PHIL 115 Lecture Notes - Oil City, Pennsylvania, Truthiness, John Dewey
Week 6 12/02/2013 07:33:00
John Dewey (1859 – 1952)
The most prolific philosopher
The book is from his middle period
It’s supposed to be a general overview of his philosophy.
Born in Burlington, Vermont to a hard-working devout Christian family.
“Are you right with Jesus today?” was a common question of his moral
He became sceptical of introspection.
He was a “replacement child”: where the first John Dewey died at
He enrolled in University of Vermont at Burlington, where he studied
physiology. He was very much interested in the structure of human
Afterwards, he became a high school teacher.
In Oil City, Pennsylvania, John Dewey married Alice Chipman. She was a
profound influence on his work.
A common view in philosophy departments during the 1800s-1900s was
that philosophy could incorporate scientific methodology.
John Dewey was a holder of pragmatism. He took one course in
mathematical logic that was taught by Peirce. He only took interest in it a
few years after he was in the class.
Dewey was the most sophisticated philosopher in the progressive
He wanted to defend James’ pragmatism from critics.
Getting rid of the subject-object dichotomy is not easy.
Dewey will look at the epistemology throughout history.
Dewey also agreed with Darwin’s conception of evolution.
“We have to speak about the human mind, not as a thing that is in the
head that stands removed from the external world. Subject-object
opposition is false.”
Methodology: Dewey believes that scientific inquiry is the model of
knowledge that fits all subjects.
The knowing act is merely grasping an idea clearly and distinctly. When
the mind does this, knowledge is partially earned.
Scientific inquiry: experimentation and evidence are done.
All inquiry begins with the experience of a problematic situation.
All intellectual thinking involves searching for a solution to a problematic
solution, in any type of subject.
We declare a hypothesis true if the practical consequences of the
experiment fit the expectations of the hypothesis.
Most of the problematic experiences that get thinking started amount to
incoherence. All ideas must fit into a coherent arrangement.
Knowledge is not something separate and self-sufficing, but is involved
with the life of any living organism.
February 14, 2013
Truth is always contingent.
If it passes for truth, then it is true.
This is conditional, as truthiness may end if there is a better version
of the truth.
We have to say that everything of the human mind is by the nature of a
process, not a static thing.
We have to think about knowledge or truth as standing to the world in a
naturalistic kind of way, like as in a living organism and its environment.
There is no subject/object dichotomy.
Consciousness has the structure of a stream.
(90): Too often when truth has been thought of as satisfaction or
workability it has been thought of as merely emotional.
The merit of the design argument is that it gives us hope, so there must
be some sort of merit to it.
A hypothesis has to resolve a particular problematic situation that got the
problem-solving thinking started in order for the hypothesis to be true.
We say a road is a good one if it serves the purpose of a road.
James was not clear whether or not a true hypothesis had to be one that
defined its intended question or if it could be true by accident in some
(52-53): Things come to him clothed in language.
All human experience is coloured, structured, or formed by the
experience of language.
Metaphor: Our minds receive phenomena as it is, but covered in
Old view, before Dewey: experience is pre-linguistic in the first place and
that later our experience or thought is put into words. An idea is had in
the first place and then the idea or perception is put into words.
I don’t know something that I perceive until I am able to classify it and
find the words that allow me to speak of it. Even the most elementary
type of perception is linguistic.
Consensus is not a guarantee of knowledge. Knowledge is not once and
There are certain criteria that lead us to believe that we have obtained
the truth. Practical interest, coherence, consensus, are not hard and fast
There needs to be a hard and fast guarantee, for absolute certainty.
If certainty is the standard for knowledge, there is none.
Reason: it is the essence of humanity. It is traditionally distinguished
Hierarchical thinking of reason and other faculties is common.
Is there a separation of reason and experience? No. Reason is not better
than experience either. The only point of reasoning is to make for
experiencial coherence. (21): Aristotle
(56): Rationalism in its modern form assumes that the abilities of reason
are self-sufficient. It is dangerous because it makes men averse to
experiment and fact.
There is a tendency to the rationalist way of thought where one becomes
disconnected from the world in concepts. When a political philosopher
builds principles, he cannot forgo experience, and Kant’s world of
abstractions is a dangerous method of discourse.
There is a dangerous belief in rationalism that there is a realm of pure
thought that is removed from concrete experience in the world. It is a
bad habit of many philosophers. It is not pragmatic.
Sociability of thought (22): When William James called pragmatism “a
new way of an old way of thinking,” Bacon may be called a prophet of
pragmatism. If the sociable element of philosophy is extended, it would
Experimental intelligence: all intelligence is reasoning, inquiry. Intelligent
inquiry is modelled after scientific experimentation.
Ideas and theories are progresses of action.