Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Wisdom from Experience and Nature

A lovely remark in Experience and Nature caught my eye recently:
The "matter" of materialists and the "spirit" of idealists is a creature similar to the constitution of the United States in the minds of unimaginative persons. Obviously the real constitution is certain basic relationships among the activities of the citizens of the country; it is a property of phase of these processes, so connected with them as to influence their rate and and direction of change. But by literalists it is often conceived of as something external to them; in itself fixed, a rigid framework to which all changes must accommodate themselves. Similarly what we call matter is that character of natural events which is so tied up with changes that are sufficiently rapid...It is no cause or source of events or processes; no absolute monarch; no principle of explanation..." (p. 73)
It's meant to be a call to think about reality in terms of experience rather than in terms of underlying substance. However, there's lots of political food for thought here as well, particularly given the times in which we find ourselves, in which constitutional literalism is, rather surprisingly, stronger even than in Dewey's time.

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