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Exiled Empiricists: American Philosophy and the Great Intellectual Migration


In the 1930s, hundreds of European academics fled to the United States, escaping the quickly deteriorating political situation on the continent. Among them were a few dozen philosophers from a variety of different schools: logical empiricists, phenomenologists, and critical theorists. Especially the first group would have a tremendous impact on American philosophy. Although the local intellectual climate had been dictated by distinctively American traditions such as pragmatism, U.S. philosophers soon began to advance views that were heavily indebted to the empiricists, thereby transforming the American philosophical landscape.

Historians have reconstructed the fate of the exiled empiricists. Still, little attention has been paid to the American context in which their movement came to full bloom. This is remarkable since any account of the empiricists' success requires an explanation of why the Americans were so susceptible to their views. What explains the surprisingly positive reception of logical empiricism? And why were the Americans more receptive to empiricism than to phenomenology or critical theory? This project shifts the perspective from the migrant philosophers to the local philosophical climate by 1) quantitatively analyzing thousands of American journal publications and 2) qualitatively examining the archives of dozens of key U.S. philosophers and institutions.

Today, it seems natural to carve up the philosophical landscape into an 'analytic' and a 'continental' tradition. Yet few philosophers realize that this deeply engrained distinction is relatively new; it first became popular in the United States in the years after the intellectual migration. In studying the unique American melting pot of philosophical schools (e.g. pragmatism, logical empiricism, phenomenology, critical theory), this project offers a broader, unifying perspective on 20th-century philosophy, thereby transcending the school-based barriers that have often shaped its historiography.


Net EU contribution
€ 1 493 680,00
Warandelaan 2
5037 AB Tilburg

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Noord-Brabant Midden-Noord-Brabant
Activity type
Higher or Secondary Education Establishments
Non-EU contribution
€ 0,00