The Origin of Dewey's Instrumentalism

The Origin of Dewey's Instrumentalism

The Origin of Dewey's Instrumentalism

The Origin of Dewey's Instrumentalism

Excerpt

The present essay is, in large part, a chronicle of John Dewey's ideas on the nature of inquiry and related subjects. It is therefore a study of an intellectual conversion-- Dewey's shift from idealism to instrumentalism. The theme is not a new one. Everyone familiar with Dewey's writings knows that he started his career as an idealist. What is less known, and less discussed, is the effect this early attachment had upon his subsequent logical views.

Lotze, Wundt, Bradley, Green, and Bosanquet were the logicians whose work Dewey praised in his earliest years of philosophical writing. There are no papers in which subtle distinctions are made between them or detailed points in idealist logic discussed. Dewey simply praised them as a school, a school of logicians concerned with the method of scientific thinking. Just as he accepted them wholesale as allies, he grouped his opponents under two banners. First there were the inductive logicians--Mill, Venn, and Jevons --who had the merit of being concerned with the method of science, but the misfortune of being descended from Locke, Berkeley, and Hume. Then there were the formal logicians--Sir William Hamilton and H. L. Mansel-- about whom Dewey said nothing complimentary. He scorned their barbara, celarent recitations as trivial and useless, and regarded their comments on actual thinking as badly expressed versions of Kant.

Dewey's allegiances and enmities were hardly concealed. They turned up explicitly in his writing on every philosophical problem. The opposition to Kant and Hamilton went with opposition to Kantian formalism in all fields.

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