Deweyan Pragmatism

William James Studies 1 (2006)
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a decisive move on his part beyond James. Many have pointed out that it was James who turned Dewey from Hegelianism to what becomes his instrumentalist rendition of Jamesian pragmatism.2 In this article, I will concentrate on what Dewey borrows (and changes) from James: a notion of experience meant to bridge the gap between traditional philosophical rationalism and empiricism (and meant to take the place of both), and an emphasis on meliorism. I agree with those who argue that Dewey "naturalizes" James.3 James's moral multiverse and his relatively uncritical approach to religious experience are replaced by a rather transparent religion of pluralism (or democracy) and a notion of moral faith which points from individual experience toward the pluralistic, democratic community. It would be more accurate to say that religion itself, any religious tradition, and religious experience, are replaced by the religious function in experience, through which the beliefs of the many and their aspirations form the working hypotheses of a progressive community. Faith in the existence of some religious Being is replaced by moral faith in the future, a faith which does not point to a divine Being beyond our own existences. James describes religious experience in psychological terms. Dewey wants to move beyond description. And he wants to move beyond the category of religious experience, beyond the idea that there is a special and unique type of experience which reflects a unique reality. For Dewey, the religious aspects of experience only point forward. In Dewey, James's pragmatism becomes instrumentalism. Where James may be satisfied to accept certain beliefs and experiences (including "special" beliefs and experiences) at face-value and to judge them by their consequences, Dewey demands a reconstruction of the meaning of a belief before he is willing to discuss its value; and value, for Dewey, involves the power to exert an influence at the level of community and address and redress social problems..



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Randy L. Friedman
State University of New York at Binghamton

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