on the cover:
Ephraim E. Ericksen (1882-1967), professor of philosophy at the University of Utah, was one of the first Mormon intellectuals to take seriously the history and theology of his church. A believing yet thoughtful Mormon, he had little sympathy with what he saw as a testimony cult—a belief in insupportable doctrine for the sake of tradition—and feared that moral stagnation resulted from authoritarianism. He was committed to the dictum “The unexamined life is not worth living” and believed that the critical examination of religious thought is as important to intelligent men and women as scepticism is to scientific discovery. Despite his thirteen-year tenure on the general board of the LDS Church’s Mutual Improvement Association (MIA), Ericksen was censured by Mormon leaders following publication of his Psychological and Ethical Aspects of Mormon Group Life and his MIA manual Challenging Problems of the Twentieth Century. And because he continued to encourage thoughtful scrutiny of religion, he was later released as a priesthood instructor in his home congregation.
“Ericksen was in many ways ahead of his time. If he had not been in an out-of-the-way place like Salt Lake City and had not been tied in various ways to the Mormon Church, he would easily have been recognized as a national leader in philosophy. As it was, he became president of the American Philosophical Association, was well known in philosophy circles in the West, and had a powerful influence on his numerous students and colleagues and on the culture of which he was a part. He was a great man and a great teacher.” —from the foreword by Sterling M. McMurrin, E. E. Ericksen Distinguished Professor, University of Utah, and author of The Theological Foundations of the Mormon Religion and Religion, Reason, and Truth.
about the editor: Scott G. Kenney, a grandson of E. E. Ericksen, holds advanced degrees in American historical theology and in musicology. He helped found Sunstone magazine, served as publisher of Signature Books, Inc., from 1981 to 1984, and is currently the business manager and agent for Dennis Smith, a Salt Lake City-based sculptor and artist. He and his wife, Susan, have two children and reside in Highland, Utah.
The Autobiography of E. E. Ericksen
Edited by Scott G. Kenney
With a Foreword by Sterling M. McMurrin
Salt Lake City
Copyright 1987, Signature Books
Salt Lake City, Utah.
All rights reserved.
Printed in the United States of America.
Book and cover design by Legume & Associates
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Ericksen, Ephraim Edward.
Memories and reflections.
1. Ericksen, Ephraim Edward. 2. Mormons — United States — Biography. 3. Philosophers —
United States — Biography. 4. College teachers — United States — Biography. I. Kenney, Scott G., 1946 — II. Title.
BX8695.E75A3 1987 289.3’32’0924 [B] 87-23405
dedication page: To the descendants of E. E. Ericksen and Edna Clark
Foreword [see below]
Editor’s Introduction [see below]
Preface [see below]
01 – A Dane in Zion, 1882-1908
02 – The Sojourn in Babylon, 1908-1911
03 – The Apostle of Education, 1911- 1922
04 – A Philosopher Among the Priests, 1922-1935
05 – A Voice in the Wilderness, 1935-1954
Editor’s Afterword [see below]
Edna Clark Ericksen
Ericksen’s Religious Philosophy
Bibliography [see below]
by Sterling M. McMurrin
My association with Professor E. E. Ericksen lasted for over thirty-five years. During the year I was a fellow in the Department of Philosophy at the University of Utah, I had a desk and bookcase in Ericksen’s office and was with him daily. After I finished my studies at the university, I maintained a close association with him until his death in 1967. We spent literally thousands of hours together, discussing religious, moral, and philosophical subjects. Of all my teachers, Ericksen had the strongest impact on me personally and on my religious and philosophical views. I was also close to his wife, Edna, a beautiful and talented woman who made important contributions in civic areas and affairs of the LDS church.
Two factors were basic to Ericksen’s intellectual development: his Mormon upbringing, with its strong moralistic and practical character, and his graduate studies at the University of Chicago, where he was influenced by the moral philosophy of John Dewey. Dewey had already departed for Columbia when Ericksen arrived at Chicago, but his presence was still felt in the philosophy department. Ericksen was [p.x] particularly influenced by Dewey’s colleague, George Herbert Mead, and by James Hayden Tufts.
In fact, pragmatic philosophy and Mormonism had much in common. According to my own teacher, William Pepperell Montague, who was a close friend and colleague of John Dewey at Columbia, Dewey himself once said that Mormonism in many ways exemplified his philosophy on a large, practical scale. In the summer of 1936 or 1937, I observed a conversation between Ericksen and Dewey, following a lecture Dewey had delivered at the college in Logan, Utah, which confirmed my sense of Dewey’s influence on him. (That memorable occasion was the only time that I ever met John Dewey or listened to him lecture.)
Ericksen was not particularly distinguished as a philosophical scholar. He was well informed in the field but made no important contributions in technical areas. Nor was he an especially impressive lecturer, though his lectures were always substantial and worthwhile; and he depended on others to refine his compositions. But Ericksen was a great teacher. He powerfully affected his students and associates and without doubt influenced me more than any other teacher.
Ericksen’s strength as a teacher was in his capacity to inspire others to think, and to think carefully and critically. He engaged in endless give-and-take conversations and arguments with students on philosophical subjects—especially those crucial to moral behavior. Like most pragmatists, he was essentially a moral philosopher. He liked nothing better than to act as the Socratic midwife, helping students to arrive at their own ideas. He was fond of the Socratic aphorism, “The unreflective life is not worth living.”
Ericksen was a devout member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He was unorthodox in his theology and critical of the church in a constructive way, but he participated fully in his own [p.xi] university ward and served for a number of years as a member of the general board of the Young Men’s Mutual Improvement Association. Serving the young people of the church was one of his primary interests. Ericksen had some warm friends in the general leadership of the LDS church—and an occasional enemy. As he explained to me several times, one of those enemies in the Council of the Twelve Apostles managed to get him removed from the general board: the board was dissolved and reconstituted with all former members except for Ericksen and one or two others who were also out of favor.
For me, Ericksen was the leading figure among a group of impressive university and professional people who took an active interest in church affairs during the 1930s but did not hesitate to raise fundamental questions and speak their minds honestly. Needless to say, he was often criticized—and sometimes censured. At one time he went through what he called his “inquisition,” but I do not think his church membership was ever in jeopardy.
Ericksen’s best scholarly work was his doctoral dissertation at the University of Chicago, The Psychological and Ethical Aspects of Mormon Group Life, first published by the University of Chicago in 1922 and reissued by the University of Utah Press in 1975. This was one of the earliest scholarly treatments of Mormonism. It has worn well over the years and deserves to be widely read. It is a profound analysis of the character of Mormonism seen from a pragmatic social standpoint. Social Ethics, a volume which came out in the 1930s, is a very solid text, as well. And his occasional philosophical papers are impressive for their down-to-earth wisdom. Ericksen always entertained a strong interest in economics, even in his later years. However, that field passed him by during the years that he attended primarily to moral philosophy, but his treatment of ethical theory and moral practice always kept economic factors very much in the foreground.
[p.xii] Ericksen’s religious beliefs and philosophy more or less paralleled what in those days was considered good Mormonism—a somewhat naturalistic, materialistic, humanistic, and finitistic type of theism with a strong melioristic, moral foundation. His Mormonism also had a strong temporal quality, emphasizing development and pointing to the future. (I say that this was regarded as good Mormonism in those days because I understand that today some members of the LDS church lean toward a more orthodox Christian absolutism with a strong emphasis upon sin.)
In his conversation and writing on religion, Ericksen repeatedly returned to a distinction between “priests” and “prophets.” The priests were and are the conservative religionists who live by rule and ritual, their minds fixed on the historic past and the hereafter. The prophets are the “good guys” who liberate religion from rule and ritual, cant and hypocrisy, and who make it a creative adventure of the good life. Their minds are fixed on the future of this world. Ericksen paid much attention to the Old Testament in his courses on the history of morals, and in the major Old Testament prophets he found the standard against which he judged present religious leaders. Such thinking was common among liberal religious writers of his generation. Although the distinction was and is a useful one, I rather think that he overstated the distance between priests and prophets. The Book of Deuteronomy, for instance, one of the great works in the history of social, moral religion, was probably the product of Ericksen’s priests as well as his prophets.
In the context of such thinking, he was fond of saying, “Religion is a crusade, not a consolation.” This terse statement places him within the category of prophetic religion, succinctly summarizing his belief that religion must have a strong moral foundation. He often opposed an idea central to Schleiermacher and his school, that religion can be described as a feeling of dependence. He preferred a statement, which I believe comes from Matthew Arnold, “Religion is morality touched by emotion.” [p.xiii] He should be remembered for his definition of religion which appeared in his 1937 Social Ethics: “Religion is a way of life that is expressed on the inner or spiritual side as the purposive control of life and on the outer or social side as active participation in the promotion of the highest human values.”
I am afraid that Ericksen liked the idea of having disciples, something no philosopher should want. Thus I believe I disappointed him in his later years with my criticism of many facets of pragmatism. He knew that I was inclined toward a somewhat more mystical conception of religion that tended to distinguish rather severely between religion and morality.
True to his pragmatic inheritance, Ericksen was a strong empiricist. He had interest in logic and fully respected mathematics, those distinctly rationalistic pursuits, but he was opposed to a predominantly rationalistic treatment of philosophical problems. However, he was not a positivist. Although his work always exhibited the tendency toward skepticism characteristic of his species, he considered metaphysics a possibility if held within the bounds of empirical knowledge and supported by the methods or findings of science. He paid little attention to aesthetics and was not entirely at home dealing with the technicalities of epistemology. He was not acquainted with symbolic logic, but his work exhibited the influence of classical logic.
Though inclined away from both metaphysics and theology, Ericksen engaged in a metaphysics of his own. He was firmly committed to a materialistic conception of reality, which always seemed to me to reflect his Mormon upbringing. Unlike his early friend and mentor whom he greatly admired, the Mormon philosopher W. H. Chamberlin, Ericksen was not strongly attracted to Idealism. Chamberlin called himself a Realist, but he was much influenced by Josiah Royce and was more an Idealist than a Realist. Chamberlin was far more interested than Ericksen in [p.xiv] developing a systematic metaphysics and theology for Mormonism. In those days he was Mormonism’s most capable person in metaphysics. But he was more or less rejected by the church and died at a fairly early age. Ericksen, on the other hand, had more practical interests—social and personal ethics. Invariably his concern for theology and metaphysics was related to practical problems. Although Ericksen’s naturalism and materialism were basic to his philosophy, he was not atheistic. I always felt that there were strong marks of agnosticism on him, and he was skeptically inclined. But he was a genuinely devout person and was in no way an opponent of religious faith, nor was he negative toward organized churches. Rather his criticism was essentially positive and constructive.
Like empiricists generally, Ericksen held to a pluralistic conception of reality. Here again, his philosophy suggested his Mormon upbringing. He was clearly influenced by William James, chief enemy of the Absolute, agreeing with him that the world is not a single entity whose relations are internal to its structure but rather a collection of things and events which have realities as particulars and are related only externally. The world is a pluriverse, rather than a universe, and reality as well as value inheres in the individual. Like James, his moral philosophy was relativistic. And like James, he was allergic to the Absolute and to absolutism. These were the matters he emphasized in his teaching. With some embarrassment, I look back on the many hours Ericksen and I spent arguing the problem of moral relativism, since I was unable for some time to live with relatives rather than absolutes. Ericksen agreed with Dewey in his Quest for Certainty that the thirst for certainty in factual matters and the failure to be satisfied with probabilities rather than certainties produces absolutism, and some forms of absolutism produce tyranny.
[p.xv] Ericksen’s concept of reality led him to stress process—reality as becoming rather than being. I do not recall his paying much attention to the metaphysical writings of Alfred North Whitehead, but his disposition and temperament were clearly in the Whitehead direction. I rather think that if Ericksen were living today, he would favor the philosophy of Charles Hartshorne, which is a philosophy of process and becoming rather than substance and being. Ericksen’s theories of reality exhibit influences from Charles S. Peirce, Henri-Louis Bergson, as well as James and Whitehead. Here again his philosophical commitments are closely related to his version of Mormonism. His emphasis on event and becoming rather than on substance and being was also supported by his interest in evolution and the development of the species. He often referred to the genetic fallacy—judging a thing by how it originated rather than what it had become or was becoming.
However, such concerns were secondary. Ericksen’s primary interest was always ethics. He gave attention to ethical theory, particularly psychological and ethical hedonism and the formalistic ethics of Immanuel Kant. But he concentrated most of his time and energy as a teacher and writer on concrete personal, social, and moral problems. He was influenced by Dewey and Mead, who held that the individual person cannot be considered in isolation from his social context, that personality is largely a product of social environment, that there cannot be a genuine person in total social isolation. And again I felt that such beliefs were influenced to some extent by the strong social character of the Mormonism in which Ericksen was reared. He seems to have adhered to Dewey’s position that there is no substantive human nature. Rather the human person is susceptible to change through environmental influences. Of course, he recognized genetic inheritances, but his emphasis was always on the possibility of improving the quality of life and moral character through education.
[p.xvi] Ericksen often commented that the teaching of ethics carries with it the responsibility to improve the life of the individual and society. This is clearly exhibited in his book Social Ethics and in various published and unpublished papers. Of course, this attitude is consonant with his approach to the matter of prophetic religion, which he defined by referring to Old Testament prophets such as Hosea, Amos, Isaiah, and Jeremiah. I should say here that he regarded Mormonism as, in principle, a prophetic religion. Given his practical approach to ethics, he frequently objected to the formalism of Kantian ethics, insisting that what is good or bad, right or wrong, must be determined by considering consequences. Here he was fond of the British utilitarian definition of morality: the greatest happiness for the greatest number. But he always added “over the longest period of time.”
What counted for Ericksen in matters of morality was not simple adherence to abstract principle or casuistic rules but rather high motive, intelligent decision, and good results. He pounded endlessly on the importance of rationality and knowledge in moral behavior. To borrow a comment from one of my teachers, Heinrich Gomperz, referring to Johann Gottlieb Fichte, Ericksen was “a philosopher who philosophized with his fist on the table.” He had little use for sophisticated wranglings and endless linguistic and logical analyses, which even in his day were becoming characteristic of academic philosophy. Philosophy for him was the serious business of life, and he insisted that what went on in the classroom should make a difference in human disposition and behavior.
His courses at the university demonstrated this interest in concrete human problems. For example, his course on Social Ethics, one of the two most popular courses at the university (the other was Ralph Chamberlin’s course on evolution), dealt with problems relating to courtship and marriage. For this, he received considerable national notoriety [p.xvii] because such a thing in a department of philosophy was more or less unheard of in those days.
Ericksen established a strong philosophical tradition at the University of Utah, and for some years thereafter the Department of Philosophy was clearly the intellectual center of the university. His chief associates were Milton Bennion, dean of the School of Education, and Waldemer P. Read, Ericksen’s student and successor who faithfully followed the pragmatic philosophical line. They developed a curriculum which dealt with all of the familiar moral problems that have come to the forefront of attention in recent years—economic, political, and moral problems having to do with shortages of food, starvation, marriage and divorce, abortion, euthanasia, excessive litigation and lawyers’ fees, medical costs, authority and the individual, disarmament, and peace.
Ericksen was thus in many ways ahead of his time. If he had not been in an out-of-the-way place like Salt Lake City and had not been tied in various ways to the Mormon church and tradition, he would easily have been recognized as a national leader in his field. As it was, he became president of the American Philosophical Association, was well known in philosophical circles in the West, and had a powerful influence on his numerous students and colleagues and on the culture of which he was a part. I can only say again that he was a great man and a great teacher.
In 1965, two years before his death, the regents of the University of Utah bestowed on Professor Ericksen its highest honor: it created the E. E. Ericksen Chair of Philosophy. Mrs. Ericksen told me that soon after the regents’ action was announced in the press, an old friend called up and said, “Edna, about this chair for Ephraim—will it be up at the university or are you going to keep it at your house?” Thereafter, Mrs. Ericksen embroidered a handsome chair-cushion with the words “E. E. Ericksen Chair of Philosophy.”[p.xix]
by Scott G. Kenney
As children in the late 1950s we would sit on his knee and listen to outrageous stories about a fat man who let children play softball on his bald head or slide down his nose. Grandfather persistently tested our educational level with, “Can you spell ‘fat cat’?” At Christmas he told Danish stories about farm animals that talked on Christmas Eve. We would then each perform a musical number, recite a poem, or stand on our head, and he would scatter “chicken feed” (nickels, dimes, and quarters) around the living room floor, and we “chicks” would scramble after it.
A fall down the stairs in 1953 confined him to a wheel chair. Every morning Grandmother got him out of bed, dressed him, gave him breakfast, administered his insulin, and wheeled him into the library, where he would read and write or work at their new cottage industry—braided octopuses. (Grandmother hoped it would keep his fingers nimble.) His hearing aid never seemed to work quite right, and severe facial pains led to operations that severed nerves and left his speech slow and slurred. But he maintained a buoyant sense of humor; his bull-dog determination and pride in his family sustained him. Whenever any of us received [p.xx] public recognition, it was always, “Did you tell them whose grandson (or granddaughter) you are?”
I was sixteen when Grandfather, eighty-one, invited me to help edit his “Memories and Reflections.” His two-finger typing was awkward, his spelling atrocious, and his handwriting even worse. But his self-effacing manner, the candor of his recollections, and the expansiveness of his musings were appealing. And he had an interesting story. “I arrived in Utah,” he began, “on January 2, 1882, thirty-five years after Brigham Young and seventeen years after my father.… Brigham, Father and I, and a few others pioneered Cache Valley in northern Utah and later Preston, Idaho.”
Together we revised the first seventy pages—childhood in Preston, education in Logan, Utah, and Chicago, marriage to Edna Clark. Then his health and my interests in school and music intervened. The next year (1964-65), as a freshman at the University of Utah, I majored in philosophy. Grandfather was pleased to have a grandson taking classes from his “boys,” Charles Monson and Waldemer Read. By then he was nearly bed-ridden and often had difficulty expressing himself. I remember June 1965, listening with the family in the living room at “252” University Street to the radio broadcast of ceremonies attendant to the establishment of the first professorial chair at the University of Utah, the “E. E. Ericksen Chair of Philosophy.” Sterling M. McMurrin, former United States Commissioner of Education, would be the first E. E. Ericksen Distinguished Professor of Philosophy. This honor, and the respectful manner in which Monson, Read, and McMurrin spoke of Grandfather, made me begin to think there was more to the man I had first known as a loveable and entertaining grandfather.
A month later Truman Madsen, of the Brigham Young University philosophy department, mentioned that his father had served with E. E. Ericksen on the general board of the Young Mens’ Mutual Improvement [p.xxi] Association (MIA) of the LDS church and credited him with establishing the church’s recreation program. How odd, I thought. I had long known that Grandmother had been the creative force on the children’s Primary Board for the Trail Builder program, and I had heard that Grandfather had once served on the MIA Board, but it seemed so out of character to identify a philosopher with recreation.
Ten years later, while a student at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, California, I received a summer internship from the LDS church historical department to prepare a task paper on the history of the MIA. Leonard J. Arrington, at the time the official church historian, knowing of my interest in Ericksen, made available to me the YMMIA general board minutes and other sources. I also read the Ericksen memoirs from beginning to end, as well as Psychological and Ethical Aspects of Mormon Group Life, which was coincidentally reprinted that year (1975) by the University of Utah Press.
For the first time I saw Ericksen the churchman, Ericksen the crusader, and I began to understand why his students and colleagues revered him. Ericksen’s story is more than the rise of a Danish dirt farmer to university dean, more than the amiable, often entertaining, recollections of a thoughtful man.
At one level Ericksen’s story represents, even embodies, the perennial conflict between official Mormondom and its loyal opposition, the “intellectuals.” As with many who followed, Ericksen thought of himself as a loyal Mormon whose heresies were only a more enlightened version of Mormonism’s higher values. He was committed to the Mormon people and for fifty years sought to advance their moral, spiritual, and intellectual welfare.
Beginning with his 1918 doctoral dissertation Ericksen was openly critical of church business practices, authoritarianism, ritual, and dogma, and lamented the leadership’s apparent unwillingness to adjust their [p.xxii] thinking to the modern age. That a philosophy student at the University of Chicago should have had such views is not surprising, of course. But that one so persuaded should then serve four years as principal of a church academy and thirteen years on the YMMIA general board is unusual. But equally extraordinary, by late twentieth-century standards, is that the church would tolerate Ericksen—or any church official—proclaiming in the Tabernacle that Socrates, Plato, and Darwin “should be classed with the prophets of the Bible.” While serving on the MIA general board, Ericksen was quoted on the front page of the Ogden Standard Examiner as having said that the story of Adam and Eve had been replaced by the theory of moral evolution and “that moral values have come out of the earth and grown upward.” And Ericksen’s MIA manuals invited students to discuss such questions as, “Does religion have the responsibility to settle questions of scientific and intellectual character?” and “Which is more nearly the function of religion (a) to conserve inherited beliefs, (b) to promote new and more adequate scientific ideas, (c) [or] to employ new scientific and philosophical ideas in the interest of finer faith and more abundant living.”
Ultimately it was Ericksen’s progressive view of the church that led to his release from the MIA general board. Unlike some of his more orthodox colleagues, to Ericksen a “testimony” was a means, not an end. In his mind, an emphasis on divine origins and dogmatic authority fostered arrogance, ignorance, and mindless immorality. Ericksen emphasized the present and foreseeable future, with the authority of reason and observable results. He believed that instead of the “gospel once delivered unto the saints,” the church should focus on “a community living the finest sort of social life, considering the welfare of all its members,” inspired by a love of truth, beauty, and goodness, and characterized by free and open inquiry, critical thought, and social justice. He was convinced that music, drama, athletics, and other forms of [p.xxiii] recreation were as effective as more traditional church activities in building character and social solidarity.
Though he believed in a personal God, in a continuation of personality after death, and even in the prophetic nature of Joseph Smith’s career, Ericksen was a heretic. His was the language of the secular humanist, not the “true” believer, and he was released as teacher of his high priests group in 1940. For the next twenty years he was a respected, albeit controversial, critic-at-large.
But there is another, more personal, level of Ericksen’s story beyond the conflict of institution and intellectual. It is the conflict between emotional needs to belong, to be accepted, to be loyal; and needs for intellectual honesty, moral probity, and personal expression. It is a tension often experienced by those who “ride the edge of the herd,” thrown to the perimeter by personal insight, held there by centrifugal forces of family and social values. It mattered little to Ericksen personally whether Joseph Smith had gold plates or if Jesus literally rose from the dead, but even after his orthodox beliefs had given way to modern thought, his life was dominated by a profound sense of mission that was inextricably embedded in his Mormon identity.
For seventeen years (1911-15, 1922-35) the LDS church relied on his leadership and benefited from his commitment. To be turned out at age fifty-three, and again at fifty-eight, was an affront. He could intellectually understand the church’s actions, but he struggled to accept them emotionally. He was disappointed and hurt but would not abandon the fight. In lectures and papers, interviews and private conversations, he continued to champion the cause of social ethics, critical thought, and higher spiritual values.
There is an element of tragedy in Ericksen’s career, for he made [p.xxiv] choices consciously, with readily foreseeable consequences.1 He did not effect change in the church’s authoritarian structure or in its dogmatism, but he did create wholesome activities enjoyed by tens of thousands of young people; he wrote manuals which challenged the thinking of thousands, as well as books and articles which reached beyond his immediate audience; and perhaps as his greatest legacy, he taught students and inspired colleagues who in turn became prominent educators and influential men and women in Utah. As he portrayed Joseph Smith inspiring and being inspired by his people, so too Ericksen uplifted and was uplifted by his students and colleagues—Arthur Beeley, Lowell Bennion, Milton Bennion, Joseph Geddes, Boyer Jarvis, Sterling McMurrin, Charles Monson, Waldemer Read, Obert Tanner, Heber Snell, and many more.
Shortly after his retirement from the University of Utah, a friend stopped by to visit. Would Ephraim care to write something of his philosophy of life in his friend’s autograph book? Ericksen scribbled a few lines on a sheet of paper, copied them into the book and threw the scrap into the waste basket. Edna retrieved it:
I was in life’s swirling stream when I first discovered myself. And it was then too late for me to either reject life or accept it. I must confess, however, that although I have never become quite reconciled to its many frustrations and incongruities I should not complain. I have had a fighting chance to get some of the good things of life: health (not wealth), a little of the love of knowledge, friends and faith in the future. I love life, not because of its security and certainty but for the reason of its possibilities—and it is really exciting.
[p.xxv] In preparing Memories and Reflections for publication, I have reduced the length of the original manuscript by eliminating redundant and extraneous material and tightening the narrative. Since the original draft is available at the University of Utah, the published version focuses on Ericksen’s role in the intellectual history of Mormonism and omits much of the material of interest only to members of the Ericksen family.
Both as editor and grandson, my intent has been to provide a readable text faithful to the original. I have retained Ericksen’s folksy, conversational style, together with its sometimes dated expressions. For this is how I remember him best and how he would want it.
1. Ericksen certainly perceived William H. Chamberlin’s story, which in some respects paralleled his own, as tragic. He no doubt felt “rejected by his own” from time to time; and his long-time colleague Waldemer Read titled his 1965 tribute to Ericksen after the saying, “A prophet is not without honour, save in his own country, and in his own house.”
by Ephriam Edward Ericksen
This brief sketch of my life is written at the request of members of my family and a few friends. Not that they are much interested in what I have done or thought or said, but for my own entertainment, knowing that a man of seventy-three years does find some pleasure in talking about himself, and being aware also of my inability to travel far beyond 252 University Street. Writing with my two fingers may also be an outlet for an accumulation of energy.
Of course an autobiography does give a man a chance to lie about himself, since such literature is permitted to get by without documentation. But to falsify one’s past behavior is not to be condemned altogether, for it is human and natural. Men forget those things they are ashamed of and magnify those of which they are proud. In my case, the one cancels the other, leaving me neutral. I am neither too proud nor unduly ashamed of myself. Therefore, whatever I say about myself should be reliable, impartial, and objective.
Now, there is another thing you should have in mind as you read these pages: This is the first and last draft. Nothing repeated, nothing deleted, no changes, no additions, with the highest admiration for the [p.4] King’s English, Christian ethics, Mormon theology, American democracy, and pragmatic philosophy. This time I shall have my own way, for this is my “Last Will and Testament.” For once and for all time I must reveal myself as I am. This time the errors reveal the truth.
Salt Lake City, Utah
24 July 1954
In 1959 he received the Utah Academy’s Distinguished Service Award. In presenting the award, Milton R. Merrill concluded:
Courage in the search for truth—this is the vital message of Dr. Ericksen. It is this remarkable combination of mind and character that lifts up the hearts and spirits of all who know him. We recognize the intelligence and the scholarship, but we are moved by the hard core of integrity which is also Ephraim Ericksen.… Dr. Ericksen stands today as one of the noblest [p.136] examples of what the search for truth can be in our personal lives, and what one dedicated spirit can do in influencing the social order for good.
Cataracts slowed progress on his Mormonism manuscript, and Ericksen’s interests increasingly centered on the achievements of his children and grandchildren. Intense facial pains, which had begun in 1955, required numbing alcohol injections and ultimately the severing of the trigeminal nerve, which permanently affected the left side of his face. “I am now a two faced man,” he wrote. “Feel on one side and think on the other. I never did care much for a two-faced guy, but now that it has become me, I’ll stand back of it” (EEE to Pat, 15 April 1962).
Throughout the late 1950s Ericksen continued to attend church:
My Church duties are few but important. I go to High Priest meetings about once a month and with proper humiliation and faith give the brethren a bit of true Christian philosophy. In the same spirit they listen attentively, yet prefer “to remain on the Lord’s side.” The class teacher [who] is also my block teacher, visits me at least once a month, and in the kindest spirit of the gospel provides me with insight into the deepest theology of Mormonism. To all of this I listen and return to him measure for measure of my own FOOLosophy (EEE to Alma, 18 Oct. 1955, EFP).
In November 1964 the University of Utah established the E. E. Ericksen Chair of Philosophy. On 2 June 1965 we gathered at the Ericksen home to listen to the proceedings over the radio. Sterling M. McMurrin delivered the inaugural lecture, “Ideas and the Processes of History,” and Waldemer Read presented a tribute, “Not Without Honor.” In Ericksen, Read began, “life is moved by religion and lighted by philosophy.” Many students “suffering soul-shock from encounters with scientific findings and items of history” at odds with their religious traditions found healing and encouragement in his question, “Surely, you don’t suppose the Lord objects to our knowing and believing the truth do [p.137] you?” For many years Ericksen’s “liberating realization” that science and religion need not fight “was one of the great and important facts about the University of Utah.”
At eighty-two Ericksen was beginning to experience periods of vagueness and confusion, which was a great frustration to him. But the inauguration of the chair lifted his spirits. “This is about the highest honor that could come to any professional man,” he told Edna. “I feel most gratified to be honored this way by my colleagues who know me best. It almost leads me to believe that I haven’t been such a bad guy after all” (ECE note, 16 Nov. 1964).
During his last two years he was bed-ridden and frequently in severe pain. One day Edna recorded the following conversation:
“Dear, can’t I give you a little tea or something?”
“Goodness no, no. I don’t want to even think of food for forty days and forty nights. Now that ought to reduce the cost of living.” And after a pause, “This getting ready for eternity is a helluva job.”
Ephraim Edward Ericksen passed away 23 December 1967, nine days before his eighty-sixth birthday. Sterling McMurrin’s eulogy best expressed his mentor’s contribution:
Ephraim Ericksen was a great and good man who lived a long and full life—a life that was filled with love and affection, with service and useful action, with devotion to duty, with intellectual and moral adventure, a life directed by a high commitment to moral purpose.…
In his advanced studies he was profoundly affected by the empirical philosophic traditions and by the pragmatic thought of William James, John Dewey, and George Herbert Mead. But for him the naturalism, humanism, materialism, and moralistic character of the pragmatic philosophy were essentially compatible with the spirit and substance of his own religious faith, which had never discriminated the spiritual from the natural and material. They served to strengthen that faith, to bring it to a critical confrontation [p.138] with itself, and to give it a moral energy and fervor that persisted to the time of his death. More than anything else, it was this remarkable moral vitality that characterized the thought, conversation, and action of Ephraim Ericksen—an impassioned moral earnestness, a kind of puritan moral religion which he imparted to his family and friends and impressed, sometimes indelibly, upon his students and associates.
Though his thought and concern reached beyond the limits of parochial religion and his vision was truly ecumenical, Professor Ericksen had a great love and devotion for his own Church. He served it faithfully for many years and felt himself to be a part of it. He wanted desperately for it to have the best that human effort and talent could bring to it. He saw his Church as a living community which ideally might move toward the promise of the Kingdom of God where human freedom could be achieved in genuine personal relationships. But he hated moral and intellectual dishonesty; he was an enemy of deceit and hypocrisy in all their ugly forms; and he fought courageously and incessantly against the dead hand of the entrenched institutionalism which thwarted moral progress and against those defenders of orthodoxy who were afraid of critical thought and creative ideas. He was the foremost philosopher of his Church and he brought to it a prophetic message—that religion must be one with the life of reason and the quest for the highest good.
A grandson cannot be an objective critic, but my sense is that however Ephraim Ericksen’s contribution may be evaluated by future generations, it will probably be in terms of his life rather than his thought. He was not a great academician; not an innovative thinker, or a talented writer. But he was an outstanding teacher. He was intolerant of religion as a testimony cult, insisting that a man’s worth be measured not by professions of faith but by the difference he made in the world.
For thirteen years Ericksen played on Mormonism’s first string. He took a stand on the side of critical thought and social consciousness. [p.139] When benched, he kept coming to the game, not as an embittered spectator, but as an understanding, patient coach. Near the end of his life he described in a one-page statement the role of the prophetic philosopher:
There are philosophers who believe it their obligation not only to examine religious beliefs, moral standards, and social institutions, but also to evaluate them in the light of present conditions and point out the direction of religious thought and social possibilities.… Although the philosophers do not “preach,” and make no pretensions of authority.… they do teach the youth of the church the principles of scientific methods, principles of ethics, logic, metaphysics.… Their methods and scientific ideas and philosophical principles affect the basic assumptions of Mormon orthodoxy. They may not claim supernatural insight or power. They may even hesitate to say that they speak for God, but in their own heart of hearts they believe they do.[p.143]
ACL Avery Clark Lambert
ECE Edna Clark Ericksen
EEE Ephraim E. Ericksen
EFP Ericksen Family Papers (in possession of the editor)
LDSCA Archives, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Salt Lake City, Utah
n.d. no date of publication given
UP university press
YLMIA Young Ladies’ Mutual Improvement Association
YMMIA Young Men’s Mutual Improvement Association
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