Susanne K. Langer and the Harvard School of Analysis

In Lona Gaikis (ed.), The Bloomsbury Handbook of Susanne K. Langer. London: Bloomsbury Handbooks (2023)
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Abstract

Susanne Langer was a student at Radcliffe College between 1916 and 1926---a highly transitional period in the history of American philosophy. Intellectual generalists such as William James, John Dewey, and Josiah Royce had dominated philosophical debates at the turn of the century but the academic landscape gradually started to shift in the years after World War I. Many scholars of the new generation adopted a more piecemeal approach to philosophy---solving clearly delineated, technical puzzles using the so-called “method of logical analysis”. Especially at Harvard, the intellectual climate rapidly changed. The department hired several philosophers who had contributed to the development of symbolic logic---H. M. Sheffer, C. I. Lewis, and A. N. Whitehead---and Harvard quickly began to be viewed as a central hub for analytic philosophy in the United States. This chapter contextualizes Langer’s earliest work by reading it through the lens of this shifting academic environment. Though Harvard did not allow women to take its courses until 1943, Langer is one of the most significant fruits of this period. Her dissertation “A Logical Analysis of Meaning” and her first publications are all illustrations of the approach that came to dictate the American philosophical conversation. By exploring the increased focus on the logical-analytic method and Langer’s attempts to expand the new approach to what she later called “non-discursive” symbolisms, I situate her publications in the intellectual context of the 1920s.

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Sander Verhaegh
Tilburg University

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