Wednesday, 13 September 2017

Friedrich Nietzsche and John Dewey Contrasted

John Dewey
It is difficult to think of any commonality in the ideas of Nietzsche and Dewey. I think Nietzsche’s Übermensch is poles apart from Dewey’s pragmatic man.

But historian W. T. Jones offers a convincing contrast between the two thinkers:
“Dewey’s anthropological and psychological analysis of metaphysics is obviously similar to Nietzsche’s. Both philosophers agreed that the object of metaphysical thinking are “fictions” that function to allay the insecurity people feel in the presence of change, decay, and death. But they differed sharply in their attitudes towards this discovery about the basic insecurity in human nature, as is shown not only by what they said but by the very styles in which they wrote.  Nietzsche’s writing was metaphorical, contentious, and highly personal. He shared the underlying insecurity that others experienced and differed from them in choosing to face it rather than flee from it. He felt, as they did, that humankind is hanging precariously on the edge of an abyss; his response was too affirm life despite its terror. In contrast, Dewey’s exposition of the roots of metaphysics was calm, detailed, and scholarly. Since he did not experience any abyss within himself, since he did not feel divided and alienated, he was not personally involved in the discovery that most people experience deep insecurity. Rather, he looked at the situation from the outside, as a physician and psychiatrist might. He believed that the cure for insecurity was not (as Nietzsche had held) to bite the snake that had bitten one—to Dewey, this was a truly desperate remedy. The cure was to become involved in the day-to-day task of improving humankind’s estate. Hence, though Dewey too affirmed life, he did not feel this affirmation to be particularly difficult or heroic. Further, the life that he affirmed did not involve a quantum jump to a level “beyond good and evil”; it consisted in a gradual, even “prosaic,” advance to more-intelligent practice.”  
~ A History of Western Philosophy (Volume V), The Twentieth Century to Quine and Derrida by W. T. Jones; Chapter: “The Nature of Reality: Experience” (Page 46—47)


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Joshua said...

On the other hand, the courage Nietzsche talks about is a coming to terms with the fact that individual desire, motive, purpose, cant be subsumed under any predetermined notion of human betterment or teleology of progress. Dewey never claimed that a Hegelian dialectical reason was operating beneath culture, but there are hints that he never fully divested himself of this thinking that human values could be reconciled through reason. Nietzsche, like Freud, forced us to see human history as more of a geneology, a history of drives and their transformation into other drives, than a march of progress.