Out of Plumb, Out of Key, and Out of Whack: Social Ethics and Democracy for the New Normal [Pandemic Ethics and Politics] (2021)

Abstract

for The Deweyan Task Before Us: The New Global Paradigm for Philosophy, Education, and Democracy Emerging from the Pandemic (2021 edited volume under review) John Dewey proposed soon after the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki that citizens of techno-industrial nations suffer from "cultural lag" (LW 15:199-200; cf. LW 4:203-28). He had in mind a sort of moral jet lag, a condition in which most of the basic alternatives we have on hand to think and talk about moral and political life, from customary moralizing to sophisticated theorizing, were developed, canned, and pickled on a shelf so long ago that they now lag far behind the multi-faceted problems that our values must speak to. The failure of many countries, most visibly the United States, to effectively navigate climate change and the Covid-19 global pandemic exemplifies our moral jet lag. Our collective responses to the new normal of global disruptions are, in William James’s words in Pragmatism, “out of plumb and out of key and out of ‘whack’” (1907, 37). The American philosophical tradition that includes James and Dewey has long sought to compensate for the excesses of America’s hyper-individualism and its anti-naturalistic distrust of experimental intelligence. In this brief analysis of our morally jet lagged response to the Covid-19 pandemic, we draw heavily on two highly articulated intellectual resources for America’s moral, political, and educational recovery: Jane Addams’s social ethics and Dewey’s deeply democratic theory of moral and political deliberation.

Author Profiles

Steven Fesmire
Radford University
Heather Keith
Radford University

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