Dewey’s Philosophy of Technology: A bridge between theory and practice
In most of his writings, Professor Larry Hickman has presented three main ideas regarding Dewey’s philosophy of technology:
1. How Dewey is similar to and different from the traditions of postmodernism and philosophy of analysis
2. What is Dewey’s understanding of technology
3. How this understanding of technology results in constructing a better society
It seems that the modern day commentators are quite unable to fathom Dewey’s philosophy of technology and are more or less caught in categories that do not cover the whole scope of Dewey’s philosophy. Some are committed to the destruction of metaphysics, and some are committed to criticize modernity, thus evading by a distance the true meaning of Dewey’s philosophy. Their perspective do not show them the whole of Dewey’s philosophy in a brighter light and leaves great masses of shadowy areas, leaving the reader in confusions and darkness on every now then.
In one of his essays Professor Hickman writes:
“Put another way, one of the central strands of American philosophy, Pragmatism, offers a third option, between Anglo-American conceptual analysis and French-inspired postmodernism. Its broad reach transcends the analysis of concepts and definitions in order to engage the real-world problems of men and women. And at the same time it rejects the notion of a “grand narrative,” it also transcends the postmodernist denial of commonality and referentiality. It engages the physical and social sciences, as well as technology, in ways that are rarely found within other philosophical traditions. (Contrary to the claims of some of his critics, Dewey also rejected the positivists' search for the “foundations” of science and mathematics, which he thought worked quite well enough and thus required no foundations).”(Larry Hickman, Why American Philosophy)
Professor Hickman has placed Dewey between Postmodernism and Anglo-American conceptual analysis. What is Anglo-American philosophy of analysis? It actually shares with pragmatism a general task and objective. The task of overthrowing, in the words of Hickman , the jettison of metaphysical ideas. Post modernism , owing to its Nietzschean background is originally a critique on the father of philosophy of analysis, positivism(postmodernism only partially shares the task of Nietzsche’s philosophy ,or any genuine philosophy in general, and feels content with the criticism of positivism and does not go on to posit new ideas). So here post modernism shares a basic task with Dewey’s pragmatism. The task of criticizing the reductionist approach of positivism and consequently of Anglo –saxon philosophy of Analysis.
Thus Dewey both shares certain aspects of Post modernism and philosophy of analysis and differs in other. This places Dewey at a point where he can carry out his pragmatic pursuit of building up consensus. Professor Hickmann writes in his essay Why American Philosophy?
“American philosophy has its roots in the experimentalism that was required by a people who faced the task of coming to terms with the uncertainties of a radically new environment. But a true experimentalism always reaches out in an attempt to be inclusive – as American Pragmatist Jane Addams learned to do during her late 19th and early 20th century experiments with Hull House, the settlement house located in a section of Chicago where recently arrived immigrants spoke more than a score of different languages and where sharply differing customs rubbed up against one another. Her search for unity in diversity – a richly American concept – was to become a central feature of Dewey's philosophical outlook.“
The search for reconciliation of differences, cooperative attitude, merging and diffusing the previously hold boundaries for practical aims , such seeds constitute the real spirit of Dewey’s pragmatism.
Having postulated the general traits of Dewey’s philosophy , Professor Hickman has also identified the general outlines of his philosophy of technology. However the task is rendered very difficult by the fact that Dewey’s philosophy is very intricate. At a point professor Hickman has quoted one of his collegues as equating Dewey’s philosophy with a cobweb, easy to be traversed by an insider but very intricate for an outsider.
This intricacy is obviously because of the reason that people try to locate Dewey in one or the other category of philosophers, whereas Dewey does not fall within these narrow categorizations.
As far as Dewey’s philosophy of technology is concerned it is repeatedly presented as a bridge between theory and practice. Technology as the bridge between theory and practice and having mixed traits of both theory and practice seems to be the great solution for all sociall problems and questions. The nature of tools is reconceived as including both tangible and intangible tools in the form of concepts and theories. Professor Hickman writes:
Inquiry is equated with production. This gives the idea that Dewey is actually trying to bring the task of theoretical reasoning to those who are involved in practical pursuits. This obviously is the greatest difference between Dewey and other thinkers from the tradition belonging to Aristotle and Plato.
One important point to be noted here is the type of commitment with technology in people like Borgmann and other commentators mentioned by professor Hickman, both in his essays and his book, seems to be different from that of Dewey’s. Dewey’s commitment with technology is a response to the problems emerged due to a new environ, a new society and landscape and a global change in the ideas and social structure. On the other hand, recent commentators do not have any such meaningful task in their hands and sight. Their attempt is limited to the understanding of how people understand technology. Some are technophobic and others technophillic and nothing in between.
It seems that the evaluations and estimation of the modern commentators on technology do not have the merit to comment and evaluate Dewey. Actually most of them are not qualified to do so.
Those who are under the sway of postmodernism do not take into account the fallacies that postmodernists commit in their readings of philosophy. Philosophy is not a mere criticism, philosophy is a normative statement beyond narration of facts and criticism.
Similarly , positivists also relied on a mere criticism of metaphysics and did not have the merit of uttering any value statement, which obviously requires a courage and a holistic understanding resulting from the concrete experience of the philosopher.