Pragmatism, Growth, and Democratic Citizenship

Dissertation, Bowling Green State University (2016)
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Abstract
This dissertation defends an ideal of democratic citizenship inspired by John Dewey’s theory of human flourishing, or “growth.” In its emphasis on the interrelatedness of individual development and social progress, Deweyan growth orients us toward a morally substantive approach to addressing the important question of how diverse citizens can live together well. I argue, however, that Dewey’s understanding of growth as a process by which conflicting interests, beliefs, and values are integrated into a more unified whole—both within the community and within the self—is inadequate to the radical pluralism characteristic of contemporary liberal democratic societies. Given the pragmatist insight into the crucial role of socialization in identity formation, the problem with conceptualizing the ideal self as an integrated unity is that, for many, the complexity and diversity of our social world presents an insuperable obstacle to sustaining a unified (or always unifying) self. Most of us have multiple “selves” forged by the various groups with whom we identify and the often incongruous roles we play in our personal, professional, and/or public lives. Hence I offer a reconstruction of Deweyan growth that accounts for persistent yet positively valued diversity, both within the self and within the community. On the view I urge, which draws on the work of neopragmatist Richard Rorty and Chicana feminist Gloria Anzaldua, divisions within the self and between citizens are not merely problems always to be overcome, but potential resources for creating a stronger, more inclusive democracy.
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