Ralph Barton Perry (1876-1957)

American realist philosopher, born in Poultney, Vermont.

He got hos BA from Princeton (1896) and Ph.D. from Harvard (1899).

He taught at Harvard from 1902, becoming professor of philosophy in 1913 and professor emeritus in 1946.

He revised (1925) Alfred Weber’s History of Philosophy.

Editor of the works of William James, he won the 1936 Pulitzer Prize in biography for ‘The Thought and Character of William James’ (1935).

Major Works of Ralph Barton Perry

– The Thought and Character of William James (1936)
– The Moral Economy (1909)
– General Theory of Value (1926)
– Puritanism and Democracy (1944)


He was educated at Princeton (B.A., 1896) and at Harvard (M.A., 1897; Ph.D., 1899), where, after teaching philosophy for three years at Williams and Smith colleges, he was instructor (1902–05), assistant professor (1905–13), full professor (1913–30) and Edgar Pierce professor of philosophy (1930–46). He was president of the American Philosophical Association’s eastern division in the year 1920–21.[2]

A pupil of William James, whose Essays in Radical Empiricism he edited (1912), Perry became one of the leaders of the New Realism movement. Perry argued for a naturalistic theory of value and a New Realist theory of perception and knowledge. He wrote a celebrated biography of William James, which won the 1936 Pulitzer Prize for Biography or Autobiography, and proceeded to a revision of his critical approach to natural knowledge. An active member among a group of American New Realist philosophers, he elaborated around 1910 the program of new realism. However, he soon dissented from moral and spiritual ontology, and turned to a philosophy of disillusionment. Perry was an advocate of a militant democracy: in his words “total but not totalitarian”. Puritanism and Democracy (1944) is a famous wartime attempt to reconcile two fundamental concepts in the origins of modern America. Between 1946 and 1948, he delivered in Glasgow his Gifford Lectures, titled Realms of Value.

He married Rachel Berenson, and they lived in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Their son was Edward Barton Perry born at their home 5 Avon Street in Cambridge, 27 September 1906. In 1932, Edward married Harriet Armington Seelye (born Worcester, Massachusetts, 28 May 1909, daughter of physician and surgeon Dr. Walker Clarke Seelye of Worcester and Annie Ide Barrows Seelye, formerly of Providence, Rhode Island.

In 1919, he gave the commencement address for the first graduating class of Connecticut College, which had opened its doors in 1915.


  • The Approach to Philosophy, (1905), New York, Chicago and Boston: Charles Scribner’s Sons
  • The Moral Economy, (1909), New York: Charles Scribner’s Son
  • Present Philosophical Tendencies: A Critical Survey of Naturalism, Idealism, Pragmatism, and Realism, together with a Synopsis of the Philosophy of William James, (1912), New York:Longmans, Green & Co.
  • Holt, EB; Marvin, WT; Montague, WP; Perry, RB; Pitkin, WB; Spaulding, EG, The New Realism: Cooperative Studies in Philosophy, (1912), New York: The Macmillan Company
  • The Free Man and the Soldier, (1916), New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons
  • The Present Conflict of Ideals: A Study of the Philosophical Background of the World War, (1918), New York: Longmans, Green & Co.
  • Annotated Bibliography of the Writings of William James, (1920), Longmans, Green & Co.
  • The Plattsburg movement: A Chapter of America’s Participation in the World War (1921), New York: E.P. Dutton & company
  • A Modernist View of National Ideals (1926) Berkeley: University of California Press, Howison Lectures in Philosophy, 1925
  • General Theory of Value (1926)
  • Philosophy of the Recent Past: An Outline of European and American Philosophy Since 1860, (1926), New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons
  • The Hope for Immortality (1935)
  • The Thought and Character of William James, 2 vols. (1935)
  • Plea for an Age Movement (1942) New York: The Vanguard Press [Talk at 1941 Princeton and Harvard Reunions]
  • Puritanism and Democracy, (1944)
  • Characteristically American: Five Lectures Delivered on the William W. Cook Foundation at the University of Michigan, November–December 1948, (1949), New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1949
  • Realms of Value, (1954), Harvard University Press [Based on Gifford Lectures]
  • The Humanity of Man, (1956), New York: George Braziller
  • “A Definition of morality”. In P. W. Taylor (Ed.), Problems of moral philosophy: an introduction to ethics (pp. 13–24). Belmont, CA: Dickenson, 1967

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