Does philosophy express elevation of spirit?

Here are words from a letter to Henry Bugbee (an assistant professor of philosophy at Harvard hired to teach aesthetics in the early 1950s).  It’s from C. I. Lewis, an imposing philosophical presence who spanned the decades in the Harvard department between Royce and James, on the one hand, and Quine and Putnam, on the other.  He refused to retire when it was rumored that he might be replaced by Rudolph Carnap (the arch Vienna Circle and UCLA positivist).  Lewis is responding here to Bugbee’s little-known and at this juncture unpublished essay, “The Moment of Obligation in Experience.”

My first and strongest impression is that it bespeaks and expresses that elevation of mind which has made philosophy philosophy in past ages, and the almost complete absence of which at present makes this period in philosophy contemptible.  I was reminded of those sheets which Royce left on his desk at the last, and which in turn remind me of the spirit of the man I knew and his power to express, when he spoke and wrote at his best, something universal and noble.


6 comments on “Does philosophy express elevation of spirit?

  1. dmf says:

    does anyone except maybe Lingis write in that vein these days?

  2. dmf says:

    “It is the fault of some excellent writers–[Thomas] De Quincey’s first impressions on seeing London suggest it to me–that they express themselves with too great fullness and detail. They give the most faithful, natural, and lifelike account of their sensations, mental and physical, but they lack moderation and sententiousness. They do not affect us by an intellectual earnestness and a reserve of meaning, like a stutterer; they say all they mean. Their sentences are not concentrated and nutty. Sentences which suggest far more than they say, which have an atmosphere about them, which do not merely report an old, but make a new, impression; sentences which suggest as many things and are as durable as a Roman aqueduct: to frame these, that is the art of writing. Sentences which are expensive, towards which so many volumes, so much life went; which lie like boulders on the page, up and down or across; which contain the seed of other sentences, not mere repetition, but creation; which a man might sell his grounds and castles to build. If De Quincey had suggested each of his pages in a sentence and passed on, it would have been far more excellent writing. His style is nowhere kinked and knotted up into something hard and significant, which you could swallow like a diamond, without digesting.”
    -H.D.T. (August 22, 1851)

  3. A. Michels says:

    CS Lewis… Any thoughts on what he brings to the philosophical table in regards to “elevating the mind”?

    • efmooney says:

      I’d say that in his appreciation of Bugbee, Royce, James, and others that C. I. Lewis did not scorn a philosophical interest in ways of life and human aspirations to betterment and insight into what makes a person spiritually, intimately, morally alive. The philosophy Lewis found on the rise and contemptible (such a strong word for a world-class Harvard philosopher!) was one that thought questions of beauty and value and human meaning were “meaningless,” not part of the proper agenda of philosophy. That, in Lewis’ mind, and for any reader of Thoreau or Cavell or Wittgenstein, was an abdication of philosophy as a search for wisdom. It was deflation of spirit.

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