PHIL 115 Lecture Notes - Johns Hopkins University, Radical Empiricism, Ancient Greek Philosophy
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PHILOSOPHY SECOND SEMESTER- notes on John Dewey
john dewey 1859-1952
dewey known as the replacement child because he was born nine months and 3 days after his brother
john dewey died
if you wanted to study philosophy in a secular setting you had to go to europe, dewey decided to go but
he couldnt afford it, was accepted to john hopkins but without funding.
dewey believed that there was something special about scientific knowledge. he said it could carry over
into other branches of investigation including philosophy
wanted to pass laws to ban war
-just general notes but get them from kieran/morgan/shannon.
• John Dewey, 1859-1952 One of the most prolific philosophers ever. His complete works are
composed of 38 thick volumes and the last one was actually lost.
• Born in burlington Vermont. Father was a remote parent and mother was very intensely involved
in his life. Mother was devoutly religious (Christian). A very big factor in Dewey's upbringing which led to
a very dim vie of introspection. His father was a very hard working grocer.
• Dewey was a replacement child: The first John Dewey died at the age of two and this John
Dewey was born exactly nine months and two days later. Dewey grew up very conscious of the fact that
he was a replacement child and he worked twice are hard feeling that he had to live two lives.
• Was especially interested in the organic nature of any living thing, in particular the human mind.
Finished his B.A. And did not know what he wanted to do so he became a high school teacher. Alice
Chipman and John Dewey were married for 40+ years and had and adopted many children. Had 8
• Dewey did not want to study philosophy in a religious institution. Could not afford to go to
Europe so he applied to John Hopkins University. Got accepted after his third application.
• Adamantly opposed to Marxism. Held out hope for pragmatism like James outlines. He never
believed that philosophy is or should aspire to become a science, but believed that intellectual inquiry is
the same in every field; science, math, etc.
• Dewey lived through both world wars. Was opposed to American involvement in both wars in
the beginning but gradually changed his mind as the war unfolded. Was a prominent member of the
Outlawry of War Movement; wanted to make war illegal. Was a very sharp critic of the Soviet Union
before it was even politically popular to be so. Was a lifelong advocate, theorist of democracy but was
not happy with the state of American democracy.
• He had a cottage in a place called Hubbards Nova Scotia, just left of Halifax Nova Scotia.
• He did know John Watson. The same John Watson that the hall across the street is named after.
• Dewey was the most philosophically sophisticated thinker in what became known as the The
Progressive Education Movement. By the 1930s was a very strong critic of the movement.
• Dewey and his second wife adopted 2 children. His second wife was thoroughly disliked by
everybody except John Dewey. She was younger than some of his grown children from his first marriage.
• Wants to defend James from his critics. He wants to clarify and refine this pragmatic philosophy.
Dewey thinks the basic idea of a pragmatic idea of truth is correct but it needs to be refined more. The
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notion of knowledge is still very much the centre of philosophy.
• Dewey thinks that philosophers have a habit of inflating the difference between what is in you
mind and what is actually in the world “out there”. Dewey will say that it makes as much sense to say
that the world is in your mind than it is to say that it is out there. The whole distinction between in here
and out there. Dewey was reading Darwin and agreed with him in a time where it was very controversial.
• Mind is immediately connected to the world. There is no radical separation of mind of world and
object and knowledge. Descartes said that we needed to go on a quest for certainty, and Dewey says
that we need to abandon that. We should seek out knowledge yes but certainty no.
• Scientific methodology or inquiry is going to be what fits knowledge in general.Never took the
view that philosophy is a science or should be a science. Inquiry does apply to many subjects.
• Thinking or inquiry are not one way streets where knowers go out into the world and grasp its
object. Knowing is a two way street.
• Thinking begins with problematic situation. All lines inquiry in any discipline begins with an
experience of a problematic situation. All inquiry takes the form of problem solving, in every
discipline.Thinking is problem solving; trial and error problem solving.
• Most of the problematic situations that get things started spur form experience. Knowledge is
not something separate for self. Knowledge belong to any living organism or the human organism.
Knowledge is an activity that applies to the organism and we cannot forget that.
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• Dewey is trying to defend James. Similar relationship to John Stewart Mill and Jeremy Bentham.
• Dewey introduces the term warranted assertibilty- meaning truth. The object of knowledge is
truth. Truth is a name for statements or ideas or hypotheses if it is warranted, that is if we can provide a
justification for it. Assertibility- what is sayable. What you can reasonable claim and back up with a
rational argument. This entails that truth is always contingent on the course of future inquiry. For Dewey
probably nothing is true for all time. Very little of our truth is true for all time. Dewey is going to say that
you can never really say that something is true period. Truth is on probation. It is true in that it passes for
true and works in our experience and generates consensus but its truth is on probation. Someone may
come up with a better idea in the future.
• He is strongly influenced by Darwinian theology. We have to say that everything about the
human mind, knowledge and the truth itself, as standing to the world in a naturalistic kind of way. The
relationship between mind and world is much like the relationship between any other individual and the
• We want to be able to speak of knowledge in a fluid way. We need to understand the
relationship of mind and world in a kind of organic model.
• Dewey is going to say that the solution has to fit the problem. Dewey is going to say that you
cannot take a solution or hypothesis that does not fit one problem and say that it may fits a different
problem or situation.
• A solution has got to fit the problem, not a different problem. According to James an idea is not
true until generates consensus among a group of competent individuals.
• All human experience even the most elementary of perceiving a pen language colour or
structures our perceptions. When this book was published the theme of language was not that big or
popular (1920). The standard view in philosophy had been that experience is pre linguistic ir non
linguistic. An idea is had in the first place and then and idea or sense impression is put into words.
Language had traditionally been regarded as an afterthought to our experience. Dewey says that
language is present in the human being right from the beginning. I have an experience of a thing when I
can speak about it to classify it. The most elementary act of experience requires language.
• Consensus is not a guarantee that we have hit upon or discovered the truth. There are not
guarantees or certainties in knowledge. Consensus among a group of scholars is one criterion for truth. It
is not a guarantee.
• NO knowledge is certain. There is knowledge but we have to redefine knowledge in a more finite
way. Reason and experience are very separate. Reason is above experience and theory is above practice.
• There is a tendency in the rationalist way of thinking to get lost on the world of concepts. Dewey
is going to say that you cannot separate reason from experience. You reason about experience. He is
going to say that if you turn your back on the world and only consider concepts you cannot apply
yourself to real world problems. Do not dwell in the region of abstractions. Philosophy must be worldly
and pragmatic. It helps us to understand the world in which we live and the problems we face. We want
the pursuit of knowledge and the end of knowledge as truth, warranted assertibility. Hypothesis that
have been shown to be certified or warranted.
• What is intelligence? Experimental intelligence. Reason for Dewey is the social practice or
reasoning! Principles are not dogmas they are hypotheses to be worked out in practice.
• He is a process philosopher. Wants to study things as dynamic and fluid, Intelligence is flexible.
Intelligence is a constant process of forming and fluidity.
• It is dangerous when the mindset of the thinker is removed from everyday objects and
experience. Hume and other British empiricist stated the seriousness or consideration receives
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