John Dewey proposes that we grow our ideals. Any ideal should be a normative practice fit for the present situation. However, if we must grow an ideal from the soil of the situation, then how can an ideal have merit beyond being a “good idea at the time,” which is a low standard. The solution is to improve the soil of the situation continually by progressively reconstructing our habits and desires so that we desire ever greater ideals, but ideals still fit for the situation. This is also why I have named my blog “Immanent Transcendence.”
Below, I have another meditation from my book in progress that indicates my dissatisfaction with Dewey. We could become hypocrites, and perfect our stories of how great we are without perfecting ourselves. We would have situations and ideals with glass ceilings. We would put our moralities in museums of the mind centered in the barren wastes of practice.
Exactly how does a felt difficulty become an idea? I ask the question because without a precise answer, Dewey’s insistence that every desire is ideational and might achieve its ideal is insouciant (LW 13:240). As a matter of fact, any desire might lead to an idea, but the serious question is how we may attain an ideal if only desire and not the ideal is motivating. Ideals that do not motivate soon die quick deaths and become the relics of history and conventional morality that we would better do without. A hypocritical morality is no morality at all. Dewey proposed a method to conceive the ideal as motivating, by which we might coordinate desire and an idea towards some ideal of action in the present situation. We would grow ideals with a hold on us, whereas growth requires immanence, not transcendence. In the next chapter I scrutinize his method, show how it argues in a circle as stated, and then recast his argument to eliminate the circularity.