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Reconstruction in Philosophy Paperback – October 31, 2008

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Editorial Reviews Review

For those of us trying to make sense of the world and the institutions we devise to cope with it, John Dewey's Reconstruction in Philosophy offers tremendous insight. Writing a few years after World War I, the highly regarded American philosopher chose to embrace the modern sense of scientific optimism and apply it to the search for truth. He argued forcefully that our philosophical constructions are not based in reason, but only use higher thinking to justify themselves, and that we might find better ways of living if we examine our deepest beliefs and feelings with an eye toward their ultimate effects on us and others. This experimental philosophy, pragmatism, took several steps beyond the previous century's utilitarianism and was both hailed and reviled as a subsumption of philosophy and ethics into science.

Written as lectures, Reconstruction in Philosophy is marginally less dry than other philosophical tracts, but for readers new to the jargon, some sections can be slow-going. The pleasure of Dewey's works, though, comes from the intellectual stimulation of following a brilliant mind into then-uncharted epistemological territory. The last chapter, "Reconstruction As Affecting Social Philosophy," foreshadows so much 20th-century political thinking--from across the spectrum--that it ought to be required reading in high school civics classes. Did pragmatism change our lives for the better? The very fact that we can ask such a question is Dewey's legacy; the answer must remain an open question. --Rob Lightner --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.


"It was with this book that Dewey fully launched his campaign for experimental philosophy." - The New Republic --online --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 236 pages
  • Publisher: Cosimo Classics (October 31, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1605203467
  • ISBN-13: 978-1605203461
  • Product Dimensions: 5 x 0.5 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #6,170,715 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on February 12, 1999
Format: Paperback
John Dewey's "Reconstruction of Philosophy" is a work of enormous importance in its analysis of the origins and development of the western philosophical tradition. Dewey takes an instrumentalist approach to the problem of how human experience can give rise to its imaginative reconstruction in memory. It is, Dewey says, in this realm of memory and imagination that ritual, religion, and ultimately, philosophy develop. Further, he relates the classical and medieval world views--still remarkably influential in the modern world--to the structure of classical society. Dewey provides the reader with a challenging exposition of the sources of many weaknesses and flaws in western philosophy and suggests remedies for them.
Some readers may find Dewey's prose awkward and occasionally difficult, but for those interested in a history of philosophy which is more than a chronological recounting of philosophical systems, "Reconstruction" is well worth the effort.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Kevin Currie-Knight VINE VOICE on May 19, 2003
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
John Dewey, as I've heard, was never comfortable with labels. Throughout his career he shifted from and to many rubrics: pragmatism, interactionism, instrumentalism, transactionism, experimentalism. Truth be told, all of these are present in "Reconstruction in Philosophy" and partly because of that, this is probably the best intro to Dewey available.
Dewy has a bone to pick with traditional philosophy. Not only has it lost track with real, as opposed to academic, problems (anyone walking down the street can tell us this) but it never really was that good at depicting real questions and descriptions anyway. Take comcepts like Plato's ideal forms and Kant's a priori. Neither of these are teneble in any realm of experience; rather, they were a misguided quest to explain the permanance and stability of the world.
Dewey's book is an attempt to pull the carpet out from under their feet; science and inquiry using its methods shows us that the world changes and if anything, stability is something that is felt by us - not inherent in the world. Thus a prioris, ideal forms, seperation of the noumenal and phenouminal amongst other current 'problems' in philosophy - all based on the idea of permanant/transitory dichotomy - are not only wearing thin, but are fast showing to be irrelevant. From this, he builds the groundwork of a philosophy in between rationalism and empiricism. Taking from rationalism an admiration and recognition of reason's power to direct action and combining it with empiricims fascination with experience, Dewey creates a philosophy that puts the spotlight not on one or the other, but on both as leading to and taking from eachother.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on April 14, 2003
Format: Paperback
Reconstruction in Philosophy presents a program for just that: a radical re-building of western philosophy. Dewey criticizes the current state of affairs as being tied to the past in ways that are no longer relevent to the current world. He traces the creation of various social institutions, then shows how these actions of ancient times, such as creation of ancient philosophical traditions (such as the idea of a split between "higher" and "lower" reality cf. Plato), which although useful in their time, now [slows] intellectual progress. Dewey puts forth the argument that much of modern philosophy (and human thought in general) is concerned with the same problems that the ancients were concerned with, although those problems are no longer relevent. Rather, philosophy should concern itself with current issues of social, economic, or political importance, and ask what can be done to improve them? Dewey's method is concerned with concrete solutions to concrete problems. Rather than over-broad generalizations about "the State" or "Life", we must ask think of answers to problems concerning this individual state, or that individual person. Likewise, he advocates dropping the notion of the Universal having more importance than the Particular; doing so, he claims, leads to intellectual laziness, and a denial that problems exist (extreme optimism). Rather, human intelligence must be focused on particular problems, with an eye towards improving that particular situation.
This often-overlooked book is the perfect antidote to the image of the philosopher as an out-of-touch abstract intellectual,
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8 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Mark Eckenrode on May 9, 2005
Format: Paperback
Written soon after the First World War, Reconstruction in Philosophy by James Dewey attempts to lay out a program for making philosophy adapt to the needs of a new time and age. As man's experience has changed in the modern era, so must philosophy change; philosophy must evolve in order to explicitly address those issues from which it originally arose - those dealing with the everyday concerns of man. It is contemporary philosophy's (in 1919) detachment from man's real life and goals that Dewey wishes to diagnose and address. Philosophy must break the bonds of tradition and become entirely secular; the scientific method which revolutionized man's life must be embraced by philosophy - the facts and experience oriented spirit of science must pervade the reconstruction of philosophy.

It is the rise of science as the great shaper of human life and culture that constitutes the greatest change in human experience. Pre-historic man's life - which, according to Dewey, consisted of brief periods of food gathering and the rest of long periods of reverie - gave rise to conceptions of the nature of man and the world. As men's culture advanced, so did men's accounts of the nature of man and the world; these developments culminated in the works of the classic ancient thinkers, notably Plato and Aristotle. These were philosophies that denigrated ugly matter and imperfect change, and idealized perfect, eternal forms. These philosophies, and those in modern times which carry their influence, place ultimate value and ultimate reality in otherworldly or extra-sensory things - in the Forms, Celestial Spheres, the Categories, etc.
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