The Essential Dewey, Volume 2: Ethics, Logic, Psychology

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In addition to being one of the greatest technical philosophers of the twentieth century, John Dewey (1859-1952) was an educational innovator, a Progressive Era reformer, and one of America's last great public intellectuals. Dewey's insights into the problems of public education, immigration, the prospects for democratic government, and the relation of religious faith to science are as fresh today as when they were first published. His penetrating treatments of the nature and function of philosophy, the ethical and aesthetic dimensions of life, and the role of inquiry in human experience are of increasing relevance at the turn of the 21st century.

Based on the award-winning 37-volume critical edition of Dewey's work, The Essential Dewey presents for the first time a collection of Dewey's writings that is both manageable and comprehensive. The volume includes essays and book chapters that exhibit Dewey's intellectual development over time; the selection represents his mature thinking on every major issue to which he turned his attention. Eleven part divisions cover: Dewey in Context; Reconstructing Philosophy; Evolutionary Naturalism; Pragmatic Metaphysics; Habit, Conduct, and Language; Meaning, Truth, and Inquiry; Valuation and Ethics; The Aims of Education; The Individual, the Community, and Democracy; Pragmatism and Culture: Science and Technology, Art and Religion; and Interpretations and Critiques. Taken as a whole, this collection provides unique access to Dewey's understanding of the problems and prospects of human existence and of the philosophical enterprise.

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The Reflex Arc Concept in Psychology (1896)

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That the greater demand for a unifying principle and controlling working hypothesis in psychology should come at just the time when all generalizations and classifications are most questioned and questionable is natural enough. It is the very cumulation of discrete facts creating the demand for unification that also breaks down previous lines of classification. The material is too great in mass and too varied in style to fit into existing pigeon-holes, and the cabinets of science break of their own dead weight. The idea of the reflex arc has upon the whole come nearer to meeting this demand for a general working hypothesis than any other single concept. It being admitted that the sensori-motor apparatus represents both the unit of nerve structure and the type of nerve function, the image of this relationship passed over into psychology, and became an organizing principle to hold together the multiplicity of fact.

In criticizing this conception it is not intended to make a plea for the principles of explanation and classification which the reflex arc idea has replaced; but, on the contrary, to urge that they are not sufficiently displaced, and that in the idea of the sensori-motor circuit, conceptions of the nature of sensation and of action derived from the nominally displaced psychology are still in control.

 

Interpretation of Savage Mind (1902)

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The psychical attitudes and traits of the savage are more than stages through which mind has passed, leaving them behind. They are outgrowths which have entered decisively into further evolution, and as such form an integral part of the framework of present mental organization. Such positive significance is commonly attributed, in theory at least, to animal mind; but the mental structure of the savage, which presumably has an even greater relevancy for genetic psychology, is strangely neglected.

The cause of this neglect I believe lies in the scant results so far secured, because of the abuse of the comparative method—which abuse in turn is due to the lack of a proper method of interpretation. Comparison as currently employed is defective—even perverse—in at least three respects. In the first place, it is used indiscriminately and arbitrarily. Facts are torn loose from their context in social and natural environment and heaped miscellaneously together, because they have impressed the observer as alike in some respect. Upon a single page of Spencer,1 which I chanced to open in looking for an illustration of this point, appear Kamschadales, Kirghiz, Bedouins, East Africans, Bechuanas, Damaras, Hottentots, Malays, Papuans, Fijians, Andamanese—all cited in reference to establishing a certain common property of primitive minds. What would we think of a biologist who appealed successively to some external characteristic of say snake, butterfly, elephant, oyster and robin in support of a statement? And yet the peoples mentioned present widely remote cultural resources, varied environments and distinctive institutions. What is the scientific value of a proposition thus arrived at?

 

Introduction from Human Nature and Conduct (1922)

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Give a dog a bad name and hang him.” Human nature has been the dog of professional moralists, and consequences accord with the proverb. Man’s nature has been regarded with suspicion, with fear, with sour looks, sometimes with enthusiasm for its possibilities but only when these were placed in contrast with its actualities. It has appeared to be so evilly disposed that the business of morality was to prune and curb it; it would be thought better of if it could be replaced by something else. It has been supposed that morality would be quite superfluous were it not for the inherent weakness, bordering on depravity, of human nature. Some writers with a more genial conception have attributed the current blackening to theologians who have thought to honor the divine by disparaging the human. Theologians have doubtless taken a gloomier view of man than have pagans and secularists. But this explanation doesn’t take us far. For after all these theologians are themselves human, and they would have been without influence if the human audience had not somehow responded to them.

 

The Place of Habit in Conduct from Human Nature and Conduct (1922)

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Habits may be profitably compared to physiological functions, like breathing, digesting. The latter are, to be sure, involuntary, while habits are acquired. But important as is this difference for many purposes it should not conceal the fact that habits are like functions in many respects, and especially in requiring the cooperation of organism and environment. Breathing is an affair of the air as truly as of the lungs; digesting an affair of food as truly as of tissues of stomach. Seeing involves light just as certainly as it does the eye and optic nerve. Walking implicates the ground as well as the legs; speech demands physical air and human companionship and audience as well as vocal organs. We may shift from the biological to the mathematical use of the word function, and say that natural operations like breathing and digesting, acquired ones like speech and honesty, are functions of the surroundings as truly as of a person. They are things done by the environment by means of organic structures or acquired dispositions. The same air that under certain conditions ruffles the pool or wrecks buildings, under other conditions purifies the blood and conveys thought. The outcome depends upon what air acts upon. The social environment acts through native impulses and speech and moral habitudes manifest themselves. There are specific good reasons for the usual attribution of acts to the person from whom they immediately proceed. But to convert this special reference into a belief of exclusive ownership is as misleading as to suppose that breathing and digesting are complete within the human body. To get a rational basis for moral discussion we must begin with recognizing that functions and habits are ways of using and incorporating the environment in which the latter has its say as surely as the former.

 

Nature, Communication and Meaning from Experience and Nature (1925)

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Of all affairs, communication is the most wonderful. That things should be able to pass from the plane of external pushing and pulling to that of revealing themselves to man, and thereby to themselves; and that the fruit of communication should be participation, sharing, is a wonder by the side of which transubstantiation pales. When communication occurs, all natural events are subject to reconsideration and revision; they are re-adapted to meet the requirements of conversation, whether it be public discourse or that preliminary discourse termed thinking. Events turn into objects, things with a meaning. They may be referred to when they do not exist, and thus be operative among things distant in space and time, through vicarious presence in a new medium. Brute efficiencies and inarticulate consummations as soon as they can be spoken of are liberated from local and accidental contexts, and are eager for naturalization in any non-insulated, communicating, part of the world. Events when once they are named lead an independent and double life. In addition to their original existence, they are subject to ideal experimentation: their meanings may be infinitely combined and re-arranged in imagination, and the outcome of this inner experimentation—which is thought—may issue forth in interaction with crude or raw events. Meanings having been deflected from the rapid and roaring stream of events into a calm and traversable canal, rejoin the main stream, and color, temper and compose its course. Where communication exists, things in acquiring meaning, thereby acquire representatives, surrogates, signs and implicates, which are infinitely more amenable to management, more permanent and more accommodating, than events in their first estate.

 

Conduct and Experience (1930)

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Conduct,” as it appears in the title, obviously links itself with the position taken by behaviorists; “experience,” with that of the introspectionists. If the result of the analysis herein undertaken turns out to involve a revision of the meaning of both concepts, it will probably signify that my conclusions will not be satisfactory to either school; they may be regarded by members of both as a sterile hybrid rather than a useful mediation. However, there are many subdivisions in each school, and there are competent psychologists who decline to enroll in either, while the very existence of controversy is an invitation to reconsideration of fundamental terms, even if the outcome is not wholly satisfactory.

Before we enter upon the theme, an introductory remark should be made. That is that the subject is so highly complex and has so many ramifications that it is impossible to deal with it adequately The difficulty is increased by the fact that these ramifications extend to a historical, intellectual background in which large issues of philosophy and epistemology are involved, a background so pervasive that even those who have no interest in, or use for, philosophy would find, if they took the trouble to investigate, that the words they use—the words we all must use—are deeply saturated with the results of these earlier discussions. These have escaped from philosophy and made their way into common thought and speech.

 

The Existential Matrix of Inquiry: Cultural from Logic: The Theory of Inquiry (1938)

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The environment in which human beings live, act and inquire, is not simply physical. It is cultural as well. Problems which induce inquiry grow out of the relations of fellow beings to one another, and the organs for dealing with these relations are not only the eye and ear, but the meanings which have developed in the course of living, together with the ways of forming and transmitting culture with all its constituents of tools, arts, institutions, traditions and customary beliefs.

I

To a very large extent the ways in which human beings respond even to physical conditions are influenced by their cultural environment. Light and fire are physical facts. But the occasions in which a human being responds to things as merely physical in purely physical ways are comparatively rare. Such occasions are the act of jumping when a sudden noise is heard, withdrawing the hand when something hot is touched, blinking in the presence of a sudden increase of light, animal-like basking in sunshine, etc. Such reactions are on the biological plane. But the typical cases of human behavior are not represented by such examples. The use of sound in speech and listening to speech, making and enjoying music; the kindling and tending of fire to cook and to keep warm; the production of light to carry on and regulate occupations and social enjoyments:—these things are representative of distinctively human activity

 

The Superstition of Necessity (1893)

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Lest my title give such offense as to prejudice unduly my contention, I may say that I use the term in the way indicated by its etymology: as a standing-still on the part of thought; a clinging to old ideas after those ideas have lost their use, and hence, like all superstitions, have become obstructions. For I shall try to show that the doctrine of necessity is a survival; that it holds over from an earlier and undeveloped period of knowledge; that as a means of getting out of and beyond that stage it had a certain value, but, having done its work, loses its significance. Halting judgment may, indeed, at one time have helped itself out of the slough of uncertainty, vagueness, and inadequacy on to ground of more solid and complete fact, by the use of necessity as a crutch; once upon the ground, the crutch makes progress slower and, preventing the full exercise of the natural means of locomotion, tends to paralyze science. The former support has become a burden, almost an intolerable one.

 

The Problem of Truth (1911)

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To the lay mind it is a perplexing thing that the nature of truth should be a vexed problem. That such is the case seems another illustration of Berkeley’s remark about the proneness of philosophers to throw dust in their own eyes and then complain that they cannot see. It is evident enough to the plain man that it takes character to tell the truth habitually; and he has learned, through hard discipline, that it is no easy matter to discover what the truth is in special instances. But such difficulties assume that the nature of truth is perfectly well understood. To be truthful is to make our statements conform to our sincere beliefs, and our beliefs to the facts. Only, so it would seem, some zeal for sophistication can make a topic for philosophic dispute out of such a straightaway situation as this. Whence and why the pother? Before our inquiry ends we may find reason for thinking that some of the difficulties attending the debate are gratuitous. But we must begin by indicating that the conditions which make the nature of truth a problem are found in everyday life, in common sense, so that if to take truth as a problem be a crime, common sense is accessory before the act.

 

Logical Objects (1916)

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The exigencies which produced this paper will, I hope, render apologies unnecessary. I am only too conscious that it is not a paper for discussion, but a memorandum of certain positions which might be developed. I would suggest, however, that the following points may afford a handle which discussion can take hold of: First, what is the nature of empirically observable inference? Can it be sufficiently identified by behavioristic criteria? If so, secondly, is it not altogether probable, in view of its tremendous importance in life and the danger of going wrong to which experience shows it is exposed, that certain distinctive instrumentalities would be evolved in the course of improving the performance of the act? Any one of the five points mentioned might then be used as a testing case with reference to the hypothesis that they illustrate just such instrumentalities.

The object of this paper is to propound an hypothesis concerning the nature of what, for brevity, may be called “logical entities.” By this word I denote such things as are referred to by common nouns, bywords like “between,” “if,” “or,” by numbers, or in general what are usually referred to as subsistences and essences. The history of thought shows at least three types of theories. They have been treated as (i) physical properties abstracted and grasped in “rational apprehension”; as (ii) mental (i.e., psychical) existences; and (iii) as marking a peculiar type of Being, which is neither physical nor psychical, but rather “metaphysical” in one of the most commonly used senses of that word. It is not part of my present intention to tell the reasons for the oscillation of historic speculations among the different views. It is not out of place however to note that mathematical science has repeatedly generated the latter type of view. The similarities of the Rules for the Direction of Mind of Descartes and the main theses of contemporary analytic realism are many and striking; it is probable that they also exist, mutatis mutandis, between the latter and the ancient Megaric logic, or whatever may have been that contemporary theory which stared Plato in the face as a reductio ad absurdum of one phase of his own philosophy. And it would be superfluous to point out that amid their differences practically all schools of contemporary realists agree in the third conception, though they exhibit a preference for the word logical over the word metaphysical in describing this tertium quid in the realm of Being. The hypothesis which I would present is a development of a fourth point of view which has been repeatedly suggested in the history of thought, but never, as far as I am aware, with adequate emancipation from irrelevant considerations. It is that logical entities are truly logical, while “logical” denotes having to do intrinsically with the occurrence of inference. In other words, logical objects are things (or traits of things) which are found when inference is found and which are only found then.

 

Analysis of Reflective Thinking from How We Think (1933)

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When a situation arises containing a difficulty or perplexity, the person who finds himself in it may take one of a number of courses. He may dodge it, dropping the activity that brought it about, turning to something else. He may indulge in a flight of fancy, imagining himself powerful or wealthy, or in some other way in possession of the means that would enable him to deal with the difficulty. Or, finally, he may face the situation. In this case, he begins to reflect.

REFLECTION INCLUDES OBSERVATION

The moment he begins to reflect, he begins of necessity to observe in order to take stock of conditions. Some of these observations are made by direct use of the senses; others by recollecting observations previously made either by himself or by others. The person who had the engagement to keep, notes with his eyes his present location, recalls the place where he should arrive at one o’clock, and brings back to mind the means of transportation with which he is acquainted and their respective locations. In this way he gets as clear and distinct a recognition as possible of the nature of the situation with which he has to deal. Some of the conditions are obstacles and others are aids, resources. No matter whether these conditions come to him by direct perception or by memory, they form the “facts of the case.” They are the things that are there, that have to be reckoned with. Like all facts, they are stubborn. They cannot be got out of the way by magic just because they are disagreeable. It is no use to wish they did not exist or were different. They must be taken for just what they are. Hence observation and recollection must be used to the full so as not to glide over or to mistake important features. Until the habit of thinking is well formed, facing the situation to discover the facts requires an effort. For the mind tends to dislike what is unpleasant and so to sheer off from an adequate notice of that which is especially annoying.

 

The Place of Judgment in Reflective Activity from How We Think (1933)

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We have been dealing so far with the act of reflection as an entirety. There are subordinate unities within the process upon whose character the efficiency of the whole undertaking depends.

JUDGMENTS,
THE CONSTITUENT UNITS OF THOUGHT

From one point of view the whole process of thinking consists of making a series of judgments that are so related as to support one another in leading to a final judgment—the conclusion. In spite of this fact, we have treated reflective activity as a whole, first, because judgments do not occur in isolation but in connection with the solution of a problem, the clearing away of something obscure and perplexing, the resolution of a difficulty; in short, as units in reflective activity. The purpose of solving a problem determines what kind of judgments should be made. If I were suddenly to announce that it would take twenty-two and a half yards of carpet to cover a certain floor, it might be a perfectly correct statement, but as a judgment it would be senseless if it did not bear upon some question that had come up. Judgments need to be relevant to an issue as well as correct. Judging is the act of selecting and weighing the bearing of facts and suggestions as they present themselves, as well as of deciding whether the alleged facts are really facts and whether the idea used is a sound idea or merely a fancy. We may say, for short, that a person of sound judgment is one who, in the idiomatic phrase, has “horse sense”; he is a good judge of relative values; he can estimate, appraise, evaluate, with tact and discernment.

 

General Propositions, Kinds, and Classes (1936)

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In an earlier article I called attention to the fact that Mill stated that since abstract terms are sometimes singular and sometimes general, it might be better to put them in a “class apart.” I argued that this class apart was that of universal if-then propositions; abstract terms being, when they have logical import, the content of such propositions. I stated that confusion has arisen in logical theory because such propositions are not definitely and consistently marked off from propositions that are general in the sense of generic, that is, referring to kinds, the latter being designated linguistically by common nouns instead of abstract nouns. I added that “contemporary logical writings are full of the confusion of the generic (general) and the universal, in spite of the common nominal recognition of the ambiguity of all.”1I propose here to illustrate this last statement as a means of effecting recognition of a difference in logical form between two kinds of propositions both of which are termed general.2

 

The Problem of Logical Subject-Matter from Logic: The Theory of Inquiry (1938)

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Contemporary logical theory is marked by an apparent paradox. There is general agreement as to its proximate subject-matter. With respect to this proximate subject-matter no period shows a more confident advance. Its ultimate subject-matter, on the other hand, is involved in controversies which show little sign of abating. Proximate subject-matter is the domain of the relations of propositions to one another, such as affirmation-negation, inclusion-exclusion, particular-general, etc. No one doubts that the relations expressed by such words as is, is-not, if-then, only (none but), and, or, some-all, belong to the subject-matter of logic in a way so distinctive as to mark off a special field.

When, however, it is asked how and why the matters designated by these terms form the subject-matter of logic, dissension takes the place of consensus. Do they stand for pure forms, forms that have independent subsistence, or are the forms in question forms of subject-matter? If the latter, what is that of which they are forms, and what happens when subject-matter takes on logical form? How and why?

 

The Pattern of Inquiry from Logic: The Theory of Inquiry (1938)

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The first chapter set forth the fundamental thesis of this volume: Logical forms accrue to subject-matter when the latter is subjected to controlled inquiry. It also set forth some of the implications of this thesis for the nature of logical theory. The second and third chapters stated the independent grounds, biological and cultural, for holding that logic is a theory of experiential naturalistic subject-matter. The first of the next two chapters developed the theme with reference to the relations of the logic of common sense and science, while the second discussed Aristotelian logic as the organized formulation of the language of Greek life, when that language is regarded as the expression of the meanings of Greek culture and of the significance attributed to various forms of natural existence. It was held throughout these chapters that inquiry, in spite of the diverse subjects to which it applies, and the consequent diversity of its special techniques has a common structure or pattern: that this common structure is applied both in common sense and science, although because of the nature of the problems with which they are concerned, the emphasis upon the factors involved varies widely in the two modes. We now come to the consideration of the common pattern.

 

Mathematical Discourse from Logic: The Theory of Inquiry (1938)

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The ability of any logical theory to account for the distinguishing logical characteristics of mathematical conceptions and relations is a stringent test of its claims. A theory such as the one presented in this treatise is especially bound to meet and pass this test. For it has the twofold task of doing justice to the formal character of the certification of mathematical propositions and of showing not merely the consistency of this formal character with the comprehensive pattern of inquiry, but also that mathematical subject-matter is an outcome of intrinsic developments within that pattern. For reasons suggested in the closing sentence of the last chapter, the interpretation of the logical conditions of mathematical conceptions and relations must be such as to account for the form of discourse which is intrinsically free from the necessity of existential reference while at the same time it provides the possibility of indefinitely extensive existential reference—such as is exemplified in mathematical physics.

 

The Construction of Judgment from Logic: The Theory of Inquiry (1938)

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In terms of the ideas set forth in the last chapter, judgment may be identified as the settled outcome of inquiry. It is concerned with the concluding objects that emerge from inquiry in their status of being conclusive. Judgment in this sense is distinguished from propositions. The content of the latter is intermediate and representative and is carried by symbols; while judgment, as finally made, has direct existential import. The terms affirmation and assertion are employed in current speech interchangeably. But there is a difference, which should have linguistic recognition, between the logical status of intermediate subject-matters that are taken for use in connection with what they may lead to as means, and subject-matter which has been prepared to be final. I shall use assertion to designate the latter logical status and affirmation to name the former. Even from the standpoint of ordinary speech, assertion has a quality of insistence that is lacking in the connotation of the word “affirmation.” We can usually substitute the phrase “it is held” or “it is said” for “it is affirmed.” However, the important matter is not the words, but the logical properties that are characteristic of different subject-matters.

 

General Theory of Propositions from Logic: The Theory of Inquiry (1938)

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Judgment has been analyzed to show that it is a continuous process of resolving an indeterminate, unsettled situation into a determinately unified one, through operations which transform subject-matter originally given. Judgment, in distinction from propositions which are singular, plural, generic and universal, is individual, since it is concerned with unique qualitative situations. Comparison-contrast is, upon this position, the fundamental operation by which re-determination of prior situations is effected; “comparison” being a name for all the processes which institute cumulative continuity of subject-matter in the ongoing course of inquiry. Comparison-contrast has been shown to be involved in affirmation-negation, in measurement, whether qualitative or numerical, in description-narration, and in general propositions of the two forms, generic and universal. Moreover, it is a complex of operations by which existential conjunctions and eliminations, in conjugate connection with each other are effected—not a “mental” affair.

 

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