Renewing the democratic faith


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Renewing the democratic faith a philosophical analysis of John Dewey's idea of power
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vi, 214 leaves : ; 29 cm.
Hewitt, Randall Scott, 1966-
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Educational Leadership, Policy, and Foundations thesis, Ph.D   ( lcsh )
Dissertations, Academic -- Educational Leadership, Policy, and Foundations -- UF   ( lcsh )
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Thesis (Ph.D.)--University of Florida, 2001.
Includes bibliographical references (leaves 206-213).
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Statement of Responsibility:
by Randall Scott Hewitt.

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The folks I want to thank are held together by an underlying physical and spiritual

toughness that has left an irrevocable impression on the way I see and move about in the

world. I am referring to a certain sturdiness and stoutheartedness that allows one the

ability to fmind resolve in the ambiguity and uncertainty of life. To use a phrase from my

wife, it is a quality "of the earth."

I want to thank my daddy not only for teaching me how to drive, in the broadest

sense of the term, but for teaching me how to drive with wild abandon. In every breath

that he took, he showed me that "the state of affairs is a state of emotions." I doubt that

there ever will be another human being to grace the face of the earth with quite the same

passion and swath as he did. I also want to express great admiration for my grandmother,

Miriam Poole. To my knowledge, she is the only one courageous and stubborn enough to

have not been afraid of such a rage-filled man. Together, their efforts have instilled in

me a raw tenacity to make my way in the world.

Brute force, however, would be blind and reckless without the guidance of

disciplined thought. Therefore, I would like to express special gratitude to Dr. Robert

Sherman and to Dr. Rodman Webb for giving me plentiful opportunity and

encouragement to do philosophical work. In various ways Dr. Sherman has shown me

that philosophy is not a task done in the abstract according to general problems and

principles but an activity that takes its reason in specific human problems and on the

basis of particular human interests. By watching both of these men, I have learned that in

order to get a more insightful understanding of human experience, emotion constantly

must be tempered by reflection and sharpened by clarity. They are living proof that there

are giants living in the land.

John Dewey wrote that "it is of grace not of ourselves that we lead civilized

lives. There is sound sense in the old pagan notion that gratitude is the root of all virtue.

Loyalty to whatever in the established environment makes a life of excellence possible is

the root of all progress." I, therefore, humbly bow with the greatest gratitude for and

loyalty to Bill and Mary Briant. They not only supplied me with an endless amount of

food, shelter, cars, computers, child-care, emotional and intellectual support but have

raised me as their own since I was 19 years old. They carry out the functions of

parenting with utmost dignity and honor, and set the standard for generosity.

Of course, all of the credit for the completion of this study goes to my fellow

traveler and keeper of hearts, Kelley Briant Hewitt. For the past 13 years she not only

has helped me fight off many raving demons of anxiety but has constantly reminded me

to trust my own secrets and to give them a loud voice. Her courage stands unmatched. I

will be always in the faith and service of her command.


ACKNOWLEGMENTS ............................................................................ ii

A B STRA CT .................... ...................... .................................. .. ............. vi



B background ................................................................ 1
The Problem and Purpose of The Study ............................... 9
Methodology and Relevant Sources .................................. 10
Significance of The Study .............................................. 13

AND IDEALISM......................................................... 16

The Philosophical Legacy of The Empiricist and Rationalist
T raditions .................................................... ........... 18
The 18th and 19th Century Legacy of The British and
Rationalist Traditions.................................................. 25
The American Philosophical Context ................................. 39


Dewey's Hegelian Roots ................................................ 43
The Influence of Physiological Psychology on Dewey's
Hegelian Idealism ..................................................... 55
Hegelian Idealism and The Concept of The Biological
O rganism ............................................................... 62


Apperception and Retention as The Essential Processes of
H abit ..................................................................... .. 69

Stages of Knowledge ................................................... 79
Summary: Habit as The Power to Act................................. 85

PO W ER ................................................................... 88

The Social Individual ................................................... 89
Character as The Way of Defining and Measuring The Self......93
The Ideal of Self-Realization as The Basis For Judging
Relations of Power .................................................... 108
The Ideal of Self-Realization as The Democratic Ideal........... 111

PO W ER ? ................................................................ 117

First Criticism: Lovejoy, Crosser, and Kirk ........................ 120
Second Criticism: Mills and Diggins ................................ 127
Third Criticism: Marcuse, Ryder, Estremera, and Flay ........... 140

SEVEN A DEWEYAN RESPONSE.......................................... 152

A Brief Summary ...................................................... 152
A Response to Lovejoy, Crosser, Kirk, Mills, Diggins, and
M arcuse ................................................... ....... ..... 156
A Response to Flay and Estremera .................................. 164
Laissez-Faire Capitalism: An Example of Hegemony ............ 168
"Democratic Ends Demand Democratic Methods" ............... 177

PO W ER ................................................................. 186

The Philosophical Warrant For A Democratic Theory of
Education ............................................................. 188
A Democratic Theory of Education ................................. 192

BIBLIOGRAPHY ................................................................................. 206

BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH .................................................................... 214

Abstract of Dissertation Presented to the Graduate School
of the University of Florida in Partial Fulfillment of the
Requirements for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy



Randall S. Hewitt

August 2001

Chairman: Dr. Robert R. Sherman
Major Department: Educational Leadership, Policy, and Foundations

This philosophical study develops out of criticism that John Dewey's work lacks a

sufficient concept of power, thus rendering his faith in an amelioristic sense of experience

and a democratic ideal untenable. According to philosopher Cornel West, Dewey gives

ameliorism its most mature social, political, and ethical justification. Alan Ryan suggests

that Dewey represented "thinking America" at its best. Dewey's critics maintain,

however, that this best is not good enough. If their criticism of Dewey goes

unchallenged, one of the most intelligent, philosophically consistent visions of ethical

behavior in a world shot through with difference, risk, danger, and change becomes

damned. The upshot is lost faith in the idea that the give and take of mutual reference

and pooled intelligence can lead to ever wider points of contact with each other that will

enrich the significance of individual quests together. Furthermore, lost faith in

ameliorism and democracy implies a lost faith in a democratic education. The purpose of

this study, therefore, is to delineate the different senses in which Dewey is criticized

about his alleged insufficient concept of power and to represent Dewey's work

sufficiently enough to evaluate his critics' claims.

First, I work out Dewey's concept of power as it comes out of his understanding

of the psycho-physiological makeup of the human organism. Then I extend the analysis

of power as it is psycho-physiologically interpreted to incorporate Dewey's ontological

insights, especially that of the directing influence of social custom on habit, yielding a

concept of power that includes both domination and liberation. I also draw out in explicit

detail the relation between Dewey's sense of power and his faith in a democratic ideal.

Next, I provide a full delineation of Dewey's critics' claims and measure the

worth of these claims in light of what the preceding examination suggests of Dewey's

idea of power. This analysis makes clear that Dewey understands that power can be as

productively oppressive as it can be productively liberating. Finally, I trace out why

Dewey's concept of power necessitates a democratic education.



Events of the 20th Century provide ample evidence for the claim that reason has

served to help man dominate and oppress his fellow man in the name of the collective

good. The massive destruction of human life as a result of two world wars and various

other so called "peace-keeping" ventures designed to bring about global democracy, the

otherwise avoidable pestilence and poverty brought about by a run-a-muck capitalist

economy that has encouraged the advancement of technology for the sake of exorbitant

profit but touted as the means to equalize the distribution of material necessities, and the

spiritual numbing and moral fragmenting of community life through a creeping

bureaucratic apparatus set up to administer the good life has led to what Richard Bernstein

has called "the rage against reason" and what Max Weber before him saw as man's

disenchantment with the world. 1

Thus, it seems that human reason is impotent as the collective means to an ever

expanding good life. The glorious tool of the fledgling social sciences charged with

helping man liberate himself from his particular conflicts at the turn of the 20th Century has

left him politically docile and apathetic and an economic slave who measures his social

value solely on the basis of material accumulated, instead of the quality of his experience

SRichard Bernstein, The New Constellation: The Ethical-Political Horizons of
Modernitv/Postmodernity (Cambridge, Massachusetts: The MIT Press, 1991): pp. 31-56.
See also Max Weber, The Protestant Ethic and The Spirit of Capitalism, translated by
Talcott Parsons, introduction by Anthony Giddens (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons,

with other human beings. And perhaps what man's disenchantment with the world has

come to signify is his loss of spiritual connection to other human beings in the world. That

is, he has lost faith that, when qualified by the give and take of mutual respect and

intelligence, his inextricable connection to others can lead to ever wider points of contact

with each other that enrich the significance of their individual quests together. In other

words, he has lost trust in one of the most intelligible, philosophically consistent, and

ethically appropriate ways of acting in a world shot through with difference, risk, danger,

and change inherent in the very moment of his birth. He has lost trust in the idea that

experience can be improved and thus, in effect, has lost trust in himself.

In The American Evasion of Philosophy Cornel West has pointed out that this

amelioristic sense of experience got its most mature social and political statement in the

practical philosophy of John Dewey.2 Alan Ryan, in John Dewey and The High Tide of

American Liberalism, suggests that there is widespread agreement that Dewey represented

"thinking America" at its best. But, Ryan goes on, Dewey's way of doing philosophy and

thinking about democracy not only became out of vogue during his lifetime but "almost as

soon as he died, he was therefore dismissed from the collective mind."'3 And while the

philosophical current of postmodernism has created awaking interest in Dewey's way of

philosophizing, it runs against and even damns thinking in terms of a universal ideal, an

aspect that is vital and central to Dewey's philosophy. A consistent complaint among

Dewey's various critics is that while he develops a concept of power as the ability to act

2Comrnel West, The American Evasion of Philosophy: A Genealogy of Pragmatism
(Madison, Wisconsin: The University of Wisconsin Press, 1989). Tracing out what he
calls the themes of voluntarism, ameliorism, and activism passed along in the American
pragmatist tradition, West suggests that "it is with Dewey that American pragmatism
achieves intellectual maturity, historical scope, and political engagement" (p. 6). See also
pages 69-111.

3Alan Ryan, John Dewey and The High Tide of American Liberalism (New York: W. W.
Norton & Company, 1995): p. 22.

and have effect in the world, he does not develop this concept to acknowledge power also

as the ability to deceive, manipulate, and dominate. The upshot of Dewey's alleged

insufficient concept of power is that it makes his faith in an amelioristic sense of

experience and a democratic ideal untenable.

Ryan's idea that there have been two kinds of readers of Dewey is suggestive in

clarifying the claim that Dewey has an inadequate concept of power.4 On the one hand,

there are those who see Dewey as a philosophical materialist attempting to undercut the

faith in transcendent absolutes (theological or metaphysical). Consequently, Dewey's

philosophy leads human interaction into moral anarchy, since it fails to provide any

overarching moral principles by which to resolve conflicting value and truth claims. In

The Conservative Mind, Russell Kirk accuses Dewey of spiritual insolence and, in effect,

of morally contaminating society with an "anything goes" attitude so long as it is

pleasurable for the greatest number ideal.

The belligerent expansive and naturalistic tendencies of the era found their
philosophical apologist in John Dewey. No philosopher's style is more turgid; but
Dewey's postulates, for all that, are simple and quite comprehensive. He
commenced with a thoroughgoing naturalism, like Diderot's and Holbach's,
denying the whole realm of spiritual values: nothing exists but physical sensation,
and life has no aims but physical satisfaction. He proceeded to a utilitarianism
which carried Benthamite ideas to their logical culmination, making material
production the goal and standard of human endeavor.... He advocated a
sentimental egalitarian collectivism with a social dead-level its ideal; and he capped

pointing up the fact that Dewey saw no necessary dichotomy between science and
morality, Ryan states, "He insisted only that the experimental outlook could unify them.
Since this leaves it less than crystal clear whether 'science' is or is not the answer to all our
problems, Dewey has always had two sorts of readers; one has seen him as trying to unite
the religious conviction that the world is a meaningful unity with a secular twentieth-
century faith in the scientific analysis of both nature and humanity, while the other has seen
him as an aggressive rationalist, someone who expects 'science' to drive out faith, and a
contributor to the twentieth-century's obsession with rational social management. Perhaps
one ought to say that he has had four sorts of readers, since both sorts divide on the merits
of the resulting system" (John Dewey and The High Tide of American Liberalism, pp. 21-

this structure with Marxist economics, looking forward to a future devoted to
efficient material production for the satisfaction of the masses, a planners' state.
Every radicalism since 1789 found its place in John Dewey's system; and this
destructive intellectual compound became prodigiously popular, in short order,
among the distraught crowd of the semi-educated and among people of more
serious pretensions who found themselves in a withered world that Darwin and
Faraday had severed from its roots. Intensely flattering to the presumptuousness
of the modem mind, thoroughly contemptuous of authority, Dewey's works were a
mirror of twentieth-century discontent; and the picture of the Utilitarian future
toward which Dewey led the rising generation was not immediately repellent to a
people who had subjected themselves to the lordship of sensation. Veneration was
dead in Dewey's universe; indiscriminate emancipation was cock of the walk. This
was the imperialistic craving of America and the twentieth century given a
philosophical mask.5

Not all of those who see Dewey as a materialist object to the threat that Dewey

poses for theological and metaphysical absolutes. What these critics object to is that

Dewey gives back with one hand what he takes away with the other. That is, while

Dewey works to undermine the philosophic foundations of transcendent absolutes,

ironically, he argues for the technological administration of the organic good life entailed

in the inevitable march of Darwinian evolution. Lewis Mumford, by no means sympathetic

with Dewey's religious or metaphysical critics, lumps Dewey as one of those who

misunderstands Darwin's organic evolution to mean mechanical social progression.

Simply put, Dewey maintains that there is a predetermined state of affairs toward which

human beings, aided by their ability to reason, are evolving. Reason, then, particularly as

embodied in technology and employed as a tool in regulating human conduct, naturally

helps fine-tune human experience in its development toward this culminating state of

affairs. Therefore, Dewey sees human intelligence as having only benevolent social

consequences and has no idea that intelligence also can lead to social conflict and power

5Russell Kirk, The Conservative Mind (Chicago: H. Regnery Co., 1953 ): pp. 418-419.

relations over others. This mistaken Darwinism, according to Mumford, fails to account

for how reason, particularly as embodied in science, can be used against man instead of

liberating him.6

Like Mumford, Reinhold Niebuhr suggests that Dewey's Darwinian philosophy is

politically naive and morally bankrupt, since it fails to account for how reason can be and

has been used to dominate and oppress. 7 Both Mumford and Niebuhr imply that this

Darwinian philosophy provides the justification and ideological veneer for all sorts of

relations of domination and oppression. This hint at philosophical complicity with those

who benefit from relations of domination and oppression (or relations of power over) is an

idea that Marxists have seized and made the focus of their attack upon liberal democracy

in general and upon Dewey's philosophy in particular.

Although they view his philosophy as deficient, the Marxists fall within the second

class of Ryan's readers of Dewey: those who see him attempting to cultivate the

possibility of a spiritual unity within experience guided by a melioristic faith in human

intelligence. What they object to is that Dewey attempts to subsume or reduce the

irreducible and incompatible plurality in experience into one seamless, homogenous flow

of becoming. Most recently in The Promise of Pragmatism, John Patrick Diggins, though

not a self-claimed Marxist, maintains that, because Dewey puts human experience in terms

of a biological organism struggling to adapt to its external conditions, he can conceive of

6See Lewis Mumford, The Myth of The Machine: The Pentagon of Power (New York:
Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Inc., 1964/1970): p. 392.

7Reinhold Niebuhr, Moral Man and Immoral Society: A Study in Ethics and Politics (New
York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1932/1960): pp. xii-xv, 35.

power only in terms of the ability to do or have effect. Therefore, power as dominion

over other human beings is not a logical possibility in Dewey's thought.8 "For Dewey not

only refused to give much attention to power and its origins, he also had no idea where to

look for it other than as some kind of aberration. When Dewey thought at all about power

--not as the ability to act and have effect but as control and domination-- he usually

interpreted it as an example of dislocation and maladjustment, the failure of education and

intelligence to catch up with economic development and the rise of big business."9

Though some of Dewey's Marxist critics fault his Darwinian metaphysics as the

cause of his alleged inability to conceive of power as domination, others such as Herbert

Marcuse, Joseph Flay, Quentin Anderson, and John Ryder suggest that underneath

Dewey's idea of cooperative inquiry as the method of democracy is a too simplistic

assumption that human interaction necessarily is benevolent. In fact, they see Dewey's

optimism resting upon two naive assumptions. First, they claim that Dewey views social

interaction as a shared exchange of homogenous interests (value). The social problems,

then, that stand in the way of achieving these shared interests stem from outdated and

8This is the same criticism of Dewey's thought suggested by C. Wright Mills some years
earlier in his posthumously published doctoral dissertation, Sociology and Pragmatism:
The Higher Learning in America, edited by Irving Louis Horowitz (New York: Paine-
Whitman Publishers, 1964).

9John Patrick Diggins, The Promise of Pragmatism: Modernism and The Crisis of
Knowledge and Authority (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1994): p. 288.
Comparing the thought of Dewey and Henry Adams, Diggins maintains that "for Dewey,
however, power is simply potency and efficacy, not an alien entity but the human ability to
translate thought into action and desire into deed; and interest, rather than suggesting a
violation of ideals, is simply what concerns us and commands our attention. ... To Dewey
power and interests could hardly invoke the specter of commerce and corruption that
haunted Adams, nor could science and technology be anything but benevolent" (p. 215).
See pages 280-321.

unwarranted ideas and assumptions inherited from the past (cultural lag and

maladjustment). Second, they maintain, Dewey believes all that is needed to overcome

these social problems is human reason as embodied in scientific inquiry aimed at

illuminating those handed down assumptions that stubbornly stand in the way of

expanding relations of human cooperation. 10 The upshot of Dewey's naiveness is that he

fails to provide adequate means to combat the social relations that exploit the common,

public good for the sake of private, partisan benefit. As Joseph Flay suggests, Dewey's

inability to conceive of power over others not only leaves illegitimate social relations intact

but serves to protect the very interests and problems he wants to break up.

In the face of this inertia the democratic liberal is faced with a paradox: he must
choose either to live with this inertia or to employ non-liberal, undemocratic means
to defeat it. In either case, liberalism is seriously curtailed .... .1 suggest that the
fault actually lies in Dewey's failure to give a full analysis of power and power
structures. This again is a fault he shares with liberals generally. There is always
postulated or assumed some sort of essential equilibrium or system of
couterprevailing powers which will insure at least sufficient strength to forces of
change so that the latter can overcome the inertia. Without these countervailing
forces there is in principle nothing by which to explain or remove the cyclical
inertia of the status quo; for in place of these forces stands a power structure in
hierarchical form dominating the socio-political process. I

Put in language proper to the philosophical drift of the past twenty-five years,

Dewey's philosophy, as Diggins and the others read it, gives voice to the failed project of

modernism and the utopian state that it entails. That is, Dewey's experimentalism rests

10See Herbert Marcuse, "John Dewey's Theory of Valuation," John Dewey: Critical
Assessments III. edited by J. E. Tiles (New York: Routledge, 1992): pp. 22-27; Quentin
Anderson, "John Dewey's American Democrat," John Dewey: Critical Assessments II.
edited by J.E. Tiles (New York: Routledge, 1992): pp. 91-108; and John Ryder,
"Community, Struggle, and Democracy: Marxism and Pragmatism," John Dewey: Critical
Assessments II. pp. 337-349.

1 Joseph Flay, "Alienation and the Status Quo," John Dewey: Critical Assessments II, p.
310, pp. 307-319.

upon the mistaken assumption that human experience progresses in a linear march toward

a predetermined state of affairs. This march is guided by human intelligence, which, in

piecemeal fashion, discovers the necessary details for the utopian realization and sets up a

rationally planned social order that aligns the always contextually specific and self-

interested in human interaction to harmonize with the universal standard. As Dewey's

critics point out, this project fails because it does not incorporate the possibilities of deep-

seated evil, inevitable human conflict, and the uncontrollable impulse to dominate other

human beings all matters of power.

For their part, the postmodernists have turned their attention to how human beings

employ ideas and language in order to structure social practices into relations of social

control and to hypnotize others to see these relations as naturally fixed beyond human

change. To the extent, however, that the postmodernists recognize the need to

supplement their analysis of power with some sort of vision or faith, they have evoked

Dewey's vision of a democratic community with some reservation. 12 That is, they

recognize that Dewey provides the philosophical tools to undercut metaphyscial and

theological dogma and to cultivate a warranted sense that human experience contains

within itself all the materials necessary for an on-going realization of greater spiritual

unity. If the postmodern obsession with power yields a too pessimistic view of the human

condition, then, as Cornel West says, Dewey's overly optimistic view of the human

condition leads to overlooking particular human conflicts and power. In other words,

using Dewey as the light, one cannot see the trees for the forest. 13 For this reason, Ryan

12Samuel Bowles and Herbert Gintis mark the place of Dewey in the updated marxist and
postmodern frameworks when they say, "Dewey's overall framework seems imminently
correct. His error lies in characterizing the social system as democratic, whereas, in fact,
the hierarchical division of labor in the capitalist enterprise is politically
autocratic"(Schooling in Capitalist America: Educational Reform and the Contradicitons
of Economic Life; New York: Basic Books, 1976: p. 46).

13 Vest,. The American Evasion of Philosophy, p. 101.

suggests that "Dewey rightly praised the scientific attitude but took for granted a

malleability and predictability in institutional arrangements that all experience refutes. It is

this that allowed him to stop a little book like Liberalism and Social Action just where it

ought to have begun, urging us to be intelligent but not acknowledging how readily

intelligent people trip each other up." 14 Nel Noddings best characterizes the

postmodernist's objections to Dewey in her book Philosophy of Education, although she

provides no explication of the matter.

Possibly the greatest objections to Dewey's work ... is that he gave so little
attention to the problems of race, class, and gender and that he put such great
emphasis on the power of scientific thought to solve our problems.... He did not
give us much advice on handling race conflicts, pressure-group politics, growing
gaps between rich and poor, and the unhappy possibility that science might
aggravate rather than ameliorate our problems. Ardent followers of Dewey argue
that solutions -or at least promising directions-for these problems can be found
in Dewey's work. But the solutions seem to depend on an almost utopian view of
democracy. In an age complicated by power struggles and loss of faith at every
level and in almost every arena, Dewey seems to many to be naive. 15

The Problem and Purpose of The Study

The problem for this study, then, is that John Dewey purportedly failed to develop

a sufficient concept of power, which jeopardizes his faith in the human ability to direct

experience according to a democratic ideal. The purpose of this dissertation is to delineate

the different senses in which Dewey is criticized about his insufficient concept of power

and to represent Dewey's work sufficiently enough to evaluate his critics' claims.

14Ryan, John Dewey and The High Tide of American Liberlism, p. 369.

15 Nel Noddings, Philosophy of Education (Boulder. Colorado: Westview Press, 1995):
p. 38.

Methodology and Relevant Sources

The philosopher Josiah Royce once wrote, "You philosophize when you reflect

critically upon what you are doing in your world. And what you are doing is, of course, in

the first place living. And living involves passions, faiths, doubts, and courage. The

critical inquiry into what these mean and imply is philosophy."16 That is, philosophy, or

human reason turned in upon its own conduct, fundamentally comes out of the demands

on human experience as it lives and grows. The nature of this growth depends upon

human deliberation about the particular circumstances that stand in the way and the

necessary action to take toward them. Therefore, the tasks of philosophy are to clarify the

problematic circumstances in terms of the relevant concepts of meaning that human beings

are about as they act and to suggest particular ways to act that lead human beings to a

more resolute and significant experience. Since the claim is that Dewey's work lacks a

sufficient concept of power, which, in effect, imperils his democratic vision, the

methodological approach to be taken will be philosophical. That is, the study will be a

conceptual and logical analysis of Dewey's epistemological, ontological, and ethical

framework aimed at clarifying the idea of power implied within that framework.

Since one of the significant criticisms of Dewey hinges upon his Darwinian

portrayal of human experience, and since Darwin's studies in biological evolution have had

a profound impact not only on Dewey's philosophy but on the philosophic tradition that

Dewey takes up and passes along, it will be necessary to work out the details of this

16Josiah Royce, The Spirit of Modern Philosophy (Cambridge, Massachusetts: The
Riverside Press. 1892/1930): pp. 1-2.

impact on the particular philosophic problems that Dewey inherits. One of the handed-

down problems that Dewey repeatedly works on is the dualism between mind and matter

in its various physiological, social, and ethical manifestations. Dewey argues that this

dualism does not exist by nature, that is, as a metaphysical absolute. One of the ways by

which Dewey explains the unity of mind and matter is through the concept of habit, the

acquired tendency toward certain modes of response to environmental stimuli, or as

Dewey defines it, "special sensitiveness or accessibility to certain classes of stimuli,

standing predilections and aversions, rather than bare recurrence of specific acts." 17

Habit, characterized by a tripartite loop of sensing, thinking, and acting, serves as a

fundamental concept from which Dewey builds his social and ethical insights. According

to Dewey, habit is the essential means by which human beings come to feel, think, and act

with the world in the first place. If habit involves acting, and if acting is a doing or a

conducting of energy toward some end, and if "energy is power used with a eulogistic

meaning," as Dewey says it, then I anticipate that Dewey's understanding of power is tied

up with the foundational concept of habit. 18 Furthermore, since habit is learned or

acquired, according to Dewey, it always involves other people and is, then, a social

function subject to social conditions and demands. Therefore, I anticipate that Dewey's

understanding of power may be socially and ethically construed in relation to the

cultivation or education of social habits.

17John Dewey, Human Nature and Conduct: An Introduction to Social Psychology (New
York: Random House, 1922/1930): p.42.

18John Dewey, "Force, Violence, and Law," John Dewey: The Middle Works. 1899-
1924, vol. 10, edited by Jo Ann Boydston (Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press,
1980): p.212.

The study will develop through eight chapters. Chapter One will serve as an

introduction and clarification of the problem, that is, a delineation of what Dewey's critics

claim about his concept of power. Chapter Two and Chapter Three will trace out

Dewey's empiricist-rationalist philosophical heritage and will examine how Dewey works

through the particular mind and matter dualisms inherent to this tradition. Chapter Four

will work out Dewey's concept of power as it comes out of his understanding of the

psycho-physiological make-up of the human organism. Chapter Five will extend the

analysis of power as it is psycho-physiologically interpreted to incorporate Dewey's

ontological insights, especially that of the directing influence of social custom on habit,

yielding a concept of power that includes both domination and liberation. Chapter Five

also will draw out in explicit detail the relation between Dewey's sense of power and his

faith in a democratic ideal. Chapter Six will provide a full delineation of Dewey's critics'

claims, and Chapter Seven will measure the worth of these claims in light of what the

preceding chapters suggest of Dewey's idea of power. Finally, Chapter Eight will trace

out the implications that Dewey's concept of power has for the practice of democratic


The published material of Dewey's that I will be primarily concerned with includes

Psychology (1887), The Study of Ethics: A Syllabus (1884), The School and Society

(1900), The Child and The Curriculum (1902), Interest and Effort in Education (1913),

Democracy and Education (1916), Reconstruction in Philosophy (1920), Human Nature

and Conduct (1922), Experience and Nature (1925), The Public and Its Problems (1927),

Individualism, Old and New (1930), Ethics (with James H. Tufts, revised edition, 1932),

How We Think (revised edition, 1933), Liberalism and Social Action (1935), Experience


and Education (1938), and Freedom and Culture (1939). Dewey also published volumes

of articles and essays, some of which are relevant to the particular direction of my study.

Therefore, I will use these articles and essays, as well as other secondary sources by other

authors, when necessary for clarifying a particular point.

Significance of The Study

In effect, in this rage against both reason and the amelioristic sense of experience,

we face a spiritual cloud looming to engulf the next century without the proper analytic

tools and poetic vision to avert its wrath. This looming cloud has encouraged the forces

of reactionary fundamentalism to circle the wagons around metaphysical absolutes and

first principles. This inflexible sentiment is characteristic of both the religious and milita

groups who argue for more soldiers of God and that our interests and value claims are

incommensurable. The upshot is that this mood would leave us entangled in webs of

power and manipulation without promise of earthly salvation.

As it stands, then, cultivating a melioristic sense of experience guided by a

democratic ideal that necessitates a social and political liberalism as its means is no longer

what William James would call a living and momentous option. It is not living because

man has lost faith in democracy and practical, cooperative reason as a working hypothesis

in experience. It is not momentous, the claim goes, because having faith or not in light of

the actualities of the twentieth century makes no significant difference in the eternal wax

and wane of human conflict.

Faith, however, is not exactly the same thing as an astute analysis and recognition

of reality. Faith amounts to the belief in some future state of affairs, even though doubt in

this state of affairs actually coming about is still possible. This is not to say that the

particular objective conditions within and because of which human beings desperately

struggle with each other cannot and do not lead to hopelessness and coldheartedness in

outlook. But as long as there is anything that can be called the human experience, there

will exist the possibility of a future, the concrete details of which are not completely

determined and here yet. As James puts these matters, "The coil is about us, struggle as

we may. The only escape from faith is mental nullity."19

What sort of faith, then, must we have that is warranted given the nature of our

experience together? Are we to rally around dogmatic, rigid principles that exclude all in

experience that does not conform to the fixed vision? Are we to assume that there is no

chance of a moral vision big enough to include the plurality and tentative in experience?

Are we, then, destined to an "us against them" faith in which the winners take all and the

losers rot in anguish, despair, hopelessness? Are we to wallow eternally in a cesspool of

power struggles, a zero sum and null game in which all human interaction is reduced to

nothing more than social fronts in the Goffnan sense, manipulation and impression

management with no possibility of distinguishing between genuine and ingenuine human

communion? Are we to disintegrate because of an egotist ethic, an "I won't attack you

but I won't back you" ethos?

Getting clear about Dewey's idea of power can help us do two things. First, it can

set us on our way to figuring out what it takes to renew a qualified faith and trust in

ourselves and our falliable but ineluctable capacities for passion and reason. Second, it

can help rejuvenate a collective spirit aimed at improving the quality of our experiences

19William James, The Will to Believe: And Other Essays in Popular Philosophy (New
York: Dover Publications, Inc., 1897/1956): p. 93.


together and therefore correct us in the belief that we are destined to a life of isolation and

conflict because our interests are different.

With both Dewey and James, it can be said that, like it or not, belief and doubt are

the essential living attitudes inspiring human life and involve some sort of conduct one

way or another. Perhaps the difference "between a life of which the keynote is resignation

and a life of which the keynote is hope," as James puts it and Dewey's work underscores,

hinges upon our belief that we have power to see what we are about in the world and to

conduct every impulse of our beings along our visions.20 Although Dewey did not write

explicitly about power, his way of practicing philosophy gives every indication that his

work contains a fuller concept of power than what some of his critics have supposed.

This indication is all that is needed to warrant a thorough look into the philosophical quest

that Dewey takes up and passes along.

20William James, The Varieties of Religious Experience (New York: Penguin Books,
1901-02/1958): p. 433.


According to his critics, Dewey's portrayal of human experience in terms of a

biological organism adapting to its environment logically locked him into a metaphysical

stance in which the organism necessarily evolves according to some predetermined plan

existing outside of but working through this organism. Implicit in their complaint is the

suggestion that Dewey's work rests upon a two-world dualism. That is, they take Dewey

to be saying that a transcendent world of infinite meaning directly causes the effects in

the world of finite experience, a relation not subject to human modification. And

although conflict and struggle are at the heart of finite experience, these are, simply,

inherent manifestations of the transcendent world working itself out according to its own

predetermined plan. Therefore, the particular conflicts experienced by man inevitably

become resolved in this predetermined working out. Thus, a concept of power as the

human ability to direct conduct toward some self-defired end, not to mention power to

manipulate and control other human beings for some selfish gain, is not a logical

possibility in Dewey's work.

As Dewey himself acknowledges, he began his professional philosophical career

by assuming the Hegelian tradition, a line of thought that entails a two-world

metaphysical stance in which the finite experiences of human beings serve as partial


realizations of a predetermined Absolute.' It also is true that Dewey developed research

from physiological psychology, particularly relating to the biological organism adjusting

itself to its environment, as the foundation from which he elaborated his epistemological,

social, and ethical insights. Both of these influences on Dewey grew out of a broader

philosophical legacy from the 16th Century empiricists and rationalists that had a defining

impact on the direction of American philosophy from its beginnings, as Bruce Kuklick

points out.2 In essence, the empiricist and rationalist traditions shaped the subsequent

philosophical focus on the epistemological problem of knowing the universal laws

underlying experience. Their responses to this problem entailed a delineation of the

human capacities to know these laws for certain and a development of the social and

ethical implications derived from their metaphysical and epistemological ideas. On the

one hand, the insights from both these traditions provided the epistemological foundation

from which later psycho-physiological inquiry and the ethical principles underlying

man's self-development that became the chief tenets of the democratic ideal in America

developed. On the other hand, these traditions were tainted with a malignant two-world

dualism that permeated everything in their heritage. Their common, unquestioned

assumption of immutable laws guiding human conduct from the outside introduced the

old dualism between mind and matter into their epistemological claims, which, in effect,

SJohn Dewey, "From Absolutism to Experimentalism," John Dewey, The Later Works,
1925-1953. vol. 5, edited by Jo Ann Boydston (Carbondale: Southern Illinois University
Press, 1984): pp. 154-155.
2Bruce Kuklick, The Rise of American Philosophy (New Haven: Yale University Press,
1977): pp. 10-21.

undercut their attempt at a consistent account of human experience and man's self-

enlightenment. In a sense, these traditions contained all of the philosophical ingredients

necessary to formulate a conception of power as it comes from man's ability to change

his own conduct in light of his particular circumstances, which, in broad terms, entails the

ability to enrich or to diminish the meaning of his experience. However, their steadfast

metaphysical position locked them into a disembodied conception of power in which the

human being was simply a mechanism for the realization of some realm of meaning

independent of human experience.

Given these influences on Dewey by way of Hegel, it is possible that Dewey

could have developed an idea of the biological organism predetermined to evolve toward

some Absolute, fixed end. That is, it is possible that Dewey simply and uncritically

carried over this metaphysical, epistemological, and ethical legacy into psycho-

physiological concepts. If this is the case, then his critics would have a justifiable claim

that Dewey's conceptual equipment kept him from developing an idea of power that

includes the ability to have an effect both on and over others. Therefore, in this chapter it

is necessary to spell out this legacy in enough detail, particularly in terms of the

problems, assumptions, and concepts handed down, in order to get a clearer sense of the

philosophical direction that Dewey took up. In turn, these details will provide sufficient

insight to follow the critics' claim through Dewey's work in order to see if this claim

bears out or not.

The Philosophical Legacy of the Empiricist and Rationalist Traditions

Perhaps it was by accident that the natural philosophers of the 16th Century

unleashed a prophecy of new tendencies that not only challenged Christian authority but


worked to domesticate its transcendent truth and reason for the benefit of secular purpose.

Already by the end of the 14th Century, the German bishop and philosopher Nicholas of

Cusa had questioned the human ability to know the certainty of God. And by the

beginning of the 16th Century, Copernicus's notion that the earth orbited the sun had

threatened the Ptolemaic system, by which Christian theology had established its

doctrines and political practices as the supreme revelations on earth, the fixed point and

center of God's universe. The fact that the Inquisition burned Italian astronomer

Giordano Bruno at the stake for extending Copemrnicus's ideas to suggest an infinitely

developing universe points out how strong this threat was to the Christian order of things.

However, it was Galileo's invention of the telescope and his experiments with rolling

small balls down an inclined plane that provided the concrete means needed to

demonstrate that the ideas of his scientific predecessors were not mere fantastic


Galileo came to notice a consistency in force and movement when balls of a given

weight rolled from a specific distance along an inclined plane. He then pointed out that

the consistency of this physical movement could be mathematically signified and

predicted. What Galileo's demonstration implied was that if earth-bound bodies move in

mathematically predictable fashion, then cosmic bodies also might exhibit change in a

similar consistent and predictable way. The invention of the telescope brought the

workings of the unfathomable sky closer to the certainty of human sense and

mathematical understanding. However, Galileo's scientific insights entailed social and

political implications of a more important note. They worked empirically to confirm

Copernicus's solar system and Bruno's idea of a continuous, infinitely encompassing


universe. In turn, these confirmations increasingly jeopardized the certainty of God and

his divine order in light of a universe developing according to natural and physical laws

discernible to all human beings. Furthermore, Galileo's insights marked the beginnings

of a social and political revolution characterized by the celebration of man's capacity to

sense, understand, and reason for himself. What he would come to understand were the

encompassing physical laws governing his universe. And through his use of reason, he

would come to liberate himself from binding tradition and illegitimate authority.

However, several important questions remained.

While the natural philosophers, in effect, equalized the access to both truth and

reason, human beings still were subject to all that was erratic, deceptive, and particular in

experience. By what means, then, could human beings come to know for certain the

constant natural laws underlying change? What role would reason play in liberating the

human experience from the restraints of the past? And as man liberated himself from this

past in order to see his experience in the universe as one coming to be, toward what

exactly would his liberation lead? Two separate lines of thought, empiricism and

rationalism, emerged from the 16th Century to answer these underlying epistemological


The empiricists ( from Bacon, Hobbes, Locke, Berkeley, and Hume to J. S. Mill

and the 19th Century positivists) held to a metaphysical and epistemological realism. To

them, the phenomenal world, including its many parts and cause-effect relations, was

unified according to the universal laws independent of but regulating all natural motion

and given to human experience through the senses. Human sensation, emotion, and

action -all registers of motion-were subject to the same universal laws. Human sense,


then, was the concrete point at which human beings had immediate perception of external

facts and their relations. All knowledge that was definite and certain could be gathered

only through direct sensory impressions of the immediate phenomena. Abstract

representations of the world such as ideas and thoughts that were not conduced by direct

sense were nonexistent. For example, an entity such as God lacked direct sensory

evidence and therefore was impossible. Thus the human mind simply served as an idle

filtering device for incoming sensations that, in turn, tripped the faculty of reason into

operation. The role of reason, then, was to sort through these particular sensory

perceptions, abstracting relations of similarity between facts and testing them for

consistency with known laws as mathematically signified. Those relations corresponding

to mathematical laws were identified as the correct and natural relations, and those that

could not be empirically and mathematically represented were discarded as the false and

deceptive relations of custom and tradition. Therefore, human action, as a direct effect of

sensory stimulation, could be brought under mathematical prediction and control by

regulating the external organization of society according to known universal laws. The

metaphysical implications of Galileo's findings, however, were broad enough for two

modes of thought to emerge. If these findings suggested to the empiricists an

epistemological stance founded upon human sense, it also pointed out to the rationalists

that human sense was easily deceived and that appearances, even when viewed through

the strength of the telescope, could not be trusted. It was out of this mood of doubt that

Rene Descartes and those later known as the rationalists (including, Spinoza, Leibnitz,

Kant, and Hegel) came to claim the superiority of human thought.

To Descartes, Galileo's discoveries had deflated the long established Christian

workings of the absolute God whereby man had made sense of and had taken for granted

his assured deliverance from his plight on earth. Furthermore, these discoveries made

plain that the human senses had been deceived by appearance. The general certainties

that could be derived from sensual experience still were subject to the upsetting

uncertainties of future experience. Since human beings were doomed to sensual bodies

enveloped within the subtle and therefore tricky folds of appearance, human sense could

not be the sound epistemological source for universal knowledge. According to

Descartes, all that was certain was the thought of doubt about human sense. The fact that

human beings were conscious of their doubt led Descartes to assert that human thought

itself, even in doubt, was certain. Thus, the source of all knowledge as certain was the

human mind; the objects of this knowledge were the constant laws guiding the process of

thought itself.

The rationalists agreed with the empiricists that there was an ideal world of reality

independent of human experience. However, this ideal order holding together the

world's diverse forms and relations was known in human experience only through the

mind and not through the easily deceived senses. In this sense, then, the rationalists held

to an epistemological nominalism in which the human mind served as a conduit through

which the power of universal reason surged to illuminate the details of the world with

order and meaning. According to the rationalists, certainty of knowledge in thought

required deducing order from the complete set of universal laws innate to the human

mind. But while in the immediacy of their practical endeavors, human beings called up

these laws in dumb, piecemeal fashion through intuition. Consistency and certainty in

their conduct were haphazard in effect. The rationalists maintained that certainty and

consistency in thought and conduct could be affected by turning one's conscious attention

onto one's immediate intuitions. This reflection of thought back onto intuition allowed

the individual to focus on and locate the abstract cause-effect relations innate to his mind

and given in the form of simple ideas. Each idea had to be analyzed for its inherent

connection to other ideas. These connections, when traced out systematically, would

provide a more insightful, certain, and consistent direction for human life.

Since the mind's ideas could be represented concretely, the pure abstractness of

the universal laws could be approximated best by mathematical symbols, collected and

applied over time. By applying the already known natural laws as the cause of conduct,

human beings could determine the logical course of such conduct, like deducing the

unknown angle of a triangle by the subtraction of the sum quantity of the known angles

from the constant quantity of the whole. Thus, the particular consequences of human

conduct, and therefore collective experience, could be predicted and controlled through

mathematical deduction. But, although both traditions held steadfast to the idea of

immutable laws guiding human conduct, each tradition provided its own epistemological

starting point that, as it turned out, was predicated upon the old dualism between mind

and matter. As a result of this dualism, each tradition, when taken separately, could

provide only an unbalanced account of man's self-enlightenment.

According to the strict logic of their epistemological stance, the empiricists could

not explain how it was that human beings come to think of an ordered world without

immediate sensory impression but verified by sense in some future experience. For

example, how could human beings think the idea that tomorrow will be similar to today?

On the basis of the empiricist account, human beings could experience only the

phenomenal world, that is, only what was actual and as is. Because the empiricist idea of

the human mind amounted to a passive sieve that filtered a world of matter, there was no

way to the non-phenomenal world of ideas entailing some future state of affairs in which

spatially and temporally disjointed impressions of matter become an integrated world for

resolute conduct. Thus, the empiricists left the power of reason impotent as a means by

which human beings envision and modify the course of their conduct with reference to

the world of matter. The upshot of the empiricist account, therefore, was a world of

matter standing over and against the powerlessness of the human mind.

The rationalists, on the other hand, had no way of explaining how abstract ideas

caused a world of various, and sometimes contradictory, detail. For example, how could

the idea of a God as the benevolent creator of all things lead to the conditions of human

poverty and misery? Holding to an ideal given a priori to the mind, the rationalists could

explain neither causation of an external world by the mind nor the occurrence of facts

that were discordant or contradictory to the supposedly already complete ideal. Thus, the

rationalists set the power of the mind over and against the concrete temporal demands of

human necessity and conflict, thereby undercutting the human capacity to attend to and

change that which matters to a thriving human experience. Given the dualism between

mind and matter to correct, two lines of thought developed in an attempt to fasten the

epistemological claims of the empiricists and rationalists into a consistent and coherent

account of human experience. These two lines were Scottish realism and the philosophy

of Kant and Hegel, both lines of which had a significant impact on American philosophy

in the 18th and 19th Centuries.

The 18th and 19th Century Legacy of The British and Rationalist Traditions

Scottish Realism

Emerging from the empiricist tradition, the Scotsmen Thomas Reid (1710-1796)

and his disciple Sir William Hamilton (1788-1844) inherited the problem of cultivating a

spiritual ideal out of the empiricist overemphasis on sensory experience. Reid wanted to

retain sensory impressions as an epistemological necessity in order to have knowledge

about experience, but wanted to avoid the barren, mindlessness flux that resulted from the

empiricists' development of it. More specifically, Reid wanted to circumvent the

skeptical conclusion reached by David Hume, that the mind could know only the discrete

sensory impressions of an external world and had no evidence for knowing any real

relations, particularly causal relations, obtaining between a material self and material

objects. To Reid, this skepticism, though understandable given the unquestioned

assumptions it entailed, was nothing more than outright lunacy.3 He not only worked out

the deficiencies in the empiricist and rationalist traditions but reminded subsequent

philosophers of the more ancient and authoritative principles taken for granted by all

human beings, the principles of common sense.

According to Reid, there were only a few principles necessary to avoid the

dualism between mind and matter: one, to trust the existence of external objects as real on

3Thomas Reid, The Philosophical Works of Thomas Reid, vol. 1, eighth edition, edited
and supplemented by Sir William Hamilton (Edinburgh: James Thin, 1803): p. 127. Reid
writes, "Thus, the wisdom of philosophy is set in opposition to the common sense of
mankind. The first pretends to demonstrate, a priori, that there can be no such thing as a
material world; that sun, moon, stars, and earth, vegetable and animal bodies, are, and can
be nothing else, but sensations in the mind, or images of those sensations in the memory
and imagination; that, like pain and joy, they can have no existence when they are not
thought of The last can conceive no otherwise of this opinion, than as a kind of
metaphysical lunacy, and concludes that too much learning is apt to make men mad" (p.

the basis of testimony from the senses, and, two, to define and judge the relations

between qualities of external objects gathered by the senses on the basis of testimony

from consciousness.4 This is to say that this dualism is not a consideration for the

everyday person intent on his work. The carpenter, for example, does not stop nailing

boards together to question the existence of the sun bearing down upon his neck, nor of

the hammer in one hand or the board and nail in the other. He does not have to wait until

each time he smashes his thumb with the hammer to get the idea of pain or to remind

himself that he should be careful to watch the nail head. In other words, he does not need

an elaborate philosophical argument to convince himself that a material world of various

qualities exists about which he feels and thinks.

As Reid suggested, the trust that human beings have about a substantial world

corresponding to their sense of one is a taken for granted characteristic of human

existence. This world contains an infinite variety of objects and their relations, some of

which are continuous with others, and some not. Human beings know this world of

matter to exist because it produces a change or an impression upon their sensory organs,

through which they come to perceive this change and to understand its prevailing effects

-because they have felt them before-as so much pressure, attraction, repulsion, or

vibration. Somehow, according to Reid, these impressions leave a residue of effects or

qualities on the nerves and the brain that human beings have the unaccountable capacity

to recall. This unaccountable capacity is what Reid called the original faculty of

4Reid, The Philosophical Works of Thomas Reid, vol. 1, p. 206. Reid points out that the
way to avoid the epistemological deficiencies of both the empiricists' and the
rationalists' thought "is to admit the existence of what we see and feel as a first principle,
as well as the existence of things whereof we are conscious; and to take our notions of the
qualities of body, from the testimony of our senses, with the Peripatetics; and our notions
of our sensations, from the testimony of consciousness, with the Cartesians" (p. 206).

memory, out of which develops all other mental functions, such as simple apprehension,

analysis, conception, judgment, and imagination.5

To have an idea of a thing, or to conceive of a thing, is to have the ability to recall

its previously felt effects, including the bodily response it produced. Memory, then,

provides the basis from which individuals analyze or sort out the stream of incoming

impressions produced by an external world into their qualitative similarities and

differences. Furthermore, memory provides the conceptual basis whereby individuals

call an idea of a thing to consciousness without any direct impression of the thing on their

senses. This ability to recall the memory of the previously felt effect of a thing is to refer

to or to imagine the past effect as the possible or future effect of the thing given similar

circumstances. According to Reid, the versatile faculty of memory coupled with the

inexplicable power to give physical direction to both body and thought allow human

beings to regulate their conduct with ends in view such that they may come to recognize

and avoid the detrimental consequences of their actions and to imagine and produce the

more beneficial ones. Individuals, then, come to conceive of that which is good for

human experience in general as they feel and reason their way through a world of


According to Reid's epistemological stance, the human experience -and

knowledge of it-is encased within a psycho-physiological circuit of matter, sensation,

thought, and action. Paradoxically, however, this circuit is not a closed loop that leaves

the human being simply as a mechanical extension of radioactive matter or an automaton

5 Reid, The Philosophical Works of Thomas Reid, vol. 1, pp. 245-275; pp. 339-360.

6Reid, The Philosophical Works of Thomas Reid, vol. 2, eighth edition, edited and
supplemented by Sir William Hamilton (Edinburgh: James Thin, 1803): pp. 513-599.


controlled by unconditioned innate ideas. Due to the infintestimal plurality of matter, to

the human ability to sense, remember, conceptualize, and anticipate the prevailing

qualities of matter, and to the human ability to regulate body and thought in order to

modify surroundings, this circuit remains open to a current of energy that changes in

qualitative magnitude according to the particular reaction between individuals and their

world. Therefore, on the basis ofReid's epistemological account, human beings can

come to know and understand experience with greater insight only as they continue

experiencing. Hence, Reid's answer to Hume's skepticism about causality does not rely

on some super-experiential realm; causality comes to be those experienced effects that

produce further effects in some direction about which human beings can sense and think.

Knowledge that transcends the human capacity to experience it is not possible for human

beings. Thus, Reid's epistemological account preserves a spiritual ideal in two senses.

On the one hand, human beings have the capacities to conceive of that which is good and

perfect for further human experience and to conduct themselves toward this end. In this

sense, Reid's epistemological account implies a concept of power that entails the human

ability to conceive and realize an ideal as it emerges out of and is embodied in particular

human activities. This ability may be called the power of self-realization. On the other

hand, that human beings have these capacities constitutes the fundamental data of

common sense, but to account for how these capacities come about in the first place, to

account for the bare phenomena of existence itself, is beyond the human ability to know

for certain and has to be relegated to the unknown. This leaves open the possibility of a

supreme creator or a god that can be taken only on faith without any direct experiential

warrant.7 It is this possibility of the unknown that Sir William Hamilton retrieved out of

Reid's work and refreshened.

In the "Editor's Supplementary Dissertations" to Reid's works, Hamilton

maintains that Reid failed to make an adequate distinction between presentative or

intuitive knowledge and representative or mediate knowledge.8 That is, on the basis of

Reid's development of human perception, all that can be known are the external effects

of objects as they appear to the individual who feels and thinks his way through the world

7Bruce Kuklick claims that the Scots held to a natural realism that left their metaphysical
position unclear (The Rise of American Philosophy; New Haven: Yale University Press,
1977; p. 17). Reid states, however, that whatever is beyond human comprehension
should be left to the Maker of human kind: "As to the manner how we conceive
universals, I confess my ignorance. I know not how I hear, or see, or remember, and as
little do I know how I conceive things that have not existence. In all our original
faculties, the fabric and manner of operation is, I apprehend, beyond our comprehension,
and perhaps is perfectly understood by him only who made them" (The Philosophical
Works of Thomas Reid, vol. 1; pp. 407-408). Furthermore, Reid says that the extent of
the human powers consists in the abilities to give motions to body and direction to
thought. "Were we to examine minutely into the connection between our volitions, and
the direction of our thoughts which obeys these volitions -were we to consider how we
are able to give attention to an object for a certain time, and turn our attention to another
when we choose, we might perhaps find it difficult to determine whether the mind itself
be the sole efficient cause of the voluntary changes in the direction of our thoughts, or
whether it requires the aid of other efficient causes.... In both cases, I apprehend, the
dispute is endless, and if it could be brought to an issue, would be fruitless. Nothing
appears more evident to our reason, than that there must be an efficient cause of every
change that happens in nature. But when I attempt to comprehend the manner in which
an efficient cause operates, either upon body or upon mind, there is a darkness which my
faculties are not able to penetrate" (The Philosophical Works of Thomas Reid, vol. 2; pp.
8William Hamilton, "Editor's Supplementary Dissertations," The Philosophical Works of
Thomas Reid, vol. 2, pp. 743-988. See pp. 804-815 for Hamilton's development of
presentative knowledge as distinguished from representative knowledge. As Hamilton
states it, "But Reid's doctrine in this respect is perhaps imperfectly developed, rather than
deliberately wrong; and I am confident that had it been proposed to him, he would at
once have acquiesced in the distinction of presentative and representative knowledge..
.not only as true in itself, but as necessary to lay a solid foundation for a theory of
intuitive perception, in conformity with the common sense of mankind" (p. 813).

in the particular. This is knowledge mediated by the human capacities of sense,

perception, and thought. Therefore, according to Hamilton, such knowledge as this

cannot be certain and universal but must remain relative to the individual and subject to

change according to his spatio-temporal conditions. Hamilton suggested that Reid's

development of perception left room for ambiguity and confusion about noumena, that is,

about objects stripped of their apparent qualities such that all that remain are the bare

things in themselves, like peach seeds stripped of their flesh. To Hamilton, knowledge

about the noumenal realm was presentational knowledge, and to make mediate

knowledge more certain and universal, Hamilton developed Reid's idea of perception to

include this noumenal realm.

In order to anchor Reid's idea of perception in the supposedly more certain

noumenal realm, Hamilton reinserted into Reid's epistemology the old distinction

between primary and secondary qualities of phenomena. According to Hamilton, the

apparent effects of external objects that were sensed, perceived, and conceptualized by

the human being were the mediated effects or secondary qualities of the things in

themselves (the primary effects). That is, objects have primary qualities such as spatial

extension, texture, and vibration that are not perceived directly by human beings but

become known only through intuition and inference from the mediated or apparent

effects (the secondary qualities) on the human nervous system. The noumenal world of

primary qualities, then, cannot be known directly but may be intuited as the cause of what

human beings do know. This mediated knowledge of the noumenal realm is what

Hamilton called the relativity of knowledge. Furthermore, because human beings must

subject all phenomena to their capacities of sense and thought, they never can get directly

at the noumenal realm as it exists unconditioned. This is what Hamilton called the

philosophy of the conditioned.9

As Herbert Schneider has pointed out, by the 1820s American philosophers in

colleges and universities, primarily religious fortresses until the early 1900s, were using

the possibility of the unknown in Reid's work to secure their religious doctrines from the

challenges posed by scientific developments.'0 Reid's work gave these philosophers

enough speculative room to assert a fixed and complete universe by design and the

epistemological means to suggest that it is man who is continuously coming to know this

design by piecing together its detail. By the 1830s, however, scientists in the fields of

geology, chemistry, botany, zoology, and biology had amassed further evidence not only

to support the old claim that the natural world, including human beings, is dynamic and

evolving, but to suggest that this change is an organic by product of species-environment

interaction. Thus, American philosophers seized upon Hamilton's work as a justification

whereby they could avoid the epistemological dualisms of mind and matter, make room

for empirical inquiry into everyday phenomena, and yet maintain the existence of the

unknown in some sort of causal relation with phenomena accessible to man's intuition

but exceeding his reason. Therefore, although Reid's work entailed an idea of power as

self-determination, Hamilton's work reasserted an idea of power as the control over this

self-determination by some nebulous force outside of human experience not subject to

human change. By courting the possibility of the unknown as the ground of human

9Hamilton, "Editor's Supplementary Dissertations," The Philosophical Works of Thomas
Reid, vol. 2, pp. 881-882.

10 Herbert Schneider, A History of American Philosophy (New York: Columbia
University Press, 1946): pp. 246-257.


perception, these philosophers and theologians had speculative leeway to argue for God's

existence and for their own special religious doctrines. More importantly, the

combination of Reid's and Hamilton's work allowed them to co-opt science as a tool in

the pursuit of a higher ideal and, at least for a while, to ward off the damaging effects of

religious skepticism and philosophical materialism.,

The Rationalism of Kant and Hegel

If the Scots were concerned with teasing out a spiritual ideal from the empiricist

tradition, Kant was just as concerned with providing an empirical ground for the spiritual

ideal developed within the rationalist tradition. Kant wanted to account for how human

beings connect the bits and pieces of external material impressed upon their senses into a

continuous flow such that they come to have a unified experience. More importantly, he

wanted to account for how human beings have the capacities to perceive and to

conceptualize these bits and pieces before they sense them. To Kant, the ability to

perceive and conceptualize had to be prior to any particular sensation in general,

otherwise human beings could not give unity to anything that they sensed. 12 He

maintained, however, that the rationalists' epistemological trouble --that of explaining

how innate ideas cause a material world-- could be cleared up by showing that the a

posteriori judgments emphasized by the empiricist tradition are necessary to evoke and

guide the a priori judgments stressed by rationalist thought. In other words, sensory

experience initiates the mind's innate ideas, and thus the body, into action. What allows

human beings to understand the meaning of external phenomena, to give meaningful

" Kuklick, The Rise of American Philosophy, pp. 16-27.

12 Immanuel Kant, Kant Selections, edited by Theodore M. Greene (New York: Charles
Scribner's Sons, 1929,1957): pp. 26-29.

unity to the infinite plurality of impressions, are just so many ideas and conceptions

derived from what amounts to a universal table of conceptual categories given a priori to

the mind through the ubiquitous current of universal reason. Without the categories, the

unity given to the sensory impressions, and therefore experience, would not be possible;

without external phenomena to stimulate an empirical consciousness to use reason, these

categories would have no material to synthesize and would remain abstract forms.

Because the empirical consciousness (that is, a concrete person who thinks) is

always in a transient spatio-temporal relation with external matter, this consciousness

never can know matter in its pure, unchanging state ("the thing in itself') but can

categorize and hence understand only the apparent qualities of matter within the limits of

a particular space and time. Therefore, according to Kant, this empirical consciousness,

whose thought is always conditioned by the specific spatio-temporal relations that it

enters into, can define and understand itself only on the basis of its finite relations. That

is, a person can understand himself only as a concrete person who, for example, presently

teaches at the University of Florida, or as a person who cowed yesterday in the face of

four-foot surf but determined to be more courageous the next time the ocean swells.

However, as Kant suggested, the various empirical identities of a person presuppose a

higher condition in which these various identities become synthesized by one

consciousness that thinks about and understands them all: the transcendental

apperception, or what amounts to a conscious self (self-consciousness). 13

13 Kant, Kant Selections, pp. 77-87. According to Kant, "For it is the one consciousness
which unites the manifold that has been perceived successively, and afterwards
reproduced into one representation. This consciousness may often be very faint, and we
may connect it with the effect only, and not with the act itself, i.e. with the production of
a representation. But in spite of this, that consciousness, though deficient in pointed
clearness, must always be there, and without it, concepts, and with them, knowledge of

Since phenomena and the empirical self are defined and integrated by the

universal categories working through the higher self-consciousness, the highest form of

human knowledge is self-knowledge. But although the universal categories are innate to

the human mind, to know them as the unifying basis for self-consciousness can be done

only by understanding this conscious self in its concrete manifestations. Thus, human

knowledge of phenomena emerges through the on-going synthesis between the mind's

innate ideas and sensory impressions of external phenomena. Likewise, self-knowledge

-and therefore knowledge of the categories-emerges through the on-going awareness of

one's various particular experiences moving as a unified whole in some distinct direction

with some definable quality. The pursuit of self-knowledge, according to Kant, should

focus on clarifying the universal categories as they work through the human body. In

turn, this clarification or reflection upon the categories should provide a more clear and

stable basis (because they are universal and therefore not subject to time and space)

whereby individuals can resolve particular conflicts in their experience that are caused by

misapprehension or ignorance. Simply put, then, self-knowledge emerges from and

enlightens experience. Sensual experience provides the medium through which the mind

objects are perfectly impossible.... But the consciousness of oneself, according to the
determinations of our state, is, with all our internal perceptions, empirical only, and
always transient. There can be no fixed or permanent self in that stream of internal
phenomena. It is generally called the internal sense, or the empirical apperception. What
is necessarily to be represented as numerically identical with itself, cannot be thought as
such by means of empirical data only. It must be a condition which precedes all
experience, and in fact renders it possible, for thus only could such a transcendental
supposition acquire validity.... No knowledge can take place in us, no conjunction or
unity of one kind of knowledge with another, without that unity of consciousness which
precedes all data of intuition, and without reference to which no representation of objects
is possible. This pure, original, and unchangeable consciousness I shall call
transcendental apperception" (pp. 77-78).


can come to recognize higher and higher generalizations that, in turn, become the a priori

ideas for guiding future experience.

If, however, sense of a finite world is necessary for thought and if thought merges

back into sense, how is it possible for human beings to recognize the certainty of the

universal categories apart from their finite manifestations? Furthermore, if the universal

categories are innate to all human beings, how is it possible that human beings existing

within the same context disagree over meaning about their world? Kant provided no

epistemological means by which human beings could break free of their finite conditions

in order to recognize the certainty of the universal. The upshot was a metaphysical

dualism between a supposedly universal table of meaning and a spatio-temporally

conditioned mind. Kant's insistence on this universal table of meaning as the immutable

guide determining all human conduct undercut the human ability to account for the

particular sources of conflict in experience and to modify these sources with a more

enriched experience in view. Kant's work, however, was not completely barren of

suggestion that would help overcome this dualism. To Kant's successor, G. W. F.

Hegel, Kant's notion that knowledge proceeds synthetically provided at least a start

toward resolving the dualism.

Like Kant, Hegel maintained that there is a metaphysical state of pure,

unconditioned meaning, what he called the Absolute, that is, a unified whole in which the

essence of all phenomena and their relations, including their agreements and

contradictions, become harmoniously integrated. Also like Kant, Hegel pointed out that

the all encompassing force of reason animates human bodies with ideas derived from the


Absolute that, in turn, are stimulated into use through the nervous system. 14 But because

the human body is always contextually dependent, human beings have no way to step

outside of their particular spatial and temporal relations in order to see and know the

complete whole of all relations. What they can perceive, understand, and know are the

bits and pieces of this Absolute as they are manifested in the particular felt qualities of

things in their context. Simply put, an individual's knowledge of the Absolute is always

partial to the quality and quantity of his particular experiences in the world.

In a sense, Hegel did not differ from Kant in his understanding of the psycho-

physiological means by which human beings come to sense and to know the world; his

epistemological account was different from Kant's insofar as he underscored conflict and

change as metaphysical and, therefore, epistemological necessities. On the one hand,

Kant had suggested that human knowledge of the universal categories always emerges

from sensory experience. Thus, knowledge builds from part to part in order to complete

the whole. On the other hand, Kant maintained that the universal categories were given

to the human mind as a completed whole, or, to put it differently, the whole was already

14Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, Encyclopedia of Philosophy, translated and annotated
by Gustav Emil Mueller (New York: Philosophical Library, Inc., 1959). Hegel suggests
that "the Absolute is simply there in every material or ideal, temporal or non-temporal
reality. It is the origin of its presence and of its absence. In every moment it balances
being and nothing, beginning and unbeginning, arising and vanishing. It is determined to
be there and not to be there. It steps forth in simple unity with itself, but cannot arrest its
step" (p. 105). What this implies for the nature of human existence, then, is this:
"Universal Being discloses itself in the qualitative infinity of existing moments.
Reflecting on this result, it is found in thought that all Being is a dialectical unity of
opposites. This essence of all Being discloses itself in actual existences.... Reflecting
still further again on the movement from Being to Essence and from Essence to Concept,
it is evident that the Absolute is the movement or process of self-realization, and that this
process of self-realization culminates in the logic of philosophy, which is the logic of
world-itself. World-totality as eternal movement in and for itself is the absolute Idea or
final cause" (p. 147). For an understanding of how Hegel sees the Absolute working
through the human body, see pp. 222-227.

in the part. The implication, then, is that regardless of circumstance, individuals should

come to recognize the same meaning and value in the world without discrepancy. Hegel

dropped the idea that the whole is completely manifested in the part and hung on to the

notion that knowledge of the universal only can be emergent in parts, which gave him

room to account for conflict and change in human affairs.

According to Hegel, what allows human beings to distinguish phenomena in

terms of their similarities and differences is the fact that every idea or concept of a thing

presupposes its opposite or alternative in the great web of absolute relations. In other

words, the human experience is one of necessary differences. If differences were not

experienced, then there would be no need to distinguish one thing from the next and

therefore no need for concepts and ideas. However, according to Hegel, a thing

experienced can have meaning only because its concept implies a relation to other things

that are different. 15 That is, the concept "red" can have meaning only because it implies

some other concept of color that is different and that warrants a distinction to be made,

such as the difference between "red" and "blue," for example. Thus, sadness implies its

difference as happiness, hard implies soft, conflict implies agreement, sin implies virtue,

lunacy implies sanity, and vice versa to infinity.

Since human beings come to a conceptual understanding of their experiences as

they are conditioned by particular circumstances, their conditioned knowledge is always a

partial knowledge. In order to have a fuller knowledge, individuals must experience or

think the opposite of their immediate experience. For example, a person who sees love as

bitter can gain a more complete understanding of love only as he comes to experience

15Hegel, Encyclopedia of Philosophy, pp. 133-143.


love as sweet, yielding a synthesis of bitter-sweet. A person who has been conditioned to

be a mule of labor can arrive at a more enlightened understanding of himself by

experiencing what it is like to take the reins of the mule. Because each individual's

experience is a partial manifestation of the Absolute, and always presupposes its

opposite, conflict among parts is inevitable and necessary in order to reach higher

generalizations not only about experience but, more importantly, about the Absolute.

Therefore, change in human experience comes about through the conflict and resolution

(synthesis) of partial understandings about this experience.

On the one hand, Hegel underscores the human abilities to sense, think, and act

not only as the motors of change but as the powers of self-determination that develop

organically in response to the particular conflicts arising from within experience. On the

other hand, Hegel's idea of a predetermined Absolute realizing itself by working out its

inherent contradictions through the experiences of man issues forth the very same

dualism that Hegel wanted to correct in Kant's work in the first place. That is, on the

basis of Hegel's account, a finite human being has no other epistemological means to

know this predetermined plan as the Absolute except as he acts in reference to the

particular problems that he faces. He may call his concrete action determined by the

Absolute in hindsight, but he has no way of knowing beforehand what detailed conduct

this Absolute demands of him. Thus, similar to Kant before him, Hegel's metaphysical

claim is superfluous in its account of a realm independent of human experience

determining this experience from the outside. Furthermore, this metaphysical claim

overshadows the powers of self-determination that Hegel wanted to point up and, in

effect, leaves these powers as simply mechanisms of some vacuous, transcendent realm

outside of human control.

It is understandable, however, as Herbert Schneider has noted, that America in the

1860s and 1870s provided a fertile ground for Hegel's ideas to take root and grow.16

Hegel's idea of an Absolute reached through the inevitable conflict and resolution of

ideas terminating in time provided a fitting vision for a country ravaged first by civil war

and then by an ensuing economic opportunism. That this Absolute could be reached

from within experience underscored an organic unity between a higher cause and man's

abilities of reason and collective action. Simply put, Hegel's work restated and

celebrated in philosophic terms a long since experienced faith by Americans that human

reason will wring out everyday conflict from man's relentless effort to bring about a more

unified social experience.

The American Philosophical Context

According to Bruce Kuklick, in The Rise of American Philosophy, the particular

conceptual framework of the empiricist-rationalist traditions, including the enduring

questions of ultimate reality and of how this reality was to be known, permeated the

philosophical climate of American thought from the beginning.'17 When taken together,

these traditions provided a philosophical foundation out of which developed an ethical

expression in America for human conduct besieged by the harsh struggle against an

unfathomable wilderness and anguished by a distant yet malignant political tyranny. The

16 Schneider, A History of American Philosophy, pp. 177-193.

17 Kuklick, The Rise of American Philosophy, pp. 10-21. See also Schneider's A History
of American Philosophy and Ralph Henry Gabriel's The Course of American Democratic
Thought, second edition (New York: The Ronald Press Company, 1956).


notion of a continuous universe infinitely expanding according to constant laws of nature

and subject to each individual's sense and understanding resulted in the belief in the

dignity of the individual who should be free forever to exercise his own reason in coming

to understand and to conduct himself according to the natural law common to all human

beings. Through experiment and the power of reason, each individual would enlighten

himself as to the constant truths of the universe. In turn, this knowledge would provide

the incontestable grounds to shake off the illegitimate fetters of corrupt political and

social tradition and lead to a freer and more unified society, a society in which

individuals forged a self-government in keeping with the laws of nature. Thus, the

optimistic belief in the universal law, in the importance of the individual and his freely

exercised intelligence, and in progress became the chief tenets in the working hypothesis

of democracy handed down with faith to 19th Century America.18

By way of his Hegelian and rationalist inheritance, Dewey's earliest

philosophical work took aim at the handed down metaphysical and epistemological

dualisms that work through human conduct to preclude a flourishing democratic

experience. Furthermore, this philosophical legacy led Dewey to underscore man's

responsibility to conceptualize a common good as he acts according to the demands

within his everyday experience. And as Dewey's interest in physiological psychology

grew, he began to work out the human body as the seat of this amelioristic ability. Now,

in light of Dewey's philosophical inheritance, does this ability refer to an organic power

of man to develop himself and his environment according to the changing and precarious

circumstances bearing upon him? If yes, then in what sense does this concept of power

18 Gabriel, The Course of American Democratic Thought, pp. 12-25.


entail the ability to control and manipulate other human beings? Or does this ability refer

to the power of self-development determined, however, as Dewey's critics claim, by

some force trandscending man's experience but working itself out through his psycho-

physiological make-up? In order to see if Dewey simply transferred the handed-down

dualisms into psycho-physiological terms, thus leaving him with an insufficient concept

of power, it is necessary to work out the details of his response to these dualisms as

handed down to him. Getting a clearer understanding of Dewey's direction within this

philosophical legacy will provide the foundation to begin tracing out his concept of

power in greater detail.


As Morton White has pointed out, there were two distinct lines of intellectual

interest that influenced John Dewey's early philosophic development at Johns Hopkins

University. One was the philosophy of Hegel, encouraged by Dewey's mentor George S.

Morris, a staunch antagonist to British empiricism and the spiritual skepticism that the

British -as he saw it-made possible. According to White, it was Morris who provided

Dewey with a sense of philosophic friend and foe, handing over to him Hegelian

concepts such as "universal consciousness," "self-consciousness," and organicismm" as

means to attack British dualisms and to counteract its debilitating ethics. The other

intellectual influence on Dewey was physiological and experimental psychology, taught

to him by G. Stanley Hall. From his studies with Hall, Dewey came to understand

thought as one aspect among several in the homogenous nervous activity of the human

organism adjusting to its environment. The findings of physiological psychology gave

Dewey a detailed, scientific account for his Hegelian-arrived-at notion that human

thought develops organically from within an individual's circumstances. The

conclusions of the new psychology, though, made the Hegelian idea of a transcendent

Absolute ambiguous at best and downright meaningless at worst. According to White,

Dewey eventually would have to find an adequate resolution to the counterclaims of

these two interests.'

By the time Dewey finished his doctoral work in 1884, however, he had inherited

a set of philosophical problems and assumptions out of which his practical philosophy

developed and that implicitly entailed a conception of power signifying man's ability to

direct his own self-development, including the enhancement and degradation of the self-

development of others. Therefore, to begin getting clearer about Dewey's idea of power,

it first is necessary to work out a detailed account of how Dewey employs the

assumptions and concepts from Hegel and the findings from physiological psychology in

order to mend the dualisms handed down to him. This account will provide a sufficient

foundation from which to build an understanding of Dewey's philosophical growth and

his idea of power as it is embedded within that growth.

Dewey's Hegelian Roots

It was through his studies with Morris that Dewey came to take up the attack the

dualism between mind and matter that was deeply rooted in the empiricist tradition. As

Morris saw it, the empiricists failed to account for the power of man's mind, leaving him

as a passive, spiritless form subject to the aimlessness of pure matter. According to

Morris, an adequate epistemological account must see the human mind as an active

capacity of a particular self attempting to integrate its various circumstances into a

unified, ideal whole. The power of the mind serves as the essential means whereby man

Morton White, The Origins of Dewey's Instrumentalism (New York: Octagon Books,
Inc., 1943/1964). For the influence of both Morris and Hall on Dewey's early
philosophy, see also George Dykhuizen's The Life and Mind of John Dewey, introduced
by Harold Taylor and edited by Jo Ann Boydston (Carbondale: Southern Illinois
University Press, 1973) and Ryan's John Dewey and The Hide Tide of American
Liberalism (New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 1995).

comes to realize himself as an organic part of a larger ideal (the Hegelian Absolute) and

thus is the essence of his spiritual and ethical nature.2 At least up through "Psychology as

Philosophic Method," published in 1886, Dewey carried on Morris's Hegelian attack

with one important difference. Dewey attempted to fortify his Hegelian concepts with

the details from physiological psychology.

Even before Dewey came under the influence of Morris at John Hopkins, he had

stated what he took to be the problem with locating the seat of knowledge inside material

phenomena, as the empiricists had done.

What is materialism? It is the theory which declares that matter and its forces
adequately account for all phenomena -those of the material world, commonly so
called, and those of life, mind, and society. It declares that not only the content of
mind, but that which we call mind itself, is determined by matter .... The laws of
matter are therefore the laws of mind. Mental phenomena are expressible in terms
of material. And since all material phenomena are expressible in terms of the
atom and molecule (or whatever names be given to the ultimate forms of matter),
therefore all mental are similarly expressible. The ultimate form of matter
contains, then, implicitly, all phenomena of mind and society. In short, the
coarsest form of matter with which you can begin, as well as the highest organism
with which you end, must contain all emotion, volition, and knowledge, the
knowing subject and its relations. Beginning, then, with a strictly monistic
theory, and keeping directly in line of materialistic reasoning, we have ended with
the conclusion that the ultimate form of matter has dualistic "mind" and "matter"
properties. Nor is there any escape from this conclusion on a materialistic basis.
Therefore on its physical or constructive side we find such a theory suicidal.3

According to Dewey, the empiricist metaphysical stance is suicidal because it

rests upon a two-world dualism that necessitates a conception of mind that is much more

active and constructive than the one the empiricists develop. That is, the empiricist

metaphysical account rests upon the idea that all definite relations of meaning, including

2White, The Origins of Dewey's Instrumentalism, pp. 12-33.

3 John Dewey, "The Metaphysical Assumptions of Materialism," John Dewey. The Early
Works. 1882-1888. vol. 1, edited by Jo Ann Boydston (Carbondale: Southern Illinois
University Press, (1969): pp. 3-4.

those of cause-effect relations, lay inherently in the bits and pieces of phenomena.

According to the empiricist epistemological account, human beings can come to know

these relations of meaning only through the effects of material phenomena impressed

upon the human sensory organs, which includes the brain. Since the human mind is a

function of the brain and sensory organs (all material phenomena), it is, then, merely a

material effect dependent upon matter for its cause and existence. Therefore, as Dewey

points out, the empiricist conception of mind as a mere effect or phenomena dependent

upon the effects of physical matter fails to account for how it is that the human mind can

get behind these apparent qualities of matter in order to know that definite relations of

meaning are inherent in this matter. At best, the empiricist account of the mind amounts

to nothing more than a random succession of mental phenomena. If the mind functions

as a passive sponge absorbing matter as it comes in, then the mind is not capable of

producing or constructing an abstraction about the very matter upon which it is dependent

for its simple function. Therefore, in order for the empiricists to construct a theory at all

testifies to an idea of mind that is active and constructive. As Dewey puts it, "To have

real knowledge of real being, there must be something which abides through the

successive states, and which perceives their relations to that being and to itself. To say

that the mind, if itself a mere phenomena or group of phenomena, can transcend

phenomena and obtain a knowledge of that reality which accounts both for other

phenomena and for itself, is absurd."4

Not all of those from the empiricist tradition, however, held such a simplistic

notion of the human mind. By the late 1780s, Thomas Reid had developed a conception

4Dewey, "The Metaphysical Assumptions of Materialism." The Early Works, vol. 1, pp.

of mind as an active human capacity that enables man to perceive and conceptualize the

apparent qualities of matter in order to adjust his conduct to meet the particular demands

within his experience. Reid's idea of mind did not refer to any human power that could

penetrate a super experiential realm laying behind and causing the experienced world.

Mind, to Reid, was an active human capacity continuous with the rest of the human

nervous system and therefore ineluctably conditioned by particular circumstances. The

moral implication of Reid's epistemological account was similar to the implications that

followed from later findings of biological evolution in the early to mid 1800s: the human

organism determining itself in reference to its organic relations with an environment.

However, to Sir William Hamilton, Reid's idea of a spatio-temporally conditioned

intelligence was itself an assertion of a universal claim in which "there is no cause which

is not itself merely an effect, existence being only a series of determined antecedents and

determined consequents."5 Hamilton suggested that Reid's idea of the mind denied the

possibility in a transcending moral order working through the universe, therefore denying

the existence of God and, in effect, stranding man in fatalism.

In order to avoid the destructive implications of Reid's account, Hamilton

asserted a world of primary qualities that lay behind and caused the apparent qualities

mediated through man's finite experience. However, because man's ability to know

always is conditioned by particular space and time, he has no way to know the

unconditioned, primary qualities except as these qualities may be intiuted or felt to be

behind the apparent world. Thus, Hamilton attempted to preserve a universal moral order

5 Hamilton, "Editor's Supplementary Dissertations," The Philosophical Works of Thomas
Reid, vol. 2, p. 974. For a fuller development Hamilton's objection to the moral
implications of Reid's epistemology, see pp. 973-981.


on the basis of a metaphysical realm claimed to be independent of human experience and

unable to be directly known.

To Dewey, what Hamilton attempted to do was to reconcile metaphysical realism

with epistemological relativism, an attempt that rests upon logical contradiction and ends

in dualism between mind and matter.6 On the one hand, Hamilton assumed a realm of

unconditioned, primary qualities known to man only through intuition, which is to say

sensation, since intuition refers to some human power other than reason, feeling or

sensation being the only human ability left. This amounts to metaphysical realism. On

the other hand, Hamilton maintained that these primary qualities of phenomena are the

real causes of their apparent qualities that are perceived and conceptualized by the human

being responding to his particular circumstance. Thus, knowledge of the primary

qualities is not definite knowledge of their unconditioned, pure nature but is knowledge

of these qualities as they appear relative to the human nervous system. This is what

Hamilton called the relativity of knowledge.

Now, according to Dewey, metaphysical realism, taken by itself, is inadequate. It

contains the idea that knowledge of the independent realm is derived solely from

sensation, which is dependent upon the apparent effects of matter and therefore has no

way to infer beyond these apparent effects, unless some sort of constructive mind is

asserted. Furthermore, even if an absolute realm independent of experience is admitted

for the time being, the theory of the relativity of knowledge itself proves inadequate in

getting at it. That is, the theory fails to provide the means necessary to get beyond the

spatial and temporal conditions relative to the human nervous system. As Dewey

6 Dewey, "Knowledge and The Relativity of Feeling," The Early Works, vol. 1, pp. 19-

suggests, the matter is not at all improved by developing these stances together, as

Hamilton had done.

We must admit that there is knowledge of the existence of an absolute object. But
how is this knowledge obtained? Since all knowledge comes from feeling, this
must also. In other words, since sensation-knowledge we must have sensation
that there is an absolute existence. But on this theory (that every feeling is
relative) an absolute sensation is a contradiction in terms. We may give up the
sensationalist hypothesis, and admitting that we have knowledge not derived from
feeling (viz., that an Absolute exists), hold that feeling is relative. Or we may
give up the Relativity theory and hold, so far at least as this point is concerned,
that Sensationalism is true. But to attempt to hold them together is suicidal. If all
our knowledge comes from feeling, since we can never have a feeling of the
absolute object, we can never have knowledge of it; and we cannot have a feeling
of it, since, by the theory, the Absolute is precisely that which is not conditioned
by feeling. Or, on the other hand, if we know that all feeling is relative, we do
know that there is an absolute object, and hence have knowledge not derived from
sensation. When these alternatives are once fairly faced, it will be seen that one
or the other must de definitely adopted. Both cannot be accepted.7

It is by default, then, that both metaphysical realism and the theory of relative

knowledge assume and affirm an active mind. And although Hamilton smuggled in an

idea of intuition as the faculty that links a conditioned being with the unconditioned

realm, this idea of intuition proves insufficient, since it must refer to some human

capacity other than reason if it is to have any meaning at all, and this remaining capacity

only can be feeling or sensation. The upshot of this epistemological stance is that it rests

knowledge of the unconditioned merely on feeling, which not only contradicts the theory

of relative knowledge but also assumes an active mind in order to make such an inference

about the unconditioned realm, since feeling has been shown to be inadequate as the sole

basis of knowledge. Thus, Dewey shows that Hamilton's theory of relative knowledge

assumes, in effect, a human consciousness consisting of sensation and active thought.

7 Dewey, "Knowledge and The Relativity of Feeling." The Early Works, vol. 1, p. 23.

According to Dewey, a theory of relative knowledge that includes this idea of

consciousness holds correct as a psychological theory. That is, to have knowledge of an

external world requires some sort of human consciousness that is in relation to

phenomena located in a definite space and time. This consciousness entails both

sensation and thought. However, Dewey points out that to argue from this idea of

consciousness as a means to prove the existence of an unconditioned absolute which, on

the basis of Hamilton's account, must remain absolutely incomprehensible and unknown

is logically impossible and meaningless. To have feeling of something as definite

requires definite effects in order to stimulate the human nervous system. In this sense, to

have a feeling that a world beyond the apparent one exists is to be conscious of

something, to sense and think about something definite from which such an inference

may be made. Therefore, to have a feeling about something said to exist, yet to be

absolutely incomprehensible and unknown, makes no sense, as Dewey states.

When it is said that something is, it is meant that something is. The predication
must be of something; it cannot be of a pure Non-entity, like the Unknowable.
The subject must mean something before it can be said either to be or not to be, or
have any other intelligible proposition regarding it made.... To say that
something beyond consciousness is known to exist, is merely to say that the same
thing is and is not in consciousness. Its special characteristic is to be out of
consciousness; but, so far as it is known to exist, it is in and for consciousness.
To suppose otherwise is to suppose that consciousness can in some way get
outside of or "beyond" itself, and be conscious of that which is not in
consciousness -a proposition as absurd as that a man can stand on his own
shoulders, or outstrip his shadow.8

As Dewey implies here, a known world must develop as such out of a natural,

living relationship with a human consciousness that senses and thinks this world.9

8 Dewey, "Knowledge and The Relativity of Feeling," The Early Works, vol. 1, p. 26.

9 As Dewey puts it, "We are now prepared to draw a positive conclusion and say that the
real meaning of the theory of Relativity of Feeling is that a feeling is a specific

Therefore, the nature of this knowledge is what the world in all of its parts is experienced

as, what it is felt and thought to be. Thus, Dewey resolves the dualism between mind and

matter as it comes out of the empiricist epistemological stance: knowledge is relative to a

concrete self who is conscious of its surroundings.

So far so good. But, Dewey faces another problem, one that he inherits from

within the rationalist tradition. The organic relationship between a known phenomenal

world and a human consciousness entails not only the idea that the phenomenal world is

dependent upon a finite consciousness for its meaning but also the idea that a finite

consciousness depends upon the phenomenal world in order to stimulate it into its

meaning-making function. Now, on the basis of Kant's and Hegel's metaphysical

accounts, this meaning comes from an unconditioned realm independent of but working

through human consciousness. If, as Dewey had shown, it is unwarranted to assume an

unconditioned world of meaning transcending human experience, then Kant's universal

categories and Hegel's Absolute have no meaning as realms transcending human

experience. If the assumption of an unconditioned realm of meaning is dropped, then the

problem for Dewey is to account for how human consciousness comes to give meaning

and unity to its various finite experiences. Simply put, how is it that an individual has the

ability to perceive and conceptualize the bits and pieces of matter relative to his

determinate relation or reaction given in consciousness between two bodies, one a
sensitive, the other a non-sensitive object. It is possible to hold it, therefore, in
conjunction with a theory which allows knowledge of these objective conditions, the
knowledge of their relation as given in feeling, though relative indeed to the subject, is
not for that reason a detraction from our knowledge of objects, but rather an addition ...
Except upon the theory that the real nature of things is their nature out of relation to
everything, knowledge of the mode of relation between an object and an organism is just
as much genuine knowledge as knowledge of its physical and chemical properties, which
in turn are only its relations" (The Early Works, vol. 1, p. 31).

consciousness before this matter affects his nervous system? How is it that human beings

can recognize the effects of a phenomenal world as already imbued with meaning?

In a sense, this problem is the same one that Kant faced in his attempt to account

for the mind's ability to synthesize a series of sensory impressions into a continuous and

unified flow of activity. Dewey cannot attribute this human ability to some source

existing outside of experience. However, Dewey's assumption of the Hegelian tradition

seems to suggest that he does assume an unconditioned realm of meaning independent of

but working through a concrete consciousness. As he states the problem and solution in

"The Psychological Standpoint," "The problem is to reconcile the undoubted relativity of

all existence as known, to consciousness, and the undoubted dependence of our own

consciousness.... The solution is that the consciousness to which all existence is relative

is not our consciousness, and that our consciousness is itself relative to consciousness in


But Dewey understands that the meaning of "consciousness in general" must be

determined by a finite consciousness, which is to say that this meaning must be

determined like any other object relative to a particular human being. According to

Dewey's account, when an individual attempts to determine the meaning of a

consciousness in general, he can see only two things: his own consciousness as it is

ineluctably involved in his body's adjustment to his particular circumstances and the

consciousness of others as manifested in their actions as well. Therefore, "consciousness

in general" simply refers to the fact that human consciousness is a process of adjustment.

We are to determine the nature of everything, subject and object, individual and
universal, as it is found within conscious experience. Conscious experience

10 Dewey, "The Psychological Standpoint," The Early Works, vol. 1, pp. 132-133.


testifies, in the primary aspect, my individual self is a "transition," is a process of
becoming. But it testifies also that this individual self is conscious of the
transition, that it knows the process by which it has become. In short, the
individual self can take the universal self as its standpoint, and thence know its
own origin. In doing so, it knows that it has its origin in processes which exist for
the universal self, and that therefore the universal self never has become....
Consciousness is the self-related. Stated from the positive side, consciousness has
shown that it involves within itself a process of becoming, and that this process
becomes conscious of itself. This process is the individual consciousness; but,
since it is conscious of itself, it is consciousness of the universal consciousness.
All consciousness, in short, is self-consciousness, and the self is the universal
consciousness, for which all process is and which, therefore, always is. The
individual consciousness is but the process of realization of the universal
consciousness through itself Looked at as process, as realizing, it is individual
consciousness; looked at as produced or realized, as conscious of the process, that
is, of itself, it is universal consciousness."

Dewey implies here that the bits and pieces of matter get their significance as they

are relative to a conscious being in the process of adjusting to its environment. In

turn, this particular conscious being itself is relative to "consciousness in general," which,

again, means the process of adjustment by human beings in general. Now, according to

Dewey, to realize that one's conscious activity is like the activity of all other human

consciousness is to realize a few things. First, it is to realize that one is a part of a larger

whole, that is, a part of human consciousness in general, a union of spirits in a sense.

This is what Dewey calls taking the standpoint of the universal self Second, it is to

realize that, by virtue of being a part of human consciousness in general, one's particular

conscious activity, one's particular process of adjustment, is the kind of activity in which

human beings in general might engage. Furthermore, this implies that the activities of

others are possibilities for oneself Therefore, Dewey employs "universal consciousness"

to refer to the unity of all processes by which human beings adjust themselves to their


1 Dewey, "The Psychological Standpoint." The Early Works, vol. 1, p. 142.

As Dewey argues four months later in "Psychology as Philosophic Method," this

universal consciousness, this unity of all processes, has no existence and no meaning

except as realized by a human consciousness, which always is a particular human

consciousness, a specific self who is attending to his circumstances. 12 That is, when the

individual takes the standpoint of the universal self, he can see for certain, as absolute,

that there are processes that exist for human beings in general but that these processes

depend upon a particular self in order to be put into effect and realized. This is what

Dewey calls "the absolute self-consciousness," since, as he says, all consciousness,

including universal consciousness, is self-consciousness.

What is this distinction between the absolute self-consciousness and its
manifestation in a being like man? Is the absolute self-consciousness
complete in itself, or does it involve this realization and manifestation in a
being like man? If it is complete in itself, how can any philosophy which
is limited to "this absolute principle of self-consciousness" face and solve
the difficulties involved in its going beyond itself to manifest itself in self-
consciousness? This cannot be what is meant. The absolute self-
consciousness must involve within itself, as organic member of its very
being and activity, this manifestation and revelation. Its being must be
this realization and manifestation. Granted that this realization and
manifestation is an act not occurring in time, but eternally completed in
the nature of the Absolute, and that it occurs only "partially" and
"interruptedly" through (not in) time, in a being like man.13

On the basis of the relativity of knowledge, an individual's particular experience

is always conditioned by his particular context. Therefore, it is logical to assume when

Dewey says that man realizes the Absolute "partially" and "interruptedly," he means that

12 Dewey, "Psychology as Philosophic Method," The Early Works, vol. 1, pp.144-167.
Put in Dewey's words, "Were not the universe realized in the individual, it would be
impossible for the individual to rise to a universal point of view, and hence to
philosophize .... The universe, except as realized in an individual, has no existence ....
Self-consciousness means simply an individualized universe" (pp. 148-149).
13 Dewey, "Psychology as Philosophic Method," The Early Works, vol. 1, p. 157.


an individual's awareness of the Absolute is circumscribed always by his temporal, finite

nature and must remain an incomplete awareness that develops according to the quality

and quantity of his experiences in the world. In the same article, however, Dewey

maintains that although man may be characterized as finite, he "has manifested in him the

unity of all being and knowing, and is not finite, i.e., an object or event, but is, in virtue

of his self-conscious nature, infinite, the bond, the living union of all objects and

events."'14 Since, according to Dewey, self-consciousness (or being in any intelligible

sense) has its origin in the processes that are for human consciousness in general, what

"the unity of all being and knowing" refers to here is simply these processes, universal

consciousness or Absolute. But, what does Dewey mean when he says that man has the

unity of these processes manifested in him? He cannot mean that all of these processes

are innate in a single human mind or that the individual somehow can experience the

unity of these processes in a completed form at any one time. To maintain such as this is

to contradict the theory of relative knowledge, and Dewey has shown that the theory of

relative knowledge is inescapable on all epistemological accounts. Thus, universal

consciousness as a concept that refers to the unity of all human processes which can be

realized in its entirety by an individual at any one time is superfluous, as Morton White

has noted, because an individual's awareness of these processes can develop only

partially and relatively according to the demands of his particular context.15 Although

Dewey is not explicit in his development of universal consciousness as a realizable unity,

it is warranted to assume that universal consciousness as unity expresses a moral ideal

14 Dewey, "Psychology as Philosophic Method," The Early Works, vol. 1, p. 146.

15 White, The Origin of Dewey's Instrumentalism, p. 47.

instead of a metaphysical fact, particularly in light of the influence of physiological

psychology on Dewey's thought.

The Influence of Physiological Psychology on Dewey's Hegelian Idealism

In "Soul and Body," an article published within the same month as "Psychology

as Philosophic Method," Dewey employs findings from physiological psychology in

order to underscore thought as an organic part within the nervous process of the human

organism, the overall function of which is the adjustment of this organism to meet the

demands of its environment.16 Characterizing this nervous activity as such, Dewey

suggests that, while all human nervous activity is a process of adjustment in form, the

meaning of this process in terms of its direction and effects is dependent upon the

particulars bearing down upon the organism. On the basis of his idea that the meaning of

this adjustment depends upon context, Dewey makes the case that this meaning is not

innate to the human being but is acquired and learned. Now, what are the findings from

physiological psychology as Dewey understands them and how do these facts lead him

towards the conclusion that the processes of adjustment are learned activities?

There are a few important facts from physiological investigations about the

psycho-physiological composition of the human organism. First, according to Dewey, is

the fact that the entire nervous system of the organism is composed of fibers and cells.

As Dewey understands it, fibers and cells are of like chemical compounds and have

complementary functions. Fibers transfer stimuli from sensory receptors to a collection

of cells (nerve centers) and back to sensory receptors or from one nerve center to another.

The cell takes in this stimuli and reacts to it by releasing its own stored up enrierg\ either

16 Dewey, "Soul and Body," The Early Works, vol. 1, pp. 93-115.

to inhibit the incoming stimuli from continued conduction or to direct its continued

conduction. Since the brain is composed of fibers and cells similar to the rest of the

nervous system, its function, therefore, is similar: to transfer, inhibit, and control.

Insofar as the brain is associated with thought or mental processes, according to Dewey,

then thought is not only similar in kind to the rest of the nervous system but is inherent in

it throughout.

The psychical is homogeneously related to the physiological. Whatever the
relation of the psychical to the neural, it is related in the same manner to all parts
of the neural. The brain is no more the organ of the mind than the spinal cord, the
spinal cord no more than the peripheral endings of the nerve fibres. The brain is
undoubtedly most closely and most influentially connected with the life of the
soul, but its connection is of the same kind as that of every other part of the
nervous system. Now this gives us but one alternative: either there is absolutely
no connection between the body and soul at any point whatever, or else the soul
is, through the nerves, present to all the body. This means that the psychical is
immanent in the physical. To deny this is to go back to the Cartesian position,
and make a miracle of the whole matter -to call in some utterly foreign power to
make the transition which is actually found.17

The second important finding from physiological psychology is that the

stimulation and reaction of the nervous system is a process of adjustment, the particular

nature or character of which develops according to specific environmental pressures. As

Dewey points out, the nervous tissue consists of a highly volatile chemical compound

that becomes unbalanced when disturbed by stimuli. In order to return this chemical

material back to its resting state, the cell responds by releasing its own stored-up energy

in an amount necessary to achieve this resting state. However, as Dewey notes, if there

was no resistance to and regulation of the exciting energy by the cell, the organism would

respond to every stimulus until its potential or stored energy was exhausted. Thus, the

function of the cell is one of control such that the incoming stimulus is met with

17 Dewey, "Soul and Body," The Early Works, vol. 1, p. 96.

sufficient energy. This cellular energy works either to inhibit the progress of the stimulus

all together or to modify its intensity so that the resting state of the neural compound is

restored, reserve energ\ is not used up completely, and energy generated from this

reaction itself is stored for potential use. Since the human body may be affected in

numerous ways by an infinite range of stimuli, it requires a complex collection of cells,

or nerve centers, connected and working together not only to secure the organism with

reference to the immediate stimulus but to develop it for future ends. As Dewey

concludes, "The psychical is immanent in the physical; immanent as directing it towards

an end, and for the sake of this end selecting some activities, inhibiting others,

responding to some, controlling others, and adjusting and co-ordinating the complex

whole, so as, in the simplest and least wasteful way, to reach the chosen end."'18

According to Dewey, since particular stimuli affect particular nerve centers in the

body, the process of adjustment to this stimuli becomes more defined in these nerve

centers and their helper centers. Borrowing the phrase from physiology, this is what

Dewey calls the "localization of function," which, again, simply means that the particular

process of adjustment in the immediately affected nerve centers creates the capacity and

18 Dewey, "Soul and Body," The Early Works, vol. 1, p. 100; pp. 93-100. According to
Dewey, "In short, there must be something which gives control, which regulates the
reaction, and which also ensures a reserve power. There must be opposed to the exciting
activity one which resists, and thereby prevents the whole force at hand, the whole
unstable compound, from being used, and which also restores it as it is expended. And
so it is found that there is a complementary process. Not only is energy being constantly
put forth, but energy is being constantly stored up or rendered latent. Not all the force
which comes to a nervous element is employed in breaking down the unstable
compounds and thereby losing energy' : part -in some cases much the greater part-is
used in building up these unstable compounds, thereby forming a reservoir of energy for
future use, while the process itself acts as a restraint upon, a control over, the excitatory
factor. Every nervous action is, therefore, a reciprocal function of stimulation, excitation,
and inhibition; control through repression. Every nervous activity is essentially an
adjustment" (pp. 97-980).

tendency in these centers to act or perform in a similar way in the future. The degree to

which these particular functions are defined in the nerve centers depends directly upon

how necessary these functions or adjustments are to the maintenance of life in the

organism. For example, breathing, blinking, swallowing, temperature control, digesting,

and excreting are the more simpler but fundamental house-keeping functions of the

organism which have more developed locations of control in specific nerve centers. The

higher or more complex functions such as walking, writing, and speaking require a large

number of coordinated nerve centers and have less definition of location in any one spot

than the more vital functions. Therefore, the function of ideas, the coordination of nerve

centers for the further development of the organism along the tendencies already formed

in the body, has no specific location of control at all but requires a vast connection of

numerous nerve centers. Thus, on the basis of this physiological fact, Dewey argues that

the higher functions, including those of ideas and meaning, are not innate to any specific

neurological cells but are developed or acquired through the continued process of

adjustment to particular stimuli.

The two statements already made that localization is practically universal, and yet
that the higher intellectual powers cannot be definitely localized at all, do not
contradict each other. They find their reconciliation in the statement that
localization is not original, but acquired. It has already been stated that
localization is no quality inherent in the cell; but that it depends upon the cell's
connections through its fibres.... And this dependence of localized function
upon connection, is the same as to say that given elements of the brain act in a
certain way only because they have been associated in the performance of the act.
The localization is dependent upon use and exercise. ... Localization of function
is, in short, only the physiological way of saying habit. The organization of
function is not indwelling in the brain as so much matter: it has been learned by
the brain and learned through the tuition and care of the soul.'19

19 Dewey, "Soul and Body," The Early Works, vol. 1, pp. 110-111.

Given these psycho-physiological facts, then, the only intelligible ideal for the

soul is the further enhancement of the soul's processes of adjustment such that these

processes become ever more defined and perfect not only in themselves but in their

connections with each other as the unified mechanism whereby the soul can go on to

further develop itself Simply put, the ideal for the soul is the further realization of itself

as manifested in its body.20 Now, in light of Dewey's understanding of the facts from

physiological psychology, his idea of universal consciousness as the expression of a

moral ideal should become clearer. When Dewey writes that man "has manifested in him

the unity of all being and knowing" and is "infinite," he simply means that by virtue of

having a soul, a consciousness that adjusts, man is connected to all like beings --including

those past, present, and future-- who possess this ability to adjust to and therefore know

the world. Dewey simply is expressing the idea that by virtue of this connection, man is

a social being who has the potential to realize and enrich the meaning of those processes

taken up by others who have come before him and for those who will come after him.

The particular processes that an individual takes up provide the conditions for thought

such that he not only comes to determine the significance of phenomena in the course of

carrying out the processes but comes to see his consciousness as a particular realization

of the kind of activity that human beings in general might realize. In short, the particular

processes that are given individual form are the basis through which an individual comes

20 As Dewey puts it, "By the performance of its acts the soul gains a mechanism by which
to perform them again the more readily, economically, and perfectly.... The body is not
an external instrument which the soul has happened upon, and consequently uses, as a
musician might happen upon a piano. The body is the organ of the soul because by the
body the soul expresses and realizes its own nature. It is the outward form and living
manifestation of the soul" ("Soul and Body," The Early Works, vol. 1, p. 112).

to understand himself as a particular self, that is, as the kind of person who engages in

this or that type of activity.

Since phenomena and the empirical self are defined on the basis of particular

processes taken up by a conscious self, the highest form of human knowledge is self-

knowledge. Since self-knowledge is directly proportional to the quality and quantity of

processes taken up, then the highest moral ideal is the further expression and realization

of oneself as manifested through the universal processes of adjustment. Because the

particular self always takes up processes that are for and by human beings in general, the

moral ideal of self realization serves the greater, more universal good by expanding the

meaning of the specific processes assumed and therefore expanding the possibilities for

further human experience in general. This implies, then, that it is man who ultimately has

the responsibility to determine and realize a common good as he acts according to the

particular demands on his experience. Furthermore, since the processes of adjustment are

learned, the ideal of self realization entails the social obligation to cultivate those

processes in one another that lead each to the further expression of himself and to a fuller

appreciation for his connection to others. This cultivation is what Dewey means by "the

tuition and care of the soul." Thus, it is from within man's struggle to achieve this ideal

of self realization, according to Dewey, that philosophy develops as the process by which

man becomes conscious of himself as a universal self who carries out the universal

processes of adjustment.

Drawing on Hegel, Dewey suggests that the Absolute is "a unity which lives

through its distinctions. ,21 That is, the human experience of the processes of adjustment

21 Dewey, "Psychology as Philosophic Method," The Early Works, vol. 1, p. 166. See
also pp. 163-167.

is one of necessary difference between these processes. If differences between these

processes were not experienced, then there would be no need to distinguish one process

from another and thus no need for concepts and ideas. There would be no need for man

to distinguish himself as one who carries out these different processes. Since each

individual's experience is a partial realization of the Absolute, and since this partial

realization presupposes some realization of the Absolute that is different, differences and

conflicts within and between individuals' experiences are inevitable. Now, according to

Dewey, philosophy emerges as a process among all others in which man becomes

conscious of himself as one who takes up the universal processes.22 More specifically,

philosophy is that mode of thought by which man comes to locate the conflicts within the

Absolute as these conflicts are manifested through him in the particular. This is what

Dewey calls the analytic function of philosophy, the breaking down of experience into its

constituent parts in order to determine the significance of each in its bearing upon the

meaning of the whole. But, philosophy also has the conceptual task of modifying these

conflicting processes such that these conflicts are resolved and the processes are

integrated more completely. This is what Dewey calls the synthetic function of

philosophy, the aim of which is to enable man not only to meet the demands of his

particular context but in meeting these demands, to realize more fully the meaning of the

Absolute as an integration of all human effort and to enrich this meaning with further

possibilities.23 Thus, it is through his assumption of the Hegelian tradition that Dewey

22 Dewey, "Psychology as Philosophic Method," The Early Works, vol. 1, pp. 146-147,

148-149, 152, 154, 163.
23 Dewey, "Kant and Philosophic Method." The Early Works, vol. 1, pp. 42-43. Dewey
states that "philosophy comes into existence when men are confronted with problems and

first comes to see philosophy as a living process, a special mode of human thought, that

develops organically out of the particular conflicts within everyday experience and that

aims to reconcile these conflicts so that this experience becomes more complete and rich

with meaning.

Moreover, through the Hegelian tradition, Dewey inherits not only the enduring

philosophical dualism of mind and matter but also the conceptual means by which to

mend this dualism. Dewey's idea of human consciousness as a process consisting of both

sense and thought developing according to the external pressures within a particular

space and time enables him to maintain that there is no warrant to assume a metaphysical

absolute outside of this finite process. According to Dewey, man is an active being who

comes to know and modify the world and himself in it as the meaning of these things

emerge out of a living relationship with his finite nature. Since man's being is relative

always to other human beings as an ontological fact, his particular self development is

inherently connected to the development of other human beings, including those past,

present, and future. Thus, the moral nature of man is directly dependent upon his

responsibility to define and modify his development in reference to the particular material

and social demands on him. Fundamentally, this responsibility entails a self development

that leads not only to a more refined and flexible sense of oneself as a conscious being

intrinsically connected to others but to the encouragement of this sense in others as well.

Hegelian Idealism and The Concept of The Biological Organism

Now this ideal of self-realization implied within Dewey's earliest philosophical

work is suggestive of his understanding not only of power but of democracy as well.

contradictions which common sense and the special sciences are able neither to solve nor
resolve" (p. 34).

From the beginning of his philosophical career, Dewey attacked any stance suggesting

that human conduct is determined and caused by some force existing outside human

experience. On Dewey's account, man is equipped with all the capacities or powers of

conscious activity necessary to define his own response to environmental demands and to

modify this response as these demands change. Therefore, this conscious capacity of an

individual to carry out his particular processes of adjustment with greater understanding,

refinement, and flexibility simply means his power of self-realization.

Dewey recognizes, however, that this process of self-realization inherently

involves other people and therefore entails inevitable conflict. That is, insofar as human

beings come to cross purposes in experience, either they meet the source of conflict such

that they continue in their respective purposes with more depth and range of meaning or

this source precludes them from regulating their own adjustment to their particular

environment. Furthermore, since the processes of adjustment are learned and are,

therefore, cultivated responses, it is possible that human beings cultivate those social

processes in such a way that has the effect of making the powers of human consciousness

rigid in adjustment. Thus, that which arrests or reduces an individual's flexibility to

respond to immediate change thereby limits the possible means by which he may

continue to express and realize himself further as a social being. Therefore, all that

diminishes the individual's ability to modify his conduct may be understood to have

power over his self-realization.

Since, according to Dewey, philosophy emerges out of the particular conflicts

within everyday experience, a chief function of philosophy is to break down this

experience into its significant parts in order to clarify how these parts work together to

impede or to have power over the process of self realization. Simply put, then, Dewey

inherits a conception of philosophy that entails an understanding of power as both the

ability to have an effect on others and the ability to have an effect over others. The ideal

of self realization provides the best standard by which to judge the value of this effect on

others as either liberating or restricting and to guide the other chief philosophical task of

suggesting ways of mending conflict so that collective experience may grow and flourish.

Thus, on the basis of this ideal as worked out in detail from Dewey's epistemological

stance, the handed-down tenets of the democratic faith (universal law, individual dignity,

and progress) cannot refer to some moral absolute determining human experience from

outside of it. What these principles signify are the best working guides that develop from

within and are most conducive to the kind of human association that allows individuals to

realize for themselves the universal law of process as inherent in their particular being

and to determine and enhance the meaning of this process as the means by which to

expand their organic connections to each other. In this sense, democracy simply means

the ethical ideal of self-realization.

While this ethical ideal, which includes both the power of self-realization and

power over self-realization, is implied within Dewey's earliest work, it becomes clearer

and more thoroughly worked out as Dewey draws upon the details of physiological

psychology. That is, as Dewey increasingly employs neurological facts from psycho-

physiological investigations, he is able to account for body and soul as homogeneous

parts of the human nervous system and begins to conceptualize human conduct as the

process by which the human organism adjusts to its environment. This biological detail,

then, lends Dewey a more basic foundation from which to fill out and unify his Hegelian-

arrived-at epistemological, social, and ethical insights. Gradually, as Dewey himself

points out, his Hegelian language is shed and his practical, experimental philosophy

begins to emerge and mature.24 "Universal consciousness," signifying those shared

processes of adjustment, gives way to "habit," construed as social function or practice;

"self consciousness," meaning the individual expression of these universal processes,

yields to "social intelligence," or habit guided by thought that is self possessive; and the

ideal of self realization simply comes to mean faith in a democratic experience. The next

few chapters will work out these epistemological, social, and ethical details of Dewey's

mature philosophy in order to get a more refined focus on his idea of power.

24 Dewey, "From Absolutism to Experimentalism," John Dewey, The Later Works. 1925-
1953, vol. 5, edited by Jo Ann Boydston (Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press,
1984): pp. 154-155.


In The Promise of Pragmatism, John Patrick Diggins suggests that Dewey's use

of a biological vocabulary to explain the nature of human experience kept Dewey from

examining "the depths of motivation" as the origin of human control and manipulation

over others.' Diggins assumes that because Dewey employed a biological framework, he

necessarily saw the human being as an organism evolving through a simple stimulus-

response cycle without the mediation of interest, emotion, and thought. Without the

ability to account for the subjective side of human behavior, as Diggins implies, Dewey

could not account for how and why the human organism comes to control and manipulate

its environment, including other human beings. Similarly, C. Wright Mills has pointed

out in Sociology and Pragmatism that Dewey's biological framework only allowed

Dewey to see problems between the organism and its environment, which, in effect, led

'John Patrick Diggins, The Promise of Pragmatism: Modernism and the Crisis of
Knowledge and Authority (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1994). Diggins
writes, "As a Darwinian naturalist, Dewey treats the human species as an 'organism,' and
he confines his analysis to a biological vocabulary that need not probe the depths of
motivation but instead focuses on struggle, adaptation, and survival. Dewey also
assumes that the precarious status of existence is as progressive as it is provocative, for
the instabilities of the environment give rise to intelligence as an instrument of control"
(p. 287). In turn, according to Diggins, "Dewey not only refused to give much attention
to power and its origins, he also had no idea where to look for it other than as some kind
of aberration" (p. 288). See also pp. 280-321.

Dewey to exclude conflicts between human beings as problems to be worked on and,

thus, led him to obscure power relations within society.2

As pointed out in the previous chapter, however, Dewey sufficiently argued

against any philosophical stance suggesting that human action is determined and caused

by some force existing outside of human experience. According to Dewey's account, the

human organism is endowed with all the capacities of conscious activity necessary to

define its own response to environmental demands and to adjust this response as these

demands change. Furthermore, this idea that the human organism has the ability to adjust

itself to its environment such that it increases the depth, precision, and unity in meaning

of its activity entails at least four important implications in Dewey's work. First, it

implies that the activities whereby the human being adjusts itself are acquired and

developed tendencies or habits directly dependent upon the particular interaction between

the human being and his environment. Second, since an individual's environment always

includes other human beings already engaged in activities aimed at common ends, then

any single individual's particular tendencies of action are inextricably social and, thus,

are socially learned and cultivated responses. According to Dewey, it is through these

shared practices that an individual comes to know the world in its infinite meaning and

grows as a self as he attempts to realize and enrich this meaning for a common good.

Thus, third, these shared practices inherently entail particular common ends to be

achieved and, therefore, are the specific means through which individuals come to realize

and enhance their connections with each other. In other words, the shared practices as

means to particular common goods are all one with what Dewey argued as the more

2 C. Wright Mills, Sociology and Pragmatism: The Higher Learning in America, edited
by Irving Louis Horowitz (New York: Paine-Whitman Publishers, 1964): p. 382.


encompassing moral ideal of self-realization. Fourth, as also pointed out at the end of the

previous chapter, this ideal of self-realization is suggestive of Dewey's idea of power.

That is, an individual's conscious ability to carry out shared practices such that he comes

to modify himself through his environment toward increased understanding, refinement,

and responsiveness is his power of self-realization. This ability of individuals to act for

common ends does not preclude them from coming to cross-purposes such that conflict

arrests the human ability to modify conduct so as to increase its depth and range of

meaning. Therefore, anything that reduces the human ability to expand the meaning of

shared practices may be understood to have power over self-realization.

In order to get a better insight into Dewey's idea of power, it is necessary to work

out the ideal of self-realization as it is grounded in Dewey's understanding of the psycho-

physiological processes of the human organism. Working out the details of this make-up

will provide a foundation necessary to do several things. In this chapter, it will allow for

a refined understanding of the nervous activity whereby the human organism consciously

adjusts itself in order to get a better and more significant control over its environment. In

subsequent chapters, these details will form the basis by which to underscore the

organism's native impulses to act as inherently social and, therefore, to point up these

tendencies as cultivated social habits. These details also will sharpen the focus on social

habit as the means through which the individual comes to realize himself as a particular

self attempting to carry out shared purposes for a common good. Thus, working out the

psycho-physiological mechanism of habit will illuminate Dewey's idea of power as the

ability to act in such a way so as either to expand and invigorate the self or narrow and

weaken it. Moreover, this biological framework will help make the point that human

beings are always in particular relations of power, the effects of which must be

determined through the particular shared practices that they take up in order to meet

specific contextual demands. Finally, these biological details will provide the essential

foundation from which to trace out Dewey's idea of education as the conscious

cultivation of the powers of human adjustment necessary to realize and enrich a

democratic experience.

Apperception and Retention as the Essential Processes of Habit

Throughout his career, Dewey maintained that an external world of material

phenomena and an internal one of human feeling are just two ways to distinguish

different aspects comprising the homogenous circuit of human consciousness. As

pointed out in the last chapter, Dewey argued early in his career against the materialist

position that rested upon a rigid separation between consciousness and matter and that

reduced consciousness to a mere effect of concrete phenomena. According to Dewey,

both feeling that an external world exists and a mind that actively orders this feeling into

meaningful sense are necessary to have a continuous, unified experience. Later in his

career, Dewey suggested that experience always is one of saturation and coordination

between some particular part of nature and a feeling, thinking human being such that both

become constituent of and grow out of each other. He said in Human Nature and


Breathing is an affair of the air as truly as of the lungs; digesting an affair of food
as truly as of tissues of stomach. Seeing involves light just as certainly as it does
the eye and optic nerve. Walking implicates the ground as well as the legs;
speech demands physical air and human companionship and audience as well as
vocal organs .... The same air that under certain conditions ruffles the pool or

wrecks buildings, under other conditions purifies the blood and conveys

The fact of this coordination, moreover, led Dewey to a more detailed and systematic

investigation of its particular functions. How is it that the environment is taken into the

human organism through the medium of feeling such that it gains an ideal significance

and, thus, becomes a psychical stimulus for the organism to act and grow? Though

Dewey's particular answer to this question runs throughout all his work, it got its most

explicit development in his Psychology.4

In this work, Dewey suggests that the coordination by which human beings adjust

themselves to their environment can be seen in two complementary functions working

simultaneously as a single unit: apperception and retention. Apperception refers to the

ordering functions of conscious activity (including association, dissociation, and

attention) that give significance to sensual material by connecting it with the past

experience of the self. It is the means by which the self is brought to bear upon the

environment, according to Dewey. Retention, for its part, depends on the ordering

functions of apperception but most closely refers to the reverberation that the connected

material has on the range and depth of meaning of the self s experience. It is the side of

apperception that digests interpreted material into the living tissue of the self such that the

material becomes an effect for further, more definite apperception. Apperception, then, is

the side of retention that keeps the past experience of the self living by continuously

interpreting sensuous material in light of this experience. Put in Dewey's words,

3 John Dewey, Human Nature and Conduct: An Introduction to Social Psychology (New
York: Henry Holt and Company, 1922): pp. 14-15.
4 John Dewey, Psychology (1887) John Dewey, The Early Works, 1882-1898. vol. 2,
edited by Jo Ann Boydston (Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1967).

"Apperception may be defined, at the outset, as the reaction of mind by means of its

organized structure upon the sensuous material presented to it. Retention is the reaction

of the apperceived content upon the organized structure of the mind."5

Put in the physiological terms of the previous chapter, without the ability of the

central nervous system to be somewhat malleable to its own sensory-motor discharge, it

would not be capable of retaining the effect of this discharge as a pre-disposition or

tendency to act similarly in the future. Without retention, the individual could not

develop a nervous structure -let alone an organized structure-that could be called a past

experience by which to comprehend sensuous material. If the nervous system were not

strong enough to regulate the conduction of stimuli, it would respond to a flood of

excitation indiscriminately until it quickly drained itself into a stupor. Without

apperception, the individual could not develop an organized nervous structure to

coordinate a controlled and continuous response to sensuous material.

Now, according to Dewey, feeling aroused by some physical motion serves as a

necessary stimulus for the mind to connect this feeling with the rest of its nervous

structure. That is, an external stimulus must produce some change in the peripheral

nervous system that acts as a physiological stimulus for its further conduction to the

brain. Once in the brain, this change acts as a psychical stimulus for the coordination of a

motor adjustment to the stimulus. As Dewey points out, the mind will connect sensuous

elements into a continuous experience by associating those elements occurring

contiguously in space or time and by combining those having similar prevailing qualities.

That is, the mind will integrate a room full of individuals sitting behind desks, for

5 Dewey, Psychology, The Early Works, vol. 2, p.78.

example, into a single idea, a classroom full of students. Or, say, if an infant feels

nourished at her mother's breast roughly at the same time that she hears a soft hum, the

infant's mind will associate these sensations as elements of a single activity, place, and

time. Thus, as Dewey puts the law of association by contiguity, "If various sensory

elements, or even ideas, contiguous in place or time, are associated simultaneously in one

activity, they become integral portions of it and recur with it."6 Therefore, the sight of a

desk may act as a physical stimulus for the individual to recall a specific room full of

particular individuals, along with any particular concomitant sounds or smells. Or, a soft

hum might stimulate the infant's feelings to nourish at her mother's breast.

According to Dewey, association by contiguity leads to the development of a

higher form of association, that of similarity. In more physiological terms, the sensory-

motor discharge coordinated by the mind in response to simultaneously occurring

sensations is retained in the nervous system as a predisposition to act similarly in the

future. Since the brain regulates its body's nervous energy in order to respond with the

fullest coordination possible at the least cost, it attempts to connect or associate an

incoming stimulus with some sensory-motor discharge previously formed and retained as

part of its nervous structure.7 This connection or association by similarity, then, enables

the mind to respond more efficiently to its environment than if it had to coordinate a

response afresh. For example, a novice swimmer who has no experience in the water will

6 Dewey, Psychology, The Early Works, vol. 2, p. 89.

7 Dewey, Psychology, The Early Works, vol. 2, p. 85. As Dewey suggests. "The mind
connects all sensations as far as possible into one total maximum experience .... The
discovery of laws, the classification of facts, the formation of a unified mental world, are
all outgrowths of the mind's hunger for the fullest experience possible at the least cost"
(p. 85).

expend a massive amount of energy forming a muscle coordination necessary simply to

stay afloat. A beginning surfer may exhaust himself simply trying to distribute his

weight while lying on his board. However, even though the novice swimmer and surfer

have to coordinate new sensory-motor adjustments to new stimuli, the adjustment, once

formed, enables these individuals in at least two important ways. These adjustments will

be retained and will expand the range of their nervous tendencies to act and, by virtue of

this retention, will serve as pathways for them to act more readily and with less waste of

energy in the future given similar circumstances. Therefore, insofar as the incoming

stimulus induces the mind to respond along an old line of discharge, then it may be said

that the incoming stimulus is similar in some prevailing quality to a previously

experienced stimulus that induced the same response. Once this connection by similarity

is made, the mind has given its original feeling of an external stimulus significance. That

is, the mind has made the feeling a sign of a definite existence having a particular relation

to some retained effect of a previous discharge. According to Dewey, this relation serves

as the mainspring of intellectual life. "If we inquire under what circumstances any object

or event enters into our intellectual life as significant, we find that it is when it is

connected in an orderly way with the rest of our experience .... To be significant is to be

a sign; that is, to point to something beyond its own existence to which it is related...

Relationship is the essence of meaning."'8

Apperception and retention, then, are the essential processes that not only

constitute what Dewey calls the train of ideas but, as such, build up the self-executing

mechanism of habit. For example, simply walking into the water serves as a stimulus for

8 Dewey, Psychology, The Early Works, vol. 2, pp. 78-79.


the developing swimmer to shift his body into the proper horizontal position necessary to

propel himself. This act itself works as a stimulus for additional successive associations

for the swimmer to hold his breath and submerge himself, to thrust his legs back and

forth in a controlled, alternating pattern, and to push water from front to side with arms

extended and hands cupped. Furthermore, as Dewey puts the law of association by

similarity, "If any activity has frequently recurred, any element often occurring gains in

redintegrating power at the expense of those occurring less often, and will finally gain the

power of action independently, so as itself to redintegrate ideas by the law of

contiguity."9 In other words, the more often an activity occurs, the more definite it

develops as a sensory-motor coordination. Every movement of the swimmer becomes

integrated further with the next movement and induces a more precise and fluid stroke.

As this activity matures, the presence of any single element of the complete activity may

initiate the execution of the whole, requiring little conscious attention to the particular

muscular movements in their proper relation necessary to the end, in this case, planning

the water. A reduction in the mental effort required to act upon a retained sensory-motor

tendency is what Dewey means when he suggests, as above, that the activity gains the

power of independent execution.

The more definite an activity becomes, the stronger it grows as a retained

tendency or mechanism by which the individual carries on his associating functions.

That is, the activity becomes a structure, a pathway, in the nervous system to which the

individual can connect incoming stimuli and, thus, give them sense and significance.

In general the function of association in the psychical life is the formation of a
mechanism. It serves to connect the various elements of our mental life together

9 Dewey, Psychology. The Early Works, vol. 2, p. 93.

by such firm bands that they may be used as a foundation upon which to erect
more complex mental structures. It takes isolated sensations and consolidates
them. It takes chaotic material and it gives it definite form, consisting of a
number of specialized modes of activity. The state of the mind without
associations may be compared to a fluid; that on which the associative powers
have been at work to this fluid crystallized, thus made into solid forms of positive
shape and defminite relation to each other .... More specifically, all that we call
routine or habit, all that is mechanical in the life of the soul, is the result of
associative activities .... By habit, whether intellectual or volitional, we mean
nothing else than such a connection of ideas or acts that, if one be presented, the
rest of the series follow without the intervention of consciousness or the
will... The object of habit is thus, on the one hand, to create a mechanism which
shall attend to the familiar and permanent elements of experience, and, on the
other, to leave the conscious activity of mind free to control new and variable
factors .... It is the centre of gravity of the spiritual world. It is constituted, on the
one hand, by the simple facts of family, business, church, and social life; on the
other, by the objects which present themselves most regularly, varying with the
man of affairs, the artist, and the man of science.'0

Fundamentally, then, habit is the seat of human power to act in the world.

According to Dewey it is by virtue of the self-executing nature of habit that the human

organism gains not only the capacity of physical adjustment with its environment but the

ability to render its adjustments more unified and meaningful. The developing muscular

coordination of the swimmer, for example, extends his range of interacting with the water

by enabling him to move through it at greater depths and lengths than he was able to

reach before. Through sheer contiguity with other activities associated with water, the

swimmer's range of tendencies or habits may be expanded to include surfing and diving,

which further enlarge his relationship with the water. Another way of saying this is that

habit is the instrument that develops interest, insofar as "interest" refers to an impulse to

act along some retained tendency in response to a feeling aroused by some object so that

the object becomes connected to the activity as a particular means to a particular end.

Engaging in these new activities, then, the swimmer may develop interest in other

10 Dewey, Psychology, The Early Works, vol. 2, pp. 100-102.

dimensions of this particular body of water, including its depth, structure, and aquatic

life, that he had never been exposed to before or that he was able to experience at one

time only by book. In this latter sense, the original tendency to swim serves as the means

through which his activities of surfing and diving grow into and are unified with his other

interests, reading and investigating about aquatic ecosystems. Now, confronted by a

different body of water, the swimmer will bring his developing tendency to swim as well

as his other newly formed habits to bear upon this different stimulus. Thus, this different

body of water gains meaning as a sign for the swimmer to act further upon all the

possible tendencies that he has developed through his previous experiences in water.

Dewey gets closer to making the point that habit is power or effective capacity in Human

Nature and Conduct:

All habits are demands for certain kinds of activity; and they constitute the self
In any intelligible sense of the word will, they are will. They form our effective
desires and they furnish us with our working capacities. They rule our thoughts,
determining which shall appear and be strong and which shall pass from light into
obscurity .... We may think of habits as means, waiting, like tools in a box, to be
used by conscious resolve. But they are something more than that. They are
active means, means that project themselves, energetic and dominating ways of
acting. l

On the one hand, then, habit is the means by which immediate sensuous elements

are enriched because the mind brings its previous experience to bear upon them in

response. On the other hand, the body's tendencies to act, habits, are enriched insofar as

the immediate sensuous elements are added as more signs for the body to act on these

tendencies. However, if the mind had no way of picking out and weighing sensuous

"1 Dewey, Human Nature and Conduct. p. 25. Dewey further writes, "The essence of
habit is an acquired predisposition to ways or modes of response, not to particular acts
except as, under special conditions, these express a way of behaving. Habit means
special sensitiveness or accessibility to certain classes of stimuli, standing predilections
and aversions, rather than bare recurrence of specific acts. It means x% ill" (p. 42).

elements according to their degree of significance, it would be stuck in a perpetual

cogwheel of association in which every felt detail would be connected to every other.

The effect would be a rush of previous experience into the present without the ability to

anticipate and direct future adjustments, leaving a jumbled and flat experience with no

perspective. Therefore, the mind has a dissociating task that develops out of and

accompanies its connecting, or associating, function. As Dewey suggests, dissociation is

"giving some element in an association predominance over other," or the emphasis of

some element and the neglect of others with reference to their value towards some end.12

For example, after weeks of attempting to ride everything from surface chop to long-

period ground swell, the surfer comes to associate the ground swell with a more

controlled, smoother, and longer ride. Out of her previous associations, then, she begins

to distinguish the difference in quality and value between the chop and the swell. Sitting

atop her board facing out to sea, she looks past the thin, ill-formed chop to focus on a

thick-bodied line of water that will serve her better in realizing the ideal of a good ride.

Dissociation, then, allows the mind to select out of its external concerns those elements

that bear some connection to the developing interests of the organism as a whole. Thus,

according to Dewey, the apperceptive functions of association and dissociation cut the

way for attention proper.

Attention is that activity of the self which connects all elements presented to it
into one whole, with reference to their ideal significance; that is, with reference to
the relation which they bear to some intellectual end. The essential characteristic
of attention is, therefore, activity directed towards some end. Ultimately the end
is the self The various activities of attention are based in the interests of the self,
and directed towards ends which will satisfy the self, by fulfilling these interests.
Its process is such a direction of its own contents that these ends will be reached.

12 Dewey, Psychology. The Early Works, vol. 2, p. 105.

Starting-point, goal, and way are all found in the self, therefore. Attention is thus
a process of self-development.13

As Dewey suggests here, attention is both deliberate and future-oriented. It is the

more assiduous and concentrated activity in apperception that selects and shapes

sensuous material into a connection with some on-going interest or habit of the self. For

example, the surfer comes to associate wind as an integral fact of her activity. At first, it

may seem inconsequential, and then, perhaps, incessant and annoying, roughing up the

sea, jostling her about, and disrupting her rhythm. At first, the wind simply is nothing

more to her than one big nebulous irritant. Over time, though, the surfer sees that

changes in particular qualities of the wind, such as its intensity and direction, have

different effects on the sea that, in turn, affect the quality of her activity. On-shore winds

can build up the surf but can blow so hard that the surf becomes too rough to ride; off-

shore winds can clean up the break but also can be so brisk as to flatten it out. Therefore,

the surfer develops an interest in weather patterns with particular reference to how their

characteristic winds affect the surf. While weather forecasts once meant nothing to her,

now the surfer attends to the forecasts, selecting out barometric pressure readings,

pressure system movements, wind speed, direction, and period. She then compares the

particular measurements of these selected out qualities with measurements she has

experienced before. Through this comparison, she gains a more defined signal or idea of

what the sea conditions will be like, when and where she should surf, and what

equipment to take. Thus, her attention to weather has added further significance to her

activity by defining the particulars that affect it, which enables her to gain more control

over her movements in response. In this sense, as Dewey points out, attention is a

13 Dewey, Psychology, The Early Works, vol. 2, p. 118.

process of self-development. It is the means by which the individual selects and adjusts

stimuli with reference to some end or ideal of interest. Thus, retention and apperception

constitute the fundamental processes out of which perception, memory, imagination, and

thinking develop, all stages of knowledge, and knowledge is power.

Stages of Knowledge

As Dewey suggests, knowing is the self-adjusting process by which the mind

reads significance into stimuli by connecting these with some end of interest.

Adjustment is the process by which the self so connects itself with the presented
datum that this becomes a sign, or symbolic -points to something beyond its own
new existence, and hence has meaning. The fact known is not a bare fact, that is,
an existence implying not constructive activity of intelligence, but is idealized
fact, existence upon which the constructive intelligence has been at work. That
which is not thus idealized by the mind has no existence for intelligence. All
knowledge is thus, in a certain sense, self-knowledge. Knowing is not the process
by which ready-made objects impress themselves upon the mind, but is the
process by which self renders sensations significant by reading itself into them. 14

Another way to put this is that "knowing" is a more general term for the underlying

processes of retention and apperception that constitute intellectual life. "Knowledge,"

then, refers to the product of these processes, that is, to the meaning of stimuli

crystallized at some point within the on-going circuit of activity towards some end.

Therefore, perception, memory, imagination, and thinking are all points or stages within

on-going activity in which the meaning of stimuli becomes clearer and richer. As Dewey

suggests, these are stages of intelligence progressively realizing itself.15

14 Dewey, Psychology, The Early Works, vol. 2, pp. 125-126.

15 Dewey, Psychology, The Early Works, vol. 2, pp. 137-213. As Dewey puts it, "We
may say, therefore, that the development of knowledge is a process of increasing
idealization from the less to the more significant. Since significance consists in relations,
we may say that the growth of knowledge is measured by the extent of relations
concerned. Each advancing stage is characterized by the development of a new and
wider-reaching sphere of relations. These three modes of statement may be summed up

More specifically, perception is that stage in the activity of mind in which a

stimulus is connected or associated with an on-going interest such that the stimulus

comes to represent a definite object for a particular purpose. For example, a citrus farmer

interested in maintaining a healthy grove sees small round holes in the leaves on several

trees. Immediately, he connects these holes with similar ones that he has seen before

gnawed by aphids. The farmer perceives these holes to be not only the work of aphids

but as indicators of a possible infestation problem. Or, a sailor looks out over a smooth

lake surface until his eyes come to rest upon a thick body of choppy whitecaps that

extend beyond his eyesight. Fixing his sight on one spot amid the chop, he notices that

the whitecaps move steadily from north to south. He, therefore, perceives this movement

to be the evidence of a north wind gust, even though he has not yet felt the wind sweep

across his skin, which would further confirm his perception. Now, according to Dewey,

every perception depends upon memory in order to give sense and connection to the

perceived elements with the rest of one's experience. That is, every perception involves

the rushing forth of some past relation of the self such that the immediate stimulus gains a

temporal and, therefore, continuous connection with one of the self s particular

tendencies to act. Thus, the farmer perceives the holes in his citrus leaves to be the result

of aphids because he recognizes the characteristics of these holes to be similar to ones

that once called out a certain response from him with reference to these pests. Memory,

then, is that point in apperception in which some particular characteristic of a present

stimulus instantaneously is dissociated from the rest of its attendant qualities and is

by saying that intelligence is a process of realization of itself... .There will be, therefore,
various stages in the process ... These are the so-called faculties of knowledge, which,
therefore, are not various powers of the mind, but mark various stadia of its
development" (pp. 137-138).


reconnected with a similar characteristic experienced in the past that has been retained as

an idea. This reconnection is the work of imagination.

As Dewey defines it, imagination is "that operation of the intellect which

embodies an idea in a particular form or image."'16 That is, as the prevailing quality calls

out some idea or retained coordination to act, the mind mechanically associates other

similar or congruent characteristics once experienced with the present quality. The

effect, then, is a more or less vivid picture of an idea filled out with sensible details. For

example, the sailor picks out the whitecaps moving from north to south and recognizes

them to be similar to the effects of a north wind he has once experienced. These

particular whitecaps may call up certain feelings associated with that experience: the

chill of frothy air and the fresh smell of ocean, a brilliant white sail against a powder-blue

sky, and curses of anxiety at the wind gusts. These curses of anxiety, in turn, may call up

other experiences the sailor has had in which sailors scurried to adjust sails in order to

maintain their course. Thus, the idea of sailing initially called up by the perception of the

present whitecaps becomes filled in with particular qualities from past occasions that

cohere into an image, or a more or less sensible presence. This is what Dewey refers to

as "mechanical imagination" because it functions implicitly within the complete activity

of apperception. However, when the mind focuses its activity upon the abstracted

meaning or significance of some stimuli with the direct intention to supplement this idea

with just those qualities that help sharper its definition, then mechanical imagination

shades off into creative imagination and thinking proper.17

16 Dewey, Psychology, The Early Works, vol. 2, p. 168.

17 Dewey, Psychology. The Early Works, vol. 2, pp. 168-175.

As Dewey suggests about all of these stages of knowledge, the distinction

between creative imagination and thinking is one of emphasis within the continuous

circuit of intellectual life. "In imagination the emphasis is upon this particular form,

while in thinking the particular form is neglected in behalf of the universal content."'8

That is, thinking refers to the grasping of and attending to the idea or meaning holding

together the facts of experience. It consists of conception, judgment, and reasoning, all

integral aspects of this one fluid activity. More specifically, conception is the isolating of

and focusing in on some particular activity retained as a sensory-motor response by the

individual that provides the basis for a definite and meaningful relation between the

individual and stimuli. It is the coming to a sharper awareness of what one is about, of

what one is doing.

Conception is the apperception of the apperceptive process. The self here makes
its own idealizing, relating activity its object of knowledge; it grasps this activity,
and the product is the concept. Conception is, in short, but the development of the
idealizing activity involved in all knowledge to the point where it gains distinct
conscious recognition, freed from its sensuous, particular detail.'19

As Dewey points out, every mental state, from perception to reasoning, will call

up some degree of sensuous detail cohering as an image or picture. When the surfer

thinks about the activity of surfing, she imagines the essential elements of the planning

activity in water and under some sort of weather conditions. However, the emphasis on

detail is secondary to the way or method of activity. "The concept is the power, capacity,

or function of the image or train of images to stand for some mode of mental action, and

18 Dewey, Psychology, The Early Works, vol. 2, p. 177. See also pp. 168-173 for the
distinction that Dewey makes between these two stages.

19 Dewey, Psychology, The Early Works, vol. 2, p. 180.

it is the mode of action which is general."20 Thus, the surfer from the earlier example

abstracts the concept of planning the water from the weather forecast, that is, she

becomes aware of the fact that what gives this forecast particular meaning is its reference

to the activity of surfing that she reads into it. Or, from serious meteorological study, she

has gained an understanding of the evaporation-condensation cycle as well as the

relationship between temperature, pressure, and wind speed, and has, thus, developed a

concept of weather as an activity. Moreover, she has learned from repeated experience

that weather as an activity has particular effects on her favorite surf break that are

dependent upon variations in these weather elements. Therefore, she has made her

concepts of weather and surfing more definite in meaning by realizing the relationship

between these two activities.

After reviewing the particular characteristics of the weather forecast, and from

memory of previous experiences in the water under similar weather conditions, she

develops an estimation embodied in an image of what the surf conditions will be like as

this weather system unfolds. This estimating amounts to judging, or "the express

reference of the idea or universal element to reality," the truth of which depends upon the

degree of harmony between idea and the facts at hand.21 In this particular example, the

surfer's judgment is the affirmation that the particular characteristics of this weather

activity should produce certain effects not only at her surf break but at all other surf

breaks given similar geographic conditions. As the system pushes through, she goes out

to check to see if her judgment about the forecast actually matches the sea conditions that

20 Dewey, Psychology. The Early Works, vol. 2, p. 179.

21 Dewey, Psychology. The Early Works, vol. 2, p. 186.

she expected. Reasoning, then, as Dewey suggests, is the recognition of why there is

agreement or disagreement between ideas and facts. It is "that act of mind which

recognizes those relations of any content of consciousness through which it has the

meaning which it has, or is what it is."22 Thus, the surfer reasons or brings into focus the

idea that the wave height has increased because of the increase in on-shore winds from a

counter-clockwise rotation of air mass, which, in turn, is caused by falling atmospheric

pressure. Or, she reasons that the wave height has not increased because the system

stalled and thus the expected wind pattern favorable for building surf did not materialize.

In either case, however, her reasoned understanding of the causal connection between

weather and waves in general enables her better to anticipate the effects of this activity in

these particular circumstances. As a result of this knowledge, she can call up a more

precise image of herself surfing under these specific conditions and, thus, select the

proper equipment with more accuracy. Furthermore, the accuracy of her judgment as to

the proper means to the end of planning the water is worked out or realized throughout

the activity. That is, her qualitative sense or feel about the degree of this harmony

resonates back to her attention through her conduct and serves either to increase the

significance and emotional trigger of this line of discharge or to indicate the need to

modify it further in order to meet the circumstances. Either way, she gains a more

sensitive, refined, and significant control of her particular activity. Put in broader terms,

she gains more power to develop herself as one who not only engages in this type of

activity but, by virtue of this line of conduct, develops another apperceptive means by

22 Dewey, Psychology, The Early Works, vol. 2, pp. 192-193.

which to widen and unify her other activities. Simply put, she increases her power of


We here reach an ultimate fact in the psychological constitution of man. He has
the power of determining himself. He has the power of setting up an ideal of
what he would have himself be, and this ideal in form depends only upon
himself... .This ideal of self-realization depends for its form upon the self and
upon that alone. For its content, for its specific and concrete filling up it depends,
as previously shown, upon his education, surroundings, etc.23

Summary: Habit as The Power to Act

In the quotation above, Dewey is suggestive of the thesis of this chapter. That is,

according to Dewey's account, the human organism acquires all the powers of conscious

activity necessary to define what it is about in the world and to adjust itself as the

demands upon this activity changes. More specifically, this conscious activity consists of

the apperceptive and retentive processes of the central nervous system. These

complementary processes function to make up what Dewey calls the self-executing

mechanism of habit. Put in psycho-physiological terms, habit amounts to the tendency or

predisposition to conduct nervous energy along a previously formed sensory-motor

channel. It is the means whereby the environment is taken into and becomes a part of the

self, and by which the self affects and becomes a part of the environment. Furthermore,

habit is the mainspring of intelligence, as Dewey would say. It is through the conduction

of nervous energy along these formed sensory-motor channels that the organism's

intellectual functions of ordering and attending develop. As Dewey puts it in Human

Nature and Conduct, "Concrete habits do all the perceiving, recognizing, imagining,

recalling, judging, conceiving and reasoning that is done. 'Consciousness,' whether as a

stream or as special sensations and images, expresses functions of habits, phenomena of

23 Dewey, Psychology, The Early Works, vol. 2, p. 351.

their formation, operation, their interruption and reorganization."24 Thus, in form, habit

enables the individual to determine himself along a more or less definite line of activity.

Now, as indicated throughout this and the previous chapters, habit is acquired and

developed in the individual through his constant interaction with a particular

environment. Insofar as this environment always involves other human beings engaged

in particular activities, then it is warranted to say that an individual's association and

interaction with a particular social environment influences the development of his habits.

That is, the social environment gives particular content and meaning to habit, as Dewey

suggests above. To the extent that individuals react similarly to similar circumstances,

then it may be said that habits of action are shared, communicated, and transmitted.

Thus, habit is ineluctably social and may be referred to as social habit or practice. It is

through particular social practices, therefore, that individuals gain not only shared means

of affecting their environment but common standards by which to judge and guide their

activities as they are directed towards particular shared ends or ideals. From the side of

the self, social practices provide the individual with the means to develop particular

motive, interest, and character through action. From the side of the social environment,

social practices serve as the very foundation whereby associative and communal life are

realized, widen, and expanded. Thus, it is through the judgments of effects within

particular shared practices that the distinction between that which serves to expand the

self and that which functions to narrow the self becomes clear. In other words, the

discrimination between "power of' and "power over" self-realization always takes place

within and with reference to the ideals and standards of particular shared practices.

24 Dewey, Human Nature and Conduct, p. 177.


Therefore, in order to underscore the idea that this distinction has as much to do with

particular social functions (and therefore community life) as it does with a particular self,

it will be important to work out the nature of the ideal as it emerges from within social



According to the previous chapters, the acquisition of habit is the means by which

the individual gains a more sensitive and controlled interaction with his environment. By

virtue of his activities, he comes to widen and enhance the significance of his interests.

In a word, habit means growth, the permanent end of which is a fuller expression of the

self The growth of the individual, however, can continue only by securing its proper

conditions, which always includes attention to the specific needs, desires, expectations,

and activities of other human beings. Since habit grows only through the individual's

interaction with a social environment, he has an obligation to nourish those habits in

others that lead each to a further realization of one's self and to a more enriched

connection with each other. In other words, the ideal of self-growth consists in bringing

about a more perfect unity between individual happiness and the happiness of others, the

social welfare. Stated in this way, however, the ideal of self-growth remains abstract and

vague. Therefore, working out the nature of the ideal of self-realization in this chapter

will serve several functions.

First, it will help underscore the inherent connection between the individual and

others as this connection evolves through shared activities aimed at bringing about shared

ends. Second, working out man's inherent social nature will provide the foundation to

establish the ideal of individual happiness and social welfare as a direct reflection of this

nature in generic form, the particular content and meaning of which depends upon the

range and depth of shared activities. It will help make the point, in other words, that the

meaning of the ideal sprouts and grows organically from within particular shared

activities. Third, the ideal serves as the criterion by which to make a distinction between

right and wrong conduct. Furthermore, the ideal implies that judgments between power

as enhancement and power as domination must be made on the basis of the same criterion

as any judgment about conduct: according to the general ideal of individual happiness

and social welfare defined in specific terms from within shared practices. Finally,

working out the ideal of self-realization will serve as the necessary foundation in

subsequent chapters to respond to Dewey's critics and to suggest how an understanding

of Dewey's idea of power requalifies faith in a democratic experience.

The Social Individual

Simply put, the human organism must digest, direct, and renew the forces of the

environment that sustain it. To say that the life-sustaining activities of any one individual

always imply some activity on the part of others is to suggest the commonplace idea that

others are necessary nutrients in the environment. Their lives stimulate impulse and

stoke emotion. Their occupations furnish purpose and sharpen skill. Their expressions

conspire in memory, fuel imagination, and haunt plans. In other words, the joys and

sufferings of others are metabolized into every fiber of the individual's conduct. As

Dewey points out, the inherent social nature of the individual constitutes a fundamental

fact of existence.

Since habits involve the support of environing conditions, a society, or some
specific group of fellow-men, is always accessory before and after the fact. Some
activity proceeds from a man; then it sets up reactions in the surroundings. Others
approve, disapprove, protest, encourage, share and resist. Even letting a man

alone is a definite response. Envy, admiration, and imitation are complicities.
Neutrality is non-existent. Conduct is always shared; this is the difference
between it and a physiological process. It is not an ethical "ought" that conduct
should be shared. It is social, whether bad or good.'

Dewey's reminder here that conduct always is shared entails several important

implications. Since the individual must continue enlisting the support of others for

growth, he must develop some degree of interest in their modes of response and their

expectations of the consequences as a result of these responses. That is, if he is to

acquire the skills necessary to become a part of the group, he must assimilate not only its

likes, dislikes, desires, purposes, and plans but also its demands that these plans be

carried out in particular ways. As Dewey puts it,

A being whose activities are associated with others has a social environment.
What he does and what he can do depend upon the expectations, demands, and
condemnations of others. A being connected with other human beings cannot
perform his own activities without taking the activities of others into account. For
they are indispensable conditions of the realization of his tendencies. When he
moves, he stirs them and reciprocally.2

This social nature implies that the individual's activity is the particular conduction

of some specific social custom, habit, or practice. Shared practices provide the individual

with particular goods to be realized. They supply specific ends, aims, and purposes by

which to develop interest, desire, judgment, and motive. They stimulate, organize, and

direct the individual's senses, attention, and motion. In effect, shared practices are

organs of intelligence.3

John Dewey, Human Nature and Conduct: An Introduction to Social Psychology (New
York: Henry Holt and Company, 1922): p. 16.
2 John Dewey, Democracy and Education: An Introduction to The Philosophy of
Education (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1916/1950): p. 14.
3 In Democracy and Education Dewey writes, "In accord with the interests and
occupations of the group, certain things become objects of high esteem; others of

At the same time, all shared practices take place in reference to particular

circumstances, the demands and requirements of which serve as checks on the individual

to guide and modify his action. The social consequences of the individual's action return

back to his attention and, more or less, set up as expectations and standards inside him by

which he develops a sense of responsibility, duty, and obligation. It is by means of social

practices, then, that the individual develops a sense of right and wrong conduct in

realizing the good. Dewey eloquently puts the significance of the return in this way:

The social environment may be as artificial as you please. But its action in
response to ours is natural not artificial. In language and imagination we rehearse
the responses of others just as we dramatically enact other consequences. We
foreknow how others will act, and the foreknowledge is the beginning of
judgment passed on action. We know with them; there is conscience. An
assembly is formed within our breast which discusses and appraises proposed and
performed acts. The community without becomes a forum and tribunal within, a
judgment-seat of charges, assessments, and exculpations. Our thoughts of our
own actions are saturated with the ideas that others entertain about them, ideas
which have been expressed not only in explicit instruction but still more
effectively in reaction to our acts.4

In short, social practices develop character, the pivot upon which desire and

consequences, good and right are unified and interpenetrate each other in concrete deed.

Through this concrete unification in deed, new ends, interests, and associations emerge as

added values and resources. Along with the growth of interests, there is an increase in

responsibilities and obligations, as well as the possibility that interests will conflict within

individuals and between them too. The fact of conflict not only divides and disrupts

activity but, paradoxically, imbues it with a suspense and indefiniteness that makes social

aversion. Association does not create impulses of affection and dislike, but it furnishes
the objects to which they attach themselves. The way our group or class does things
tends to determine the proper objects of attention, and thus to prescribe the directions and
limits of observation and memory" (p. 20).

4 Dewey. Human Nature and Conduct, p. 315.

change and growth possible. Thus, the individual acts in light of conflict so as to bring

about a wider and more thorough unity between specific goods and standards inherent to

some particular social practice. Through this effort, the act leads to a further search for

those shared habits, those modes of social intelligence, that nourish a fuller expression

through more diverse and sensitive fellowships with others. Or, the individual acts so as

to ossify and stunt the expansion of shared goods and standards. In effect, he cuts off

interest from a more flourishing connection with others. As Dewey suggests, social

customs or practices serve as the means whereby the individual gives concrete detail and

meaning to "individual happiness" and "social welfare."

We traverse a spiral in which social customs generate some consciousness of
interdependencies, and this consciousness is embodied in acts which in improving
the environment generate new perceptions of social ties, and so on forever. The
relationships, the interactions are forever there as fact, but they acquire meaning
only in the desires, judgments and purposes they awaken.... Morals is connected
with actualities of existence, not with ideals, ends and obligations independent of
concrete actualities. The facts upon which it depends are those which arise out of
active connections of human beings with one another, the consequences of their
mutually intertwined activities in the life of desire, belief, judgment, satisfaction
and dissatisfaction. In this sense conduct and hence morals are social: they are
not just things which ought to be social and which fail to come up to the scratch.
But there are enormous differences of better and worse in the quality of what is
social. Ideal morals begin with the perception of these differences?

Emerging from within the activities of man, the ideal of self-realization serves as

an absolute yet flexible foot-rule by which the individual guides himself in his

responsibilities to bring about a more sympathetic and intelligent development of both

character and community. As a standard, the ideal suggests that the value of conduct

must be judged according to the degree to which motive issues forth in deed to enhance

the human capacities to continue searching and realizing the meaning of individual

5 Dewey, Human Nature and Conduct, pp. 328-329.

happiness in connection with the happiness of others. Therefore, since the ideal of self-

realization is the crux of Dewey's conception of power, it is necessary to show how this

ideal forms through the development of character.

Character as the Way of Defining and Measuring the Self

To Dewey, "character" simply refers to the way in which the individual

coordinates or conducts himself. More specifically, character signifies the manner in

which the individual directs and controls his various impulses into a more or less

significant, unified end of response.6 Dewey argued that judgments about the goodness

and rightness of activity are simply phases within the expression of some character. That

is, the goodness and rightness of activity are determined always on the basis of some

character attempting to discover and judge the significance of what he is about in the

world. From the psychological standpoint, this amounts to the individual's determination

of the consequences of some conduct on the growth of his interests, skills, desires,

attitudes, habits, and ways of forming ends. From the social point of view, it is the

individual's appraisal of the specific conditions (the arrangements, opportunities, and

materials) set up in consequence of some conduct as these influence the active

participation and development of others. In essence, the ideal as both good and standard

is all one with some character defining and measuring itself in the concrete terms of some

6 Dewey suggests that "we say character when we are thinking of the mediated impulses
as the source from which all particular acts issue. . .It designates the way in which
impulses (varying, or course, in every person) are directed and controlled that is,
mediated .... Character includes the style and nature of the ends, the objects by which the
individual mediates his impulses, and thus affords sufficient basis for taking into account
the objective results of acts .... In a word, character is the unity, the spirit, the idea of
conduct, while conduct is the reality, the realized or objective expression of character"
[John Dewey, The Study of Ethics: A Syllabus, (1894), John Dewey, The Early Works,
1882-1898. vol. 4, edited by Jo Ann Boydston (Carbondale: Southern Illinois University
Press, 1971): pp. 241-242].