Ralph Barton Perry

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Ralph Barton Perry (3 July 187622 January 1957) was an American philosopher.


  • In reviewing the several levels of life which morality defines, we may observe two types of universal value. The lower values m relation to the higher are indispensable. There is no health without satisfaction, no achievement without health, no rational intercourse without achievement, and no true religion except as the perfecting and completing of a rational society. The higher values, on the other hand, are more universal than the lower in that they surpass these in validity, and are entitled to preference. Thus the lower values are ennobled by the higher, while the higher are given body and meaning by the lower. Satisfaction derives dignity from being controlled by the motive of good-will, while the moral kingdom at large derives its wealth, its pertinence to life, and its incentive, from the great manifold of particular interests which it conserves and fosters.
  • Indeed I am inclined to go so far as to say that the one cause for which one may properly make war is the cause of peace.
    • "Non-Resistance and The Present War - A Reply to Mr. Russell," International Journal of Ethics (April 1915), vol. 25, no. 3, pp. 307-316
  • The English mind is intelligent rather than intellectual. The French are intellectual in the sense that the intellect is emancipated and left free to run its own course.
    • Chap XXXI. The Present Conflict of Ideals: A Study of the Philosophical Background of the World War, (1918), New York: Longmans, Green
  • … the fear of God together with a keen eye for the main chance.
    • Chap XXXV. The Present Conflict of Ideals (1918). (Among the traits Barton Perry lists as being possessed by Americans and inherited from British Puritans.)
  • This insistence on "having his say upon the universe" is the profoundest motive of William James thinking as well as of his filial gratitude.
    • The Thought and Character of William James (1935), vol. 1, ch. VIII
  • He believed that liberalism had saved the intellect at the cost of the repudiating the great historical phenomenon of religion.
    • "The Thoght and Character of William James" (1935), Vol 2, ch. LXIX

The Integrity of the Intellect[edit]

Harvard Theological Review, vol. 13, no. 3, July 1920

  • Psychology, speaking for emotion and instinct, has reduced intellect to impotence over life. Metaphysics has subordinated it to will. Bergson and his followers have charged it with falsehood and issued a general warning against its misrepresentations; while with pragmatists and instrumentalists it has sunk so low that it is dressed in livery and sent to live in the servant's quarters. It is against this last indignity in particular that I wish to speak a word of protest, to the end that the intellect may be accorded full rights within the community of human activities and interests.
  • Is the intellect to be regarded as autonomous and self-sufficient, as pursuing ends of its own, and as judging by standards of its own? or is it to be regarded as the servant of alien interests which impose their ends and standards upon it? The modern tendency has been towards the latter or practical interpretation of the knowing faculties.
  • There is the growth of applied science, the increased interest in the control and reconstruction of nature, accompanied by a decline in the practice of meditation or the vocation of the intellectual life.
    • [describing the historical causes of the modern tendency to make intellect the servant of alien interests]
  • There is the growing influence of biology and the application of biological principles to the human faculties, thought among the rest. Man is said to have brains because they enable him to survive. Intelligence is construed as an organic function and reason as developed or evolved intelligence.
    • [describing the historical causes of the modern tendency to make intellect the servant of alien interests]
  • We are taught by biology to believe that the organism carries no passengers, but only members of the crew, each with an allotted part in keeping the ship afloat and bringing it to port.
  • The term "instrumentalism," which has largely superseded the broader term "pragmatism," emphasizes the subordination of the intellect to ends beyond itself. But the organic analogy does in fact point to quite a different conclusion. Most organic functions are interested in their own behalf. I may even breathe for the sake of breathing. I may identify my soul with my lungs. … Or consider the predatory instinct. This evidently has its place in the economy of life by virtue of providing food for carnivorous animals; but hunting is also an art and a pastime, which many have thought worth cultivating as an end in itself. What is true of respiration and huntsmanship can scarcely be denied of an activity so developed, so varied, so self-conscious, as that of the intellect. Nor in this case any more than the others, does the subordinate role contradict the autonomous role. The devotee of breathing or of hunting need not cease to breathe or hunt for vital purposes; nor need the intellectualist, the scientist, the speculative philosopher, because he has cultivated the art of knowing for its own sake, therefore cease to use his mind for the conduct of affairs.
  • There is … no first person plural to the verb "cogito." Observation, verification, and inference are functions which are perfected only in their independent individual exercise. I am not unmindful of the importance of the corroboration of one mind by another; but such corroboration is valuable only in so far as both minds have reached their results alone. Corroboration implies the absence of collusion. The devotee of the intellect must, then, have the strength to work alone.
  • I have little interest in the "conscientious objector"; but I have the greatest regard for the individual thinker. The former opposes private conviction to public policy. His inflexibility is symptomatic of will and emotion, rather than enlightenment. The latter opposes freedom of thought to uniformity of opinion.

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