John Dewey's Great Debates–Reconstructed

Bertram C. Bruce
2013 Education and Culture  
s Great Debates--Reconstructed. Charlotte, NC: Information Age Publishing, 2011. 145 + ix pp. ISBN 978-1-61735-535-6. $45.99 (pbk.), 978-1-61735-536-3. $85.99 (hbk.) Our embodied capacity for action and our dispositions towards goals define our perception of a situation and possible actions. Thus, situations are not constitutive of action, but they demand that we act. For Shane Ralston, the situations that call for action are historical, imagined, or projected debates involving John Dewey. When
more » ... ng John Dewey. When Dewey is portrayed not just as a presenter of theory, but as an actor in debates grounded in time, place, and daily life consequences, we understand his arguments in new ways. When he is called upon to act by engaging in debates that arose even long after his death, the interaction (or transaction) of philosopher and situation produces new meaning. The non-teleological, creative conception of the relationship between actor and situation has been developed well by Hans Joas, building upon the work of George Herbert Mead, Dewey, and other pragmatists. As the actor engages with changing situations, new meanings emerge. There is thus a quasi-dialogical relationship between action and situation, which implies a creativity of action, neither pre-determined by intentionality nor pre-established by the situation. 1 Hubert Dreyfus expresses a similar idea in a passage about falling in love: "In such a creative discovery the world reveals a new order of signification which is neither simply discovered nor arbitrarily chosen." 2 The reconstructions of Dewey that we observe in Ralston's reconstructed debates are prime examples of what Joas calls the creativity of action. They are not merely a means to understand a pre-determined Dewey; they reveal "a new order of signification." The debates presented cleverly demonstrate the quasi-dialogical relation between situation and actor. Instead of being simply another reading of Deweyan texts, they are an effort to bring Dewey to life, not to "maintain an immune monastic respectability" but to participate actively "in the living struggles and issues" of the times 3 . Of course, Dewey, as much or more than any other major philosopher, understood philosophy as active participation in life and embodied that in his own
doi:10.1353/eac.2013.0014 fatcat:ocd7e3ixjnfixgesyuj62ri57y