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Encyclopedia > David L. Norton

David Lloyd Norton (March 27, 1930- July 24, 1995) was an American philosopher. He was born in St. Louis, Missouri, March 27, 1930, to Cecil V. Norton and (Adelene) Ruth Essick Norton. He was the brother of Douglas C. Norton (b. 1945) of Norton's Fine Art in St. Louis. A philosopher is a person who thinks deeply regarding people, society, the world, and/or the universe. ... Nickname: Gateway City, Gateway to the West, or Mound City Location in the state of Missouri Coordinates: Country United States State Missouri County Independent City Mayor Francis G. Slay (D) Area    - City 66. ...

David L. Norton (1976)
David L. Norton (1976)


Studies, Family and Early Career

Norton earned a Bachelor's degree in Civil Engineering from Washington University in St. Louis in 1952. In 1953 he married Joan Marie Carter of Webster Groves, Missouri, and in 1954 their first child, Anita Lee Norton (later Kronsberg) was born. During these years Norton also served as Associate Leader of the St. Louis Ethical Society. He and his wife lost an infant daughter, Nancy Ann, to crib death (or sudden infant death syndrome) in 1959. In 1961 Norton and his wife adopted an infant son, whom they named Ronald Vallet Norton. The Falkirk Wheel in Scotland. ... Washington University in St. ... Webster Groves is a city located in St. ... The Ethical Culture Movement is a non-sectarian, ethico-religious and educational movement. ...

After working as a civil engineer in California, Norton returned to Washington University to study philosophy, earning a Master's degree in 1962. He then took up doctoral work at Boston University, earning his Ph.D. in 1968. While in Boston, Norton served as Leader of the Boston Ethical Society. His second son, Peter D. Norton, was born in Boston in 1963. His dissertation was "Transcendental Imagination: A Post-Kantian Appraisal." To meet Wikipedias quality standards, this article may require cleanup. ... For the unrelated Jesuit university in Chestnut Hill, see Boston College. ... The Ethical Culture Movement is a non-sectarian, ethico-religious and educational movement. ...

In 1966 Norton moved with his family to Newark, Delaware, to serve on the faculty of the University of Delaware's philosophy department. In 1968 he began an affair with a twenty-year-old undergraduate student. They planned a new class called "Philosophies of Love," which they taught together. In 1970 Norton left his family to marry her. They had two sons, Tucker (b. 1971) and Cory (b. 1976). Main Street is the commercial heart of Newark. ...

Besides his five children (named above), Norton's descendents include three grandchildren: Rachel Kronsberg (b. 1980), Will Norton (b. 1998), and Paul Norton (b. 2000).

The Philosopher

Norton taught at the University of Delaware for 29 years. In 1976 Princeton University Press published his book Personal Destinies: A Philosophy of Ethical Individualism, which received wide notice. His next book, Democracy and Moral Development, was published by the University of California Press in 1991. In 1995 Norton succumbed quickly to cancer, dying July 24. His final book, Imagination, Understanding, and the Virtue of Liberality, published by Rowman and Littlefield, appeared soon after. The University of Delaware (UD or UDel) is the largest university in the state of Delaware. ...

In the last of the major works listed above, Norton summarized his three books' related purposes. In Personal Destinies, he "addressed the fundamental moral question, What is a worthy life for a human being?" In Democracy and Moral Develeopment, he took up "the inescapable correlative, What is a good society?" Finally, in Imagination, Understanding, and the Virtue of Liberality, Norton asked "what kind of world can productively accommodate a plurality of good societies?" and identified the traits of character required of individuals who would promote it.

As an academic philosopher, Norton was unusual for devoting his attention to the fundamental and practical problems of the life well lived. For his inspiration Norton turned chiefly to the Greeks, and especially to the dialogues of Plato. He called himself an ethical individualist, seeing a harmony between the individual's fidelity to his own "personal destiny" and the fulfillment of society's collective needs. Norton was, in other words, an individualist who nevertheless agreed that man is a social animal. The man who is best able to serve society, he believed, is the man who is true to his own inner excellence (arete). For other uses, see Plato (disambiguation). ...

This is to say that Norton was a eudaimonist. He held that within each person is an innate potentiality (his daimon, or soul), and that each person's life task is to discover it and actualize it. This conviction shaped Norton's views on the distinct purposes of each of life's stages, on the proper roles of parents and schools, and on the best social and political arrangements.

In a late essay, Norton put his philosophy in succinctest terms: "There is a distinctive course of life that is right for each individual, amid countless possibilities. This is the individual's vocation, variously termed his or her 'genius,' 'daimon,' 'Buddha nature,' or 'atman.' It consists in innate potentialities that predispose persons to a particular direction in life. As distinguished from other possibilities, the actualization by an individual of his or her potentialities affords intrinsic rewards to that person—that is, the activity is personally fulfilling and satisfying. Self-knowledge, then, is knowledge of the activities, situations, and relationships that the individual experiences as intrinsically rewarding. Engaged at these, the individual invests the best of himself or herself and strives continuously to improve, while in the process contributing objective values to others." ["Education for Self-Knowledge and Worthy Living," in Howie and Schedler, eds., Ethical Issues in Contemporary Society (Southern Illinois University Press, 1995)].

The Man

Norton was an enigma. Integrity was the cardinal virtue in his philosophy—and from some perspectives Norton was himself an example of rare integrity. The journal Reason Papers dedicated its fall 1995 number to Norton, declaring that "He lived his philosophy through and through. He was the lone heroic figure to some of us on the contemporary phiosophical landscape, a rare giant in a land of far too many clever, sophistic but soulless dwarfs." Soka Gakkai International eulogized in similar terms: "Many people talk about philosophy, but few actually apply it to their life. The late Dr. David L. Norton ... practiced what he preached and who lived according to his convictions."[1] There is truth in these assessments, particularly in connection to the conduct of his career. Norton tried several vocations in his youth, boldly setting out on new, uncertain ventures when the safer path beckoned. Most notably, he traded in a hard-won start as a civil engineer to begin again as a philosopher, jeopardizing his immediate and long-term security.

In other respects, however, and to those who knew him best, Norton could seem to be his own best example of the double life. In his personal life he seemed to be in important ways at odds with his own dicta, for example that "Achievement of the moral virtue of integrity is central to every individual's self-responsibility because self-actualization demands it, and because it is the deep foundation of the basic honesty that social existence requires" (Democracy and Moral Development, ch. 7). Norton nevertheless lived much of his life in a state of implicit dishonesty.

This element is most conspicuous in his desertion of his wife and three children in 1969-70, and in his subsequent relationship to his children. In a perhaps revealing passage, Norton in a late essay wrote that "the prevalence among us of what is termed 'midlife crises' reflects, I think, some measure of regret in persons regarding some of their life-shaping choices" ("Education for Self-Knowledge and Worthy Living"). But Norton exacerbated the aftermath of his "mid-life crisis" through a flight from its consequences. His wife was raising their children (ages 15, 7 and 5) when he left them all to begin a new life. She had steadfastly supported him through the relocations and financial privations of his evolving early career—and had thereby, more than any other person besides his own parents, made his career possible. By the terms of his own philosophy, those further along the road to "self actualization" owe those who are just beginning a careful attention to the conditions they need to make their own way—and, to a parent, this obligation is keenest to his child. But after his divorce Norton worked to limit his contact with his first three children, and to redefine his relationship and obligations to them in non-parental terms. This continued even after their mother died in 1972.

At least in part, Norton was struggling to appease the jealousy of his second wife, who insisted on keeping his first marriage a secret—even from their own two children. To friends, and even to their children, Norton and his second wife presented a false front. He struggled for his last 25 years with his second wife's mental illness, which manifested itself most obviously in pathological rages, and he found it necessary to appease her even at enormous cost. In 1994 he privately characterized her as a "policeman" who could be eluded but not defied.

In his last winter (1994-1995), Norton, to his credit, appeared ready to take on these problems. He worked to repair old, deception-damaged ties, even to the point of planning a return trip to St. Louis with his second son. He had taken the first bold step in this new direction when cancer struck him down.

Norton's own philosophy recognized "duplicity" as a "hallmark of human nature," and saw in it the ultimate threat to the life well lived (Personal Destinies, ch. 1). The epigraph to Personal Destinies is an appeal from Socrates to unite "the outward and inward man." And in his career Norton did give what were indeed his best gifts to offer. But belatedly, Norton recognized the duplicity in his personal life and began to remedy it. His philosophy had long made made room for such reassessments. "Philosophy will sometimes present an individual with features of his acts and principles that horrify him," he wrote in 1976, "producing in him an exchange of principles and patterns of behavior" (Personal Destinies, "Unscholarly Epilogue"). This horror visibly struck Norton in his last winter. Time allowed him only to begin the consequent "exchange of principles and patterns of behavior." In this beginning, however, "the outward and the inward man" at last turned to face each other eye to eye.


• "Beloved Pan, and all ye other gods who haunt this place, give me beauty in the inward soul; and may the outward and the inward man be at one." —Personal Destinies: A Philosophy of Ethical Individualism (1976), epigraph; quoting Socrates in Phaedrus.

• "In pre-Hellenic Greece, sculptors made busts of the semi-deity Silenus that had a trick to them. Inside the hollow clay likeness was hidden a golden figurine, to be reveled when the bust was broken open. .... Each person is a bust of Silenus containing a golden figurine, his daimon. The person's daimon is an ideal of perfection—unique, individual, and self-identical. It is neither the actual person nor a product of the actual person, yet it is fully real, affording to the actual person his supreme aim and establishing the principle by which the actual person can grow in identity, worth, and being." —Personal Destinies, ch. 1.

• Of "the reader's intimation of his own unique, irreplaceable, potential worth": we are charged "each of us to trust this intimation, and at the same time to undertake the labor required to render it trustworthy." —Personal Destines, "Unscholarly Epilogue."

• "From the humanistic standpoint a philosophy that seeks converts is a contradiction in terms. The function of humanistic philosophy is not to impose invented forms upon human life, but to elicit and clarify the forms the lives of persons implicitly possess." —Personal Destinies, "Unscholarly Epilogue."

• "The integral individual ... is undiverted from the purpose that is incribed in his existence—to become the person he potentially is and to cultivate the conditions by which others may do likewise." —Personal Destinies, "Unscholarly Epilogue."

• "Human being is problematic being; to be a human being is to be at bottom a problem to oneself, specifically an identity problem. It is the problem of deciding what to become and endeavoring to become it." —Democracy and Moral Development (1991), introduction.

• "Those who accepted classical liberalism's invitation also incurred great costs, for with it they accepted an economistic conception of self and society that has by its moral minimalism rendered invisible the large demands and rewards of worthy living." —Democracy and Moral Development, ch. 7.

• "Where others' truths and values are incommensurable with our own, recognition and appreciation of them as the truths and values they represent require that we lend ourselves to the viewpoint of those whose truths and values they are—we exchange our perspectival world for theirs—by the exercise of transcendental imagination." —Imagination, Understanding, and the Virtue of Liberality (1996), ch. 4.

• Autonomy is not "total self-sufficiency" but "the entitlement of each interactive entity to determine for itself what its contributions to others will be and, likewise, to determine for itself what use it will make of the self-determined contibutions of other entities." —Imagination, Inderstanding, and the Virtue of Liberality, ch. 4.

• "Integrity ... is the achievement of the internal order that renders persons effective at doing what they set for themselves to do. It becomes a moral virtue on the premise that for every person there is important moral work to be done." —"Education for Moral Integrity," 1994.

• "Integrity means honesty. We typically associate honesty with truth-speaking, but what is required for integrity is truthful living, understood as living in truth to oneself, and thereby also to one's commitments to other persons." —"Education for Moral Integrity."



Imagination, Understanding, and the Virtue of Liberality (Rowman & Littlefield, 1996).

Democracy and Moral Development (University of California Press, 1991). Personal Destinies: A Philosophy of Ethical Individualism (Princeton University Press, 1976).

Japanese Buddhism and the American Renaissance (in English and Japanese editions; Tokyo: Institute of Oriental Philosophy, 1993).

Articles and Book Chapters

“Moral Integrity, Organizational Management, and Public Education,” International Journal of Public Administration 17, no. 12, pp. 2259-2284.

“Education for Self-Knowledge and Worthy Living,” in John Howie and George Schedler, eds. Ethical Issues in Contemporary Society (Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1994), ch. 6.

“Education for Moral Integrity,” in Dayle M. Bethel, ed., Compulsory Schooling and Human Learning: The Moral Failure of Public Education in America and Japan (San Francisco: Caddo Gap Press, 1994), ch. 1.

“Parents as Learning Enablers,” in Bethel, Compulsory Schooling, ch. 6.

“On Recovering the Telos in Teleology, or ‘Where’s the Beef?’” The Monist 75, no. 1 (January 1992), 3-13.

“Humanistic Education for World Citizenship,” in Osamu Akimoto, ed., The Way Toward Humanistic Education (Tokyo: Daisan Press, 1992), 169-200.

“Moral Education for Values Creation,” in Osamu Akimoto, ed., The Way Toward Humanistic Education (Tokyo: Daisan Press, 1992), 202-230.

“Education for Values Creation,” Soka Gakkai News (Tokyo) 11, no. 259 (September. 1990), 14-22.

“Makiguchi: A Philosophical Appraisal,” in Dayle M. Bethel, ed., Education for Creative Living: Ideas and Proposals of Tsunesaburo Makiguchi (Iowa State University Press, 1989), 203-214.

“Moral Minimalism and the Development of Moral Character,” in Peter A. French, et al., eds., Midwest Studies in Philosophy, vol. 13: “Ethical Theory: Character and Virtue” (Notre Dame University Press, 1988), 180-195.

“The New Moral Philosophy and Its Application to Organizational Life,” in N. Dale Wright ed., Papers on the Ethics of Administration (State University of New York Press, 1988), 47-66.

“Social Organization and Individual Initiative: A Eudaimonist Model,” in Konstantin Kolenda, ed., Organizations and Ethical Individualism (Praeger, 1988), 107-136.

“Liberty, Virtue, and Self-Development: A Eudaimonist Perspective,” Reason Papers 12 (1987), 3-15.

“Tradition and Autonomous Individuality,” Journal of Value Inquiry 21 (1987), 131-146.

“The Moral Individualism of Henry David Thoreau,” in Marcus G. Singer, ed., American Philosophy (Cambridge University Press, 1986), 239-253.

“Is ‘Flourishing’ a True Alternative Ethics?,” Reason Papers no. 10 (spring 1985), 101-105.

“Life-Shaping Choices,” The Humanist, Sept.-Oct. 1983, 41-42.

“Good Government, Justice, and Self-Fulfilling Individuality,” in Roger Skurski, ed., New Directions in Economic Justice (Notre Dame University Press, 1983), 33-52.

“Nature and Personal Destiny: A Turning Point in the Enterprise of Self-Responsibility,” in A. T. Tymieniecka, ed. The Philosophical Reflection of Man in Literature (Reidel, 1982), 173-184.

“Toward the Community of True Individuals,” in Konstantin Kolenda, ed., Person and Community in American Thought (Rice University Press, 1981), 119-133.

“On an Internal Disparity in Universalizability-Criterion Formulations,” Review of Metaphysics 33, no. 3 (March 1980), 51-59.

“On the Tension Between Equality and Excellence in the Ideal of Democracy,” in Maurice Wohlgelernter, ed., History, Religion, and Spiritual Democracy: Essays in Honor of Joseph L. Blau (Columbia University Press, 1980).

“On the Concrete Origin of Metaphysical Questions in Childhood,” in Matthew Lippman and Ann Margaret Sharp, eds., Growing Up with Philosophy (Temple University Press, 1978), 121-130.

“Can Fanaticism Be Distinguished from Moral Idealism?” Review of Metaphysics 30, no. 3 (March 1977), 497-507.

“Individualism and Productive Justice," Ethics 87, no. 2 (January 1977), 113-125.

“Rawls’ Theory of Justice: A Perfectionist Rejoinder,” Ethics 85, no. 1 (October 1974), 50-57.

“On Teaching Students What They Already Know,” School Review (Chicago University Press) 82 no. 1 (November 1973), 45-56.

“Social Entailments of Self-Actualization” (co-author), Journal of Value Inquiry 7 no. 2 (summer 1973), 106-120.

“Eudaimonia and the Pain-Displeasure Contingency Argument” Ethics 82, no. 3 (spring 1972), 314-320.

“From Law to Love: Social Order as Self-Actualization,” Journal of Value Inquiry 6, no. 1 (spring 1972), 91-101.

“Does God Have a Ph.D.?” School Review 80, no. 1 (November 1971), 67-75.

“Toward an Epistemology of Romantic Love,” Centennial Review 14, no. 4 (fall 1970), 421-443.

“The Rites of Passage from Dependence to Autonomy,” School Review 79, no. 1 (November 1970), 19-41.

“Learning, Life-Style, and Imagination,” School Review 78, no. 1 (November 1969), 63-79.

“Daimons and Human Destiny,” Centennial Review 13, no. 2 (spring 1969), 154-165.

“Philosophy and Imagination,” Centennial Review 12, no. 4 (fall 1968), 392-413.

“Art as Shock and Re-Beginning,” Centennial Review 12, no. l (winter 1968), 96-109.

“Life, Death, and Moral Autonomy,” Centennial Review 10 no. 1 (winter 1966), 1-12.

“Humanism as a Culture,” The Humanist, no. 6 (1963), 180-184.

“The Elders of Our Tribe,” The Nation, February 18, 1961.

“Return to the Hearth’s Longing,” The Nation, August 20, 1960.

“New Ear for Emerson,” The Nation, March 12, 1960.


Biographical sketch, Department of Philosophy, University of Delaware



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