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Transcribed from scans of a bound paper copy at the Ethical Society of St. Louis by Matthew G. Hile. If you notice any differences between the transcription and the original image scan please contact WebAdmin@EthicalStL.org
Felix Adler and his first four American assistants who founded Ethical Societies in the decade after his Society for Ethical Culture in New York (1876) are presented in comparative intellectual biographies, to note their varying adherence to Adler’s announced philosophic principles: the metaphysical independence of ethics, and its supremacy over all other categories.
Only Adler, who led the Ethical movement forcefully until his death in 1933, has been previously and now extensively studied. The other four and their dates of full acceptance into the Fraternity of Ethical Teachers are: William M. Salter of Chicago (1883-1907), S. Burns Weston of Philadelphia (1885-1934), Walter L. Sheldon of St. Louis (1886-1907), and Stanton Coit of London (1886-1944).
The metaphysical independence of ethics, in the neo-Kantian sense for Adler and a more generally Idealistic sense for the other four, was often mistaken by people both in and out of the Ethical movement, and even by some professional philosophers and critics, as a claim of exemption for ethics from metaphysics or intellectual grounding. It is the intent of these philosophical biographies to show how this first generation of Ethical leaders remained relatively faithful to Adler’s stated principles, carrying them consistently through the second quarter-century and second generation of Ethical leadership.
A brief appraisal is given to the philosophic sources and sanctions of the third, fourth, and even the new fifth quarter-century or generation of Ethical leadership. In the third generation, a gradual and uneven transition was made from the independence of ethics sanctioned by philosophic Idealism, to independence understood and sanctioned as naturalism or scientific humanism. At the start of the fifth quarter-century or generation (1976-2001), a shift “back” to Adler’s original sanctions is claimed, but more in terms of existentialism and the new (non-rationalistic) mysticism.