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  • Herbert Marcuse’s “Review of John Dewey’s Logic: The Theory of Inquiry”1
  • Herbert Marcuse
    Translated by Phillip Deen

Dewey’s book is the first systematic attempt at a pragmatistic logic (since the work of Peirce). Because of the ambiguity of the concept of pragmatism, the author rejects the concept in general. But, if one interprets pragmatism correctly, then this book is ‘through and through Pragmatistic’. What he understands as ‘correct’ will become clear in the following account.

The book takes its subject matter far beyond the traditional works on logic. It is a material logic first in the sense that the matter of logic (the ‘objects’, that with which logical thought has to do) is thoroughly included in the cycle of investigation, and logical ‘forms’ are discussed only in their constitutional connection with this material. Furthermore, logic is treated in conjunction with the development of the natural sciences, and to a lesser extent the social sciences as well. There are chapters on biology, culture, mathematics, and sociology. On the other hand, in stark contrast to the European tradition, it lacks a discussion with the history of western logic (apart from Aristotle’s); transcendental logic remains unconsidered, Hegel does not appear, nor Husserl’s attempt at a new foundation of logic.

Such a position is grounded in the essence of the logic itself. The starting point and overall level of the problem’s treatment is such that a bridge to the European tradition is hardly built. As Dewey once formulates it when he addresses the basic problem of epistemology: the relationship of the concept’s content to actuality is presented as a non- existent problem. These questions are, for him, not questions at all. They cannot appear in the consequent pragmatistic investigation.

Dewey holds together the principles of his logic in the following manner: [End Page 258]

The theory, in summary form, is that all logical forms (with their characteristic properties) arise within the operation of inquiry and are concerned with control of inquiry that it may yield warranted assertions. This conception implies much more than that logical forms are disclosed or come to light when we reflect upon processes of inquiry that are in use. Of course it means that; but it also means that the forms originate in operations of inquiry. To employ a convenient expression, it means that while inquiry into inquiry is the causa cognoscendi of logical forms, primary inquiry is itself causa essendi of the forms which inquiry into inquiry discloses

[LW 12:11–12].2

These logical forms arise ‘in operations of inquiry’, ‘inquiry’ is their ‘causa essendi’. There are no unchangeable, universally valid and fundamental propositions or categories; the ‘rationality’ of logic is exclusively a concern of the relationship of ‘means and consequences’. The fundamental propositions “state habits operative in every inference that tends to yield conclusions that are stable and productive in further inquiries” (LW 12:19). Their validity is based on the “coherency of the consequences produced by the habits that they articulate” (LW 12:20). Categories obtain their universality and universal validity as a result of operations, by which it is established that the determined qualities combined under a concept in praxis (many different things to one “type”) yields useful consequences. “Modes of active response” (LW 12:257) are the ground of the universality of logical forms. As we will see later, ‘praxis’ (actions, modes of operation) for Dewey means fundamentally the praxis of science (inquiry) or is characterized according to the model of scientific praxis, once everything has been done in order to adjust scientific praxis to, on the one hand, everyday experience that lies in front of us (the world of ‘common sense’) and, on the other hand, to societal praxis.

Following these theses that logical forms, as the basic principles of inquiry, arise from the research3 itself, remain referred to the sense of the research, and—just as much as their ‘subject-matter’— alter themselves with the research, the ‘components’ of logical thought are then treated. The necessary discussion with Aristotelian logic consists essentially in reference to its historical embeddedness. The progress of science, the overcoming of the doctrine of the epistemological priority of the...


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pp. 258-265
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