The Public and its Problems

The Public and its Problems

by John Dewey

In his characteristic and provocative dialectic style, John Dewey clarifies the meaning and implications of such concepts as the public, the state, government, and political democracy; distinguishes his a posteriori reasoning from a priori reasoning which, he argues, permeates meaningful discussions of basic concepts; and repeatedly demonstrates the interrelationships between fact and theory.

  • Language: English
  • Category: Philosophy
  • Rating: 3.86
  • Pages: 242
  • Publish Date: November 1st 1991 by Swallow Press
  • Isbn10: 0804002541
  • Isbn13: 9780804002547

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While those casual meanings are all well and good, I wish we'd reconnect with pragmatism as a philosophy, and along with that what it has to say about matters that Dewey discusses in this book, like defining the public, exploring the relationship between the public and the state, providing room for conflict and a diversity of legitimate interests, etc. One of my biggest frustrations with the present day view of democracy is that the role of the citizen (and the 'mandate to govern') is boiled down to the act of voting. Many (including me, on my dark days) would say that deliberation is unrealistic in the modern era, but I'd actually say that the time is even more right than in Dewey's day.

An examination of the problems of modern democracy, and attempts to define and separate the 'state' and the 'public', noting that the earliest democratic institutions were organized around smaller city-states, and the introduction of these institutions on a national scale is an innovation, but also brings with it numerous problems. Views United States in its early history as jettisoning traditional authorities and preferring independence of individual communities.

The book is actually a collection of thoughtful and insightful lectures-turned-essays contemplating the form of democracy and what truly constitutes a "public", a "society", a "community" and what government's involvement should be in all these. Again, my distaste is mainly due to not having any real deep interest in the subject (which is part of what he exposes as one of the problems of a publicthat there are far too many things out there such that a person can't truly be educated or even interested in everything). We can't have a solid national or global community because everything is truly a microcosm of each of our individual interests, needs and desires. Until society can find some way to use its collective knowledge and advances in technology and communication, we can never truly have a "Great Community" in the sense of a solid national or global community all united and on the same page.

One of my committee members suggested I re-read John Dewey's The Public and Its Problems because my dissertation is dealing with issues of privacy, publicity, and the social. Dewey argues that the public/private distinction is not simply an individual/social distinction, because private acts can be social: "their consequences contribute to the welfare of the community or affect its status and prospects" (13). Dewey seems to define social as something that is largely good for society, and thus some public acts are not "socially useful" (14). Dewey's ontology of humanity is one of becoming: unlike other things that associate, a human "becomes a social animal in the make-up of his ideas, sentiments and deliberate behavior" (25). Thus, Dewey proposes that in order to create a more vital democratic public, we need to turn to a scientific method, one that attends to consequences and criteria. Finally, "the first and last problem" that we must address "is the relation of the individual to the social" (186). Reading this was useful in getting a discussion of the social, public, and individual/collectivism.

it is kinda of a book that gives you headache, i don't recommend it to anyone, it a bit academical advanced and not using examples to simplify the theories just the cheer hypotheses by itself to justify and epitomizing the ideas.

(141) Dewey believed that until communities re-form, the public will remain in eclipse (142) because it is only community that can generate the knowledge and understanding necessary for the public to come to grips with complex issues. (129-132) Without the ability to understand issues on the merits, Dewey also agrees with Lippmann that the public depends on cues and symbols to guide their political participation. (133) Dewey attributes this as much to social change as a result of industrialization as to the individuals general incapacity. (176-177) And the results of social inquiry must be communicated continuously, otherwise public opinion will only appear in moments of crisis. Dewey seems to agree with Lippmann that the nature and complexity of contemporary issues exceed the capacity of the individual to come to terms with them. (131-132) However, where Lippmann attributes this incapacity to general human shortcomings in the face of impossible complexity, Dewey argues that the missing knowledge reflects the absence of association/community, which give individuals the habits that lead to thinking.

Dewey argues that mass technologies - industrialism and mass communications - pretty much necessitate the death of citizenship in favor of consumerism, by weakening strong ties and empowering weak ones, while not being blind to the many advantages of the mass age.

It's really a set of working hypotheses on the relationship between public rationality and mass society.

John Dewey was an American philosopher, psychologist and educational reformer whose ideas have been influential in education and social reform. Dewey, along with Charles Sanders Peirce and William James, is recognized as one of the founders of the philosophy of pragmatism and of functional psychology. In 1859, educator and philosopher John Dewey was born in Burlington, Vermont.