Sunday, July 27, 2008

Dr. Dewey, Metaphysical healer...

A few days back, I stumbled upon a review on Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews of Larry Hickman's Pragmatism as Post-postmodernism: Lessons from John Dewey. I was prompted to pick up the book (via friendly interlibrary loan) and have started reading it. There are things that I would like to say, and hope to say, on the relationship between pragmatism and postmodernism, first brought to attention by Rorty and addressed here by Hickman. However, in light of recent discussion, as well as the overall theme of this blog, I appreciated the following passage:

...Dewey wrote to Alice [his wife] that he had been approached by a speculator at the Chicago Board of Trade, a certain Mr. Van Ostrand, who had been working on a philosophical "scheme." Van Ostrand had offered Dewey $100 to serve as a kind of philosophical consultant. (This was, by the way, no mean sum. We know that just eighteen months earlier Dewey's annual salary was $2,200.) "For the first time on record," he told Alice, "in our experience at least, metaphysics made the connexion with the objective world--...if there are many men like him in Chicago, I'll resign & go out there & hang up a sign 'Dr. Dewey, Metaphysical healer.'" (Hickman, 2007, 17-18)
In droll fashion, it seems that Dewey is saying that we can try too hard in our efforts to make our philosophical reflections popular, accessible, and responsive to the immediately felt "problems of men".

Do we actually need a little more distance than we think we need, between our reflections and their immediate applications, and between our expression of them and communication to a non-philosophical public--lest we become "metaphysical healers"?


leonard waks said...

My thoughts on the positions on the philosophical "softball team" address that concern.

Dewey certainly didn't think all or most typical philsosophical reflections were aimed directly at ordinary people. The university was a special place, with many complex internal interactions and specialized fields and disciplines, developing communications for internal consumption.

But experimental logic holds that the starting points of thought arise out of the indterminacy of life, and that, after all of that internal processing, academic knowledge output belongs back in the flow of life to reduce indeterminacy and free up action.

So you don't expect individual journal articles to be elucidating, but knowledge to be elucidating. All of the internal processing is like a pregnancy. When knowledge is ripe, and conducted so as to stay close to the originating motivations, it bears fruit for non-academic problem situations.

The over-all value of our academic enterprises is thus tested in experience.

Ian Stone said...
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