|JOHN DEWEY: ANTI-MODERN:
Against Abstraction, Absolutizing, and Pure Presence
What is needed is intelligent examination of the consequences that are actually effected by inherited institutions and customs, in order that there may be intelligent consideration of the ways in which they are to be intentionally modified in behalf of [the] generation of different consequences. [CG,273]
John Dewey spent his career attempting to challenge and reconstruct inherited values in philosophy which he felt had limited the scope and possibility of philosophy itself.
Dewey characterizes traditional philosophy as having a nearly neurotic desire for absolute apodictic certainty. He calls this tendency "the Quest for Certainty", "escape from existence", "escape from uncertainty", the valuation of knowing over doing, the "intellectualist fallacy", "bondage of habit", "subjectivism", and egoism. Philosophy denigrates whole lived-experience by ignoring hopes, fears, desires, aversions, historicity, and situatedness. Religion denigrates whole lived-experience by despising the material, ignoring consequences of beliefs, and setting up far-off ideals without connection to actualities of existence. Dewey calls philosophy (and religion) to broaden its notion of experience, so as to connect its ideals to experience (CR, 300). He critically examines the valued ends underlying traditional philosophical inquiry, and finds them quite inadequate. Dewey is against the values which traditional philosophy has typically adopted unconsciously, particularly modern philosophy of Descartes to Kant.
We can see through Dewey's criticism of particular traditional values/ends for philosophy that Dewey's critique of modernism is at points quite close to postmodern criticisms of modernity.
which Dewey brings against the tradition of philosophy throughout most of his writings. By showing that Dewey is quite explicitly anti-modern, we here lay groundwork for further projects involving comparisons and partnerships (as well as differentiations) between Dewey and particular postmodern thinkers, as well as postmodern and pragmatist motifs in general.
What is ironic about Dewey's critique of modern philosophers is that he thinks the problem with modern philosophers was that they were not modern enough. Modernity for Dewey was characterized best as "the movement away from fixities that were taken to be the necessary conditions of stability and order towards the release of processes of change tending to the unforeseen and the unpredictable" (ReI, 334).
I. The Later Essay, "Experience and Philosophic method"
"Experience is not a veil that shuts man off from nature; it is a means of penetrating continually into the heart of nature." This is Dewey's introductory comment in the preface regarding his essay. He begins his essay telling us that nature is usually thought of as something eternal and supra-empirical, perceive by "experience" only sporadically and as through a "veil or screen which shuts us off from nature." Dewey thinks natural experience has been given a degraded position, and that cognitive reflection had inordinately and unnaturally taken the prior place of common experience for philosophers, and this is exactly why philosophy has become so aloof and lost esteem in the eyes of most people. He traces this back to Descartes here, saying that "The Cartesian school relegated experience to a secondary and almost accidental place". Fortunately, science followed Newton and became empirical, according to Dewey, while Philosophy continued on in the tradition of Descartes. While science refers constantly to experience, philosophy tends to think truth will come through refined inner-reflection and abstractions.
For a Start: Common Experience
Dewey calls philosophy to a more empirical method, what he at times labels as denotative. It is better than the non-empirical method for at least three reasons. First, in the non-empirical method there is no way to empirically verify claims, while the empirical method can be experientially referenced and verified.. Second, the non-empirical method gives us only a shallow meaning and understanding of concepts given in abstract two-dimensional form which tends to make things more opaque than to clarify anything. The empirical method, in contrast, refers to the full richness and multi-faceted diversity of lived experience. Third, non-empirical philosophy loses contact with "the things of ordinary experience" and so becomes arbitrary, aloof, and "abstract" (EPM2, 6). Dewey asks us "are philosophic concepts left to dwell in separation in some technical realm of their own?" Empirical philosophy, in contrast, keeps us tied to the concrete. According to Dewey, a fundamental problem of the philosophers from Descartes to Hume to Kant is the subject/object distinction. Dewey recommends instead a "double-barreled" notion of experience, where the subject/object distinction is taken figuratively, not literally and the empirical method then "takes this integrated unity as the starting point for philosophic thought" (EPM2, 9). We might talk about a subject and object, but they can't be disentangled in actual reality. I am simply had or appeared to by the object without a doubt. Questions and distinctions--dissections-- of this experience come after the actual experienced fact through reflective analysis. This Dewey's answer to the sceptic, for whom the question of how the subject can know the object is primary: 'yours is a contrived unnatural and non-empirical problem derived not from experience, but from an obsessive and vicious abstractionism.' Dewey takes a Reidian position, namely, that things are just given in experience.
A. The Conditions of Our Knowing
But Dewey does not accept the given naively. The empirical method has as its question, how and why do we come to think as we do? It asks, why do we make this subject/object distinction? How does the subject affect conceptions of the object, how do its contexts affect this perceiving, and how does context of the object affect the process as well. Dewey is very aware that "Current beliefs in morals, religion and politics similarly reflect the social conditions which present themselves. Our analysis shows that the ways in which we believe and expect have a tremendous affect upon what we believe and expect"(EPM2,14). Tradition, social factors, and education so affect us that "we discover that we believe many things not because the things are so, but because we have become habituated through the weight of authority, by imitation, prestige, instruction, the unconscious effect of language, etc." [my italics](EPM2,14).There are many factors which go into the process and activity of "knowing" something, and much of the act is affected by preconditioning. We are conditioned through our history and context to "receive" things in a certain way, so that when something is "given" to us in perception, it is transformed and affected by these various conditions which make my "knowing" possible.
B. Against Favoring Mere "Knowing" or "Cognizance"
Dewey criticizes "knowing" as traditionally conceived. Knowledge requires that objects be distinct and explicit, and it sees the dark and vague as a limitation. The obscure and vague are explained away and quickly forgotten. The problem here, as Dewey sees it, is the "intellectualism" of philosophy, which equates experience with knowing, as though only that which I cognized is real. Of course there are all sorts of hidden and uncognized things in all of my experiences. To limit experience merely to what is cognized is foolish, according to Dewey. "For things are to be treated, used, acted upon and with, enjoyed and endured, even more than [they are] things to be known. They are things had before they are [things to be] cognized" (EPM2, 21). The relation to the thing is seen to be primary to the cognizance of it. We cannot ignore "that context of noncognitive but experienced subject-matter which gives what is known its import" (EPM2,22). To be intelligent, according to Dewey, is not to acquire all-inclusive all-monopolizing knowledge, but rather, to accept and account for the non-cognized so that we are prepared and skilled at dealing with new circumstances that come from horizons beyond our cognizance.
C. Against Favorites
The favoring of cognitive objects and their characteristics at the expense of traits that excite desire, command action and produce passion, is a special instance of a principle of selective emphasis which introduces partiality and partisanship into philosophy [EPM2, 25].
Dewey goes on to criticize a number of other inordinate favorites of traditional philosophy. The ends which guide a project tend to be ignored. The things which are "especially dear" to the philosopher tend to be the things sought or valued, and quickly "reality and superior value are equated" (EPM2, 25). One such valued end is certainty, or assurance. Dewey's book The Quest for Certainty paints a picture of philosophy as being primarily that-- a quest for being assured of apodicticity. One seeks self-justification as one seeks to find justified true infallible beliefs. Another such valued end is simplicity, and philosophy has tended to value the simple over the complex "for clarities sake" Dewey comments,
Gross experience is loaded with the tangled and complex, hence philosophy hurries away from it to search out something so simple that the mind can rest trustfully in it, knowing that it has no surprises in store, that it will not spring anything to make trouble, that it will stay put, having no potentialities in reserve [EPM2,26].
Again, philosophy wants no surprises, and wants to forget about the "extra", namely the context and relation of and to a thing, which is left behind in the transformation of experience into cognizance.
A third valued end for traditional philosophy is permanence and eternality, which is valued over and opposed to change, flux and movement. "The permanent enables us to rest, it gives us peace; the variable, the changing, is a constant challenge. Where things change something is hanging over us. It is the threat of trouble"(EPM2, 27). The possibility of change and disruption makes us fearful though it is also a condition for hope. Philosophy has a tendency to convert particular truths of an event or function into intrinsically eternal truths, "as that which is the same at all times, or as that which is indifferent to time, out of time" This is the desire to get the view from nowhere (Nagel), the God's-eye perspective, or the "no-eye" perspective (Putnam). This is done not only by equating my point of view with "God's point of view", but can also be arranged by converting "the eventual into some sort of Being, something which is, even if it does not [as of yet] exist" (EPM2,28). Here the method is to turn the upcoming unknown future into a known event by giving it content. As a soothsayer of sorts, the philosopher projects and predicts what will arrive. A full blown eschatology/teleology is created, complete with messiah/telos/logos.
Dewey's point in bringing out all these values underlying projects of philosophy is not to rid us of such values-- this is impossible. Rather, Dewey wants us to be alert to these values, and evaluate our values. Are certainty, cognition, simplicity and eternal knowledge really the sorts of things we should value? Is it even reasonable to expect and strive for these things, really? These are the questions of the empirical method, which makes all of its decisions in light of common natural experiences and desires uncovered and revealed. By this method, "the purport of thinking, scientific and philosophic, is not to eliminate choice but to render it less arbitrary and more significant" (EPM2, 30). The non-wholistic distinction of subject vs. object, the exaggeration of our knowing abilities, and a tendency of excessive isolation are habits of traditional philosophy which have hindered its ability to become "less arbitrary and more significant" By disparaging experience in the full sense, and limiting it to notions of cognizance, etc, philosophy has disparaged life as we commonly live it. It has set itself apart from lived experience, and so segregated itself off from the day-to-day in an absurd and arrogant way, as though it were a philosopher-king above all. As Dewey puts it, his "empirical philosophy is in any case a kind of intellectual disrobing" and He is not afraid to mention that the king is both naked and abnormal.
So we see from this essay that we must revive a fuller concept of experience and refer to such a fullness when doing philosophy. This will keep us from the errors of modernity, which were 1).valuing cognizance over other relational and unconscious forms of experience, 2).valuing certainty over the actual insecurities, mysteries, and vaguaries of experience, 3).valuing simplicity at the expense of the true complexity and entanglements of lived experience, and 4).valuing eternality above contingency and flux.
Dewey says that there are two ways to approach philosophy. The first way is to "begin with experience in gross, experience in its primary and crude forms, and by means of its distinguishing features and its distinctive trends, not something of the constitution of the world which generates and maintains [experience]" (EPM1,366). This is Dewey's empirical method, the method which has constant reference of the world-life experiences in the broad and wholistic sense. The second way to approach philosophy is to "begin with refined selective products, the most authentic statements of commended methods of science, and work from them back to the primary facts of life" (EPM1,366). While the first method must always keep in mind "the findings of the most competent knowledge", the second method must "somehow journey back to the homely facts of existence" Each method has its benefits and dangers, but the history of philosophy, according to Dewey, shows us that it is most common for philosophy to forget that it is an art, skill which is always being improved. Instead, it is easy to consider our thought to be absolute in itself, conclusive, finished, and not as a result of a particular technique in particular circumstances with a history. So if we must chose between dangers, we should avoid the danger of taking our present opinions and theories as absolute, because it is more common and more dangerous. If our method is experience-oriented, it must be like experience, which is itself ongoing and flexible.
2. Criticism of Shallow, Naive, Sovereign Self
Dewey next brings up that philosophy has tended to "think in ways that make individuality something isolated as well as central" On the one hand there is a tendency to view individual experiences of things like love, hate, passion as merely emotions, and to treat day to day experiences as mere phenomena. In this way, the individuality of pre-reflective and non0-reflective experience is disparaged. But simultaneously, the isolated self-reflective subject, immune to environment and history, is set up as the philosophical ideal position of knowing. This notion of self-sovereign subject is central from Descartes to Kant. Dewey finds this admiration of sovereign self to be naive and adolescent, because it is completely unnatural and impossible-- we are always in context and history, with ends in mind. He also thinks the disparaging of the broad spectrum of experience is unnatural. To narrow the scope of our philosophy to a peculiar self-reflective "experience" is somewhat solipsistic.
Dewey brings up an example of a philosopher he was reading who said that when he saw a chair, he experienced it. The philosopher has become shallow through his theorizing and has a shallow understanding of experience. "The man who has the experience, as distinct from a philosopher theorizing about it, would probably say that he experienced the chair most fully not when looking at it but when meaning to sit down in it, . . "(EPM1,368). The point is that experience is much more than simply "seeing"-- full interactive relation to the chair gives a much fuller experience. Relationship to something is richer than just "seeing" it. We do not think of human relationships primarily in terms of just seeing another person. Our experience of another is not merely seeing them, nor even primarily seeing them. I might watch a stranger very carefully from a distance and not have much of an experience of them. Yet modern philosophy has tended to place an inflated value upon seeing, while ignoring other equally important types of experience, such as physical.
Experience is not sheerly a personal matter, it is primarily a matter of community and setting. We experience as we do and what we do because of our placement. While traditionally our culture has promoted a myth of the radically free individual unmediatingly "seeing as" purely, and also valuing sight over other forms of experience, we should recognize our connection to community and embrace the other forms of experience which are not seen and not known through contemplation.
3. Common Experience as Originary
Anyone who wants to do serious empirical philosophy must constantly remind himself of the origins of his thinking and theory-- "the sort of thing that the unsophisticated man calls experience". If we fail to constantly connect our thinking to this common realm of experience, "we get a stencilled stereotype in two dimensions and in black and white instead of the solid and many colored play of activities and sufferings which is the philosopher's real datum" (EPM1, 369). Dewey says that men who insist on doing philosophy apart from regular experience retain an "attitude of childhood" To practice a method which ignores the common everyday experiences which we engage in and are acted upon by, is to practice a method of doing philosophy which is inherently ignor-ant.
A. Criticism of Cognition as Ignoring
Dewey points out the way that our cognizing is a systematic ignoring of the bulk of experience. Often experience and consciousness are used interchangeably, but there is a great difference between them. Consciousness, "that is, that which appears qualitatively and focally at a particular moment", is awareness of something present to the mind. It is merely one type of experience. If consciousness is valued above all else, then "ignorance, habit, fatal implication in the remote . . . twilight, the vague, dark and mysterious" are seen to be problems, rather than integral parts and important forms of experience. But this goes against our experience. The truth is, some of the most important things which guide and direct our action and experiences are not present to our consciousness-- the are uncognizable. The "forces and potential consequences" of things are neither "directly present, nor logically implied", yet they are a dramatically important factor in our acting, experiencing and knowing. Death plays such a role for us. Our anticipation of it, our fear of it, our preparing for it, and our inability to know just when it might come all play important roles in our lives. But where is the room for this in traditional cognizance-oriented philosophy? To think that our experiences are made up only of things we comprehend cognitively is foolish. Things are obviously affecting our experiences constantly in ways we are completely oblivious to. And to think that anything which presents itself to us is ever fully and completely naked before us is also silly, because our responses to our experiences of things, and our consequential attitudes reverberate throughout our lives in many unnoticed ways. The awareness of eventual death is again a fine example of this type of reverberation and radical multi-levelled consequences of our non-cognitive experiences. But traditional philosophy has ignored those things that were not cognizable, and excluded them from "experience". Dewey says we have to call attention to what "experience" fully is, until it is accounted for by philosophers.
When the varied constituents of the wide universe, the unfavorable, the precarious, uncertain, irrational, hateful, receive the same attention that is accorded the noble, honorable and true, then philosophy may conceivably dispense with the conception of experience. [EPM1,372].
Dewey is for the forgotten, marginalized, despised and ignored constituents of experience. These uncognized/unrecognized elements of our experience are vital to how and what we experience. We see as we want, but Dewey wants us to remember that we see what we want, so that we might notice what we normally do not. Along with the cognized, there is always the unrecognized.
B. Owning One's Prejudices
Instead of taking experience at face value, as though it were free and unbiased, full and complete, philosophy should realize that it is a method, a way of seeing and interpreting and being in the world. We should attempt to discover how that we come "loaded with preferred conclusions", not so that we can escape having preferences, but so that we may own them, and perhaps revise them or exchange them for better preferences. He says that his is both "a doctrine of humility" and also a "doctrine of direction". We become more modest in our assertions, aware of our limits, but this same awareness which makes us modest helps us become more capable of experiencing in new ways.
There is no doubt that philosophy begins with particular intentions. For example, absolute certainty and simplicity are two common values in philosophy, and they have been best achieve through atomistic reductions of experiences to parts, and things to their cognized elements. But like any butchering, this transformation of whole experiences in the world into atomized simple and absolutely certain ideas throws out most of the animal of experience. Experience is tangled and complex, and the simple clear ideas of philosophers tend to be "arbitrarily selected simples" which fail to represent accurately the lived-in experience. The whole, when taken apart, loses something vital. Dewey says "Empirical method warns us that systems which set out from things said to be ultimate and simple have always worked with loaded dice; their premises have been framed to yield desired conclusions" (EPM1, 374). Hume's skepticism is again ridiculed as being artificially induced by unnatural philosophical interests: "No wonder Hume's doubts vanished when he played backgammon and made merry with his friends . . . in his companionships he was involved in another world from that to which he confined his philosophizing" (EPM1,374). Hume desired to answer questions which were foreign to lived experience. He framed his premises towards unnatural conclusions, and failed to complete his project. This is no surprise.
Our philosophy must be intimately and acquainted with our lived-experience. It must accept its conditionality and embrace it, not ignore and disparage contextuality. the more we own up to our historicity and the working of our values and ends in framing our questions and conclusions, the easier it will be for us to reconstruct philosophy so as to provide ideals more useful and beneficial within our lived experiences.
C. Privileging: Relation Over Knowing
"Experience is political, religious, esthetic, industrial, intellectual, mine, yours" and "Experience as method warns us to give impartial attention to all of these diversifications" (EPM1,375). Intellectual experiencing of things is but one of many types of experience, and should not be given a uniquely esteemed position in our inquiry and thinking. Instead of seeing our (intellectual)"knowing" of something as a severely limited function and practice, we often think of our "knowledge" of something as being "an existential equivalent to what things really are 'in themselves'". Kant thought he could arrive at the thing in itself (God).through moral experience, while Kierkegaard thought he could through religious experience, according to Dewey. However, natural knowledge only gives us fragmented incomplete complexities of multi-layered significance and importance varying from person to person. Complete absolute knowledge is attained only by privileging a particular type of experiencing, and is always illusory.
Knowledge is often privileged, and counted as being what experience is. What is experienced is known, and what is known is experienced. But Dewey contends that experience
. . . indicates that being and having things in ways other than knowing them, in ways never identical with knowing them, exist, and are preconditions of reflection and knowledge. Being angry, stupid, wise, inquiring; having sugar, the light of day, money, houses and lands, friends, laws, masters, subjects, pain and joy, occur in dimensions incommensurable to knowing these things which we are and have and use, and which have and use us. [EPM1,377-78].
Being and having have priority over knowing. This is perhaps one of Dewey's most interesting anti-modern motifs. It is his anti-epistemology motif. In knowing something, we necessarily distance ourselves and so extract ourselves from the relationship of being had. I cannot reflect on fright at the moment I experience it. The angry outburst I make at a close friend may be quickly reflected upon, but it isn't reflected upon in the instant of my outburst. There is a difference, a distance, in reflective knowing compared to being had or having or being. Yet, "Modern philosophy is openly, ancient philosophy covertly, a theory of knowledge, and of things as known" (EPM1,378). This partiality towards knowing "is due to bias for the intellectualist in favor of his own specialized professional experience" (EPM1,378). Problems of knowledge or about having knowledge are simply "nonsense" according to Dewey, "For knowledge is itself one of the things that we empirically have". The problem shouldn't be about whether or not we have knowledge, rather, we should focus upon questions concerning how we come to know what we say we know, how we organize our e xperience, and what ends we are valuing in our epistemic evaluations. We know that experiences are not merely passive, as though we were purely acted upon. Rather, experiences are "active performances to and about other things,--acceptances and rejections, assimilations and forthspewings of other things, strugglings to obtain and to escape things" (EPM1,382). Experience is not something which happens to us, it is rather our habituated and situated interaction, reaction and assimilation in the midst of a contextual event. Dewey says that "The things which a man experiences come to him clothed with meanings which originate in custom and tradition" and it is the man who clothes the thing. This doesn't mean that the thing doesn't exist apart from the persons knowing the thing, of course it does. But the thing can't be known apart from context. The point is that "The things are thereby invested for him with certain properties, and the investiture appears intrinsic and indissoluble" (EPM1,383). The man doesn't realize that he clothes the thing by seeing it clothed in traditional and customary garments. A thing can only be known in context, from a context, and so a thing must always be clothed, and will never be seen naked. Philosophy cannot escape the necessity of clothing and get to the naked fact, but it might develop a keener eye towards "fashion" in deciding how it wants to clothe things. As we become more aware of how we have narrowly approached experience as something to be known, we can adjust our habits and practices to embrace a wider and larger notion of what experience is. To do this, we will begin seeing our "knowing" as both a matter of having and being had, or unconscious relations as well as conscious ones, and as made up of the cognizable and the unrecognizable.
III. Comparison of Early and Late Essays
It now seems that Dewey provided in this earlier essay which, while certainly critical of modernity, was more of a reconstruction of philosophy according to the innovative plans of Dewey. The later essay seems now, in some ways, to be an attempt to explicate why Dewey's reconstruction is needed. It emphasizes the overvaluing of cognizance, certainty, simplicity and eternality and undervaluing of unconsciousness, vagaries, complexity and contingency.
In both essays Dewey chooses a method of which attempts to account for all the various types of experience, not merely the cognitive or known experience. This means we must realize the cultural and societal factors which unconsciously affect us, while moving away from a view of the self as independent and sovereign. We must be alert to the unrecognized failure and postponements, and view them as possibilities rather than liabilities. As we do this, we move from a positional of ignoring the bulk of experience (which is not cognized).and will come to view experience as a matter of having (in a particular, cultural, historical way).and being had (in the peculiar way we respond and interpret the experience at large. Our experience then will be realized to be much more than we ever know or dream, or are even aware of.
It seems that Dewey was perhaps trying to give us his whole project in the first chapter of his 1925 edition of Experience and Nature. The later version of chapter 1 is certainly more clear and simple, but the first version is more comprehensive, if not quite so to the point. At any rate, together they form a nice pair of essays for making a foray into the thought of John Dewey.
On a slightly different track, although Dewey does not want to privilege one type of experiencing above other, he does privilege experiences available for community observation and verification above others. As we have seen, Dewey thought that the purpose of thinking "is not to eliminate choice, but to render it less arbitrary, and more significant"(EPM1,390). He goes on to tell us that thought loses its arbitrary character when "its quality and consequences are such as to command themselves to the reflection of others" and it becomes significant "when reason for the choice is found to be weighty, and its consequences momentous" This would seem to, against his best intentions, exclude personal experiences which are not broadly seen or known of by the community, and which do not make a great difference to those around the person. I get nervous sometimes with Dewey's strong emphasis on community, because one wonders what the place for self is in such a community. To be fair to Dewey, it is imortant to recognize passages like the following in "Nature, Communication and Meaning" where he says that "the modern discovery of inner experience where events are seen as personal, and exclusively individual is of great value in giving a sense of dignity, worth, contribution of the individual through ingenuity and invention, and a notion of freedom"(NCM, 172). Yet, as John Stuhr has said, "Dewey's philosophy not only contains no metaphysics of existence, but is incompatible with such a metaphysical stance" (Stuhr, 1992, 172). In comparison to someone like Levinas, for example, for whom the ipseity and absolute otherness of the unique Other individual is prior to any and everything, Dewey's thought seems to exclusively define the self in terms of community. This isn't at all a criticism that Dewey is anti-humanist-- that he doesn't believe in a set human nature over and above physical needs-- neither does Levinas, that I'm aware of. Dewey seems, in his attempts to show the instrumentality of our experiencing as selves, to sometimes reduce the self to mere instrumentation.
Dewey lays heavy emphasis on the continuity or unity of experience. But life experience, though it obviously is continual, is not always characterizable as smooth continuity. Fragmentation, complexity and entanglement are Dewian adjectives which better characterize experience. One wonders why Dewey did not criticize the value of unity and continuity in modern thought, much as he criticized certainty, simplicity and eternality as primary values. Dewey here could have taken a cue from the postmodern critique of unity, as given (for example).through Levinas' central focus upon the absolute disruption by the face of the other, where we are had, entirely, by the Other, and all our unity of world is torn assunder.
Dewey is in some ways helping us to not be caught off-gaurd by suprising new developments. He is ever-interested to become less-fixated upon eternal truths, that we might move more smoothly with the ebb and flow of experience. But there is here a desire to not be caught off-gaurd-- a desire to predict and foresee. Though subtle, here is a desire to escape the flux through flexible prediction. It is as if Dewey wants us to use flexible method so as to more closely monitor and so control our world. Does Dewey retain too much of Peirce's notion of synechism? No one doesn't want to maintain some degree of control and predictabilty over their world, but Dewey could have given a more thorough critique of the perhaps more subtle quest for continuity as a fundamental value which underlies our "experiencing" habits. The tendency to harmonize where there isn't harmony can be as problematic as seeking certainty under every bush.
Dewey's rejection of the modern philosophers' tendency to over-value cognitive knowing, certainty, simplicity, and eternality has its origins in a call to do philosophy fom the point of "lived-experience", owning up to its prejudices and conditionings. In this movement away from fixities, Dewey has brought us closer to the world of change and flux which we really face, not as sovereign-selves isolated from our relations and prejudices, but rather as living conditioned beings of a particular time and place, looking with intention towards the vague and uncertain world we live in. Noticing the anti-modern motifs in Dewey provides a doorway into more fruitful comparisons between Dewey and postmodern thinkers.
This apendix is designed to roughly compare particular similar themes between Dewey and Emmanuel Levinas, the French postmodern thinker.
John Dewey Emmanuel Levinas
Against absolutizing one's perspective. Absolute infinite ipseity of
the Other. (TI)
Against abstraction, "intellectualizing" or First intelligence is relational
"rationalism" which is too concerned with not conceptual (TI 216-219)
logic and abstract thought.
Against a pure presence which encompasses Against ontology of presence
past, present and future as though they were (TI,42-48,69-70)
all completely realized and understood from
this present moment.
Interpretations always oversimplify. (EPM1369). Levinas: Saying is never said.
Against a sovereign self, which is independent of L: Disruption of sovereignty.
context and sociality. (EPM1, 367). (EFP)
Privileging relation over seeing. (EPM1, 368) L: Relation disrupts seeing.
(TI, 188-91, 295-97)
Experience is not consciousness (EPM1, 369) L: Relation to other primordial
to "knowing" or cognizing.
Death and other things "not here yet" play L: Importance of death as
a vital role in our knowing and experiencing. "other" (TaO)
The forgotten and marginalized aspects of L: Face of Other makes us
experiencemust be accounted for through a aware of marginalized.
broader notion of what experience is. (TI,39,78).
Against atomism, for wholistic approach to
looking at things. Realize the situatedness
of the things we experience. (EPM1, 374)
Aware of the privileging which takes place L: Reflection distorts the dis-
in our cognizing or explaining. (EPM1, 375) ruption of the other. Speaking
of the Other distorts the Other.
Against the primacy of knowing over relation Knowing not primary
and experience. (EPM1, 377-78) (TI,85-86).
"Givenness" of things is a complex and refined "Self-sufficiency" "Good con-
affair, and this complexity and situatedness of science", "Happy solitude" VS.
somethingbeing "given" is forgotten, and Mauvaise conscience(TI,77,81)
immediacy is assumed.(EPM1, 388)
TI: Totality and Infintiy. Pittsburgh: Duquesne University Press, 1969.
EFP: "Ethics as First Philosophy" in The Levinas Reader Ed. by Sean Hand,
Cambridge, MA: Blackwell, 1994, 75-87.
TaO: "Time and the Other" in The Levinas Reader Ed. by Sean Hand,
Cambridge, MA: Blackwell, 1994, 37-58.
Boisvert, Raymond D. "Rorty, Dewey, and Post-modern Metaphysics" in The Southern
Journal of Philosophy, 28.2 1989.
Dewey, John. "Does Human Nature Change?" in Problems of Men. New York:
Glenwood Press, 1968, 184-192..
__________. "The Construction of Good" in The Quest for Certainty. New York:
Capricron Books (G.P Putnam's Sons), 1960.
__________. "The Copernican Revolution" in The Quest for Certainty. New York:
Capricron Books (G.P Putnam's Sons), 1960.
__________. "Experience and Nature: A Re-Introduction" in John Dewey's Later
Writings, Volume 1. University of Southern Illinois Press, .
__________. "Nature, Communication and Meaning" in Experience and Nature.
New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 1929.
__________. "Philosophic Method" in Experience and Nature. New York: W.W.
Norton & Company, Inc., 1929.
__________. "Philosophic Method" in
__________. Human Nature and Conduct (MW14). Ed. by Jo Ann Boydston.
Carbondale, IL: Southern Illinois University Press, 1988.
Margolis, Joseph. "The Limits of Metaphysics and the Limits of Certainty" in Antifoundationalsim Old and New. Philadelphia: Temple University Press,
Rosenthal, Sandra B. "The Individual, the Community, and the Reconstruction of
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This paper is part of a broader project to notice the similarities and complimentary motifs between American Pragmatists (i.e., Peirce, James, Dewey) and Postmodernists (especially Nietzsche, Levinas, Derrida, Foucault, Lyotard). Of course, such a project could hardly be contained in a book, much less a paper. A careful understanding of the ideas, method and accounts of each philosopher is necesary in drawing such comparisons, so that important differences are not overlooked. Such a grand (pragmatist-postmodern) scheme must be constructed carefully, gradually, and cautiously, with a keen eye to differences, as well as complimenting possibilities; and it can be done only at a micro level, with the meta (macro- level) project in mind. But it is important for me to own up from the start that I see great potential for cooperation between the "pragmatists" and the "postmoderns" in the various discusions regarding ethics, self, science, community, social critique, ideology critique, reason, and metaphysics. One could write on the mutual need of Derrida's "undecidability" and James realization of the practical situation where we are forced to decide ("Will to Believe"). One could write on the similarity between Derrida's notion of "promise" or "messianicity" and Peirce's regulative ideal of the "Real". One could draw comparison's between Levinas' or Derrida's critique of the metaphysics of presence and Dewey's critique of "the quest for certainty" or Peirce's fallibilism. One could draw on Levinas' radical concern for the Other as individual to give needede asistance to Peirce's sometimes overbearing notion of community. One could draw out similarities between Dewey and Foucault's view that reason is partially instrumental and ideologically influenced. Or Dewey and Nietzsche's view of certain types of reason as being particularly pathological. One could write a whole paper simply laying out fruitful paper suggestions along these lines. (But I won't, here.)
These are themes which come up in the two essays "The COnstruction of Good" and "The Copernican Revolution" in Dewey's The Quest for Certainty.
For example, just one of the anti-modern themes found in these essays, his critique of the quest for certainty, is later the title of a whole book which Dewey later wrote.
The 1929 version is reprinted as volume one in the University of Illinois series, so volume one of Deweys works contains the 1929 version of chapter one as its first chapter, and the 1925 version is added as appendix 2.
This quote is from a letter from Dewey to Otto, 8 January 1929, Max Otto Papers, Archives division, The state Historical Society of Wisconsin.
Dewey to Norton, 23 January 1929, W.W. Norton Publishing Company Correspondence, Columbia University.
Dewey, Experience and Nature, iii.
This seems to me to be a very Kantian point.
Only near his death did he become disillusioned with the language of his project, but even here, it was the language of the project, not the project itself which was brought into question.