The Philosophy of John William Miller
It is unusual for an established journal to devote an entire issue to a figure not already widely known. The justification for doing so in the case of American philosopher John William Miller (1895-1978) must be that his thought has an originality and depth out of all proportion to its current scant recognition. Miller, who was Mark Hopkins Professor of Intellectual and Moral Philosophy at Williams College, is viewed in Joseph Epstein's book Masters: Portraits of Great Teachers as one of the great educators of our time. But the philosophy that drew so many students into scholarly careers reached published form only in the years 1978-83 (mostly after Miller's death) in five volumes published by W. W. Norton. This issue of Bucknell Review represents the first concerted effort to introduce and interpret that philosophy, which Miller sometimes called "historical idealism." Among the contributors, seven were Miller's students at Williams College and another was for several years a colleague at Williams. In interpreting Miller's thought, these individuals draw upon their firsthand experience of Miller's courses and in some cases on extensive philosophical correspondence with him as well. All of the remaining, and much younger, contributors have consulted the Miller manuscripts at Williams College Archives and are recipients either of Miller Research Fellowships or of Miller Essay Prizes from Williams College. The two essays comprising the first part of the volume are intended to prepare the way for all of the subsequent essays. In the first essay, Joseph P. Fell describes Miller's career and the overall philosophical thrust of the five volumes of Miler's writings published thus far. In the second, Robert E. Gahringer shows that adequate interpretation of Miller's philosophy must recognize its peculiar character as a "philosophy of philosophy," devoted to what Miller called "the constitutional." The second part introduces and analyzes several central concepts and themes of Miller's thought. James A. Diefenbeck and Henry W. Johnstone, Jr. explore two aspects of Miller's interpretation of necessity. Vincent M. Colapietro and Robert S. Corrington examine Miller's most original notion, that of a "midworld" of symbols or "functioning objects." Stephen Tyman and Gary Stahl consider the ethical aspect of Miller's philosophy of history. The third part consists of essays contributed not by professional philosophers but scholars concerned with exhibiting some of the implications of Miller's philosophy for the fields in which they have written. George P. Brockway shows how Miller's notions of the self-maintaining act and the functioning object can be fruitfully applied to the field of economics. Robert H. Elias demonstrates how Miller's conception of the revisionary act can be employed to interpret the development of American history and literature. And lastly, Cushing Strout finds in Miller's philosophy an original synthesis of historicism and existentialism that makes possible the writing of nonreductive historical narratives.
Contributors: Joseph P. Fell, Robert E. Gahringer, James A. Diefenbeck, Henry W. Johnstone, Jr., Vincent M. Colapietro, Robert S. Corrington, Stephen Tyman, Gary Stahl, George P. Brockway, Robert H. Elias, and Cushing Strout.
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