Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy
I offer an interpretive reconstruction of John Dewey’s naturalistic metaphysics. I explore the function and interrelation of a number of terms that are central to Dewey’s metaphysics, including “nature,” “continuity,” “generic traits of existence,” the “qualitative,” “experience,” and “emergence.” In place of a strictly “pluralistic” idea of nature, I suggest that a Deweyan model provides the basis for understanding nature as a continuous whole. The generic traits of existence are the most general ontological features of nature; they are operative in all that exists, but manifest in unique ways within every particular existence. Because all things share these traits, they can be understood as the ground for naturalistic continuity, for how all existences are capable of interacting within a common world. Generic traits are best understood as the underlying patterns or rhythms of nature, patterns that are “tensional” or oppositional. I propose that “tension” is at the heart of any productive process. Through characterizing generic traits in this way, I link them to an emergent theory of generation. Thus, the generic traits of existence are the common grounds for particular existences, relations among existences, and the generation of new existences and relations. Experience is a broad term, but Dewey provides the basis for differentiating among types of experience in accordance with their functionalities, as well as their contextual “size” or “scope.” We can discuss Deweyan experience as an integrated series of emergent contexts or fields that include what he terms, in order of diminishing size, culture, mind, subconscious, consciousness, and cognitive thought. This emergent scheme shows why culture is a directive field of experience, and that cognitive or reflective thought is only a small portion of our experiential process. Through reflecting upon the nature of various experiential contexts, through treating these contexts as our empirical data, we can engage in what Dewey terms “metaphysical inquiry.” If knowledge itself is understood within a broader experiential context, the ways in which knowledge integrates into experience, the “forms” of our meanings, can tell us a great deal about basic features of existence.
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