Below is the abstract for my dissertation, which I am now revisiting to complete the manuscript for my first book. I am nearly finished with writing my second book, per the title of this post, which I wrote as a series of long articles. I think I was trying to convince myself that the sketch outlined in my dissertation was correct. One fatal flaw of my dissertation was that it was actually two dissertations on Dewey, one on the role of desire (better rendered eros or conatus) and one on how desire informs the genesis of the phenomenon (felt quality, meaning, behavior). To be clear, I am using "phenomenology" in a pragmatist sense and not a Husserlian one--too many misunderstand my words when they make that mistake.
"Agency and desire are interdependent. Agency is not a given, but an achievement of ordered desiring. We want to control our desires rather than be controlled by them, but the dilemma is that our selves are separate neither from our desires nor our control. John Dewey articulates this dynamic and proposes a solution; we can control desire and thereby ourselves by an immanent and reflective reconstruction of the meaning and object of desire. However, Dewey over-estimates the cognitive control of meaning and desire, because he presumes that desire is always ideational, rather than explaining how desire comes into cognitive awareness and control to be available for reflective manipulation. This work will extend Dewey's theory of experience and habit by explaining the structural habitual conditions necessary for the cognitive control of desire, e.g., how desire becomes ideational and subsequently an ideal. It offers a constructive criticism and a new heterodox phenomenological method based on the works of John Dewey, Thomas Alexander, and Victor Kestenbaum."
The dissertation focuses on a fundamental dynamic that I will now progressively articulate. Dewey's "insistence upon the necessity of an ideational or intellectual factor and in every desire" led to an over-estimation of the possibilities of such control that is also an over-estimation of agency" (LW 13:240). For desire, thought emerges from a "tensive" or "problematic" situation such that the local environ gives a character and background to experience. Dewey's fault was in the very frequent assumption that "desire" has "an ideational or intellectual factor" that allows us to in principle be aware of our desires and how they direct our experience, behavior, etc. In contrast, he explicitly rejects both psychoanalysis and a substantive unconscious. I have my own views on those topics.
Regardless, has placed himself in a terrible bind that he rarely recognizes in print. You see, Dewey is an emergent naturalist and hold an emergentist view of mind, rationality, and agency. Desire is a primal phenomenon that is constitutive of mind, rationality, and agency. Thus, he over-estimates the possibilities of agency and mind to mediate desire.
Said in Deweyan process language, mind is a late phase of the process of experience, whereas desire is an early phase that leaves a discriminate trace long before even the possibility of awareness. However, he also offered a method to control desire by mediating the meaning of the object of desire, e.g., how we symbolize our vital conatus to ourselves in the first-person. My dissertation systematized this whole account and the method while being faithful to Dewey's processive elements, which is uncommon in the recent scholarship.
I also tacked-in the beginnings of a Deweyan phenomenology to my dissertation. That will be cut, because it became what is now my second manuscript. The latter delves into the various issues of systematizing Dewey's view--he is all over the place in his own writings--that includes the issues of how an existential environment becomes a phenomenal realm that upholds the principle of continuity (synechism), and the requisite unified account of habit- and qualitative accounts of experience.
I apologize to the neophyte who is not well-versed in Dewey. I am more than willing to explicate various concepts, including to those not of the American tradition as I have so much practice doing so (by necessity). However, my main blogging interest is in working out technical details "out loud," and thus I will only offer explications upon request. I know, dear reader, that this can be a harsh thing, but then I ask, how often do you see a blog devoted to the technical details of philosophy?
For the scholars, see Gouinlock's John Dewey's Philosophy of Value; I'm using his sense of "desire." See also Alexander's John Dewey's Theory of Art, Nature, and Experience; I'm extending his metaphysics and solution to the metaphysics/phenomenology divide. I also provide my own account of the gestalt and its solution. Finally, see Kestenbaum, The Phenomenological Sense of John Dewey, for an explanation of habit and its contribution to a phenomenology. If one would like to see prior attempts at such grand syntheses, see Rosenthal, Speculative Pragmatism, although her treatment is highly synthetic across all of classical pragmatism and very reliant on C.I. Lewis. Her account is incompatible but mutually informing.