Richard Hudelson and Robert Evans critique John McCumbers's *Time in the Ditch: American Philosophy and the McCarthy Era*

Jim Farmelant farmelantj at
Fri Sep 6 19:20:29 MDT 2002

Professors Hudelson and Evans argue in their paper "McCartyhism and
Philosophy in the USA:

"In his recently published Time in the Ditch: American Philosophy and the

McCarthy Era, John McCumber argues that McCarthyism had a deep and
lasting impact on academic philosophy in the United States.  In outline,
McCumber argues that, faced with external political threats, American
philosophy retreated from engagement with the world into the safe
confines of an a-political analytic philosophy, abandoning "philosophical

traditions and approaches that were banished from most American
philosophy departments at the time of the McCarthy era."

Hudelson and Evans contend that McCumber got it wrong in his
interpretation of the effects of the Cold War and McCarthyism
on American philosophy.  They dispute McCumber's contention
that post-WW II anti-communism and McCarthyism was
responsible for the triumph of analytical philosophy in
the philosophy departments of American Universities,
since for one thing, this interpretation is based on
a misunderstanding of the political character of
American analytical philosophy in general, and of
logical empiricism.  Like George Reisch

Hudelson and Evans emphasize the initially leftist
and even Marxist character logical empiricism
both in its original home in Central Europe and
when it was first introduced to the US in the
late 1930s.  Thus, unlike McCumber, Hudelson
and Evans do not associate rivals schools
such as continental philosophy or American
pragmatism, as being any more predisposed
to leftist radicalism, than was the analytical
school.  And at any rate, they do not believe
that the success of analytical philosophy was
due primarily to political factors anyway.  They
argue that by the 1920s, both idealism and
pragmatism were in decline, and there were
already strong pushes towards developing
scientific philosophies (i.e. the critical realist
school associated with Ralph Barton Perry,
R.W. Sellars, and George Santayana),
and for making philosophy itself more like science.
These intellectual shifts, helped to prepare the
ground for the favorable reception of logical
positivism, in the following decade.

And as I have already mentioned, they
dispute McCumber's contention that
analytical philosophy was as a particularly
"safe" position for American philosophers
to adopt, since many of its early proponents
were leftists (i.e. Bertrand Russell,
A.J. Ayer) and some among the logical
positivists were avowedly Marxist like
Otto Neurath.

Hudelson and Evans conclude their paper
with an addendum on whether Communist
philosophers should have been purged
from their posts, as many were during
the McCarthy era, and which was defended
by Sidney Hook.  They find Hook's argument
which defended the purge on the grounds
that membership in the CPUSA was incompatible
with the disinterested pursuit of truth that
constituted the professional duty of philosophy
teachers, to be uncompelling.  Their
examination of the writings of philosophy
professors who had been members of
the CPUSA, leads them to conclude that
they were just as committed to the pursuit
of truth as the rest of their academic
colleagues.  That in the interest of pursuing
truth, a number of the people changed
their political allegiances over time.
And in any case, Hook was inconsistent
in his argument.  He never called for
the purging of Catholic professors, even
though the Catholic Church demanded that
its adherents to follow the Church's line
on theological and moral issues, and
the Church demanded that Catholics
who occupied academic positions to
conform their teaching to the Church's
positions.  Of course, probably not many
Catholic professors in practice, privileged
conformity to the Church's doctrines over
the disinterested pursuit of truth.  But then
again, Hudelson and Evans do not find
any evidence that the situation was any
different with Communist professors

Jim Farmelant

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