Continuing my series of posts about the book on John Dewey that I am editing, I present a pivotal paragraph that connects metaphysics, phenomenology, and the core insight of my book, “desire” as a process and event. “Desire” denotes the process of “motivated human purposiveness.”
This chapter completes the metaphysical and phenomenological background required to understand how desire as motivated human purposiveness partially constitutes experienced meaning. In the last chapter, I explained how “desire” is an organic process that spans the environment, body, and mind, and becomes a conscious event. In this chapter I will recast this metaphysical description as a biological and psychological one leading to a provisional phenomenology described in the next chapter. Unlike Husserlian phenomenologies, Dewey does not take the perspective of consciousness looking out to world, which begins with the mind as a starting point, but instead asks how a continual coordination of environment and human organism becomes a conscious event. Mind comes last, not first, and is the product of a continual natural process. To say it another way, nature thinks, not the human over and above nature, and the insistence that mind cannot think external nature presumes a tacit dualism of mind and nature that we just need to get over. Deweyan phenomenology, or what he once called the “denotative method,” is a robust realism that combats both Husserlian idealistic tendencies and the Kantism of many recent philosophers who think that descriptive categories are fictions of the human mind rather than elements in nature. It is crucial for the reader to keep this perspective in mind. Nature thinks, and human thought is a rare natural activity that births meaning. The guiding question of this chapter is how meaning is born, and what is the relation of meaning and motivated purposive human activities.