From judgment to rationality: Dewey's epistemology of practice

The question of rationality and of its role in human agency has been at the core of pragmatist concerns since the beginning of this movement. While Peirce framed the horizon of a new understanding of human reason through the idea of inquiry as aiming at belief-fixation and James stressed the individualistic drives that move individuals to action, it is in Dewey’s writing that we find the deepest understanding of the naturalistic and normative traits of rationality considered as the qualifying attribute of human agency. Recent developments in moral and political philosophy as well as in general pragmatist scholarship have shown a renewal of interest in the role of human reason in agency, both with respect to control of conduct (decisions about how to act) and with respect to normative attitudes (considerations of what is good and right). In this article I will examine some features of Dewey’s epistemology which are particularly promising for the elaboration of a theory of practical rationality based on pragmatist sources. In particular, I will focus on Dewey’s notion of “judgment of practice” in order to frame a distinctively Deweyan approach to practical rationality. In order to point out the specificity of Dewey’s epistemological framework, I will refer to it as an “epistemology of practice”i. The aim of this article is to clarify the epistemological meaning of the concepts of articulation and transformation, that Dewey places at the heart of his theory of inquiry. Part of my argument consists in showing that through these notions Dewey aimed at broadening the conception of rationality, bringing it beyond the reach of the standard notions of analysis and synthesis and of induction, deduction, and abduction. Once the specificity of Dewey’s conception of rationality will have been demonstrated, I will proceed to show some of its implications in the explanation of the rationality of human agency with reference to practical reasoning and value assessment. I will then conclude the article by drawing some implications of Dewey’s theory of judgment for a broader epistemology based upon the acknowledgment of the primacy of practice.
Keywords John Dewey  Epistemology of Practice  Pragmatism  Expressive inquiry
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DOI 10.2979/trancharpeirsoc.2010.46.4.591
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Roberto Frega (2010). What Pragmatism Means by Public Reason. Etica and Politica / Ethics & Politics 12 (1):28-51.

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Matthew J. Brown (2012). John Dewey's Logic of Science. Hopos: The Journal of the International Society for the History of Philosophy of Science 2 (2):258-306.
Pentti Määttänen (2011). Dewey: A Beginner's Guide (Review). Transactions of the Charles S. Peirce Society 47 (1):109-110.

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