Edgar A. Singer, Jr.

American philosopher (1873-1954)

Edgar Arthur Singer, Jr. (November 13, 1873 – April 4, 1954) was an American philosopher, Professor at the University of Pennsylvania, and proponent of experimentalism.


  • Art is (1) a messenger of discontent, yet (2) no teacher of new ideals, but rather (3) an inspiration to each it touches, himself to turn creator of a world-more-ideal.
    • Singer, Edgar A. "Esthetic and the Rational Ideal. II." The Journal of Philosophy 23.10 (1926): 258-268; Partly cited in: William Gerber. Anatomy of what We Value Most, Rodopi, 1997, p. 55
  • All the categories of life and mind are to my understanding of them teleological.
    • Edgar A. Singer, Jr. On the Contented Life. New York, NY Henry Holt & Company. 1937. 271 pp.

Modern thinkers and present problems, (1923)Edit

Edgar A. Singer, Jr. Modern thinkers and present problems; an approach to modern philosophy through its history. (1923)

  • The straightest way to the heart of old matters is an old letter.
    • p. 3 : Chapter 1. Giordano Bruno, 1548-1600
  • "All things excellent are as difficult as they are rare." These words which bring to a close Spinoza's masterpiece Ethics, after the manner of Geometry, sum up the experience of a life as rare as it was difficult.
    • p. 37: Chapter 2. Benedict de Spinoza, 1632-1677
  • I have somewhere found it recorded that as Johann Gottlieb Fichte progressed with his first reading of Kant's "Critique of Pure Reason," he was moved to tears. To those who have labored through the tortured pages of the great German thinker this would be no matter for surprise, were it not for the quality of the tears: not those of vexation and baffled understanding, indeed, but of enthusiasm and sheer gratitude. For Fichte had fallen into the melancholy persuasion of Spinoza. At least, certain views of this austere thinker of the seventeenth century appeared to Fichte as no less gloomy in their implication than irresistible in the logic which led to them. Irresistible were the reasons which had driven Spinoza to look upon nature as governed by inexorable Fate. In the world as a whole there was no purpose, in its parts there was no freedom.
    • p. 63: Chapter 3. A disciple of Spinoza, an illustration
  • Looking back over the years that have lapsed since this was written, I cannot say that James's prophecy as to the future of pragmatism has been fulfilled; but that the world, at least the world in which I have lived, has lost its first sense of the absurdity of pragmatism is undoubtedly true. No one was more bitten than I with this first feeling of the absurd, unless it was some other of my kind among those who gathered of an evening in 1896 to listen to a reading of James s now famous little essay on " The Will to Believe " the essay which, so far as James was concerned, opened the campaign for pragmatism. James had written the paper that winter as a lecture to be delivered before the Philosophical Clubs of Yale and Brown Universities, and I cannot recall what the occasion was that brought a small number of us graduate students at Harvard together to hear it re-read but I do recall that we were very much bewildered and not a little shocked by the reading.
  • I have tried to show pragmatism as a moment in the swing of thought from realism to idealism, and how for it the most vital, that is to say, the moral and religious aspects of our world are things to work and fight for, to make and to mould, not just to find and come across. Its god is indeed a god of battles, and we are his soldiers on whom his victory depends. But as I view this battle, it is not to be fought out in heart throes and outpourings of sentiment. These may indeed change and better human relationships ; but it must not be forgotten that human relationships exist in a physical universe that is older than they, and promises to outlast them. Now, just the physics of things show a strong tendency to be amoral and atheistic. "You all know the picture of the last state of the universe which evolutionary science foresees.
    • p. 243-44: Partly cited in: John Barton (1999, p. 10)

Mind As Behavior And Studies In Empirical Idealism, (1924)Edit

Edgar A. Singer, Jr. Mind As Behavior And Studies In Empirical Idealism (1924)

  • We may not feel as confident as once we did that the way to truth lies all open before us the moment we have brought our vague questionings to a form that "leaves the rest to experiment."
    • p. v: Preface
  • It is seldom given to philosophers to enter into one another's enthusiasms, but they are sometimes allowed to share a disappointment. And could anything be more generally disappointing than the attitude of a certain important group of natural philosophers toward the study of minds?
    • p. 3: Chapter 1.
  • "The serious meaning of a concept," writes James, following Peirce, "lies in the concrete difference to some one which its being true will make. Strive to bring all debated conceptions to that "pragmatic" test, and you will escape vain wrangling. … If it can make no practical difference whether a given statement be true or false, then the statement has no real meaning."
    If the method defined in this passage be accepted, and I can not see how any one can fail to accept it even if one prove unfaithful to it afterwards, then could anything more fully illustrate the meaning of the 'meaningless' than that hypothesis of other minds in which the analogy argument culminates? Whatever may be said for the reasoning, is its conclusion at least right? Alas, I can not know. If right, my experience cannot inform me if wrong, my experience cannot disillusion me. It makes no practical difference to me whether I am right or wrong. Pragmatic conclusion: I cannot have made a meaningful hypothesis.
    • p. 5

Quotes about Edgar A. Singer, Jr.Edit

  • Singer's historical study focused on how we know; how we learn facts and laws and the relationship between these. He divided the major philosophies of science into three classes:
Rationalism: Assumes that mental laws are given and that one complete deductive scheme can be developed using simple ideas and the laws. Thus facts depend on laws, but not vice versa.
Empiricism: assumes that some simple sensations (facts) are given. Complex sensations and laws can be produced by combining the simple sensations in various ways. Thus law depend on facts. But some facts, the complex sensations, also depend on laws: the inference. Hence, all laws depend on facts, and some facts depend on laws but some do not.
Criticism: assumes that there are some laws that are given prior to any experience, a priori sciences (geometry, logic, kinematics), and that there are other laws that are generated as a result of experience, a posteriori laws.
Singer argued that all three schools are incomplete because there is no unique starting set of ideas or facts, there are no simple truths from which one could develop further truths.
  • Singer was a student of William James, a lifelong associate of Peirce. Nevertheless, the connection between Singer and Peirce seems tenuous, despite the fact that we can now recognise Singer’s instrumentalism as an articulation of Peirce’s pragmatism.

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