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UVa-Wise senior scholar profiles Southern philosopher in new book

Maynard Adams, a major intellectual figure of the second half of the 20th century, is the subject of a new book penned by Glenn Blackburn, a professor of history emeritus and senior scholar at The University of Virginia’s College at Wise.

Blackburn’s book, “Maynard Adams: Southern Philosopher of Civilization,” portrays Adams as a profound philosopher and civic humanist. Adams, born in 1919, was a professor at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. He died in 2003, but his philosophy continues to inspire others.

“I got interested in the man some 15 years ago,” Blackburn said. “I met him at Chapel Hill in 1996 and I found his philosophy very intriguing. He worked out his own philosophy, which is very rare.”

BlackburnbookAdams is credited with developing 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 individuals can gain knowledge about the dimensions.

In the book, Blackburn says one of the “great powers of Adams’s thought is his development of a new intellectual synthesis that responds to the contemporary historical situation.” According to Blackburn, Adams “shows a new way of knowing value and meaning reality and therefore demonstrates that through critical reasoning we can restore our confidence that value and meaning are in the world.”

Born in Halifax County, Virginia, Adams spent much of his youth doing manual labor on the family farm. Blackburn draws clear connections between Adams’s experiences on the farm and the philosophy he developed in later years.

Adams contended that philosophers should leave their ivory towers and engage in “cultural criticism” in order to improve and invigorate the ideas and values by which people guide their lives. Blackburn writes that Adams has a persuasive argument that modern civilization is “naturalistic” in that modern people increasingly believe that the only reality is revealed by sensory experience. The result is modern civilization is economically and militarily impressive but has lost touch with “value reality” and “meaning reality” and has no intellectual or spiritual foundation.

Blackburn writes that Adams was a civil humanist who helped inspire and found several philosophical and educational organizations, such as the Program in the Humanities and Human Values at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, that continue to influence thousands today. He earned his undergraduate and master’s degrees from the University of Richmond, a divinity degree from Colgate-Rochester Divinity School and a second master’s degree and a doctorate from Harvard University. He wrote, co-authored or edited 12 books and more than 100 scholarly articles and reviews.

Blackburn taught at UVa-Wise for 31 years and was also dean of faculty for five years. He is a senior scholar at UVa-Wise.

“Maynard Adams: Southern Philosopher of Civilization” is published by Mercer University Press and is available for purchase at various online bookstores such as Amazon.com. Blackburn’s book will also be available for purchase soon at the UVa-Wise Bookstore.