Summation – part 2

Well OK, some Alexandrians say, maybe Dewey was a bad character promoting a bad philosophy.  But we should forget the man and his works.  We should focus only on what he wrote about the Alexander Technique, and just ignore the rest.

That would be impossible for at least two of Dewey’s five Alexander essays:  “Body and Mind” (originally a talk) and “Habits and Will” (a chapter from Human Nature and Conduct).  In these essays Dewey expounds his own philosophy and claims the Alexander Technique supports his ideas.

Both essays contain ideas many Alexandrians would have a problem with.  In “Body and Mind” Dewey intimates that capitalism is “a soulless and heartless materialism”, “business a gamble in shifting-about and circulating material commodities” and that ending this would be a step toward “integration of mind-body in action.”  (He doesn’t say specifically that state control is the way to end it, but then he doesn’t have to, he was famous for advocating statism.)  Whether you agree with that or not, it is not the Alexander Technique.  Dewey goes on to say that making over “schools as social centers” would be another step in this integration — a chilling reference if you know his educational essays.

Dewey takes the rhetoric of Alexander’s mind body unity — which Dewey explicitly attributes to F. M. Alexander — and fashions whatever he wants out of it.  One word describes Dewey’s essay:  cant.

That brings us to the essay “Habits and Will.”  One of Dewey’s statements many Alexandrians will have a problem with:  “Only the man whose habits are already good can know what the good is.”  This is stated as a general principle, not just the particular case about evaluating your kinesthetic sense.  It is patently false.  Any example you can give of evaluating the senses incorrectly is predicated on being able to evaluate them — somehow — correctly.  Alexander’s use of eye and mirror is a prime example.  His visual sense enabled him to detect the faulty evaluation of his kinesthetic sense.  A process of thinking and experiment eventually enabled him to correct it.

Another problem with “Habits and Will”:  Dewey disparages reason, first claiming that it is always tainted by habit, later that thinking is nothing more than habit.

He starts with:

All habits are demands for certain kinds of activity; and they constitute the self.  In any intelligible sense of the word will, they are will.  They form our effective desires and they furnish us with our working capacities.  They rule our thoughts, determining which shall appear and be strong and which shall pass from light into obscurity.

And, says Dewey, to think you are something other than a collection of habits is “self-love.”  The essay ends:  “Habit ... is will.”  In other words, you have no will.  All this interlarded with “ends and means,” the supremacy of action, let’s face the ugly facts, etc.

The essay “Habits and Will” presents no argument.  Dewey begins by assuming thoughts are habits and finishes by concluding that habits are thoughts.  A stultifying and disorganized prose style masks his effort to make insanity sound reasonable.

Dewey explicitly brings in F. M. Alexander to support his claims, referring to Man’s Supreme Inheritance.  Dewey takes Alexander’s new and valuable concept of “use” and turns it into a materialistic view of man.

The essays “Body and Mind” and “Habits and Will” misrepresent the Alexander Technique, and should be rejected by teachers.

part 3  >>