The potential of everyday experience as a definitive source of critical reflection

Realizing the potential of everyday experience as a definitive source of critical reflection and democratic struggle requires a reconstruction of the notion of “individualism” that Dewey’s idea of “growth” makes possible.  Although lived experience is, in and of itself, not necessarily a resource for critical reflection, Dewey argues that the critical potential of experience can and must be tapped if we are to mount an effective challenge to entrenched interests and actualize our democratic commitments to liberty and equality of opportunity. This realization of potential, however, first requires a dedication to reconstructing our understanding of individualism. Therefore, in the last section here, I turn to Individualism Old and New (1929) and argue that Dewey advances a profoundly critical notion of individualism that is based on his unique conceptions of experience, growth, and social intelligence. In order to pave the way for an examination of this nexus between experience as critical reflection, growth as reconstructed individualism, and social intelligence as the fodder for democratic struggle as key components of Dewey’s critical pragmatism, I begin here by tracing key historical dimensions of the relationship between critical theory and pragmatism. As Hans Joas has noted, this history is one of “misunderstandings, deliberate distortions, and well-meaning incomprehension.”

Alison Kadlec Reconstructing Dewey: the philosophy of critical pragmatism in Polity (2006) 38, 519–542

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