A casual reading of Dewey quickly reveals that a driving passion of his was to locate human beings within nature, to integrate ethics with science, in short to overcome the Cartesian dualism or split of body and mind. The philosophical origins in Greek (or Indian) thought are not important to dwell on. Dewey analyses succindly (and in in my mind convincingly) that the split is alive and well in science. Indeed it is epitomized in British Empiricism and American behaviorism. For example, Santayana described reality as a machine—the self or mind is a ghostly shadowy glow emanating from the body which is also just a machine. The self is a name tag. The mechanistic model is most apparent in the soences—and chemistry supremely so. In split thinking, the mind of the scientist is independent of truth—or should it be contaminated by mind, then truth will have been contaminated. Objectivity is out there. Subjectivity is inside. Values are inside. Knowledge is definable independently of values. Values belong to feelings as knowledge belongs to reason. Science gains absolutes and these absolutes are definable mathematically and independentlv of time. Feelings and the aesthetic are time bound and unreal. Morals are only certain if founded on some authority outside of ourselves.
The split thinker separates science from the arts—the natural from the human sciences. Dewey dismisses all such dualisms as the heritage of past philosophy—either from the absolutist or rationalist traditions, whether they be idealists or realists
. Here is not the place to detail Dewey’s arguments but it is worth understanding how he resolves all dualisms.
One way is through action—here subject and object are united—both are changed in the situation. Experience constitutes primary reality—we cannot go beyond it. The knowing mind cannot go beyond an experience. The mind can abstract out of experience either by using rational (fixed, or ‘being’) or dynamic (flux or ‘becoming’) categories. These realms of being or becoming have no separate existence apart from experience (as per Aristotle). Unlike Aristotle, Dewey asserts that our truths cannot be more than symbols that connect the problematic with resolution of a problem.
As with constructivists, Dewey describes problem solving as initiated by dissonance or break down of equanimity or equilibrium. All thought is contextually based. It cannot be lifted out of context without distortion. For example, one can play games with the symbols of a chemical equation and come up with correctly balanced equations. These may or may not be useful analogies. Their predictive value is limited, rather like spelling rules in the English language. They do indicate orderly and ‘rational’ reiationships, but to strip them from qualitative or direct experiment distorts
. It gives them some ontological reality they do not have. Like rules of spelling they are merely guides. So theory is indicative of relationships just as a map is indicative of relationships but we do not confuse a map with reality itself—nor may we with theory. In fact theory is the subjective construct imposed by the mind upon reality for practical purposes whereas the feeling awareness of phenomenon is the objective reality that theory is subject to. What overcomes the object/subject split is action and doing—the point of Dewey’s pragmatism (the accuracy of a map is its ability to get us where we want to get to).
Hence Dewey places truth somewhere in the middle ground between the dualist split and can do so because reality is prior to our abstractions. He can also do this because he locates thought dynamically in a problem solving process of achieving consummation in the affect (the desired). All thought is biased to the affect i.e. the envisioned it seeks to gain or resolution of needs. Truth is thus instrumental to a felt goal. The goal is time bound and totally bound up with the thinking mind. The mind is not looking on but inside reality—every bit apart of the material order as the experimentai process
The pressing relevance to chemistry is the inseparability of science from morality. There are not two ways of thinking—one for science and one for morality (he would add religion or any other of the arts/humanities). Both begin with an analysis of experience, and concern ends and means, concern resolution of a problem, require reason, require vision, a pragmatic quest of how to achieve ends, a feeling for an intuited outcome, knowledge of past experience and depth of understanding from aquaintence with the many dimensions of the problem. What neither morality nor science need are abstracted laws that have come from some supposed Absolute or Rationalistic world. They both share a need for openness to expenence—past, present and expected future.
To achieve Delvey’s goals of unifying the moral and scientific quest so important in the environmental crisis of our times, we need to free science from its narrow focus and free it for a scientific method that is appropriate to the particular area of study. Graphs, charts, data may or may not be essential. Arguments for abortion cannot be divorced from data and is not dependent upon a reporting of Gallup poll statistics. The argument for abortion is given from what we feel, envision and want in the context of life as it is experienced. We are not limited by the present but, using reason, can resolve our problem by imagination, feeling and practical ingenuity. Dewey argues that these are the very skill and thought processes that go to make up scientific research and judgment. They do not exclude religious experience or belief in God, for such experiences and beliefs are subject to the same processes of thought and judgments (or at least could be so based or should be if they are to be compelling truths).
What Dewey achieved is not simply a philosophical grounding for the current fad towards inter and intra disciplinary studies approved of by constructivists. Dewey provides an intrinsic connection and one that can be taught in school. He makes the chemist responsible for grounding ethics in rational judgment as much as for grounding chemical formulae in rational judgment. Chemists may not shrug their shoulders and put environrnental ethics off onto some department of religion, philosophy or social studies. The processes of thought that enable chemists to create the wonders of human transportation are the same processes that can create the nightmares of human transportation. By locating reason in affect in the manner of Dewey, the chemist can act less blindly in the theoretical and praciicai aspecis of his or her craft.