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Keywords:

  • democracy;
  • John Dewey;
  • experience;
  • inquiry;
  • objectivity;
  • pluralism;
  • pragmatism;
  • Robert Talisse

Abstract

This essay argues that to understand Dewey's vision of democracy as “epistemic” requires consideration of how experiential and communal aspects of inquiry together produce what is named here “pragmatic objectivity.” Such pragmatic objectivity provides an alternative to absolutism and self-interested relativism by appealing to certain norms of empirical experimentation. Pragmatic objectivity, it is then argued, can be justified by appeal to Dewey's conception of primary experience. This justification, however, is not without its own complications, which are highlighted with objections regarding “radical pluralism” in political life, and some logical problems that arise due to the supposedly “ineffable” nature of primary experience. The essay concludes by admitting that while Dewey's theory of democracy based on experience cannot answer all of the objections argumentatively, it nevertheless provides potent suggestions for how consensus building can proceed without such philosophical arguments.