The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21). rn VOLUME XVII. Later National Literature, Part II.XVII. Later Philosophy
§ 9. Scientific Thought in America
The pietistic philosophy which gained complete control of the American college and of dominant public opinion did not completely break all communication between America and foreign liberal thought as represented by Comte, Fourier, and even Proudhon, or by Bentham, Grote, and Mill. Even the arch-skeptic Hume continued to be reprinted in this country; and the vitality of the sensualistic or quasi-materialistic tradition in the medical profession is evidenced by James Rush’s Analysis of the Human Intellect (1865). Despite, however, the presence with us of men of such first-rate scientific eminence as Joseph Henry, Benjamin Peirce, or Nathaniel Bowditch, scientific thought was not sufficiently organized to demand a philosophy more in consonance with its own procedure. Even in Great Britain, where science was earlier and better organized by means of the Association for the Advancement of Science (1832), Mill’s effort to revive and continue Hume’s attempt to introduce the experimental method of natural sciences into mental and moral questions found acceptance very slowly. Toward the end of his life Mill testified that for one British philosopher who believed in the experimental method twenty were followers of the a priori method. Empiricism was certainly not the dominant characteristic of Anglo-Saxon thought in the period when Coleridge, Hamilton, and Whewell were in the foreground. Slowly the scientific mode of thought spread, however, and found in Mill’s Logic its most convenient formulation.