The Dialectical Biologist, circa 1890: John Dewey and the Oxford Hegelians

Journal of the History of Philosophy 52 (4):747-777 (2014)
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Abstract

I argue in this paper that rather than viewing John Dewey as either a historicist or a naturalist, we should see him as strange but potentially fruitful combination of both. I will demonstrate that the notion of organism-environment interaction central to Dewey’s pragmatism stems from a Hegelian approach to adaptation; his turn to biology was not necessarily a turn away from Hegel. I argue that Dewey’s account of the organism-environment relation derives from the work of Oxford Hegelians such as Edward Caird and Samuel Alexander, who were attempting to reconcile evolutionary ideas with a critique of Herbert Spencer’s environmentalist account of human thought and action. This dialectical account of organism-environment interaction played a key role in Dewey’s philosophy from the 1890s to the 1940s, despite other shifts in his thinking

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Trevor Pearce
University of North Carolina, Charlotte

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