The Moral Consequences of John Dewey's Metaphysics.

Dissertation, The University of Chicago (1994)

Craig A. Cunningham
National-Louis University
The role and importance of metaphysics is a central issue of philosophical debate. While traditional philosophers saw metaphysics as the articulation of transcendent First Principles, modern philosophers, beginning with Kant, have expressed skepticism about whether there exists a transcendent metaphysical realm or, if it does exist, whether it is possible to achieve any knowledge about it. ;John Dewey spent a career questioning traditional philosophical methods and issues. Specifically, he devoted considerable energies to the issue of whether metaphysics has a continuing role in philosophical and practical inquiry. He attempted to reconstruct traditional metaphysics as an empirical and denotative enterprise which would be continuous with the natural sciences, yet offer a distinctive perspective and subject- matter. In Experience and Nature, Dewey provided his most explicit and comprehensive account of this reconstructed metaphysics. He proposed that metaphysics take a scientific approach to the identification and examination of the generic traits of existences of all kinds. He hoped that this new form of metaphysics would be useful for resolving specific, practical problems, serving, in his words, as a "ground-map of the province of criticism." On Dewey's expansive view of criticism as the differentiation of real and apparent values, he hoped that metaphysics would help inquirers to avoid common pitfalls and to make the values which they sought more secure. ;This study examines Dewey's efforts to reconstruct metaphysics, and examines his claim that metaphysics could aid in practical inquiry. Specifically, it examines the effects which his evolving metaphysics had upon Dewey's conceptions of the structures, processes, and functions of moral inquiry, and shows how Dewey's mature metaphysics might inform our own thinking about moral education. It concludes that while the word "metaphysics" may have caused Dewey more harm than good, his notion of articulating the generic traits of existences provides a useful, naturalistic conception of wisdom which could serve as an ideal for the development of moral persons
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