Philosophy against Misosophy


     Karsten Harries 


Essays by Me

Essays by Others

From Memorial Minutes, Proceedings and Addresses Vol. 64, No. 5 (Jan. 1991), 64-66.  Karsten Harries, Professor of Philosophy and Director of Graduate Studies at Yale, is a former student of Blanshard’s there (Ph. D., 1962).


Brand Blanshard: 1892-1987

Karsten Harries 


Brand had no memory of his mother who died tragically when he and his twin brother, Paul, were just eleven months old.  The next years were difficult for the motherless twins and their father who, already suffering from consumption, finished his degree at Oberlin Seminary and became pastor at a small Congregational church in Grand Rapids, Michigan.  In 1902 Francis Blanshard set out for the West in search of better health leaving his two sons to be cared for by their grandmother.  He died in 1904.

Brand entered the freshman class of the University of Michigan in 1910.  As an undergraduate at Michigan, Brand began to develop a serious interest in philosophy.  What led him to philosophy was first of all his hope to follow his father and grandfather and to pursue a career in the ministry.  The young Blanshard was convinced that “philosophy was the formidable and trusty Excalibur which was in the end the true defense of religion, and I wanted to be the Arthur who could wield that sword.”

That desire carried over to Oxford where Brand arrived in 1913.  Although he had chosen to work towards a B.Sc. in philosophy, he still thought of making the ministry his career and made a point of hearing the leading preachers of the day.  However, Brand’s study at Oxford was cut short by the outbreak of World War I.

Before finally being called by the draft, Brand was able to spend what proved to be an unusually significant year at Columbia.  It was there that he met and worked with John Dewey.  Of greater personal significance than getting to know Dewey and some other brilliant thinkers than teaching at Columbia—Brand singled out William P. Montague as the person from whom he learned most about teaching—was his meeting with Frances Bradshaw, a fellow graduate student, newly arrived from Smith.  When Brand received his call from the army, the pain of imminent departure and the uncertainties that lay ahead led to a hastily arranged wedding, the beginning of a long and unusually happy marriage.

After the war, Brand returned to Oxford.  His philosophical interests had shifted away from religion.  He chosen a new thesis topic, Dewey’s theory of judgment, and a new tutor, H.W.B. Joseph, to whose long friendship his work came to owe perhaps more than it did to any other philosopher.  To have a better chance at a teaching position in the United States, Brand left Oxford for Harvard in 1920.  William Ernest Hocking, R. B. Perry, and C. I. Lewis helped determine the philosophical climate.  The last was assigned to supervise Brand’s thesis on judgment for which he received his Ph.D. in 1921.  In that same year his alma mater, the University of Michigan, called him back as an assistant professor where he remained until 1925.  At that time he joined the faculty at Swarthmore College where he spent twenty years during which time his wife served as dean of women.

It was Charles Hendel who brought Bland Blanshard to Yale where Brand was to teach from 1945 until his retirement in 1961.  Hendel had known Brand from their collaboration on the Commission on Philosophy that the Board of Officers of the American Philosophical Association had appointed to report on the function of philosophy in a well-thought-out program of liberal education and in the life of a free society.  By that time Brand’s reputation as an educator was such as to make him an obvious choice for such a commission.  The resulting report was published as a substantial book, Philosophy in American Education.  In keeping with Brand’s convictions, the book stressed that philosophy betrays itself when it becomes partisan, that its only commitment is to reason.

The years at Yale were rewarding and demanding ones.  For seven of those years Brand served as chairman of the department, characteristically without asking that his teaching load be reduced.  His lectures became legendary.  Unlike those teachers who like to change their courses for fear they might grow stale, Brand felt it important to teach the same course over and over again, polishing, filing away.  Only this allowed him to give sufficient attention to form.  “It was only when I was giving an introductory course for about the fortieth time that I had it approximately where I wanted it, and then it was time to retire.”  Brand’s reputation as a scholar was firmly secured with the appearance of The Nature of Thought.  He completed his rationalist program with the trilogy, Reason and Goodness (1961), Reason and Analysis (1962), and Reason and Belief (1975).

Retirement did not slow him down.  The very next year he spent at the newly created Center for Advanced Studies at Wesleyan University; he also lectured at the University of Minnesota and served for some years on the Executive Committee of the Fédération Internationale des Sociétés de Philosophie.

His wife, Frances, died unexpectedly shortly after his retirement.  Three years after her death, he married Roberta Yerkes, a former editor at the Yale Press.  The eighteen years still left to Brand brought great pleasure to both.

Brand Blanshard was among the very few to have been invited to deliver the prestigious Gifford Lectures (1952-53) and in 1959 he was named the Carus Foundation Lecturer.  The only other American to have been so honored with John Dewey.  Brand was named William Belden Noble Lecturer at Harvard in 1948, Hertz Lecturer of the British Academy in 1952, Adamson Lecturer of the University of Manchester, England, in 1953, Whitehead Lecturer at Harvard in 1961.  His fellow philosophers honored him by electing him president of the Eastern Division of the American Philosophical Association in 194244.  He was a Guggenheim Fellow (1929 to 1930), a corresponding fellow of the British Academy, and a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.  His membership in the American Philosophical Society meant especially much to him.  Most members of that society are of course not philosophers, but rather “natural philosophers” in Ben Franklin’s sense, i.e. scientists.  Brand found this an extremely congenial group, far happier on the whole than the artists he had come to know—another argument, he felt, for the life of reason.  In closing, perhaps I should mention the fourteen honorary degrees he received, of which, I suspect, the one from Swarthmore meant most to him.

Posted March 26, 2007

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