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Unmodern Philosophy and Modern Philosophy

John Dewey, Edited and with an Introduction by Phillip Deen, Foreword by Larry A

Publication Year: 2012

In 1947 America’s premier philosopher, educator, and public intellectual John Dewey purportedly lost his last manuscript on modern philosophy in the back of a taxicab. Now, sixty-five years later, Dewey’s fresh and unpretentious take on the history and theory of knowledge is finally available. Editor Phillip Deen has taken on the task of editing Dewey’s unfinished work, carefully compiling the fragments and multiple drafts of each chapter that he discovered in the folders of the Dewey Papers at the Special Collections Research Center at Southern Illinois University Carbondale. He has used Dewey’s last known outline for the manuscript, aiming to create a finished product that faithfully represents Dewey’s original intent. An introduction and editor’s notes by Deen and a foreword by Larry A. Hickman, director of the Center for Dewey Studies, frame this previously lost work.


In Unmodern Philosophy and Modern Philosophy, Dewey argues that modern philosophy is anything but; instead, it retains the baggage of outdated and misguided philosophical traditions and dualisms carried forward from Greek and medieval traditions. Drawing on cultural anthropology, Dewey moves past the philosophical themes of the past, instead proposing a functional model of humanity as emotional, inquiring, purposive organisms embedded in a natural and cultural environment.


Dewey begins by tracing the problematic history of philosophy, demonstrating how, from the time of the Greeks to the Empiricists and Rationalists, the subject has been mired in the search for immutable absolutes outside human experience and has relied on dualisms between mind and body, theory and practice, and the material and the ideal, ultimately dividing humanity from nature. The result, he posits, is the epistemological problem of how it is possible to have knowledge at all. In the second half of the volume, Dewey roots philosophy in the conflicting beliefs and cultural tensions of the human condition, maintaining that these issues are much more pertinent to philosophy and knowledge than the sharp dichotomies of the past and abstract questions of the body and mind. Ultimately, Dewey argues that the mind is not separate from the world, criticizes the denigration of practice in the name of theory, addresses the dualism between matter and ideals, and questions why the human and the natural were ever separated in philosophy. The result is a deeper understanding of the relationship among the scientific, the moral, and the aesthetic.


More than just historically significant in its rediscovery, Unmodern Philosophy and Modern Philosophy provides an intriguing critique of the history of modern thought and a positive account of John Dewey’s naturalized theory of knowing. This volume marks a significant contribution to the history of American thought and finally resolves one of the mysteries of pragmatic philosophy.

Published by: Southern Illinois University Press


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pp. i-ii

Book Title

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p. iii-iii


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p. iv-iv


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pp. v-vi

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pp. vii-x

In editing and presenting this previously unpublished Dewey manuscript, which was thought to be lost, Phillip Deen has performed an admirable service to readers who are already well acquainted with Dewey’s copious publications. His service is perhaps even greater, however, to readers who are not as familiar with Dewey’s ideas but have hoped for more a more accessible...


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pp. xi-xii

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pp. xiii-xl

On the occasion of his ninetieth birthday, John Dewey was interviewed by the New York Times. In that interview, he promised to write a book that was to be “the summation of his philosophical beliefs through the years.” It seemed that Dewey had completed such a book, but that the manuscript had been lost. Displaying the equanimity that he was known for,...

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Editor’s Notes

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pp. xli-xlvi

In editing a manuscript of 160,000 words broken into hundreds of fragments, and one written in many drafts over at least three years as part of a constantly evolving project, I have made countless judgment calls. When his project began, Dewey intended to write a work on common sense, science, and philosophy. It quickly turned into a cultural history of modern...

Part One

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I. Philosophy and the Conflict of Beliefs

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pp. 3-17

Man is a teller of tales, a spreader of reports. He tells his story in every medium; by the spoken work, by pantomime and drama, in carvings in wood and stone, in rite and cult, in memorial and monument. His beliefs are social beliefs; they are of import because of this fact. Moreover, beliefs are serially as well as contemporaneously told and shared....

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II. The Story of Nature

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pp. 18-34

Just why the history of philosophic speculation in Europe began in the Ionian colonies of Greece in the sixth century before our era, it is impossible to say, but we may surmise. It was a period of universal intellectual ferment in Asia. By a remarkable coincidence—perhaps more than a coincidence—the same age witnessed the beginnings of new ways...

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III. The Discovery of Rational Discourse

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pp. 35-52

The earliest philosophies were stories of nature. As Homer told the story of the Trojan War and the wanderings of Odysseus, so Thales and the others recounted the epic of the doings and works of nature, relating the movements, strifes, and return home of the elements that formed its...

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IV. The Search for Salvation

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pp. 53-65

The fate of the Aristotelian philosophy is as dramatic as is that of the Greek civilization it mirrored. It is a splendid consummation; after it comes dispersion and degeneration, until, at last, it rose to new life in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries of our era as the animating spirit of Christian theology, as truly a renascence as that we are accustomed to...

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V. From Cosmic Nature to Human Nature

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pp. 66-91

The trend of modern philosophy is now under steady fire on the ground of its one-sided subjective character. The criticism is [all] the more significant because it is directed against an attitude which was regarded by the very philosophers who are now attacked as the ground of their authorized claim to a hearing—the discovery of the principle which not only...

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VI. Wandering between Two Worlds

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pp. 92-129

No verses of Matthew Arnold’s are better known I suppose than that which describes modern man as “Wandering between two worlds, one dead / The other powerless to be born.”1 In an essay he puts the matter without the exaggeration of poetry in the following words: “Modern times find themselves with an immense body of institutions, established...

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VII. The Present Problem of Knowledge

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pp. 130-166

On the surface the unity of modern philosophy is merely chronological. Systems are so diverse and conflicting, they breathe such a controversial air, that it looks to a casual observer as if about all they have in common is the centuries in which they appeared. If, however, one looks for unity in problems discussed rather than in the conclusions reached, one is...

Part Two

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VIII. The Supreme Human Art

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pp. 169-183

In passing from discussion that for the most part is concerned with the past state of philosophy to discussion of what is now possible and needed, a start may well be made by noting the direction in which modern doctrines have made the most advance in spite of entanglement in alien doctrines that reflect the slow and halting course of institutional change....

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IX. Things and Persons

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pp. 184-202

As we have seen, the theoretical notion of persons and selves which has come to us from tradition is an interpretation of observed facts in terms of beliefs about souls and spirits formed in primitive conditions. It is now possible, probably for the first time in history, to form a theory about them based on the conclusions of the sciences of biology, anthropology and...

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X. Mind and Body

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pp. 203-251

The remark made earlier about the conversion of words of adverbial force into an adjectival trait, and then, what is much more harmful, the conversion of the latter into a noun, applies especially in the case of “mind.” A qualification of behavior which is of the utmost importance as a distinctive, a unique modification of some kinds of interconnected...

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XI. The Practical and the Theoretical

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pp. 252-285

Certain assumptions regarding the nature of knowledge sense have persisted throughout pretty much the whole course of philosophical discussion. Certain other assumptions, used as premises in defining knowledge, account for that division into opposed schools that marks modern epistemological theory. The most important assumption in the...

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XII. The Material and the Ideal

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pp. 286-303

The subject dealt with in this chapter is closely connected with the theme of the last chapter. In one respect, the contrast and opposition embodied in the title of the present chapter was the source of the early or Greek formulation of antithesis of the theoretical and the practical. For the primacy of the former in Greek philosophy was essentially moral; the...

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XIII. Nature and Human Nature

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pp. 304-314

Students of the history of thought are familiar with the fact that the words subject and object have undergone a change of signification so great that it is often said to involve a reversal. In Greek philosophy, subject was virtually synonymous with substance. Etymologically, substance was that [which] stood under and supported while subject was that that lay under and performed...

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XIV. Experience as Life-Function

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pp. 315-346

I propose to begin with [a] statement of general principles that may be regarded as postulates of the ensuing discussion; as, that is, of such a fundamental nature that they apply in all the themes and problems that will be dealt with. The meaning of postulates is to be gathered mainly from the consequences flowing from their use; these consequences also furnish...


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pp. 347-351

Author Biography

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p. 352-352

Back Cover

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p. bc-bc

E-ISBN-13: 9780809330805
Print-ISBN-13: 9780809330799

Publication Year: 2012