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Phil 264 - Dewey - Pragmatism #1

Phil 264 - Dewey - Pragmatism #1 - Dewey's The Quest for...

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Dewey's The Quest for Certainty (1929) Hand-out 1 of 2 The philosophical importance of Dewey's work: A central theme in Dewey's work is that philosophy should be "naturalized." In other words, traditional philosophical "problems" should be recast and "solved" so as to conform to the view that all that exists is the natural world, a world which is accessible to us only through the "experimental empiricism" that underpins the natural sciences (physics, chemistry, biology). To adopt the methodology of the natural sciences is to view all philosophical theories as hypotheses - as tentative claims subject to confirmation or disconfirmation by actual experience. Dewey's general attitude toward philosophy extends to (inter alia): metaphysics (theory of existence), epistemology (theory of knowledge), and ethics (theory of value). Dewey argues against several traditional metaphysical views, including: (i) the mind and body are radically different kinds of things; (ii) there is a substantive distinction between the knowing subject and the objects of knowledge. He claims (in effect) that the mind is a biological phenomenon no less than the body is, and that interaction between mind and body is simply interaction between one part of the body (the brain) and the rest of the body. He also claims that the knowing subject is not different in kind from the object/process it seeks to know; both are part of the natural world. Knowing something is thus not a matter of grasping anything remotely like a Platonic form or any sort of "other worldly" entity. For a subject to "know" an object/process is not, contra the traditional view, for him/her to have a mental image that accurately "pictures" (or "corresponds to") the object/process in question . To know an object/process is pragmatic matter - a matter of knowing how to use it for one's purposes. This requires knowing both the "conditions" (causes) and "results" (effects) of the object/process in question. (To get an intuitive sense of Dewey's conception of knowledge, think of the sort of clearly practical knowledge possessed by engineers - the sort of knowledge that made the industrial revolution possible. This is the sort of knowledge that makes possible control and manipulation of the environment. Also, think of the sort of knowledge possessed and implemented by medical researchers and drug companies in their quest for treating/curing various diseases.) Certainty is, however, precluded on Dewey's conception of knowledge, since all hypotheses require confirmation if they are to be credible, and confirmation is never proof. An hypothesis
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