Steven H Propp
- Published on Amazon.com
John Dewey (1859-1952) was an American philosopher (best known as a Pragmatist), psychologist, and educational reformer whose ideas of “progressive education” have been very influential (as well as controversial, in some circles). He wrote many books, including Reconstruction in Philosophy, The Quest for Certainty, A Common Faith, etc.
He wrote in the Preface to the revised 1929 edition of this book, “I believe that the method of empirical naturalism presented in this volume provides the way, and the only way---although of course no two thinkers will travel it in just the same fashion---by which one can freely accept the standpoint and conclusions of modern science: the way by which we can be genuinely naturalistic and yet maintain cherished values, provided they are critically clarified and reinforced. The naturalistic method… destroys many things much cherished; but it destroys them by revealing their inconsistency with the nature of things… But its main purpose is not destructive… it inspires the mind with courage and vitality to create new ideals and values in the face of the perplexities of a new world.” (Pg. ii-iii) Similarly, he began the first chapter with the statement, “The title of this volume… is intended to signify that the philosophy here presented may be termed either empirical naturalism or naturalistic empiricism, or, taking ‘experience’ in its usual signification, naturalistic humanism.” (Pg. 1a)
He states, “Reference to the primacy and ultimacy of the material of ordinary experience protects us, in the first place, from creating artificial problems which deflect the energy and attention of philosophers from the real problems that arise out of actual subject-matter. In the second place, it provides a check or test for the conclusions of philosophic inquiry; it is a constant reminder that we must replace them… in the experience out of which they arose… In the third place, in seeing how they thus function in further experiences, the philosophical results themselves acquire empirical value.” (Pg. 18-19)
He asserts, “Philosophy, thinking at large, allows itself to be diverted into absurd search for an intellectual philosopher’s stone of absolutely wholesale generalizations, thus isolating that which is permanent in a function and for a purpose, and converting it into the intrinsically eternal, conceived either… as that which is the same at all times, or as that which is indifferent to time, out of time.” (Pg. 27)
He suggests, “Nothing but unfamiliarity stands in the way of thinking of both mind and matter as different characters of natural events, in which matter expresses their sequential order, and mind the order of their meanings in their logical connections and dependencies.” (Pg. 74)
He summarizes, “This entire discussion … aims to show that the problems which constitute modern epistemology with its rival, materialistic, spiritualistic, dualistic doctrines, and rival realistic, idealistic, representational theories; and rival doctrines of relation of mind and matter occasionalism, pre-established harmony, parallelism, panpsychism, etc., have single origin in the dogma which denies temporal quality to reality as such.” (Pg. 149)
He says, “it seems wonderful that man should be possessed of a sense of order, beauty and rightness; that he should have a capacity of thinking and knowing, so that man is elevated far above nature and seated with angels. But the wonder and mystery do not seem to be other than the wonder and mystery that there should be such a thing as nature, as existential events, at all, and that in being they should be what they are. The wonder should be transferred to the whole course of things.” (Pg. 276-277)
He points out, “Some purely logical operations are better than others, even as purely logical, for they have greater scope and fertility, but none are truer or more correct than others. Purely formal errors are impossible, so-called formal fallacies to the contrary notwithstanding. No one ever actually reasoned that since horses are quadrupeds and cows are quadrupeds, horses are cows. If in some cases, it is made to appear that formal reasoning falls into such fallacies, the reason is that material causes are brought in and their operation is overlooked.” (Pg. 286-287)
He observes, “The greater part of mind is only implicit in any conscious act or state; the field of mind---of operative meanings---is enormously wider than that of consciousness. Mind is contextual and persistent; consciousness of focal and transient. Mind is, so to speak, structural, substantial; a constant background and foreground; perceptive consciousness is process, a series of heres and nows. Mind is a constant luminosity; consciousness intermittent, a series of flashes of varying intensities. Consciousness is, as it were, the occasional interception of messages continually transmitted…” (Pg. 303)
He admits, “There is indeed much to be said for the view that consciousness is originally a dream-like, efflorescence, and that it gains reference to actual events in nature only under stern compulsion, and by way of accidental coincidence… But the view of complete separation of existential consciousness from connection with physical things cannot be maintained in view of what is known of its specifiable connections with organic conditions, and of the intimate, unbroken connection of organic with extra-organic events.” (Pg. 343)
He concludes, “Positive concrete goods of science, art and social companionship are the basic subject-matter of philosophy as criticism… If philosophy be criticism, what is to be said of the relation of philosophy to metaphysics?... Qualitative individuality and constant relations, contingency and need, movement and arrest are common traits of all existence… Any theory that detects and defines these traits is therefore but a ground-map of the province of criticism…” (Pg. 412-413) He adds, “While, therefore, philosophy has its source not in any special impulse of staked-off section of experience, but in the entire human predicament, this human situation falls wholly within nature.” (Pg. 420-421)
This is one of Dewey’s “key” books, and will be of keen interest to anyone studying his philosophy.