The Quest for Certainty: A Study of the Relation of Knowledge and Action

By John Dewey | Go to book overview

CHAPTER III
CONFLICT OF AUTHORITIES

IT IS THE theme of the present chapter that modern philosophy, understanding by this term that which has been influenced by the rise of the newer natural science, has contained within itself an inner division. It has tried to combine acceptance of the conclusions of scientific inquiry as to the natural world with acceptance of doctrines about the nature of mind and knowledge which originated before there was such a thing as systematic experimental inquiry. Between the two there is an inherent incompatibility. Hence the best efforts of philosophy have been constantly frustrated by artificiality and by controversial conflicts. Of all the many artificial problems which philosophy has thereby inflicted upon itself, we are here concerned with but one, the one with which the last chapter was concerned in a general way. This is the supposed need of reconciling, of somehow adjusting, the findings of scientific knowledge with the validity of ideas concerning value.

For obvious reasons, Greek thought, from which stems the philosophic conceptions about the nature of knowledge as the sole valid grasp or vision of reality, did not have this problem. Its physics were in complete harmony with its metaphysics, and the latter were teleological and qualitative. Natural objects themselves tend, throughout their changes, toward ideal. ends that are the final objects of highest knowledge. A science of natural changes is possible only because of this fact. The natural world is knowable in as far as its changes are dominated by forms or essences that are immutable, complete or perfect.

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