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Tuesday, January 30, 2007

The History of the APA

Over the last week or so I have been reading mostly old stuff (old for me anyway), mostly articles/book chapters by, and responses to, Rudolf Carnap and C. I. Lewis. But I've also read a couple of lightweight articles. One was Gardiner's "The First Twenty-Five Years of the American Philosophical Association", which was published in The Philosophical Review in 1926. As the article describes, the APA was an 'offshoot' from the American Psychological Association, from which it separated in 1901. The reason for the split was that the APA meetings prior to 1901 had become invaded by philosophers, which contradicted the mission statement of the APA, the mission being to advance 'psychology as a science'. At the APA meeting in 1899 one-third of the papers read were of a clearly philosophical nature. After a couple of unsuccessful attempts to establish a philosophical division of the APA, Professor Creighton from Cornell met privately with Seth, Irons, Hibben, and Thilly to talk about the possibility of an independent American Philosophical Association. The American Philosophical Association was formed at a meeting in New York on November 2, 1901, Creighton was elected president and the first meeting of the American Philosophical Association was held in Earl Hall, Columbia University, March 31 - April 1 during the Easter break the following year. 40 philosophers attended. The first APA smoker was hosted by Mrs. Butler -- president Butler's wife -- in the Avery Library. The first paper, "Poetry and Philosophy", on the rather full program was read by Ralph Barton Perry, and Creighton spoke to "the Purposes of a Philosophical Association" in his presidential address. He emphasized the importance of 'cooperation through discussion in the solution of philosophical problems', the philosopher being 'dependent on social stimulus' (Gardiner 1926: 149). The Proceedings of the APA were subsequently published in The Philosophical Review.

In 1901, after the foundation, invitations were sent out to universities and colleges. 67 philosophers joined the association, and 30 were elected. But not every one was thrilled by the thought of regular APA meetings. Thus, William James replied:

I am still pretty poorly and can't 'jine' anything -- but 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! (Gardiner 1926: 148).
James must have changed his mind, for he joined the APA 3 years later and became its 6th president. The American Philosophical Society, which was founded by Benjamin Franklin in 1734, also objected to the foundation of the APA. They complained that 'the APA' was 'an infringement of title and liable to cause confusion with their own Society' (Gardiner 1926: 150). But the protest was ignored.

At the December meeting of the APA 1902 it was decided that the Western Philosophical Association, which had been founded in 1900, should become a division of the American Philosophical Association. But the APA continued to hold its meetings on the East Coast until 1914, where the APA met, for the first time, with the Western Division, in Chicago. But very few members from the East showed up. It was not until 1919 that the 'amalgamation' of the Eastern and Western divisions was successful. It was proposed that there should be one super-organization, the APA, and three Divisions: the Eastern, the Western and the Southern each of which would host separate meetings. It was also proposed that the super-organization should host a joint meeting. However, only one was ever held, in 1923. Moreover, Gardiner reports that 'there is no record that anything has come of the proposed inclusion of the Southern Association [which had been formed in the meantime] as a third Division' (1926: 153). Around the same time a society for Philosophy had formed on the West Coast, and it was suggested that this society should form the third Division of the APA.

By 1926 all the meetings of the APA, except for the first, had been held in December, and 250 papers had been read at these meetings. As for the quality of the papers, Gardiner makes the following remarks:
the papers have not always added greatly to our insight and ... 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 (1926: 157).
Gardiner adds that much has been gained as well 'by the cultivation of friendly personal relations among workers in the same or allied fields'.

Since 1926 the Western Division has familiarly become the Central Division, the Pacific Division has been formed, and the membership has gone up. The current membership of the APA is 10,400 (ASLS website).


Anonymous said...

That quote from James has a typo, right?

"learned how to converse by mouths of weary trial and failure"

I mean, it's not *impossible* he wrote "mouths". But it is surely far more likely he wrote "months", in'it?

praymont said...

It looks like the APA held a 1950 meeting in Canada -- Quine read his paper, "Two Dogmas of Empiricism", at an APA meeting in Toronto in December of that year. I think the Canadian Phil Assoc came into being later, and that initially the APA was the main association for Canadian philosophers too.

Brit Brogaard said...

Thanks! The typo has been corrected. Interesting! It seems that Gardiner was right when he said that 'we have reflected in our meetings the best thinking of American philosophers in our time'