Modern Engendering: Critical Feminist Readings in Modern Western Philosophy

By Bat-Ami Bar On | Go to book overview

Interaction in a World of Chance:
John Dewey's Theory of Inquiry

Lisa M. Heldke


Introduction

The epistemological program of John Dewey stands as a challenge to Cartesian-inspired conceptions of the nature of inquiry, a challenge that is both significant and suggestive for feminist epistemology. 1 Some of the projects to which feminist epistemologists have turned our attention include: replacing the subject/object model of inquiry with a non-hierarchical, non-dualistic model; reintegrating theory and practice by developing a theory of inquiry that emerges from an understanding of concrete practical activity; and reconceptualizing the world in which inquiry takes place as a changing-yet-stable one, a world more accurately portrayed by approximations and "flexible rules" than by fixed and immutable laws. 2 Dewey's philosophy also takes up many of these projects, and develops a position with which feminists may have substantial affinities.

In particular, Dewey's position acknowledges the fact that the real world in which we "find ourselves" is a world of chance as well as certainty, change as well as stability; and he attempts to portray inquiry in that world as a communal activity. Such an acknowledgment distances him from the Cartesian model of inquiry, with its faith in the notion of a fixed, immutable Reality to which our inquiry aspires, and its emphasis on the separation and power imbalance between the knowing Subject and the known Object. Furthermore, Dewey's recognition of the intimate relationship between the theoretical and the practical, and his consequent attention to practical activity, represent a significant advance upon the Cartesian model of inquiry, in which the theoretical is exalted at the expense of the practical.

Dewey's project does not mark anything like a complete liberation from Modern epistemology. 3 For one thing, although Dewey's

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