Paul Kurtz - John Dewey and the Real Point of Inquiry

March 26, 2010

Paul Kurtz is founder and chair emeritus of the Center for Inquiry and founder of a number of other organizations. A Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, he is Professor Emeritus of Philosophy at the State University of New York at Buffalo, chairman of the Committee for the Skeptical Inquiry, the Council for Secular Humanism, and Prometheus Books. He is the author or editor of almost fifty books, including his new title Exuberant Skepticism. Throughout the last four decades, Kurtz has been a leading defender of science and reason against the prevailing cults of irrationality in our society, and has been interviewed widely in the media on a wide range of subjects, including alternative medicine and communication with the dead, to the historicity of Jesus and parapsychology.

In this, the third of three special-edition episodes featuring D.J. Grothe, Paul Kurtz discusses American philosopher John Dewey, and explains how his views undergird much of what the Center for Inquiry stands for. He talks about the American school of philosophy called pragmatism, and its central value of testing ideas by their consequences. He explains how active inquiry, even into controversial claims, is key for the educated mind, and why learning how to think is more important than being instructed what to think. He explores Dewey's humanism, and how nature and science should be servants of the human good. He talks about Dewey's optimism and his faith in democracy, in the common person, and in social progress. He explores how for Dewey moral values are objective, but are not absolute, static and unchanging, but that they should be modified in the light of new evidence and situations. And he explains the real value of inquiry and how it may enrich people's lives.

Books Mentioned in This Episode:

Comments from the CFI Forums

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Dewey is a personal favorite.  In these days of postmodern, continental and analytic philosophers, it’s good to see pragmatism lives on.  Thank you.

Posted on Mar 26, 2010 at 9:12am by ciceronianus Comment #1

Pray tell< what is the difference between analytic philosophy(in the modern sense) and continental philosophy?

Posted on Mar 26, 2010 at 5:21pm by Shinken Comment #2

Pray tell< what is the difference between analytic philosophy(in the modern sense) and continental philosophy?

One of them is interested in analyzing claims into their constituent elements (linguistic, etc.; presently so-called “analytic” philosophers are more interested in scientific analyses, e.g., those from the sciences relevant to the issue in question). The other is interested in ... I’m not sure what. The best description I have heard is “creative sharing”. I.e. it’s not an intellectual inquiry at all, but rather a cooperative attempt to share fun times. Puns and wordgames are particular favorites.

I haven’t listened to this podcast, but in the past I’ve been disappointed in the lack of intellectual rigor with Dewey and the pragmatists.

Posted on Mar 26, 2010 at 8:17pm by dougsmith Comment #3

Rigor, schmigor.

That’s a problem with James,  certainly, but Dewey is significantly better.  The analytics had more of an influence on the later pragmatists, such as Sidney Hook and (sometimes) Hilary Putnam.

I think you’re generally correct on the difference between analytical and continental philosophy.  I’m not sure what the continentals are after, either, but I think it has something to do with Being, or an abyss, or power or despair.

Nor am I certain what “modern” analytic philosophy is, for that matter.  I confess I’m a bit dated.

Posted on Mar 27, 2010 at 5:25am by ciceronianus Comment #4

Dewey himself may have been a traditionalist but his name was grabbed by the “progessive” movement, which is criticized in Hirsch’s

The Schools we Need (and why we don’t have them)
good review by David Saxe of Penn State at;=

The argument in educational circles is whether you teach children knowledge, or you somehow teach them the process for learning (i.e. teaching themselves).  At the   college-adult level surely you want self-learners—but there are arguments that this is not the way to teach young children. They need to learn phoenics and multiplication tables and certain basic knowledge by rote.

Just as Dorothy always held the power to return to Kansas, the key to democratic education has always been available and it was Dewey and later Bagley who articulated the importance of common-shared knowledge.

Posted on Mar 27, 2010 at 7:46pm by Jackson Comment #5