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Young Sidney Hook: Marxist and Pragmatist


"This book is the best treatment of the best American Marxist philosopher-and the best philosopher to emerge from American slums. Young Sidney Hook is essential reading for anyone interested in democratic theory and practice in America."
---Cornel West

"A very detailed, and fascinating account of Hook's formative years . . . [a] first-rate contribution to the history of American leftist intellectual life."

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"This book is the best treatment of the best American Marxist philosopher-and the best philosopher to emerge from American slums. Young Sidney Hook is essential reading for anyone interested in democratic theory and practice in America."
---Cornel West

"A very detailed, and fascinating account of Hook's formative years . . . [a] first-rate contribution to the history of American leftist intellectual life."
---Richard Rorty, Raritan

"Fascinating . . . well researched and packed with information."
---Times Literary Supplement

"Succeeds in establishing the young Hook as a dedicated revolutionary Marxist."
---Amos Perlmutter, Washington Times

"A brilliant, lucid portrait of a scholar, adversarial by temperament, who turned his extraordinary powers of analysis and polemic successively against capitalism, Stalinism, and the New Left."
---Alan Wald, Monthly Review

"The best study of Hook's thought. . . . Supersedes all earlier treatments."
---David A. Hollinger and Charles Capper, The American Intellectual Tradition

"A major contribution to our understanding of Hook and the American Marxist tradition. . . . Extremely insightful."
---American Studies

"Persuasive. . . . Discovers not just a brilliant interpreter of Marx and the Russian Revolution, but a remarkable advocate and practitioner of the Americanization of Marxism."
---In These Times

"Phelps's effort to uncover, explore, and analyze Hook's forgotten leftism must be judged an unqualified success."
---Left History

"Penetrating, closely argued, and lucid. . . . An important contribution to the history of American radicalism in the 1930s."
---Labor History

One of the most controversial figures in the history of American philosophy, Sidney Hook was "an intellectual street fighter," who began his career as a brilliant Marxist thinker and "probably the greatest polemicist of [the 20th] century" (Edward Shils) before breaking with the Communist Party in the late 1930s. Turning in his later years to an allegiance with American conservatives including Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan, Hook is now widely known as an intellectual father of the neoconservative movement.

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Editorial Reviews

Theodore Draper
Phelps's book is for the most part a competent, straightforward account of Hook's political journey from socialist revolutionary to what Phelps calls "bourgeois democracy." -- Theodore Draper, The New York Review of Books
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780472030583
  • Publisher: University of Michigan Press
  • Publication date: 6/30/2005
  • Pages: 288
  • Product dimensions: 5.90 (w) x 8.90 (h) x 0.90 (d)

First Chapter


Revolution and Philosophy, 1902-30

By the beginning of the 1930s, when he gained a reputation for his dialectical skills and formidable knowledge of Marx, Sidney Hook had become perfectly comfortable with the role of socialist philosopher. Confident of the value of a dual commitment to intellectual life and political action, he understood that practice to be in keeping with the tradition exemplified by Marx himself: the fearless polemicist who drafted The Communist Manifesto; the gifted historian who published The Eighteeenth Brumaire; the prodigious researcher who wrote Capital; the leader and organizer of international associations of revolutionary workers. That such a combined form of scholarly and political life--both philosophical and revolutionary--was possible, however, was not at all self-evident to Hook in his adolescent and collegiate years. Only with time was he able to imagine it possible to connect his professional commitment to philosophy with an openly socialist politics.

Until the middle of the 1920s Hook's commitment to revolutionary action and passion for philosophy acted as countervailing forces and ambitions, pulling him first one way, then the other. In high school, he opposed American intervention in the World War, unsettling school officials who viewed him as a troublemaking young "Bolshevik." At college, however, Hook retreated for a time from political activism, affected by the conservatism of the period and enticed by a conception of philosophy which rested upon contemplative disengagement from worldly concerns. Only through a series of influences--including firsthand exposure to the pragmatism of John Dewey, personal links to the Communist Party, an epic debate with Max Eastman, and extensive research into the intellectual origins of Marxism--did Hook finally become confident by the end of of the 1920s that he could harmonize his socialist convictions with his scholarship, his philosophical inclinations with his revolutionary aspirations.

Philosophy and Revolution in Tension, 1902-23

When Saul Hook entered the world on December 20, 1902, he was the fourth child born to immigrants from Central Europe who had met and married in the United States. Isaac Hook, thirty-one, was from Moravia, a former province of Bohemia, then of Austria, and then of Czechoslovakia. Jenny Halpern Hook, four years younger than her husband, had arrived at age sixteen from Galicia, a province of southwestern Poland controlled for much of the nineteenth century by the Hapsburg empire. The surname Hook was probably adapted from Czech. By the late nineteenth century, when the Hooks separately left Europe behind, both Moravia and Galicia were experiencing a mass emigration of Jews as anti-Semitic restrictions mounted. In Europe, Isaac Hook had worked the land, but upon arriving in New York City, where agriculture was at best a marginal occupation, he became a tailor. He worked such long hours that he would arrive home exhausted, sometimes falling asleep over dinner, to the amusement of his children. Jenny--whose high cheekbones and black hair made her very attractive, her daughteter-in-law Ann would later recall-- was [Illegible] a witty, warm, temperamental woman who worked all day caring for the children and household. She had a passion for romantic novels, however, and often became so engrossed in her reading that she burned the family supper.

When he was enrolled in school at the age of five, Saul became Sidney at his mother's instigation. She may, her grandson Ernest Hook speculates, have come across that name in a novel she was reading at the time; in any case, Sidney Hook lived by that name for the rest of his life, with little confusion. The boy had two sisters, Lillian and Selma, and a brother, Herbert. (David, the first Hook child, died while still a toddler from an accident resulting in severe burns.) Brooklyn's Williamsburg district at the time was one of the worst slums in New York. The Hooks lived first on Bushwick Avenue and then Locust Street, occupying gaslit railroad flats in vermin-infested tenements and sharing bathrooms with others in their building. The family was forced to endure the seasonal periods of slack in the needle trades, sometimes going for three months without income. The only source of heat in the winter was a single coal stove in the kitchen.

In elementary school, Sidney and his friends formed a Jewish street gang and engaged in fistfights with Irish and Italian boys, perhaps steeling the young Hook for later rounds as an intellectual pugilist. He found his teachers and the curriculum at Public School 145 stultifying, but he compensated by making frequent visits to corner branches of the public library. By the age of eight he already needed spectacles to correct myopia and a squint that he had developed from reading in dim light during the evening. He was thrilled by American history and historical fiction, and he had patriotic fantasies of commanding battleships, winning the presidency, and becoming a general. He quickly acquired a grandiose and precocious vocabulary.

Many writers, noting the heavily Jewish composition of the New York anti-Stalinist left, have located the political and cultural predilections of the New York intellectuals--modernist, Marxist, cosmopolitan--in their ethnicity. Since all sectors of American radicalism in the twentieth century, from anarchism to Communism, have had Jewish adherents in proportions far beyond the percentage of Jews in the general populace, attempts to credit ethnicity for the special radical sensibility of the New York intellectuals are dubious. That many of the New York ensemble, including Dwight Macdonald, F. W. Dupee, and Edmund Wilson, were not Jewish further complicates things. The interpretation that Jewishness was the defining attribute of the New York circle ultimately forces its defenders to resort to pirouettes such as Irving Howe's deftly evasive remark that "by birth or osmosis," all were Jews.

Especially when compared with Howe, or Alfred Kazin, Sidney Hook was never especially preoccupied with his ethnicity or the New York Jewish experience (not in his writings, at least). He consciously rejected Judaic belief and practice at a very early age. Even as an adolescent he viewed Talmudic scholarship as mystical scholasticism, rejecting it as a viable release for his intellectual interests. Hook initially refused the bar mitzvah, only capitulating in the end to save his father and mother from the stigma of community disapproval. From this experience he discovered that he had no conventional religious faith, and he remained militantly secular for the rest of his life.

It might be said, however, that lack of faith is the definitive problem of the modern Jewish intellectual. Howe contends, too, that the Jewishness particular to the New York intellectuals was shaped by their standing as "the first group of Jewish writers to come out of the immigrant milieu who did not define themselves through a relationship, nostalgic or hostile, to memories of Jewishness." But these qualities obviously diminish the force of Jewishness as a defining factor in the thought of even those New York intellectuals who were Jews. Because of the origins of his parents, moreover, Hook was given to the German rather than the Yiddish phrase. He never displayed the intense personal sensitivity to issues of assimilation, tradition, and alienation that propelled even irreligious writers such as Howe to the study and interpretation of their culture and heritage.

Exposure to socialism came from beyond the family flat for the young Hook. His father, like many European immigrants thrust suddenly into a bewildering urban world, adopted fairly conventional political beliefs. In 1912, the heyday of the Socialist Party, when Socialist presidential candidate Eugene V. Debs received a higher percentage of the national vote than he or any other revolutionary socialist candidate achieved before or since, Isaac Hook supported Republican William Howard Taft on the grounds that he advocated a tariff that would benefit the needle trades. But as war loomed in Europe, the ethnic enclaves of the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn experienced a new wave of radicalism. Russian immigrants, remembering the czarist regime bitterly, tended to be skeptical of a war to make the world safe for democracy in which Russia was an ally. German immigrants, for their own reasons of background and ancestry, saw no reason for the United States to enter into a war against their homeland. Irish immigrants, too, were deeply suspicious of British war aims. Around this time Hook made a friend whose father, a skilled metalworker, often made sarcastic jokes at the expense of the rich. Soon Hook began to read socialist writings. By the age of thirteen he considered himself a socialist, and before long he was reading the Socialist newspapers avidly and had begun to delve into the writings of Karl Marx. He especially loved the fiction of socialist Jack London, whose novel Martin Eden (1909), the story of a working-class autodidact in San Francisco who becomes an ardent admirer of Herbert Spencer, whetted Hook's interest in philosophy.

In February 1916 Hook enrolled at the scholastically rigorous Boys High School, where his political adamance repeatedly landed him in hot water with teachers and administrators. Sender Garlin, a classmate in 1916 when both were fourteen years old, remembers Hook, his Adam's apple sticking out, arguing with right-wing classmates about capitalism. "How about poverty?" Hook would exclaim, pressing his point mercilessly. "How about misery? How about prostitution?" His adolescent dialectical skills, combined with his anti-war convictions, did not endear him to his stiff, formal teachers. One of them attempted to get Hook expelled by alleging that he had refused to sing "The Star-Spangled Banner" during a school assembly, though Hook denied the charge. In several separate incidents Hook was told by teachers to leave the room: once when he defended the conspirator Catiline against the Roman statesman Cicero; and once when his essay on the assigned topic "Love of Country" held that patriotism was a ploy of hypocrites and exploiters to stir an unsuspecting proletariat to war, making love of country "detrimental and derogatory to the progress and advancement of civilization."

In 1917 Hook was a campaign volunteer and soapbox speaker for the Socialist candidate for mayor of New York, Morris Hillquit. President Woodrow Wilson's push for American entry into the World War was a formative moment for Hook, who like most of the left opposed the war on revolutionary internationalist grounds, arguing that only a decisive working-class victory resulting in the abolition of capitalism could produce a lasting peace. In 1919, his senior year, Hook and several other radical students formed the Red and Black Party, a name that referred to school colors but also gave rise to fears of socialism and anarchism in the administrative corridors at Boys High. Meeting in the school's basement lunchroom and, occasionally, at the Brooklyn Socialist Party headquarters on Tompkins Avenue, the rebels drew up a program calling for representative student government and an aid fund for needy students--mild reforms already in place in some other New York City schools. In the election to the largely symbolic student activities board, the Red and Black Party slate did surprisingly well. Hook, given the nickname "Brainy" in its campaign literature, ran for president of the board and won a majority of the senior class vote, but the more easily intimidated younger classes sent the radical slate down to defeat by voting disproportionately for the superpatriotic Active Allies slate. The margin was narrow, as Hook got a total of 608 votes and the Active Allies candidate 821. The election attracted sensational attention from the Brooklyn daily press, which branded the Red and Black Party "Bolshevik" and raised the spectre of reds overrunning the schools. Boys High officials, braced by the newspapers' charges, took action: Hook and his comrades were blocked from Arista, the school's honor society, solely on the basis of their activities in the Red and Black Party. In retaliation, Hook wrote a letter that was published anonymously in the Socialist Party's New York Call, exposing the undemocratic practices of administrators. The Call published several successive articles, all of which kept their author's identity secret. Bravado characteristic of the fresh initiate to radicalism ran through the youthful missives. "Capitalism must indeed be on its last legs," Hook proclaimed, "if it is convulsed with fear when school boys voice their demands for the amelioration of conditions vitally affecting them."

During his City College years, 1919 to 1923, Hook kept his radical beliefs alive, but his activist orientation was gradually supplanted by a newfound engagement with scholarly philosophy. He had become interested in philosophy through the socialist movement--not through the rigid scholasticism of Boys High--so it was ironic that enhanced interest in philosophical scholarship would cause an ebb in his political activity. Initially, though, his activism continued unabated. City College during Hook's undergraduate years was not yet the legendary hotbed of socialist politics that it would become during the Depression years when Stalinists and Trotskyists would hold down their own cafeteria alcoves, but the thoroughly urban, largely immigrant, and predominantly working-class character of its students did leave room for a small campus left to operate, even in a period of deepening national reaction. As a freshman in 1919, Hook helped to organize a Social Problems Club, a group of socialist, communist, and syndicalist students who met, usually in secret, to share their excitement about developments in Russia, where the dual revolution of 1917 had replaced one of Europe's monarchical powers with the first lasting revolutionary socialist government in history. Hook was part of the club's dominant Communist tendency, led by a few older students, above all by one named George Siskind. Although the Social Problems Club had no perceptible contact with the national Communist movement, it considered itself Communist and collectively discussed V. I. Lenin's State and Revolution (1917). Even as the Red Scare heated up, Hook stayed the course. He passed out pamphlets on behalf of Upton Sinclair when it was announced that a City College journalism professor was going to give a talk denouncing Sinclair's piercing indictment of the American press in Brass Check (1919). On May Day 1921 Hook and his friend Sam Chovenson went to pick up some literature at the city headquarters of the Industrial Workers of the World and were apprehended in a surprise police raid, but the pair managed to escape by dashing out a rear door. The next year, when British philosopher Bertrand Russell (a thinker greatly admired by the undergraduate Hook) returned from a trip to the Soviet Union and reversed his previous endorsement of Bolshevism on the grounds that it was a threat to the heritage of Western civilization, a disappointed Hook sent him a letter suggesting that the inevitable wars of capitalism were far more destructive of art and beauty than any social revolution could be.

For the most part, however, traditional philosophical concerns came to absorb Hook's attention. City College was an intellectual hothouse, featuring a quality education for poor students, lack of "school spirit" in the conformist sense, and an openness to Jewish students unmatched elsewhere in higher education in a decade of rising xenophobia and anti-Semitism. A toll was undoubtedly exacted on Hook's political activism by his time-consuming jobs as a salesman at the City College Book Store and a hat checker at the Broadway Dance Casino in Brooklyn. But the academic environment of City College and the inspiration of his powerful mentor Morris Cohen were paramount in luring him from activism to scholarship.

Hook was not free from censorious treatment even at City College. He was driven from one government class for defending the rhetorical abilities of John C. Calhoun over those of Daniel Webster. "Young man!" the instructor thundered. "When you're not preaching sedition, you are preaching secession!" But Morris Cohen, one of only a few Jewish professors at an institution where the student body was overwhelmingly Jewish, was a paragon of independent thought. He left an indelible impression on his students, who remembered his mode of presentation more often than they adhered to his ideas. Literary critic Irving Howe once described a course with Cohen as "an experience of salutary terror." In the lecture hall Cohen would issue a question and then pounce on his students' answers, cutting them apart with even more precise questions. His hope was to deliver a sense of the grandeur and seriousness of unresolved issues, and he thought of himself as a "logical disinfectant," stimulating an appreciation for dissent and scrubbing out poorly formulated, one-sided ideas. Hook made some of his best friends at City College, including Ernest Nagel--a modest, quiet, extraordinarily intelligent student who would accompany Hook to graduate school in philosophy at Columbia and remain a friend for life, even though, as a lifelong liberal, he never took to Marxism. The friends began reading Cohen's published work outside of class so as to anticipate his line of questioning, which spared them from being called upon in the classroom but not from the professor's withering scrutiny in private sessions. Although Hook would later come to consider Cohen's educational method unnecessarily cruel, Cohen was the first of his teachers and professors to win Hook's deep respect. His own subsequent renown for skilled intellectual contentiousness surely owed something to his training under Cohen.

Like others, Hook was impressed by Cohen's cleverness and agility. Daniel Bell recalled that a student once asked Cohen to prove to him why he should study logic. "How will you know it is a good proof?" Cohen replied. In his writings, Cohen advanced a "principle of polarity," which held that the world was composed of opposites requiring each in order to exist. Ideal and real, universal and particular, actual and possible, objective and subjective: each element represented a partial, incomplete solution to the problem at hand; a desirable outcome would permit neither one victory. Cohen was at odds with Hegel and Dewey, whose philosophies would inform Hook's subsequent writings. Against Hegel, whose idealism posited that history was the unfolding of an idea, Cohen defended the naturalist position that thought interacts with a strictly physical external world. Against pragmatism, which contends that knowledge is created by humanity, subject to revision, and never fully descriptive of nature, Cohen posited the ontological existence of an innate logical order from which principles of human reason are deduced. Only constant logic, Cohen insisted, makes it possible for the mind to understand contingent matter.

Inspired by Cohen to pursue philosophy with intellectual rigor, Hook shelved activism for study. His grades in some subjects, particularly physics and chemistry, were poor, but he received several commendations for his efforts in philosophy, including the Ward Medal of Logic, presented to him after his success in Cohen's course "Logic and Scientific Method." A precocious undergraduate, he wrote letters to a number of leading philosophers of the day, from whom he received brief replies on technical points related chiefly to scientific method. Hook must have adopted Cohen's philosophical perspective rapidly, for by 1920 he had already written a somewhat convoluted paper that purported to refute pragmatism from a realist point of view.

Hook retained sympathy for Communism but found activism incompatible with scholarship. The bifurcation was reflected intellectually in his two debut articles, which were published in the philosophical journal Open Court. Appearing in 1922, when Hook was still an undergraduate, "The Philosophy of Non-Resistance" argued for revolution and against Tolstoyan pacifism. The philosophy of love and nonresistance, Hook wrote, was appropriate only to some circumstances: "The danger to society arises when the pragmatic criterion is not retained, when those modes of conduct which are adapted to specific situations are reified above the dialectical flow of natural and social forces." References to a pragmatic criterion, dialectical flow, and reification might seem the seedbed for a pragmatist Marxism, but Hook's second article revealed that the terms did not reflect a lasting synthesis. He had originally written "A Philosophical Dialogue" for Harry Overstreet, the head of City College's philosophy department and a Dewey enthusiast. Overstreet was amiable, but his intellect was insufficiently sharp to impress Hook and his friends. Hook's paper imitated the form of a Platonic dialogue. An imaginary Pragmaticus argues with a companion, Universalus, that philosophy should move from contemplation to practice. Universalus replies, "Were philosophy to readjust itself to your eloquent plea that it devote its energies primarily to the solution of pressing social and moral problems, then philosophy would no longer be philosophy but a phase of social science." In the end, Universalus emerges victorious and has the final say: a vague assertion that abstract thought can be removed from temporal concerns and yet offer intrinsic rewards.

John Dewey might have had no disagreement with the views Hook attributed to Universalus, but the young Hook clearly considered them a refutation of pragmatism. By counterposing contemplation to experience, Hook had in his writing, as in his life, made philosophy and politics divergent. His first article argued adamantly for the politics of forceful revolution, summoning to his defense philosophical arguments against quietism and supernaturalism. His second piece insisted that philosophy had a special obligation to remain aloof from worldly concerns. Hook thus simultaneously proposed a politics of revolution and a philosophy of disengagement. "My first impression was that your philosophy was a method to be summed up best in the term deductive logic," a friend wrote him in confusion after reading the two articles. "Then I thought you were a rationalist, then an idealist and now abacadabra--I give up." The incongruity was unlikely to endure.

From Cohen to Dewey, 1923-27

Although Hook would not reconcile his politics and philosophy for several years, he did move toward a more harmonious arrangement in the middle of the 1920s, when he shifted his philosophical allegiance from Morris Cohen to John Dewey. Hook graduated from City College with a degree in social sciences in February 1923 and was accepted for the Ph.D. program at Columbia University, which he planned to enter in the fall. That summer he taught elementary school at Public School 43 in Brooklyn, where he was assigned a class of undisciplined, overgrown sixth-graders who had been held back. Throughout his years at Columbia, Hook taught elementary school in Williamsburg during the day, and night classes in English to working adults at the Seward Park Evening School. Only in his last year at Columbia, when he received a tuition scholarship, was he able to drop the daytime teaching job. Because his demanding schedule left only late afternoons free for attending lectures, Hook at first took philosophy courses mainly from W. P. Montague, F.J. E. Woodbridge, and Irwin Edman. As soon as he could, however, he enrolled in courses taught by John Dewey, one of the foremost intellectuals, let alone philosophers, in America.

Dewey's pragmatism had its roots in late nineteenth-century American philosophy, especially the writings of Charles Sanders Peirce and William James. Beliefs are rules for action, the pragmatist theory of inquiry argues, and thinking is the production of habits for action. Our conception of an object, pragmatists maintain, is determined by our understanding of its potential effects. The coherence of any idea, therefore, is insufficient to judge the idea's veracity or "warranted assertibility" (the substitute term for truth that Dewey came to prefer because of its less absolutist connotations). Ideas must be verifiable in experience. Dewey, in fact, called pragmatism "experimentalism." This extension of basic scientific method into the realm of social and moral life he distinguished from preceding empiricisms by its emphasis upon creative thought in the generation of knowledge. Pragmatists contend that people are not mere creatures of physical or spiritual forces. Humans anticipate, aim toward, and thereby shape--to one degree or another--future outcomes. Since consequences cannot always be foreseen, pragmatism requires that all propositions be treated as hypothetical, fallible, and provisional. At the same time, classical pragmatists refuse to condone cynicism, skepticism, and nihilism; they strive to enhance self-critical intelligence and expand democracy.

Hook had first read Dewey's writings when they were assigned by Harry Overstreet at City College. He had been impressed by the similarity between Dewey's historical method in Reconstruction in Philosophy (1920) and Marx's historical materialism. In Reconstruction, Dewey traced the origins of philosophy--especially the dualistic tendency to pit concepts against each other as stark opposites, such as mind and matter--to the initial division of labor, when religion, myth, and historical memory came into conflict with and separated from technical knowledge. The conceit of philosophy, Dewey argued, was to try to resolve this contradiction by pursuing higher purposes and ultimate ends, allegedly timeless and supernatural, while denying the very real connection between philosophy and social development. "When it is acknowledged," he wrote, "that under disguise of dealing with ultimate reality, philosophy has been occupied with the precious values embedded in social traditions, that it has sprung from a clash of social ends and from a conflict of inherited institutions with incompatible contemporary tendencies, it will be seen that the task of future philosophy is to clarify men's ideas as to the social and moral strifes of their own day. Its aim is to become so far as is humanly possible an organ for dealing with these conflicts."

Reconstruction in Philosophy contained all the key elements of Deweyan pragmatism: the inseparability of knowledge from action; the testing of ideas in meliorative practice; the replacement of absolute universality and certainty with fallibility and provisional truth; the value of education; and the requirement of democracy for the all-rounded growth of individuals and social life. Dewey also refuted common misunderstandings of his ideas. He wrote, for example, that pragmatism "does not mean the lowering in dignity of philosophy from a lofty plain to one of gross utilitarianism. It signifies that the prime function of philosophy is that of rationalizing the possibilities of experience, especially collective human experience." Rather than dispense with morality, wrote Dewey, pragmatism would rescue morality from formalism by connecting it to actual life, with democracy as both the means and end of practice.

Though impressed by Dewey's social approach to intellectual history, Hook remained under Cohen's sway. He was especially unpersuaded by Dewey's theory of logic. In Reconstruction in Philosophy Dewey argued that logic is an account of the procedure of thought, the means of intentional reconstruction of experience, and thus neither simply empirical nor simply normative but both. Hook, following Cohen, saw logic instead as an immutable and fixed source of human reason. At Columbia, Hook would periodically interrupt the famous philosopher in the middle of his lectures to challenge him from the standpoint of Cohen. "It was only at the end of the year," Hook later recalled, "when I sat down to write a definite refutation of pragmatism, that I discovered to my astonishment, as I developed my argument, that I was coming out in the wrong place. Instead of refuting Dewey's views, I was confirming/them!" Hook's adoption of pragmatism was an intellectual, not a personal, conversion. Though congenial, Dewey lacked Cohen's charisma and was monotonous and dry at the lectern. But Hook decided that Cohen had misunderstood Dewey. For Dewey, "practical" was synonymous with "experimental," not "useful." Cohen's failure to perceive this basic distinction, Hook decided, had led him to the false impression that Dewey was arguing against the possibility of abstract thought. By early 1926 Hook had become a pragmatist.

He was also an outstanding student. Art historian Meyer Schapiro, then a brilliant undergraduate who was permitted to enroll in Columbia graduate courses, vividly recalled Hook's precocious behavior toward one of their professors in a seminar on the philosophy of science: "Sidney was always challenging him in the class, and it caused a lot of feeling, because his way of challenging the professor was rather graceless. But he made very good points. When this professor referred to some old philosopher, trying to quote him, Sidney would correct him. This happened a few times, and some of the students felt annoyed by Sidney's interventions, but his points were always interesting and well-taken." Hook won the respect of the entire department at Columbia, as he had at City College. He and Dewey established an especially loyal and close friendship that would extend, almost without antagonism, until the latter's death in 1952. Dewey treated Hook as an intellectual colleague, consulting with him on philosophical questions, sending him drafts of his books to read and criticize. Hook's devotion to Dewey, in turn, extended beyond the intellectual. When Dewey's wife died in the summer of 1927, Hook wrote to his mentor, "Let me assure you that there is at least one person, the warmth of whose affection for you is more `filial' than professional--who considers it an honor and delight to be of help to you in any way and at any time." Dewey, meanwhile, had a superlative admiration for his pupil, writing in a formal evaluation that Hook's "range of information in the history of thought ... was as broad, accurate, digested and lucidly expressed as that of any student I have ever seen examined." In a private 1927 letter to the social psychologist George Herbert Mead, Dewey wrote, "I almost feel I am ready to quit, as he has not only got the point but sees many implications I hadn't."

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