Philosophy 3387 American Philosophy Unit Three
Phil. 3387/Freeland Fall, 1996
Cornel West, Chapter 3 on Dewey: Outline of Key Points
I. Overview of Dewey (pp. 69-72)
- A. Dewey represents the peak of American pragmatism; he is like the American Marx and Hegel combined.
- B. He continues the Emersonian evasion of epistemology-centered philosophy, but infuses Emerson's preoccupations with a nineteenth century historical consciousness of human society and changes.
- C. Like Marx, Dewey is concerned with individuality, social freedom, and democracy, but Dewey represents the rising professional class, not the industrial working class. (see p. 76: Dewey is "an organic intellectual of the urbanized, professional, and reformist elements in the middle class")
- D. In general Dewey is very concerned to demystify philosophy, to reform and reconstruct it, so as to defend it as critical intelligence playing a role in creative democracy.
II. Dewey on Emerson (pp. 72-76)
Dewey praises Emerson in "Ralph Waldo Emerson" for the following reasons:
- A. He is a poet, more than a philosopher.
- B. He has a richer notion of experience than the British empiricists.
- C. He emphasizes flux, contingency, and revisability.
- D. He is "the philosopher of democracy."
- E. West comments: Dewey creates Emerson as a father to father himself as the real philosopher of democracy (p. 76).
III. Aspects of Dewey's Biography (pp. 76-85)
- A. Dewey's dates, 1859-1952, span the time of the emergence of the U.S. as a world power. This time included key population shifts, the rise of industrial capitalism and immigration, etc.
- B. Three elements of Dewey's response to these changes:
- 1. Radical journalism (80-83)
- 2. Association with WASP efforts to amalgamate the immigrants (83-84)
- 3. Reform and leadership in teaching and education (84-85)
IV. Three key fronts of Dewey's development of pragmatism (85ff)
- A. Criticisms of professionalized philosophy, reflections on metaphilosophy (pp. 86-97)
- B. Cultural criticism, especially focused on scientific inquiry (pp. 97-100)
- C. Social criticism (pp.100-111)
IVA. Dewey's Metaphilosophy
Key Sources: "Philosophy and Democracy," 1918
"The Need for a Recovery of Philosophy," 1917
Reconstruction in Philosophy, 1920
- 1. General: Philosophy is not a mode of knowledge but a form of wisdom, and wisdom is about values (p. 86). Professionalized philosophy has left too much of importance to literature and politics.
- 2. Dewey's primary concern is to develop and defend a broadened notion of experience. He articulates this by criticizing five paradigmatic notions of experience in previous philosophers:
- a. Knowledge p. 89
- b. Subjectivity p. 89
- c. Retrospective p. 90-91
- d. Particularistic p. 91
- e. Thought p. 92
- 3. Dewey's own notion of experience is transactional and emphasizes biological continuity and organismic functioning (see p. 93)
- 4. Dewey attacks the notions of "Ideal" or "really real" Reality (see p. 94)
- 5. However, Dewey did supply his own theory of reality in the book Experience and Nature (1925). This is what leads Rorty to criticize Dewey in his essay "Dewey's Metaphysics". West discusses Rorty's views on Dewey on pp. 95-7.
IVB. Cultural Criticism (pp. 97-100)
1. Dewey emphasizes "critical intelligence": employment of a "scientific attitude" in problematic situations. The "scientific attitude" (a capacity to enjoy the doubtful) is not the same thing as the scientific method (a technique for making productive use of doubt by converting it into an operation of definite inquiry).
2. Dewey's conception of truth is like Peirce's and James. That is, he emphasizes truth as involving social practices and equates it with warranted assertibility (see his Logic: The Theory of Inquiry, 1938).
- a. Criticism from Putnam: Truth should not be equated with warranted assertibility. This confuses the nature of truth with the test of truth.
- b. This conception of truthis "rich, flexible, and friendly" (p. 100); it sees truth as a species of the good. That is, procedures that produce warranted assertibility are themselves value-laden. Or, to promote critical intelligence IS to promote creative democracy.
IVC. Social Criticism (pp. 100-111)
- 1. Overview: Dewey wants to keep the Emersonian theodicy alive under new circumstances and challenges. He is an evangelist of democracy. The key to this aim is critical intelligence, which is necessary for full development of human individuality and personality.
- 2. This is tied to a new, critical and anti-professional conception of philosophy; see the important quote from Dewey on the top of p. 101.
- 3. West's criticisms (101-2): Dewey's vision of social change is limited.
- a. His democratic sense is "tainted by the very provincial mentality he scorns." That is, his ideal of democracy is that of the small homogeneous community, not the new, urban, heterogeneous society of the U.S.
- b. His view of change and reform does not require examining social forces and historical agents. His key engines of change are education and discussion (so they are pedagogical and dialogical), rather than agitation and social structure (see also p. 106 on this). He is a gradualist reformer, not a revolutionary or even a liberal in the Bentham-Mill tradition.
- c. Dewey classifies himself as a democratic socialist; but West is skeptical (p. 103) and sees him as more Emersonian (emphasizing cultural sensibilities) than Jeffersonian (emphasizing politics). Dewey was like Emerson in advocating a culture of radical democracy--the democratization of genius. "Like Emerson's moralism, Dewey's culturalism was relatively impotent" (p. 107).
- d. In his major work of political philosophy, The Public and Its Problems (1927), Dewey called for "the great community." He emphasized the obstacles to creation of a public sphere: popular cultural diversions; bureaucratization of politics; geographical mobility; cultural lag in ideals and communication.
- e. Dewey's appeal was to the middle class. But this split and went in different directions rather than toward the ideal he envisaged. The professional elements of the middle class bought into the "managerial ideologies of corporate liberalism" (p. 107)--n.b., this includes those in the university!; and the reformist elements bought into "Marxist ideologies of class struggle".
- f. West diagnoses why Dewey never took intellectual Marxism seriously (pp. 107-9). Interestingly, Dewey does anticipate some post-Marxist criticisms of Marxism in Freedom and Culture (1939) when he criticizes the view of one single factor as dominant in a culture. (p. 109)
4. Dewey's view was that there "are no genuine theories of History and Society, only detailed, concrete analyses." (p. 110) We must discover how factors of a society work empirically (or a posteriori), not through a theory (or a priori).
5. Summary: With Dewey, the Emersonian strategy of evading epistemology-centered philosophy recedes, and the other aspect of Emerson, his theodicy, comes forward--but not for long, because after Dewey (and with WWII) a new sense of tragedy and irony begins to creep into American intellectual life.