Page:The Cambridge History of American Literature, v3.djvu/273

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John Dewey

ing all theologic problems. Philosophic concepts, like God, Freedom, and Immortality, he tells us bluntly, have outlived their usefulness as sanctions, and the business of philosophy henceforth is to be with those ideas which will help us to transform the empirical world.[1] Despite the complexity of his sentences, which an austere regard for accuracy causes to be overloaded with qualifications, Dewey is essentially one of those philosophers who, like Spinoza, impress the world with their profound simplicity. He is entirely free from that human complexity which makes James banish the soul and even consciousness as psychologic entities and yet favour the subconscious mind, Fechner's earth spirits, and the like. Dewey is a thoroughgoing and consistent naturalist. He not only accepts the Darwinian account of the origin of the human faculty, but he also relies on the method of the Darwinian descriptive naturalist to build up the body of philosophic ideas. He makes no attempt to build up or deduce any part of the world on the basis of his fundamental assumption, but ideas are sought in their natural state and described just where, when, and how they function. This preference for naturalistic description rather than for systematic deduction as a philosophic method is not merely a matter of temperament; it also indicates the extent to which Darwin s work has so affected men's imagination as to cause natural history to replace mathematics and physics as the model of scientific method.

In the history of philosophy naturalism has been associated with the study of physics (generally atomic), with emphasis on the way our thoughts are controlled by our bodies or by the physical environment. Dewey has no physical theories. He is a psychologist, primarily interested in how and why men think and how their thoughts modify their experience. He is a professed realist in his belief that our thoughts alone do not constitute the nature of things but that there is a pre-existing world of which thought is an outgrowth and on which it reacts. But the continual emphasis on thought as efficient in transforming our world gives him the appearance of having remained

  1. Dewey's disciples like Moore and Bode are outspoken in their contempt for the view that philosophy may be a consolation for the irremediable evil growing out of our human limitations. Philosophy is to help us in our daily job and has nothing to do with vacations or holidays.