Essay: John Dewey Ethics

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John Dewey Ethics

Dewey: A Study on Ethics

Dewey's introduction in Ethics is rather broad in scope and makes an attempt to illustrate a brief overview of the reasons necessary to write this particular treatise. In keeping with this purpose the author provides a general definition of ethics -- "the science that deals with conduct, good or bad" (Dewey 1) -- as well as a brief overview of the history of this particular discipline which involves the etymology of the terms ethics and morals. By the means of the aforementioned definitions, the author stratifies the pursuit of ethical thought and action into a pair of categories, one related to a confirmed form of conduct or etiquette that is readily acceptable throughout society, while the other is essentially the vicissitudes of moral life. In appropriating the meaning of these two respective forms of ethics, he details its (that is, ethics') relation to other fields of science such as psychology and genetics, before eventually concluding that ethics is essentially the study of determining the value and the worth of life, as it is actually lived and as it should ideally be lived. This concept denotes the intrinsic dichotomy between theory and practice.

The remainder of the introduction grants a brief preview of the study of the varying notions of morality, on what basis they are made and how their application affects people. Dewey explains that the two fundamental criteria for judging moral behavior are known as the What and the How, which may be elucidated further by the following quotation. "…we may assume for the present purpose a general agreement that our moral judgments take into account both what is done or intended, and how or why the act is done" (Dewey 7). By distinguishing the what from the how, the author is essentially making a provision for intentions, which is a fairly key component of ethical thought and behavior, to a greater or lesser extent depending upon which moralist notions are being proffered.

In his consideration of what particular act or practice is carried out, Dewey distinguished between the higher and lower nature of man, the former being that which he is capable of achieving based on his more advanced features such as thought, while the lower nature is essentially a reactionary, instinctive compulsion that may be shared with other lower forms of life that populate the planet. He also acknowledges the Golden Rule in respect to what is actually done; that rule, of course, being it is best to do to others what one would have done to himself. More interesting is his explication of the notion that how an action done also plays a significant role in issues of morality. In this part of the introduction the author proffers certain connotations and definitions of the terms good and right, and the sense of obligations these words and the actions that denote them inherently carry.

By separating moral actions into three forms of behavior, that which is involuntary, that which is consciously done, and that which is habitually done by following a preset pattern, Dewey traces the growth of morality and its development.

This growth is then detailed into the varying stages of what the author terms agencies, which are notions of behavior and actions that elicit the fostering of moral development within people. Such agencies include what Dewey terms as the rationalizing agencies, the socializing agencies, and as well as psychological agencies. By tracing the growth of morality with the individual, the author is able to account for morality within a group or social environment that allows for the concept of ethics as we largely know it to be today.

Chapter III

Rationalizing agencies is the name which Dewey has given to a number of pursuits which allow for one to develop his or her moral personality. Essentially, rationalizing agencies are the means by which an individual may determine morals. A rather intrinsic component of rationalizing agencies is the fact that there is a degree of subtlety to the morality which they induce. To that end, the vast majority of rationalizing agencies are not ones pursuits that are attempted to ascertain moral development or to gain a degree of credence upon moral practices. Rather, they are fairly innate pursuits that happen to yield some sort of insight that allows for people to have reasons to develop ethical principles about certain topics or aspects of life even.

As Dewey mentions in the third chapter of Ethics, one of the most fundamental rationalizing agencies is work or the daily labor which one attempts. In deciding to pursue a particular job, for instance, it would be fairly uncommon for someone to conceive of some great ethical reason for performing that particular sort of labor. Rather, people have rather instinctive needs, such as desiring to eat, or perhaps to feed a family or some other fairly basic, primal desire. The rationalizing aspect of this particular "agency," as it were, lies in the fact that in just pursuing to earn a living, it is possible for that individual to become exposed to other factors that foster and develop his or her conception of morality. There are certain moral virtues, such as the need for patience, or as Dewey states, the need for foresight and planning, that a worker will come to understand as having particular value for his job. In learning about the value of those virtues in relation to a job, it is easily transferable to regard those same virtues as moral principles to be adhered to in general.

Socializing agencies, on the other hand, are certain attributes that may be gained from specific acts or practices that help to reinforce morality from a social perspective. Essentially, socializing agencies are used to induce cooperation and can be made manifest in a mutual form of benefit that aids a group of people. It is helpful to consider the fact that in some cases, rationalizing agencies can also function as socializing agencies, and that these two concepts are not mutually exclusive of one another. By following the previously outlined example of work being a form of a rationalizing agency, it can be suitably demonstrated that the performance of a particular job can also be a socializing agency if there is a form of cooperation that yields a mutual benefit for the workers involved. Whereas the lone worker, for example, would have considerable difficulty engaging in a practice such as building a car, an assembly-line process consisting of multiple employees all working together for a greater good (the production of a car or of many cars) can increase productivity by speeding up the car building process. The workers will have achieved more by acting in concert with one another, and by utilizing a form of socialization which Dewey refers to as a socializing agency.

The primary factor in ascertaining whether a specific practice can be deemed a social agency or not lies in the fact that it must require cooperation to do so. As Dewey himself notes, cooperation is "one of nature's most effective agencies for a social standard and a social feeling" (Dewey 42). It is this accumulation of and engendering of a social feeling that successfully determines whether or not a specific practice, such as working or in forming some sort of industry, is actually a socializing agency.

Chapter IV

When comparing Dewey's notion of group standards to Nietzsche's conception of the herd and a herd-like mentality, it becomes fairly obvious that there are a number of commonalities that exist between each of these ideas. Chief among these commonalities is that the individual's rights and moralistic tendencies are largely determined by a group of people of which the individual is a part of. However, when comparing both of these ideas, it becomes fairly salient that Nietzsche largely regards such a group-oriented disposition and adherence to morality as a negative consequence of society and its ethics, whereas for the most part, Dewey considers such adherence to group regulated ethical responsibility to be positive and beneficial to both society and to the respective individual.

A brief examination of Nietzsche's conception of the herd sufficiently demonstrates his perspective that such a mentality and its propagation of morals is widely undesirable. By a herd mentality, the German author explicitly denotes that the mores which most people follow are determined by two primary collective sources. The first of these sources is organized religion (particularly Christianity and its roots in Judaism), while the second is disseminated by the media. Nietzsche believes that the herd-like process of not thinking for oneself and simply following the accepted morals of a group is related to the decline of moral value that is found in Western Civilization and which is ultimately weakening.

Within Dewey's conception of group standards, however, he takes this same principle of there being a collective source of morality and actually emphasizes that a fair amount of the ethics reflected within this source are determined by the individual, but in a… [END OF PREVIEW]

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