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THE VARIETIES OF PLURALISM Richard J. Bernstein Haverford College I. When I was asked to give the John Dewey Lecture, I considered it a marvelous opportunity to return to my intellectual roots, for I started my philosophic career by writing my dissertation on John Dewey. "Return" is not quite the appropriate expression, for everything that I've written since the early 1950s has been infused and informed by the spirit of Dewey, and more generally what I take to be best and most enduring in the pragmatic tradition. I know all too well that for a long time Dewey has been considered rather passe, a fuzzy-minded thinker who perhaps had his heart in the right place, but not his head. And there are those who still think that Dewey is the source of the ills that have plagued American education. I think this is a slander. More boldly, I believe that Dewey and the pragmatic thinkers are not only not passe, but that they were really ahead of their times. What I see happening now is a re-emergence of pragmatic themes. It is almost as if the dialectic of contemporary philosophy in its diverse modes keeps leading us back to the point of departure for the pragmatic thinkers. Dewey was never more relevant than he is today—in helping us to gain some perspective, some orientation on our extremely confused and chaotic cultural condition. This is the thesis that I want to explore with you. Let me begin with a claim that Dewey made in Democracy and Education. "If we are willing to conceive education as the process of forming fundamental dispositions, intellectual and emotional, toward nature and fellow men, philosophy may even be defined as the general theory of education."^ This was a central motif in Dewey, and it has a classical ring. Dewey, who called for a reconstruction in philosophy, or rather of philosophy, never abandoned the idea that philosophy as the "criticism of criticisms" ought to be concerned with nurturing practical wisdom, with the fostering of "creative The University of lo LIBRARIES -2reflective intelligence." He was suspicious of the tendency of philosophers to become exclusively preoccupied with the "problems of philosophy" and to forget about the "problems of men"—the problems of human beings in their everyday lives. He rejected the very idea of philosophy as some sort of super science with its own distinctive problems and methods—a discipline that has special access to Truth and Reality. He thought that philosophy is—or rather ought to be—grounded in the deepest cultural conflicts of one's time; seeking to define and clarify them, to provide us with guidance in resolving them and enabling us to work toward a more desirable future. He was a relentless critic of what he took to be the sterility of epistemology and the obsession of so much of modern philosophy with "the quest for certainty" and "the spectator theory of knowledge." He believed, to use the Heideggerian expression, that we are "thrown" into the world with no absolute foundations or absolute ends. But this should neither be a cause for radical skepticism nor dispair. For all of Dewey's emphasis on future consequences he knew that we are always being shaped by inherited traditions. It is the constant task of the reconstruction of the present that was his central concern. What he once wrote about William James might well be said about Dewey himself. And long after "pragmatism" in any sense save as an application of his Weltanschauung shall have passed into a not unhappy oblivion, the fundamental idea of an open universe in which uncertainty, choice, hypotheses, novelties and possibilities are naturalized will remain associated with the name of James; the more he is studied in his historic setting the more original and daring will the idea appear. Like Peirce and James, Dewey emphasized that the cosmos and our experience is an inextricable mixture of the stable and the precarious. We are neither simply playthings of forces which are always working behind our backs nor creatures who can gain complete understanding and control over our destinies. We are always confronted with uncertainty and choice. - 3 Dewey knew that...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1559-1786
Print ISSN
1085-4908
Pages
pp. 1-21
Launched on MUSE
2016-10-05
Open Access
No
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