Mission and Principles

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Mission and Principles of a Long-range Plan


The Library of Living Philosophers (LLP) was founded and brought into pre-eminence by Paul Arthur Schilpp. His hard work, perseverance, and vision for the series, and for its role in serving the ends of philosophy, are responsible for the success of the series. Its basic concept has been attractive enough to spawn other series and individual volumes that draw upon these ideas. The LLP remains an important contributor to the excellent practice of philosophy in our age, and there is ample reason to continue the work begun by Professor Schilpp.

The Perennial Character of the LLP

The LLP seeks to create a record of what great thinkers thought during their maturity and in their own times. We provide our principal figures with an opportunity to respond to criticism and to assess themselves, even as they are assessed by the best among their contemporaries. The resultant books should strive to be the most important, permanent, comprehensive, and accurate record of the lifetime achievements of our principal figures. The LLP volume should be of permanent value to all future generations as they learn from and take stock of what was thought about, and how thought was discussed, in the philosopher’s own time. Philosophy is the reflective consideration by human beings of the meaning and value of life and existence; in short, it is the pursuit of wisdom. Philosophy is not restricted to a quest for knowledge, although knowledge must be considered an indispensable aspect of the wisdom sought by philosophers. But philosophers are, first and foremost, human beings, not simply “knowers.” Rather than separate the products of a person’s philosophical reflection from the vital sources of that reflection, i.e., from the life the philosopher has lived, the LLP seeks to present the philosopher as a whole—life, works, and thought. Thus, our aims are broader, more ambitious, and more permanent than would be found among other books that imitate some portion of our format. Striving to fulfill these perennial aims is the most important task of the LLP, and their achievement is our purpose. All other tasks and purposes are subordinate and should be assessed by their contribution to our main task and our purpose.

The Timeliness of the LLP

A secondary concern of the LLP is to reflect the highest standards of thought as they are most widely held in our own time. A scholar assessing LLP volumes five hundred years from now should be able to use our volumes as an accurate means of tracking progress and change in the standards and practices of philosophical thought, based on our account of what stands as “excellent” philosophy, here and now. Beyond question, the dominant story of the 20th century would be the professionalizing and specializing that occurred during that time, turning “philosophy” into a word with a quite specific and narrow meaning: “philosophy” in this sense is the activities and products of a particular type of academic professional. Thus, nearly every volume in the LLP’s first 80 years was devoted to assessing professors of philosophy who were serving in major universities

around the world. The idea of making philosophical activity into a technical specialty and devoting professorships to it would still be defended by most people today. Most people would say that the quality of philosophical thought has been improved by this association with universities and actual “departments” of philosophy. Some would even say that excellence in philosophy can be secured in no other way. The LLP must respect the dominance of this opinion and should reflect its prevalence in choosing principal subjects for its volumes. In this way, the LLP should strive to be “timely.” However, the Editor should take a somewhat broader view of the practice of philosophy, one which encompasses also the public intellectual. The LLP will therefore strive to serve both its perennial aims and its timely aims, and seek the coincidence of both, to the extent that such coincidence may be attained. The idea that excellent philosophy is done only by philosophy professors, or academics, will not be a binding consideration in assessing eligibility for volumes in the LLP. A principal figure might be a philosopher without being a professional academic. We seek only to reflect the standards of our age to the extent that such standards serve our over-arching task and purpose.

The Public Philosopher

The best balance between the perennial purpose of the LLP and its desire to be timely can be achieved in the foreseeable future by pursuing “public philosophers.” These are almost always persons with extensive formal academic training in the discipline of philosophy or another theoretical discipline, persons engaged with the history of philosophy and its questions and methods, and persons whose thought is recognized as excellent and important by a wide range of academics. These are important contemporary indicators of “excellence” in philosophy. But the LLP also seeks persons who have succeeded in articulating philosophical ideas in ways that make them important on the public stage of history. We find in our history that this is in accord with Paul Schilpp’s intention and vision, as exemplified in the selection of Albert Einstein and Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan for volumes in the series; both were academics, but known far beyond the academic sphere. For other examples of philosophers who might appropriately have had LLP volumes devoted to them, one may list Mohandas K. Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Karol Wojtyla (Pope John Paul II), all with significant academic credentials, but their ideas were not primarily communicated in academic writings. To exclude such figures from LLP volumes is to take an overly narrow view of the historical and perennial character of philosophy as a human endeavor. We seek to create LLP volumes assessing persons whose ideas are making a difference in the course of human events, beyond the confines of academia as well as within it. For the foreseeable future, then, our aim will be to find those philosophers, whether they hold official academic titles or not, whose philosophical ideas are transforming our times, with the promise of continuing to do so in the future. Thus, being the recognized master of a small sub-discipline in academic philosophy does not rise to the level of contribution to humanity sought by the LLP. The philosophers we seek will have made vital contributions across a broad swath of our culture.