The University of Michigan, an encyclopedic survey ... Wilfred B. Shaw, editor.
University of Michigan.


In 1940 the Department of Philosophy had only six regular faculty and about fifteen graduate students. Yet it enjoyed great distinction, with three of its professors internationally known. Moreover, it had evolved from a long tradition of excellence, commencing with the absolute idealists, George Sylvester Morris, John Dewey, and Robert Mark Wenley. Morris was Michigan's first outstanding philosopher. Having served as chairman of Modern Languages and Literature from 1870, he moved to philosophy in 1881 and became chairman there in 1884. He brought Dewey to Michigan in 1884, and Dewey became chairman upon Morris's death in 1889.

Dewey came as an absolute idealist, and the department Page  191continued to think of him as one, though he had begun to move toward pragmatism during his ten years at Michigan. After his departure for the University of Chicago, he was replaced by Wenley, an absolute idealist trained at Glasgow University under Edward Caird. Wenley was chairman from 1896 until 1929, building and presiding over a strong department and making his own contributions to scholarship, but his death marked the end of the department's identification with absolute idealism. By 1940, only one remnant remained: the curriculum included two "pro-seminars," in Kant and Hegel, carrying the implication that this background was needed for satisfactory "seminar" performance.

Wenley had added two young philosophers to the department who were destined to distinguish themselves: Roy Wood Sellars in 1905, and DeWitt H. Parker in 1908. Parker and Sellars designed systems of metaphysics and epistemology in the grand style. While Parker continued the idealistic emphasis in the department, he was not an absolute idealist; rather, he was a panpsychist and voluntarist, being influenced by the individualistic tradition in idealism and by Schopenhauer's emphasis on the will. Sellars, one of the famous critical realists, developed an evolutionary and emergent form of naturalism. Parker and Sellars also extended their systems to special areas of philosophy. Parker applied his voluntarism to ethics and aesthetics; Sellars argued from his naturalism to a humanistic theory of ethics and religion and to a politics of democratic socialism.

Parker, who became chairman in 1929, chose a mathematical logician to fill the vacancy left by the absolute idealist Wenley. C. H. Langford, who taught for over twenty years, was a founder and editor of the Journal of Symbolic Logic and served as president of the Association for Symbolic Logic. Parker's appointment of Langford was the start of the shift toward analytic philosophy, and toward specialization, that would keep the Michigan department in the forefront of English and American philosophy during the period of this account. In 1937, he appointed a second symbolic logician, Paul Henle, as well as the moral philosopher William Frankena. Thus a very small department now had two mathematical logicians, though each did have other strong philosophic interests. In 1946 another moral philosopher, Charles Stevenson, replaced the retiring Charles Vibbert; Page  192the present chronicler, Arthur Burks, also joined the faculty at that time, upon the departure of Henle, who, however, returned later.

Frankena was chairman from 1947 until 1961, years that saw an already distinguished department of six grow to a still more widely recognized department of twelve, and the number of graduate students reach a peak of about sixty. Richard Brandt became chairman in 1964, having taught at Swarthmore College and been chairman there for many years. The administrative skills he brought to Michigan served the department well in a difficult period of a dozen years, during which the faculty grew to about twenty.

The department has been honored and benefitted by the establishment in 1970 of the Tanner Philosophy Library, the gift of Obert Clark Tanner, Professor Emeritus of Philosophy at the University of Utah, and his wife, Grace Adams Tanner, in memory of their sons, Dean, Steven, and Gordon Tanner. The Tanner Collection now occupies two rooms in Angell Hall; it is widely used by graduate students, undergraduate majors, and members of the faculty. In 1978, the Obert C. and Grace A. Tanner Foundation also created the Tanner Lectures on Human Values, whereby up to ten very generous lectureships are awarded annually to the most eminent scholars in the field of human values, philosophers in the broadest sense of the term. The University of Michigan is one of six universities in this country and England where a permanent lectureship has been established; the Department of Philosophy chooses the lecturer each year and officiates throughout the proceedings.

In brief, the Department of Philosophy has had a faculty highly regarded in both teaching and research during the period of this history, continuing a long and distinguished tradition.