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  • The Search for Certainty:A Pragmatist Critique of Society's Focus on Biological Childbearing
  • Jamie Ross

biological theories of emotion are often used to explain and predict human desires, particularly the desire to reproduce. I propose that these desires are largely socially constructed, but that the naturalization of desires and the normalization of biological theories sustain the pursuit of biological childbearing as a biological need. Foundational metaphysical and epistemological theories have lent both authority and urgency to the idea of a biological need to bear children, which has resulted in a diminished focus on alternative modes of having children.

A Misplaced "Search for Certainty" in the Context of Evolutionary Biology

I suggest that a form of biological determinism rests on what philosopher John Dewey calls a misplaced "quest for certainty." This search is a process whereby a constructed desire is normalized within a cultural context and naturalized in the body in a manner that substantiates the desire as predictable. Predictability, therefore, justifies a biological basis of desire. In this paper, I focus specifically on a desire to bear or produce a genetic and gestational biological child: a desire that becomes predictable within a medical model of emotion based on a Dewey-Mead Analysis of Emotions (Ward and Throop). And, given this form of predictability, the desire subsequently serves as an emotional stimulus for the political and medical authority and urgency to develop and support forms of reproductive technology as efforts to satisfy what is seen to be a purely genetic and/or gestational biological feeling.

The foundationalist belief of some evolutionary biologists provides a physiological basis for the suggestion that human bodies, particularly women's [End Page 96] bodies, need to reproduce. Moreover, evolutionary biologists claim that such a foundation of belief is the link between expressed emotions and the biology of emotion (or, in contemporary medical research, the genetics of emotion). Such claims conflate biological ability and intentionality with a purposive teleology. This conflation perpetuates a popular image of emotion as separate from and inferior to reason (Ward and Throop 476).

Pragmatist philosophers from the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries identified this misdirected maneuver as a cognitive fallacy. For example, Charles Darwin and William James stripped the vital relationship between emotions and values; and George Herbert Mead, in the early twentieth century, using Dewey's theories, returned emotions to the social sphere and regarded values as socially standardized ends to acts (Ward and Throop 476). The confusion, Dewey would suggest, pertains to the misplaced merging of subject with object. He reminds us that we need to separate what is experienced from how it is experienced. He states there is an "exaggeration of the features of known objects at the expense of the qualities of objects" (Dewey, "Experience" 36).

That is to say, the features of known objects are taken mistakenly as inherent qualities of known objects. Moreover, this misdirection of thought uses beliefs, or "selective interests," as the basis of biological fact. Dewey suggests that this error involves "the exclusive isolation of the results of various types of selective simplification" ("Experience" 36). The simplification relies on the presupposition that biological necessity entails that "what is" exists prior to the "process of knowing." But much of the process of experiencing is due to the ongoing creation of what we take to be the case within a particular social context. Little, if anything, exists prior to the process of knowing what is. "Values and their negotiation are the driving mechanism behind emotional experience" (Ward and Throop 476). An analysis of this thought is found in Dewey's critique of historical philosophical precedents, as well as in his logic and his theory of meaning, and in Mead's Mind, Self and Society. Here, I focus on Dewey's critique, which suggests that the sources of our misdirected conclusions are due to a general and specific failure of imagination.

I suggest, as Dewey does, that a search for certainty misdirects attention from the nature of observed facts and rests on a logical fallacy—one that Dewey calls "the fallacy of antecedent conditions." Dewey's critique of the search for certainty provides a powerful way to analyze and explain the development of a...


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