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The  Dewey - Alexander  Collision

The timeline of the Dewey - Alexander collision goes like this:


A.  Dewey’s Ends and Means

Early in his career Dewey developed the idea of mixing up and confounding ends and means.  Any actor and the object acted upon are inseparable.  Neither exists by itself, only the compound is real.  And more generally, in an interaction only the interaction is real, what interacts are not separately real.

One consequence of this is Dewey’s “new individual.”  The interactions between individuals are real, the individuals are not.  In his book Liberalism and Social Action, Dewey disparages

“our ingrained habit of regarding intelligence as an individual possession and its exercise as an individual right.”  (Page 65.)
and also
“... the old habit of defending liberty of thought and expression as something inhering in individuals apart from and even in opposition to social claims. ...  intelligence is a social asset and is clothed with a function as public as its origin, in the concrete, in social interaction.”  (Page 67.)
In his book Reconstruction in Philosophy Dewey says:
“The individual ... except in and through communication of experience from and to others, he remains dumb, merely sentient, a brute animal.  Only in association with fellows does he become a conscious centre [original spelling] of experience.”  (Page 161.)
Just the opposite is true.  Without privacy man is a brute animal.

Another example is Dewey’s materialism/behaviorism.  Dewey says of sensations and mind:

“The qualities never were ‘in’ the organism; they always were qualities of interactions in which both extra-organic things and organism partake ... they are as much qualities of the things engaged as of the organism.”  (Page 259 of Experience and Nature.)  “The idea that matter, life and mind represent separate kinds of Being is a doctrine that springs ... from a substantiation of eventual functions.  The fallacy converts consequences of interactions of events into causes of the occurrence of these consequences ... .”  (Page 261.)

Dewey’s view of man: a complex of habits embedded in “experience”  a compound of perceiver and perceived  from which there is no escape, the perceived cannot be abstracted from the compound.

B.   Dewey’s Pragmatism

Also early in his career Dewey adopted William James’ philosophy of pragmatism. Richard Gummere, in his article “Three Lessons from Dewey” describes Pragmatism as follows:  “you judge an idea not by its abstract plausibility but by what happens when you actually use it.”

This is a false dichotomy.  Our choice is not between abstract plausibility and pragmatism, but between objective truth and pragmatism.

Pragmatism doesn’t sound so practical when you elaborate it. It says we must reject the usual notion of truth as correspondence with objective reality independent of the mind of man.  Instead, truth is what works for you, works according to your feelings, and nothing more.  You don’t know something until you do it.

“What’s true is what works”  is the philosophy of a thug.


Late in life Dewey takes some Alexander Technique lessons from FM Alexander.  He hears the words ends and means, thinking and acting.  It’s mine!  An application of my philosophy!


Dewey steals Alexander’s ideas and shoe-horns them into his nomenclature, so that both the Alexander Technique and Dewey’s shock troops of democracy become consequences of the same philosophy.

An equivocation on a grand scale.

Alexander, on the other hand, is a babe in the woods when it comes to academic philosophy.  He’s fooled  as many good men before and after him have been fooled  by Dewey’s upside-down, dishonest, use of words and his claim of a useful and practical guide to life.

Alexander does know that Dewey is a famous intellectual, lauded by academics and Rotarians alike.  Thinks Alexander:  What an asset for spreading my work.  Dewey will make it legitimate in the eyes of academe.

That’s how these two men collided, one a Sunday Bible school teacher turned philosophical destroyer of independence, talent and ability, the other the discoverer of “use” and creator of a method of becoming conscious of ones use and correcting it.

Their association is a total fluke.