Carus, Paul

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(b. Ilsenburg, Germany, 18 July 1852; d. La Salle, Illinois, 11 February 1919)

philosophy of science.

Carus received his Ph.D. from the University of Tübingen in 1876 after studying philosophy, classical philology, and natural science. He next was an instructor at the military academy in Dresden, but he was forced to leave because of religious views he had expressed in pamphlets. He went to England for a while and eventually moved to New York, where he published Monism and Meliorism (1885). This book aroused the interest of Edward Carl Hegeler, a German chemist in La Salle, Illinois. He had founded a periodical called The Open Court and soon invited Carus to become its editor. In 1888 another and more technical journal, to be devoted to the philosophy of science, was founded under the name of Monist; Carus was the editor of this as well. He also published philosophical and scientific classics (including Ernst Mach’s Science of Mechanics) that are still widely used. In 1888 he married Hegeler’s daughter Mary, who assisted him in editing the two journals and, after his death, continued to edit them until her death in 1936. Their daughter has continued to operate the Open Court Publishing Company, which publishes the Carus lectures, given by distinguished philosophers at meetings of the American Philosophical Association.

Cams wrote hundreds of articles and scores of books, which are largely collections of these articles. His mission in all his writing was to conciliate science and religion. Between 1890 and 1900 he elaborated a philosophy that he sometimes called “monism” and at other times “religion of science” He was convinced that science provided the key to all human problems. Religion was in a state of change, in which it would overcome its superstitions and find a solid foundation in the scientific Weltanschauung.

The key tool for constructing this “religion of science” was provided by the German mathematician Hermann Grassmann, who developed vector analysis. He had created a general science of pure forms that, unlike the empirical sciences, was not limited by the three-dimensional spatial world. His vector geometry could be expanded to unlimited dimensions. Carus’ account of the nature of the world and our knowledge of it is a generalization of this method of geometry. There are forms in the world that belong to everything. Form is the quality not only of mind but of all reality. There is a one-to-one correspondence between knowledge and the external world because all elements of objective reality are inseparably united with the corresponding elements of subjective reality. According to his monism, all things are one by virtue of certain eternal laws that exist in things and are discovered by the inquirer. Such laws of nature are dependent on a single law–God.

Carus rejected Kant’s position that the laws of nature depend on the mind of the knower; knowledge is the grasping of forms that are in the world. Hence Carus may be called a realist. He repudiated not only idealism but also materialism, claiming that every part of the world is both material (and acts according to the laws of matter) and spiritual (and acts according to the laws of mind). Thus he avoided the bifurcation of nature into minds and bodies in a way that is suggestive of Whitehead, who developed his process philosophy some years later. Human minds and souls differ from the rest of the world only in degree, not in kind. Carus’ monism regarded the world as a living actuality that in its evolution from lower to higher forms naturally evolved ever-higher souls and, accordingly, raised the subjectivity of atomic life to the intellectuality of a human being.

Carus was somewhat disturbed by Einstein’s relativity, not because it destroyed classical notions of absolute space, time, and motion but because the language of relativity sounded too much like the language of paradox and even of mysticism. This new physics, he thought, manifested a subjectivist tendency. It even implied the relativity of truth itself, as had the philosophies and théories of Bergson, Freud, Nietzsche, and the pragmatists.


I .Original Works Carus wrote hundreds of articles that appeared in the journals Open Court and Monist. He also wrote many books, most of which are collections of his articles. They include Monism and Meliorism (New York, 1885); Fundamental Problems (Chicago, 1889); The Soul of Man (Chicago, 1891); Religion of Science (Chicago, 1893); Primer of Philosophy (Chicago, 1896); Surd of Metaphysics (Chicago, 1903); Whence and Whither (Chicago, 1903); God (Chicago, 1908); Truth on Trial (Chicago, 1911); and Principle of Relativity (Chicago, 1913).

II .Secondary Literature For biographical information, see Dictionary of American Biography,III , 548–549 and William Ellery Leonard, “Paul Carus” in Dial,66 (1919). 452–455. For studies of his works, see William H. Hay, “Paul Carus: A Case-Study of Philosophy on the Frontier,” in Journal of the History of Ideas,17 (1956). 498–510; Donald Harvey Meyer. “Paul Carus and the Religion of Science” in American Quarterly,14 (1962), 597–607; and James Francis Sheridan, “Paul Carus: A Study of the Thought and Work of the Editor of the Open Court Publishing Company” (Ph.D. diss., Univ. of Illinois, Urbana), also on microfilm (Ann Arbor, Mich., 1957).

James Ellington

Carus, Paul

views updated

Carus, Paul

(b. Ilsenburg, Germany, 18 July1852; d. La Salle, Illinois, 11 February 1919),


For a detailed study of his life and work, see Supplement.