Healing Hypotheses


1. The Problem of the Study

This book is a prolegomenon to the study of (1) the early philosophy of Horatio W. Dresser (1866-1954) as it relates to New Thought and of (2) the philosophical foundations of New Thought, especially as they relate to Dresser. New Thought is a philosophical-religious movement that originated in nineteenth century America and is dedicated in large measure to the remedying of illness and other human difficulties through nonphysical means.

Since both the thought of Dresser and New Thought have largely the same background, are concerned with the same problems, and--to an extent to be seen--overlap in classification, one cannot deal fully with either Dresser or New Thought without considering the other.

Part of the problem of this study is to indicate some of the complexity of the situation regarding Dresser and New Thought. Both Dresser and New Thought lie in a neglected area of the history of American philosophy. That this area is part of the history of American philosophy is a portion of what is to be shown below. The description of certain areas of thought makes it apparent that they have a place in that history. These areas include materialistic speculation of mesmerism, largely as seen in the thought of John Bovee Dods; the idealistic reaction of Phineas Parkhurst Quimby to such speculation; the originally Swedenborgian development of Quimby's insights by Warren Felt Evans; the pantheistic final development of the Evans thought, which, with similar thinking and the practice of it, came to be known as New



Healing Hypotheses

Thought; and the academically-guided Dresser philosophy, which was critical of New Thought yet sympathetic to it. Inasmuch as one cannot find much of immediate help in this field of inquiry in histories of philosophy, a significant part of the present task is to provide background information. The whole study may be considered as a presentation of background information to serve as a foundation for any later investigations, so that they can take for granted what is given here.

While this study is all foundation, some of its material may be considered footings beneath the cellar walls. Such material is included largely in appendices, where it does not interfere with the presentation of the basic outline of philosophical history.

2. Definition

New Thought, already characterized in a preliminary way and to be dealt with at considerable length below, is used without intent wholly to exclude Dresser's thought from it, but as a matter of convenience is used, in connection with references to Dresser's thought, as a body of thought contrasted with Dresser's thought; it will be seen that his may be considered a minority (nonpantheistic) view within New Thought.

3. Limitations

With regard to New Thought and Dresser's thought, this study is not an exhaustive examination of either, but is a consideration of each in relation to the other, to the extent necessary to understand their common ground and differences.

Healing Hypotheses


With regard to Dresser, this limitation means that the study is centered on his early thought, of the closing years of the nineteenth century and the opening years of the twentieth century. However, to avoid an arbitrary cutting short of the bibliography and the summary of his life, these sections include years beyond the scope of this study. In these sections one sees something of Dresser's Swedenborgian and psychological interests.

The question of the genuineness of phenomena of healing and extrasensory perception is not examined. It simply is recognized here that claims of such happenings have been made and views developed on the basis of belief in the genuineness of such phenomena.

4. Previous Research in the Field

Research for this study has failed to disclose more than occasional brief references to the philosophy of Dresser. While New Thought has received some attention, it generally has been in connection with other varieties of thought. Reference to the bibliography should be of help to anyone seeking such material.

Here it seems worth mentioning Dresser's New Thought history.1 This pioneering treatment of the topic will remain indispensable, especially for indicating Dresser's reaction to the matters with which he deals.

A forthcoming [1963] New Thought history by Charles S. Braden should be of immense value. Some parts of it that he has been so kind as to lend in an exchange of information are of great interest from the standpoint of the history of New Thought organizations. The extent to


1 Horatio W. Dresser, A History of the New Thought Movement (New York: Thomas Y. Crowell Company, 1919).


Healing Hypotheses

which the book will deal with philosophy is not apparent from the parts read.

5. The Methodology of the Study

The procedure followed in preparing this study has been to rely primarily on writings of Dresser and the others treated here. In addition, this has been supplemented by personal interviews and letter writing.

The work is divided into parts that present (1, Chapter II) an introduction to American thought lying in the background of New Thought, (2, Chapter II) the immediate foundation of New Thought and (3, Chapter IV) Dresser's life, thought, and relationship to New Thought. The second and third of these may be summarized in terms of the following steps:

1. Religious healing that served at least as something of a continuing inspiration and reason for exploring possibilities of healing.

2. Mesmerism, which included phenomena of healing and extrasensory perception, and commonly was believed to be attributable to the flow of an invisible fluid from mesmerist to his subject. This was a materialistic explanation. John Bovee Dods is set forth as a man who followed this general line of thought, but at the same time emphasized the importance of mind and of consciously dealing with disease by mental methods.

3.   The reaction against the fluidic explanation by Phineas Parkhurst Quimby, who maintained that "mind acts on mind" and that in his healing without use of mesmerism "the explanation is the cure."

4. The recognition by Warren Felt Evans of the importance of the Quimby views and of the ability of others to apply the Quimby method of healing. Evans proceeded to interpret the healing phenomena in terms of his own Swedenborgian beliefs. Gradually he grew away

Healing Hypotheses  


from Swedenborgianism, and adopted a pantheistic philosophy that came to be known as New Thought.

5. The carrying on of the Quimby views by the parents of Horatio Willis Dresser, and the differing views of Dresser and New Thought. Dresser began with pantheism, but became increasingly dualistic. By contrast, New Thought is seen to have been influenced little or none by Dresser's later views, and remains pantheistic.

Back | Contents | Next