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JohnDewey:An Anti-Darwinian, Inspiteof Himself

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210 Psychology R01
I)r. Rarnes

August 12000 15

-lWasJohnDewey,ashe himselfbelieved,simplytransportingthe naturalimplicationsof Darwin or Darwin'stheoryof evolutioninto the disciplineof psychology, washe transforming Dewey'spsychological to that to suchan extentin the process it is misleading associate

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'functionalism' will and with Darwin? (Thisis thequestion this essay address in theprocess, that ofunderstanding not I will attempt persuade reader onlythatit is importantfor thesake to the properly, disassociate but to rather thanassociate with theother, one bothDarwinandDewey that claimcanbemade Darwins' for clear,a legitimate tha! whenthereason this is made

in with appearance theUuitedStates reallymake theirmostfaithfirllyrefleotive theories br? 1'' t ,, . t i ! t / n , 1 , 0 n t lljv O I a n \ r' I E t-' )' functionalism'shegemonicsuccessor-behavio,r.4{.*. 1t'' 6\tttn'Darwinian'thanis Dewey's (andthatof William is Theargument behaviouralism r.nore that
James's)ftmctionalismis a bold asslrtion

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proponents whatwouldbecome cenral mechanism the of of complexity Dewey that scolds psycholory in bebaviorolism, whatwereatthetimecental concepts physiological and In in article,"TheReflexArc Concept Psycholog5r." this stimulus responsein his 1896 and by formsofhumanbehavior models essay, Dewey mocks attempts construct to ofelaborate stimulus putting moreor lessmechanical incre,asingly skeins simple, of together complicated
A he response connections.Stimuli, accordingto Dewey areneverconstan{J[nassertion believed , and but of wasbuttressed Darwin's account evolutioninvolvingrandom, consistent inevitable by to according Dewey,to believein in time. To be an elementalist change all species across is consistent atomicelements, to not be a faithful studentof Darwin. Deweyis conecthere. For Darwin all is flrx; but with onevery importantexception: Darwin's accountof the processof naturalselectionis unvarying: It is the environment,

-2personified which shapes, it is the organismthat is shaped.The environmentdetermines and Dewey'saccount of simply surviveor they die. In contrast, which offspringsurvive;the species on the reflex arc with its attentionandemphasis the activity of the organism( in particularthe of of to assessment meaning any gtvenstimulus),its own shaping the organism's conscious the it, environmentwhich also shapes allows for a moretwo-way,complexrelationshipbetween lv and environment an organismwhich really is not especial Dawinian 1 fg


body reaction. Referringto a A reflex arc, accordingto Dewey,is not a simplemechanical by of casefamouslyemployedby William James, a child attracted the light reachingtoward a that candleflame,beingburned,andflinching away,Deweystates the child's reactionis a int burning. Oncethe child canusea reactionwhosepo is to avoidthe candleassomething of candleto providelight, sheis not torn betweenavoidance andattractionto the candle;she lights the candleto provideherselfwith light andkeepsher handawayfrom the flame to avoid with as beingburned. The natureof the stimuluschanges the child learnsfrom her experience for to the flame, andusesthe experience adap her own environment her own purposes.The child is not simply a spectator.Deweydid not denythat the child wasa creatureof her her she to but environment, he wasconcerned addthat it shaped because actedon it; shelearned aboutit only by actingon it, doingthingsto it andwith it. the environment, world, retainsthe Dewey's conceptionof humansin the macrocosmic with the candlethat lights but alsoburns. of essence his accountof the child andthe encounter uncertain ambiguities, ow Our environment, world, onein which thereare"singularities, perilous.rTherefore, hazardous, possibilities"is a world in which existence problematic, is in that Deweyasserts o'weare free in the degree which we act knowing what we areabout."2

-3and to Knowing, thinking, is itself a naturaleventwhich arisesin response the hazardous ordered,andrecurrent problematicnatureof the world. It seeks apprehend to what is necessary, by and the in nattneso asto overcome dangers difficulties generated the factor of contingency.

and of and knowledge "tlrerecurrent stable, faots laws,"n * ,, of Tbrough experimental an


4/ and | | .,possible hummintelligence minimize negative to effectof theunpredictable for the
ur as uncontrollable natureandto regulate directthe consequences processes yet IlIICOIlUOllA{rI€ in nAIUTE ano U) Icgutll]E andqlrtiQl Urt, r,rutr$x{tr{t ;lts of Prrx tnsEl asysl ln UIlq t .7-Z | (YI ,t I


intelligenceandreal freedomis With suchknowledge,choicebecomes indeterminat€.3 achieved.


What Deweyhasdoneis to amendDarwin's naturalselectionsothat effort, endeavor, purpose,havesomething do with biological evolution. Humanbeingslive in a changingand to for world, full of possibilities goodandfor ill. In sucha world human openbut problematic the knowledgeandchoicecanmakea critical difference. Knowledge,which apprehends causal btween things,hasan instrumentalfiurction andmay be usedto confrol the connection to that constitutehumanexperience changingworld of natureandto guidethe interactions of immediateexperiences are realizations the ideal possibilitiesof nature- consummatory that in experiences which life finds fulfillment. how little of Darwin thereis in anyof this. Darwinismis not aboutfree will It is remarkable is purposelychangingin response a changingenvironment a Lamarckiantheme, to organisms of not a Darwinian one. Darwin maintainedthat evenmen are creatures instincts,and instincts only throughnaturalselection. Morality is not arechanged meeta changingenvironment to evidence purposefulhumanchoice,but rathera rationalizationof social instinctsevolving of within any species that lived in socialgroups. Deweysaysthat manmay makehis environment

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4nature'spowerswith those nature.On the contrary,Darwin contrasts into a home,and so subdue how much more effectivewill be the serutinyof nature. He pointsout that of mankind,stressing and naturalselectionactsonly to improvethe organisms'ability to copewith their environment we harshness naturalselectiorq of that his thustries to persuade readers, whateverthe apparent Vruh




with the Whenwe reflect on this struggle,we may consoleourselves / I is firli beiief,thatths war tif nature ntit incessant, no fearis ftlt,'rhat < that deathis generallyprompt,andthat the vigorous,the healthy,andthe happ-vand surv'ive nrultiPiy.a

believesthat like Dewey, PeterBowler, in CharlesDarwin: thEMpn andhis Influenc.E, view of evolution,sincehis theorywascreatedfrom Darwin did not want to take a macroscopic that Darwin's theory in changes the modernworld. Bowler believes the studyof small-scale that on concentrated explainingthe actualprocesses still affect everyliving thing, not on the (noteagainthat it links.s But thesesmallscalechanges evolutionary of reconstnrction long-past which affect the living things andnot vice versa) are importantonly because is the proaesses from like eventually,over eonsof time, they amountto largescalestructuralchanges, changes

largcrtime in to If on to onespecies another. Daruin hashiseyes thepreseirt order understand in because is thepresent whichwe fvJ-oewey notonly il scales, Dewey focused theprcs€nt on changes couldoccurin onelifetime,but in continuously emphasized macrocosmic that or to or withintheindividual overchanges a society species a emphasizing changes growth, he and existence ajoumeyofpersonal as form macrocosmic oforganization, in framing 'l'

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gavevalueto the life of oneindividualnot because survives, because exists. For it it but

Darwin, the actuallife of an organismis only importantas a kind of test to seeif the variationsit to. wasborn with areunfit or fit for the environmentit will be subjected enoughthat If what I am saylngsoundslike Darwinism asan ideologymay be dehumanizing

in then I havesucceeded leading its fimctional legitimacyfor humanbeingsmay be in question, towardsthe centralreasonwhy Deweypossiblycomescloserto beingan anti-Darwinianthan he on is doesa Darwinian:Dewey'sfirnctionalism not sufficientlydefinedasan emphasis an his organism'srelationshipwith its environment, is more sharplydefinedby emphasizing but True,Darwin emphasized centralconception a decisionmaking,willful, humanorganism. of grabbed onto andbelieveda measure changeandcomplexity,a themewhich DeweyandJames Darwin's frorn otherpsychologrcal disciplines.But Deweyoverlooked of their difference which left all purposeful mechanistic conception naturalselection, of deterministic, essentially activity during the lifespanof an organismto the environment.An organismsurvives;its most act assertive being its creationof mutationsin its offspring - an act which is uninfluencedby the of experiences an organismduring its life spanotherthan the fact that it survivedto give birth. which is oppositeto that of Dewey,althoughDewey Darwin imagineda kind of process Because of rnayof thoughthimself asa Darwinian,Darwin shouldnot be thoughtof asthe predecessor functionalist thought. would be morecloselyalignedto Dewey'sconception an activeorganism of A predecessor in which reachout andseizeexperience certainkinds of ways. A Kant with his schemas or morecloselyalignedto DarwirUin this light, would be JohnWatson, B.F.Skinner successor in waysto a who subjectsimplyresponding predictable andthe behavioralists, imagined passive

implications theirtheories of to its stimuli. Behaviouratists, tue, Aiafo"* ootl practical peoplcs' ofpeople a conception improve liveswithinthEirlifetimes, in positing mecbanistic but According the to our they,asmuchasDarwira wercchallenging opimistic self+stimation. based firnctioning wereperhapa reflexactivities only human behavior mental and b€haviorists, penonhood lifile principles stimulus response. private wananted and of Ou onmechanistic focused theresponses onthebehavior anorganism; on and of attention.Thebehaviouralists Bothschools ofthough[, muationsandontheir survivability. Darwinfocused thebiological on an to firllillment withinourlifetimes, efrortthat it canbeargued" equally urcre hostile human at his effod washumaoe; futher pnoof, Dewey working sustain was to though worts. Dervey's


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FOOTNOTES 1. JohnDewey, Ouest Certqinfy, for h (cartrondale, tflinois: southern ilrinois r@r 2, Ibid., p.199. 3' John Dewey, EmeJience Nature and (NewYork w.WNorton andcompany, hc.), p.54. 4' charlesDarwin'TheoriEnglspies p.79. (Philadelphia: press), univenity of philadelphia


Bibliography tJis Orford:BasilBlackrrell,1990. Bowler,Peter.thnrles Pqrwin:thqlvlqgfr+d InfhlEncp. Philadelphia: Universtf of The cd Darwirl Charles. Originof SpEcieS. M. Peckham.
I PhiladElphiaPreri$, 959.

Inc., NewYork W.W.NortonandCompany, 1929. Nature. Dewey, John Exngrienre.and gf Holt andCompany, Influqnce DarwinonPhilosophy. York Herrry New Dewey, John Th,e 1951. in vol. fQ,r De*ry, John Ouest Certainty. LatgrWorksqf JohnDgwey,1925-1939, 4,
lllinois. Southernlllinois Llnivsrsity llress, I97I . Carh,ondale

of in in Dewey, John "TheReflexArc Concept Psychologf', Eaily.!.Vo,rts JohnDewey, 1972. Press, lllinois: lllinoisUniversily 1895-1898, 5,Carbondale vol. Southern