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i,_. .I' ' · 1 ,1 .· . . -·~ I, JOHN DEWEY'S CONCEPTION OF NATURE D.' B. SAVAN THERE are two quite opposite poles in. philosophy, and most philosophers gravitate tovJard one or the '· other. Around the one cluster. .the philosopher's philosophers, the men like Aristotle and Kant, whose thought is like a carefully planned building~ The structure is visible for some distance as we approach, and there are obvious eviden~es of strenuous endeavours after order and careful design. The ·proportions are exactly~ measured. T~e foundations and walls are solid, sturdy, and simple. There are no vain and frivolous ornaments, no wings or extensions added as afterthoughts . The very size and strength of the building give it grandeur. Obviously it will stand firm for many years against weather and fashion . . Many who approach turn b~ck without entering, because the doors will open only to one who has learned a long string of strange harsh passwords. · And anyhow, the exterior of the building leads .most.people to suppose that there·can be nothing very exciting inside. Around the other pole gather everyman's philosophers. Men such as Plato, Augustine, Pascal, and Nietzsche, who write~ usu1 ally very well, about life and love and death, about education and art and the cosmos, . who speak of the fears, hopes, and troubles which touch everyman most intimately. We find their bu1 ildings in the tort~ous forests in which . w~ all are lost. The architects have hidden the~r work so · cunningly, -so moulded it to the surroundings, that we are well inside before we realize that we . have escaped the forest. Once within, we are amazed at the structure's sprawling extent. We wander from room·to room, and no 'two are quite alike. The conne.cting hall-ways are often dimly lighted, and we stumble over the unexpected turns and stairs. We peer down dark shafts and climb almos.t inaccessible turrets . John Dewey is the most eminent con~emporary representative of an American tradition of everyman's philosophy, a tradition c~eated by men like Jo~atha~ Edwards, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, Henry David. Thoreau, ,Ralph Waldo Emerson, and William James. The tra-· ditional American philosopher speaks directly and clearly to ·the personal ideals, convictions, and feelings of his countrymen. The historic movement of his country carried Dewey from his birthplace in Vermont west to ·a young and lusty Chicago. There he ·fought his revolutionary b~ttles against his early European idealism, and turned to the problems ~hich the vast industrial development of the country was bringing. He too passed through a civil war in which the m~thods of science and of industry.· were forged into a more perfect union, and opposed to the great tradition of aristocratic and transcendental truth. Although the broad outlines of . his philosophic position were formulated around the turn of the century, his followers continue the str~ggle for his philosophy toda~ with a fervour 18 I . '. JOHN- DEWEt',S CONCEP:fio~ OF -NATURE . 19 - .· matched only, by that of the opposition. In philosophy, education, the social sciences, literary .criticism, and notoriously ~t the meetings of the Conference on Science, Philosophy and Religion, Dewey's views h·ave encountered acute and bitter crhicism.. He stands with all the great rationalists from Socrates to Hegel as the enemy only of what is irrational and. . u~examined> and yet he has been cond~mned as though he ~ere a modern Cadmus, sowing a wild destructive army. , . Although Dewey presents his thought, almost invariably, ·.through an ' examination of experience, of knowledge, of morals, of art, or of some other .·, facet of h~man conduct, his realistic position suggests another approach. Man is only a smalC albeit important, part of a vast natural universe. . Natur·e is one of philosophy's magic keys, crusted with age and powerful enough .to unlock all secrets but its 'own. It may prove worth while to approach Dewey's philosophy through his conception of nature, and to consider what man can be or do in such a universe; .. · . Dewey was born in 1859, in the midst of a century almost conquered by the materiali~t cosmology, with its bleak and brainless atoms...


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