Metaphysics at Work

  • David A. Granger


We saw in chapter 1 that Dewey’s and Pirsig’s metaphysics were not conceived with an eye to ensuring us of the existence of some ultimate, fixed reality through the positing of universal essences, atomistic truths, or the like. These things are neither real for them nor accessible by deeply situated human beings if they did exist. We also noted that both thinkers actually work to discredit the notion that we could ever attain certain knowledge of the world, such that social and cultural progress are subject to at least some degree of chance, contingency, and luck. This means that Dewey and Pirsig are very much meliorists in their view of progress, maintaining that it occurs only haltingly and is always a hard won achievement. This outlook does not stem from the belief that human rationality is inherently flawed or remains vestigial in nature. It is instead rooted in the idea that we are active participants in an open universe, not passive observers of a closed one. Thus instead of straining to gaze upon the world from the completely detached (read disembodied) Archimedean point certain knowledge would require, Dewey and Pirsig look to our (embodied) being in the world for their appreciably humbler, yet arguably more practicable, endeavors as metaphysicians.


Generic Trait Open Universe Cultural Criticism Naturalistic Metaphysic Transcendent Reality 
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  1. 4.
    Ralph W. Sleeper, The Necessity of Pragmatism: John Dewey’s Conception of Philosophy (New Haven, Yale University Press, 1986), 61. This book will be referred to as Necessitywith page numbers in the text for all subsequent citations.Google Scholar
  2. 7.
    For common criticisms of naturalistic metaphysics and rejoinders by Dewey’s defenders, see Sleeper, The Necessity of Pragmatism, Alexander, John Dewey’s Theory of Art, Experience & Nature, James Gouinlock, John Dewey’s Philosophy of Value, Jim Garrison, Dewey and Eros, and Raymond D. Boisvert, Dewey’s Metaphysics (New York: Fordham University Press, 1988).Google Scholar
  3. 8.
    On the idea that there can be better and worse language-games, see Hilary Putnam, Pragmatism (Cambridge: Blackwell Publishers Inc., 1995). This book will be referred to as Pragmatism with page numbers in the text for all subsequent citations.Google Scholar
  4. 9.
    Dewey eventually considered reworking Experience and Nature and changing the title to Culture and Nature. This “new” book, however, was never completed. Dewey discusses the reasons for the proposed change in terminology in a brief manuscript located in Appendix 1 of Experience and Nature, LW 1. For a recent in-depth analysis of this issue, see Philip Jackson’s John Dewey and the Philosopher’s Task (New York: Teachers College Press, 2002).Google Scholar
  5. 11.
    Joseph Ratner, “Dewey’s Conception of Philosophy” in The Philosophy of John Dewey, Paul A. Schilpp and Lewis E. Hahn, eds. (LaSalle: Open Court Publishing Company, 1939), 66.Google Scholar
  6. 12.
    Boas evidently furthered Dewey’s understanding of the importance of culture for philosophy during their time together at Columbia University. See Robert B. Westbrook, John Dewey and American Democracy (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1991), 119.Google Scholar

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© David A. Granger 2006

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  • David A. Granger

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