Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Lovejoy on "God"

I think I may be adding some Arthur O. Lovejoy to my reading list this summer... he was a fascinating thinker, and I haven't yet read any of his work. Founder of the "history of ideas" school of thought and the journal, Lovejoy is provocative in defending what might be called a "positivism of ideas", and has been since critiqued quite strongly by Quentin Skinner and historical contextualist thinkers (see especially Skinner's essay "Meaning and Understanding in the History of Ideas"). Skinner came up a good bit in the seminar I attended at the Committee for Social Thought this past semester, and I'm interested in pursuing some of these theoretical questions a bit more (Tim F, if you're reading you may be able to suggest some good reads... I'm still meaning to get to Fasolt since your discussion of him a while back). Apart from a real scholarly interest, however, Lovejoy just seems like a very interesting character from a bygone era of intellectual style.

In any case, I found a great anecdote on Lovejoy that I thought I'd share from Dale Keiger's article, "Tussling with the Idea Man":

Lovejoy once subjected himself to interrogation by the Maryland Senate, when he'd been nominated for the state's educational board of regents. A legislator asked Lovejoy if he believed in God. George Boas recalled, "I am reliably informed that in reply Lovejoy developed at length 33 definitions of the word God, consuming 15 1/2 cigarettes meanwhile, refusing to be interrupted or ruffled, and ended by asking the committee member which of these meanings he had in mind when putting the question." As the story goes, no one felt inclined to ask him another question, and Lovejoy was confirmed. Unanimously.

1 comment:

  1. Yeah, I've always enjoyed Lovejoy's stuff — it's quite delightful, even though everything Skinner says about it is true! The best Lovejoy book to read is his beautiful Great Chain of Being; and then, for the (absolutely correct) diagnosis of this historiography, see Skinner's brilliant Visions of Politics, Volume 1.