Archive for the ‘John Dewey’ Category

John Dewey “The Public and Its Problems”

November 29, 2011 Leave a comment

Dewey, John 1991 [1927]. The Public and its Problems. Athens: Swallow Press: Ohio University Press.


Search for the Public

If one wishes to realize the distance which may lie between „facts“ and the meaning of facts, let one go to the field of social discussion. (3)

It is mere pretense […] to suppose that we can stick by the de facto, and not raise at some points the question of de jure: the question of by what right, the question of legitimacy. And such a question has a way of growing until it has become a question as to the nature of the state itself. (6)

The more sincerely we appeal to facts, the greater is the importance of the distinction between facts which condition human activity and facts which are conditioned by human activity. In the degree which we ignore this difference, social science becomes pseudo-science. (7)

To explain the origin of the state by saying that man is a political animal is to travel in a verbal circle. (9)

We take then our point of departure from the objective fact that human acts have consequences upon others, that some of these consequences are perceived, and that their perception leads to subsequent effort to control action so as to secure some consequences and avoid others. […] When indirect consequences are recognized and there is effort to regulate them, something having the traits of a state comes into existence. (12)

The distinction between private and public is thus in no sense equivalent  to the distinction between individual and social, even if we suppose that the latter distinction has a definite meaning. Many private acts are social; their consequences contribute to the welfare of the community or affect its status and prospects. (13)

The public consists of all those who are affected by the indirect consequences of transactions to such an extent that it is deemed necessary to have some consequences systematically cared for. (15-16)

Existence of a multitude of contradictory theories of the state, which is so baffling from the standpoint of the theories themselves, is readily explicable the moment we see that all the theories, in spite of their divergence from one another, spring from a root of shared error: the taking of causal agency instead of consequences as the heart of the problem. (19-20)

Individuals still do the thinking, desiring and purposing, but what they think of is the consequences of their behavior upon that of others and that of others upon themselves. (24)

Thus man is not merely de facto associated, but he becomes a social animal in the make-up of his ideas, sentiments and deliberate behavior. What he believes, hopes for and aims at is the outcome of association and intercourse. (25)

For the essence of the consequences which call a public into being is the fact that they expand beyond those directly engaged in producing them. […] Government is not the state, for that includes the public as well as the rulers charged with special duties and powers. The public, however, is organized in and through those officers who act in behalf of its interests. (27-28)

To form itself, the public has to break existing political forms. This is hard to do because these forms are themselves the regular means of instituting change. The public which generates political forms is passing away, but the power and lust of possession remains in the hands of the officers and agencies which the dying public instituted. This is why the change of the form of states is so often effected only by revolution. (31)

By its very nature, a state is ever something to be scrutinized, investigated, searched for. Almost as soon as its form is stabilized, it needs to be remade. (31-32)

[…] the state is the organization of the public effected through officials for the protection of the interests shared by its members. (33)

And since conditions of action and inquiry and knowledge are always changing, the experiment must always be retried; the State must always be rediscovered. (34)

Now follows the hypothesis. Those indirectly and seriously affected for good or for evil from a group distinctive enough to require recognition and a name. The name selected is The Public. This public is organized and made effective by means of representatives who as guardians of custom, as legislators, as executives, judges, etc., care for its especial interests by methods intended to regulate the conjoint actions of individuals and groups. Then and in so far, association adds to itself political organization, and something which may be government comes into being: the public is a political state. (35)

What is needed to direct and make fruitful social inquiry is a method which proceeds on the basis of the interrelations of observable acts and their results. (36)

Discovery of the state

In short, the hypothesis which holds that publics are constituted by recognition of extensive and enduring indirect consequences of acts accounts for the relativity of the states, while the theories which define them in terms of specific causal authorship imply an absoluteness which is contradicted by facts. […] The only constant is the function of caring for and regulating the interests which accrue as the result of the complex indirect expansion and radiation of conjoint behavior. (47)

[…] temporal and local diversification is a prime mark of political organization, and one which, when it is analyzed, supplies a confirming test of our theory. A second mark and evidence is found in an otherwise inexplicable fact that the quantitative scope results of conjoint behavior generates a public with need of organization. (47)

A third mark of the public organized as a state, a mark which also provides a test of our hypothesis, is that it is concerned with modes of behavior which are old and hence well established, engrained. […] We, to be sure, live in an era of discoveries and inventions. Speaking generally, innovation itself has become a custom. […] For an innovation is a departure, and one which brings in its train some incalculable disturbance of the behavior to which we have grown used and which seems “natural”. (57-58)

When, however, a mode of behavior has become old and familiar, and when an instrumentality has come into use as a matter of course, provided it is a prerequisite of other customary pursuits, it tends to come within the scope of the state. (60)

A fourth mark of the public is indicated by the idea that children and other dependents […] are peculiarly its wards. (62)

The lasting, extensive and serious consequences of associated activity bring into existence a public. In itself it is unorganized and formless. By means of officials and their special powers it becomes a state. A public articulated and operating through representative officers is the state; there is no state without a government, but also there is none without the public. (67)

The net import of our discussion is that a state is a distinctive and secondary form of association, having a specifiable work to do and specified organs of operation. (71)

The all-inclusive nature of the state signifies only that officers of the public (including, of course, law-makers) may act so as to fix conditions under which any form of association operates; its comprehensive character refers only to the impact of its behavior. (72)

The Democratic State

Singular persons are the foci of action, mental and moral, as well as overt. They are subject to all kinds of social influences which determine what they can think of, plan and choose. The conflicting streams of social influence come to a single and conclusive issue only in personal consciousness and deed. It arrives at decisions, makes terms and executes resolves only through the medium of individuals. They are officers; they represent the Public, but the Public acts only through them. We say in a country like our own that legislators and executives are elected by the public. The phrase might appear to indicate that the Public acts. But, after all, individual men and women exercise the franchise; the public is here a collective name for a multitude of persons each voting as an anonymous unit. (75)

By our hypothesis all governments are representative in that they purport to stand for the interests which a public has in the behavior of individuals and groups. (76)

The essential problem is that of transforming the action of such hands [individual] so that it will be animated by regard of social ends. (82)

But one of the meanings [of democracy] is strictly political, for it denotes a mode of government, a specified practice in selecting officials and regulating their conduct as officials. (82)

We have insisted that the development of political democracy represents the convergence of a great number of social movements, no one of which owed either its origin or its impetus to inspiration of democratic ideals or to planning for the eventual outcome. (85)

Popular franchise and majority rule afforded the imagination a picture of individuals in their untrammeled individual sovereignty making the state. (101)

The idea of a natural individual in his isolation possessed of full-fledged wants, of energies to be expended according to his own volition, and of a ready-made faculty of foresight and prudent calculation is as much a fiction in psychology as the doctrine of the individual in possession of antecedent political rights is one in politics. (102)

Associated behavior directed toward objects which fulfill wants not only produces those objects, but brings customs and institutions into being. (106)

Instead of independent, self-moved individuals contemplated by the theory, we have standardized interchangeable units. Persons are joined together, not because they have voluntarily chosen to be united in these forms, but because vast currents are running which bring men together. (107)

In a word, the new forms of combined action due to the modern economic regime control present politics, much as dynastic interests controlled those of two centuries ago. The affect thinking and desire more than did the interests which formerly moved the state. (108)

The Eclipse of the Public

An inchoate public is capable of organization only when indirect consequences are perceived, and when it is possible to project agencies which order their occurrence. At present, many consequences are felt rather than perceived; they are suffered, but they cannot be said to be known, for they are not, by those who experience them, referred to their origins. It goes, then, without saying that agencies are not established which canalize the streams of social action and thereby regulate them. Hence the publics are amorphous and unarticulated. (131)

It is not that there is no public, no large body of persons having a common interest in the consequences of social transactions. There is too much public, a public too diffused and scattered and too intricate in composition. And there are too many publics, for conjoint actions which have indirect, serious and enduring consequences are multitudinous beyond comparison, and each of them crosses the others and generates its own group of persons especially affected with little to hold these different publics together in an integrated whole. (137)

Politics thus tends to become just another “business”: the especial concern of bosses and the managers of the machine. (138)

How can a public be organized, we may ask, when literally it does not stay in place? (140)

Search for the Great Community

From the standpoint of the individual, it [democracy] consists in having a responsible share according to capacity in forming and directing these activities of the groups to which one belongs and in participating according to need in the values which the groups sustain. From the standpoint of the groups, it demands liberation of the potentialities of members of a group in harmony with the interests and goods which are common. Since every individual is a member of many groups, this specification cannot be fulfilled except when different groups interact flexibly and fully in connection with other groups. (147)

Regarded as an idea, democracy is not an alternative to other principles of associated life. It is the idea of community itself. It is an ideal in the only intelligible sense of an ideal: namely, the tendency and movement of some thing which exists carried to its final limit, viewed as completed, perfected. Since things do not attain such fulfillment but are in actuality distracted and interfered with, democracy in this sense is not a fact and never will be. But neither in this sense is there or has there ever been anything which is a community in its full measure, a community unalloyed by alien elements. (148)

In its just connection with communal experience, fraternity is another name for the consciously appreciated goods which accrue from an association in which all share, and which give direction to the conduct of each. Liberty is that secure release and fulfillment of personal potentialities which take place only in rich and manifold association with others: the power to be an individualized self making a distinctive contribution and enjoying in its own way the fruits of association. Equality denotes the unhampered share with each individual member of the community has in the consequences of associated action. (150)

But no amount of aggregated collective action of itself constitutes a community. For beings who observe and think, and whose ideas are absorbed by impulses and become sentiments and interests, “we” is as inevitable as “I”. but “we” and “our” exist only when the consequences of combined action are perceived and become an object of desire and effort, just as “I” and “mine” appear on the scene only when a distinctive share in mutual action is consciously asserted or claimed. (151-152)

A community thus presents an order of energies transmuted into one of meanings which are appreciated and mutually referred by each to every other on the part of those engaged in combined action. “Force” is not eliminated but is transformed in use and direction by ideas and sentiments made possible by means of symbols. (153)

But in fact, knowledge is a function of association and communication; it depends upon tradition, upon tools and methods socially transmitted, developed and sanctioned. Faculties of effectual observation, reflection and desire are habits acquired under the influence of the culture and institutions of society, not ready-made inherent powers. (158 – individual is not ready-made and self-sufficient, born in a community)

No man and no mind was ever emancipated merely by being left alone. Removal of formal limitations is but a negative condition; positive freedom is not a state but an act which involves methods and instrumentalities for control of conditions. (168)

Communication of the results of social inquiry is the same thing as the formation of public opinion. (177)

Without coordination and consecutiveness, events are not events, but mere occurrences, intrusions; an event implies that out of which a happening proceeds. (180)

In fact, both words, individual and social, are hopelessly ambiguous, and the ambiguity will never cease as long as we think in terms of an antithesis. (186)

Categories: John Dewey, poliitika, sotsiaal