John Dewey: MEGA THREAD
Spin-off from the Predictive Hermeneutics megathread, which is not just a theory of art-making but an approach to art-making that Dewey 100% sets up. I know @thechickenman is into his education theory, which I don't know much about but wanna learn.
I'll paste my standard graf on how important Dewey is to 20th C art, because I'm constantly meeting vizarts folk who don't believe me & have never heard of him:
Allan Kaprow, who started the participatory, multi-media Happenings movement in the 1960s treated Dewey’s Art As Experience like a Bible. Dewey was friends with Matisse and MoMA director Alfred Barr; his thinking touched John Cage and Fluxus, Rob Rauschenberg, Claes Oldenburg, Ray Johnson of Correspondence Art, and the Black Mountain College curriculum. Dewey’s ideas “reoriented” Bauhaus; Josef Albers befriends him and suddenly starts speaking like him: “We do not always create ‘works of art,’ but rather experiments; it is not an ambition to fill museums: we are gathering experience.” Or: “Through some kind of art experience… the student can come into realization of order in the world.” Dewey’s foil in the era is the better-read Clement Greenberg: a cult of flatness and an obsession with material. One philosophy wins.
Finished reading Louis Menand's Metaphysical Club history recently, so I'll try to add some stuff from there I learned.
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Another area where Dewey is sorely under-remembered is his influence on Chinese modernization. He showed up immediately before the May 4th Movement on his student Hu Shih's recommendation, and seeing the excitement, stuck around for a year, giving lectures on scientific thought. At the time, he was referred to as "Mr Democracy and Mr Science", or even "Confucius 2", which is actually fairly apt—if one was to choose a Confucius 2 from all of world philosophy, you couldn't do much better. He lectured for about a year, translated by Hu Shih, with both Sun Yat-sen and a young Mao Zedong in his audience. In fact, he met with Sun two days after arriving in China, and one expects that he had some influence in converting Sun to a Georgist stance.
The influence of Dewey on Mao is sorely underestimated—Mao is described as a Marxist, but his most famous essays are "On Practice" and "On Contradiction,"—the latter is Hegelian, but the former surely inherits from Pragmatism, with its claims like "All logical knowledge must be put to practice in order to substantiate its truth-value. Logical knowledge requires this testing because of its circumstantial founding." Or again, the line that Deng Xiaoping later picked up, that was repopularized by Mao in 1938—"Seek Truth From Facts". Surely, to "Seek Truth From Facts" is nothing if not Pragmatist. (It is, in fact, a Confucius quote.)
Indeed, one of the greatest tragedies in the Maoist repertoire came with the "Eliminate Sparrows Campaign", in which sparrows, thought to consume too much grain, were killed. There was a theory-grounded approach here—before beginning the campaign, Mao asked for the "dissection of a sparrow"—a validation of the thesis that the sparrows were eating the grain, through the process of opening one up and finding whether grain was inside it. The reality was that sparrows were highly necessary for insect control, and the eliminate sparrows campaign was a major cause of the 1960 Great Famine. This is a sort of fable of a naive pragmatism; truth was ascertained through a rational examination of nature, and so forth. And yet, the phrase "to dissect a sparrow" remained as an analogy for the kind of investigation to determine truth in order to conduct government affairs.
What do you see as the neo-Confucian vein in Dewey? Not very familiar with Confucian thought.
Do you think contemporary Chinese thought is more pragmatic than ideological, or are these outlooks more abstractions/lip-service than lived out?
re: the lectures, You hear about these chains of influence a lot—someone (maybe William James) holds a big series of lectures at Harvard that are the talk of the town, and there are records of X and Y influential thinkers showing up, taking cues. Derrida comes and lectures at John Hopkins, changes the course of American thought for good. I don't know what to take away from this, for the modern era, given YT over-abundance.
I feel like @crispy would have a field day with this idea of partial causation & the complex role of sparrows. There are some meaningful connections with the pfeilstorch stuff, what it means to supply evidence: Other Kinds of Inference
A couple things to draw out. First, "the rectification of names"–
孔子：A superior man, in regard to what he does not know, shows a cautious reserve. If names be not correct, language is not in accordance with the truth of things. If language be not in accordance with the truth of things, affairs cannot be carried on to success. When affairs cannot be carried on to success, proprieties and music do not flourish. When proprieties and music do not flourish, punishments will not be properly awarded. When punishments are not properly awarded, the people do not know how to move hand or foot. Therefore a superior man considers it necessary that the names he uses may be spoken appropriately, and also that what he speaks may be carried out appropriately. What the superior man requires is just that in his words there may be nothing incorrect
It's hard to not think there's something loosely pragmatic about the desire for a correspondence between terminology and reality.
You also see an emphasis on practice, and practicality, and then again on evaluating practices based on whether they achieve a result. There's much that's small-d democratic about it—("In teaching, there should be no distinction of classes."); always, the self is relational. And you also have a sort of emphasis on sociality of thought—I can think of no other thinkers with as much of an appreciation for acts of reverence towards others. For Dewey as Confucius, humanity itself fills a role that in other religions is filled with deities.
The biggest distinction is probably that for Dewey, a key task is to seize upon when tradition has failed, and morality demands its abnegation; Confucius was less a fan of breaking traditions, mostly on the basis that he lived 2500 years ago and things weren't changing quite as fast at that point.
I like this idea that a lot of the sort of wooey modest-epistemology wisdom of ancient philosophers is actually about indexicality and complexity. I'm reminded of the "indexical geniuses" Sarah talks about in "Ignorance: A Skilled Practice", who refuse to speculate about far-off cultures and hypotheticals. Indeed, one way institutional philosophy seems to have gotten off on the wrong foot is a commitment to hypotheticals & though experiments as a form of reasoning/arguing. Especially distant hypotheticals, like classic Hilary Putnam "Twin Earth" stuff. My understanding of language, as being defined, practically speaking, by extension far more than it is by intension, would incline me to believe that attempts to rigorously apply made-on-Earth-for-actual-human-beings concepts to some crazy but intuitively plausible thought experiment is approaching language ass-backwards. There is no answer about what a word "means" in the context of some bizarre, never-happened-never-will-happen hypothetical, because the word has never pragmatically needed to be defined so rigorously against impossible edgecases.
I don't even have to really grasp for "ancient chinese philosophy has a lot to say about indexicality," evidence. like. this is how the Tao Te Ching starts:
The ways that can be walked are not the eternal Way;
The names that can be named are not the eternal name.
The nameless is the origin of the myriad creatures;
The named is the mother of the myriad creatures.
。Always be without desire
。。in order to observe its wondrous subtleties;
。Always have desire
。。so that you may observe its manifestations.
Both of these derive from the same source;
They have different names but the same designation.
Mystery of mysteries,
The gate of all wonders!
(dots placed in order to preserve indentation within quote, lmk if there's a richer forum grammar reference somewhere)