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Marvin Farber

Marvin Farber

In the history of recent , (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 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 () and a method of inquiry (episte­mology). Farber realized that phenomenology alone is unable to adequately answer important questions concerning ethics, epistemology, and . It was Farber’s serious acceptance of the fact of evolutionary time that resulted in his academic shift from to . 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

Further Readings

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.

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