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Do you know Dewey?


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#1    coberst

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Posted 05 June 2009 - 07:19 PM

Do you know Dewey?

I am a retired engineer with some formal education in philosophy that I gained over a period of time while engaged in my engineering career. I have, over the last thirty years, been actively engaged in reading a great deal of history, biography, philosophy and science. All of this activity I would describe as disinterested learning. To me this means learning only for the sake of knowing and understanding. I find value in knowing and understanding as an end in-itself.

One thing that has struck me along the way is that contemporary philosophizing has become irrelevant to the problems of society. I also think that society has suffered enormously as a result of this failure. This is my opinion and from what I read it is an opinion shared by many.

Perhaps one result of this failure of contemporary philosophizing has had an advantageous result. The result I speak of is a rebirth of interest in the works of John Dewey. I have discovered Dewey in the last decade and have become slightly familiar with his work. His work is prodigious and I have gained most of my understanding from secondary sources.

Ernest Becker makes the point that the humanization process is one wherein the individual exchanges the natural organismic propensity for a mysterious symbolic dictation.  The child in its very essential formative age is faced with denying that which ‘comes naturally’ for what are symbolic dictates that are far beyond its ability for comprehension.  The child’s formation of character is dictated by its need to be somebody in the symbolic world.

John Dewey learned long ago that “the child continually loses battles he does not understand…we earn our early self-esteem not actively but in large part passively, by having our action blocked and re-oriented to the parents pleasure.”

In the very essential formative years the child develops character traits that in many cases remain with that individual for the rest of their life.

What is character?  Character is the network of habits that permeate all the intentional acts of an individual.

I am not using the word habit in the way we often do, as a technical ability existing apart from our wishes.  These habits are an intimate and fundamental part of our selves.  They are representations of our will.  They rule our will, working in a coordinated way they dominate our way of acting.  These habits are the results of repeated, intelligently controlled, actions.  

Habits also control the formation of ideas as well as physical actions.  We cannot perform a correct action or a correct idea without having already formed correct habits.  “Reason pure of all influence from prior habit is a fiction.”  “The medium of habit filters all material that reaches our perception and thought.”  “Immediate, seemingly instinctive, feeling of the direction and end of various lines of behavior is in reality the feeling of habits working below direct consciousness.”  “Habit means special sensitiveness or accessibility to certain classes of stimuli, standing predilections and aversions, rather than bare recurrence of specific acts.  It means will.”

Britannica specifies that attitude is “a predisposition to classify objects and events and to react to them with some degree of evaluative consistency.”

If I consult my inner self I cannot focus upon an attitude but can infer such an attitude based on behavior.  If I wish to become conscious of my intuition I can through observation of behavior describe the attitude, which, in turn, allows me to ascertain the nature of my intuition.

When a mother tells her son “you must change your attitude”.  The son cannot change the attitude directly but the son must change his intuition from which the inferred attitude emanates.  This does become a bit convoluted but in essence when we wish to change an attitude we are saying that our intuition must be modified.  We can modify intuition only through habit directed by our will.

“Were it not for the continued operation of all habits in every act, no such thing as character would exist.  There would be simply a bundle, an untied bundle at that, of isolated acts.  Character is the interpenetrating of habits.  If each habit in an insulated compartment and operated without affecting or being affected by others, character would not exist.  That is conduct would lack unity being only juxtaposition of disconnected reactions to separated situations.  But since environments overlap, since situations are continuous and those remote from one another contain like elements, a continuous modification of habits by one another is constantly going on.”

I would like to recommend the thoughts of John Dewey to all those who are disheartened by the direction of education, politics and the general drift of our society wherein citizens have allowed themselves to become propagandized into recognizing production and consumption as its most important values.

My understanding of character and the quotations concerning the nature of character are taken from Habits and Will by John Dewey




#2    greggK

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Posted 06 June 2009 - 02:37 PM

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John Dewey learned long ago that “the child continually loses battles he does not understand…we earn our early self-esteem not actively but in large part passively, by having our action blocked and re-oriented to the parents pleasure.”


Absolutely.  A child does not know enough about anything to be a celebrity or an example of anything.  But, a child is smart enough to know that he does not know so he waits for assistance.  In our adult world, we are tired of waiting.  We want it yesterday.  And if the child cannot learn what we wanted yesterday, he'll never catch up.

The thing about it is there is no problem in this world that a child can not fix.  It is not that we need more children, we just need to quit creating 'battles.'   That is the problem.  The 'battles' we see out there that we have to overcome have been battles that we have created.

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What is character? Character is the network of habits that permeate all the intentional acts of an individual.


Is it that battles create character?  And that all of the illusionary battles that have been created have built illusionary characters?  Like the President of the US has a false character built up by the media because he has overcome so many illusionary problems.  Like, who his dad was, who his mom was, what color he isn't, where they lived, etc.  Those aren't problems; those aren't battles.  That is reality.

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Habits also control the formation of ideas as well as physical actions. We cannot perform a correct action or a correct idea without having already formed correct habits. “Reason pure of all influence from prior habit is a fiction.”


Are habits the result of our DNA and environment?  And that the changes in habits begin the process of adaptation of the species?  Evolution has ended.
Like before the 9/11 Tragedy what were the controlling habits of man?  It is not that the habits changed after 9/11, the habits became solidified.  Was it a marker of a change in history?  Were the 'habits of man' corrected after 9/11?
Historically, the habits of man were the same thing leading up to 9/11 exactly; the only change was the location.  You know, the 3 most important things when starting any kind of business is location, location, location.  In that  order.

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“The medium of habit filters all material that reaches our perception and thought.”


I like that.  Sort of fits in with the 9/11 Tragedy.  A human body can only use what it has in store to survive and if it is no longer presented with the substance of the survival, it adapts or 'economizes.'  It shuts down what it does not need.  That gets into the adaptation of the species again.  An example of a couple of forced adaptations are the removl of the appendix and the gall bladder, especially in the southern US.  The environment in New York after the 9/11 thing was jammed full of toxic material.  Not to mention the actual shock of the event itself.  But, that was the end event of a long string of events that was the habit of an organization of man.  It happened over a long period of time.  What I want to include is that because of certain habits man has formed, we may have ensured our demise.




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#3    coberst

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Posted 07 June 2009 - 12:51 PM

greggK on Jun 6 2009, 02:37 PM, said:

Are habits the result of our DNA and environment?  And that the changes in habits begin the process of adaptation of the species?  Evolution has ended.
Like before the 9/11 Tragedy what were the controlling habits of man?  It is not that the habits changed after 9/11, the habits became solidified.  Was it a marker of a change in history?  Were the 'habits of man' corrected after 9/11?


I am not using the word habit in the way we often do, as a technical ability existing apart from our wishes. These habits are an intimate and fundamental part of our selves. They are representations of our will. They rule our will, working in a coordinated way they dominate our way of acting. These habits are the results of repeated, intelligently controlled, actions.

I do not think that we changed many habits as a result of 9/11.  I think that we had habits that made us easily manipulated before 9/11 and perhaps these habits might have been fortified because we certainly were manipulated dramatically following 9/11.

Edited by coberst, 07 June 2009 - 12:52 PM.





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