By N.S. Palmer
Today, August 27th, is Brand Blanshard‘s birthday. If he were still with us, he would be 118 years old.
In college and graduate school, he was my mentor and inspiration.
Though little known outside of academic circles, he was one of the giants of 20th-century philosophy. His ideas, writing, and teaching set an example of clarity, insight, and scrupulous dedication to the truth that few other philosophers of that or any century can equal.
Born in 1892, he entered the University of Michigan in 1910 and, after his junior year, won a Rhodes scholarship to complete his studies at Merton College of Oxford University in England. Many years later, in his autobiography, he wrote:
I despair of putting in words what Oxford meant to me. It surely meant far more than to some who were better prepared to take it in stride … To a youth straight from the Middle West it was overwhelming.
At Oxford, his tutor was H.H. Joachim, an eminent philosopher of the Absolute Idealist viewpoint. His own mentor and inspiration was F.H. Bradley, a philosopher who towered over late 19th and early 20th-century philosophy in much the same way as Professor Blanshard towered over the middle part of the 20th century.
For much of his life, he was Sterling Professor of Philosophy at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut. He wrote his last book (Four Reasonable Men) at the age of 92, and died in 1987, at the age of 95.
Professor Blanshard’s magnum opus was The Nature of Thought (1939), a far-ranging two-volume work that he wrote from 1923-1938, much of his time spent at a carrel in the reading room of the British Museum. I have a photograph of the place in the British Museum where he worked. Mrs. Blanshard sent to me after he passed away.
He is probably best-known for his devastating critiques of logical positivism in epistemology and emotivism in ethics: critiques which, by exposing the central errors of those theories, were almost single-handedly responsible for their abandonment.
I remember all that about Professor Blanshard, and yet, there are other things about him which to me are just as precious. He was a kind and inspiring teacher; a loving husband to his wife, Roberta Yerkes Blanshard; and a noble gentleman of the kind no longer known by this world.
He was also my friend, and I miss him. I comfort myself with the thought that I will one day see him again. I’m sure that we will have a lot to talk about.
Copyright 2010 by N.S. Palmer. May be reproduced as long as byline, copyright notice, and URL (http://www.ashesblog.com) are included.