Here is the rewritten introduction to my book manuscript. I am toying with titling it How Nature Thinks that is at once accurate and plays upon Dewey's How We Think. I am searching for a more descriptive subtitle.
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 their performer and not their author. 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 mistake intentionality for freedom. We improvise upon a script that no one holds before us, but we all follow. Who writes it—who is the author of our thoughts? No one. Everyone.
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 individual choice, but by want, and 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. Only then do we become singular, one person or “I”, rather than a performer of social habit. Freedom is not absolute, but exists to the degree that I mold desire by thinking it against its anticipated consequences. However, this is simultaneously a struggle against myself, my community, my body, and nature itself.
John Dewey provides these insights before they became the pillars of continental European philosophy in such thinkers as Martin Heidegger, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Jean-Paul Sarte, Michel Foucault, or Judith Butler. His thought provides alternative ways of grappling with the problems of later thinkers, especially with the separation of metaphysical and phenomenological strains of thought and the frequent alienation of science. Dewey offers a novel theory that unifies the third-person viewpoint of experimental science with the first-person viewpoint in which we all live. He believed that the former was the key for ameliorating the latter, and he would rebuke contemporary scientists, scholatr, and intellectuals that oppose nature and scientific knowing to humanity and its culture. He achieves this by unifying metaphysics and phenomenology by showing how they are as continuous as the environment, body, and mind are to nature. The unification and continuity of metaphysics and phenomenology is the background goal of this work and situates a foregrounding question.
How do I achieve agency when human nature impels us to act first and think second? Dewey rejects cognitivist views that search for answers attentive and reflective thought and its pre-conditions. He holds a view similar to the contemporary embodied mind thesis. Mind is an event that emerges out of bodily conditions; it enlarges possibilities beyond mere autonomous physicality, but is neither free of nor discontinuous with bodily and environmental conditions. There is a sense in which asking how I achieve agency and think is also asking how nature becomes free to think.