James and Dewey on Abstraction

The Pluralist 9 (2):1-28 (2014)
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Reification is to abstraction as disease is to health. Whereas abstraction is singling out, symbolizing, and systematizing, reification is neglecting abstractive context, especially functional, historical, and analytical-level context. William James and John Dewey provide similar and nuanced arguments regarding the perils and promises of abstraction. They share an abstraction-reification account. The stages of abstraction and the concepts of “vicious abstractionism,” “/the/ psychologist’s fallacy,” and “the philosophic fallacy” in the works of these pragmatists are here analyzed in detail. For instance, in 1896 Dewey exposes various fallacies associated with reifying dualistic reflex arc theory. The conclusion prescribes treatments (pluralism and assumption archaeology) for de-reifying ill models (i.e., universalized, narrowed, and ontologized models) in contemporary scientific fields such as cognitive science and biology.

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Rasmus Grønfeldt Winther
University of California, Santa Cruz


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