Philosophy

It is a tall order to summarize the wealth of material related to philosophy at Houghton. From a third century CE fragment of Plato’s Republic (MS Gr SM3739, 009957565) to nineteenth century German philosopher Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel’s papers (MS Ger 51, 000602039), the library seems to have in store more than one could apprehend in a lifetime of study and research. However, it is also a receptacle of the wisdom of less explored yet key scholars of the discipline, and delving into its archives is a most rewarding experience for anyone in the concentration or broadly interested in philosophy.

Houghton, for instance, is the home to the Charles Sanders Peirce papers (MS Am 1632, 000602456). Peirce, a Harvard College Class of 1862 graduate, was a polymath, and his studies in logics, mathematics, semiotics, and philosophy are still influential today. The 151-box collection, categorized by subject, includes Peirce’s manuscripts—on topics ranging from pragmatism, phenomenology, and metaphysics to geodesy and metrology—and personal correspondence. Particularly interesting are his philosophical discussion of political economy, Darwinian theory, and belief and reasoning (334 and 954), but, with 1644 manuscripts and 729 letters, the papers are most certainly not restricted to those topics. Peirce’s work is laden with interdisciplinarity, and students interested in the philosophy of mathematics, language, and science will certainly find fascinating articles.

Another collection in which to get lost is the W. V. Quine papers (MS Am 2587, 008937558). Quine, first a Harvard doctorate student and then a professor at the university for more than twenty years, was also interested in philosophy’s connection to language and science, and his papers, which include, among others, his correspondence, compositions, student papers, and lecture notes, attest to that. His correspondence with contemporary luminaries such as cognitive psychologist Jean Piaget (852) and fellow philosopher and Harvard professor Hilary Putnam (885) sheds light on the life of academic giants and their interpersonal relationships, but letters to and from personalities such as photographer Steve Pyke (886) and architect Clive Entwistle (333) are equally as intriguing and enlightening.

Quine’s collection of his peers’ academic papers is also a treasure trove. Daniel Clement Dennett’s essays explore philosophical issues related to evolution, religion, and consciousness while J. J. Dilworth’s writings connect philosophy to mathematics and linguistics. Many of these papers provide philosophy students the opportunity to work hand in hand with other concentrations to explore interdisciplinary issues: Dennett’s “Evolution, Error, and Intentionality” (1628), for instance, can also be approached through Chemical and Physical Biology and Neurobiology, and C. H. Sommers’ “The Feminist Revelation” (2220) contains material relevant to History and Women and Gender Studies.

Interdisciplinarity is also pervasive in another of Houghton’s gems: William James’ library. Papers such as “Dualism, Materialism, or Idealism?” (WJ 400.5.9, 002900970), “Hughlings-Jackson on the Connection between the Mind and the Brain” (WJ 400.5.8, 006500146), and “Les fonctions supérieures du système nerveux” (Phil 5242.26, 004497469) link the philosophical to the psychological, displaying a multilayered approach to the exploration of the human mind.

As a last recommendation, philosophy students should be sure to check out Quine’s correspondence with Eliot House (330), which includes his recommended list of philosophical works and some excellent life advice by John H. Finley, one of the house’s most celebrated residential deans.