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DEALING “COMPETENTLY WITH THE SERIOUS ISSUES OF THE DAY”: HOW DEWEY (AND POPPER) FAILED

Authors


D.C. PHILLIPS is Professor Emeritus of Education and Philosophy at Stanford University, 485 Lasuen Mall, Stanford, CA 94305; e-mail <dcpphd@stanford.edu>. His primary areas of scholarship are philosophy of educational and social science research, the classic pragmatists, and history of nineteenth- and twentieth-century educational and social science ideas.

Abstract

In Reconstruction in Philosophy, John Dewey issued an eloquent call for contemporary philosophy to become more relevant to the pressing problems facing society. Historically, the philosophy of a period had been appropriate to social conditions (indeed, this is why it had developed as a discipline), but despite the vast changes in the contemporary world and the complex challenges confronting it philosophy had remained ossified. Karl Popper also was dissatisfied with contemporary philosophy, which he regarded as too often focusing upon “minute” problems. Both Dewey and Popper, however, were optimistic that the situation could be turned around. In this essay D.C. Phillips argues that the resources they mustered give no basis for this optimism; in particular, Phillips emphasizes that philosophy cannot have traction with closed-minded or fanatical individuals. Dewey passed over cases where his ideas about democratic processes and free intellectual exchange faced intractable difficulties, according to Phillips, and he further suggests that Popper “waffled” over the so-called “myth of the framework.”

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