Oxford University Press's
Academic Insights for the Thinking World

An interview with the Editor of The Monist

Oxford University Press has partnered with the Hegeler Institute to publish The Monist, one of the world’s oldest and most important journals in philosophy. We sat down with the Editor of The Monist, Barry Smith, to discuss the Journal’s history and future plans.

What is the history of The Monist?

The Journal was founded by Edward Hegeler, a German entrepreneur who immigrated to the United States in 1856 and ​started a zinc manufacturing company in LaSalle, Illiniois. The company became extremely successful during the Civil War, in which Union artillery used cartridges with zinc components​. In 1887 Hegeler launched Open Court Publishing Company with the goal of propagating Ernst Haeckel’s monism as an alternative to traditional religion. He attracted a number of dissident intellectuals to his cause, and succeeded in establish​ing a publishing forum in the US that would promote the sort of discussion of philosophical, scientific and religious ideas that he had known in Germany. The first issue of The Monist was published by Open Court in 1890, the Journal’s title reflecting Hegeler’s continuing interest in a quasi-religious version of Haeckel’s monism – a broadly Spinozistic belief in the unity of organic and physical nature, including social phenomena and mental processes.

After some false starts, Hegeler appointed Paul Carus, a more recent German immigrant, as editor of the Journal. Carus remained in this role until his death in 1919, when he was succeeded by his wife Mary, Hegeler’s daughter, who edited the Journal until her death in 1936.

Carus is notable not least for the role he played as ​patron, correspondent, and provider of much-needed ​moral, intellectual and financial support to C. S. Peirce. Carus interacted with many other prominent figures of his day, including Tolstoy, Edison, Tesla,​ Houdini, Einstein, Alexander Graham Bell, Upton Sinclair, Ezra Pound and Booker T. Washington​, and his vast network of correspondents and collaborators also extended beyond the US and Europe to include the Far East. (D. T. Suzuki, later the world’s most prominent exponent of Zen Buddhism, worked in LaSalle for 11 years as assistant editor and translator of Asian religious and philosophical classics. Suzuki also translated Carus’s own Gospel of Buddha into Japanese for use in Buddhist seminaries in Japan.)​

How has the Journal changed with the field over the years?

During the Carus period from 1890 to 1936 the Journal published work by almost all of the important intellectual figures of the day. This included philosophers such as:

Peirce, Dewey, Eucken, Poincaré, Schroeder, Trendelenburg (with a posthumous treatise edited by Eucken entitled “A Contribution to the History of the Word ‘Person’”), Cassirer, Frege, Lovejoy, Jourdain, Russell, T. S. Eliot, Kurt Grelling, Friedrich Jodl, Weiss, Hartshorne, Charles Morris, Neurath, C. I. Lewis, as well as Victoria, Lady Welby, Mary Boole, and Susan Langer

But The Monist also published thinkers prominent in other disciplines, including Mach, Boltzmann, Haeckel, Veblen, Hilbert, Ostwald, Julian Huxley, Lombroso, and Piaget.

With the death of Mary Hegeler Carus, the Journal ceased publication until 1962, when it was re-established by Mary’s daughter Elizabeth Hegeler Carus, the new manager of Open Court Publishing Company, which continued to function at the Hegeler-Carus Mansion in LaSalle, IL. Elizabeth appointed as editor the Peirce scholar Eugene Freeman, who was succeeded in 1983 by John Hospers, a prominent analytic philosopher and also the first ever candidate of the Libertarian Party in a US Presidential election. Under the reign of Freeman and Hospers the Journal took up from where Paul and Mary Carus had left off, publishing work by almost all the leading philosophers of the day, including (in roughly this order):

Chisholm, Toulmin, Donagan, Norman Malcolm, Fitch, Findlay, Grünbaum, Feinberg, Winch, Alistair McIntyre, Geach, Anscombe, Ackrill, Benacerraf, Körner, Garver, Hiż, Hamlyn, Spiegelberg, J.R. Lucas. J.J.C. Smart, Prior, Tooley, Laudan, Hampshire, Hesse, Dworkin, Jaegwon Kim, Thalberg, Armstrong, Asa Kasher, Peter Singer, Goodman, Margolis, R. M. Hare, Judith Thomson, Rorty, Edwards, Devitt, Fisk, R.H. Thomason, Barbara Partee, Stalnaker, Lehrer, Saarinen, Michael Ruse, Blanshard, Mandelbaum, Engelhardt, Stich, Fodor, Ruth Marcus, Herb Hochberg, John McDowell, Gareth Evans, Searle, Mourelatos, Scheffler, Quine, Lycan, Kivy, Warnock, Rorty, Sellars, Dennett, Grene, Firth, Fogelin, Gutting, Haack, Parsons, Veatch, Peter Forrest, Brandom, Michael Levin, Penelope Maddy, Georg Kreisel, Michael Friedman, George Smith, D.C. Phillips, David Woodruff Smith, Virginia Held, Chris Menzel, Hao Wang, Alston, Raz, Ernie Sosa, Foley, Lakoff, Van Cleve, Ginet, Jacquette, Isaac Levi, Richard Jeffrey, Kyburg, Wolterstorff, Stephen R. L. Clark, Korsgaard, Henry Allison, Onora O’Neill, Audi, Matson, Gian-Carlo Rota, John O’Neill, Gaus, T.H. Irwin, Annas, and Zemach.

In this era we see a move towards a more strictly philosophical focus, and above all towards mainstream Anglo-Saxophone philosophers, though there are also contributions from Finns such as Hintikka and Hilpinen, Austrians such as Haller, Czechs such as Čapek, Swiss such as Guido Küng, Germans such as Apel, and Frenchmen such as Vuillemin and Ricoeur. That the Journal was able so consistently to publish authors of such prominence was due not least to the initiation by Freeman of the practice of devoting each issue to some single theme, and including in each issue not only papers submitted for refereeing but also papers solicited by the editor. Freeman thereby continued, under a new set of rules, the tradition initiated by Paul Carus, whereby the editor of The Monist serves as a kind of intellectual entrepreneur.

Hegeler-Carus Mansion
The Hegeler-Carus Mansion in LaSalle, Illinois. In 1887, Hegeler launched Open Court Publishing Company in the mansion. CC-BY-SA- 2.0 via Flickr.

Can you say something about the factors which led you to be chosen as Editor of the journal?

When I took over as editor from John Hospers in 1991 I was still working as a philosopher of a rather traditional sort, focusing in part on philosophical ontology, in part on the analytic-Continental philosophical divide. I believe that I was chosen as editor not least because of my interests in the Vienna Circle, and in the wider tradition of analytic philosophy in the German-speaking world and in the former Austro-Hungarian Empire. My interest in libertarianism, and in the ideals of liberal education (thus of truth, reason, freedom of thought), surely also played a role. All of these were seen as positive qualities by the current generations of the Carus family, who still take a strong interest in matters philosophical.

How do you decide upon the themes for future issues and what themes do you have in the pipeline?

The choice of topics is in the first place opportunistic. For each issue I appoint an Advisory Editor who is responsible for devising the precise scope of the issue and for soliciting papers from prominent experts. My selection of topics then depends in part on identifying persons suitable for the task of serving as advisory editor, and in part on what topics can be predicted, roughly three years in advance, to be of interest to potential authors. There is a fine balance between originality of topic – its closeness to the cutting edge of what people are working on – and the existence of a cadre of philosophers who are already able to write intelligently about it.

There is however another factor, which has been working more or less behind the scenes in my choice of topics in recent years, reflected in the gradually increasing number of issues on topics in the area of ‘applied philosophy’ broadly conceived. The tendency is illustrated in the first and only double issue of the journal edited by Robert George on the topic of Marriage. It is illustrated in issues on themes such as Death and Dying, Academic Ethics, Nationalism, Cognitive Theories of Mental Illness, Genetics and Ethics, Sovereignty, Privacy, and Philosophy and Engineering. Issues in the pipeline in this spirit include: Conservatism, Philosophy of War, and Trust and Democracy.

Tell us about your work outside of the Journal.

I, too, have in recent years become progressively more and more engaged in work in applied philosophy – or more precisely: in work in applying ontology in fields such as medicine and biology, military intelligence, economics, or law. My work in all of these areas involves close collaboration with experts in the corresponding disciplines and also with computer scientists and data engineers. At the University of Buffalo I hold positions not only in the Department of Philosophy but also in Biomedical Informatics, Computer Science, and Neurology. Currently I am working for the US Air Force on an ontology of adaptive planning, and for the United Nations on an ontology framework to support the consistent collection of data relating to the UN’s new set of Sustainable Development Goals. The role of ontologists, in projects of this sort, consists in building and formalizing coherent classifications – called ‘ontologies’ – of the entities and relations in the relevant domains. These ontologies then provide common benchmarks for the consistent description of data across disciplines and communities. The task of building and formalizing ontologies of this sort is still recognizably philosophical in nature – and I believe that the growing interest in applied ontology in so many different fields is revealing a new and potentially highly fruitful way in which philosophical ideas and methods can be of extra-philosophical significance.

Recent Comments

There are currently no comments.