In the history of recent philosophy, Marvin Farber (1901-1980) represents a bold thinker who dared to change his intellectual interests in light of continuing advances in the special sciences. Although he was at first drawn to the rigorous study of phenomenology with its focus on pure consciousness, Farber later became very critical of its subjective orientation and limiting methodology; he stressed that there is a crucial distinction between a claim about existence (ontology) and a method of inquiry (epistemology). Farber realized that phenomenology alone is unable to adequately answer important questions concerning ethics, epistemology, and metaphysics. It was Farber’s serious acceptance of the fact of evolutionary time that resulted in his academic shift from idealism to materialism. The awesome cosmic perspective in astronomy and the disquieting implications of human evolution in anthropology convinced him that the sweeping temporal framework in modern science offered the only true interpretation of the fleeting place our species occupies in a dynamic universe.
Although Farber had studied phenomenology under Edmund Husserl (1859-1938), he found greater value in the diverse ideas of Giordano Bruno, Ludwig Feuerbach, and Friedrich Nietzsche. Bruno held that this universe is eternal, Feuerbach claimed that religious beliefs are the product of human psychology, and Nietzsche taught that “God is dead!” and therefore new values are needed to replace traditional superstitions. Farber incorporated these penetrating insights into his own critical investigations of the human situation. Furthermore, Farber’s concern for human problems found inspiration in the social analyses of Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels, and Vladimir Lenin. Farber accepted the materialist stance and historical framework of these three social theorists and, with a keen sense of human compassion and critical optimism, he anticipated the emergence of increased enlightenment as our species embraces the ongoing findings of science and the indisputable power of reason.
Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution had had an enormous influence on natural philosophy. It challenged the previously accepted age of this planet, fixity of species, and recent appearance of humans on the earth. The remarkable discoveries in geology, paleontology, anthropology, and biology (particularly genetics) throughout the 20th century yielded overwhelming empirical evidence to support the scientific fact of organic evolution. Farber stressed the independent existence of the evolving world from human consciousness. His own ideas went far beyond the myopic views of existentialists and even the pragmatic naturalism of John Dewey (1859-1952), whose philosophy retained a concept of God. Moreover, Farber advocated a pervasive naturalism that not only rejected all forms of spiritualism and supernaturalism, but also removed humankind from any special position in the flux of cosmic reality. Among the recent major philosophers, he stood almost alone as an unabashed atheist and uncompromising materialist.
Darwinian evolution contributed the fatal blow to any earth-bound and human-centered worldview. Marvin Farber acknowledged the quintessential value of having a sound comprehension of time in order to properly and accurately explain reality, whether it be cosmic history or human existence within it. His own naturalist attitude and refreshing vision, with its steadfast commitment to pervasive evolution, offered a sobering interpretation of our species grounded in an open inquiry that respected both scientific evidence and philosophical reflection.
H. James Birx
See also Bruno, Giordano; Darwin, Charles; Engels, Friedrich; Feuerbach, Ludwig; Haeckel, Ernst; Husserl, Edmund; Lenin, Vladimir Ilich; Marx, Karl; Materialism; Nietzsche, Friedrich
Farber, M. (1968). Basic issues of philosophy: Experience, reality, and human values. New York: Harper Torchbooks.
Farber, M. (1968). Naturalism and subjectivism. Albany: State University of New York Press.
Mathur, D. C. (1971). Naturalistic philosophies of experience: Studies in James, Dewey and Farber against the background of Husserl’s phenomenology. St. Louis, MO: Warren H. Green.
Ryder, J. (Ed.). (1994). American philosophic naturalism in the twentieth century. Amherst, NY: Prometheus.