Frederick James Eugene Woodbridge

Frederick J. E. Woodbridge c.1935 Frederick J. E. Woodbridge c. 1935
Frederick J. E. Woodbridge (1867-1940) was an early 20th century American philosopher. He was one of the principal figures responsible for the adoption of philosophical realism in the United States. Along with George Santayana and John Dewey, Woodbridge was a founder of the philosophical movement known as American Naturalism. It was largely under Woodbridge's influence that Aristotelian trends of thought were revived in the United States, and his naturalistic interpretation of Aristotle became the classic American interpretation. In addition to the intellectual contributions he made to the American philosophical tradition, Woodbridge also enhanced the philosophical community by founding The Journal of Philosophy. The Woodbridge Lectures, sponsored by Columbia University's Philosophy Department, are named for him.

Biographical Sketch Frederick J. E. Woodbridge c.1895

Frederick J. E. Woodbridge was born in Windsor, Ontario on March 26, 1867, son of James and Melissa Ella (Bingham). In 1869 the family moved to Kalamazoo, MI where Woodbridge grew up. In 1885 he enrolled at Amherst College where he studied philosophy and religion under Charles Edward Garman. He graduated from Amherst in 1889 and enrolled at Union Theological Seminary to continue his studies. In 1892 he left Union on a traveling fellowship and went to Germany to focus his graduate studies on philosophy at the University of Berlin. He returned to the U.S. in 1894, and took up a teaching position at the University of Minnesota. Woodbridge was married to Helena Belle Adams (photos) of Cincinnati, OH on June 25th, 1895 in Chicago, IL. In 1902 Woodbridge left Minnesota for Columbia University. There, in 1904, Woodbridge co-founded (with J. McKeen Cattell) The Journal of Philosophy, Psychology and Scientific Methods, known since 1921 simply as The Journal of Philosophy (Wendell T. Bush joined Woodbridge as co-editor in 1906). This journal quickly became "...the principle organ through which pragmatism, realism, and naturalism attacked, and eventually overcame, the then dominant philosophical idealism." (Delaney, p. 7) Woodbridge taught philosophy at Columbia from 1902 until 1912 when he became the university's Dean of the Faculties of Political Science, Philosophy, and Pure Science. In 1929 he retired as Dean in order to return to teaching. Woodbridge retired from teaching in 1937, but he continued to edit The Journal of Philosophy until his death in 1940.

Words of Praise for Frederick J. E. Woodbridge

...I was attracted to Woodbridge's philosophy because I believe it is relevant to many philosophic problems--but especially, to the growing loss of commitment to the traditional Western scientific-philosophic standard of objectivity....Whatever our final judgment regarding our traditional commitment to objectivity, Woodbridge is a pivotal thinker: his philosophic realism is perhaps the clearest, and most fully developed statement and defense of traditional Western objectivity. For an age concerned with the question of objectivity, therefore, Woodbridge's thought deserves careful consideration. (Jones, pp. 12-13.)

This realistic emphasis of Woodbridge appears in a number of essays [in Naturalism and the Human Spirit]; for over half the contributors were students of his--he was a consummate teacher--and reveal the strong impress of his powerful personality. Much as they have learned from Dewey, it is clear to the discerning reader that most of them owe their fundamental naturalism to Woodbridge. (Randall, "Epilogue," p. 366.)

Woodbridge, one of the most attractive and stimulating teachers in the history of American universities, called himself a naive realist....The originality of Woodbridge's realism is veiled by his own characterization of his philosophy as "a synthesis of Aristotle and Spinoza, tempered by Locke's empiricism." Woodbridge avowed his indebtedness to Aristotle's naturalism and the conception of productivity, and to Spinoza's "rigid insistence on structure," while it was Locke who he said had taught him "fundamentally sound thinking."...But it is taken for granted that Woodbridge, by historically deriving his own thoughts from Aristotle, Spinoza and Locke, had wronged himself....Woodbridge's inquiry into the nature of structure and activity and their relations is the work of an independent thinker. To him, structure determines what is possible, and activity determines what exists. These concepts were elaborated by [sic] cautious and flexible analysis of reality as Woodbridge himself saw it. (The Pictorial History of Philosophy, p. 391.)

Woodbridge was preeminently a teacher--a teacher in the great tradition of Socrates. To compel students to think until they saw was the essence of his philosophy of education. Scarcely has there been a teacher more successful; never was there one more revered. (Delaney, p. 7.)

Frederick Woodbridge's prose is laced with humor and irony, is often eloquent, crisp, suggestive, and even symbolically powerful. His essays, while not easily understood, are easy to read, and models of philosophical criticism. His essays and books are among the most engaging pieces written by an American philosopher and the best prose by an American naturalist. In fact, the only American philosopher who writes prose as fine and distinctive is William James. (Shea, p. 143.)

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Last updated 8/7/19