Dewey's theory of moral (and political) deliberation


In James Gouinlock's essay "Dewey's Theory of Moral Deliberation," he argues that Morton White and Charles L. Stevenson's criticisms of John Dewey's ethical theory are based upon fundamental misinterpretations of Dewey's theory of moral deliberation. In this paper, I attempt, in the spirit of Gouinlock's 1978 essay, to widen and enrich the discussion of Dewey's theory of moral deliberation by relating it to a claim of political philosophers and theorists that is recently in vogue, namely, that Dewey's writings contain a nascent theory of deliberative democracy. Deliberative democratic theorists contend that deliberation is the group activity that transforms individual preferences and behavior into mutual understanding, agreement and collective action. If Deweyan democracy is identified with deliberative democracy, do Dewey scholars risk making Dewey's democratic vision a useless relic for theorizing about democracy in the wake of the deliberative turn? The paper is organized into four sections. In the first, I summarize the positions of those scholars defending the view that John Dewey was a proto-deliberative democrat, in effect anticipating the deliberative turn in democratic theory. The second section examines Gouinlock's thesis that despite White and Stevenson's mistaken accounts, Dewey offered a distinctive and insightful way of understanding moral judgment. In the third section, my analysis reveals the political dimension of Dewey's theory of moral deliberation. The fourth and concluding section explores the lesson that my analysis might impart to commentators enamored with the idea that Dewey's vision of democracy is essentially deliberative.



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