"I began this study with the conviction that some form or other of ethical naturalism could be made tenable, but after ten years of struggle with the problems involved I have become convinced that the basic program itself, not merely certain ways of carrying it out, is untenable...I like to think that the most important thing I have achieved is a somewhat novel but tenable theory of value..." – E.M. Adams, Ethical Naturalism and the Modern World-View
Welcome to the E.M. Adams website sponsored by the Program in the Humanities and Human Values of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and the Taylor Charitable Trust. The purpose of this website is to make available to interested persons the philosophical views of Elie Maynard Adams, Kenan Professor of Philosophy at UNC (B.A., University of Richmond, M.A., University of Richmond, Ph.D., Harvard University).
Adams was fortunate to have a gifted intellect that enabled him to rise above his modest early educational opportunities. In addition to his primary philosophical interests he also acquired a working knowledge of physics, chemistry, advanced mathematics and logic. His science-related aptitudes made naturalism a comfortable philosophical nest in his early years as a scholar. At UNC, however, after eight years of wrestling with his naturalistic world-view he finally concluded that he could not make naturalism square up with the common sense way in which we live everyday life. Ultimately, he forsook his naturalistic perspective for a richer, more comprehensive epistemology that embraced feelings and emotions as knowledge-yielding experiences—less precise than sensory experience in many instances, but nevertheless giving rational support to the truth or falsehood of value statements. In the end, as his biographer Glenn Blackburn puts it, “Adams pushed the Kantian project of developing a comprehensive world-view much further than Kant himself did.” Whether Adams succeeded in his quest for a tenable, systematic world-view will be decided on in the threshing floor of free and open debate for future generations of scholars. We hope this website helps serve that process.
In the items that follow in this website you will find a complete listing of his works—the majority of which are also available in full text—which give voice to the published expressions of Adams’ ideas, information on the Adams Essay Competition, and a registration and uploading portal for entering the competition. You may also find more information on Adams’ life and philosophy.