One of the most influential American philosophers of the 20th Century was John Dewey. Dewey was a proponent of pragmatism and wrote numerous works on ethics, logic, metaphysics, political theory, and epistemology. Additionally, he also lectured on political and social issues and was well known for his studies on economics and education. Dewey’s most famous work was “The Quest for Certainty,” which was first published in 1929. “The Quest for Certainty” explained the idea of pragmatic ethics and sought to apply it to explain many philosophical and moral questions.
In “The Quest for Certainty,” John Dewey argues that the choice between relativism and objectivity is a false dichotomy. Dewey begins his argument by making a comparison between beliefs about values and beliefs about nature. He concludes that ideas about values are in the same position as beliefs about nature were prior to the scientific revolution and notes that there exists a fundamental distrust of the capacity of personal experiences to determine regulatory standards and an appeal to the concept of eternal values to ensure regulation of personal beliefs and actions. As such, Dewey argues that a complete division between the rationalistic and empirical methods has the most significance in the ways both good and bad thoughts are acted upon.
Dewey then looks at the ways in which ethical positions emerge in society. He asserts that morally proper values are neither discovered or occur due to arbitrary reasons. Instead, the development of morally right values is the result of ongoing interactions between individuals and their environments throughout all societies.
John Dewey next puts forward the belief that all judgments regarding values are decisions about the conditions and results of experienced objects and that any judgments about them should serve to regulate the formation of an individual’s desires. affections, and enjoyments. Through this statement, Dewey is saying that all ethical principles are constructed through selected and directed operation inquiry by people and that inquiry is essential in the development of the good. This process also shows that gradualism is essential to human nature and that all scholarly inquiry is subject to revision and inaccurate information. Dewey Also states that most conflicts that are of importance are essentially conflicts between things that have been satisfying or not as opposed to conflicts between the good and the bad.
John Dewey next stresses the need to eliminate the distinction between the material and spiritual world and seeks to do so by using the scientific method. Dewey uses the scientific method for several different reasons. The first two are that it provides the most accurate answers and eliminates previously subjective attitudes about philosophical issues. The final reason is that it would allow all tenants and creeds about good and goods to be treated as legitimate hypotheses. As opposed to being rigidly fixed, they would be treated as intellectual instruments to be tested and confirmed through consequences of acting upon them. The numerous changes that would result from the adoption of the scientific method can be summed up by saying that it would place the means and the method at the same level of importance that was historically only reserved for the ends.
John Dewey concludes by stating that industrial life during the early 20th Century is a legitimate indicator of the existing separation of means and ends within society. The economic life of an individual concerned with that of want is based on that of nature. For example, people have wants they need to have satisfied, but they are only requirements of a good life and not fundamental elements of such a life. On the other hand, the life in which individuals lead is mainly determined by economic circumstances, and thus, Dewey states that we can hardly expect a moral system that ignores economic systems to be other than remote and empty overall. Industrial life is also brutalized by a failure to equate it as the means to how cultural and social values are ultimately realized. Dewey then states that the fact that the economic life takes retribution by asserting that it is the only social reality and using the concept of materialistic determination of societal institutions and conduct in every field is not surprising to most observers.