Arthur O. Lovejoy

Arthur Oncken Lovejoy was born on October 10, 1873 , in Berlin , Germany , where his American father was engaged in medical research. His mother, Sara Oncken , was German and committed suicide when little Arthur was 18 months old. His father then abandoned medicine and became a pastor.


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  • 1 Studies
  • 2 Epistemology
  • 3 Dualism
  • 4 founded
  • 5 Your example
  • 6 Death
  • 7 Source


Lovejoy was educated at the University of California ( Berkeley ) and did graduate studies at Harvard , where he was mainly influenced by William James . After teaching briefly at Stanford , the University of Washington, and the University of Missouri , he went to Johns Hopkins University in 1910 and remained there until his retirement in 1938 .


Lovejoy’s epistemology was based on the premise that experience is irreducibly temporary. He argued that the time series was irreversible and the dates absolute. From this premise, he argued that if two apparently similar (or for that matter different) objects had different dates, they were existentially dual, whatever their causal relationships were. Therefore, the sensory impressions that presumably arise in the human brain must be existentially different from its “objects”. Stars, for example, are seen later than the date their rays arose. The star that we see, therefore, is not the star of the same date that we think we see it. This illustration would hold true for any visual object and our impression of it.



Lovejoy’s epistemological dualism was exposed in detail in “Revolt against Dualism” ( 1930 ), together with a critical analysis of the various forms of monism ( philosophical position that maintain that the universe is constituted by a single cause or primary substance). Due to his temporal vision, he tried to refute some of the conclusions drawn from the theory of relativity; later, in a conversation with the author, he repudiated the documents in which these rebuttals appeared.

Lovejoy’s epistemological dualism was accompanied by a firm belief in the causal efficacy of ideas. He argued against all forms of anti-intellectualism and favored freedom of expression and conscience. He was one of the organizers of the American Association of University Professors and president of its committee on academic freedom for several years.


Pronounced an intellectualist, she became interested in the history of ideas. In collaboration with Philip Wiener , Lovejoy founded the History of Ideas Magazine in 1940 . His historiographical program consisted of analyzing ideas in their component elements and then looking for a given elemental idea in various fields, without taking into account the context in which it first appeared. He argued that a certain idea, evolution for example, could start as a theory of biology, but it could appear in theories of art, religion or social organization.

His example

Lovejoy also believed that ideas often start as simple descriptive labels but take on appreciative connotations over time; the historian must become aware of these connotations and their influence on thought. His most famous example was probably the analysis of the meanings of “nature” and its derivatives. He pointed out that the authors often ignore the ambiguity of their ideas – ambiguities that have accumulated over the centuries – and therefore fall into unconscious contradictions in thought.

His most influential contribution to the history of ideas is undoubtedly “The Great Chain of Being” (1936), work preceded by certain chapters of “Primitivisin and Related Ideas in Antiquity” (1935).


Arthur Oncken Lovejoy passed away on December 30, 1962, in Baltimore, United States.


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