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John Dewey and Moral Imagination

Pragmatism in Ethics

Steven Fesmire

Publication Year: 2003

While examining the important role of imagination in making moral judgments, John Dewey and Moral Imagination focuses new attention on the relationship between American pragmatism and ethics. Steven Fesmire takes up threads of Dewey's thought that have been largely unexplored and elaborates pragmatism's distinctive contribution to understandings of moral experience, inquiry, and judgment. Building on two Deweyan notions -- that moral character, belief, and reasoning are part of a social and historical context and that moral deliberation is an imaginative, dramatic rehearsal of possibilities -- Fesmire shows that moral imagination can be conceived as a process of aesthetic perception and artistic creativity. Fesmire's original readings of Dewey shed new light on the imaginative process, human emotional make-up and expression, and the nature of moral judgment. This original book presents a robust and distinctly pragmatic approach to ethics, politics, moral education, and moral conduct.

Published by: Indiana University Press

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. iii-iv


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pp. vii

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pp. ix-x

This book has been a long while in the making. Thomas Alexander (Southern Illinois University at Carbondale) and Mark Johnson (University of Oregon) inspired this project over a decade ago during my graduate education. I am profoundly grateful for their longstanding support, encouragement, and friendship...

List of Abbreviations

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pp. xi-xii

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Introduction: Revitalizing Ethics

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pp. 1-5

Debates about moral conduct remain at an impasse. Is it rule-governed or arbitrary, objective or subjective? Responding to this deadlock, numerous moral philosophers in the past two decades have rejected the Janus faces of absolutism and relativism and challenged the Enlightenment...


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pp. 7

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1. Habit and Character

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pp. 9-26

Moral character is taken to have a basis in will. Will is widely conceived as a function of mind, an inner space that does not depend for its structure on physical or social systems. The mythical encapsulated individual, powerfully criticized in recent years by communitarian thinkers...

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2. The Pragmatic Turn

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pp. 27-37

By asking why one should act one way rather than another, or whether one should stay the course in perpetuating a prized good, reflective morality properly sits in judgment of customary morality. This attempt to make socially habituated moral discernment more intelligent marks a...

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3. Pragmatism’s Reconstruction of Reason

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pp. 38-52

Critics and admirers alike have misrepresented James and Dewey as unconstrained subjectivists and relativists in matters of reason and truth. This has postponed a fair hearing for pragmatist ethics. If this prejudice were justified, it would be sensible to believe classical pragmatism has...


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pp. 53

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4. Imagination in Pragmatist Ethics

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pp. 55-68

There is a central dogma of ethical theory, namely that it rests on revealing or constructing a moral bedrock that tells us the right way to think about moral problems. Moral skeptics accept this dogma, plausibly reject that such a foundation can be discovered or erected, and hear the bell toll...

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5. Dramatic Rehearsal

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pp. 69-91

Dewey’s work on the psychology of moral deliberation—which he calls dramatic rehearsal—is his most protracted attempt to highlight the pivotal function of imagination as a “vicarious, anticipatory way of acting” (LW 8:200).1 This theory has been underemphasized in the philosophical...

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6. The Deweyan Ideal

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pp. 92-106

Central to Dewey’s approach is that ethics is understood as the art of helping people to live richer, more responsive, and more emotionally engaged lives.1 This is closer to Aristotle than to Kant, who approaches ethics primarily as rational justification of an inherited moral system...

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7. The Moral Artist

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pp. 107-129

The student of imagination turns naturally to art and aesthetic experience for subject matter. The moral power of art is well known and as widely feared. Art challenges convention, educates emotions, rescues perception from numbness. Lionel Trilling perceived this in his 1947 remark that “for our time the most effective agent of the moral imagination has...


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pp. 131-151


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pp. 153-160


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pp. 161-167

E-ISBN-13: 9780253110664
E-ISBN-10: 0253110661
Print-ISBN-13: 9780253342331

Page Count: 184
Illustrations: 1 bibliog., 1 index
Publication Year: 2003