The Evolutionary Philosophy of Chauncey Wright, Volume 1

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A&C Black, 2000 M10 15 - 1164 pages
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'The Wright volumes look like an excellent contribution. It makes me realize again how sad it is that he did not leave more than he did. He was such a seminal figure and contributed so much by way of his reflections on science and evolution in particular as well as the role he played in the origins of pragmatism. It will be good to have the essays in one place and to see what is in the letters. Volume 3 also looks good, as it has the best interpreters and critics of the period covered.'
--Professor Barbara MacKinnon


In an era when American higher education was dominated by theologians and idealists, Chauncey Wright (1830-75) pioneered the cause of natural evolution and scientific empiricism. C. S. Peirce admired Wright's sheer intellect as superior to his own and to that of William James. Charles Darwin respected a mind 'so clear' that he asked him to develop a theory of the genesis of intelligence. Wright's response to this and other challenges solidifies his legacy as the first American philosopher of science. To understand the universe and our place in it, he argues, we must appeal not to theology or 'cosmic' philosophy but to scientific laws of nature. Consciousness is not an occult power, but a tool organisms utilize for adaptability and survival. Philosophy is suited to the moral and aesthetic realm, where Wright anticipates pragmatism in holding that values develop in effective social practices. Regrettably, Wright's brilliance was not vested in his temperament, and his early death at age forty-five leaves a scattering of suggestive essays but no developed system. Still, his ideas have a strikingly modern tone that establishes their relevance to later developments in evolutionary theory, pragmatism, and the philosophy of science.

This 3-volume collection gathers Wright's Philosophical Discussions and Letters, each featuring a biographical sketch, with a third, reset volume of reviews and tributes, including contributions by John Fiske, C. S. Peirce, Joseph Blau and Gail Kennedy. The set is edited and introduced by Wright scholar Frank X. Ryan, with an additional introduction by prominent Wright expert Edward H. Madden.

This significant collection:

--provides a historical record of the development of scientific thought in America
--recovers the central figure in the path from Darwin to American Evolutionism
--identifies an important influence upon the foundations of pragmatism
--examines a source of contemporary issues in the philosophy of cognition
--foreshadows the development of utilitarian, naturalistic and pragmatic ethics in America



 

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Contents

Volume
1
Volume 2
212
Introduction by Edward H Madden
283

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