American Realism in the Early 20th Century


Publications related to the project:

  • Neuber, M. (2022). What We Talk About When We Talk About This Being Blue: C. I. Lewis and R. W. Sellars on the Object of Perception. European Journal of Pragmatism and American Philosophy, XIV-1.


The relationship between American pragmatism and American critical realism needs to be reconsidered. The two currents shared many aspects, but there were also significant differences. One of these differences pertains to the object of perception or, more precisely, to the question of what we talk about when we talk about this, for example, being blue. By re-addressing that question, some light can be shed on the historical development of analytic philosophy in the United States during the first half of the twentieth century. My case in point is the respective positions of C. I. Lewis and R. W. Sellars. I shall point out that Sellars’s view has more to recommend it because it provides a more compelling framework for a comprehensive explanation of perception.

  • Neuber, M. (2020). Two Forms of American Critical Realism: Perception and Reality in Santayana/Strong and Sellars. HOPOS: the Journal of the International Society for the History of Philosophy of Science, 10(1), 76–105.


American critical realism emerged in two forms: an 'essentialist' version defended, with some significant divergences, by George Santayana and C. A. Strong, and an 'empirical' version primarily defended by Roy Wood Sellars. Both forms of American critical realism aimed at an epistemologically convincing 'representationalist' account of perception. However, they were divided over issues of ontology. While Santayana and Strong invoked the notion of essence in order to ontologically reinforce their epistemological conceptions, Sellars attempted a more empirical, evolution-based approach. It will be argued that Sellars's view has more to recommend it because it better explains the actual mechanism of perceptual representation.

  • Neuber, M. (2019). Between Pragmatism and Realism - The Philosophy of John Elof Boodin. European Journal of Pragmatism and American Philosophy.


This paper explores the philosophical approach of the Swedish-born thinker John Elof Boodin. It will be shown that Boodin’s philosophical development ran through various stages, beginning with more or less "orthodox" pragmatism and ending with what he labeled "functional" realism. My principal thesis is that, in the last analysis, Boodin failed in establishing a stable systematic point of view. However, his philosophical development is worth considering in some detail because it nicely reflects the situation of a European-born philosopher in early-twentieth century America.


It is shown that Külpe's critical realism anticipates several elements of modern scientific realism. Furthermore, a comparison with contemporary American critical realism is drawn. On the whole, it is argued that more intensive relevant research in the future is needed.