American, b: 10 October 1873, Berlin, Germany. d: 30 December 1973, Baltimore. Cat: Critical realist; intellectual historian. Ints: Epistemology; history of ideas. Educ: University of California (Berkeley) and Harvard. Infls: Descartes and Locke. Appts: Professor, Washington University of St Louis, 1901–8; Professor, Johns Hopkins University 1910–38.
For many years Lovejoy concentrated on the theory of knowledge which was being actively developed in a realist direction, and in opposition to the previously dominant idealism and pragmatism, from the publication of a realistic manifesto in 1910 by W.P.Montague, R.B.Perry and others. Lovejoy was one of a group of ‘critical realists’ who dissented from the excessive naivety, as they saw it, of the first wave of American realists. In his substantial Revolt against Dualism (1930) he deployed his impressive critical powers against all those contemporaries, above all Russell and Whitehead, who had too much identified the content of perceptual experience with its public object. He argued for dualism of two kinds: epistemological, between content sensed and the physical object that caused it, and psychophysical, between the mind and the physical world. His negative criticisms were much more powerful than his positive defences of the representative theory against the traditional objection that it made the supposed public objects of perception entirely inaccessible, indeed unintelligible. Perhaps aware of the very large disparity between his critical and his constructive abilities he turned to intellectual history, inventing the specific form of it known as the history of ideas. It differs from traditional intellectual history in following the history of particular ideas, and in seeking them not in major works of theory but in a large mass of lesser writings. He founded and was the first editor of the Journal of the History of Ideas, which still flourishes, and himself wrote a masterly account of the idea of the great chain of being and also memorably on romanticism and primitivism. He was an ardent supporter of academic freedom and helped found the American Association of University Professors to defend it. Although he was born in Germany to a German mother, he was violently hostile to the German side in the First World War. Lovejoy’s theory of knowledge was respectfully received but has been without influence, having failed to provide representationism with any new intellectual support. The history of ideas movement he began remains vigorous, although it has not altogether confined itself within the limits he laid down.
Sources: Passmore 1957; Edwards; Hill.