Lecture Supplement on Dewey’s Experience and Nature [second edition] [1929][1]


     Copyright © 2014 Bruce W. Hauptli




ix Dewey will offer an empirical naturalism.  But, what is naturalism?  In his “Naturalism Reconsidered,” Ernest Nagel characterizes naturalism as follows:


two theses seem to me central to naturalism as I conceive it.  The first is the existential and causal primacy of organized matter in the executive order of nature.[2] 


The second major contention of naturalism is that the manifest plurality and variety of things, of their qualities and their functions are an irreducible feature of the cosmos....[3] 


Moral ideals are not self-certifying, any more than are the theories of the physical sciences; and evidence drawn from experienced satisfactions is required to validate them, however difficulty may be the process of sifting and weighing the available data.  Moral problems arise from a conflict of specific impulses and interests.[4] 


            In his “Dewey, Democracy: The Task Ahead of Us,” Richard Bernstein offers the following characterization of Dewey’s naturalism:”


it is the [Darwinistic] understanding of life and experience as process, as change, as organic interaction that Dewey emphasized.  We are neither beings with a fixed human nature which unfolds in the course of time nor are we infinitely plastic and perfectible.  Human beings are continuous with the rest of nature but have the capacity to develop those beliefs, dispositions, sensitivities and virtues that Dewey called “reflective intelligence.”  Experience itself involves undergoing, suffering, activity, and consummations.[5] 


            Finally, in his The Nature of Rationality, Robert Nozick offers the following characterization:


Kant held that the rationalists could not show why our knowledge or intuition...would conform to objects, and he suggested—this was his “Copernican Revolution”—that objects must conform to our knowledge, to the constitution of the faculty of our intuition.  (Hence our knowledge is not of things in themselves but only of empirical reality, for that is what is shaped by our constitution.) 

  If reason and the facts were independent factors, said Kant, then the rationalists could produce no convincing reason why the two should correspond.  Why should those two independent variables be correlated?  So he proposed that the (empirical) facts were not an independent variable; their dependence upon reason explains the correlation and correspondence between them.  But there is a third alternative: that it is reason that is the dependent variable, shaped by the facts, and its dependence upon the facts explains the correlation and correspondence between them.  It is just such an alternative that our evolutionary hypothesis presents.  Reason tells us about reality because reality shapes reason, selecting for what seems “evident.”[6]  


We might best think of philosophy...as the love of reason....The philosopher’s attempt to ground reason is his effort to protect his love.  (Or to ensure that his love will stay true to him?)  Will accepting this evolutionary explanation of reason’s power and beauty of appearance have the effect of diminishing that love?  It is not clear that it must.  Do our eyes and ears diminish in value when we learn that these perceptual organs have an evolutionary explanation?  Still, some philosophers have heard reason’s voice as heralding the necessary in contrast to the contingent, as providing access to more than actuality can encompass, and they may feel deprived of the special solace their love has brought.[7] 


Nozick believes that consistent naturalists must accept the contingency, indeterminacy, and absence of transcendental guarantees (and values) if they are to be consistent, and he contends that doing so need not lead us into nihilism, skepticism, or despair.  As we examine Dewey’s book we must be clear that the worry which Nozick gives voice to here is a serious concern, and we must attempt to see whether it has any substance to it. 


            Another way, of course, of discerning what naturalism amounts to is to ask “What theories is it to be contrasted with?”  It is often contrasted with: continental rationalism, British empiricism, German idealism, and, I would add, all versions supernaturalism.  Indeed for me a defining characteristic of naturalism is its wholesale rejection of all forms of supernaturalism, though this is just the “flip side” of Nagel’s characterization above. 


I. Experience and Philosophic Method:


In this Chapter, Dewey identifies what he takes to be certain “general features” of experience and nature.  The most general feature he identifies is that they are not separate things.  Dewey contends that prior philosophers fell prey to a peculiarly philosophical fallacy, the fallacy of selective emphasis, as they overemphasized either experience or nature. 


            According to him, if we understand the interrelation of experience and nature rightly, there is no philosophical problem of “getting them back together” (no problem of showing how experience can be of or about an independent nature).  According to Dewey, the correct method in philosophy (an “empirical naturalism” which employs what he calls “the empirical and denotative method”) will recognize that our beliefs, theories, etc., must be related to the experiences which generated them and to those experiences which they lead us to (cf., pp. 2a and 36). 


The Text:


1a To many, the title of the book (Experience and Nature) will seem to combine two incompatible notions.  They will be accustomed to viewing experience as a veil or screen which must be penetrated or transcended if we are to get nature right.  Dewey rejects this “Cartesian” picture:


-2a “In the natural sciences there is a union of experience and nature which is not greeted as a monstrosity; on the contrary, the inquirer must use empirical method if his findings are to be treated as genuinely scientific.  The investigator assumes as a matter of course that experience, controlled in specifiable ways, is the avenue that leads to the facts and laws of nature.” 


-He offers a seemingly silly metaphor which while particularly inapt, helps us see one of the core elements of his naturalistic theory: “...the vine of pendant theory is attached at both ends to the pillars of observed subject-matter.  And this experienced material is the same for the scientific man and the man in the street” (cf., p. 36: “What empirical method exacts of philosophy....”). 


--3a “...experience, if scientific inquiry is justified, is no infinitesimally thin layer or foreground of nature, but...it penetrates into it, reaching down deep into its depths, and in such a way that its grasp is capable of expansion; it tunnels in all directions and in so doing brings to the surface things at first hidden....” 


4a-1 “These commonplaces prove that experience is of as well as in nature.  It is not experience which is experienced, but nature—stones, plants, animals, diseases, health, temperature, electricity, and so on.  Things interacting in certain ways are experience; they are what is experienced.  Linked in certain other ways with another natural object—the human organism—they are how things are experienced as well.  Experience thus reaches down into nature; and has depth.  It also has breadth and to an indefinitely elastic extent.  It stretches.  This stretch constitutes inference.”


- “To discover some of these general features of experienced things and to interpret their significance for a philosophic theory of the universe in which we live is the aim of this volume.  From the point of view adopted, the theory of empirical method in philosophy does for experienced subject-matter on a liberal scale what it does for special sciences on a technical scale.  It is this aspect of method with which we are especially concerned in the present chapter.” 


-3 “The Cartesian school relegated experience to a secondary and almost accidental place, and only when the Galilean-Newtonian method had wholly triumphed did it cease to be necessary to mention the importance of experience.” 


-4-5 “That the subject-matter of primary experience sets the problems and furnishes the first data of the reflection which constructs the secondary objects is evident; it is also obvious that test and verification of the latter is secured only by return to things of crude or macroscopic experience....But just what role do the objects attained in reflection play?....They explain the primary objects, they enable us to grasp them with understanding, instead of just having sense-contact with them....they define or lay out a path by which return to experienced things is of such sort that the meaning, the significant content, of what is experienced gains an enriched and expanded force because of the path or method by which it is reached.” 


--Since he is claiming, here, that the objects of reflection (beliefs, theories, concepts, etc.) are tools or instruments, it is appropriate to ask what tools or instruments are.  We can see that, for Dewey, they are vehicles for resolving problems, for adding meaning and value, they produce new enjoyments, and where they generate new problems, these problems are not of the same sort as were the original ones (cf., p. 7).  Refer to the metaphor in the movie 2001 regarding primitive humans, tool use, and space exploration.  Of course, such a view of the objects of reflection is not the view of traditional philosophy. 


--Traditional philosophy did not seek verifications.  In traditional philosophy “...the things of ordinary experience do not get enlargement and enrichment of meaning as they do when approached through the medium of scientific principles and reasonings.”  In traditional philosophy new meanings are not tested in ordinary experience and so they become arbitrary and aloof. 


--6-7 The refined objects of scientific method “...solve perplexities to which that crude material gives rise but which it cannot resolve of itself.  They become means of control, of enlarged use and enjoyment of ordinary things.  They may generate new problems, but these are problems of the same sort, to be dealt with by further use of the same methods of inquiry and experimentation.” 


8 Experience is a “double barreled” word: “...it recognizes...no division between act and material subject and object, but contains them both in an unanalyzed totality.” 


-For empirical naturalism, there is no problem of getting experience and nature back together again. 


-10 Medicine and engineering serve as examples for an empirical naturalism: tools for resolving problems, adding meaning, and adding value are developed in inquiry. 


-12 “The natural and original bias of man is all toward the objective....” 


16-20 Dewey’s critique of “the given.” 


A rejection of Lockean empiricism, logical positivism, and much of what followed in the United States in epistemology for fifty years. 


-18 Reference to the primacy of experience avoids the subjectivists’ mistakes. 


19 “Philosophy, like all forms of reflective analysis, takes us away...from the things had in primary experience....Now the standing temptation in philosophy...is to regard the results of reflection as having, in themselves, a reality superior to that of the material of any other mode of experience.” 


-20 The objects of primary experience are not rigid, they are potentialities. 


-21 The philosophical mistake of intellectualism is to fail to remember that things are had before they are cognized—when we take the character of reality as cognized as if it were primary, we lose sight of the role of cognition and of the consummatory character of our experience. 


25 The Philosophical Fallacy of Selective Emphasis:


-The discussions on pp. 18 (subjectivism), 19 (cognition), 20 (illusions), 21 (intellectualism), 26 (certainty), and 27 (eternity) all bring out this fallacy to varying degrees. 


-29 “Selective emphasis, choice, is inevitable whenever reflection occurs.  This is not an evil.  Deception comes only when the presence and operation of choice is concealed, disguised, denied.  Empirical method finds and points to the operation of choice as it does to any other event.  Thus it protects us from conversion of eventual functions into antecedent existence: a conversion that may be said to be the philosophic fallacy, whether it be performed in behalf of mathematical substances, esthetic essences, the purely physical order of nature, or God.” 


-32 “Three sources of large fallacies have been mentioned, each containing within itself many more sub-varieties than have been hinted at.  The three are [a] the complete separation of subject and object, (of what is experienced from how it is experienced);  [b] the exaggeration of the features of known objects at the expense of the qualities of objects of enjoyment and trouble, friendship and human association, art and industry; and [c] the exclusive isolation of the results of various types of selective simplification which are undertaken for diverse unavowed purposes.” 


36 The empirical method is tied twice to experience: “what empirical method exacts of philosophy is two things: First, that refined methods and products be traced back to their origin in primary experience, in all its heterogeneity and fullness; so that the needs and problems out of which they arise and which they have to satisfy be acknowledged.  Secondly, that the secondary methods and conclusions be brought back to the things of ordinary experience, in all their coarseness and crudity, for verification” (cf., p. 2a: “...the vine of pendant theory....”). 


37 Philosophy is a critique of [intellectual or cultural] prejudices. 


II. Existence as Precarious and As Stable:


In this Chapter, Dewey identifies the two most fundamental characteristics of existence (nature): precariousness, and stability.  He contends that previous philosophers fell into errors because they overemphasized one and/or ignored the other.  In addition, he contends that every existence is an event (cf., p. 71). 


The Text:


41 “A feature of existence which is emphasized by cultural phenomena is the precarious and perilous.” 


-42 “...the world of empirical things includes the uncertain, unpredictable, uncontrollable, and hazardous.” 


-44 The use of “instruments and theories” mitigates the dangerous and changing character of the world, but they do not render the world secure and regular. 


-46-47 “Variant philosophies may be looked at as different ways of supplying recipes for denying to the universe the character of contingency which it possesses so integrally that its denial leaves the reflecting mind without a clew, and puts subsequent philosophizing at the mercy of temperament, interest and local surroundings.” 


-47 “We live in a world which is an impressive and irresistible mixture of sufficiencies, tight completnesses, order, recurrences which make possible prediction and control, and singularities, ambiguities, uncertain possibilities, processes going on to consequences as yet indeterminate.  They are mixed not mechanically but vitally like the wheat and tares of the parable.  We may recognize them separately but we cannot divide them, for unlike the wheat and the tares they grow from the same root” (cf., pp. 54, 69, and 75). 


--The parable is in The Bible [“Matthew” 13:25]. 


--48-49 Aristotle, for example, did not pay sufficient attention to contingency and the cost was great.  [p. 49:] “With slight exaggeration, it may be said that the thoroughgoing way in which Aristotle defined, distinguished and classified rest and movement, the finished and the incomplete, the actual and potential, did more to fix the tradition, the genteel tradition one is tempted to add, which identifies the fixed and regular with reality of Being and the changing and hazardous with deficiency of Being than ever was accomplished by those who took the shorter path of asserting that change is illusory.” 


--50 “...the philosophies of flux also indicate the intensity of the craving for the sure and fixed.  They have deified change by making it universal, regular, sure.”  He discusses, on pp. 50-51, Hegel, Bergson, and Romanticism. 


-54 Where philosophers “rend asunder” the stable and precarious, they then have the problem of joining them (or explaining away one or the other).  The fallacy of selective emphasis yields many of the “problems” of traditional philosophy (cf., p. 59). 


62 “The union of the hazardous and the stable, of the incomplete and the recurrent, is the condition of all experienced satisfaction as truly as of our predicaments and problems.  While it is the source of ignorance, error and failure of expectation, it is the source of the delight which fulfillments bring.”  Here Dewey draws our attention to both “problems” and “consummations!” 


- “For if there were nothing in the way, if there were no deviations and resistances, fulfillment would be at once, and in so being would fulfill nothing, but merely be.  It would not be in connection with desire or satisfaction.  Moreover when a fulfillment comes and is pronounced good, it is judged good, distinguished and asserted, simply because it is in jeopardy, because it occurs amid indifferent and divergent things.”  To this argument, the following and one on p. 69 should also be added. 


-62-63 “Better objects when brought into existence are existent not ideal; they retain ideal quality only retrospectively as commemorative of issue from prior conflict and prospectively, in contrast with forces which make for their destruction.  Water thus slakes thirst, or a conclusion that solves a problem have ideal character as long as thirst or problem persists in a way which qualifies the result.  But water that is not a satisfaction of need has no more ideal quality than water running through pipes into a reservoir; a solution ceases to be a solution and becomes a bare incident of existence when its antecedent generating conditions of doubt, ambiguity and search are lost from its context.  While the precarious nature of existence is indeed the source of all trouble, it is also an indispensable condition of ideality, becoming a sufficient condition when conjoined with the regular and assured.” 


--64-65 Similarly, necessity requires contingency.  “A world that was all necessity would not be a world of necessity; it would just be.”  [65] “The stable and recurrent is needed for the fulfillment of the possible; the doubtful can be settled only through its adaptation to stable objects.  The necessary is always necessary for, not necessary in and of itself; it is conditioned by the contingent....” 


--67 “A philosophy which accepts the denotative or empirical method accepts at full value the fact that reflective thinking transforms confusion, ambiguity and discrepancy into illumination, definiteness and consistency.  But it also points to the contextual situation in which thinking occurs.  It notes that the starting point is the actually problematic, and that the problematic phase resides in some actual and specifiable situation.” 


-69 “But the interests of empirical and denotative method and of naturalistic metaphysics wholly coincide.  The world must actually be such as to generate ignorance and inquiry; doubt and hypothesis, trial and temporal conclusions; the latter being such that they develop out of existences which while wholly “real” are not as satisfactory, as good, or as significant, as those into which they are eventually re-organized.  The ultimate evidence of genuine hazard, contingency, irregularity and indeterminateness in nature is thus found in the occurrence of thinking....” 


--Note: Dewey’s critique of “traditional philosophers” is that they “reify” and “selectively emphasize”—that they develop a mistaken metaphysics.  But note that his instrumental theory of inquiry is a fallibilistic theory” which avoids looking for fixity, finality, or absolutes.  This leads one to wonder, however: Isn’t Dewey making just the mistake he cautions against, then, when he maintains that “precariousness and stability” are “general characteristics” of reality?  As we look at his views in greater depth, then, we will have to look to see whether his experimentalism (or epistemological naturalism, or instrumentalistic pragmatism) can consistently offer the sort of metaphysical theory which he advances—in short, while he claims here that “the interests of empirical and denotative method and of naturalistic metaphysics wholly coincide,” we must look to see whether this is the case.[8] 


71 “Every existence is an event.” 


III. Nature, Ends and Histories:


In this Chapter, Dewey points to the existence, nature, and role of the consummatory in experience.  Dewey maintains that traditional philosophy has misunderstood the role and nature of consummatory experiences, and he wants to set the record straight (cf., p. 116).  According to him, consummatory experiences are immediate, noninstrumentally valuable (but not intrinsically valuable), and arise when “hazard” or “problems” are overcome.  He maintains that consummatory experiences or “ends” can not be thought of as purely instrumental, and he distinguishes “ends” (in the sense of “endings”) from “ends-in-view.” 


The Text:


78 “Human experience in the large, in its coarse and conspicuous features, has for one of its most striking features preoccupation with direct enjoyment, feasting and festivities; ornamentation, dance, song, dramatic pantomime, telling yarns and enacting stories.”  Most philosophers ignore this fact and, thus, radically misunderstand the consummatory. 


-Even such philosophers as utilitarians (who emphasize the role of some consummatory experiences [pleasure]) offer an extremely dry and non-immediate characterization of this aspect of experience. 


80 For Dewey, the consummatory is not to be thought of simply in terms of what occurs in the experience of refined objects of art.  He distinguishes “fine art” from “useful art,” maintains that the former develops out of the latter, and contends that we are “preoccupied with such ends:”


- “A passion of anger, a dream, relaxation of the limbs after effort....have the same sense of immediate and absorbing finality that is possessed by things and acts dignified by the title of esthetic.  For man is more preoccupied with enhancing life than with bare living; so that a sense of living when it attends labor and utility is borrowed not intrinsic, having been generated in those periods of relief when activity was dramatic.” 


-81 “...man is naturally more interested in consummations than he is in preparations; and consummations have first to be hit upon spontaneously and accidentally—as the baby gets food and all of us are warmed by the sun—before they can be objects of foresight, invention and industry.” 


-According to Dewey, then, there is an important relationship between consummatory and instrumental activities: “Labor, through its structure and order, lends play its pattern and plot; play then returns the loan with interest to work, in giving it a sense of beginning, sequence and climax.  As long as imagined objects are satisfying, the logic of drama, of suspense, thrill and success, dominates the logic of objective events.” 


--82 Dewey notes that symbolisms are tied to direct enjoyments—they are vehicles to direct enjoyments. 


--84 “As direct appreciative enjoyment exhibits things in their consummatory phase, labor manifests things in their connections of things with one another, in efficiency, productivity, furthering, hindering, generating, destroying.  From the standpoint of enjoyment a thing is what it directly does for us.  From that of labor a thing is what it will do to other things—the only way in which a tool or an obstacle can be defined.” 


85 Dewey points out that ends can not be thought of as solely instrumental:


- “...the enjoyment (with which suffering is to be classed) of things is a declaration that natural existences are not mere passage ways to another passage way, and so on ad infinitum.  Thinkers interested in esthetic experience are wont to point out the absurdity of the idea that things are good or valuable only for something else; they dwell on the fact vouchsafed by esthetic appreciation that there are things that have their goodness or value in themselves, which are not cherished for the sake of anything else.” 


-But while some philosophers are moved by this thought to contend that there is some other realm of value which “transcends” the mundane world, Dewey contends that “...in every event there is something obdurate, self-sufficient, wholly immediate, neither a relation nor an element in a relational whole, but terminal and exclusive.” 


--85-86 According to Dewey, this immediacy is ineffable: (86) “Things in their immediacy are unknown and unknowable, not because they are remote or behind some impenetrable veil of sensation of ideas, but because knowledge has no concern with them.  For knowledge is a memorandum of conditions of their appearance, concerned, that is, with sequences, coexistences, relations.  Immediate things may be pointed to by words, but not described or defined.” 


--86-87 He points out that relational systems would collapse if the “related” did not have a “qualitative character” all their own. 


90 Dewey maintains that esthetic objects arise when hazard has been overcome: “objects are actually esthetic when they turn hazard and defeat to an issue which is above and beyond trouble and vicissitude.” 


-90-91 According to him, however, the Greeks misunderstood this and thought the esthetic could be a realm of intrinsically secure and self-possessed meaning.  Theirs was a spectator, leisured culture which misunderstood the consummatory. 


--92-93 The four-fold Aristotelian conception of causation conceived of the artisan as menial and viewed change and matter as potentiality for finished and final objects (forms).  (93) He points out that the Greeks of the period drew a sharp distinction between the servile workers and the free men of leisure. 


--94-95 “The doctrine that objects as ends are the proper objects of science, because they are the ultimate forms of real being, met its doom in the scientific revolution of the seventeenth century.  Essences and forms were attacked as occult; “final causes” were either wholly denied or relegated to a divine realm too high for human knowledge.  The doctrine of natural ends was displaced by a doctrine of designs, ends-in-view, conscious aims constructed and entertained in individual minds independent of nature.” 


96 “Empirically, things are poignant, tragic, beautiful, humorous, settled, disturbed, comfortable, annoying, barren, harsh, consoling, splendid, fearful; are such immediately and in their own right and behalf.  If we take advantage of the word esthetic in a wider sense than that of application to the beautiful and ugly, esthetic quality, immediate, final or self-enclosed, indubitably characterizes natural situations as they empirically occur.”  Here we are lead to Dewey’s distinction between “ends” and “ends-in-view.” 


-97 “Ends” (in the sense of “endings”) may be of several sorts: “being an end may be indifferently an ecstatic culmination, a matter-of-fact consummation, or a deplorable tragedy.  Which of these things a closing or terminal object is, has nothing to do with the property of being a end.” 


--99 “...in a legitimate account of ends as endings, all directional order resides in the sequential order.  This no more occurs for the sake of the end than a mountain exists for the sake of the peak which is its end.  A musical phrase has a certain close, but the earlier portion does not therefore exist for the sake of the close as if it were something which is done away with when the close is reached.  And so a man is not an adult until after he has been a boy, but childhood does not exist for the sake of maturity.” 



--101 In addition to “ends,” there are “ends-in-view:”  “...every situation or field of consciousness is marked by initiation, direction or intent, and consequence or import.  What is unique is not these traits, but the property of awareness or perception.  Because of this property, the initial stage is capable of being judged in light of its probable course and consequence.  There is anticipation.  Each successive event being a stage in a serial process is both expectant and commemorative.  What is more precisely pertinent to our present theme, the terminal outcome when anticipated (as it is when a moving cause of affairs is perceived becomes an end-in-view, an aim, purpose, a prediction usable as a plan in shaping the course of events.” 


--104 “Ends-in-view” are “...aims, things viewed after deliberation as worthy of attainment and as evocative of effort.  They are formed from objects taken in their immediate and terminal qualities; objects once having occurred as endings, but which are not now in existence and which are not likely to come into existence save by an action which modifies surroundings.” 


--Note: here we have an initial statement of a distinction which is central to Dewey’s “theory of valuation:”  the distinction between what is desired and what is desirable.  For him, unlike the traditional philosophers (e.g., Plato and Aristotle), the latter is not to be found in a transcendent realm but, rather, is an “outgrowth” of the world of ordinary experience.  An index of this is his view (stated earlier on p. 80) that fine art arises out of useful art.[9] 


107 “...immediacy and efficacy though distinguishable qualities are not disjoined existentially.”  In this section of the text Dewey begins to clarify his view that it is only in relation to endeavor, conscious activity, reflection, etc., that ends become something more than endings (that value and desirability arise). 


-108 If we recognize that all qualities directly had in conscious experience apart from use made of them, testify to nature’s characterization by immediacy and finality, there is ground for unsophisticated recognition of use and enjoyment of things as natural, as belonging to the things as well as to us.  Things are beautiful and ugly, lovely and hateful, dull and illuminated, attractive and repulsive.  Stir and thrill in us as much theirs as is length breadth, and thickness.”


-109 “Good, being congenial, is held to be normal; and what is suffered is a deviation, creating the problem of evil.  Thus the earlier gets moral dignity as well as practical superiority.  But in existence, or metaphysically, cause and effect are on the same level; they are portions of one and the same historic process, each having immediate or esthetic quality and each having efficacy, or serial connection.  Since existence is historic it can be known or understood only as each portion is distinguished and related.” 


-112 “Either we must consistently stick to the equivalence of ends with objectives of conscious endeavor, or admit that all things directly possessed of irreducible and self-sufficing quality, red and blue, pain, solidity, toughness, smoothness and so on through the list, are natural ends.” 


-- “Modern science made it clear that nature has no preference for good things over bad things; its mills turn out any kind of grist indifferently.” 


114 “The realm of immediate qualities contains everything of worth and significance.  But it is uncertain, unstable and precarious.  The first consideration induces us to prize consciousness supremely; the second leads us to deny reality to it as compared with alleged underlying things with their fixity and permanence.” 


-115 “Thus the things that are most precious, that are final, being just the things that are unstable and most easily changing, seem to be different in kind from good, solid, old-fashioned substance.  Matter has turned out to be nothing like as lumpy and chunky as unimaginative prejudice conceived it to be.” 


-116 “The irony of many historic systems of philosophy is that they have so inverted the actualities of the case.  The general, recurrent and extensive has been treated as the worthy and superior kind of Being; the immediate, intensive, transitory, and qualitatively individualized taken to be of importance only when it is imputed to something ordinary, which is all the universal can denotatively mean.  In truth, the universal and stable are important because they are instrumentalities, the efficacious conditions of the occurrence of the unique, unstable and passing.” 


117 “The richer and fuller are the terminal qualities of an object the more precarious is the latter, because of its dependence upon a greater diversity of events.” 


-119 “The conception that contemplative thought is the end in itself was at once a compensation for inability to make reason effective in practice, and a means for perpetuating a division of social classes.” 


-120 “Since nothing in nature is exclusively final, rationality is always means as well as end....The ultimate contradiction in the classic and genteel tradition is that while it made thought universal and necessary and the culminating good of nature, it was content to leave its distribution among men a thing of accident, dependent upon birth, economic, and civil status.” 


IV. Nature, Means and Knowledge:


In this Chapter, Dewey talks about the “relational” aspect of nature and experience.  Having discussed the “consummatory” in the previous Chapter, he turns to discussing the “instrumental” in this one.  This is natural, of course, since one can not understand “ends” without understanding “means.”  Dewey is especially concerned to note that science (and theorizing in general) does not deal with a world separate from, independent of, or different from the world of consummatory experiences—it studies the relationships, orders, and regularities in experience which can be used to anticipate, control, regulate, and change the consummations. 


            Dewey also maintains that the “split in Being” (between “Being” and “becoming”—cf., pp. 123-124) which traditional philosophers “find” is a result of their failure to understand the “instrumental.” 


The Text:


121 Dewey begins the Chapter by noting that while we find labor unnaturally burdensome and while we believe that spontaneous festivity is our true right (indeed our mythology often attributes an initial unproblematic state as our natural one which we “loose” due to hubris), it should be noted that “the exacting conditions imposed by nature, that have to be observed in order that work be carried through to success, are the source of all noting and recording of nature’s doings.” 


-122 “Acumen, shrewdness, inventiveness, accumulation and transmission of information are the products of the necessity under which man labors to turn away from absorption in direct having and enjoying, so as to consider things in their active connections as means and as signs.”  The goal, of course, of all this activity is to lead back to enjoyments! 


-122-123 For Dewey, then, knowledge is a tool, and “a tool is a particular thing...in which a connection, a sequential bond of nature is embodied.  It possesses an objective relation as its own defining property.  Its perception as well as its actual use takes the mind to another thing.” 


-123 “Things have potentialities or are instrumental because they are not Being, but rather Being in the process of becoming.  They lend themselves to operative connections that fulfill them because they are not themselves Real in an adequate sense.” 


--123-124 The traditional philosophers saw a “split” in being between the fixed (“Being”) and the “unstable” (becoming) and attributed true reality to one or the other.  A better understanding of means (and ends) is needed. 


128 “The distinctively intellectual attitude which marks scientific inquiry was generated in efforts at controlling persons and things so that consequences, issues, outcomes would be more stable and assured.  The first step away from oppression by immediate things and events was taken when man employed tools and appliances, for manipulating things so as to render them contributory to desired objects....The very conception of cognitive meaning, intellectual significance, is that things in their immediacy are subordinated to what they portend and give us evidence of.  An intellectual sign denotes that a thing is not taken immediately but is referred to something that may come in consequence of it.  Intellectual meanings may themselves be appropriated, enjoyed and appreciated; but the character of intellectual meaning is instrumental.” 


-129-130 “Abstraction is not a psychological incident; it is a following to its logical conclusion of interest in those phases of natural existence which are dependable and fruitful signs of other things; which are means of prediction by formulation in terms implying other terms.” 


--134-135 “Greek thought regarded possession, contemplation, as the essence of science, and thought of the latter as such a complete possession of reality as incorporates it with mind.  The notion of knowledge as immediate possession of Being was retained when knowing as an actual affair radically altered.” 


-136 “Physical science does not set up another rival realm of antithetical existence; it reveals the state or order upon which the occurrence of immediate and final qualities depends.  It adds to casual having of ends an ability to regulate the date, place and manner of their emergence.  Fundamentally, the assertion that this condition of ordered relationships is mathematic, mechanical, is tautology; that is, the meaning of anything which is such that perception and use of it enables us to regulate consequences or attain terminal qualities is a mathematical, mechanical—or if you please—logical order.” 


--His naturalistic orientation doesn’t set up an appearance vs. reality distinction, and it does not rely upon a distinction in degrees of Being. 


---Question: aren’t these the fundamental distinctions in metaphysics?  How can his “naturalistic metaphysics” “dispose” of them and still be a metaphysics?[10] 


--139 “...any ability of control whatever depends upon ability to unite...disparate appearances into a serial history, and then give due attention to the fact that connection into a consecutive history can be effected only by means of a scheme of constant relationships.... Underlying “reality” and surface “appearance” in this connection have a meaning fixed by the function of inquiry, not an intrinsic metaphysical meaning.” 


141-142 “If objects which are colored, sonorous, tactile, gustatory, loved, hated, enjoyed, admired which are attractive and repulsive, exciting, indifferent and depressive, in all their infinitely numerous modes, are beginnings and endings of complex natural affairs, and if physical objects (defined as objects of physical science) are constituted by a mathematical-mechanical order; then physical objects instead of involving us in the predicament of having to choose between opposing claimants to reality, have precisely the characters which they should have in order to serve effectively as means for securing and avoiding immediate objects.” 


-142 “...immediate things come and go....” 


- “The possibility of regulating the occurrence of any event depends upon the possibility of instituting substitutions.” 


-143 “...objects of knowledge as means explain the importance attached to elements, or numerically discrete units.  Control of beginnings and ends by means is possible only when the individual, the unique, is treated as a composite of parts, made by sequential differentiations and integrations.” 


--145-146 “...the instrumental nature of objects of knowledge accounts for the central position of laws, [and] relations.” 


-148 “Timeless laws, taken by themselves, like all universals, express dialectic intent, not any matter of fact existence.  But their ultimate implication is application; they are methods, and when applied as methods they regulate the precarious flow of unique situations.  Objects of natural science are not metaphysical rivals of historical events; they are means of directing the latter.” 


149 “...the problems which constitute modern epistemology with its rival, materialistic, spiritualistic, dualistic doctrines, and rival realistic, idealistic, representational theories, and rival doctrines of relation of mind and matter...have a single origin in the dogma which denies temporal quality to reality as such.  Such a theory is bound to regard things which are causally explanatory as superior to results and outcomes; for the temporal dependence of the latter cannot be disguised, while “causes” can be plausibly converted into independent beings, or laws, or other non-temporal forms.  As has been pointed out, this denial of change to true Being had its source in bias in favor of objects of contemplative enjoyment, together with a theory such that objects are the adequate subject-matter of science.” 


-151 “...”instrumentalism” is a theory not about personal disposition and satisfaction in knowing, but about the proper objects of science....”


-152 “Where the objects of knowledge are taken to be final, perfect, complete, metaphysical fulfillments of nature, proper method consists in definition and classification; learning closes with demonstration of rational necessity of definitions and classifications.” 


-154 “When things are defined as instruments, their value and validity reside in what proceeds from them; consequences not antecedents supply meaning and verity.” 


-158 Thus, for Dewey ‘thought’ is an activity rather than a noun. 


159-160 Summary. 


161 Dewey says that the meaning of ‘truth’ is: “...processes of change so directed that they achieve an intended consummation.” 


-Critically consider how this view differs from those of Peirce, James, Plato, Medieval philosophers, continental rationalists, and traditional empiricists! 


Dewey says that the meaning of ‘knowledge’ is that it is “...instrumentalities at work in effecting modifications of existence in behalf of conclusions that are reflectively preferred.”


-Critically consider how this view differs from those of Peirce, James, Plato, Medieval philosophers, continental rationalists, and traditional empiricists! 


V. Nature, Communication and Meaning:


In this Chapter, Dewey discusses how meaning, communication, and value arise in nature and experience.  He offers an “instrumentalistic” and “naturalistic” theory of language which holds that the heart of language is not “expression” of previously existing thoughts and feelings, but rather “communication” [cf., p. 179].  He also offers a version of the “meaning is use” doctrine, and contends that language is a social phenomenon [cf., p. 185].  Moreover, he contends that traditional philosophers reified language and misunderstood it because the divorced it from its use and context thus yielding talk of fixed “essences” [cf., p. 195], or because they adopted a view of language which conceived of it on the model of “soliloquizing” [cf., p. 173]. 


The Text:


166 “When communication occurs, all natural events are subject to reconsideration and revision....Events turn into objects, things with a meaning.  They may be referred to when they do not exist and thus be operative among things distant in space and time....” 


-167 “Where communication exists, things in acquiring meaning, thereby acquire representatives, surrogates, signs and implicates, which are infinitely more amenable to management, more permanent and more accommodating, than events in their first estate.” 


-168-170 “Transcendentalists,” “traditional empirical thinkers,”

and “introspectionists” all misunderstand communication and meaning. 


-173 “Failure to recognize that this world of inner experience is dependent upon an extension of language which is a social product and operation led to the subjectivistic, solipsistic and egoistic strain in modern thought.  If the classic thinkers created a cosmos after the model of dialectic, giving rational distinctions power to constitute and regulate, modern thinkers composed nature after the model of personal soliloquizing.” 


175 “Gestures and cries are not primarily expressive and communicative.  They are modes of organic behavior as much as are locomotion, seizing and crunching.  Language, signs and significance, come into existence not by intent and mind but by over-flow, by-products, in gestures and sound.  The story of language is the story of the use made of these occurrences; a use that is eventual, as well as eventful.” 


-176-179 Dewey discusses signaling, reflex activities, and language in the context of mutual assistance and direction. 


-179 “The heart of language is not “expression” of something antecedent, much less expression of antecedent thought.  It is communication; the establishment of cooperation in an activity in which there are partners, and in which the activity of each is modified and regulated by partnership....Meaning is not indeed a psychic existence; it is primarily a property of behavior, and secondarily a property of objects.  But the behavior of which it is a quality is a distinctive behavior; cooperative, in that response to another’s act involves contemporaneous response to a thing entering into the other’s behavior, and this upon both sides.” 


183 “Discourse itself is both instrumental and consummatory.  Communication is an exchange which procures something wanted; it involves a claim, appeal, order, direction or request, which realizes want at less cost than personal labor exacts, since it procures the cooperative assistance of others.  Communication is also an immediate enhancement of life, enjoyed for its own sake.” 


-Note that here we have an echo or reiteration of Chapter III.  The endings of communication can be enjoyable, and this can lead to communication becoming an “end-in-view” which engenders its own consummatory experiences!  Cf., p. 202 below! 


185 Language is a social phenomenon. 


-187 “...communication is a condition of consciousness.” 


-190-191 The traffic officer’s whistle: an example of the “conventional character of language, communication, and meaning.” 


195 Previous thinkers often were seduced into talk of essences because they lost sight of the instrumental character of communication and began to reify language and meanings. 


-196 Meanings and essences are not independent, and they are not states of mind—they are interactions, relationships, etc. 


-201-202 Machine metaphor: machines evolve in human experience and so does language. 


202 “Communication is consummatory as well as instrumental.  It is a means of establishing cooperation, domination and order.  Shared experience is the greatest of human goods.  In communication, such conjunction and contact as is characteristic of animals become endearments capable of infinite idealization; they become symbols of the very culmination of nature.” 


-203 “If scientific discourse is instrumental in function, it is capable of becoming an enjoyed object to those concerned in it.” 


204-206 Summary (cf., especially, the long footnote). 


VI. Nature, Mind and the Subject:


In this Chapter, Dewey discusses the emergence of mind (subjectivity and selfhood) in nature and the earlier mistaken conceptions of the mental.  According to him the self is a centered organization of energies [cf., p. 233], and he emphasizes a social and relational conception of the self.  He contends that it is wrong to see the self as either an aberration or an independent entity.  Instead, he emphasizes, we must see selves/minds as in individuals who are in society which is in nature [cf., p. 219].  That is, he contends it is a mistake to see minds and individuals as separate and wholly independent [cf., p. 225]. 


The Text:


208 Personality, selfhood, and subjectivity are emergent, complex, organic, and social functions:


“Personality, selfhood, subjectivity are eventual functions that emerge with complexly organized interactions, organic and social.”  [Cf., p. 242, p. 245, and p. 306.]


-209-216 Ancient and modern views of selfhood. 


-217 “An adherent of empirical denotative method can hardly accept either the view which regards subjective mind as an aberration or that which makes it an independent creative source.  Empirically, it is an agency of novel reconstruction of a preexisting order.” 


-219 “...the whole history of science, art and morals proves that the mind that appears in individuals is not as such individual mind.  The former is in itself a system of belief, recognitions, and ignorances, of acceptances and rejections, of expectancies and appraisals, of meanings which have been instituted under the influence of custom and tradition. 

  It is not easy to break away from current and established classifications and interpretations of the world...objects of knowledge are not given to us defined, classified, and labeled, ready for labels and pigeon-holes.  We bring to the simplest observation a complex apparatus of habits of accepted meanings and techniques.” 


--221 “Thinking and desiring, no matter how subjective, are a preliminary, tentative and inchoate mode of action.  They are “overt” behavior of a communicated and public form in process of construction, and behavior involves change of objects which tests the meanings animating behavior.” 


--223 “To put the problem in terms of the connection between nature and institutions has an advantage over the isolation of the ego by modern philosophy.  It acknowledged the social factor.” 


-225 “Thinkers may start out with a naive assumption of minds connected with separate individuals.  But developments soon show the inadequacy of such “minds” to carry the burden of science and objective institutions, like the family and state.  The consequence was revealed to be sceptical, disintegrative, malicious.  A transcendental supra-empirical self, making human, or “finite,” selves its medium of manifestation, was the logical recourse.  Such a conception is an inevitable conclusion, when the value of liberation and utilization of individual capacity in science, art, industry, and politics is a demonstrated empirical fact; and when at the same time, individuality instead of being conceived as historic, intermediate, temporally relative and instrumental, is conceived of as original, eternal and absolute.” 


231-232 Ownership of experience: he suggests considering the metaphor of home ownership.  Just as there must be a home to be owned (an objective thing standing against the owner, and as home ownership is relational, so with the case of the self: 


-232 “The quality of belonging to some one is not an all-absorbing maw in which independent properties and relations disappear to be digested into egohood.  It is additive; it marks the assumption of a new relationship, in consequence of which the house...acquires new properties.  It is subject to taxes; the owner has the right to exclude others from entering it; he enjoys certain privileges and immunities with respect to it and is also exposed to certain burdens and liabilities. 

  Substitute “experience” for “house,” and no other word need be changed.[11]  Experience when it happens has the same dependence upon objective natural events, physical and social, as has the occurrence of a house.  It has its own objective and definitive traits; these can be described without reference to a self, precisely as a house is of brick, has eight rooms, etc., irrespective of whom it belongs to.  Nevertheless, just as for some purposes and with respect to some consequences, it is all important to note the added qualification of personal ownership of real property, so with “experience”....Experience, a serial course of affairs with their own characteristic properties and relationships, occurs, happens, and is what it is.  Among and within these occurrences, not outside of them nor underlying them, are those events which are denominated selves.” 


--233 “To say in a significant way, “I think, believe, desire, instead of barely it is thought, believed, desired” is to accept and affirm a responsibility and to put forth a claim.  It does not mean that the self is the source or author of the thought and affection nor its exclusive seat.  It signifies that the self as a centered organization of energies identifies itself (in the sense of accepting their consequences) with a belief or sentiment of independent and external origination.” 


-234 “there is nothing in nature that belongs absolutely and exclusively to anything else; belonging is always a matter of reference and distributive assignment....” 


235-236 “The development of the conception of experiencing as a distinctive operation is akin to the growth of the idea of fire-making out of direct experiences with fire.  Fire is fire, inherently just what it is; but making fire is relational.  It takes thought away from fire to the other things that help and prevent its occurrence.  So with experience in the sense of things that are experienced; they are what they are.  But their occurrence as experienced is ascertained to be dependent upon attitudes and dispositions; the manner of their happening is found to be affected by the habits of an organic individual.” 


-238 “In truth, attitudes, dispositions and their kin, while capable of being distinguished and made concrete intellectual objects are never separate existences.  They are always of, from, toward, situations and things.  They may be studied with a minimum of attention to the things at and away from which they are directed.  The things with which they are concerned may for purposes of inquiry be represented by a blank, a symbol to be specifically filled in as occasion demands.  But except as ways of seeking, turning from, appropriating, treating things, they have no existence nor significance.” 


-239-240 “Subjective and objective distinguished as factors in a regulated effort at modification of environing world have an intelligible meaning.  Subjectivism as an “ism” converts this historic, relative and instrumental status and function into something absolute and fixed; while pure “objectivism” is a doctrine of fatalism.” 


241-242 Dualism has undesirable practical consequences—it undercuts efforts to make effective relationships and transitions in experience. 


-242 “Existentially speaking, a human individual is distinctive opacity of bias and preference conjoined with plasticity and permeability of needs and likings.  One trait leads to isolation, discreteness; the other trait to connection, continuity.  This ambivalent character is rooted in nature, whose events have their own distinctive indifferencies, resistances, arbitrary closures and intolerances, and also their peculiar openness, warm responsiveness, greedy seekings and transforming unions.  The conjunction in nature of whimsical contingency and lawful uniformity is the result of these two characters of events.  They persist upon the human plane, and as ultimate characters are ineradicable.  Boundaries, demarcations, abrupt, and expansive over-reachings of boundaries impartially and conjunctively mark every phase of human life.” 


244 “Sociability, communication are just as immediate traits of the concrete individual as is the privacy of the closet of consciousness.” 


-245 “Thus the individual has a double status and import.  There is the individual that belongs in a continuous system of connected events which reinforce its activities and which form a world in which it is at home, consistently at one with its own preferences, satisfying its requirements....Then there is the individual that finds a gap between its distinctive bias and the operations of the things through which alone its need can be satisfied; it is broken off, discrete, because it is at odds with its surroundings.  It either surrenders, conforms, and for the sake of peace becomes a parasitical subordinate, indulges in egoistical solitude; or its activities set out to remake conditions in accord with desire.  In the latter process intelligence is born—not mind which appropriates and enjoys whole of which it is a part, but mind as individualized, initiating, adventuring, experimenting, dissolving.” 


--Cf., pp. 242 and 306. 


VII. Nature, Life and Body-Mind:


In this Chapter, Dewey maintains that the classical, medieval, and modern views of the body and mind are confused, and he offers a view of the physical, psycho-physical, and mental which stresses that these are not different types of Being but, rather, different organizations of experience and nature. 


The Text:


249 Dewey gives us a brief “history of the development of the mind-body distinction and problem:


- “To the Greeks, all life was psyche, for it was self-movement and only soul moves itself.” 


- “In Pauline Christianity and its successors, the body is earthly, fleshly, lustful and passionate; spirit is Godlike, everlasting; flesh is corruptible; spirit incorruptible.  The body was conceived in terms of moral disparagement colored by supernatural religion.” 


-250-251 In medieval thought there was no special problem of the relation of mind (soul) and body: “it was just one case of the universal principle of potentiality as the substrate of ideal actuality.  But when the time came when the moral and religious associations of spirit, soul, and body persisted in full vigor, while the classic metaphysics of potential and actual fell into disrepute, the full burden of the question of the relation of body, nature and man, of mind, spirit, and matter, was concentrated in the particular problem of the relation of the body and the soul.  When men ceased to interpret and explain facts in terms of potentiality and actuality, and resorted to that of causality, mind and matter stood over against one another in stark unlikeness; there were no intermediates to shade gradually the black of body into the white of spirit.” 


252 “Empirically speaking, the most obvious difference between living and non-living things is that the activities of the former are characterized by needs, by efforts which are active demands to satisfy needs, and by satisfactions.” 


-253 Dewey defines needs, effort, and satisfaction as we would expect given his view of nature (and experience) generally: “By need is meant a condition of tensional distribution of energies such that the body is in a condition of uneasy or unstable equilibrium.  By demand or effort is meant the fact that this state is manifested in movements which modify environing bodies in ways which react upon the body, so that its characteristic pattern of active equilibrium is restored.  By satisfaction is meant this recovery of equilibrium pattern....” 


-253-254 “the difference between the animate plant and the inanimate iron molecule is not that the former has something in addition to physico-chemical energy; it lies in the way in which physico-chemical energies are interconnected and operate, whence different consequences mark inanimate and animate activity respectively.  For with animate bodies, recovery or restoration of the equilibrium pattern applies to the complex integrated course or history.  In inanimate bodies as such, “saturation” occurs indifferently, not in such a way as to tend to maintain a temporal pattern of activity.” 


--Question: Is he right here?  What about crystals? 


-255 Thus conceived there is no problem of the relation of physical and psychic.  There are specifiable empirical events marked by distinctive qualities and efficacies.” 


-- “There is first of all, organization with all which is implied thereby.” 


--256 “When ever the activities of the constituent parts of an organized pattern of activity are of such a nature as to conduce to the perpetuation of the patterned activity, there exists the basis of sensitivity....This pervasive operative presence of the whole in the part and of the part in the whole constitutes susceptibility—the capacity of feeling—whether or no this potentiality be actualized in plant-life.” 


--257 “A response toward what is distant is in effect an expectation or prediction of a later contact.  Activities are differentiated into the preparatory or anticipatory, and the fulfilling or consummatory.” 


-- “...a consummation or satisfaction carries with it the continuation, in allied and reinforcing form, of preparatory or anticipatory activities.” 


258 The “emergence” of the mind—additional (communicative) relationships (beyond what is the case for the animate):


- “Complex and active animals have, therefore, feelings which vary abundantly in quality, corresponding to distinctive directions and phases—initiating, mediating, fulfilling or frustrating—of activities, bound up in distinctive connections with environmental affairs.  They have them, but they do not know they have them.  Activity is psycho-physical, but not “mental,” that is, not aware of meanings.  As life is a character of events in a peculiar condition of organization, and “feeling” is a quality of life-forms marked by complexly mobile and discriminating responses, so “mind” is an added property assumed by a feeling creature when it reaches that organized interaction with other living creatures which is language, communication.  Then the qualities of feeling become significant of objective differences in external things and of episodes past and to come.  This state of things in which qualitatively different feelings are not just had but are significant of objective differences is mind.  Feelings are no longer just felt.  They have and they make sense; record and prophesy.” 


-259 “Sentiency in itself is anoetic;[12] it exists as any immediate quality exists, but nevertheless it is an indispensable means of any noetic function. 

  For when, through language, sentience is taken up into a system of signs, when for example a certain quality of the active relationship of organism and environment is named hunger, it is seen as an organic demand for an extra-organic object.” 


-261 The distinction between physical, psycho-physical, and mental is thus one of levels of increasing complexity and intimacy of interaction among natural events.  The idea that matter, life and mind represent separate kinds of Being is a doctrine that springs, as so many philosophic errors have sprung, from a substantiation of eventual functions.” 


--263 “To damn “matter” because of honorific interest in spirit is but another edition of the old habit of eulogizing ends and disparaging the means on which they depend.” 


--263-264 “Classic science operated in terms of properties already attached to qualitative phenomena of sense and custom.  Hence it could only repeat these phenomena in a changed vocabulary;—the vocabulary of sensory forms and forces which were, after all nothing but the already given meanings of things reduplicated.” 


--265 “the error of Greek science lay not in assigning qualities to natural existence, but in misconceiving the locus of their efficacy.  It attributed to qualities apart from organic action efficiencies which qualities possess only through the medium of an organized activity of life and mind.  When life and mind are recognized to be characters of the highly complex and extensive interaction of events, it is possible to give natural existential status to qualities, without falling into the mistake of Greek science.” 


271-272 “...while there is no isolated occurrence in nature, yet interaction and connection are not wholesale and homogeneous.  Interacting events have tighter and looser ties, which qualify them with certain beginnings and endings, and which mark them off from other fields of interaction.” 


-272 Dewey (again) distinguishes the physical from the psycho-physical and the mental. 


-273 He discusses the errors of both mechanistic and spiritualistic metaphysics. 


-275 “The reality is the growth-process itself; childhood and adulthood are phases of a continuity, in which just because it has a history, the later cannot exist until the earlier exists....” 


-277 “In ultimate analysis the mystery that mind should use a body, or that a body should have a mind, is like the mystery that a man cultivating plants should use the soil; or that the soil which grows plants at all should grow those adapted to its own physico-chemical properties and relations.” 


-285 “That the use reshapes the prior materials so as to adapt them more efficiently and freely to the uses to which they are put, is not a problem to be solved; it is an expression of the common fact that anything changes according to the interacting field it enters.” 


-293 “...”soul” when freed from all traces of traditional materialistic animism denotes the qualities of psycho-physical activities as far as these are organized into unity.” 


295 “To see the organism in nature, the nervous system in the organism, the brain in the nervous system, the cortex in the brain is the answer to the problems which haunt philosophy.  And when thus seen they will be seen to be in, not as marbles are in a box but as events are in history, in a moving, growing never finished process.” 


-296-297 “We cannot separate organic life and mind from physical nature without also separating nature from life and mind.  The separation has reached a point where intelligent persons are asking whether the end is to be catastrophe, the subjection of man to the industrial and military machines he has created.  This situation confers peculiar poignancy upon the fact that just where connections and interdependencies are most numerous, intimate  and pervasive, in living, phycho-physical activity, we most ignore unity and connection, and trust most unreservedly in our deliberate beliefs to the isolated and specific—which signifies that in action we commit ourselves to the unconscious and subconscious, to blind instinct and impulse and routine, disguised and rationalized by all sorts of honorific titles.  Thus we are brought to the topic of consciousness.” 


VIII. Existence, Ideas and Consciousness:


In this Chapter, Dewey discusses the nature and role of consciousness.  For him, consciousness has an aspect of immediacy to it, but it is relational (we are conscious of meanings and objects (and they are relational and social).  He distinguishes “mind” and “consciousness,” maintaining that the former is a system, while the latter has a focus.  But he is not positing two things here, instead he is drawing attention to the fact that:


306 “It is this double relationship of continuation, promotion, carrying forward, and of arrest, deviation, need of supplementation, which defines that focalization of meanings which is consciousness, awareness, perception.  Every case of consciousness is dramatic; drama is an enhancement of the conditions of consciousness.” 


Moreover, he notes that consciousness is contextual (episodes don’t mean the same thing in every story—context has an effect on meaning).  Dewey also points out that we are not conscious of the familiar—consciousness is most obvious in the immediately precarious!  Finally, he argues that there is no such thing as “immediate knowledge”—all knowledge is relational. 


The Text:


298 `Consciousness’ may be used to refer to “certain qualities in their immediate apparency,” or to refer to denote “meanings perceived, awareness of objects, attentiveness.” 


-299 “Apart from language, from imputed and inferred meaning, we continually engage in an immense multitude of immediate organic selections, rejections, welcomings, expulsions, appropriations, withdrawals, shrinkings, expansions, elations and dejections, attacks, wardings off, of the most minute, vibratingly delicate nature.” 


300 “Meanings acquired in connection with the use of tools and of language exercise a profound influence upon organic feelings.  In the reckoning of this account, are included the changes effected by all the consequences of attitude and habit due to all the consequences of tools and language—in short, civilization.” 


- “The subconscious of a civilized adult reflects all the habits he has acquired; that is to say, all the organic modifications he has undergone.” 


-301 The subconscious “...operates most successfully in meanings associated with language that is highly technical, affairs remote from fundamental and exigent needs, as in mathematics, or philosophizing far away from concrete situations, or in highly cultivated fine art.  It is surest to be wrong in connection with intimate matters of self-regulation in health, morals, social affairs....” 


303 “Mind denotes the whole system of meanings as they are embodied in the workings of organic life; consciousness in a being with language denotes awareness or perception of meanings; it is the perception of actual events, whether past, contemporary or future, in their meanings, the having of actual ideas.  The greater part of mind is only implicit in any conscious act or state; the field of mind—of operative meanings—is enormously wider than that of consciousness.  Mind is contextual and persistent; consciousness is focal and transitive.” 


-305 “There is however, a continuum or spectrum between this containing system and the meanings which, being focal and urgent, are the ideas of the moment.” 


-306 “It is this double relationship of continuation, promotion, carrying forward, and of arrest, deviation, need of supplementation, which defines that focalization of meanings which is consciousness, awareness, perception.  Every case of consciousness is dramatic; drama is an enhancement of the conditions of consciousness.” 


--Cf., pp. 242 and 245.


-307 “Episodes do not mean what they would mean if occurring in some different story.” 


-308 “To treat consciousness as a power accomplishing the change, is but another instance of the common philosophic fallacy of converting an eventual function into an antecedent force or cause.  Consciousness is the meaning of events in course of remaking; its “cause” is only the fact that this is one of the ways in which nature goes on.  In a proximate sense of causality, namely as place in a series history, its causation is the need and demand for filling out what is indeterminate.” 


311 “The familiar does not consciously appear, save in an unexpected, novel, situation, where the familiar presents itself in a new light and is therefore not wholly familiar.  Our deepest-seated habits are precisely those of which we have least awareness.” 


-312 “The immediately precarious, the point of greatest immediate need, defines the apex of consciousness, its intense or focal mode.”


-322 “Knowing, believing, involves something additive and extrinsic to having a meaning.  No knowledge is ever merely immediate.” 


-329-330 “The difference between acquaintance and “knowing about” or “knowing that” is genuine, but is not a difference between two kinds of knowledge, one immediate and the other mediate.  The difference is an affair of accompaniments, contexts and modes of response.  The greater intimacy and directness that marks acquaintance is practical and emotional not logical.  To be acquainted with anything is to have the kind of expectancy of its consequences which constitutes an immediate readiness to act, an adequate preparatory adjustment to whatever the thing in question may do.  To know about it is to have a kind of knowledge which does not pass into direct response until some further term has been supplied.” 


--333 “As a matter of fact there is no such thing as an exclusively peripherally initiated nervous event.  Internal conditions, those of hunger, blood-circulation, endocrine functions, persistences of prior activities, pre-existent opened and blocked neuronic connections, together with the multitude of other intra-organic factors enter into the determination of a peripheral occurrence....It is pure fiction that a “sensation”, or peripheral excitation, or stimulus, travels undisturbed in solitary state in its own coach-and-four to enter the brain or consciousness in its purity.” 


-338-339 ...sensory-perceptual meanings are specifically discriminated objects of awareness; the discrimination takes place in the course of inquiry into causative conditions and consequences; the ultimate need for the inquiry is found in the necessity of discovering what is to be done, or of developing a response suitably adapted to the requirements of a situation.” 


344 A consciousness which is set outside nature would either have to be an infallible spectator or it would be irrelevant to the ongoing activity. 


352-353 “The union of past and future with the present manifest in every awareness of meanings is a mystery only when consciousness is gratuitously divided from nature, and when nature is denied temporal and historic quality.  When consciousness is connected with nature, the mystery becomes a luminous revelation of the operative interpenetration in nature of the efficient and the fulfilling.” 


IX. Experience, Nature and Art:


In this Chapter, Dewey discusses art (consummatory experience).  He claims that this discussion can serve as a general summary of the whole book [cf., pp. 358-359].  He discusses further the relationship between means and ends (consequences), and contends that ends-in-view and means cannot be separated temporally—means are means for ends, and ends are present as the means are pursued.  Dewey also -contends that knowledge, science, and art add meaning (the discussion of architecture on 381-382 is helpful here). 


The Text:


358-359 In an extended paragraph Dewey offers a summary of his view of art and claims that the discussion in this Chapter can be used as a summary of the book thus far:


- “...the issue involved in experience as art in its pregnant sense and in art as process and materials of nature continued by direction into achieved and enjoyed meanings, sums up in itself all the issues which have been previously considered....” 


362 “The characteristic human need is for possession and is ignored and unsatisfied in the traditional notion of the useful.  We identify utility with the external relationship that some events and acts bear to other things that are their products, and thus leave out the only thing that is essential to the idea of utility, inherent place and bearing on experience.” 


-Question: In speaking of what is “essential” here, does he mean to talk in the traditional philosophical manner about essences? 


-364-365 “...when activity is productive of an object that affords continuously renewed delight.  This condition requires that the object be, with its successive consequences, indefinitely instrumental to new satisfying events.” 


366-367 “Means are always at least causal conditions; but causal conditions are means only when they possess an added qualification; that, namely, of being freely used, because of perceived connection with chosen consequences.  To entertain, choose and accomplish anything as an end or consequence is to be committed to a like love and care for whatever events and acts are its means.  Similarly, consequences, ends, are at least effects; but effects are not ends unless thought has perceived and freely chosen the conditions and processes that are their conditions.” 


-368 “The connection of means-consequences is never one of bare succession in time, such that the element that is means is past and gone when the end is instituted.  An active process is strung out temporally, but there is a deposit at each stage and point entering cumulatively and constitutively into the outcome.” 


-369-370 “...all the intelligent activities of men, no matter whether expressed in science, fine arts, or social relationships, have for their task the conversion of causal bonds, relations of succession, into a connection of means-consequence, into meanings.  When the task is achieved the result is art: and in art everything is common between means and ends.  Whenever so-called means remain external and servile, and so-called ends are enjoyed objects whose further causative status is unperceived, ignored or denied, the situation is proof positive of limitations of art.” 


-372 “Art is the sole alternative to luck; and divorce from each other of meaning and value of instrumentalities and ends is the essence of luck.” 


-374 “The end-in-view is present at each stage of the process; it is present as the meaning of the materials used and acts done; without its informing presence, the latter are in no sense “means;” they are merely extrinsic causal conditions.” 


-381 “Knowledge or science, as a work of art, like any other work of art, confers upon things traits and potentialities which did not previously belong to them.” 


-381-382 “Architecture does not add to stone and wood something which does not belong to them, but it does add to them properties and efficacies which they did not possess in their earlier state.  It adds them by means of engaging them in new modes of interaction, having a new order of consequences.  Neither engineering nor fine art limits itself to imitative reproduction or copying of antecedent conditions.” 


383 “The conception that causes are metaphysically superior to effects is compensated for by the conception that ends are superior esthetically and morally to means.  The two beliefs can be maintained together only by removing “ends” out of the region of the causal and efficacious.  This is accomplished nowadays by first calling ends intrinsic values, and then by making a gulf between value and existence.  The consequence is that science, dealing as it must, with existence, becomes brutal and mechanical, while criticism of values, whether moral or esthetic, becomes pedantic or effeminate, expressing either personal likes and dislikes, or building up a cumbrous array of rules and authorities.” 


389 “Either art is a continuation, by means of intelligent selection and arrangement, of natural tendencies of natural events; or art is a peculiar addition to nature springing from something dwelling exclusively within the breast of man, whatever name be given the latter.  In the former case, delightfully enhanced perception or esthetic appreciation is of the same nature as enjoyment of any object that is consummatory.  It is the outcome of a skilled and intelligent art of dealing with natural things for the sake of intensifying, purifying, prolonging and deepening the satisfactions which they spontaneously afford.  That, in this process, new meanings develop, and that these afford uniquely new traits and modes of enjoyment is but what happens everywhere in emergent growths. 

  But if fine art has nothing to do with other activities and products, then of course it has nothing inherently to do with the objects, physical and social, experienced in other situations.  It has an occult source and an esoteric character.  It makes little difference what the source and character be called.” 


X. Existence, Value and Criticism:


In this Chapter, Dewey offers a conception of philosophy as criticism and connects it to experience, values, and existence (or nature).  He distinguishes between values and valuation (appraisals);[13] he argues for the benefits of valuation (critical consideration of values) over brute valuing; he maintains that in criticism is important in science, morals, and aesthetics; and he clarifies the relationship between metaphysics and valuation. 


The Text:


395 Dewey contends that “when we return to the conceptions of potentiality and actuality, contingency and regularity, qualitatively diverse individuality, with which Greek thought operated, we find no room for a theory of values separate from a theory of nature.  Yet if we are to recur to the Greek conceptions, the return must be a return with a difference.  It must surrender the identification of natural ends with good and perfection; recognizing that a natural end, apart from endeavor expressing choice, has no intrinsic eulogistic quality.... 

  ....abandon the notion of a predetermined limited number of ends inherently arranged in an order of increasing comprehensiveness and finality.” 


396 “Because of this sense of the evanescence and uncertainty of what used to be called values, the important consideration and concern is not a theory of values but a theory of criticism; a method of discriminating among goods on the basis of the conditions of their appearance and of their consequences.” 


-396-397 “Values are values, things immediately having certain intrinsic qualities.  Of them as values there is accordingly nothing to be said; they are what they are.  All that can be said of them concerns their generative conditions and the consequences to which they give rise.  The notion that things as direct values lend themselves to thought and discourse rests upon a confusion of causal categories with immediate qualities.  Objects, for example, may be distinguished as contributory or as fulfilling, but this is distinction of place with respect to causal relationship; it is not a distinction of values.” 


--Question: is the use of `intrinsic’ here the one which is traditional in discussions of values? 


--Note: a theory of criticism is necessary both to critique values and to understand what they are (at least as we come to distinguish “value” from “valuation” (and “desire” from “desirable”).  Such a theory is just what one would expect from someone, like Dewey, who emphasizes the importance of reflection.  Is such a theory (of valuation) a purely intellectual activity?  What difference is it to make? 


-397 “...fulfillment is as relative to means as means are to realization.  Means-consequences when thought and discussion enter, when theorizing sets in, when there is anything beyond bare immediate enjoyment and suffering, it is the means-consequence relationship that is considered.  Thought goes beyond immediate existence to its relationships, the conditions which mediate it and the things to which it is in turn mediatory.  And such a procedure is criticism.” 


-398-399 “...philosophy is inherently criticism, having its distinctive position among various modes of criticism in its generality; a criticism of criticisms, as it were.  Criticism is discriminating judgment, careful appraisal, and judgment is appropriately termed criticism wherever the subject-matter of discrimination concerns goods or values.  Possession and enjoyment of goods passes insensibly and inevitably into appraisal.  First and immature experience is content simply to enjoy.  But a brief course in experience enforces reflection; it requires but brief time to teach that somethings sweet in the having are bitter in after-taste and in what they lead to.  Primitive innocence does not last.  Enjoyment ceases to be a datum and becomes a problem.  As a problem, it implies intelligent inquiry into the conditions and consequences of a value-object; that is, criticism.  If values were as plentiful as huckleberries, and if the huckleberry-patch were always at hand, the passage of appreciation into criticism would be a senseless procedure.  If one thing tired or bored us, we should have only to turn to another.  But values are as unstable as the forms of clouds.  The things that possess them are exposed to all the contingencies of existence, and they are indifferent to our likings and tastes.” 


--Cf., pp. 403 and 406! 


--399 Dewey discusses the importance (or, can one say, value?) of criticism.  He notes that continued perception dulls enjoyment.  When this is combined with, “the evanescence of immediate goods,” and “the paradoxes of pleasure,” Dewey maintains, we can see that “cultivated taste alone is capable of prolonged appreciation of the same object; and it is capable of it because it has been trained to a discriminating procedure which constantly uncovers in the object new meanings to be perceived and enjoyed.” 


-400 Values occur naturally, and so does criticism.  Criticism need not be a matter of formal analysis: “it occurs whenever a moment is devoted to looking to see what sort of value is present; whenever instead of accepting a value-object wholeheartedly...we raise even a shadow of a question about its worth, or modify our sense of it by even a passing estimate of its probable future.” 


--401 “Conscience in morals, taste in fine arts and conviction in beliefs pass insensibly into critical judgments; the latter pass also into a more and more generalized form of criticism called philosophy.” 


403 “Even if good of the reflective object is different from that of the good of the non-reflective object, it does not follow that it is a better good, much less that it is such a difference in goodness as makes the non-reflective good bad;—except upon one proviso, namely, that there is something unique in the value or goodness of reflection.” 


-The importance of what he is saying here comes out if we contrast his “praise of reflection” with that of prior philosophers.  Unlike Aristotle, for example, for Dewey the “intellectual virtues” are not intrinsically superior.  Cf., pp. 399 and 406.  Does Dewey contend that there is something unique in the value of reflection or criticism?  Is this “intrinsic good” intrinsic in the traditional sense? 


- “...of immediate values as such, values which occur and which are possessed and enjoyed, there is no theory at all; they just occur, are enjoyed, possessed; that is all.  The moment we begin to discourse about these values, to define and generalize, to make distinctions in kinds, we are passing beyond value-objects themselves; we are entering, even if only blindly, upon an inquiry into causal antecedents and causative consequents, with a view to appraising the “real,” that is the eventual, goodness of the thing in question.  We are criticizing, not for its own sake, but for the sake of instituting and perpetuating more enduring and extensive values.” 


-405 Immediate values are had and just are.  It is the process of criticism which leads objects which are “good in belief”—it leads to critically held values: “if a man believes in ghosts, devils, miracles, fortune-tellers, the immutable certainty of the existing economic regime, and the supreme merits of his political party and its leaders, he does so believe; these are immediate goods to him, precisely as some color and tone combinations are lovely, or the mistress of his heart is charming.  When the question is raised as to the “real” value of the object for belief, the appeal is to criticism, intelligence.  And the court of appeal decides by the law of conditions and consequences.  Inquiry duly pursued leads to the enstatement of an object which is directly accepted, good in belief, but an object whose character now depends upon the reflective operations whose conclusion it is.  Like the object of dogmatic and uncritical belief, it marks an “end,” a static arrest; but unlike it, the “end” is a conclusion; hence it carries credentials. 


-406 -”It is easier to wean a miser from his hoard, than a man from his deeper opinions.  And the tragedy is that in so many cases the causes which lead to the thing in question being a value are not reasons for its being a good, while the fact that it is an immediate good tends to preclude that search for causes, that dispassionate judgment, which is pre-requisite to the conversion of goods de facto into goods de jure.[14]  Here, again and preeminently, since reflection is the instrumentality of securing freer and more enduring goods, reflection is a unique and intrinsic good.”


--Does he mean `intrinsic’ here in the sense in which it is traditionally used?  Should (or can) he mean this?  Cf., pp. 398-399 and 403. 


-407 In science, morals, and aesthetics, criticism is important.  It helps to “...clarify, liberate, and extend the goods which inhere in the naturally generated functions of experience.”  At other places in the Chapter he also lists the following as positive “consequences” or “advantages” of criticism:


--it discloses “causal antecedents and causative consequents” [p. 403];


--it allows for the “instituting and perpetuating more enduring and extensive values” [p. 403];


--it leads to the “enstatement of an object which is directly accepted, good in belief, but an object whose character now depends upon the reflective operations whose conclusion it is.  Like the object of dogmatic and uncritical belief, it marks an “end,” a static arrest; but unlike it, the “end” is a conclusion; hence it carries credentials” [p. 405];


--it leads to the “securing freer and more enduring goods” [p. 406];


-it must “...accept and utilize for a purpose the best available knowledge of its own time and place.  And this purpose is the criticism of beliefs, institutions, customs, policies with respect to their bearing upon good.  This does not mean their bearing upon the good, as something itself attained and formulated in philosophy.  For as philosophy has no private score of knowledge or methods for attaining truth, so it has no private access to good.  As it accepts knowledge of facts and principles from those competent in inquiry and discovery, so it accepts the goods that are diffused in human experience....philosophic criticism has a...task....to appraise values by taking cognizance of their causes and consequences; only by this straight and narrow path may it contribute to expansion and emancipation of values“ [408];


--it renders “goods more coherent, more secure and more significant in appreciation” [p. 408];


--it helps in the “liberating and clarifying [of] meanings” [p. 411];


--it yields “the better [which] is that which will do more in the way of security, liberation and fecundity for other likings and values;” and


--it engenders the “...construction of freer and more secure goods, turning assent and assertion into free communication of shareable meanings, turning feeling into ordered and liberal sense, turning reaction into response....” [pp. 436-437]. 


412-430 In several lengthy passages, Dewey discusses the relationship of values and metaphysics:


-412-414 Dewey discusses how metaphysics discloses the ineluctable traits of natural existence which engender values, and provides the rationale and sense to the critical activity.  It is a long passage which sums up the book. 


-415 According to him, the relationship between existence, truth, and value is not that between the “real” and the “ideal.” 


--420 “Fidelity to the nature to which we belong, as parts however weak, demands that we cherish our desires and ideals till we have converted them into intelligence, revised them in terms of the ways and means which nature makes possible.  When we have used our thought to its utmost and have thrown into the moving unbalanced balance of things our puny strength, we know that though the universe slay us still we may trust, for our lot is one with whatever is good in existence.  We know that such thought and effort is one condition of the coming into existence of the better.  As far as we are concerned it is the only condition, for it alone is in our power.  To ask more than this is childish; but to ask less is a recurrence no less egoistic, involving no less a cutting of ourselves from the universe than does the expectation that it meet and satisfy our every wish.” 


-421 Dewey notes that the critical activity would be unnecessary if either we or the world, or our relationship were significantly different: “the standing antitheses of philosophic thought, purpose and mechanism, subject and object, necessity and freedom, mind and body, individual and general. are all of them attempts to formulate the fact that nature induces and partially sustains meanings and goods, and at critical junctures withdraws assistance and flouts its own creatures.” 


430 “Immediately nothing is better or worse than anything else; it is just what it is.  Comparison is comparison of things, things in their efficacies, their promotions and hindrances.  The better is that which will do more in the way of security, liberation and fecundity for other likings and values.” 


- “To make a valuation, to judge appraisingly, is then to bring to conscious perception relations of productivity and resistance and thus to make value significant, intelligent and intelligible.” 


-435 “All reason which is itself reasoned, is thus method, not substance; operative, not “end in itself.”“ 


--436 “Orders, relations, universals are significant and invaluable as objects of knowledge.  They are so because they apply to intensive and extensive, individualized, existences; to things of spacious and temporal qualities.  Application is not for the sake of something extraneous, for the sake of something designated an utility.  It is for the sake of the laws, principles, ideals.  Had they not been detached for the purpose of application, they would not have meaning; intent and potentiality of application in the course of events lends them all their significance.  Without actuality of application, without effort to realize their intent, they are meanings, but they possess neither truth nor falsity, since without application they have no bearing and test.” 


436-437 Dewey notes that there is no guarantee that critical method will have the effect which he hopes for (“...construction of freer and more secure goods, turning assent and assertion into free communication of shareable meanings, turning feeling into ordered and liberal sense, turning reaction into response....”).  But he maintains that: [437] “to claim that intelligence is a better method than its alternatives, authority, imitation, caprice and ignorance, prejudice and passion, is hardly an excessive claim.  These procedures have been tried and have worked their will.  The result is not such as to make it clear that the method of intelligence, the use of science in criticizing and recreating the casual goods of nature into intentional and conclusive goods of art, the union of knowledge and values in production is not worth trying.”


-Dewey maintains that the “proof” of the value of the critical methodology will be in the trial! 




Notes: click on note number to return to notes' text. 

[1] This supplement is to John Dewey’s Experience and Nature [1929] (N.Y.: Dover, 1958).  Emphasis has been added to numerous passages without further notice. 

[2] Ernest Nagel, “Naturalism Reconsidered,” Proceedings and Addresses of the American Philosophical Association v. 28 (1955), pp. 5-17, p. 8. 

[3] Ibid., p. 9. 

[4] Ibid., p. 12. 

[5] Richard Bernstein, “Dewey, Democracy: The Task Ahead of Us,” in Post-Analytic Philosophy, eds. John Rajchman and Cornel West (New York: Cornell U.P., 1985), pp. 48-59, p. 53. 

[6] Robert Nozick, The Nature of Rationality (Princeton: Princeton UP, 1993), pp. 111-112. 

[7] Ibid., p. 112. 

[8] In his “Dewey’s Naturalistic Metaphysics,” The Journal of Philosophy v. 22 (1905), pp. 673-688, George Santayana questions Dewey’s claim here.  Santayana maintains that Dewey’s “metaphysics” is inconsistent with his “naturalism.”  Richard Rorty offers a similar argument in his “Dewey’s Metaphysics,” in New Studies in the Philosophy of John Dewey, Steven M. Cahn (ed.) (Hanover: University of Vermont, 1977), pp. 45-69.

[9] Cf., John Dewey, Theory of Valuation (Chicago: Univ. of Chicago, 1966). 

[10] As noted earlier, George Santayana (in his “Dewey’s Naturalistic Metaphysics,” op. cit.), and Richard Rorty (in his “Dewey’s Metaphysics,” op. cit.) both raise this sort of question. 

[11] Well, this is not really true.  The passage doesn’t read perfectly with the change since, for example, “taxes” don’t seem one of the most obvious “new relationships” which arises. 

[12] `Noetic’ means "of, or relating to knowledge," and, thus, `anoetic’ means not having such a relationship. 

[13] Dewey more clearly distinguishes these in his A Theory of 

Valuation, op. cit. 

[14]  The contrast here is between things which are "in fact" good and things which are "by right good."  Clearly what Dewey wants to contrast are the immediate and reflective goods. 


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