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John Dewey - Fundamental Questions

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PHIL 115
Paul Fairfield

John Dewey 1859-1952 Intensely conscious of being a replacement child. Thinking like he had to live two lives. Wanted to develop a way of thinking rooted in physiology: Organic character of human thought. Theory of knowledge and truth based on an organic conception of the mind. At the time, almost every American University president was a clergyman. Philosophy departments ruled by religion. One option for secular: John Hopkins university built on German secular research model. Philosophy should aspire to become science, or be in the service of it. Many schools of the century thought this. Dewey with scientific background comes with view of pragmatism that can be kind of quasi-scientific way of doing philosophy. He never thought it would become a full-blown science, but there is something special about scientific knowledge. Philosophy of education, every major discipline of philosophy, Dewey was making a contribution to. Outlawry of war movement- tries to outlaw war. Naïve, but seemed possible to Dewey, where they could pass laws that would legally ban war. Moderate liberal left. Critic of corporate politics. Early figures in the progressive education movement. Became a movement, which Dewey eventually became a harsh critic of. The movement took on a life of its own, not what he had in mind. Raised in Christian, puritanical home, retained a “spiritual nature” despite rejecting religion in adulthood. His Philosophy Begins where James ends. Main three: Peirce, James and Dewey- biggest names of pragmatism. Dewey was the most prolific, applied pragmatism to every sub-discipline of philosophy. A model of human knowledge that rejects the age-old subject/object split. Basic problem with early modern empiricism and rationalists- constant tendency is to presuppose a model of knowledge where subjectivity is on the nearside of a chasm, where the external world lies opposite. World of though is separated from world of objects. Business of knowing which side is right and influences the other, but we should bring the two together. Reject chasm- the world is not over there, on the other side of a radical divide separating mind and experience. Table is external to me, this makes sense, but taking this sometimes useful distinction, and inflating it into a grand dichotomy where there is the realm of mind and the realm of objects-> wrong for Dewey. Relation between subject/object is closer and more organic, connected. Naturalistic terms. Hegel was an influence-> Dewey is a Hegelian philosopher. Also influence of Darwin-> the knower to the world, and James’ pragmatism. All knowledge has to be understood in practice, the practice of ordinary inquiry. Practice of experimentation, problem solving, trial and error, in short. Problems arise from real human experience. Model for inquiry is scientific experimentation. Thinking process is one of experimental hypothesizing, and empirical testing of ideas. Refining philosophies for coherence within fabric of human experience. Test of ideas found in consequences to which the ideas lead, the arrangement of things that are brought into existence. Should not mimic science. Wants to apply experimental inquiry. Dialectical, there is a back and forth relation between the activity of the knower and the object. Thinking is not a one-way relation. Thinking begins with a problematic situation. Thinking is complex problem-solving. Hypothesis proposed, tested against evidence, see how it fits or explains the evidence, until it registers specific pragmatic consequences. Declared as true if these practical consequences fit with the consequences which the hypothesis expected. Methodology he tries to describe to make our world as contradiction free as possible. Dewey Day 2 New model to think about knowledge, it is essentially problem solving. Warranted assertibility. (can be asserted) Anything that may be called knowledge, marks a question answered, and inconsistency reduced to coherence. Really repeating James’ pragmatism and trying to clear it up. What is the object of knowledge-truth. For James: truth is “the good” in way of belief. Dewey wants to change the non-precise terminology of James’ pragmatism. Truth is contingent in every case on the course of continued inquiry. We never arrive at final truth; all truths have an unfinished quality to them. Do you really expect that in 20 years, scientific knowledge will consist of the same thing? Obviously not. Not absolutely necessary, but dependent on ongoing course of inquiry. Certain ideas generate consensus here and now, but that will change in the future. Thinking is supposed to clarify our practical experience. If we think of truth in this way, we won’t be able to rest on our conclusions. All truths are on probation forever.
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