Hostname: page-component-848d4c4894-5nwft Total loading time: 0 Render date: 2024-05-22T09:17:48.462Z Has data issue: false hasContentIssue false


Published online by Cambridge University Press:  19 December 2018

Department of History, University of Rochester E-mail:


The story of Western philosophy in the late twentieth century is, first and foremost, a tale of the discipline's division into two distinct discourses—analytic and Continental philosophy. This article argues that institutional dynamics of American higher education played a decisive role in the creation of this divide. Through quantitative analysis of the hiring and promotion of philosophers, it demonstrates how hierarchies and informal academic networks established boundaries for mainstream American philosophy that excluded modern European thought. Following the end of World War II, as American universities expanded, philosophy departments nearly tripled in size. However, the discipline was dominated by a Brahmin caste of elite departments that hired its own graduates almost exclusively. In this environment, the invidious distinction between the “elite” analytic departments and heterodox departments at the discipline's periphery was mapped onto the styles of philosophy practiced at those schools, and shaped America's reception of “Continental” European philosophy.

Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2018

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)


1 Leiber, Justin, “Linguistic Analysis and Existentialism,” Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 32/1 (1971), 47–56, at 48CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

2 Cavell, Stanley, “Existentialism and Analytical Philosophy,” Daedalus 93/3 (1964), 946–74, at 947Google Scholar.

3 Levy, Neil, “Analytic and Continental Philosophy: Explaining the Differences,” Metaphilosophy 34/3 (2003), 184–304, at 284CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

4 On the conventional narrative of the divide see Woessner, Martin V., Heidegger in America (Cambridge, 2011), 192Google Scholar. It can be difficult to find overt statements of these beliefs, precisely because conventional wisdom usually resides in casual remarks, unexamined assumptions, and the background givens of thought. However, the idea of cultural incompatibility can be discerned in remarks such as this: “Part of the reason for the different degrees of institutional success in America of the two European approaches to philosophy may be the fact that analytic (or scientific) philosophy is easier to transplant than continental philosophy.” Wang, Hao, Beyond Analytic Philosophy: Doing Justice to What We Know (Cambridge, MA, 1986), 112Google Scholar.

5 Gordon, Peter Eli, Continental Divide: Heidegger, Cassirer, Davos (Cambridge, MA, 2010), xi–xiiGoogle Scholar.

6 Friedman, Michael, A Parting of the Ways: Carnap, Cassirer, and Heidegger (Chicago, 2000), 156–7Google Scholar.

7 Ryle, G., review of Martin Heidegger, Sein und Zeit, Mind 38/151 (1929), 355–70, at 370Google Scholar.

8 See Kevin Klement, “Russell's Logical Atomism,” Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, at

9 See “A Statement of Policy,” Analysis 1/1 (1933), 1–2.

10 Greg Frost-Arnold, “When Did ‘Analytic Philosophy’ Become an Actor's Category?”, Obscure and Confused Ideas, at

11 Nagel, Ernest, “Impressions and Appraisals of Analytic Philosophy in Europe. I,” Journal of Philosophy 33/1 (1936), 5–24, at 6, original emphasisGoogle Scholar.

12 Ibid., 5, 7–8.

13 Rorty, Richard, “Philosophy in America Today,” American Scholar 51/2 (1982), 183–200, at 187Google Scholar.

14 Ibid., 189.

15 Strassfeld, Jonathan, “Husserl at Harvard: The Origins of American Phenomenology,” in Ferri, Michela Beatrice and Ierna, Carlo, eds., The Reception of Husserlian Phenomenology in North America (New York: Springer, forthcoming)Google Scholar.

16 For instance, Morris Cohen wrote, “I think the phenomenologic [sic] point of view . . . is of the utmost urgency and timeliness for American thought.” Morris R. Cohen to Emergency Committee in Aid of Displaced German Scholars, 18 May 1936, Folder Husserl, Gerhart, Box 75, Emergency Committee in Aid of Displaced Foreign Scholars Records, New York Public Library.

17 Harvard University, Official Register of Harvard University: Announcement of the Courses of Instruction Offered by the Faculty of Arts and Sciences 1926–27 (Cambridge, MA, 1926), 126Google Scholar; Hocking to Edmund Husserl, 24 Oct. 1932, Folder Edmund Husserl (4 of 4), Box 12, Hocking Correspondence.

18 Perry to W. B. Land, 12 Dec. 1934, Folder Greene, J. D. + W. G. Land—Tercentenary 1934–5, 1935–6, Box 3, Philosophy Department Correspondence and Papers circa 1927 to 1938, Harvard University Archives, hereafter cited as HPD10; Jerome D. Greene, memo, 9 Oct. 1935, Folder Greene, J. D. + W. G. Land—Tercentenary 1934–5, 1935–6, Box 3, HPD10.

19 This featured Cairns, Dorion, Farber, Marvin, Schütz, Alfred, and Spiegelberg, Herbert, “Eastern Division,” Proceedings and Addresses of the American Philosophical Association 14 (1940), 200–9, at 200Google Scholar.

20 Schuhmann, Karl, “Husserl's Yearbook,” Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 50 (1990), 1–25, at 2225CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

21 Ricci, Gabriel, “Importing Phenomenology: The Early Editorial Life of Philosophy and Phenomenological Research,” History of European Ideas 42/3 (2016), 399–411, at 403–7CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

22 Farber, Marvin, “The Significance of Phenomenology for the Americas,” Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 4/2 (1943), 208–16, at 209CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

23 A 1945 letter from W. V. O Quine to Farber simply stated, “I have watched the progress of your journal with much admiration, and heartily congratulate you.” Likewise, Horace Kallen observed that the journal had “taken an important place in the philosophical enterprise in the United States.” In terms of output this assessment is certainly deserved. I have compiled a list of all single-authored articles published by philosophers who held positions on the faculties of Berkeley, Chicago, Columbia, Cornell, Harvard, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Princeton, Stanford, UCLA, and Yale between 1930 and 1979. Only the Journal of Philosophy published more articles by members of this group between 1945 and 1949. For 1950–54, Philosophy and Phenomenological Research still ranks fifth among all journals, behind the Journal of Philosophy, the Review of Metaphysics, the Philosophical Review, and the Journal of Symbolic Logic. Tarski, Alfred, “The Semantic Conception of Truth: And the Foundations of Semantics,” Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 4/3 (1944), 341–76CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Nagel, Ernest, “Symposium on Meaning and Truth, Part III: Discussion: Truth and Knowledge of the Truth,” Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 5/1 (1944)CrossRefGoogle Scholar, 50–68; W. V. O. Quine to Marvin Farber, 12 Nov. 1945, Box 17, Folder Quine, Willard V, Marvin Farber Papers, University Archives, the State University of New York at Buffalo; Kallen to Marvin Farber, 4 Jan. 1945, Box 10, Folder Kallen, Horace, Marvin Farber Papers, University Archives: the State University of New York at Buffalo.

24 Krohn, Claus-Dieter, Intellectuals in Exile : Refugee Scholars and the New School for Social Research (Amherst, MA, 1993), 75, 85, 96–7Google Scholar.

25 Unger, Eric, “Logical Positivism and the Moral Problem,” Nineteenth Century and After, 144/2 (July–Dec. 1948), 76–90, at 76Google Scholar.

26 The Harvard Register for this year lists course titles only. The course description is given in the Radcliffe Register. Harvard University, Official Register of Harvard University: Announcement of the Courses of Instruction Offered by the Faculty of Arts and Sciences 1949–50 (Cambridge, MA, 1949), 302Google Scholar; Radcliffe College, Official Register of Radcliffe College: Courses of Instruction Offered in Fall and Spring Terms, 1949–50 (Cambridge, MA, 1949), 220Google Scholar.

27 The cancelled course is not listed in the Harvard Register. Radcliffe College, Official Register of Radcliffe College: Courses of Instruction Offered in Fall and Spring Terms, 1950–51 (Cambridge, MA, 1950), 203Google Scholar.

28 Williams to Henle, 21 April 1950, Folder H, Box 6, Division of Philosophy and Psychology and Dept. of Psychology: General Correspondence, 1938–1965, Harvard University Archives, hereafter cited HPD11.

29 Copleston, Frederick C., “The Human Person in Contemporary Philosophy,” Philosophy 25/92 (1950), 3–19, at 17CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

30 Clapp, James Gordon, review of James Collins, The Existentialists, Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 14/2 (1953), 264–5Google Scholar.

31 Cohen, Joseph W., “The Role of Philosophy in Culture,” Philosophy East and West 5/2 (1955), 99–112, at 111CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

32 An editorial note at the beginning of Rieser's article states, “These reflections on the present state of philosophy are in no sense intended to be a ‘report’ upon the Eleventh International Congress. Their author, as a graduate of the University of Vienna and long established as an American philosopher, has been in an excellent position to appraise the international scene.” Rieser, Max, “Remarks on the Eleventh International Congress of Philosophy,” Journal of Philosophy 51/3 (1954), 99–105, at 99CrossRefGoogle Scholar. Cerf was particularly well established in the American philosophical having received a Ph.D. from Princeton to supplement his degree from the University of Bonn. Sanders, Richard, “Walter Cerf, 1907–2001,” Proceedings and Addresses of the American Philosophical Association 77/5 (2004), 161–2, at 161Google Scholar.

33 Rieser, “Remarks on the Eleventh International Congress of Philosophy,” 100, 105.

34 Ibid., 100.

35 Ibid., 101.

36 Ibid.

37 Ibid., 104.

38 Cerf, Walter, “The Eleventh International Congress of Philosophy,” Philosophical Review 64/2 (1955), 280–99, at 280CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

39 Ibid.

40 Ibid., 281.

41 Ibid., 297, 98.

42 Ibid., 280.

43 Ibid., 299.

44 Cerf, Walter, “Value Decisions,” Philosophy of Science 18/1 (1951), 2634, at 26CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

45 Cerf, Walter, “An Approach to Heidegger's Ontology,” Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 1/2 (1940), 177–90CrossRefGoogle Scholar, at 177, 178.

46 Cerf, Walter, “Logical Positivism and Existentialism,” Philosophy of Science 18/4 (1951), 337–8CrossRefGoogle Scholar, at 327.

47 Cerf, Walter, “Existentialist Mannerism and Education,” Journal of Philosophy 52/6 (1955), 141–52CrossRefGoogle Scholar, at 151.

48 Ibid., 141.

49 Ibid., 151.

50 Landgrebe, Ludwig, “The Study of Philosophy in Germany: A Reply to Walter Cerf,” Journal of Philosophy 54/5 (1957), 127–31, at 128CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

51 Farber, Marvin, “Remarks about the Phenomenological Program,” Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 6/1 (1945), 1–10, at 34CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

52 The importance of this framework in shaping philosophical attitudes did not go unnoticed by contemporaries. Indeed, when Kurt Fischer was invited to give a course on “Contemporary Continental and Analytic Philosophy” in 1964, he explained that he was happy to give a course on this topic, but was “particularly dissatisfied with contrasting ‘analytical’ with ‘continental’ in spite of the obviousness of these labels. Perhaps rather: A study of Anglo-American Analytical Philosophy, Continental Phenomenology and Existentialism, their historical origins, and their relations to contemporary culture.” Rogers Albritton to Kurt Fischer, 13 Feb. 1964, Folder F, Box 16, HPD11; Fischer Albritton, 18 Feb. 1964, Folder F, Box 16, HPD11.

53 McKeon, Richard, “Experience and Metaphysics,” Proceedings of the XIth International Congress of Philosophy 4 (1953), 83–9, at 86–7; Rieser, “Remarks on the Eleventh International Congress of Philosophy,” 105Google Scholar.

54 The mechanisms of these intra-university changes were complex and university-specific, with indirect effects on the humanities that cannot be reduced to a general trend. Therefore this article focuses on broader inter-university dynamics. However, a complete history of analytic philosophy's growth needs to take both factors into account. Rebecca Lowen, Creating the Cold War University: The Transformation of Stanford, 110, 148–63; Isaac, Joel, “Donald Davidson and the Analytic Revolution in American Philosophy, 1940–1970,” Historical Journal 56/3 (2013), 757–79, at 770–72CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

55 This information was compiled using faculty listings in course catalogs for Berkeley, the University of Chicago, Columbia, Cornell, Harvard, the University of Michigan, Princeton, the University of Pennsylvania, Stanford, and UCLA, available in their university archives. Also used was Michigan's online Faculty History Project, and Princeton's online listing of faculty since 1949. Information on Yale faculty was drawn from the online Historical Register of Yale University. The criteria for selecting these departments will be discussed later in the text. However, the list comports with contemporary peer evaluations of departments. Nine of the eleven departments are in the top eleven as ranked in 1925 and 1957, and ten appear in the top eleven of a 1964 assessment. “Philosophy | Faculty History Project,” at; “Chairs and Faculty since 1949 | Department of Philosophy,” at; “Yale University Historical Register Online,” at; Hughes, Raymond M., A Study of the Graduate Schools of America (Oxford, OH, 1925)Google Scholar; Keniston, Hayward, Graduate Study and Research in the Arts and Sciences at the University of Pennsylvania, Reports of the Educational Survey (Philadelphia, 1959)CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Cartter, Allan Murray, An Assessment of Quality in Graduate Education (Washington, DC, 1966)CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

56 All statistics are drawn from the data I have collected, and only include assistant, associate, and full professors, unless otherwise noted.

57 Perry to Horace Lavely, 9 April 1946, Folder A, Box 5, HPD11.

58 Information for most American faculty was retrievable through the ProQuest Dissertation & Theses database. Other sources included the Directory of American Scholars, obituaries and memorials, and faculty webpages, and by directly emailing faculty.

59 Robert Paul Wolff, A Life in the Academy, at, total memoir in One File.docx, 264.

60 This applied to graduate admissions as well. A 1948 letter from Harvard's C. I. Lewis put the matter bluntly: “There is no member of the faculty of Oklahoma or Tulsa whom we in the Department know well enough so that we could regard a letter from him as decisive ground of judgment on a candidate for admission to the Graduate School.” C. I. Lewis to Payson Wild, 8 Nov. 1946, Box 8, Folder Dean P. S. Wild—Miss Priest, Secy 1946–7 (GSAS), HPD11, Harvard University Archives.

61 Wolff, A Life in the Academy, 264.

62 Bruce Kuklick has argued that the postwar expansion of American philosophy “splintered” the profession. I do not dispute this observation. However, my analysis shows the perseverance of the “old network of prestige” during this period, which remained insular and prolific, defining a shared style and canon for mainstream American philosophy even as it splintered. Kuklick, Bruce, “Philosophy and Inclusion in the United States,” in Hollinger, David A., ed., The Humanities and the Dynamics of Inclusion since World War II (Baltimore, 2006), 167–70Google Scholar.

63 These numbers are almost identical to the statistics on Harvard's representation over the entire fifty-year period from 1930 to 1979, which were 29.4 percent of faculty, and 32.1 percent of tenured faculty.

64 C. I. Lewis to Clifford Moore, 15 Nov. 1927, Folder Philosophy (and Psychology) (2), Box 4, Harvard University Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences Correspondence Files, 1894–91, Harvard University Archives.

65 Curt Ducasse to Woods, 24 Nov. 1930, Folder Do–Dy, Box 2, HPD10.

66 I made these identifications primarily by examining a philosopher's writings and, when available, discussions of their work. By their nature, such classifications are disputable. Therefore I took the additional step of posting my initial results on the Leiter Reports philosophy blog to solicit corrections and suggestions. Brian Leiter, “Philosophy Faculty at the leading American Programs, 1930–1979: Feedback Sought,” Leiter Reports, at

67 Raphael Morris Cohen (Analytic, Non-Analytic), Raphael Demos (Analytic, Historical), William Frankena, Cooper Harold Langford, C. I. Lewis (Analytic, Non-Analytic), W. V. O. Quine, Henry Sheffer, and Charles Leslie Stevenson.

68 Hans Reichenbach, Rudolf Carnap, Ralph W. Church (Analytic, Historical).

69 Paul Marhenke, Charles W. Morris, Ernest Nagel, Harold R. Smart, A. Cornelius Benjamin, and Frederic Brenton Fitch.

70 Raphael Demos (Analytic, Historical), C. I. Lewis (Analytic, Non-Analytic), W. V. O. Quine, and Henry Sheffer.

71 A. Cornelius Benjamin, Raphael Morris Cohen (Analytic, Non-Analytic), Charles W. Morris (Analytic, Non-Analytic), and Rudolf Carnap.

72 Michigan: William Frankena and Cooper Harold Langford. Yale: Frederic Brenton Fitch and Charles Leslie Stevenson.

73 Ralph W. Church and Harold R. Smart (Analytic, Non-Analytic).

74 Paul Marhenke, Ernest Nagel, and Hans Reichenbach.

75 Several philosophers receive appointments at more than one institution and are, therefore, doubly counted.

76 Departments were cognizant of student interest in contemporary European philosophy. For instance, the Harvard department's annual report to Dean Paul Buck noted John Ladd's course on Hegel, Marx, and existentialism, in addition to new courses on language and aesthetics, reporting, “All of these topics are in great current demand.” D. C. Williams to Paul Buck, 29 Sept. 1950, Box 9, Folder Provost Paul H. Buck 1950–51, HPD11, Harvard University Archives. For more on the popular reception of Continental philosophy in postwar America see Cotkin, George, Existential America (Baltimore, 2003)Google Scholar; Fulton, Ann, Apostles of Sartre: Existentialism in America, 1945–1963 (Evanston, 1999)Google Scholar.

77 After a visit from the existentialist philosopher William Earle in 1958, Roderick Firth wrote sarcastically, “Earle's visit last term was very successful and helped meet the demand of our undergraduates for more real philosophy—i.e. existentialism.” Firth to Hiram McLendon, 3 Feb. 1959, Folder Mc, Box 14, HPD11, original emphasis.

78 Williams to Henle, 21 April 1950, Folder H, Box 6, HPD11; Henle to Williams, 22 April 1950, Folder H, Box 6, HPD11.

79 Williams to Henle, 26 April 1950, Folder H, Box 6, HPD11.

80 Willard Van Orman Quine to Paul Buck, 27 March 1952, Folder Dean Paul Buck, 1951–1952, Box 9, HPD11.

81 John Wild, “Philosophy 4 Syllabus, Fall 1952,” “Philosophy 74 Syllabus, Spring 1952,” Folder J. Wild, Box 20, Harvard Philosophy Department Papers, Administrative Records, Harvard University Archives.

82 Wild was aided by Trayhern, Robert, Dreyfus, Hubert, and Deugel, C. de. Heidegger, Martin, “Sein und Zeit: An Informal English Paraphrase of Sections 1–53,” trans. Wild, John et al. , 1957 (Andover-Harvard Theological Seminary, Cambridge, MA)Google Scholar.

83 Henry Aiken et al. to John Wild, 14 April 1960, Folder W, Box 15, HPD11.

84 Under this system permanent appointments occurred on a set schedule, with a system of debits and credits allowing for flexibility but ultimately forcing departments to return to a set size. “Revolving Appointment Fund,” Revolving Appointment Fund, Oct. 1939, Harvard University Archives; Firth to Charles Parsons, 9 March 1962, Folder P, Box 18, HPD11.

85 Wild was not entirely correct. Had he remained he would have become colleagues with Stanley Cavell. However, at that time Cavell's work focused solely on analytic philosophy. On departmental needs in this period see Firth to Courtney Smith, 26 Dec. 1957, Folder Visiting Committee—1959–1960, Box 15, HPD11; Firth to Franklin Ford, 24 Oct. 1962, Folder Dean Franklin L. Ford—1962–1963, Box 17, HPD11.

86 Indeed, the department noted a significant drop-off in concentrators after the retirements of Wild and Demos. Firth to McGeorge Bundy, 5 Oct. 1960, Folder Dean McGeorge Bundy 1960–1961, Box 16, HPD11; Rogers Albritton to Harold Weisberg, 12 June 1964, Folder W, Box 19, HPD11.

87 The department's first contacts were Yale's Brand Blanshard and Princeton's Ledger Wood. Wood recommended their recent graduate Frithjof Bergmann, promoting further inquiries of William Frankena at Michigan. The following year, after failing to find a suitable replacement, Harvard made inquiries of Stanley Cavell, a Harvard graduate who was serving on Berkeley's faculty. Cavell recommended Kurt Fischer, but noted Fischer was thirty-nine, had not finished his dissertation, and had no academic publications. Fischer was not hired, but was invited as a visiting professor during 1964–5. Williams to Brand Blanshard, 15 Jan. 1960, Folder B, Box 13, HPD11; Wood to Williams, 29 Jan. 1960, Folder P, Box 18, HPD11; Williams to William Frankena, 12 Feb. 1960, Folder M, Box 17, HPD11; Firth to Stanley Cavell, 1 Nov. 1961, Folder C, Box 16, HPD11; Cavell to Firth, 30 Dec. 1961, Folder C, Box 16, HPD11.

88 Firth to Maurice Mandelbaum, 24 Oct. 1961, Folder J, Box 17, HPD11; Mandelbaum to Firth, 31 Oct. 1961, Folder J, Box 17, HPD11; Firth to Richard Brandt, 24 Oct. 1961, Folder S(2), Box 19, HPD11; Brandt to Firth, 3 Nov. 1961, Folder S(2), Box 19, HPD11.

89 Ledger Wood to Williams, 29 Jan. 1960, Folder P, Box 18, HPD11.

90 Williams to Wood, 5 Feb. 1960, Folder P, Box 18, HPD11.

91 “Spiritual types” referred to a description of existentialists from earlier in the letter. Williams to Frankena, 12 Feb. 1960, Folder M, Box 17, HPD11; Williams to Romane Clark, 5 Feb. 1960, Folder D, Box 16, HPD11.

92 Firth to Franklin Ford, 25 Oct. 1962, Folder Dean Franklin L. Ford—1962–1963, Box 17, HPD11; Firth to Nathan Pusey, 17 March 1961, Folder President Nathan Marsh Pusey—1960–1962, Box 18, HPD11.

93 Woessner, Heidegger in America, 195–200.

94 For an account of the conflict at Yale see Charlotte Allen, “As Bad as It Gets: Three Dark Tales from the Annals of Academic Receivership,” Lingua Franca, March 1998, 52–9.

95 These were Fritjhof Bergmann, Richard Bernstein, David Carr, Edward Casey, Stanley Cavell (Analytic, Non-Analytic), Robert D. Cumming (Non-Analytic, Historical), Kenley Dove, Hubert Dreyfus (Analytic, Non-Analytic), Robert Ehman (Analytic, Non-Analytic), Marvin Farber, John Findlay, Dagfinn Føllesdal (Analytic, Non-Analytic), Horace Leland Friess, Eugene Gendlin, Karsten Harries, Walter Kaufmann, Henry Lanz, Richard Lichtman, Louis Mackey (Non-Analytic, Historical), William McBride, James Ogilvy, Frederick Olafson, Richard Rorty (Analytic, Non-Analytic), George Alfred Schrader (Non-Analytic, Historical), Robert Solomon, Merold Westphal Jr, and John Wild. It should be noted that neither Rorty nor Cavell were yet significantly engaged with Continental philosophy. However, they are included because my classification scheme does not differentiate between stages in a philosopher's career.

96 This includes John Wild, who was employed both at Yale and Harvard during this period.

97 Borradori, Giovanna, The American Philosopher: Conversations with Quine, Davidson, Putnam, Nozick, Danto, Rorty, Cavell, Macintyre, and Kuhn (Chicago, 1994), 57CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

98 See Johnson, Paul E., A Shopkeeper's Millennium: Society and Revivals in Rochester, New York, 1815–1837, 1st rev. edn (New York, 2004), 140Google Scholar.