John Dewey (1859-1952) The Quest for Certainty: A Study of the Relation of Knowledge and Action (1929)
Security • A primary goal of human beings’ is their search for security. • First through mythology and superstition and the use of emotions and inner attitudes. • “Changing the self in emotion and idea.” • Later through arts (crafts) and the construction of tools and means to control the natural forces. • “Changing the world through action”
2 realms • As a consequence, 2 different realms have evolved: (1) the inner, mental and spiritual realm and (2) the exterior, bodily (action), and material realm. • Philosophers have favored the inner, mental and spiritual realm.
2 Realms and Philosophers’ Attitude Theory Practice • Intellectual • Glorified • Associated with leisure • Spiritual • Thinking/knowing • The mind • Pure reason • Absolute • Certain • Doing and Making • Depreciated • Work • Menial labor • Demeaning • The body • Sense • Contingent • Probably
Questions • What is the cause of the division between practice and theory? • How has the separation between intellect from action affected the theory of knowledge? • What would the affect be if the division were annulled and knowing and doing were brought into intrinsic connection with one another?
Thesis • Dewey wants to argue that the separation of the intellect with action (i.e., theory and practice) was produced by the search for certainty. • A kind of certainty that is unshakeable and absolute. • A Cartesian kind of certainty.
We seek self-transcendence • We seek something that transcends our contingent nature. • We seek something pure and absolute. • Dewey says, “The quest for certainty is a quest for a peace which is assured, an object which is unqualified by risk and the shadow of fear which which action casts.”
The Realm of Philosophy • Philosophy’s proximity to religion plays a part in its bias towards theory. • Philosophy adopted as its subject matter the realm of religion: that of Pure Being. • The main change was in method and not in subject matter. • Religion – emotional, mythical • Philosophy – Rational
Dewey’s Critique of Aristotle • Metaphysics as First Philosophy/“unmoved mover” • The Most Abstract Science/True Being/Reality • Claims are Necessary • Subject matter is Divine • Being is the Good • Supremacy of worth • Complete • Self-sufficient • All of this within a Rational Discourse
Aristotle’s Necessary Knowledge • Self-sufficient • Self-enclosed • Self-originated • Self-conducted • Ideal • Eternal • Independent of change • Independent of the world in which men act and live.
Euclid-Geometry • Mathematics helped advance the philosophical ideas of discovering eternal, absolute, pure and abstract truths, such as Plato’s forms in the intelligible world.
Dewey • “To these two realms belong two sorts of knowledge. On of them is alone knowledge in the full sense, science. The other, dealing with change, is belief or opinion; empirical and particular; it is contingent, a matter of probability, not of certainty.” 391 • “Perfect certainty is what man wants.” 391
2 Ideals • The 2 ideals that have guided the philosophical tradition are (1) the ideal of science and (2) the ideal of the life of reason.
Consequence for Theories of Knowledge • Correspondence theory in which the objects known are antecedent of the inquiry. • These objects serve as the True standard/measure of all experiences (Plato’s forms). • “For knowledge to be certain must relate to that which has antecedent existence and essential being.” 392
Dewey • “The common sense of all these theories, in short, is that what is known is antecedent to the mental act of observation and inquiry, and is totally unaffected by these acts; otherwise it would not be fixed and unchangeable.”393 • SPECTATOR THEORY OF KNOWLEDGE.
Dewey • We should dissolve this false separation between theory and practice. • We should give up the search for certainty as a desired goal. • With this, we can also get rid of the metaphysics of absolutes and the quest for pure Being or unmoved mover.
Dewey • Instead we should view the world as the natural world and as evolving and changing. • We should view this realm as the only true and real realm. • Knowledge is contingent because it is the only form of knowledge we have. • The objects of knowledge are partly constructed by human intentions, desires, and values.
Dewey The Central Question of Philosophy • “How shall our most authentic and dependable cognitive beliefs be used to regulate our practical beliefs? How shall the latter serve to organize and integrate our intellectual beliefs?” 389 • “There is a genuine possibility that the true problem of philosophy is connected with precisely this type of question.” 389 • “Man has beliefs which scientific inquiry vouchsafes, beliefs about the actual structure and processes of things; and he also has beliefs about the values which should regulate his conduct.” 389
Dewey: Conclusion • “The question of how these two ways of believing [theory and practice] may most effectively and fruitfully interact with one another is the most general and significant of all problems which life presents to us.” • Intellect-Values-Actions: How do these interact? • These two realms should not be viewed as separate but rather as interactive and engaged with one another.