John Dewey's pragmatic reconstruction of subjectivity

Mark H Van Hollebeke, Fordham University


A full articulation of John Dewey's pragmatic critique of transcendental philosophy—particularly his criticism of the “transcendental turn” in modern philosophical theories of human subjectivity—requires a pragmatic reconstruction of subjectivity. This dissertation offers an account of that reconstruction. Inspired by Dewey's critique and his positive philosophy of transactional experience, it also moves beyond it. Dewey did not, strictly speaking, offer a positive theory of subjectivity; indeed, many contemporary pragmatists would say that such a project is wrong-headed or impossible in a naturalist pragmatic framework. I disagree. I argue that Dewey is offering a determinate negation of transcendental subjectivity in his move to transactional experience, emergentist metaphysics and operational logic. I employ his account of the “operational a priori” in order to offer a full-bodied reconstruction of the transcendental self, one that does not rely on transcendental underpinning. More specifically, I juxtapose Dewey's naturalism with the transcendental methodology of Jürgen Habermas and Bernard Lonergan to show that Dewey's historical and social account of subjectivity complements and enhances contemporary transcendental thinking. I also contend that these schools can offer contemporary Deweyans a way to put flesh on Dewey's rather skeletal account of the self. The purpose of my dissertation is to promote Dewey's project of returning to (and enriching) lived experience via a fallible and experimental model of moral inquiry and critical social theory predicated on a naturalist and pragmatic conception of human subjectivity.

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Recommended Citation

Van Hollebeke, Mark H, "John Dewey's pragmatic reconstruction of subjectivity" (2004). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI3140905.