Academic journal article Contemporary Pragmatism

Dewey's Relations to Hegel

Academic journal article Contemporary Pragmatism

Dewey's Relations to Hegel

Article excerpt

The Dewey scholarship (Shook 2000; Good 2006a; Garrison 2006; Johnston 2014; Pearce 2014) has recently shown that Dewey has elaborated his pragmatism when he was still a Hegelian and that many peculiarities of his own philosophy belong to what he later termed the "permanent [Hegelian] deposit in [his] thinking" (lw 5:154) in the biographical article "From Absolutism to Experimentalism" (1930). Until 1904, he has lectured on Hegel's philosophy, and in The Influence of Darwin on Philosophy (1910), the first collection of articles giving an overview of his own pragmatism, he depicted himself as Hegelian (mw 3:8g).1 The fact that he has finally renounced to such a self-presentation seems to belong to the contingencies of history, namely to the First World War (Good 200Gb) in which he apparently felt obliged to participate as an opponent to German Philosophy in his German Philosophy and Politics (1915). Indeed, it would be misleading to consider that Dewey's philosophy is nothing but application of Hegel, but it is simply a fact that many aspects of Dewey's thought are better understood when they are referred to the Hegelian framework he uses and distorts. This is particularly the case with what seems either strange or at odds with the current image of what pragmatism is or should be, such as the idea that education is the most important philosophical problem (Good and Garrison 2010a), the critique of Kant (Scott 2006; Johnston 2014), the account of causation (Good and Garrison 2010b), the notion of continuity and naturalism (Dalton 2002; Renault 2012), the methodological centrality of work (Garrison 1995), the role given to recognition (Renault 2013; Särkelä 2013) and the primacy of the social (Midtgarden 2011).

The new understanding of Dewey's relation to Hegel has been mainly elaborated by the Deweyan scholarship and it has given incentive to two types of enquiries. A first orientation has consisted in providing a genetic account of Dewey's explicit references to Hegel (Good 2006a) or more generally to idealism (Shook 2000). A second orientation has led to reconstructions of the various elements that possibly define the Hegelian deposit (Scott 2006; Good and Garrison 2010a, 2010b; Midtgarden 2011; Renault 2013, 2014; Johnston 2014). In both of these orientations, what matters is to read Dewey through Hegelian lenses in order to specify the nature, scope and limits of his Hegelianism. If the new understanding of Dewey's relation to Hegel had been taken more seriously by the Hegelian scholarship, another option could have been investigated, that of a Deweyan reading of Hegel. Then, it would had probably been possible to show that Dewey's relation to Hegel is not only particularly rich and differentiated (it relates to each of the three parts of the system) but also accurate and original in many respects (Renault 2012, forth.). If the Hegelian reading of Dewey had been more systematically complemented by a Deweyan reading of Hegel, it would had been easier to spell out and make sense of the various dimensions and implications of the complex relations between the two philosophies.

The purpose of this article is neither to unfold a Hegelian interpretation of Dewey nor a Deweyan reading of Hegel, but to address a methodological issue that both of these two approaches should confront with. It concerns the variety of Dewey's explicit references to Hegel. It is not in the same intention that the former relates to the latter in a programmatic article such as "The Present position of Logical Theory" (1891), in the Lectures on Hegel's Philosophy of Spirit (1897), in the Lectures on the Logic of Hegel (1904),2 and in the articles collected in The Influence of Darwin on Philosophy. In these texts, the status and meaning of the references to Hegel differ, and these differences have to be made explicit if one aims to integrate these various references in a consistent overall picture of Hegel.

In what follows, I will proceed in four steps. …

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