The Monist 57 (2):191-219 (1973)

Georges Dicker
State University of New York (SUNY)
Anyone familiar with some of Dewey’s major works knows that they are highly critical of nearly all that has traditionally passed under the name of “epistemology” or “theory of knowledge”. Even a casual reading of a few chapters of Reconstruction in Philosophy, The Quest for Certainty or Experience and Nature reveals Dewey’s iconoclasm toward “that species of confirmed intellectual lock-jaw called epistemology”. The source of this attitude is Dewey’s belief that all theories of knowledge previous to his own are based upon an unexamined and mistaken conception of knowing. This is that knowing is a relation between a knower and a thing known, in which the knower is essentially a viewer or passive spectator of the thing known. Knowing is conceived on the analogy of seeing an object; it is, as Dewey says, “modeled on what [is] supposed to take place in the act of vision”. For Dewey, it is not a matter of consequence how the two members of the knowledge-relation are described. Whether the knower is identified with the self and the thing known with a material thing, or the knower with the mind and the thing known with an idea or collection of sense-data, or the knower with the knowing “subject” and the thing known with the “object”, is not important. Dewey’s contention is that no matter how one characterizes the spectator and the thing known, this conception of knowing is fundamentally mistaken, mythological. He collectively dubs all theories which share it “The Spectator Theory of Knowledge”. This common label reflects the fact that for Dewey theories as different as direct realism and epistemological dualism, British empiricism and continental rationalism, are simply variations on the same unlikely theme.
Keywords Analytic Philosophy  Contemporary Philosophy  General Interest  Philosophy of Mind  Philosophy of Science
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ISBN(s) 0026-9662
DOI monist19735723
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