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Becoming John Dewey

Dilemmas of a Philosopher and Naturalist

Thomas C. Dalton

Publication Year: 2002

As one of America's "public intellectuals," John Dewey was engaged in a lifelong struggle to understand the human mind and the nature of human inquiry. According to Thomas C. Dalton, the successful pursuit of this mission demanded that Dewey become more than just a philosopher; it compelled him to become thoroughly familiar with the theories and methods of physics, psychology, and neurosciences, as well as become engaged in educational and social reform. Tapping archival sources and Dewey's extensive correspondence, Dalton reveals that Dewey had close personal and intellectual ties to scientists and scholars who helped form the mature expression of his thought. Dewey's relationships with F. M. Alexander, Henri Matisse, Niels Bohr, Myrtle McGraw, and Lawrence K. Frank, among others, show how Dewey dispersed pragmatism throughout American thought and culture.

Published by: Indiana University Press

Title Page / Copyright Page

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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-xi

There is a large and growing body of scholarship on John Dewey involving philosophers, historians, psychologists, and other disciplinary orientations. The Center for Dewey Studies at Southern Illinois University continually catalogues and updates this scholarly literature on their web site, and also hosts visiting researchers. The Center has completed...

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Introduction: Originality in Social Context

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pp. 1-19

Over the past decade there has been a resurgence of interest in American pragmatism and the works of its principal founders Charles Peirce, William James, and John Dewey. Dewey is best known among the general public for his experiential approach to education expressed by the motto “learn by doing.” But the philosophical and scientific roots of his theories...

Part One: Sublime Reason and the Comforts of Doubt

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One: From Calvinism to Evolutionism

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pp. 23-40

John Dewey’s life as a public philosopher and reformer is probably one of the more thoroughly documented careers of any American intellectual in this century. Yet remarkably little is known about Dewey’s childhood and his early professional life prior to undertaking his academic career as a philosopher. Dewey is partly to blame for this gap because he wrote almost nothing about these lost years, and he preferred to begin his own...

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Two: Healing an “Inward Laceration”

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pp. 41-61

Dewey recalled that Hegel’s method healed an “inward laceration” by helping him overcome the “sense of divisions and separations,” inculcated by his evangelical New England upbringing, between mind and body and between nature and spirit that contributed to the growing gulf between philosophy and science. 1 Hegel fulfilled an “inner demand,” Dewey felt, for an “intellectual technique that would be consistent and yet capable...

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Three: Experimentalist in the Making

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pp. 62-82

Dewey was appointed in 1894 to head the department of philosophy at the University of Chicago that included programs in psychology and pedagogy. This was a critical turning point in his career. Here Dewey emerged from an insulated academic life to confront the social upheaval wrought by industrialization and urbanization and to champion the cause of educational reform. Indeed, within two years of their arrival, Dewey...

Part Two: Rendezvous with the New York Avant-Garde

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Four: Contrasting Strategies for Educational Innovation

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pp. 85-103

By the turn of the twentieth century Dewey had become a revered leader and mentor to student disciples who ardently sought to interpret and apply the experiential principles of pragmatism to social life. The reform of public education stood at the fulcrum of competing societal interests seeking leverage over the agenda for national reconstruction. Corporate...

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Five: Cultural Disillusionment

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pp. 104-124

Dewey was confronted in the second decade of the twentieth century with perhaps the most intellectually complex and daunting environment he had ever encountered in his career as pioneering philosopher and social reformer. And it promised to get even more perilous, if not emotionally confusing, as the ominous clouds of world war gathered on the horizon. At Columbia University, Dewey attracted an outstanding and diverse...

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Six: The Evolution of Mind in Nature

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pp. 125-146

Ever since he first laid eyes on Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit, Dewey was determined to complete a systematic statement of his own naturalistic theory of mind. Experience and Nature was Dewey’s most ambitious, but incomplete and sometimes forbiddingly convoluted, attempt to produce a Naturphilosophie in which mind, nature, and culture are understood in common metaphysical terms. Astute reviewers quickly penetrated...

Part Three: The Transformational Potential of Consciousness in Art, Politics, and Science

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Seven: Post-impressionism, Quantum Mechanics, and the Triumph of Phenomenal Experience

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pp. 149-174

The decade of the 1920s was easily one of Dewey’s most frenetic and yet intellectually productive periods of his career. Dewey was increasingly in demand, as his fame as a philosopher and spokesman for progressive educational causes spread around the world. Dewey’s enormously popular extended lecture tours in China and Japan, during a period of civil unrest in those countries (1919– 1920), were followed by engagements in Turkey...

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Eight: Communities of Intelligence and the Politics of Spirit

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pp. 175-198

Dewey’s ambitious quest to scientifically test his ideas about human judgment and inquiry in the 1930s would not have been feasible without the extensive network of scientists that Dewey and his close associates cultivated throughout the first two decades of the twentieth century. Dewey admired the intellect and valued the opinions of his scientific colleagues...

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Nine: The Function of Judgment in Inquiry

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pp. 199-229

Dewey urgently sought to renew his personal involvement in scientific studies after a lapse of several decades following his direct involvement in the Laboratory School at the University of Chicago. During these intervening years research in child development increased enormously. Although much new information had been acquired about child behavior from experimental studies with which he was familiar, including the Bureau...

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Ten: Locomotion as a Metaphor for Mind

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pp. 230-251

By the mid-1930s, McGraw and Dewey had completed a remarkable series of studies that laid a solid foundation for understanding how developmental processes give birth to judgment and inquiry. But three important questions remained unresolved: How do specific phases in locomotor development become organized? Through what specific neuromuscular processes do these different behaviors become integrated? And by what...

Part Four: Naturalism Lost and Found

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Eleven: Cultural Pragmatism and the Disappearance of Dewey’s Naturalism

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pp. 255-277

Dewey’s concerted efforts through the first three decades of the twentieth century to define the scientific, cultural, and political implications of his conceptions of pragmatism and human intelligence invited critical scrutiny and misinterpretation. Although applauded for its magisterial breadth, the central conceptions and arguments of Dewey’s Logic continue to elude many of Dewey’s philosophical heirs. Some contemporary...

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Conclusion: The Revival of Dewey’s Naturalism

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pp. 278-292

As this intellectual biography draws to a close, recounting the highlights of Dewey’s career as a public philosopher and naturalist enables us to assess and put his contribution in contemporary perspective. Unlike the criticisms leveled against Dewey’s pragmatism during its heyday, the rhetorical strategies mounted by some contemporary interpreters endorse rather than condemn the cultural implications of pragmatism, even...


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pp. 293-243


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pp. 345-364


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pp. 365-378

E-ISBN-13: 9780253109347
E-ISBN-10: 0253109345
Print-ISBN-13: 9780253340825

Page Count: 400
Illustrations: 20 b&w photos, 2 figures, 1 index
Publication Year: 2002