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Change in Dewey’s and Aristotle’s Metaphysics

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Abstract

In this chapter, the metaphysics of change takes center stage as I continue to investigate Aristotle’s thought, and examine how his hylomorphism1 overcomes the difficulties raised by Parmenides’ theorizing of opposites with its juxtaposition of mutability and immutability, Being and Not-Being, and singularity and plurality.2 Since the overarching focal point of this book lies in a depiction of selfhood that endows selves with agency, and hence with the capacity to effect change as morally responsible beings, one must first ascertain what kind of world this self exists in. A world that does not allow for mutability must also preclude mutable beings, and the ability of beings to bring about change. I therefore establish whether the world is permanent, stable, precarious, or mutable, as this provides a basis from which to theorize the self as it exists in the world.

Keywords

  • Natural Object
  • Aristotelian Logic
  • Productive View
  • Teleological Account
  • Divine Plan

These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

Some things exist by nature, others are due to other causes. Natural objects include animals and their parts, plants and simple bodies like earth, fire, air, and water; at any rate, we do say that these kinds of things exist naturally. The obvious difference between all these things and things which are not natural is that each of the natural ones contains within itself a source of change and of stability, in respect of either movement or increase and decrease or alteration.

—Aristotle, Physics

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Notes

  1. Randall Jr., J. H., “Dewey’s Interpretation of the History of Philosophy” in The Philosophy of John Dewey, Schilpp, P. A. (ed.), Tudor Publishing Company, New York, 1951, p. 80.

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  2. For an in-depth study of Aristotelianism in Dewey’s metaphysics, see Boisvert, R. D., Dewey’s Metaphysics, Fordham University Press, New York, 1988. Change plays an important role in Boisvert’s analysis.

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  3. Ratner, J. (ed.), Intelligence in the Modern World: John Dewey’s Philosophy, Random House, Inc., New York, 1939, p. 210.

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  4. Dewey actually uses the word “sin” in his critique of Aristotle’s philosophy—see Dewey, J., “Intelligence and Morals” in The Influence of Darwin on Philosophy and Other Essays, Henry Holt & Co., New York, 1910, p. 50.

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  5. Tiles, J. E., “John Dewey, 1859–1952” in John Dewey: Critical Assessments, Vol. 1, Tiles, J. E. (ed.), Routledge, London, 1992, p. xxvii.

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  6. My analysis will draw predominantly on texts written during the Aristotelian phase, and hence post-“Aristotelian turn”—for more on this see Sleeper, R., The Necessity of Pragmatism: John Dewey’s Conception of Philosophy, Yale University Press, New Haven & London, 1986.

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  7. Dewey, J., Reconstruction in Philosophy, Henry Holt & Co., New York, 1920.

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  8. See, amongst others, Dewey, J., Democracy and Education: An Introduction to the Philosophy of Education in John Dewey: The Middle Works, 1899–1924, Vol. 9: 1916, Boydston, J. A. (ed.), Southern Illinois University Press, Carbondale & Edwardsville, 2008, pp. 82–85.

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  9. Plato’s theory of knowledge posits forms as universals, knowledge of which we are born with, yet forget. This needs to be recollected, lest we be subject to a certain blindness, never able to see things as they really are, a scenario aptly depicted by the allegory of the cave—for more on this see Plato, Republic, Waterfield, R. (ed.), Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1998.

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  10. For more on this see Droege, P., “Reclaiming the Subject, or A View from Here” in Feminist Interpretations of John Dewey, Seigfried, C. H. (ed.), The Pennsylvania State University Press, University Park, PA, 2002.

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  11. Dewey, J., Logic: The Theory of Inquiry in John Dewey: The Later Works, 1925–1953, Vol. 12: 1938, Boydston, J. A. (ed.), Southern Illinois University Press, Carbondale & Edwardsville, 1986, p. 15.

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  12. Boisvert, R. D., “From the Biological to the Logical: John Dewey’s Logic as a Theory of Inquiry” in Classical American Pragmatism: Its Contemporary Vitality, Rosenthal, S. B., Hausman, Carl R., and Anderson, Douglas R. (eds.), University of Illinois Press, Urbana & Chicago, 1999, p. 50.

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  13. Dewey, R. E., The Philosophy of John Dewey: A Critical Exposition of his Method, Metaphysics, and Theory of Knowledge, Martinus Nijhoff, The Hague, 1977, p. 104.

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  14. For more on this see Boisvert, R. D., “Dewey’s Metaphysics: Ground-Map of the Prototypically Real” in Reading Dewey: Interpretations for a Postmodern Generation, Hickman, L. A. (ed.), Indiana University Press, Bloomington & Indianapolis, 1998;

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  15. and Dewey, J., The Quest for Certainty: A Study of the Relation of Knowledge and Action in John Dewey: The Later Works, 1925–1953, Vol. 4: 1929, Boydston, J. A. (ed.), Southern Illinois University Press, Carbondale & Edwardsville, 1984.

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  16. Craig Cunningham details some of the traits identified by Dewey “in Experience and Nature and elsewhere,” which number “at least 30”—see Cunningham, C. A., “The Metaphysics of Dewey’s Conception of the Self,” Philosophy of Education Society, Urbana, 1995, p. 2.

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  17. A more detailed account of Aristotle’s metaphysics would be misplaced here, see however, Reeve, C. D. C., Substantial Knowledge: Aristotle’s Metaphysics, Hackett Publishing, Indianapolis, 2002;

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  18. and Broadie, S., Aristotle and Beyond: Essays on Metaphysics and Ethics, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2007.

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  19. Guthrie, W. K. C., The Greek Philosophers: From Thales to Aristotle, Routledge, London, 1997, p. 127. Emphasis mine.

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  20. Dewey, J., “Some Stages of Logical Thought” in The Middle Works, 1899–1924, Vol. 1: 1899–1901, J. A Boydston (ed.), Southern Illinois University Press, Carbondale & Edwardsville, 2008, p. 162.

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  21. For a reading of Aristotle’s philosophy wherein the elevation of contemplation is somewhat mitigated, see Broadie, S., Ethics With Aristotle, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1991, esp. Chapter 7, section XI entitled “The Best Life.”

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  22. Dewey, J., “Philosophy” in John Dewey: The Later Works, 1925–1953, Vol. 5: 1929–1930, Boydston, J. A. (ed.), Southern Illinois University Press, Carbondale & Edwardsville, 1984, p. 166.

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  23. For more on Dewey and Darwin see Dewey, J., The Influence of Darwin on Philosophy and Other Essays, Henry Holt & Co., New York, 1910.

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© 2014 Clara Fischer

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Fischer, C. (2014). Change in Dewey’s and Aristotle’s Metaphysics. In: Gendered Readings of Change. Breaking Feminist Waves. Palgrave Macmillan, New York. https://doi.org/10.1057/9781137342720_3

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