Faith in Life: John Dewey's Early Philosophy

Faith in Life: John Dewey's Early Philosophy

Douglas R. Anderson
Jude Jones
Copyright Date: 2011
Published by: Fordham University Press
Pages: 340
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  • Book Info
    Faith in Life: John Dewey's Early Philosophy
    Book Description:

    This is the first book to consider John Dewey's early philosophy on its own terms and to explicate its key ideas. It does so through the fullest treatment to date of his youthful masterwork, the Psychology. This fuller treatment reveals that the received view, which sees Dewey's early philosophy as unimportant in its own right, is deeply mistaken. In fact, Dewey's early philosophy amounts to an important new form of idealism. More specifically, Dewey's idealism contains a new logic of rupture, which allows us to achieve four things: A focus on discontinuity that challenges all naturalistic views, including Dewey's own later view; A space of critical resistance to events that is at the same time the source of ideals; A faith in the development of ideals that challenges pessimists like Schopenhauer and Nietzsche; and A non-traditional reading of Hegel that invites comparison with cutting-edge Continental philosophers, such as Adorno, Derrida, and Zizek, and even goes beyond them in its systematic approach;In making these discoveries, the author forges a new link between American and European philosophy, showing how they share similar insights and concerns. He also provides an original assessment of Dewey's relationship to his teacher, George Sylvester Morris, and to other important thinkers of the day, giving us a fresh picture of John Dewey, the man and the philosopher, in the early years of his career. Readers will find a wide range of topics discussed, from Dewey's early reflections on Kant and Hegel to the nature of beauty, courage, sympathy, hatred, love, and even death and despair. This is a book for anyone interested in the thought of John Dewey, American pragmatism, Continental Philosophy, or a new idealism appearing on the scene.

    eISBN: 978-0-8232-4923-7
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Abbreviations
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xiv)
    (pp. 1-11)

    This book is the first full-length study of John Dewey’s early philosophy. Most scholars entirely ignore Dewey’s early efforts in favor of his later, more mature thinking. Those scholars who do explore Dewey’s early work, most notably Jim Good and John Shook, who are pioneers in this area, consider the early efforts solely in terms of how they relate to Dewey’s later thought.¹ There has been no single study devoted to understanding and interpreting Dewey’s early philosophy as a whole, taken on its own terms as a sustained philosophical endeavor.²

    The justification for such a project—a project that might...

    (pp. 12-36)

    Any extended study of John Dewey’s early philosophy must grapple with the fact that this body of work has not been well received. Given the kinds of naïve claims it is making, the critics have said, this philosophy is not worth lingering over, except perhaps if one is interested in tracing Dewey’s philosophical development as a whole. Dewey’s project at this time was to defend Hegel in some rather bizarre ways, so the argument goes, and there does not seem to be anything in the philosophy of this period that is still worth considering today.

    This assessment is what I...

    (pp. 37-61)

    A culture of pessimism—what would it look like? What kind of mood or atmosphere would it express? What types of art works would it produce? What creeds would it espouse? Just such a culture existed in Dewey’s day, and it went by the namemodernism. I will first define modernism and then consider Dewey’s objections to it. As we will see, defined in philosophical terms, modernism means Kantianism, and it is this philosophy, above all, that the early Dewey opposes.

    To define modernism, I will make special reference to Vienna at the turn of the twentieth century, for it...

    (pp. 62-83)

    Dewey’sPsychologyis one of the great, underappreciated works of nineteenth-century thought. The book has been consistently derided and ignored since its publication in 1887, and its merits are still underappreciated today, even by otherwise sympathetic Dewey scholars.¹ And yet thePsychologyis a masterwork of philosophical synthesis, providing a general framework that seems to account well (and sometimes beautifully) for every phase of human experience. It offers a compelling account of everything from the nature of knowledge and wonder to what it means to feel malice or hunger, or to be religious, or to appreciate a great work of...

    (pp. 84-112)

    How does knowledge occur? What are the conditions that make it possible? In thePsychology, Dewey holds that at the root of all knowledge there are not objects out there that we must come to know, but rather, vague, amorphous “motions” (EW 2: 30), or processes of some kind, that lend themselves to creative development and reshaping. Instead of starting with objects, we start with motions, with malleable processes that are indistinct and waiting, as it were, to be developed into a world to be known.¹ The method by which these original motions are developed into a world to be...

    (pp. 113-144)

    We saw in the previous chapter how Dewey conceives of knowledge. We will now consider what it is that we know, in his view. Dewey maintains that when we have knowledge we never grasp facts in their pure, given state, but always construct and reorganize them to render them more idealized. We will see in this chapter how our aim in this endeavor, for Dewey, is toknowthe facts—that is, to relate them together into a systematic whole, so that each becomes intelligible. What we would like to achieve as inquirers is complete knowledge. We would like to...

    (pp. 145-189)

    We have seen Dewey’s arguments for holding that we are entitled to think of ourselves as belonging to a single, interconnected, and meaningful whole. We are entitled to think this, he believes, because our knowledge all along builds towards such a result. We have now to consider Dewey’s reasons for saying that we can also feel ourselves belonging to this meaningful whole, and that we should act, as well, as if we do belong to it.¹

    The crucial steps in Dewey’s argument at this stage are to show, first, that feelings are about “self-realization,” and second, that they contain a...

    (pp. 190-232)

    Now that we have examined Dewey’s early philosophy in detail, we are in a position to understand its promise. The main thrust of this philosophy lies in its attempt to move us beyond the whole problematic culture of Dewey’s time (and perhaps of our own), namely, modernist culture itself. In this chapter, I first show how Dewey’s philosophy challenges the modernist conception of the self, a conception that for Dewey entailed deep pessimism about human life and its prospects. I then show how Dewey’s early philosophy challenges pessimism as such and allows us to have faith in life. I conclude...

    (pp. 233-282)

    My main claim in this book is that Dewey’s early thought amounts to an original and significant philosophy. This claim challenges the standard interpretation, which holds that aside from helping illuminate Dewey’s later writings, his early work has nothing important to teach us; that taken on its own terms it is unworthy of our sustained attention. It may be objected to my thesis that Dewey’s early thought is typical Hegelian idealism, reflecting the philosophy of his teacher, George Sylvester Morris, if not simply of Hegel himself, and merely reiterates pre-existing idealist claims. In this final chapter, I will demonstrate that...

  14. Notes
    (pp. 283-304)
  15. Bibliography
    (pp. 305-310)
  16. Index
    (pp. 311-314)
  17. Back Matter
    (pp. 315-316)