Metaphysics as Morals: The Controversy Between John Dewey and George Santayana

Dissertation, Washington University (2000)

Richard Marc Rubin
Washington University in St. Louis
John Dewey and George Santayana engaged in a philosophic controversy that lasted more than forty years, beginning with Dewey's two reviews of The Life of Reason and concluding with a posthumously published essay by Santayana . The most well-known part of this controversy began with Santayana's review of Experience and Nature in which he said that Dewey's naturalism is "half-hearted and short-winded." To this Dewey replied that if his naturalism is half-hearted, then Santayana's is "broken-backed." In Metaphysics as Morals I survey the principle writings of this controversy to show that despite Dewey's surprise at Santayana's criticism of Experience and Nature , many of the issues that emerge there also show up in their earlier writings about each other; the debate, even when ostensibly about such as issues as the role of nature in experience, has more to do with their deeply felt convictions about how life should be lived and the role of reason, philosophy, and art in human existence---in short, it is a moral controversy metaphysical guise; and the debate continued in their subsequent writings, where the moral controversy appears in disputes about politics, literature, art, and religion. ;Both Santayana and Dewey agreed that things and events in the natural world exist independently of human observation, that there is no supernatural realm apart from physical existence, and that consciousness does not occur except in living animal organisms. Santayana regarded conscious life as fundamentally different from physical existence, even though consciousness is produced by physical interactions. Consciousness entails perspectives and purposes, neither of which exist in nature. Dewey focused on the development of consciousness in natural and social environments, and, therefore, emphasized how human knowledge, interests, and activities are part of an ongoing interaction with the world. Dewey's philosophical predilections reflect his concerns for social improvement, intelligent practical activity, and educational reform. Santayana's philosophy is an expression of his discomfort with the practical world and his belief that human life is most vital in moments of contemplation
Keywords John Dewey  George Santayana  Metaphysics  Morals  American philosophy  Naturalism  Philosophical disagreement
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