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‘To be is to respond’: realising a dialogic ontology for Deweyan pragmatism

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Higham, RJE 


Dewey’s pragmatism rejected ‘truth’ as indicative of an underlying reality, instead ascribing it to valuable connections between aims and ends. His argument mirrors Bishop Berkeley’s Idealism, summarised as ‘esse est percepi’ (to be is to be perceived) (1988/1710, p. 53), whose thinking is shown to be highly pragmatist – but who retained a foundationalist ontology by naming God as the guarantor of all things. I argue that while this position is unsustainable, pragmatism could be strengthened by an ontological foundation. Koopman’s charges of foundationalist ‘givenism’ in Dewey’s work, and in his promotion of the scientific method, are not proven. However, his ‘genealogical pragmatism’ may develop Deweyan educational theory by addressing his dilemmas around curricular study. Koopman’s arguments also point towards a missing ontological piece in Dewey’s theory of knowledge. A dialogic ontology is offered as compatible with pragmatism: it provides an ethical foundation through interrelatedness, and a generative theory of meaning and experience as emergent from the encounter with difference. In this framework, to be is to respond – or be responded to. This is compatible with Biesta’s notion of ‘coming into presence’ through education. The metaphor of ‘realisation’ is offered as capturing the human experience implied by this ontological stance.



5003 Philosophy, 50 Philosophy and Religious Studies

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Journal of Philosophy of Education

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