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John Dewey, "The Need for a Recovery of Philosophy"

This text is available online and articulates much of Dewey's "instrumentalist" challenge to received ways of doing philosophy.

Before he was eclipsed by the Logical Positivists in the 1930s, Dewey reigned as the most influential philosopher in the US. Still famous today for his philosophy of education, Dewey has also inspired the post-1960s movement of Neopragmatism, which centers on a critique of "correspondence to reality" as the criterion of truth.

Dewey's critique of classical epistemology works partly by exposing points of conceptual incoherence and partly by genealogizing the overall mindset - for instance, rooting it in religious concerns about psychic immortality - so as to make plain its optional and culturally contingent character.

For Dewey, being intelligent does not mean reproducing an external world in an internal theater: it means reshaping the world so as to attain goals and maximize the availability of the various things that we consider good.


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  • Brian B.

    "Knowledge does not keep any better than fish." - Alfred North Whitehead

    2 · July 17, 2013

  • Rey L.

    Great fun "doing philosophy" with you; now I have to get back to work. ;)

    July 14, 2013

  • Brian

    Very mature discussion, enjoyed very much

    2 · July 13, 2013

  • Juan R.

    Hi all!

    I'm at work and I wont get off until late, o I prefer to cancel attendance now just in case that person waiting can join and enjoy discussion.

    July 13, 2013

  • Rick O.

    Just started reading this and really enjoying it - but I say that about everything. One thing it tells me is I need to get out of Germany more often. Interesting how he puts Kant and Hume in the same camp - that the 'rationalistic-empirical controversy' is really just sibling rivalry (ch II). And the closing par of ch III - where he puts forth his task - is quite beautiful. There is a certain lightness in his criticisms of others - "success and failure are the primary categories of life" - makes you smile doesn't it?

    3 · July 11, 2013

    • Chad B.

      Kant is basically a self-loathing Humean.

      1 · July 12, 2013

    • Rick O.

      Ha! - nice

      July 12, 2013

  • Peter R.

    I don't know why Heidegger always seems to get a pass for being a Nazi who joined the party out of his own conviction.

    1 · June 24, 2013

    • Brian B.

      Yeah. My own response would be a bit more measured than Borgmann's... I think it's worth doing both...seeing what one can get from the ideas on their own, while also looking at the life presumably lived in some conformity to those ideas, as a way of seeing potential, otherwise unsuspected traps or benefits that they may lead to. (Mainly, I just find Heidegger a pain in the butt because of his language, but that's probably my limitation.)

      1 · June 24, 2013

    • Jenny T.

      ! <3 Peter's comment. Maybe they want to avoid critiquing Heidegger because many other esteemed philosophers also have skeletons in their closet.

      June 24, 2013

  • Brian B.

    On Dewey versus Heidegger and (I would argue) the virtues of pragmatism: "Finally those of us who have learned from Martin Heidegger and are sometimes tagged with his name should confess to guru envy. Dewey was a thoroughly fair and decent man who on almost any issue said the reasonable and honorable thing. He never put on airs and conducted himself with exemplary good judgment in his public and political engagements. Heidegger, to the contrary, though he had his genuinely convivial and congenial sides, failed in the most distressing ways the moral tests that destiny sent his way, and he had an overweening notion of the office of philosophy and of himself as a thinker. His writings are fertile hunting grounds for those who are looking for wrong-headed and indefensible dicta." - Albert Borgmann

    2 · June 21, 2013

  • Brian B.

    Another way (an added facet) to think of Dewey: he, more so than even Peirce or James, built a whole philosophy around Darwinian naturalism. But he's also very much a liberal/progressive of his time, so gives a strong, somewhat communitarian consideration to the role of culture and society's capacity to positively shape individual experience. (So he reads a lot differently than somebody like Herbert Spencer, or current-day evolutionary psychologists.)

    1 · June 16, 2013

  • Jenny T.

    Do we get to discuss his philosophy of education too? XD

    June 16, 2013

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