Log In

Borden Parker Bowne

Philosopher , metaphysician

American philosopher and metaphysician whose ideas were influential in liberal theological thought of the first half of the 20th century, and in the Methodist Church.

Background

Bowne, Borden Parker was born on January 14, 1847 in Leonardville.

Education

Bowne continued his studies in Germany, where he was influenced by the idealism of Hermann Lotze, a philosophy Bowne was to develop in a form called personalism.

Career

He taught metaphysics, ethics, and philosophy of religion at Boston University in its school of theology.

New York University. 1875-1876;Professor of Philosophy, Boston University.1876-1910. where he also served as Dean of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, 1888—1910.

Achievements

  • A philosophy Bowne was to develop in a form called personalism.

Works

  • Other Work

    • Main publications:( 1874) The Philosophy of Herbert Spencer, New York: Nelson & Phillips.(1879) Studies in Theism, New York: Phillips & Hunt.(1882) Metaphysics, revised edition. New York: Harper & Bros, 1898.(1886) Introduction to Psychological Theory, New York: Harper.(1887) Philosophy of Theism. New York: Harper & Bros.(1887) Theism, New York: Harper & Bros (a revised and expanded edn. of Philosophy of Theism).(1892) The Principles of Ethics. New York: Harper & Bros.(1896) The Christian Revelation, Cincinnati: Jennings & Pye.(1897) Theory of Thought and Knowledge, New York: Harper & Bros.(1899) The Christian Life. Cincinnati: Curts & Jennings.(1900) The Atonment, Cincinnati: Curts & Jennings.(1905) The Immanance of God, Boston: HoughtonMifflin.(1908) Personalism, Boston: Houghton Mifflin.(1909) Studies in Christianity, Boston: Houghton Mifflin.(1910) The Essence of Religion, Boston: Houghton Mifflin (posthumous).(1912) Kant and Spencer, Boston: Houghton Mifflin (posthumous, edited from student notes).Secondary literature:Brightman. Edgar S. (1927) ‘ Personalism and the influence of Bowne’, in E. S. Brightman (ed.). Proceedings of the Sixth International Congress of Philosophy, New York and London: Longmans Green & Company, pp. 161-7.McConnell, Francis John (1929) Borden Parker Bowne: His Life and his Philosophy, Cincinnati: Curts & Jennings (includes bibliography).Steinkraus. Warren E. (1960) ‘A century of Bowne’s theism’, Idealist Forum (Boston) 18: 11-16.Founder of the Boston School of personalism, Bowne formulated his position through criticism of Herbert Spencer, whose synthetic philosophy failed to reach a positive interpretation of God and whose explanation of persons was cast in physiological terms. Bowne found a connection between these two features of Spencer’s system. As a result of them the system was a ‘miracle of confusion and absurdity'. The natural processes of evolution cannot be explained without teleology: ‘Assume a controlling purpose, and all becomes luminous and intelligible’ (1874, p. 254)

Views

Founder of the Boston School of personalism, Bowne formulated his position through criticism of Herbert Spencer, whose synthetic philosophy failed to reach a positive interpretation of God and whose explanation of persons was cast in physiological terms. Bowne found a connection between these two features of Spencer’s system. As a result of them the system was a ‘miracle of confusion and absurdity'.

The natural processes of evolution cannot be explained without teleology: ‘Assume a controlling purpose, and all becomes luminous and intelligible’. And mind cannot be explained by brain processes since ‘a mechanical motion of brain-molecules is no explanation of a thought’. Logic requires one to go beyond Spencer to the ‘postulate of an ever-ruling, ever-active spiritual power’, and to accept experience as qualitative and normative.

These conclusions reflect Lotze’s view that spirit controls mechanism both within nature and within ourselves, and that reality is saturated with value.

Bowne drew the conclusion that the controlling purpose within nature and ourselves is best understood as ‘person’. Although he used the term ‘soul’, the emphasis on person allowed him to stress our interactions with each other and with God. We are directly aware of a reality beyond finite persons, whose phenomena we categorize

according to our needs.

It is more parsimonious to think of this reality as the energy of a cosmic Person than as an independent, material system. Throughout Bowne’s work the options are theism or positivism, and theism always wins out, lrnPersonalism giving way to personalism.

Thinking, feeling, willing persons are centres °f freedom, and thus cannot be either material constructs or modes of the divine. As early as 1887 Bowne had argued that ‘the soul is real’ and its continued existence is to be presumed.

Without human freedom, he held, knowledge would be "^possible. He emphasized the ethical element in rel'gion, showing how the natural instincts, appetites and passions can develop into higher forms. His interpretations of Christianity were for |he most part translations of theological positions into their personalistic equivalences.

Brightman (1927) ended his critical appreciation by saying that Bowne’s personalism ‘is a way of understanding experience which will always have to be reckoned with, and which opposing views will have to consider’.

The perspectives of Personalism, developed by Bowne and his followers in the first third of the twentieth century, continued to exert influence past mid-century. Sources: A. C. Knudsen (1949) The Philosophy of Personalism, Boston: Boston UP.

Interests

  • Other Interests

    Philosophy of religion.