The Chicago School (Adler)

The Chicago School  (1941) 
by Mortimer Adler

from Harper's Magazine (September 1941)


I have the duty on Monday of reporting at a "philosophical conference" on the Chicago School of Thought. Chicago University has during the past six months given birth to the fruit of its ten years of gestation under John Dewey. The result is wonderful—a real school, and real Thought. Important thought too! Did you ever hear of such a city or such a university? Here we have thought, but no school. At Yale, a school, but no thought. Chicago has both. . . ."

So wrote William James to Mrs. Henry Whitman in October 1903. We have no record of the report he gave to his colleagues at Harvard, but the general tenor of his remarks can be gathered from a review he wrote shortly thereafter of philosophical papers by Dewey, Mead, Angell, and others, reprinted from the first series of Decennial Publications. "The rest of the world," he began, "has made merry over the Chicago man's legendary saying that 'Chicago hasn't had time to get round to culture yet, but when she does strike her, she'll make her hum!' Already the prophecy is fulfilling itself in a dazzling manner. Chicago has a School of Thought!—a school of thought which, it is safe to predict, will figure in literature as the School of Chicago for twenty-five years to come." And he went on to say that the work of Dewey and his disciples presented "a view of the world, both theoretical and practical, which is so simple, massive, and positive that, in spite of the fact that many parts of it yet need to be worked out, it deserves the title of a new system of philosophy."

This September the University of Chicago celebrates its fiftieth anniversary. This September the world may not have time or patience to give much attention to an academic celebration—to its learned symposia, its recital of degrees honoris causa, its ritual of eulogy. But if there is still any time left for us to think about what we are doing we might well use a little of it to consider the institution and development of a university which, more than any other, reflects the temper of our culture. Universities in general may symbolize the achievement of European civilization—the endurance of which now seems to depend upon soldiers, not gentlemen or scholars; but the University of Chicago, like the city in which it was founded, is almost 100 percent American.

When Chicago got around to culture she was not content to make it hum. She turned out an American brand. It was not merely a "new system of philosophy"—the pragmatism or humanism which William James applauded—but a new orientation of the higher learning itself. President Harper accepted the definition of a university as "an agency recognized by the people for resolving the problems of civilization"; but from the beginning, and increasingly ever since, Chicago's university applied this maxim by doing the sort of work which took its bearings from, and exerted influence upon, the main directions of American life. The pragmatic philosophy of Dewey and others simply made articulate the principles of this new departure—a higher learning indigenous to America, the birth of a typically American university.

The University of Chicago is popularly thought of as one of America's youngest institutions. In truth it is one of the oldest, if we discriminate between an undergraduate college and a university, a place for graduate study and research. Harper's Chicago is preceded only by Gilman's Johns Hopkins (1876) and by G. Stanley Hall's Clark (1888). Before these institutions there was only sporadic and casual graduate work at Harvard and Columbia, Yale and Cornell. There was neither a formal program for graduate study nor a faculty to give full-time instruction to graduate students. At Yale, in 1871, there was only one full-time graduate professor. Americans went to Europe, especially to the universities of Germany, to complete the studies for which an A.B. degree was supposed to prepare. After Johns Hopkins and Chicago led the way some of the older colleges on the eastern seaboard quickly transformed themselves into universities by collecting professional schools and organizing graduate faculties. Harvard and Columbia, under Lowell and Butler, became universities; but Chicago was founded as one, at once exceeding even Johns Hopkins and Clark in the degree to which it realized the ideal which had motivated Gilman and Hall.

Gilman started with forty graduate students and a small faculty; Hall also had a handful of students doing work in five divisions of graduate study. But when Harper opened Chicago's doors it was prepared to offer instruction and conduct research in twenty-seven departments; it had a staff of 120, divided into two faculties (of arts and literature, and of science); and in the very first quarter of the university's operation these men taught 594 students, about half of whom came to do postgraduate work.

Harper vigorously fought the American college system which, in his view, impeded the intellectual growth of able men by giving them heavy programs of undergraduate teaching. Teaching loads at Chicago were light, and promotion depended on successful research rather than on meritorious teaching. This, more than anything else, set the academic style and nourished what William James was later to call "the Ph.D. octopus." In part, Harper's intention seems to have miscarried, for his emphasis on research sacrificed many promising young men to the coils of the octopus, crushing (if not killing) them as much as a heavy burden of sophomores. But this must not lead us to neglect another point from which to view his intention, and its execution by Chicago's faculty. In 1895 he said:

It is not enough that instructors in a university should merely do the class and lecture work assigned them. This is important, but the university will in no sense deserve the name, if time and labor are not also expended in the work of producing that which will directly or indirectly influence thought and life outside the University. . . . The true university is the center of thought on every problem connected with human life and work, and the first obligation resting upon the individual members who compose it is that of research and investigation.

Steadfast devotion to and brilliant performance of this mission brought Chicago fair renown in the first ten years of its existence.

Just four years ago Harvard celebrated its tercentenary. At that time, when peace still encouraged us to think of the future's promise, Professor Whitehead congratulated Harvard on having completed its process of growth. "About twenty-five for a man," he wrote, "and about three hundred years for a university are the periods required for the attainment of mature stature." Once full-grown, the measure of a university is "in terms of its effectiveness." After three hundred years of growing up, Oxford and Cambridge played their part effectively in what Whitehead regards as "the brilliant period of European civilization," the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.

It did not take Chicago three hundred years. Chicago sprang full-grown from Harper's head. In ten years it had become a dominantly effective force in "American civilization," as the testimony of William James suggests. It is easy to make light of this achievement by saying that the delivery was well oiled by Rockefeller millions, by saying that rapid growth and quick cash returns simply expressed the American way of doing everything in the industrial nineties. Of course it is true that money talked, then as now. Harper bought whatever he thought was needed to start right off in a big way. During the preliminary negotiations Harper wrote to Goodspeed: "Naturally we ought to be willing to begin small and grow, but in these days when things are done so rapidly, it seems a great pity to wait for growth when we might be born full-fledged." He bought the best professors, paying the unheard-of top salary of $7,000, and taking as many as twelve from Stanley Hall's sixteen carefully selected scientists. He disregarded deficits. That was a problem for "the Founder." His problem was to waste no time in using money, in pocket or promised, to create the superlative university. To that end he not only collected the best staff of men, but also managed, under forced draft, to get them to publish a tremendous body of completed research within the first ten years.

But the twenty-eight volumes of the Decennial Publications, containing the work of eighty-one contributors, and costing the university $50,000 which it did not have, expressed more than Harper's ability to do big things in a hurry by pyramiding with money. They expressed, in more ways than William James realized, a school of thought. It was neither the eminent qualities of its individual professors nor the great quantities of research done in various fields which made Chicago the leading, the most typical, American university within a decade. Money bought professors for Chicago; it could buy them back for eastern institutions, as the competition for triple-starred names during the last half century reveals. Harvard, for example, has always had a larger endowment than Chicago and could usually procure the services of academic leaders. The fact that Chicago and Harvard have been for some time now closely tied in the ranking of American universities according to the number of "eminent names" on their faculties, or according to the number of "eminent departments" (as measured by productivity), is not the important fact about Chicago—except perhaps in the eyes of those who think Harvard provides the absolute standard for comparison. The important fact about Chicago—the fact so distinguishing that in this respect Chicago escapes comparison—is the intellectual life it has cultivated, and the influence which this has exerted, educationally and culturally, upon the rest of the country.

In 1904 "the Chicago School" meant one thing; in 1936 it meant another; but at both times it signified the existence there of an extraordinary intellectual ferment, a leaven which worked from there outward to raise the whole cultural mass. During this month of celebration on the Midway academic orators may praise Chicago for many things, but the main point will be missed if Chicago's peculiar vitality is not analyzed. Unfortunately the main point cannot be made as a paean of unalloyed praise. Chicago has defects peculiar to its special virtues, and the defects, as well as the virtues, are characteristic of American life during the past fifty years. The contribution of Chicago in the first and in the last decade of that period calls for criticism, not eulogy.


When I was a student at Columbia in the early twenties the return of John Dewey from China, to resume his professorial duties at the university, was a long-awaited event. At last I was going to find out about that "Chicago school of thought." Even though John Dewey made his hegira from Chicago in 1904, even though William James had published a book called Pragmatism (1908) which successfully popularized some of the notions that had been much more technically expounded in Studies in Logical Theory, anyone who was interested in the pragmatic philosophy still turned in the twenties toward Chicago as toward Mecca. Though Dewey had been at Columbia for many years, and though James had left some disciples to carry on his teaching at Harvard, neither the Columbia nor the Harvard philosophy department could claim to be the seat of orthodoxy. Only at Chicago was there a homogeneous body of men who worked together with apparent understanding of a common doctrine. Some of these men, Tufts and Mead and w:Ames, had been at Chicago from the beginning; they had collaborated with Dewey in the early publications of the Chicago School.

But to think of the Chicago School entirely in terms of a doctrine called "pragmatism," or to restrict it to the "thought" of its philosophy department, misses the forest for the trees. The homogeneity which could be found in the philosophy department in 1904 or in 1924 (in fact, almost until the arrival of Hutchins) characterized the whole university. Whether it was an extraordinary accident, or whether Harper's feeling for the zeitgeist was so strong that he intuitively picked men in every field who uniformly reflected the same spirit, the remarkable fact remains that the University of Chicago had a central point of view which dominated most of its departments and united its faculty in a common enterprise. With few exceptions—notably Paul Shorey, the Platonist—the Chicago faculty consisted of men who saw eye to eye on fundamentals, whether they were professors of geology or economics, of physiology or religion, of education or sociology.

I do not mean to imply that various departments always collaborated in research—although more of that has occurred at Chicago than anywhere else—but I do say that the large round tables of the faculty club could usually assemble a diversity of specialists who really understood what the other fellow's research was driving at because it was a common objective they all shared. If a university should be a community of scholars, if it should sustain a universe of discourse, then the pre-Hutchins Chicago almost (I say "almost") rang the bell. Paradoxically, Hutchins was attacked by the Old Guard at Chicago for wishing to "unify" the university by "imposing" a fundamental point of view (loosely called "a metaphysics"), when, in fact, his efforts to introduce new elements were restricted by a faculty trying to maintain its unity. The issue in the past ten years has not been a fight of schismatics against a unifier (if anything Hutchins and his group were the schismatics) but a conflict of basic doctrines.

That, however, is another story which I shall presently tell. Here I am concerned to define the unity of the earlier Chicago.

The general line of Chicago's pragmatism is too well known to need discussion beyond pointing out that much of its case rested on "the new science of psychology." According to Dewey's own report, it was James's Principles of Psychology which had awakened him from his dogmatic slumbers in the bower of Hegelianism. That book was radical in its chapters on instinct, habit, and emotion, in its attempt to give a physiological diagram for every aspect of behavior, in its view of man as an animal—whether rational or not. Although Aristotle had known long before about man's animality, this fact had been obscured or forgotten by the psychologists of the early nineteenth century who dealt almost exclusively in "states of consciousness" or "the association of ideas." But when the old truth was rediscovered it packed a new punch because the human animal, like every other, was now primarily viewed as engaged in the struggle for existence by adaptation to environment.

It was not merely discoveries in neurology, but Darwinism that altered the conception of man as a knowing or desiring animal, as political or artistic. This "evolutionary" conception of man as a system of reflexes which could be conditioned, as a bundle of drives which impelled him to adapt, gave rise to the new logic and the new ethics—both pragmatic in the sense that the ultimate criterion of the true or the good was successful adjustment, in thinking or action, to a changing world or a changing society. But most important of all was the emphasis on change itself. Darwin had shattered the illusion of a static universe. Evolution made a mockery of the quest for certainty. Everything, including truth, is in flux. Creative intelligence must look to the contingent future. Novelty should be prized rather than feared; for with the aid of Science the Savior man could be optimistic about winning the struggle for existence under the most adverse and unforeseen circumstances.

William James epitomized this new view of things when he wrote, in The Nation (1904):

Not only has the doctrine of Evolution weaned us from fixities and inflexibilities in general, and given us a world all plastic, but it has made us ready to imagine almost all our functions, even the intellectual ones, as "adaptations," and possibly transient adaptations, to practical human needs. The enormous growth of the sciences in the past fifty years has reconciled us to the idea that Not quite true is as near as we can ever get. [Italics are mine.] For investigating minds there is no sanctity in any theory, and "laws of nature" absolutely expressible by us are the idols of the popular-science level of education exclusively. Up-to-date logicians, mathematicians, physicists, and chemists vie with one another as to who will break down most barriers, efface most outlines, supersede most current definitions and conceptions.

This may not be a fair summary of pragmatism or, as James called it, humanism (because human needs were the ultimate measure). But it does define the point of view which unified Chicago, and made the university a single school of thought. One has only to recall a few of the famous names on the early faculty to see how this way of looking at things prevailed on all sides.

In biology there was Jacques Loeb, who pushed mechanism to its limits by trying to interpret even human adjustments to environment as physicochemical tropisms. In psychology there was James Rowland Angell, who, as a follower of William James, developed "functionalism," and ultimately became, in the hands of John B. Watson, his student, radical behaviorism. In the social sciences there was Thorstein Veblen, whose iconoclasms demolished conventional views of the human enterprise, social and political, as well as economic; there were Albion Small and W. I. Thomas, who instituted data collecting to make sociology descriptive and scientific instead of normative and moralistic, and used biological and evolutionary principles to account for social facts. In theology, or shall we say "religion," there were President Harper, himself completely modernist (not without cause did the Baptists question his orthodoxy), Shailer Matthews, w:Shirley Jackson Case, and others, who not only made Chicago famous for "higher criticism" but also introduced "social service" into the divinity school and turned the emphasis from dogmatic theology to comparative religion, studying the varieties of religious experience as psychological phenomena, creeds as ethnic by-products, and religion itself as part of man's struggle for existence. In education there were again Harper and Dewey, who agreed perfectly that educational institutions must serve, to use Harper's words, as "the Messiah of democracy, its to-be-expected deliverer." To this end, Harper, as president, started university extension work and called research from the ivory tower to the street; Dewey, as founder and head of the first school of education, started, with the help of Ella Flagg Young, reforms in the Chicago school system, which spread nationwide as "progressivism."

All this paints a picture of an institution resourcefully carrying out the impetus originally given it by such men as Harper and Dewey, zealously devoted to putting a new line of thought to work in every academic field, its members united in what might be called the religion of militant modernism.

But though it stands in the foreground, the University of Chicago must not be allowed to occupy the whole picture, for its School of Thought soon dominated the work of other institutions (in philosophy and education, in biology, social science, and religion); and when the background is completely envisaged we see the outlines of American culture itself during the past half century. Even if, in part, Chicago merely went with the tide, its clear formulation of principles and policies, its energetic application of them in practice cannot be denied profound influence upon the whole contemporary scene. More than the Academy of Plato (a real ivory tower so far as the main currents of Greek life were concerned), more than the medieval University of Paris (which never achieved sufficient unity of doctrine to maintain a "school of thought"), Chicago had, in its first long period, both homogeneity in itself and affinity with the general trend of American culture. It was the larger community in microcosm.

Why should anyone have wished to reform the University of Chicago? Was it not everything a university should be, doing everything a university should do? The answer is simply that its unity had been achieved too quickly and at too great a cost. The price must be measured in terms of the things which Chicago, and American culture generally, had been willing to give up, had, in fact, renounced as outmoded. At its very center, exercising centrifugal force, was a hard core of negations and exclusions. The denial of metaphysics and theology as independent of empirical science, the denial of stability in the universe and certainty in human knowledge, the denial of moral values transcending adaptation to environment and escaping relativity to time and place, the denial of intellectual discipline in education and of the light shed by an abiding tradition of learning, the denial of a personal God, self-revealed, and of a Divine Providence concerned with man's supernatural salvation—these kept the ball rolling, and gave it its terrific impact on American life.

It would be difficult to enumerate a set of propositions, codifying the Chicago School of Thought, which did not convey, explicitly or with merely verbal concealment, these profound negations. There were positive points of course, and therein lies the truth of pragmatism, of a functional psychology, of progressivism in education, of empirical methods in social science. Professor Barzun to the contrary, Darwin's discoveries were momentous, and the concept of evolution legitimately changed men's fundamental views. The misfortune, for which Chicago, not Darwin, can be blamed, arises from the overemphasis, the exclusions, the "nothing-but" fallacy, in the drawing of the implications.

The "nothing-but" fallacy is a common human failing. We do not seem able to appreciate a new departure in thought which occurs by way of addition to the old. Novelty by itself does not stir us; it must be proclaimed as dispensing us from former allegiances. We are not content to say "This too is true"; we must revolutionize thought by saying "Nothing but this is true." If the positive points in the Chicago movement had been temperately affirmed, truth might have been increased, even transformed, by their addition; but there would probably be no record today of any Chicago School of Thought. Given a sharp, negative twist, they not only created a school of thought but unified its members in a crusading movement against the old and supposedly outworn. Once remove the negations and make the contrary supposition—that the old is not outworn, but must be integrated with the new—and you will see how hollow at its center was Chicago's unity before Hutchins came along.

What Hutchins attempted to establish at Chicago was not a new school of thought, just as exclusive in its own way as its predecessor. The faculty misinterpreted him in terms of their own extremism. They charged him with wanting "nothing but Thomism," "nothing but principles" or "nothing but the past" where before there had been "nothing but pragmatism," "nothing but facts," or "nothing but the present." On the contrary, Hutchins's aim was synthesis—to relate science, philosophy, and theology harmoniously without sacrificing the autonomy of each, to be contemporary and American in education without promoting militant modernism or cultural isolationism. It was not merely the university that Hutchins sought to reform. He wished to free American education and culture from the negations and provincialism which Chicago typified.


In 1936, a little more than thirty years after William James had reviewed some of the Decennial Publications, under the title "The Chicago School," another review appeared bearing that same title. But this time the book was President Hutchins's No Friendly Voice, and the reviewer was a later-day follower of John Dewey—Professor T. V. Smith. Had the title been truly deserved, its compact irony would have summarized a remarkable shift in the winds of doctrine at Chicago. William James had predicted that Chicago's School of Thought would be known as such "for twenty-five years to come." The time had run, the prediction had been verified; but despite Professor Smith's suggestion to the contrary, the first Chicago School has not been displaced by a second and opposite intellectual movement, under the leadership of Hutchins.

It takes more than one man or a few to make a school of thought in the sense in which Harper's Chicago deserved that description. In the past ten years there have been numerous references to "the neo-scholastic movement at Chicago," "Chicago Thomism," "Aristotelianism on the Midway," "the revival of classicism," "the return to the Middle Ages"—all suggestive of the fact that Chicago had become the center of another orthodoxy, the seat of an opposite school of thought. That, however, is simply not the fact; and, surprising as this statement will seem to some of his opponents, I do not believe that Hutchins ever wished it to be. It was merely that he and his associates in reform were vastly outnumbered by the dissident voices on the faculty—more than an echo of the old Chicago spirit, which John Chamberlain neatly caught in Anton J. Carlson's reiterated "Vat iss the ef-fidence?" The truth is rather that Hutchins fought the old school not to replace it by another, but to place its positive contributions, shorn of their "nothing-but" exaggerations, in the perspective of the whole European tradition. Justice could be done to modernity without throwing ancient wisdom out of court.

The Editor of The Christian Century, commenting on the change from Harper to Hutchins, saw this truth when he wrote:

The essential distinction of this [the first Chicago] school which characterized its departure from orthodox metaphysics was its adoption of the scientific method as the true method for the discovery not only of scientific truth but of metaphysical truth as well. . . . When President Hutchins came upon the scene the first phase of this development had run its course. This phase had been characterized by what is now generally regarded as a too narrow conception of scientific method. Especially in the philosophical disciplines, it has come to be recognized that its procedure, copying too closely the procedure of the physical scientists, has left on one side large portions of reality, and the most important portions, which now clamor for attention. The new President voiced this insistent demand. He spoke not for himself alone, but for a wide body of disillusionment with regard to the sufficiency of science.

There is here the additional point that, just as Harper's Chicago reflected and formulated the "religion of science" which dominated American culture from the nineties to the thirties, so Hutchins's Chicago, in the past ten years, has focused attention upon—more than that, has become the leading forum for—the crucial issue of our day: whether science is enough, theoretically or practically; whether a culture can be healthy, whether democracy can be defended, if theology and metaphysics, ethics and politics are either despised or, what is the same, degraded to topics about which laboratory scientists pontificate after they have won the Nobel Prize or are called to the Gifford Lectureship.

Chicago's leadership in American education and its formative influence upon American thought are just as clear in the Hutchins era as they were under Harper. But it would be a mistake to suppose that Hutchins has succeeded in the sense in which Harper did. Harper built a school of thought which lasted for almost forty years, and during that time was the generator of educational movements and intellectual trends that spread over the country, east and west. Hutchins has neither built a school of thought nor been able to transmute the heat of the controversies he generated into the light of resolutions. But those controversies, which have gradually come to be recognized as the leading issues of our day, have been more heatedly agitated at Chicago than anywhere else in the country. Where there is so much heat there is always hope, at least, for the emergence of light.

The Chicago Fight now plays the role in American culture once played by the Chicago School. The university which, in its first period, mirrored the prevailing ideology in its own solidarity of doctrine, still functions as the cultural microcosm. For the past ten years it has been the arena in the spotlight. The heavyweights in its ring have staged a fight for a nationwide audience—an audience drawn not by their lust for blood, but by their genuine concern with the points in issue. Chicago did not make the issues important. They had gradually risen, by nature's demands, to the forefront of popular consciousness. But Chicago was willing to see the fight through, wherever the chips fell. It did not run away from trouble by insisting upon academic dignity, by hiding behind the false face of academic politeness. Dispensing with kid gloves and Queensbury rules, the discussion turned into something of a public brawl, with all sorts of kibitzers on the sidelines mixing in. But, however lamentable some aspects of the controversy now seem, the Chicago Fight, like the Chicago School, performed the type of service which a university owes to the community.

Before we consider the defect which mars the virtue of Hutchins's Chicago, let me be sure that the reader understands what I mean by the exceptional character of Chicago's intellectual vitality. Unless he has lived through the past ten years at Chicago he will probably not believe me when I say that there has been more real tangling over basic issues at Chicago than has occurred at a dozen other places during the same time, or at some during their whole existence. I have taught elsewhere, visited a great many institutions, and know about many more from intimate report. Their faculties may harbor differences of opinion about fundamentals, but you would never know it by listening to the talk at the faculty club, reading the student papers, or detecting signs of strife in administrative decisions. From this usual state of affairs, Chicago differs almost in kind, not degree. The campus has been a seething ferment these past ten years, and everybody has been involved from the president to the janitors—the students as well as the faculty. I shall make no effort to explain this extraordinary phenomenon: it may be the Middle West; it may be the lawless Windy City; it may be a sulphurous vapor exuded by the Midway or animal spirits blown from the stockyards. Whatever the cause, the fact remains that the university is incomparably alive and kicking.

A few stories may help to gain credence for this fact. In December 1933, President Hutchins delivered a convocation address entitled "The Issue in the Higher Learning." Negatively, he criticized aimless gadgeteering on the part of laboratory scientists, and the social scientists' propensity to collect facts for their own sake. Positively, he urged that research of every sort be directed by leading principles, be illuminated by ideas. "We have confused science with information," he said, "ideas with facts, and knowledge with miscellaneous data. . . . I am far from denying the accomplishments of modern empirical science. Its record has been a grand one. . . . But as the Renaissance could accuse the Middle Ages of being rich in principles and poor in facts, we are now entitled to inquire whether we are not rich in facts and poor in principles. . . . Our bewilderment has resulted from our notion that salvation depends on information. The remedy may be a return to the processes of rational thought."

Hell broke loose shortly thereafter. "Facts. vs. ideas" became fighting words. On Hutchins's side the Daily Maroon's student editor ran articles which got students and faculty engaged with each other in all sorts of alliances and oppositions. There was a running feud between Editor Barden and Professor Gideonse, now president of Brooklyn College, in which Gideonse posted his answers on a faculty bulletin board, answers that later formed the substance of his reply to Hutchins in a pamphlet called The Higher Learning in a Democracy. In that same year the Maroon published four long criticisms of the faculty's syllabi for the basic courses, written by pro-Hutchins youngsters, and based on the December proclamation. Other students rose in defense of their teachers. The feeling between student groups ran so high that it spilled over into sports: the Aristotelians crossed bats with the Social Scientists in baseball!

But the high point of the year came when the old warhorse "Ajax" Carlson stopped his researches on thirst and hunger long enough to challenge the opposition to a public debate. It was arranged at first to take place in a laboratory theater before graduate students in biology. But the demand for tickets was so great that the scene shifted to Mandel Hall, the University's largest auditorium. The tickets were free, but at such a premium that some students trafficked in them, selling them for as much as a dollar apiece. The faculty, by departmental groups, bought boxes in the horseshoe circle to defray the expenses of the hall. On the day of the event every chair that could be squeezed into the hall or onto the platform was added to accommodate the overflow. I know what the audience looked and sounded like, the intensity of its feeling, the thunderclap of its partisan applause whenever a punch landed on either side. I know how heating, if not enlightening, Chicago polemic can become, for I was the other man in that debate.

The story of the Chicago Fight in 1933 has its mate in almost every other year of the Hutchins regime. There have been other debates, one between Hutchins and Dean Melby of Northwestern, sponsored by the Daily Maroon; one between Hutchins and Chancellor Carmichael of Vanderbilt, sponsored by the Alumni Council. The alumni have been drawn into the controversy by attacks and replies printed in the alumni magazine, some by the faculty and some by the old grads themselves. But one more story will suffice to show that students and faculty never miss an opportunity for intellectual fisticuffs, and the extent to which local wrangling has national repercussions.

Last year I delivered a paper at a Conference on Science, Philosophy, and Religion, held in New York City. Its title was "God and the Professors." Its argument bore directly on the controversy between Hutchins and his academic opponents. When, by way of the Hearst papers, which published my speech in full, or by way of The New Republic, which published Professor Sidney Hook's attack on it, the Chicago boys got wind of this off-campus dispute they were soon "r'aring" to go. The Maroon at first reprinted my piece and Hook's, and editorialized on the pros and cons. But the faculty, and other students, had to have their say. Columns were filled with attacks and replies, mostly attacks; until finally, the Maroon issued a special six-page supplement which contained the gems of the occasion. The astonishing fact is that this supplement sold 5,000 copies. Requests for copies in small and large lots came from colleges all over the country long after none were left. Nor was the controversy confined to the Maroon: it raged in classrooms and drawing rooms, both in Chicago and elsewhere—wherever, in fact, the Chicago Fight had gained adherents to its sides.

The ultimate comment on all this, revealing the trouble with Chicago in the past decade, was contained in the title of Milton Mayer's contribution to the Maroon Supplement. He, speaking for the innocent bystander, headed his piece: "I Can't Hear Myself Think." Despite the amazing vitality which Chicago has exhibited in seeing the fight through, it has never seen through the issues, nor clarified them sufficiently, for itself or for the public, to permit a sober resolution. The issues have been the same for the past ten years. Each year, when the shouting dies and the smoke lifts, prejudice and passion are left mumbling and smoldering until the bell rings for the next round.


First, unity without diversity! Then, conflict without community! The defects of Chicago in its first and last decades are equally symptomatic of our cultural malaise. The causal connections here are manifold. A healthy unity requires the harmony of differences. But when, in the university or in our culture, other elements began to claim a place along with science, the weak unity, which had been maintained by negations ande exclusions, gave way to discord rather than to the harmony of ordered differences. Nevertheless, the shift from the Chicago School to the Chicago Fight is a small step toward the ideal of civilization, the ideal of a university, which Whitehead, writing of Harvard's future, defined as "the possible harmony of diverse things." It is, he said, "the peculiar function of a university to be an agent of unification. This does not mean the suppression of all but one." From a negative unity to a warring diversity is change from a false peace to a significant conflict. From the conflict of violent extremes to a reconciliation of differences would be motion toward that genuine peace which lies still ahead. This is the university's future. There is more chance of its happening at Chicago than elsewhere, because at Chicago the opponents at least try to talk to one another.

What is needed to bring this about? Last September a conference of scholars was called not merely for the purpose of assembling leading representatives of science, philosophy, and religion, but supposedly to have them understand one another's role in the development of culture. Those who called this meeting felt that unless philosophy and religion are genuinely acknowledged—that is, given their proper place above, not just along with, science—democracy is threatened from within culturally, perhaps even more seriously than from without by force.

Anyone who had been through the Chicago Fight could have predicted the outcome of this Conference on Science, Philosophy, and Religion. It would fail. Though it meets this September in a second session, and next year again, the prediction remains unchanged, because what happened last year will continue to occur until the causes for such frustration are overcome. The failure I refer to is a failure of communication. When there is no communication between reconcilable elements they appear to be irreconcilable extremes. Ten years' experience at Chicago indicates what one might expect from a gathering of scientists, philosophers, and theologians, who have no common universe of discourse. Nor can such community be achieved, in a university or at a conference, simply by bringing the diverse elements together and having them read papers at one another. The obstacle to be surmounted first, the most difficult task to discharge, is teaching the specialists how to talk to one another.

As a matter of fact, conferences of this sort should not be necessary to achieve the end in view. That should be the main business of our universities. Their greatness should not be measured by the number of eminent scholars on their faculty lists, or by the holding of symposia at which learned papers are read, as at Harvard four years ago and at Chicago this September. A university's greatness consists in its being the intellectual forum of the community, the place where the basic issues of its culture are fruitfully debated. Chicago's greatness lies in the partial performance of this service. For ten years it has debated the issues which the Conference on Science, Philosophy, and Religion met to consider—made necessary only by the fact that such debate has not occurred at other universities, as at Chicago. But the point still remains that the debate has not been fruitful. What is needed to make it so? What must happen before Chicago can perform completely a university's function, before it can fulfill the promise of light which its career of intellectual ferment perhaps portends?

The extremes to be avoided are easy to point out. A university must avoid, on the one hand, the "peace" of sleep, resulting either from conventional academic politeness or from the hollow unity achieved by "the suppression of all but one"; and, on the other hand, it must avoid the violence of fruitless polemic. It must not commit the "nothing-but" fallacy which exaggerates the claims of any indispensable part at the expense of excluding others equally indispensable; nor should it be satisfied with an armistice, instead of real peace, by compromising issues rather than resolving them. Neither domination by one exclusive extreme nor suspended hostilities among many is desirable. Both counterfeit the ideal of true unity won from diversity by right order.

What is desirable is that peace of understanding which enables intelligent discussion to work progressively toward agreement—an end which may never be fully realized but which, nevertheless, gives discussion its highest meaning, if not its only justification. Unless controversy is to be as inconsequential as Ping-Pong, those who join issue in debate must aim at, and hope for, an ultimate resolution of the issues. But agreement, which is the concurrence of minds in the truth about things, cannot be reached, cannot even be aimed at by discussion, until there is understanding—the communication of minds through shared meanings in a single universe of discourse. The liberal arts and a common intellectual tradition are, therefore, indispensable prerequisites for the work a university—the one giving men the technic of communication, the other rooting them all in the same cultural soil. Lack of liberal discipline has made our debates a babel of jargons, incurable by the logical esperanto of the semanticists. Lack of a common tradition has turned our universities into a jungle of predatory growths, impenetrable by special conferences or academic symposia.

The disease itself indicates the therapy. The cure will come only by a fundamental educational reform below the level of the university. The great tragedy of American education is that our universities were founded just at the time when genuinely liberal colleges were ceasing to exist. In fact it was the developing university which, imposing the elective system, helped to kill the liberal arts curriculum of the colleges. The other wound came from below, from the defection of the elementary and secondary schools. Crushed from above by a burden of specialization, which insisted upon departmental autonomy at the college level, its underpinnings removed by failures in preparatory education, the college gave up the ghost of its liberal arts curriculum, retaining only the name of the degree.

The great difference between the medieval and the modern university is not that the former reached its apex in theology, and the latter laid its foundation in science; rather it is that the members of the medieval university, its students and faculty, were truly bachelors of liberal arts. They had learned how to communicate before engaging in the disputations which made the medieval universities the vital forums of their day. Embraced in a common tradition of learning, they could at least understand one another when they did not agree. The medieval universalism, of which Etienne Gilson spoke at the Harvard tercentenary, did not derive from the universality of Latin as the learned tongue, nor from the catholicism of the Christian faith; for this universalism included the Jews and Arabs, many languages and many faiths. The European community of culture flowered because of excellence in liberal education—the cultivation of its arts, the possession of a common heritage of learning.

Walter Lippman did not exaggerate when he said that "the prevailing education is destined, if it continues, to destroy Western civilization, and is in fact destroying it." He might just as well have said that we shall not have genuine universities again until all the preparatory stages of education are radically reformed, until the college, above all, is restored to its liberal function. The fate of Western civilization, as a cultural community, cannot be separated from the state of its educational institutions. Only one college in this country, St. John's at Annapolis, is working for the revival of a liberal curriculum. Only the University of Chicago has throughout its history manifested devotion to the true functions of a university—formation of fundamental doctrines, debate of the most serious issues. If the performance of these functions could be elevated by liberal education the doctrines might be moderated to the sanity of truth, the debate might become fruitful of sober resolutions. If in some way the spiritual union of St. John's and Chicago could be consummated, we might hope for the blessed event of a cultural rebirth.

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