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REPONSE TO RICHARD BERNSTEIN Michael Simmons, Jr. SUNY at Buffalo If I were to compress Dewey into a single sentence it would be as follows: "Live like an art object striving to become a work of art." In unpacking his essence I would have to locate, identify, and explain the existence, the functions, the interrelations, and the meanings of events and objects; the instrumental and the consummatory; evolution, experience, and communication; community and democracy; the historical necessities, no longer valid, of various dualisms; the relation of theory to practice; the centrality of education to our human being. Richard Bernstein's John Dewey Society Lecture, "The Varieties of Pluralism" under the same severe compression would emerge as "Keep the Faith. Phronesis realized is democratic pluralism. Act so as to connect." Unpacking Dewey is easier than unpacking Bernstein. All of Dewey is present, before us, as it were. But the Bernstein lecture is the Bernstein lecture—a piece of writing given strength and also partially undone by the conditions of its final cause. It is writing of a certain length, constructed to be presented as a public event, intended to inform, to instruct, to caution and advise, and to give strength to any flagging spirits among us. And this it did, and does, demonstrating enviable knowledge and masterful control of the history of pragmatism and the rise and fall of the hegemony of analytic philosophy, presenting valuable insights respecting the development of "wild pluralism," and offering a timely reminder of how metaphysics informs social thought...and much more. But I find myself torn by "Varieties of Pluralism," both a t t r a c t e d and disturbed by it. I want something more, something more speculatively audacious (see again Dewey's call for speculative audacity with which Bernstein concludes his lecture, p. 18) than phronesis, yet I am not sure there is something more. Within the limits imposed by the lecture there is not. I also find the lecture facing a large, ironic problem, one of -22- -23Bernstein 's own making. Although it is public event, the lecture is not July Fourth oratory; it is learned discourse. It exists within a context consisting in part of John Dewey, Praxis and Action, The Restructuring of Social and Political Theory, and Beyond Objectivism and Relativism. I find it impossible to read "Varieties" without playing it off against these other Bernstein works in which he has subjected Dewey and more recently the Big four—Arendt, Gadamer, Habermas, and Rorty—to serious criticism while still finding in them insights into "the problems of men" without which we would be at great loss. My reading, then, creates and exacerbates already existing tensions in "Varieties" and accounts in part for my difficulties with it. Bernstein in less inspirational tone, in more critical voice, hovers over his John Dewey Lecture. The kind of questions Bernstein has put to others, to obtain concrete social and political knowledge, must ultimately be put to Bernstein. Otherwise we shall remain at a dangerous level of abstraction—confronted and appealed to by a vision of democratic pluralism (one impossible to deny) that is to function in a society we recognize through the familiarity of a commonsense understanding, which by its nature lacks depth and critical insight. Bernstein's Deweyan roots and his own published work tell us that vision joined to commonsense understanding is not enough. Like all writing, Bernstein's lecture speaks to us and the world by creating a universe of meaning and discourse which beckons us to enter. What is the world of Bernstein's "The Varieties of Pluralism"? It is several worlds. It is a world of messaged hope grounded in the history of philosophy and the nature of praxis. It is a world in which there is a second chance which will not become farce because the first chance has yet to become exhausted—or realized. We still possess the gift that is Dewey and the best of the pragmatic understanding of phronesis and democratic pluralism. We are in position to reinvent and use them, now aided by the work of current advocates and reinventors of phronesis, be their terrain ontological investigation or socio-historical critique. In...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1559-1786
Print ISSN
1085-4908
Pages
pp. 22-30
Launched on MUSE
2016-10-05
Open Access
No
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