Dewey's Independent Factors in Moral Action [preprint]

In Roberto Frega & Steven Levine (eds.), John Dewey’s Ethical Theory: The 1932 Ethics. New York: Routledge. pp. 18-39 (2020)
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Drawing on archival and published sources from 1926 to 1932, this chapter analyzes “Three Independent Factors in Morals” (1930) as a blueprint to Dewey’s chapters in the 1932 Ethics. The 1930 presentation is Dewey’s most concise and sophisticated critique of the quest in ethical theory for the central and basic source of normative justification. He argued that moral situations are heterogeneous in their origins and operations. They elude full predictability and are not controllable by the impositions of any abstract monistic principle. Moral life instead has at least three distinct experiential roots that cannot be encompassed in one ideal way to proceed. More specifically, Dewey hypothesized that each of the primary Western ethical systems (represented for him by Aristotle, Kant, and the British moralists) represents a basic, non-arbitrary force, or factor of moral life: aspiration, obligation, and approbation, respectively. Each factor is expressed in that system’s leading fundamental concept: good, duty, and virtue, respectively. Yet he contended that aspirations, obligations, and approbations are distinctive phenomena that cannot be blanketed by a single covering concept. By exposing Dewey’s own generalizations to scrutiny, the promises and limitations of his approach can be critically evaluated.

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Steven Fesmire
Radford University


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