Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



First Advisor

Alexander, Thomas


This dissertation will use the philosophy of John Dewey to develop a conception of the individual using an ecological model as an alternative to the atomistic type more typical of Western philosophy. An ecological model presents the individual as part of a biological and cultural milieu, but, contrary to a number of critiques of the Deweyan individual, it does not subsume the individual beneath the larger processes of which it is a part or sacrifice the individual to the social institutions such as the state. The Introduction and Chapter One provide an overview of various critiques of Dewey's understanding of the individual before arguing that the Deweyan individual is best understood in ecological terms. This first section also argues in favor of Dewey's current relevance, as his philosophy provides a number of resources for addressing contemporary social problems. Chapter Two briefly examines the claim that there are possible absolutist tendencies in Dewey's thought before discussing the threat of absolutism, examining absolutist practices as types of monocultures, and arguing that far from supporting such tendencies, a Deweyan ecological individualism works against such practices. Chapter Three examines some of the implications of using an ecological model for the individual, shows that such an understanding of the individual drives home the precariousness of existence, and argues that this model thus provides the basis for a Deweyan existentialism. While Chapter Three emphasizes the ways in which our interdependence highlights the dangers that individuals face, Chapter Four responds to these worrisome implications by arguing in favor of a Deweyan art of living that builds upon our social and biological interrelatedness with a Deweyan care ethics that responds not only to our status as ecologically integrated entities with responsibilities to our social and biological communities, but that also emphasizes our need for self-care. The final chapter examines the ecological individual and moral community through the lens of a Deweyan radical democracy that emphasizes the need for ecological literacy, citizen engagement, a knowledgeable respect for our diverse heritage, and a willingness to work together continually to change our institutions and our practices toward democratic ideals.




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