Dewey and “the Greeks:” Inquiry and the Organic Spirit of Greek Philosophy.

In Christopher C. Kirby (ed.), Dewey and the Ancients: Essays on Hellenic and Hellenistic Themes in the Philosophy of John Dewey. London, UK: pp. 47-76 (2014)
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Those who have considered the connection between Dewey’s theory of inquiry and Greek thought have mostly situated their remarks within larger points, regarding either teaching and learning (Garrison, 1997; Johnston, 2006b; Cahn, 2007) or aesthetics and craft (Alexander, 1987; Hickman, 1990). The fact that this area remains somewhat underexplored could be chalked up to several factors: 1) Dewey was often quite critical of the classical tradition, particularly when it came to theories of knowledge, 2) Dewey was not a trained classicist, with little working knowledge of ancient Greek, and was self-admittedly not a historian of philosophy, and 3) whenever Dewey did turn positive attention toward ancient thought, he tended to speak in generalities, referring most often to “the Greeks” rather than any particular Greek thinker. In spite of this, there remain many compelling reasons to place Dewey’s views on inquiry in meaningful dialogue with the classical tradition. I will suggest that the most compelling of all is the link between Dewey’s view of inquiry and his particular brand of naturalism, which found its fullest expression late in his career. This is an underappreciated connection in Dewey’s work on inquiry, either taking a backseat to the instrumental, experimental themes in his thought or misinterpreted as a form of positivism/scientism. Once acknowledged, however, this connection could help bring Dewey’s normative, socio-political writings in line with his theories on ontology, logic, and the acquisition of knowledge.

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Christopher Kirby
Eastern Washington University


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