The Gleam of Light: Moral Perfectionism and Education in Dewey and Emerson

The Gleam of Light: Moral Perfectionism and Education in Dewey and Emerson

Douglas R. Anderson
Jude Jones
Copyright Date: 2005
Published by: Fordham University Press
Pages: 228
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  • Book Info
    The Gleam of Light: Moral Perfectionism and Education in Dewey and Emerson
    Book Description:

    In the name of efficiency, the practice of education has come to be dominated by neoliberal ideology andprocedures of standardization and quantification. Such attempts to make all aspects of practice transparent and subject to systematic accounting lack sensitivity to the invisible and the silent, to something in the humancondition that cannot readily be expressed in an either-or form. Seeking alternatives to such trends, Saito readsDewey's idea of progressive education through the lens of Emersonian moral perfectionism (to borrow a term coined by Stanley Cavell). She elucidates a spiritual and aesthetic dimension to Dewey's notion of growth, one considerably richer than what Dewey alone presents in his typically scientific terminology.

    eISBN: 978-0-8232-4792-9
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Foreword
    (pp. xiii-xiv)

    In the past several decades in the United States there has been a remarkable revival of interest in two (perhapsthetwo) of the most famous, or influential, American claimants to the title of philosopher: John Dewey and Ralph Waldo Emerson. From the point of view of a philosopher and teacher such as myself, this revival of interest is a valuable, heartening turn of events. But I find that it has come at a high price, namely one in which Emerson’s so-called transcendentalism is largely subordinated to Dewey’s pragmatism. I mean that the tendency on the part of most participants...

  5. ONE IN SEARCH OF LIGHT IN DEMOCRACY AND EDUCATION: Deweyan Growth in an Age of Nihilism
    (pp. 1-16)

    InThe Public and Its ProblemsJohn Dewey criticized the democracy of American society in the 1920s. The “eclipse of the public” that he warns against is not only a matter of political participation but also a moral issue that has a bearing on one’s way of living. Dewey captured the ethos of his times in terms of a sense of “hollowness.” This is the sense that one cannot articulate one’s feelings or even that, in the loss of one’s own taste, one does not know “what one really wants.”³ In Dewey’s view, the weakening of the personal sense of...

    (pp. 17-35)

    One criticism directed against Dewey’s concept of growth, “Growth towards what?” is caused by an ambiguity entailed in his position between Hegel and Darwin, two main philosophers who influenced the formation of his view on growth. Dewey asserts that the moral ends and ideals of growth can be explained solely on the basis of Darwinian naturalism and the scientific method. Indeed, the major part of the interpretation of Dewey’s pragmatism, whether being defense or attack, has been made within this framework of Dewey between Hegel and Darwin—an evolutionary naturalist who has not completely abrogated ethical ideals.

    Richard Rorty has...

  7. THREE EMERSON’S VOICE: Dewey beyond Hegel and Darwin
    (pp. 36-49)

    The debate surrounding Rorty’s reinterpretation of Dewey has shown a limitation of defending Dewey’s naturalistic philosophy of growth solely within the framework of “Dewey between Hegel and Darwin.” A way out of this impasse is suggested by Ralph Waldo Emerson, whom Dewey calls the “Philosopher of Democracy.” Historical and textual evidence as well as recent scholarship on their connection demonstrates Dewey’s undeniable connection with Emerson. Among those who today consider Emerson to be the source of American pragmatism, however, Stanley Cavell stands out in virtue of his eloquent resistance to any easy connection between Emerson and Dewey. He is at...

  8. FOUR EMERSONIAN MORAL PERFECTIONISM: Gaining from the Closeness between Dewey and Emerson
    (pp. 50-68)

    In the debate that we have been examining, Cavell represents a dissenting voice. The majority of pragmatists think that Cavell misunderstands Dewey, which is, in Anderson’s words, an “American loss.” I believe, however, that leaving this gap within American philosophy unexamined will be a greater loss. We might be able to learn something from Cavell’s sense of resistance for the sake of further enhancing the contributions made by Dewey’s pragmatism in connection with Emerson’s thought. Instead of keeping the two camps apart, therefore, I will try to engage his voice more fully in dialogue with neo-pragmatists and Deweyan scholars.


    (pp. 69-80)

    “Education is all one with growing; it has no end beyond itself.”¹ As this statement of Dewey represents, growth in his evolutionary view of the world is the contingent and endlessly evolving natural process. It takes place in the interaction of an organism and its environment without relying on the eternal resting point outside that process. This is the essence of Dewey’s idea ofprogressivegrowth. How can we save this challenging worldview from a persistent voice of anxiety that asks, “Growth towards what?” and from the stigma of optimism filled with trust in power and progress? In view of...

  10. SIX GROWTH AND THE SOCIAL RECONSTRUCTION OF CRITERIA: Gaining from the Distance between Dewey and Emerson
    (pp. 81-98)

    Cavell urges us to see how close and far Dewey and Emerson are. Having discussed the common ground between them, we turn now to attend more closely to Cavell’s voice of criticism. One of the challenging questions that Cavell addresses to Dewey is the lack of concreteness in his language. Especially, he cannot hear “the speech of children” in Dewey’s writings on education.¹ To take up this line of criticism, we now invite Dewey, the how-philosopher, to respond to the following question:Howcan a good end be determined at each moment of perfecting? A more concrete picture of growth...

  11. SEVEN THE GLEAM OF LIGHT: Reconstruction toward Holistic Growth
    (pp. 99-119)

    Dewey’s naturalistic philosophy of growth has been found as one bordering on EMP, but with another internal force resisting to its full development. Dewey’s voice is dissonant from Emerson’s and Cavell’s, most significantly in their divergent responses to the recalcitrant child. In order to elaborate more fully the potential of his idea of growth as perfection and to reclaim his muted Emersonian voice, we must rescue Dewey from a totalizing tendency that he reveals in his commitments to social intelligence. It requires that task of reconstruction in philosophy.

    A promising clue to reconstruction is latent within the structure of Dewey’s...

  12. EIGHT THE GLEAM OF LIGHT LOST: Transcending the Tragic with Dewey after Emerson
    (pp. 120-138)

    Dewey sheds an Emersonian light on the degenerate state of American democracy in his times—a state of darkness in which the gleam of light, the sense of being and becoming, are dimmed and even lost. This is, in his expression, the “tragedy of the ‘lost’ individual.” In order to reevaluate the significance of Deweyan growth after Emerson, this chapter attempts to respond to these questions centering on the theme of the tragic sense in contemporary democracy and education. Can Dewey’s progressive growth still be viable in times when flexible transaction is constantly dissipated? How can a Deweyan discourse of...

  13. NINE THE REKINDLING OF THE GLEAM OF LIGHT: Toward Perfectionist Education
    (pp. 139-162)

    Dewey says: “MANKIND likes to think in terms of extreme opposites. It is given to formulating its beliefs in terms ofEithers-Ors, between which it recognizes no intermediate possibilities.”³ We are, are we not, still bound by this fatal drive toward dichotomous choice. Yet there are times today when it seems that there is only one alternative—when other possibilities are made to seem beyond the pale or absurd or just unrealistic. The clamor of urgency about the raising of standards and levels of achievement has expressed itself in part in a new obsession with assessment. Whatever cannot be measured...

  14. Notes
    (pp. 163-194)
  15. Bibliography
    (pp. 195-204)
  16. Index
    (pp. 205-210)
  17. Back Matter
    (pp. 211-212)