requiem for certainty

Archive for April 2011

Dewey on Method in Political Theory (1927)

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In his Public and Its Problems (1927) John Dewey adopts a four-component methodological strategy that is more or less implicit in his earlier broadly philosophical contributions, such as Reconstruction In Philosophy (1920) and Experience and Nature (1925).  Dewey often referred to this method as “instrumentalism” and as “historical-empiricism” but it’s probably best known these days as “pragmatism”.  The method, in short, involves four methodological distinctions, which Dewey lays out in Chapter One.  A proper understanding of his methodological apparatus prepares us to understand the way in which Dewey addresses himself to the pressing problem of pluralism that was his lifelong obsession with respect to liberal democratic theory (as argued in posts from the last two weeks here and here).  Herein a brief review of these four methodological decisions, followed by commentary.

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Written by Colin Koopman

April 26, 2011 at 3:27 am

Dewey on Society (from 1888 to 1916)

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Contemporary political theory is haunted by a pair of interwoven ambiguities between pluralism and monism on the one hand and proceduralism and moralism on the other.  I find a valuable early example of these ambiguities in the work of democratic theorist and pragmatist philosopher John Dewey.  What follows is a historical redescription of this ambiguity in Dewey as we chart the chronology of his democratic theory from his early Hegelian phase (in 1888) to his later explicitly pragmatist (but still ambiguous) philosophy (in 1916).

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Written by Colin Koopman

April 19, 2011 at 5:08 pm

Dewey on Publics and States (in 1920)

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One of John Dewey’s lifelong obsessions with respect to political theory concerned issues of the democratic qualities in virtue of which some publics become capable of self-regulation or, to put it differently, become capable of growth (which for Dewey is always a self-directed process).  This theme emerges most clearly in his 1927 The Public and Its Problems, a text that has obsessed many commentators.  Another location where we find anticipations of that discussion is in chapter 8 of his 1920 Reconstruction In Philosophy.  One can follow the thread of that text through three themes in order to shed some light on Dewey’s conception of the democratic organization of publics, a conception which arguably is the very center of his entire philosophic vision.

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Written by Colin Koopman

April 11, 2011 at 11:39 pm