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The Department of Philosophy last night eulogized Ralph Barton Perry '96, late professor of Philosophy, emeritus, at a symposium portraying his character and thought.
Four speakers--Perry G. E. Miller, Professor of American Literature, Henry D. Aiken, Professor of Philosophy, Donald C. Williams, Professor of Philosophy, and Louis M. Lyons, Curator of Nieman Fellowships--each described one aspect of Perry's philosophy. Raphael Demos, Professor of Philosophy, presided over the symposium, which was held in Emerson D.
Miller, discussed Perry as an "Adventurer Among Ideas." He related the late philosopher to the general context of American philosophy in the first quarter of the 20th century, describing him as a realist as opposed to the naturalists, idealists, and pragmatists of his age. Especially a foe of idealism, Perry found his philosophy in the realism of history, seeing "history itself as philosophy," Miller said.
Aiken analyzed Perry as a "Moral Economist," discussing the ethical aspects of his thought. Aiken said that to Perry "morality was an economy of interest rather than the greatest means to the greatest number."
Perry was placed by Aiken on equal footing with John Dewey as "the most important American liberal philosophers," in spite of their differences and Dewey's comparatively greater popularity.
Williams further brought out the realistic side of Perry's philosophy, showing how his battle with idealism characterized him as a "New Realist." Perry, asserted Williams, "transcended the new enlightenment philosophy" with his "modern realistic humanism."
Lyons, the final speaker, portrayed Perry as an "Individualist in the Community." Besides characterizing Perry as a political liberal, famous for his letters to the N.Y. Times, Lyons described Perry as a "collective individualist."
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