A twentieth century philosopher, Brand Blanshard was dedicated to clear, concise writing, the defensive of rationalism, and the power of reason. Shunning moral relativism and subjectivity, he outlined an objective standard of morality which centered around the use of reason.

"In our own country freedom has given us the priceless privilege of thinking and speaking as we will. How have we used it? We have produced some work that will live. We have also produced mountains of vacuous fiction, formless poetry, expensive but cheap drama, self-indulgence splashed on canvas, music that deafens and deadens us to silence as well as sound, violence in the streets, violence reaching out at us from boxes in our living rooms. Our educational levels have fallen." 1

Blanshard was born in Fredericksburg, Ohio, on August 27, 1892. His father was a minister named Francis Blanshard, and his mother was Emily Coulter; both of his parents were Canadian born. A year after his birth, his mother died in a fire in Toronto. His father's health deteriorated rapidly after his wife's death, and he finally succomed to illness in 1904. Afterwards, Blanshard and his only sibling were raised by his grandmother, Orminda first in Grand Rapids, then in Edinburg, Ohio.

His earliest education in Edinburg was in a small wooden schoolhouse in town. Afterwards, his grandmother moved them to Bay View, Michagan, which was relatively rural. There, Blanshard worked as a golf caddy, a dishwasher, and finally a ticket taker in a local theater. In that job, he was able to hear various speakers as well as enjoy productions of theater. In his teenage years, he also began to sharpen his debating skills in school and worked a junior reporting job as well. Soon after, Orminda moved again, this time to Detroit. Educational oppotunities in the city were much better, and Blanshard excelled in the sciences and languages. He played baseball and developed his debating skills further.

After graduating from high school in Detroit, he attended the University of Michigan, where he majored in Greek. He was not satisfied with his course of study, however. Desiring to come to some conclusions about religious matters, he took a philosophy course. He quickly became immersed in the subject matter, and during his junior year he applied for a Rhodes scholarship and was accepted. At Oxford, he did wonderfully, becoming acquainted with T.S. Eliot.

War loomed over Germany as Blanshard travelled there. He left, but Oxford had changed while he was away. Everyone was leaving to join the war, the Blanshard did as well. He wound up serving in Bombay. He travelled throughout Asia, going to China, Japan, and Singapore during his service. In 1916, he went back to India, and viewing the effects of war on the culture there had a great impact on him. After his service, he went to Columbia in 1917 to study there. He received a master's degree after a year of study. Afterwards, he married Frances Bradshaw, who also went to Columbia, and was drafted into the Army. Serving in France during the war, he eventually became a teacher in a school for soldiers. Then, he went back to Oxford to study with Horace W. B. Joseph.

Blanshard desired a degree from an American school, so he went to Harvard University to obtain his doctorate. After graduation, he began teaching at the University of Michigan. His time there nearly broke him, but he was able to pull himself from it by writing The Nature of Thought. It dealt with the gap between reason as a philosophical notion and its psychological application. He left to teach at Swarthmore in 1925 and remained there for 20 years. He was later named president of the Eastern Division of the American Philosophical Association in 1941 and a member of the Board of Officers in 1943. The following year, Blanshard left to teach at Yale.

In 1952, he left for Scotland to deliver a series of lectures from which several of his works are derived. Here, he fully developed his positions on reason and its effects on human life in terms of various contemporary theories and their applications in politics, religion, and ethics. He continued to lecture after this initial groundbreaking series and to teach at Yale until his retirement in 1961. His wife died five years later, and he remarried in 1969. He died in 1987.

List of Works

The Philosophy of Brand Blanshard

Blanshard's work, extending back to the Enlightenment tradition, asks the question: "What is thought?" Basically, he conceived of the universe as a coherent whole that is governed by a set of provable natural laws. He did not, however, connect thought to the objects of the natural world. The only point on which he called himself an idealist, in Reason and Belief, was when he stated that immediate sensory objects are mind-dependent.


1 Brand Blanshard. Four Reasonable Men. As taken from http://progressiveliving.org/brand_blanshard.htm

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