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Changing Events in Dewey's Experience and Nature ROLAND GARRETT THE METAPHYSICSOP EVENTSbecame elaborate and distinctively important in the early part of this century, as one constituent of a much larger movement to "'take time seriously" in philosophy and in other areas of inquiry. It is rarely acknowledged , however, that the alleged preeminence of events for metaphysics was significantly motivated by the traditional demand for the stable, constant, or unchanging in substance, a demand variously satisfied in the history of thought by such things as the Platonic doctrine of "unchanging" forms, the conception of a material body as something which "persists" through change, and the notion of an eternal and perfect God. Wilfrid Sellars has charged that the popular inference of a metaphysics of events from the theory of relativity involves a false identification of reality with "invariant" features of metrical pictures of the physical world.1 But invariance, like unchangingness and persistence, is a kind of stability; the implication, then, is that those who have made the inference of events from relativity have followed the pattern of an ancient quest. The same pattern has, moreover, been discerned in the metaphysics of events apart from explicit reliance on relativity: simply in the familiar thesis that events, the basic elements of nature, do not themselves undergo change. According to C. I. Lewis this thesis is the "fundamental consideration" in the conception of event which is found in the early work of Whitehead. It is only because of this consideration, Lewis claims, that for Whitehead space-time as "the comprehensive order of events" can provide a "kind of ultimate frame of reference for the processes of physically changing things." 2 Stability here, according to the classical pattern, is a source of "ultimacy"; and Whitehead, however influenced by the physical sciences, did not merely deduce from the theory of relativity his principle that events do not change. In the present essay I shall be concerned with the contrasting standpoint in Dewey's philosophy, which rejects this principle. Since the notion of unchanging events, in one specific meaning or another, is frequent today and is found in metaphysical theories which grant no ultimacy to events or processes, Dewey's 1 "Time and the World Order," Minnesota Studies in the Philosophy of Science, Vol. III: Scientific Explanation, Space, and Time, ed. Herbert Feigl and Grover Maxwell (Minneapolis, 1962), 573, 578 n. 2 "The Categories of Natural Knowledge," The Philosophy o] Alfred North Whitehead, ed. Paul Arthur Schilpp, 2nd ed. (New York, 1951), p. 712. [439] 440 HISTORY OF PHILOSOPHY position is not restricted in importance to a single historical period or a single school of thought. But since this notion was systematically defended by "process philosophers" who nevertheless strove for forms of stability and invariance, his position has a special significance. In one sense at least, the recognition of temporality in the Deweyan standpoint was, whether "ultimately" successful or not, a greater innovation. (In another sense, of course, it was less radical, interpreting events somewhat on the traditional model of bodies which retain their identity through change.) Because Dewey's conception of event, to say nothing of his claim that events change, has hardly been considered, I will go over in detail some of the relevant texts. As we shall see, Dewey's thesis was not unambiguous. Nor have he and Whitehead and others generally meant the same thing by "event." These ambiguities and discrepancies, important as they are, should not, however, conceal the significance of the issue or of Dewey's commitment. "It would hardly be too much," Prior remarked, "to say that modern science began when people became accustomed to the idea of changes changing, e.g. to the idea of acceleration as opposed to simple motion." 3 Among those in the twentieth century who wrote systematically about events, Dewey was the leading figure to accept and rationalize this general idea. Whitehead was far more acute than Dewey. Accordingly, I shall refer to the analysis of events in his early metaphysics to introduce and frame distinctions which, once realized, render much of Dewey's presentation ambiguous. Recognizing the ambiguities, we can avoid an interpretation of Dewey which is too simple. The following lines...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1538-4586
Print ISSN
0022-5053
Pages
pp. 439-455
Launched on MUSE
2008-01-01
Open Access
No
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