Bowne, Borden Parker
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Bowne, Borden Parker (1847-1910)
Bowne was one of the most influential thinkers and writers of the American personalist school of philosophy.
His position is theistic and idealistic, and finds in human persons the key to meaning in the world.
Knowledge comes only through personal experience, through which we understand ourselves to be enduring thinking entities with a certain degree of freedom.
The uniformity of God's activity is such as to make nature intelligible to us, but our minds are nevertheless independent of God's. Borden Parker Bowne was born in a New Jersey manse and educated at Pennington Seminary, New York University and in Europe (chiefly Paris, Halle and Göttingen).
He taught at Boston University from 1876 to 1910, serving as the first dean of the graduate school.
His views were strongly influenced by the ideas of Kant, Lotze (with whom he studied) and Bergson.
He was ordained in the Methodist Episcopal Church as a local preacher in 1872 and an elder in 1882.
During a long career of teaching and publishing he became the most influential exponent of American personalism, a philosophical school of which he was arguably the founder. Bowne held that the basis for knowledge is personal experience: ‘For each person, his own self is known in immediate experience and all others are known through their effects' (1902: 269).
If the world is intelligible, there is continuity that underlies the flux of human experience; in self-consciousness, one is aware of various sensory and introspective phenomena that are unified in that they are objects of a single awareness.
In memory, one recognizes the identity of one's current centre of awareness with prior centres.
Thus one finds in oneself the continuity of a mental substance; one knows oneself as an enduring, thinking thing.
One also experiences a measure of self-control, so that purposive action is possible, feelings can be controlled, and competing ends assessed; we find that we have a relative independence of our environment and of others.
But we also experience a degree of dependence on our environment and on others that makes it clear that our independence is only relative. Bowne held that these facts are incontrovertible, and that no philosophy can be adequate that denies or ignores them. One thing Bowne believed these facts to rule out is any view in which the thoughts and feelings that some or all human beings experience are really the thoughts and feelings that God has in or through them.
Such a view is
incompatible with both our relative independence (we are self-directing agents, not mere passive receivers or
conduits) and our relative dependence (God cannot be dependent).
These facts, even without further appeal to such things as our having false beliefs and our performing wrong actions, make it clear that no notion that our consciousness is really part of God's consciousness is defensible.
Thus God is not to be thought of along the lines of ‘the collection of all finite minds'; rather God possesses an independence and freedom on which our relative independence and freedom is modelled. Bowne's view was that the sort of absolute idealism for which each human mind is somehow part of a cosmic mind, and the deterministic materialism for which mind reduces to matter, while at opposite ends of the metaphysical spectrum, are alike in certain of their most important consequences.
Leaving no room for free human agency, both are incompatible with human responsibility.
Both make evil action impossible: the former by making God the only agent, and the latter by allowing for no agents at all but only mechanistically produced effects. Bowne had no difficulty in accepting evolutionary theory, and viewed the evolutionary process as directed by God so as to produce human beings.
As a metaphysical idealist, he held that one's body at any particular time is simply a collection of one's sensory images, and over time is but a series of such collections.
The bodies of persons are images that they do not create, and the laws of nature are descriptions of the uniformity of God's activity in causing our perceptual images.
Since God's willing is rational, what we call ‘nature' is intelligible.
This makes science and planned practical activity possible.
One consequence of this sort of view is that ‘existing in this world' is a matter of having perceptual and introspective experiences of a familiar, if not easily characterized, form and type.
Thus ‘existing in another world' would be a matter of having perceptual and introspective images of a significantly different form and type.
A complete world will be composed of various such ‘worlds' and will exist within a single divine purpose, being unified in that each ‘world' occurs within the framework of a single coherent divine plan that assures ‘fit' between them.. »
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