The Philosophy ScareThe Politics of Reason in the Early Cold War

The Philosophy ScareThe Politics of Reason in the Early Cold War

John McCumber

Print publication date: 2017

ISBN: 9780226396385

Publisher: University of Chicago Press


This book argues that the domestic tumult of the early Cold War favored a “new and improved” philosophical paradigm for America, better adapted to the times than other approaches. Comprised of heterogeneous elements that mainly shared a mathematical veneer and their adaptability to Cold War political pressures, this “Cold War philosophy” valorized concepts of scientific objectivity and practices of market freedom, while prudently downplaying the anti-theistic implications of modern thought. Enforced by “sticks” from outside the university, encouraged by “carrots” proffered from within, and imposed in California by a draconian vetting system for job candidates, Cold War philosophy rapidly became central to academia. The clearest statement we have of its main themes is Hans Reichenbach’s The Rise of Scientific Philosophy, which this book places into the context of Cold War pressures on American philosophy. The main alternatives to Cold War philosophy, pragmatism and existentialism, were disfavored because their open commitments to atheism were unacceptable to powerful American religious forces; Reichenbach’s naturalism, like that of other logical positivists, was hidden behind long and technical discussions of “reduction.” The positive doctrines of Cold war philosophy were largely shared with rational choice theory; but where such theory was presented as an empirical theory of market and voting behavior, Cold War philosophy presented a theory of the properly functioning human mind everywhere and always, making it what the times required: an effective counter-ideology to global Marxism.