THE FAILURE OF IMPERSONALISM

Borden Parker Bowne

Borden Parker Bowne

Borden Parker Bowne (1847–1910), the father of American Personalism, introduced the term ‘Personalism’ into American Philosophy, Theology and Ethics with his book Personalism, Boston 1908.

“I am a Personalist, the first of the clan in any thorough–going sense” (May 31, 1909). He taught as Professor of Philosophy at Boston University which may be considered a cradle of American Personalism.

“There is no more powerful and convincing chapter in American metaphysical writing than that of Bowne on ‘The failure of impersonalism’” (W. E. Hocking, Harvard University).

Impersonalism might rightly be ruled out, on the warrant of our previous studies. We have seen that when our fundamental philosophic principles are impersonally and abstractly taken, they disappear either in contradiction or in empty verbalism. In all our thinking, when critically scrutinized, we find self–conscious and active intelligence the presupposition not only of our knowledge but of the world of objects as well. We might, then, rest our case and demand a verdict. Pedagogically, however, it seems better to continue the case. The naturalistic obsession is not easily overcome, and it takes time to form right habits of thinking, even when the truth is recognized. The present lecture, then, is devoted to showing somewhat more in detail the shortcomings of impersonal philosophy.

Impersonalism may be reached in two ways. The sense–bound mind sees a great variety of extra–mental, impersonal things in the world about us, and these very naturally bulk large in thought. Thus things, with of course such modifications of the conception as a superficial reflection may suggest, tend to become the basal fact of existence.

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