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Human Nature and Conduct Paperback – October 27, 2011

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Editorial Reviews

From the Author

In the spring of 1918 I was invited by Leland Stanford Junior University to give a series of three lectures upon the West Memorial Foundation. One of the topics included within the scope of the Foundation is Human Conduct and Destiny. This volume is the result, as, according to the terms of the Foundation, the lectures are to be published. The lectures as given have, however, been rewritten and considerably expanded. An Introduction and Conclusion have been added. The lectures should have been published within two years from delivery. Absence from the country rendered strict compliance difficult; and I am indebted to the authorities of the University for their indulgence in allowing an extension of time, as well as for so many courtesies received during the time when the lectures were given.

Perhaps the sub-title requires a word of explanation. The book does not purport to be a treatment of social psychology. But it seriously sets forth a belief that an understanding of habit and of different types of habit is the key to social psychology, while the operation of impulse and intelligence gives the key to individualized mental activity. But they are secondary to habit so that mind can be understood in the concrete only as a system of beliefs, desires and purposes which are formed in the interaction of biological aptitudes with a social environment. -- J.D., February, 1921 --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

About the Author

Susan Dewey is Assistant Professor of Gender & Women's Studies and adjunct in International Studies at the University of Wyoming. She is the author of "Making Miss India Miss World: Constructing Gender, Power, and the Nation in Postliberalization India" and "Hollow Bodies: Institutional Responses to Sex Trafficking in Armenia, Bosnia, and India".
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Dover Publications (November 24, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0486420973
  • ISBN-13: 978-0486420974
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.7 x 8.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,400,650 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Format: Paperback
The thought of John Dewey continues to astonish me. One would think that a third-generation thinker from a school, in this case pragmatism, would run out of fresh new turns to take with the doctrine or stance. However, this is not so. Dewey’s objective, in this text, is to ground moral philosophy, just as Peirce and James sought to ground all sorts of other areas of philosophy, e.g., epistemology, science, conceptual meaning, etc. Dewey moves in a direction that builds off of his “Reconstruction of Philosophy,” particularly what he says in his chapter on ethics, and critiques both ends of the spectrum of rationalistic moral philosophers, who have thought morality inherently disconnected from human conduct, as though theorization precedes the human context. His critique, while ending at something similar to Nietzsche or Paine, critiques these sorts of positions, as well as the Kantian position of morality.

Anyone familiar with Dewey in the least will know that his theory of human action, much like Peirce and James, begins with habit, thought Dewey’s is a much more physiological approach than psychological alone. He begins with the nerve, and develops an understanding of societal behavior from that, moving through the human habit, building a dual bottom-up/top-down view of morality and society as individual (and society as collective). In this book, he discusses his thought on free will, impulse, and intelligence, explaining how these ideas fit into a conduct-focused understanding of morality.

Reading the book through for the first time, I don’t know how convincing it is, but I give it five stars on grounds of its creativity, freshness, and its ability to stimulate.
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Format: Paperback
John Dewey (1859-1952) was an American philosopher (best known as a Pragmatist), psychologist, and educational reformer whose ideas of “progressive education” have been very influential (as well as controversial, in some circles). He wrote many books, including Reconstruction in Philosophy, The Quest for Certainty, A Common Faith, etc.

[NOTE: page numbers below refer to a 336-page hardcover edition.]

He wrote in the Introduction to this 1929 book, “Man’s nature has been regarded with suspicion, with fear, with sour looks, sometimes with enthusiasm for its possibilities but only when these were placed in contrast with its actualities… Theologians have doubtless taken a gloomier view of man than have pagans and secularists. But this explanation doesn’t take us far. For after all these theologians are themselves human, and they would have been without influence if the human audience had not somehow responded to them.” (Pg. 1)

He continues, “Morality is largely concerned with controlling human nature… moralists were led, perhaps, to think of human nature as evil because of its reluctance to yield to control… But this explanation raises another question: Why did morality set up rules so foreign to human nature? The ends it insisted upon, the regulations it imposed, were after all outgrowths of human nature. Why then was human nature so averse to them?
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This is one of several books that I continue to return to. It is packed with depth and yet easy to understand.
I will read it again and again.
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Together with Charles Peirce, William James, and Josiah Royce, John Dewey forms part of an outpouring of American thought in the early 20th Century frequently called the "golden age of American philosophy". Peirce, James and Dewey founded and taught variations of philosophical pragmatism while Royce, heavily influenced by pragmatism, was closer to philosophical idealism. I have read less of Dewey than of the three companion thinkers.

Dewey (1859 -- 1952) lived a long, active life during which he wrote prolifically. I have thought it difficult to get a clear handle on his work. Dewey has been highly influential, perhaps notoriously (unfairly) so, in educational philosophy. His work has also highly influenced social science and public policy. Dewey's thought has undergone a strong revival in recent years with the growth of interest in American pragmatism and with the so-called "second wave" of pragmatism associated with Richard Rorty. While admiring Dewey greatly, Rorty took Dewey's thought in his own direction.

As with any important philosopher, Dewey needs to be read and struggled with in his own writing rather than through secondary sources or through the views of others. In 1918, Dewey delivered a series of lectures at Stanford which became the basis for his important book, "Human Nature and Conduct: An Introduction to Social Psychology" (1921) which offers a point of entry into his thinking, particularly his ethics. The book is lengthy, repetitive, and difficult, with pithy, sharp writing and observations punctuating less readable stretches.
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