Sunday, April 15, 2012

Phenomenological Pragmatism: A Reintroduction

I have re-commenced editing my book manuscript, which is 230 pages at the outset.  Part of the editing includes offering a more general introduction to Dewey studies targetted at those either familiar with pragmatism or willing dive head-first into an unusual tradition of philosophy.  The other part includes making some of the technical moves clearer, as "obvious" inferences common to phenomenologists are not always common for contemporary pragmatists, and Dewey scholarship is not very unified beyond the basic theses.  Below is a draft of the re-introduction that includes the first two paragraphs that are meant to get the reader's attention.

Another’s choices are inscribed into my body and mind long before I call them my choices.  They are my choices in the sense that I claim them, yet I am not their author, but their performer.  I am easily led to think I am the agent of my actions, because the tincture of my intention pervades the scene.  We all mistake our being actors for being agents, because we read the script of history one line at a time, a script that no one holds before us, but we all follow.

Society and civilization engender patterns of desire, wherein instinct, impulse, and want motivate action and not mythic free will.  Human agency grows through the cultivation of desire, whose patterns and objects are given definite form by culture.  We are not first motivated by choice, but by want, and only subsequently realize the suggested idea.  Only that realization frees us from the tyranny of instinct and impulse, from another’s choices written into my body and mind, and frees us to be intelligent.  Freedom is not absolute, but exists to the degree that we mold desire by thinking it against its anticipated consequences.  We begin our thought as free to the extent that the habits of our locale, society, and civilization encourage, since they provide the proximate objects of desire that we only afterwards call “my choice.”


  1. I like it except for "script" as I'm with Bert Dreyfus and all about the largely non-conceptual nature of most of our habitual coping, if you're not suggesting a kind of narrative/cognitive-behavioral model than maybe there is another term from something like choreography that might work well along these lines.

  2. What I discuss is very much congenial to Heidegger and Dreyfus. The "script" is the "One," the "we-self," or Das Man. I wondered if I was coming on too strong with that metaphor, and you lead me to revisit it. That said, its a term that I will use once and only to introduce the basic idea. That actual thinkers that I have in mind, which appeared in the original introduction, are Freud, Foucault, Butler, etc., all of which inherit from Heidegger qua Das Man.

    Dewey in many ways sounds Humean and reads like it too. But he is also a scholastic realist, and thus the production of habits occurs with a real connection to nature.