Volume 2, 1998
Dewey’s Criticisms of Traditional Philosophy
Towards a Pragmatic Conception of Philosophy
In this paper I address some of John Dewey’s more generally applicable criticisms of the philosophic "tradition," and show how his criticisms stem from his naturalistic approach to philosophy. This topic is important because Dewey gives great insight into discussions that are relevant today regarding the role of philosophy. In 1935 he anticipated many of the criticisms of the "later" Wittgenstein regarding the establishment of post facto standards as a cause, the separation of language from behavior and the privatization of mind—yet Dewey still finds use for metaphysics or "thinking at large." I believe the essence of Dewey’s criticisms are found in a few key distinctions. Therefore, I cover the history of philosophy with blanket criticisms of the blanket categories of "classical" and of "modern" thought. For Dewey, the fundamental error characteristic of both Greek and Modern thinking is the artificial bifurcation of our thoughts, feelings and actions from the natural world. As I see it, the heart of this metaphysical mistake is captured by the distinctions he draws between the "instrumental" and "consummatory," and between the "precarious" and "stable."