Philosophic Thought in France and the United States: Essays Representing Major Trends in Contemporary French and American Philosophy

By Marvin Farber | Go to book overview

THE PLACE OF JOHN DEWEY IN MODERN THOUGHT

Sidney Hook*


I

There are many paradoxes connected with the philosophy of John Dewey who at the age of ninety still continues an active intellectual life. For the purposes of exposition to an audience unfamiliar with his doctrines, the most striking of the paradoxes is the relative disparity between the influence he has exerted upon the professional philosophers on the one hand, and the nonphilosophic public of professionals upon the other. For good or for evil, no American philosopher has affected so vitally the doctrines and thought ways of jurists, sociologists, psychologists, educators, and a whole miscellany of investigators and practitioners on the borderlines of the separate disciplines. And yet professional philosophers themselves have remained largely mystified and puzzled by Dewey's philosophy.

Discounting the conventional politeness which accompanies birthday celebrations, and disregarding those philosophers who have come into direct relation with Dewey as his students or students of his students, we find that Dewey's influence has really been negligible on professional philosophers. On the continent he is but a name. As far as the philosophers of Great Britain are concerned, he might just as well have written in an unknown foreign tongue. And the striking fact about the type of criticism passed upon Dewey by American philosophers as well as about Dewey's own answers to this criticism, is that it has not varied in essentials for the last forty years. Now when incisive critical minds like Bertrand Russell or Morris R. Cohen either admit that they do not under-

____________________
*
Born in 1902. Ph.D., Columbia University, 1927. Guggenheim Fellow, 1928-29. Professor of philosophy and chairman of the department of philosophy, New York University. Author of The Metaphysics of Pragmatism ( 1927), From Hegel to Marx ( 1936), John Dewey: An Intellectual Portrait ( 1939), Reason, Social Myths and Democracy ( 1940), The Hero in History ( 1943), Education for Modern Man ( 1946).

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