Morton White (April 29, 1917 – May 27, 2016) was an American philosopher and historian of ideas. He was a proponent of a doctrine he called holistic pragmatism[1] (a variant of pragmatism) and also a noted scholar of American intellectual history. He was a professor in the Department of Philosophy at Harvard from 1953 to 1970. He was Professor Emeritus in the School of Historical Studies at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, NJ, where he served as Professor in the School of Historical Studies from 1970 until he retired in 1987.


White was born Morton Gabriel Weisberger in the Lower East Side of New York City. He attended City College of New York as an undergraduate before doing his postgraduate studies at Columbia University, where he completed his Ph.D. in 1942 under Ernest Nagel, who was himself a student of John Dewey. In 1949 he published Social Thought in America, a critical history of liberal social philosophy as represented by the ideas of Dewey, Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr., Thorstein Veblen, Charles A. Beard, and James Harvey Robinson. When the book was republished in 1957 he added a preface in which he softened some of his criticisms, and he added an epilogue in which he attacked the religious liberalism of Reinhold Niebuhr and the conservatism of Walter Lippmann. "Time and recent events," he wrote, "have brought the liberal outlook under a very different kind of attack- an attack with which I have no sympathy- and I fear that my own critical observations might wrongly be associated with arguments, positions, and purposes quite foreign to my own." In his 1956 work, Toward Reunion in Philosophy, White attempted to reconcile the pragmatic and analytic traditions in American philosophy.

At Harvard, White was a colleague of Willard Van Orman Quine, and the philosophical views of the two are closely related, particularly in their rejection of a sharp distinction between a priori and empirical statements. But White rejects Quine's view that "Philosophy of science is philosophy enough." Using the framework of holistic pragmatism, White argues that philosophical inquiry can just as well be applied to cultural institutions beyond science, such as law and art.

White died at the age of 99 on May 27, 2016.[2]

Selected bibliography

See also


  1. ^ Morton White, A Philosophy of Culture: The Scope of Holistic Pragmatism, Princeton University Press, 2005.
  2. ^ Morton White obituary

Book websites