explained that his generation adopted the ideal of "an organic social communion" because "as we learn that God is not alien to any of us … it begins to appear highly absurd that we should be alien or indifferent to one another. Jupp, The Religion of Nature and of Human Experience, (London: P. Green, 1906), 177. See also Jupp, Wayfarings (London: Headly Brothers, 1918).

[35] Wyndham R. Dunstan,  "Recollections of Wyndham R. Dunstan," in Memorials of Thomas Davidson, 120.

[36] See Mark Bevir, "Welfarism, Socialism, and Religion: On T.H. Green and Others," The Review of Politics 60 (1993): 653-54. According to Davidson, economics was "a deontological science, a science of what ought to be...Political economy is a branch of Ethics, not a branch of natural science like zoölogy, with which a certain superficial and arrogant school of thought classes it." Davidson, "Moral Aspects of the Economic Question: A Lecture Read by Mr. Davidson before the Fellowship of the New Life, in New York," in Memorials of Thomas Davidson, 132. In a letter to James in 1882, Davidson spoke highly of Henry George's Progress and Poverty. See Perry, Thought and Character of William James, 736.

[37] "It is inexpressibly funny to find an admirer of Thoreau professing socialism. I shall expect soon to hear of a monk advocating the uxoriousness of Solomon." Davidson, Memorials of Thomas Davidson, 27.

[38] Percival Chubb, "Thomas Davidson" in A Brief Report of the Meeting Commemorative of the Early Saint Louis Movement in Philosophy, Psychology, Literature, Art (St. Louis: privately published by D.H. Harris, 1921), 60; Bakewell, "Thomas Davidson," Dictionary of American Biography, 96; Joseph Blau, "Rosmini, Domodossola, and Thomas Davidson," Journal of the History of Ideas 8 (1957), 527.

[39] Davidson critiqued the Concord School in "The Concord Philosophical School," Town Topics (22 August 1885): 7. In spite of his emphasis upon the practicality of philosophy, many participants believed Davidson engaged in petty intellectual quarrels at Concord. See Snider's comment about Harris and Davidson's "hot Concord disputes about a word." Snider, St. Louis Movement, 541. Among the lecturers at Farmington were Harry Norman Gardiner of Smith College, Percival Chubb of London, John Dewey and W.T. Harris.

[40] For a detailed description of the location of Glenmore and the program for 1891 see J. Clark Murray, "A Summer School of Philosophy," The Scottish Review  19 (January and April, 1892), 98-113. During the 1890 session, Dewey spoke on "T.H. Green's Religious Philosophy" and "The Relations of Church and State: the Political-Philosophical View." Harris spoke on 27 June on "The Relations of Church and State: The Historical-Philosophical View." Herbert W. Schneider, A History of American Philosophy (New York: Columbia University Press, 1946), 394-95.

[41] Felix Adler's commitment to ethical education was quite similar to Davidson's. See Adler, "The Freedom of Ethical Fellowship," International Journal of Ethics 1 (Oct. 1890), 16-30. James co-owned the "Putnam Shanty" at Keene Valley, five miles from Glenmore. Charlotte Perkins Gilman, The Living of Charlotte Perkins Gilman (New York: Arno Press, 1972), 229-31. Gilman mentions going on an "excursion up Mt. Hurricane" with Prestonia Mann (later Prestonia Mann Martin). "That impressive man of learning, Professor Thomas Davidson, had a group of his own up there; we went to hear him," (231). Weston edited the International Journal of Ethics from 1890 to 1938; Adler was on the editorial board. On Harris' cottage see Leidecker, "The Cottage on Mt. Hurricane," Yankee Teacher, 496-500. A standing joke was that Davidson and Dewey were separated by not only a physical, but a philosophical, gulf. Dewey strongly objected to Davidson's rigid schedule for meals and study, as well as his efforts to guide and discipline the youth at Glenmore. Jane Dewey, ed., "Biography of John Dewey," in The Philosophy of John Dewey, ed. Paul Schlipp (La Salle, IL: Open Court, 1939), 30. The Dewey family continued to vacation on Mt. Hurricane until 1910. George Dykhuizen, The Life and Mind of John Dewey  (Carbondale, IL: Southern Illinois University Press, 1973), 106-107, 151. Cf. John Dewey to Thomas Davidson, 26 October 1890; Dewey to Davidson, 12 January 1891; Dewey to Davidson, 8 March 1892; and Dewey to Davidson, 9 October 1892 in John Dewey, The Correspondence of John Dewey, ed. Larry A. Hickman (Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1999-2002).

[42] Quoted in Knight, Memorials of Thomas Davidson, 60.

[43] Perry, Thought and Character of William James,  2:698. The summer school continued under the direction of Stephen Weston, but Morris Cohen claimed that after Davidson's death, Glenmore "rapidly degenerated...from a summer school to a private summer camp with just enough lectures to maintain its memories." Cohen, Dreamer's Journey, 133. Elizabeth Flower and Murray G. Murphey state that Glenmore's enduring significance was the professional exchanges it promoted between James, Royce, Dewey, Cohen, and others. Flower and Murphey, A History of Philosophy in America (New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1977), 2:486. But Herbert Schneider claimed "The more I think of it, the more I am inclined to believe that the Davidson summer schools were much more important than the Concord summer schools in giving American idealism a so-called ‘dynamic' (biological) orientation." Quoted in Joe R. Burnett to Herbert Schneider, 10 June 1971 (Center for Dewey Studies file, "‘Glenmore School for the Cultural Sciences,' 1892").

[44] Louis I. Dublin, "Thomas Davidson: Educator for Democracy," American Scholar 17 (1948), 203-4. Blau, "Rosmini, Domodossola, and Thomas Davidson," 528. The best account of Davidson's and Cohen's relationship is David A. Hollinger, Morris R. Cohen and the Scientific Ideal (Cambridge: M.I.T. Press, 1975). On the Educational Alliance see Thomas Bender, New York Intellect: A History of Intellectual Life in New York City, From 1750 to the Beginnings of Our Own Time (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1987), 294.

[45] Cohen, A Dreamer's Journey, 103.

[46] Cf. Davidson, "The Task of the Twentieth Century," International Journal of Ethics 12 (1902): 23-43.

[47] Dublin, "Thomas Davidson," in Memorials of Thomas Davidson, 203. Cohen, A Dreamer's Journey, 103-4.

[48] Chubb, "Thomas Davidson," in Memorials of Thomas Davidson, 65.

[49] Davidson, "Lectures to the Breadwinners," in Memorials of Thomas Davidson, 80.

[50] Flower and Murphey, A History of Philosophy in America, 2: 486. Hollinger, Morris R. Cohen, 28-29. Dublin, "Thomas Davidson," in Memorials of Thomas Davidson, 204-7.

[51] Davidson to Cohen, 29 May 1899. Quoted in Knight, 142. Cf. Davidson, "The Moral Aspects of the Economic Question" in Memorials of Thomas Davidson, 131. In this context, an Octroi is a toll or laborious duty imposed from above.

[52] Davidson, "Lectures to the Breadwinners," in Knight, 90.

[53] Cohen, A Dreamer's Journey,  110-111, 118-22, 281. Dublin, "Thomas Davidson," in Memorials of Thomas Davidson, 207-209. Davidson formed a close mentoring relationship with Cohen, just as he had done previously with a young man named Arthur Amson in St. Louis. Davidson sent Amson to study in Germany, and was deeply grieved by Amson's death there. Davidson talked to Cohen's parents about sending him to Germany as well, but the plan was interrupted by Davidson's sudden death.

[54] James, "Professor William James's Reminiscences," in Memorials of Thomas Davidson, 109, 116.

[55] Lataner, "Introduction to Davidson's 'Autobiographical Sketch,'" 530.

[56] Quoted in Scottish Eccentrics, 157.

[57] See J. Harris, Unemployment and Politics, 1886-1914 (Oxford: Clarendon, 1972); Thomas L. Haskell, The Emergence of Professional Social Science. (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1977).

[58] James, "Professor William James's Reminiscences," in Memorials of Thomas Davidson," 118.


©2002 James A. Good. All rights reserved. Reproduction and republication prohibited. Published by The Autodidact Project with permission of the author & the Charles S. Peirce Society.


Note: The original paper has been expanded and retitled for print publication:

Good, James A. "The Value of Thomas Davidson," Transactions of the Charles S. Peirce Society, vol. 40, no. 2 (Spring 2004): 289-318.


The American Hegelians: Selected Bibliography

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