Pragmatism and the American Mind: Essays and Reviews in Philosophy and Intellectual History

By Morton White | Go to book overview

10. Experiment and Necessity in Dewey's Philosophy1

John Dewey, more than any other thinker in modern times, viewed the history of Western philosophy as a fruitless quest for certainty, as a misguided effort to discover a class of truths which would be stable, certain, and self-evident. And for this reason the notion of a priori knowledge, or knowledge which is supposed to be independent of experience, was almost always suspect in Dewey's philosophy. For more than a half-century he campaigned against the view that there are two sorts of knowledge, one rational, necessary, unchanging, certain; and the other empirical, contingent, and merely probable. Preoccupation with the status of what other philosophers regard as a priori knowledge is therefore almost perpetual in Dewey's thought. It dominates not only his work in logic and epistemology but also his discussion of basic politi-

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1
This essay originated in a lecture delivered at Brandeis University on 8 April 1959 as one of a series of lectures given by different philosophers under the general title: "John Dewey in the Light of Recent Philosophy", copyright © 1959 by Morton White. It was first reprinted in The Antioch Review, Volume XIX ( Fall 1959), pp. 329-44, then reprinted in slightly revised form in Sidney Hook and the Contemporary World, edited by Paul Kurtz ( New York, John Day, 1968). In the present version I have made a number of changes that clarify the argument.

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