The Philosophy of Alain Locke

The Philosophy of Alain Locke: Harlem Renaissance and Beyond

Copyright Date: 1989
Published by: Temple University Press
Pages: 344
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    The Philosophy of Alain Locke
    Book Description:

    This collection of essays by American philosopher Alain Locke (1885-1954) makes readily available for the first time his important writings on cultural pluralism, value relativism, and critical relativism. As a black philosopher early in this century, Locke was a pioneer: having earned both undergraduate and doctoral degrees at Harvard, he was a Rhodes scholar at Oxford, studied at the University of Berlin, and chaired the Philosophy Department at Howard University for almost four decades. He was perhaps best known as a leading figure in the Harlem Renaissance.

    Locke's works in philosophy-many previously unpublished-conceptually frame the Harlem Renaissance and New Negro movement and provide an Afro-American critique of pragmatism and value absolutism, and also offer a view of identity, communicative competency, and contextualism. In addition, his major works on the nature of race, race relations, and the role of race-conscious literature are presented to demonstrate the application of his philosophy. Locke's commentaries on the major philosophers of his day, including James, Royce, Santayana, Perry, and Ehrenfels help tell the story of his relationship to his former teachers and his theoretical affinities.

    In his substantial Introduction and interpretive concluding chapter, Leonard Harris describes Locke's life, evaluates his role as an American philosopher and theoretician of the Harlem Renaissance, situates him in the pragmatist tradition, and outlines his affinities with modern deconstructionist ideas. A chronology of the philosopher's life and bibliography of his works are also provided. Although much has been written about Alain Locke, this is the first book to focus on his philosophical contributions.

    eISBN: 978-1-4399-0436-7
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Preface
    (pp. v-viii)
  3. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Introduction
    • Rendering the Text
      (pp. 3-28)

      If, as Alain Locke believed, all philosophies are “in ultimate derivation philosophies of life,” and not embodiments of objective reality, then we can fruitfully enter his philosophy by entering his life.

      Locke’s was a life full of enigmas. He was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on September 13, 1885, the only son of Pliny Ishmael Locke and Mary Hawkins Locke. However, he used September 13, 1886, as his birth date throughout his career. He was named Arthur Locke by Pliny and Mary, but at his death in Washington, D.C., on June 9, 1954, he was known by the name he had...

  5. I. Epistemological Foundations
    • 1. Values and Imperatives
      (pp. 31-50)

      All philosophies, it seems to me, are in ultimate derivation philosophies of life and not of abstract, disembodied “objective” reality; products of time, place and situation, and thus systems of timed history rather than timeless eternity. They need not even be so universal as to become the epitomizedrationaleof an age, but may merely be the lineaments of a personality, its temperament and dispositional attitudes projected into their systematic rationalizations. But no conception of philosophy, however relativistic, however opposed to absolutism, can afford to ignore the question of ultimates or abandon what has been so aptly though skeptically termed...

    • 2. Pluralism and Intellectual Democracy
      (pp. 51-66)

      When William James inaugurated his all-out campaign against intellectual absolutism, though radical empiricism and pragmatism were his shield and buckler, his trusty right-arm sword, we should remember, was pluralism. He even went so far as to hint, in a way that his generation was not prepared to understand, at a vital connection between pluralism and democracy. Today, in our present culture crisis, it is both timely to recall this, and important, for several reasons, to ponder over it.

      In the first place, absolutism has come forward again in new and formidable guise, social and political forms of it, with their...

    • 3. Cultural Relativism and Ideological Peace
      (pp. 67-78)

      Now that a considerable body of opinion within the Conference has crystallized around the position of value pluralism and relativism, with special emphasis this year, it seems, on the principle and concept of “cultural relativity,” it seems opportune to turn from the initial task of establishing and vindicating this point of view to the next logical step—and the more practical one, of discussing its possible implementation. Already several papers¹ in this year’s symposium have addressed themselves to one or more aspects of this practical side of the problem, and it is a pleasant duty to acknowledge general indebtedness to...

    • 4. A Functional View of Value Ultimates
      (pp. 79-94)

      Quite patently, the core problem in theory of value is the satisfactory explanation of the formal value ultimates, such as beauty, truth and goodness. Since this has been a perennial question from the very beginning of axiological theorizing, it is a matter of concern, if not of reproach that so little agreement has been reached concerning the nature of the basic value norms. Reasons for this require at least passing consideration. One reason, certainly, is that value theorists have concerned themselves far too much with abstract consideration of their nature as formal norms, and far too little with their specific...

    • 5. Pluralism and Ideological Peace
      (pp. 95-102)

      Ever since William James’s ardent and creative advocacy of it, pluralism has involved, explicitly or by implication, an antiauthoritarian principle. This is because James carried the pluralistic position definitely and perhaps permanently beyond the traditional metaphysical pluralism based on the recognition of a plurality of principles or elements to the discovery and vindication of a psychological pluralism stemming from a plurality of values and viewpoints. In this view it is man himself who is at least in part responsible for the irreducible variety of human experience by making a pluriverse out of the common substratum of experience—the objective universe....

    • 6. Good Reading
      (pp. 103-108)

      Philosophy is reading that is both stimulating and profitable, though seldom is it easy reading: indeed, by reason of its difficult objectives, it cannot be easy. Like mountain climbing, it undertakes hard and hazardous but challenging tasks, which become exhilarating because of their difficulties, fascinating because of their daring, but proportionately rewarding because of the wide outlooks and rare insights which surmounting them affords. In philosophy’s case, the task is that of scanning the terrain and horizons of human experience from such exploratory heights of reason as alone, it seems, can yield a panoramic view of man and his place...

    • 7. Value
      (pp. 109-126)

      I. The Nature of Value.—Value is one of the last of the great philosophic topics to have received recognition, and even now theEncyclopaedia Britannicahas an article only on economic value. Its discovery was probably the greatest philosophic achievement of the 19th century, but opinions on the subject are not yet crystallized, and it is still one of the growing points of philosophy and one which seems likely to overshadow older issues. Reflexion at present commonly starts from the antithesis of ‘fact’ and ‘value’ and the difference between the standpoints of ‘description’ and ‘appreciation.’ It is widely held...

  6. II. Valuation:: Commentaries and Reviews
    • 8. The Orientation of Hope
      (pp. 129-132)

      As the clouds darken over our chaotic world, all of us—even those who still cherish the dream and hope of a new world order of peace, righteousness and justice, must face the question of where to focus our expectations, where to orient our hopes. To do otherwise is merely to hug an ideal to our bosoms in childish consolation and passive fatalism—a reaction only too human, but not worthy of the possessors of a virile and truly prophetic spiritual revelation. If we fall victims to the twilight mood and the monastic flight from reality, are we not really...

    • 9. Unity through Diversity
      (pp. 133-138)

      There is one great spiritual advantage in the tidal series of negative upsets and breakdowns in the contemporary world and that is the ever-accumulative realization of the need for a complete reconstruction of life. Even among the unintellectual classes and in the most partisan circles the idea of reform and radical change meets no effective resistance, where but a short while ago, any suggestion of change would have met both emotional and doctrinal resistance to a serious degree. And although there is still a considerable amount of surviving partisanship in the notion of specific cures and panaceas, each based on...

    • 10. Santayana
      (pp. 139-142)

      In his prime in the first decade of the century, George Santayana made a characteristic and important contribution to philosophical thinking. In his lucid, casual way he did nearly as much as the crusading, over-zealous William James to overthrow the genteel tradition of that day—supermundane idealism. Now at the close of a phenomenally long career, with undiminished virtuosity he tilts a skillful lance against the present incumbent, naturalistic pragmatism, now itself grown old and smugly complacent. In its stead he would set up as the present goal of the life of reason a humanistic relativism that views itself, history,...

    • 11. Moral Imperatives for World Order
      (pp. 143-152)

      Realism and idealism should be combined in striking for a world order. Skeletal ideals of universal human brotherhood have been in the world a long time and we are further from tribal savagery and its tribalism because of these ideals. But they are but partial expressions of what we hope to make them mean and what today’s world crisis demands.

      Loyalty to corporate unity is a necessary loyalty to something larger than the individual in order to unite men. However, the traditional ideas and values associated with human group loyalties are now hopelessly inadequate as a foundation for a larger...

    • 12. Philosophy Alive
      (pp. 153-156)

      It is rare indeed when a volume of academic tribute is as completely in key with the personality, character, and philosophy of the man it honors as is this brilliant group of essays in honor of Max Otto. Only the happiest combination of circumstances could have made it so. Responsible in the first instance was careful planning and editing to coordinate a most thoughtful and devoted collaboration of a dozen friends and colleagues. This has produced a book with an exceptional unity of theme and cumulative effect.

      But behind and beneath that, and basic to it all, was Max Otto’s...

    • 13. Values That Matter
      (pp. 157-160)

      The realm of value—or as Professor Perry pluralistically and more wisely says, “Realms” of value—is one of the most important and most baffling of the provinces of philosophy. Its importance as a primary point of contact between thought and actual living is seldom given proper emphasis in either professional or lay thinking. The reasons are many, among them our chronic inclination to take values for granted. But on the professional philosopher rests also an ample share of blame. Not only have the older philosophies turned their backs on the vital link between values and life, pursuing their abstractions...

  7. III. Identity and Plurality
    • 14. The Problem of Race Classification
      (pp. 163-174)

      The proper study of mankind is man, but we must add, even tho it breaks the beauty of the epigram—if properly studied. And no human science comes more under the discount of this reservation than anthropology, of which we may warrantably say that it has yet to establish its basic units and categories. The problem of anthropology today is not the problem of facts but of proper criteria for the facts; the entire scientific status and future of the consideration of man’s group characters rests upon a decisive demonstration of what factors are really indicative of race, retrieving the...

    • 15. The Ethics of Culture
      (pp. 175-186)

      I am to speak to you on the ethics of culture. Because I teach the one and try to practice the other, it may perhaps be pardonable for me to think of them together, but I hope at least not to leave you without the conviction that the two are in a very vital and immediate way connected. In my judgment, the highest intellectual duty is the duty to be cultured. Ethics and culture are usually thought out of connection with each other—as, in fact, at the very opposite poles. Particularly for our country, and the type of education...

    • 16. The Concept of Race as Applied to Social Culture
      (pp. 187-200)

      In dealing with race and culture we undoubtedly confront two of the most inevitable but at the same time most unsatisfactory concepts involved in the broad-scale consideration of man and society. There is the general presumption and feeling that they have some quite vital and relevant connection, but as to the nature of this or even as to the scientific meaning of the individual concepts there is the greatest diversity of scientific opinion and theory. An analytic study of their highly variable meanings, confining this even to the more or less strictly scientific versions, would constitute two important and highly...

    • 17. The Contribution of Race to Culture
      (pp. 201-206)

      The proposition that race is an essential factor in the growth and development of culture, and expresses culturally that phenomenon of variation and progressive differentiation so apparently vital on the plane of the development of organic nature, faces a pacifist and an internationalist with a terrific dilemma, and a consequently difficult choice. Even so, granted that race has been such a factor in human history, would you today deliberately help perpetuate its idioms at the cost of so much more inevitable sectarianism, chauvinistic prejudice, schism and strife? It amounts to this, then, can we have the advantages of cultural differences...

    • 18. Who and What is “Negro”?
      (pp. 207-228)

      A Janus-faced question, “who and what is Negro”—sits like a perennial sphinx at the door of every critic who considers the literature or the art of the Negro. One may appease it, as many do, with literary honey-cakes and poppy-seed, but hackneyed cliches and noncommittal concepts only postpone the challenge. Sooner or later the critic must face the basic issues involved in his use of risky and perhaps untenable terms like “Negro art” and “Negro literature,” and answer the much-evaded question unequivocally,—who and what is Negro?

      This year our sphinx, so to speak, sits in the very vestibule...

    • 19. Frontiers of Culture
      (pp. 229-236)

      I appreciate deeply the very kind introduction and tribute; I also appreciate the opportunity of appearing on this well-planned and inspiring cultural session of the Thirty-fifth Anniversary Conclave of theFraternity. The excellent musical program has provided pure and inspiring pleasure; my own remarks cannot hope to be so unalloyed.

      My assigned topic,The Frontiers of Culture, was doubtless supposed to tie in appropriately and harmoniously. I hope it may but I warn you that I shall have to set my own key and I am not so sure how harmonious that will be. Certainly it will not be in...

  8. IV. Identity and Education
    • 20. Negro Education Bids for Par
      (pp. 239-252)

      The stock of Negro education has a heavy traditional discount, and is chronically “under the market.” Whatever the local variation, one can usually count upon a sag in both standard and facilities for the education of the Negro, section for section, program for program, below the top current level, so that to reach relative parity with surrounding systems of education, Negro education must somehow “beat the market.” This extra spurt to overcome its generation-long handicaps is the immediate practical problem in Negro education. Its gravity, even as affecting general educational standards, can be gauged if we stop to consider that,...

    • 21. Negro Needs as Adult Education Opportunities
      (pp. 253-262)

      My title, “Negro Needs as Adult Education Opportunities,” poses a delicate question, and poses it purposely. Construed one way, with the emphasis on Negro needs, it raises the vexing issue of the Negro’s special situation and whether or not his needs are peculiar. There is no more controversial question than this very one, whether because of his handicaps and disabilities the Negro stands in need of a special variety or program of education, just as there is no more reactionary and dangerous position than the offhand assumption that he does. Construed another way, however, with the emphasis on adult education...

    • 22. The Need for a New Organon in Education
      (pp. 263-276)

      For nearly two decades, scholars and educators have been intensively engaged, though too often on divided fronts, in what now appears a quest for a common objective—the discovery of integrating elements for knowledge and the search for focalizing approaches in education. Though not altogether fruitless on either side, these explorations have been unduly confusing and not overwhelmingly successful because of the lack of coordination between the philosophical and the educational activity and effort. The prospects of ultimate solution and success at present are immeasurably improved, however, through the comparatively recent realization of the common cause character of their problem...

  9. An Interpretation
    • Rendering the Subtext: Subterranean Deconstructive Project
      (pp. 279-290)

      The formulation of a unitary science based on what seemed to undergird all human endeavors—values—was the thrust of value theory in the early 1900s. Such a theory would be capable of accounting for or explaining nearly all forms of human endeavor. As Ralph B. Perry put it, the “realms of value coincide largely with man’s major institutions.” I A general theory of value would tell us what a “value” meant, what its nature was and how valuation occurred. If the general theory was metaphysical in character, then it would tell us the way values cohere or were constituted...

  10. Chronology: Alain Leroy Locke, 1885–1954
    (pp. 293-300)
  11. Bibliography
    (pp. 301-326)
  12. Index
    (pp. 327-333)