DEWEY: Habits and Will
We can also compare Dewey on another question: where do ideas come from? Dewey has an answer. And that answer has its foundation in, you guessed it, Habit. Remember, we ARE the habit. So it seems natural that’s where ideas come from too. He says …a wish gets definite form only in connection with an idea, and an idea gets shape and consistency only when it has a habit back of it… Habits generate the ideas. Dewey goes on to say: Ideas, thoughts of ends, are not spontaneously generated. There is no immaculate conception of meanings or purposes. In other words, ideas don’t just pop out of nowhere. They’re connected to our habits. This is crucial. Here’s why. Dewey believes that Reason pure of all influence from prior habit is a fiction… So what? Well, consider what Kant says about conscience: Conscience is an instinct to pass judgment upon ourselves in accordance with natural laws. It is not a mere faculty, but an instinct… If our conscience is molded strictly by habits, the way Dewey believes, then we’re all products of our environment. The way we’re raised is who we become. But if Kant is correct then we all have an inborn instinct to determine our own destiny, regardless of how we’re raised. That’s a big difference. Dewey says those who attack the notion of thought pure from the influence of experience, usually identify experience with sensations impressed upon an empty mind. Kant is from the “pure thought” school, as Dewey puts it. Henry Adams (another American) in The Education of Henry Adams does a good job showing how the “experience” school works: He first found himself sitting on a yellow kitchen floor in strong sunlight. He was three years old when he took this earliest step in education; a lesson of color. The second followed soon; a lesson of taste… he remembered quite clearly his aunt entering the sickroom bearing in her hand a saucer with a baked apple. John Dewey says ideas don’t just pop into our heads. We have to personally experience what yellow is, what a baked apple is. This conversation could go on but we’re still left with our original question: how do American ideas stack up? In the end each reader must decide for himself if Dewey can stand beside Aristotle and Kant.