The Undiscovered Dewey

The Undiscovered Dewey: Religion, Morality, and the Ethos of Democracy

Melvin L. Rogers
Copyright Date: 2009
Pages: 352
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.7312/roge14486
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    The Undiscovered Dewey
    Book Description:

    The Undiscovered Dewey explores the profound influence of evolution and its corresponding ideas of contingency and uncertainty on John Dewey's philosophy of action, particularly its argument that inquiry proceeds from the uncertainty of human activity. Dewey separated the meaningfulness of inquiry from a larger metaphysical story concerning the certainty of human progress. He then connected this thread to the way in which our reflective capacities aid us in improving our lives. Dewey therefore launched a new understanding of the modern self that encouraged intervention in social and natural environments but which nonetheless demanded courage and humility because of the intimate relationship between action and uncertainty.

    Melvin L. Rogers explicitly connects Dewey's theory of inquiry to his religious, moral, and political philosophy. He argues that, contrary to common belief, Dewey sought a place for religious commitment within a democratic society sensitive to modern pluralism. Against those who regard Dewey as indifferent to moral conflict, Rogers points to Dewey's appreciation for the incommensurability of our ethical commitments. His deep respect for modern pluralism, argues Rogers, led Dewey to articulate a negotiation between experts and the public so that power did not lapse into domination. Exhibiting an abiding faith in the reflective and contestable character of inquiry, Dewey strongly engaged with the complexity of our religious, moral, and political lives.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-51616-7
    Subjects: Philosophy, Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. PREFACE
    (pp. ix-xiv)
  4. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. xv-xviii)
  5. ABBREVIATIONS
    (pp. xix-xxiv)
  6. INTRODUCTION
    (pp. 1-24)

    John Dewey’s writings are widely recognized as an important contribution to democratic theory. As Robert Westbrook writes in his seminal intellectual biography, John Dewey and American Democracy:

    Dewey was the most important advocate of participatory democracy, that is, of the belief that democracy as an ethical ideal calls upon men and women to build communities in which the necessary opportunities and resources are available for every individual to realize fully his or her particular capacities and powers through participation in political, social and cultural life.¹

    This characterization is further crystallized in recent interpretations that locate Dewey firmly on the side...

  7. PART I. FROM CERTAINTY TO CONTINGENCY
    • CHAPTER 1 PROTESTANT SELF-ASSERTION AND SPIRITUAL SICKNESS
      (pp. 27-58)

      Few deny the extraordinary influence John Dewey exerted during the first half of the twentieth century. His time at Columbia University, beginning in 1904, overlapped with a number of movements interested in laying out a social theory to underwrite political transformation. Both the Social Gospel and the Progressive movements of the previous century reached maturity in the twentieth, attempting on the one hand to elucidate the social commitment of Christianity as the only road to God and sustain the integrity of moral agency, and on the other to harness the power of institutions and the rising social sciences to improve...

    • CHAPTER 2 AGENCY AND INQUIRY AFTER DARWIN
      (pp. 59-104)

      The argument of the previous chapter focused on the crisis of religious certainty in late-nineteenth-century America and its impact on perceptions about human agency. In this context, Dewey’s approach (as noted at the end of chapter 1) sets him apart from thinkers like Hodge, who reject Darwin out of hand, and the liberal Protestants, whose reformulation of evolution leads to a reluctant experimentalism. Liberal Protestantism’s description of evolution underwrites an expansive conception of self-assertion. In contrast, for thinkers like Hodge, “spiritual sickness” is not merely a shorthand description of Darwin’s impact on the American religious imagination, but more profoundly a...

  8. PART II. RELIGION, THE MORAL LIFE, AND DEMOCRACY
    • CHAPTER 3 FAITH AND DEMOCRATIC PIETY
      (pp. 107-144)

      In the last chapter we examined the possibilities and limitations of inquiry as evidenced in Dewey’s philosophy of action. By making practical action central and simultaneously connecting it to contingency, Dewey identifies inquiry as the source of knowledge. Inquiry thus retains, in his view, Aristotle’s sensitivity to contingency as embodied in practical wisdom, but is nonetheless capable of serving as the determinant process for acquiring knowledge in all domains of life. Since inquiry emerges out of fractures or problems in experience, the products of inquiry are judged as effective responses within that horizon. The meaningfulness of human agency, questioned by...

    • CHAPTER 4 WITHIN THE SPACE OF MORAL REFLECTION
      (pp. 145-190)

      Dewey’s attempt to elucidate the importance of inquiry to moral and political action has always generated concern. The reason for this is a simple one: inquiry seemingly obscures the inescapable imprecision and messiness that moral and political life can present. When inquiry is connected to morality it seems too reductionist; it cannot address one of the central themes of modernity—namely, the crisis of normative evaluation. What is meant by this, as contemporary thinkers explain, is that we often confront both as a society and within the unfolding of our individual lives a conflict among competing visions of the Good,...

    • CHAPTER 5 CONSTRAINING ELITES AND MANAGING POWER
      (pp. 191-236)

      In chapter 2 I argued that for Dewey inquiry is a kind of practice whose legitimating quality draws from two different directions, the character of the individuals confronted with specific ruptures in experience and the larger environment. Legitimation is realized through a discursive medium of giving and asking for reasons for proposals, hypotheses, or plans of action—what I have referred to as a form of mutual responsiveness. This view, as seen in his reflections on both religion and morality in chapters 3 and 4, is bound up with a larger story about the absence of a common theological or...

  9. EPILOGUE
    (pp. 237-244)

    Works of interpretation such as this gain intellectual weight (if they do at all) because they enable us to see ourselves in a different light. They provide us with a picture of a self and a world that we may well want to inhabit. In those moments when we walk the path that a project such as this has laid before us, we may learn something not only about Dewey and what he envisioned for his fellow Americans, but about what may still be possible for us today. In these few concluding pages, let me try to recapitulate the major...

  10. NOTES
    (pp. 245-296)
  11. BIBLIOGRAPHY
    (pp. 297-318)
  12. INDEX
    (pp. 319-328)