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, A Common Faith, etc.
He wrote in the first chapter of this 1929 book, "The quest for certainty is a quest for a peace which is assured, an object which is unqualified by risk and the shadow of fear which action casts... Quest for complete certainty can be fulfilled in pure knowing alone. Such is the verdict of our most enduring philosophical tradition." (Pg. 8) He adds, "All of these notions about certainty and the fixed, about the nature of the real world, about the nature of the mind and its organs of knowing, are completely bound up with one another, and their consequences ramify into practically all important ideas entertained upon any philosophic question. They all flow---such is my basic thesis---from the separation (set up in the interest of the quest for absolute certainty) between theory and practice, knowledge and action. Consequently the latter problem cannot be attacked in isolation, by itself. It is too thoroughly entangled with fundamental beliefs, and ideas in all sorts of fields." (Pg. 23-24)
He states, "Our depreciatory attitude toward `practice' would be modified if we habitually thought of it in its most liberal sense, and if we surrendered our customary dualism between two separate kinds of value, one intrinsically higher and inherently lower. We should regard practice as the only means ... by which whatever is judged to be honorable, admirable, approvable can be kept in concrete experience-able existence. In this connection the entire import of `morals' would be transformed." (Pg. 32) He continues, "the problem of philosophy concerns the INTERACTION of our judgments about ends to be sought with knowledge of the means for achieving them... the problem of practice is what do we need to KNOW, how shall we obtain that knowledge and how shall we obtain it?" (Pg. 37)
He points out, "Why has modern philosophy contributed so little to bring about an integration between what we know about the world and the intelligent direction of what we know?... the cause resides in the unwillingness to surrender two ideas formulated in conditions which both intellectually and practically were very different from those in which we now live. These two ideas... are that knowledge is concerned with disclosure of the characteristics of antecedent existences and essences, and that the properties of value found therein provide the authoritative standards for the conduct of life." (Pg. 71) He notes, "A definition of the nature of ideas in terms of operations to be performed and the test of the validity of the ideas by the CONSEQUENCES of these operations establishes connectivity within concrete experience. At the same time, by emancipation of thinking from the necessity of testing its conclusions solely by reference to antecedent existence it makes clear the originative possibilities of thinking." (Pg. 114)
He asserts, "Henceforth the quest for certainty becomes the search for methods of control; that is, regulation of conditions of change with respect to their consequences. Theoretical certitude is assimilated to practical certainty; to SECURITY, trustworthiness of instrumental operations. `Real' things may be as transitory as you please or as lasting in time as you please... They are objects of the THOUGHT of reality, not disclosures of immanent properties of real substances." (Pg. 128) Later, he says, "For the criterion of knowledge lies in the method used to secure consequences and not in metaphysical conceptions of the nature of the real. Nevertheless in the end thinkers in all lines are dependent upon the mathematician and the physical inquirer for perfecting of the tools employed in their respective callings." (Pg. 221)
He argues, "A third significant change that would issue from carrying over experimental method from physics to man concerns the import of standards, principles, rules. With the transfer, these, and all tenets and creeds about good and goods, would be recognized to be hypotheses. Instead of being rigidly fixed, they would be treated as intellectual instruments to be tested and confirmed---and altered---through consequences effected by acting upon them. They would lose all pretense of finality---the ulterior source of dogmatism." (Pg. 277)
He contends in the final chapter, "religious devotees rarely stop to notices that ... the idea of perfection loses its claim over us unless it can be demonstrated to exist in the same sense in which the sun and stars exist. Were it not for because of this underlying assumption there could be no conflict between science and religion... a religious attitude would surrender once for all commitment to beliefs about matters of fact, whether physical, social or metaphysical. It would leave such matters to inquirers in other fields. Nor would it substitute in their place fixed beliefs about values, save the one value of the worth of discovering the possibilities of the actual and striving to realize them. Whatever is discovered about actual existence would modify the content of human beliefs about ends, purposes and goods... The claims of the beautiful to be admired and cherished do not depend upon ability to demonstrate statements about the past history of art. The demand of righteousness for reverence does not depend upon ability to prove the existence of an antecedent Being who is righteous." (Pg. 304)
This book will be of great interest to anyone studying Dewey's thought, or Pragmatism.