Faith and Habit: Emersonian Themes in the Ethics of James and Dewey

Anuk Arudpragasam
Most contemporary commentaries on the ethical thought of William James and John Dewey attempt to fit them into the framework of contemporary ethics. On such readings, many of James and Dewey's most distinctive ethical concerns fade away so that they seem interested, above all, in meta-ethical questions about the nature of moral judgment and in normative questions about moral deliberation. Foregrounding the influence of Ralph Waldo Emerson on both these thinkers, this dissertation attempts to
more » ... vide fresh interpretations of the ethical thought of James and Dewey. The locus of James' most important ethical thought, I argue, comes in his religious writings, where he attempts to find ethical resources in religious belief that help us respond to the problems of suffering and uncertainty: the problem of how to acknowledge the suffering of others, and the problem of how to act with ethical conviction in the absence of social approval for one's actions. Dewey's most important work in ethics, I argue, is located in his rich and sophisticated theory of habit, where he reworks the Aristotelian tradition of virtue ethics to emphasize the contingency of our habitual systems and the importance of the ideal of growth.
doi:10.7916/d8-t6fh-sd31 fatcat:562u55am5nbbfalnq6g34ddb7i