Hocking, William Ernest, 1873-1966

Alternative names
Birth 1873-08-10
Death 1966-06-12

Biographical notes:

Hocking graduated in 1901 and taught philosophy at Harvard.

From the description of Philosophy D : technique of thought and of argument. [1942-1943] (Harvard University). WorldCat record id: 228512457

From the description of Papers of William Ernest Hocking, 1927-1949 (inclusive). (Harvard University). WorldCat record id: 76973067

Hocking was a professor of philosophy at Harvard University. Together with his wife, Agnes Hocking, they founded the Shady Hill School.

From the description of Correspondence, 1860-1979. (Harvard University). WorldCat record id: 85213218

William Ernest Hocking was born on August 10, 1873 in Cleveland, Ohio, son of William Francis Hocking, a homeopathic physician, and Julia Carpenter Pratt. He received his early schooling in Joliet, Illinois, graduating from high school in 1889. From 1889-1893 he worked at a series of jobs -- surveyor, "printer's devil," map maker, and illustrator -- to earn money for college. He entered Iowa State College of Agriculture and the Mechanic Arts in 1894, intending to be an engineer, but a reading of William James' Principles of Psychology set him on a course to go to Harvard to study with James. He spent four more years saving for Harvard by teaching business mathematics in Davenport, Iowa at Duncan's Business College, then as Principal of School No. 1.

He entered Harvard in the fall of 1899, graduated with an A.B. in 1901, and an A.M. in 1902. Concentrating on philosophy and psychology, he studied with Josiah Royce, George Santayana, George Herbert Palmer, and Hugo Münsterberg, as well as William James. During this period he also had managed a trip to the Paris Exposition in 1900 by hiring aboard ship as a cattleman. In the academic year 1902-1903 he studied in Göttingen, Berlin, and Heidelberg and returned to Harvard and received his Ph.D. in 1904. In the fall of 1904 he became instructor in comparative religion at Andover Theological Seminary and on June 28,1905, he married Agnes Boyle O'Reilly, daughter of poet and Boston Catholic layman John Boyle O'Reilly. The couple honeymooned at the original George Junior Republic community in Freeville, N.Y.

From 1906-1908 Hocking was part of the philosophy department of the University of California, Berkeley, and also served as a volunteer carpenter for the Relief Committee after the San Francisco earthquake of 1906. He served as an assistant professor of philosopy at Yale University from 1908-1914 and in 1914 he returned to Harvard where in 1920 he became the Alford Professor of Natural Religion, Moral Philosophy, and Civil Polity.

In the summer of 1916 he enlisted with the Civilian Training Camp at Plattsburgh, New York and in 1917 went to England and France as a member of the first detachment of American military engineers to reach the front during World War. He was appointed inspector of "War Issues" courses in the U.S. Army training camps in the northeast U.S. in 1918.

From 1930-1932 he was chair of a Commission of Appraisal for the Laymen's Foreign Mission Inquiry, which studied the foreign mission work of six Protestant denominations in India, Burma, China and Japan. Hocking was principal author of the much debated report of this commission, Re-Thinking Missions . In 1936 he gave the Hibbert Lectures at Oxford and Cambridge and these were later published as Living Religions and a World Faith (1940). In the late 1930s he was also the Gifford Lecturer at University of Glasgow, Scotland.

Hocking returned to Harvard in 1938 and continued teaching five years past retirement by offering a course in religion and civilization and one in logic for Freshmen. After retirement in 1943, he held guest professorships at the University of Leiden in Holland (1947-1948), at the Goethe Bicentennial in Aspen, Colorado (1949), at Dartmouth College (1949-1950), and at Haverford College (1950-1951).

Hocking was married for 50 years to Agnes Hocking (d.1955) and had three children: Richard Hocking (1906-2001), Hester Campbell (b. 1909), and Joan Kracke (b.1911). He died at his home in Madison, New Hampshire on June 14, 1966. Hocking and his wife Agnes founded the Cooperative Open-Air school in the spring of 1915 located at their home in Cambridge. This school became the Shady Hill School in 1916.

Hocking, a disciple of Harvard philosopher Josiah Royce, was an American idealist philosopher who related idealism and pragmatism in an "Absolute Idealism" grounded in human experience. His writings, which emphasize in particular the religious aspects of philosophy, include: The Meaning of God in Human Experience (1912), Human Nature and Its Remaking (1923), The Lasting Elements of Individualism (1937), Science and the Idea of God (1944), The Coming World Civilization (1956), and The Meaning of Immortality in Human Experience (1957). [Taken from: Rouner, Leroy S., editor. Philosophy, religion, and the coming world civilization. Essays in honor of William Ernest Hocking. The Hague: Martinue Nijhoff, 1966].

From the guide to the Correspondence, 1860-1979., (Houghton Library, Harvard College Library, Harvard University)

Biographical notes are generated from the bibliographic and archival source records supplied by data contributors.


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  • Philosophy, American--20th century
  • Pragmatism
  • Metaphysics


  • Philosophers.


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