Maynard Adams: Southern Philosopher of Civilization
Maynard Adams (1919-2003) was a profound philosopher and civic humanist at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. A major intellectual figure of the second half of the twentieth century, Adams developed a comprehensive philosophy of civilization that applies to all humanity but has a distinctly Southern dimension. The essence of his philosophy is that value and meaning are dimensions of reality and we can gain knowledge about those dimensions. Adams contended that philosophers should get out of their ivory towers and engage in 'cultural criticism', thereby helping to improve and invigorate the ideas and values by which people guide their lives. He argues persuasively that modern civilization is 'naturalistic', in that modern people increasingly believe that the only reality is that revealed by sensory experience. As a result, modern civilization is economically and militarily impressive, but because of fundamental philosophical errors it has lost touch with value reality and meaning reality and therefore has no intellectual/spiritual foundation. Adams' humanistic philosophy is based on a philosophy of the person as a rational, moral being, and he demonstrates how humans can gain knowledge of value reality and meaning reality. He thus provides a positive alternative to the naturalistic world view that is undermining modern civilization. Adams was also a civil humanist who helped inspire and found several philosophical and educational organizations that continue to influence thousands of people. A notable example is the Program in the Humanities and Human Values at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.
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