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John Dewey's Philosophy of Spirit, with the 1897 Lecture on Hegel

From: Education and Culture
Volume 29, Number 1, 2013
pp. 130-134 | 10.1353/eac.2013.0003

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John Shook and James Good have each made significant contributions to the scholarly discussion of John Dewey's "permanent Hegelian deposit." In this collection, they come together to further develop their respective analyses of Dewey's Hegelianism. The volume combines two essays, one from each of the authors, in addition to the "definitive text" of Dewey's own 1897 lecture on Hegel, given at the University of Chicago, and entitled "Hegel's Philosophy of Spirit." In comparison to Shook's earlier, more comprehensive work on Dewey's relationship to Hegel, Dewey's Empirical Theory of Knowledge and Reality (2000), and Good's similarly intensive treatment, A Search for Unity in Diversity: The "Permanent Hegelian Deposit" in the Philosophy of John Dewey (2006), the two essays, even in combination with one another, are somewhat fractional and incomplete. The essays succeed, however, in furthering our understanding of the way Dewey's Hegelianism can illuminate his mature philosophy.

In the first essay, "Dewey's Naturalized Philosophy of Spirit and Religion," Shook explores how Dewey maintained a place for "religious" faith in his pragmatism despite his antipathy toward organized religion. Drawing on several of Dewey's texts, and in particular A Common Faith (1934), Shook interprets Deweyan faith as a practical tool which sustains individuals in pursuit of their self-chosen ends (34-35). For Dewey, an ideal cannot be achieved without overcoming obstacles in its pursuit. Since persistence does not guarantee success, faith in the possibility of achieving the ideal is necessary for persevering through inevitable setbacks. Alluding to Dewey's distinction between "religion" and "the religious," Shook describes how Dewey saw adherence to organized religion as ineffective for coping in a fundamentally uncertain world. Dewey viewed "any belief in the existence of a divine power to be incompatible with naturalism and quite irrelevant for a genuinely religious life" (19). "Religious" individuals, on the other hand, rather than simply trusting in the protection of an external divine entity, possess the necessary faith not to abandon pursuit of self-chosen ends when confronted with a devastating loss: "The religious, according to Dewey, do not surrender their ideals and moral convictions in the face of tragedy, and neither do they repose in certainty about guaranteed ideals" (36). This is the pragmatic value of Deweyan faith; and for Shook, it exhibits substantial Hegelian influence. He presents Dewey's notion that there is religious quality to our practical engagements with our surroundings as a translation of Hegel's concept of the divine manifesting itself through purposive human action. He argues that "Dewey understood and presented Hegel as taking this generally pragmatic approach to religion" (17). Shook's analysis thus allows us to conceptualize Dewey's use of religious language in terms consistent with his pragmatism, once we see his religious views as "a prominent illustration of the way that he remained indebted to Hegel throughout his long career" (31).

In the second essay, "Rereading Dewey's 'Permanent Hegelian Deposit,'" Good provides a sustained analysis of Dewey's 1897 lecture on Hegel. His purpose is to further develop the central claim of his 2006 book, namely, that Dewey's break with the British neo-Hegelians during the 1890s was not a break with Hegel himself. Rather, it was a move toward a humanist/historicist reading of Hegel and away from the neo-Hegelians' metaphysical/theological reading. Good explains how it is "assumed that Dewey's pragmatic notion that ideas have real effects in the world was at odds with Hegelian philosophy. But Dewey's lecture 'Hegel's Philosophy of Spirit' demonstrates that he saw this pragmatic account of ideas in Hegel" (66). Good particularly emphasizes the way "Dewey's claim [in the 1897 lecture] that Hegel was a great actualist markedly contrasts with the common characterization of Hegel as the grand metaphysician who reduced the particularities of experience to transient nodes of a dynamic, eternal, and transcendent supreme being" (66). This accurately depicts Dewey and Hegel's shared distaste for mere abstraction from concrete action, and their conviction that any idea, or concept, only attains actuality in being progressively worked out through experience. Thus, in contrast to the static, "transcendent absolute" that neo-Hegelians such as T.H...



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