INDIVIDUALITY, LIBERTY, AND EQUALITY
1. The ideal of democracy is the idea (possibility) of voluntary
cooperation (unity) of diverse and unique individualities (plurality),
distinctive individuals who are open to the distinctive individuality
and interests of one another. This means that the ideal combines
personal creativity (originality of outlook) with sympathy (an
outlook which includes imaginatively the outlooks of others).
It is marked by flexibility of thought and action in following
a path which is one's own but which "looks out for others" as
they pursue their paths. It invites the possibility of "shared
paths," where individuals walk in the light of ideals (such as
the ideal of democracy) and with the help of methods worked out
together. The ideal of democracy is an imaginative vision of individuals
respecting others as individuals (equality), leading and governing
themselves (liberty) and assisting others to do the same (fraternity)
by modifying the conditions of life (economic, industrial, social,
and educational) so as to foster personal initiative and growth.
2. The democratic disposition makes room for individuality
to grow; it respects (tolerates) the unique life-careers of oneself
and others. It treats all individuals equally (but not the same);
it regards others as neither inferior nor superior, but uniquely
important in their own ways. It treats each individual as a potential
aristocrat, one who, with the right conditions, is capable of
ruling himself and of making a unique contribution to a possible
whole. It gives oneself and others room (by clearing prejudices)
and opportunity (resources) to think and act. It understands that
distinctive individuality can not be developed without freedom
of thought and action. Finally, the democratic disposition requires
"fraternal regard" and self-control. In fact, democratic freedom
means self-control(1), the capacity
to inhibit impulse and to delay overt action, until the full social
bearing of projected courses of action can be evaluated. The only
alternative to stopping (restraint), starting (initiative), or
directing one's own energies, is to have them stopped, started,
and directed by someone or something outside of oneself, by some
external authority or force. Being forced does not develop individuality,
but only compliance; no one can "make" an individual democratic.
The point of democracy is that thought and action (and cooperation)
be voluntary. Though it is impossible to separate individuality
and association (they are interdependent qualities of human existence),
equality and liberty emphasize the individual (and
unique) side of human existence, while fraternity accents
the associated (or communal) side of human existence.
3. Ideals, insofar as they are practicable, indicate possible
redirections or reorganizations of actual energies (real tendencies
or conditions). They are projections based upon the way energies
can move or combine. The ideals of equality, liberty, and fraternity
have to be based upon accurate knowledge of human nature (psychology),
the knowledge of actual moving human tendencies (habits and desires).
Thus, democracy is bound up with psychology. But democracy is
also a moral idea or ideal; it is a humanism concerned with what
human beings should be or become. Democracy implies moral faith
that human nature is capable of change and development, that it
is not something fixed. Democratic faith in individuals means
belief that every individual can be more than he is now, that
he has "possibilities." This is the meaning of Dewey's faith in
the "common man." It is Dewey's view that democracy is the only
way of life consistent with the genuine fulfillment of the capacities
of human nature. In Dewey's view, those views of human nature
which dominated early political understandings of liberty and
equality -- views of isolated and self-contained individualism
which applied quantitative and external measures to human existence
-- are both undemocratic and unscientific. They regarded association
as a threat to liberty and equality, which they believed would
flourish, if only individuals were to be left alone. According
to Dewey, the projection of the ideal of democracy depends upon
and calls for a new view of human nature, one that is based on
an interactive interpretation of natural energies, rather than
a Newtonian scheme of force and counterforce.
4. According to Dewey, psychology and philosophy have fallen
again and again into the error of making effects into causes;
they have repeatedly mistaken tendencies acquired through complex
interactions with the environment for basic "instincts" or innate
tendencies. Thus, human nature has been described as naturally
social or antisocial, curious or dull, good or bad. According
to Dewey, such terms indicate what human nature has become, not
what it was capable or is capable of becoming (potentiality).
What is attributed to human nature is often really "second (acquired)
nature," rather than "first (original) nature." Dewey himself
avoids speaking of fundamental human tendencies, except in the
broadest, most indefinite terms, yet he does say there are some
such tendencies. In general, for Dewey, human nature is indefinite.
In the case of human beings, patterns of desires (as they develop
from earliest contact with the environment) are complex and highly
individualized. Beyond certain basic needs, it is more appropriate
to speak of "human natures" than human nature. Furthermore, it
is nearly impossible to sort out the original from the acquired.
With their first encounters with real conditions, original impulses
are no longer "original"; they are transformed into acquired dispositions,
altered preferences, making a new human nature. Basic impulses
are capable of development in many directions, some good and some
bad; what counts is the way relatively neutral impulses are modified,
what they become due to a variety of environmental conditions.
Human beings are neither "good" nor "bad" by nature.(2)
Looking at environing conditions is more fruitful than speculating
about original impulses. We see that competition and cooperation
are possible acquired ways of associating, based upon indefinite
human impulses transformed by cultural conditions.
5. But something more can be said, in general, about human
nature. There are two natural tendencies that go to the heart
of human nature. Human nature tends to distinctive individuality,
but it also tends toward combination and association. Fundamental
to human nature are the needs to "stand apart" and to "come together."
Individuality and association are the polarities between which
human existence stretches. Distinctive individuality is linked
to preference (interest or slant); union or continuity
is tied to plasticity (flexibility or adaptability). We
shall see that equality is defined in part by individual preference,
and that freedom consists to great extent in the ability to change
preference. Openness to change, the willingness to change preference,
to expand interest, is allied to the desire to work things out
together, to cooperate, to adapt. There is a tendency to hold
back and to define oneself; at the same time, there is a tendency
to reach out, to cross barriers, and to expand one's horizons.
Either tendency, if pursued to the exclusion of the other, is
self-defeating. Contraction, if protracted, can lead to exclusiveness
and isolation. Expansion, as the need to "join," can lead to dispersal
and conformity. Individuality and association are correlative
facets of an essentially undivided experience.
6. According to Dewey, this dual tendency presents a problem
(one paralleled in the democratic problem of the individual and
the common good) that needs to be solved in thought and action.
Dewey is critical of dualism because it "ducks" the issue by setting
up barriers between the self and the world. Dualism turns a thought-provoking
ambiguity into an insoluble metaphysical duality. For Dewey, on
the other hand, the ambiguity of individuality and association
can be and often is resolved. It is resolved in advance and imaginatively
in the projection of the democratic ideal, and here and now and
factually in day-to-day triumphs of cooperative work and friendly
communication, wherein distinctive individuality and social harmony
are jointly realized.
7. The "two-sidedness" of human nature, its fundamental ambiguity,
reflects the contractive and expansive tendencies of all natural
existences. Both individuality and association are "natural."
Where "nurture" or growth comes into play is with the development
of individual capacities as fully as possible and with the improvement
of human social relations to the extent that they are both satisfying
in themselves and productive of individuality. In other words,
the ideal of democracy is that natural individuality should become
distinctive and creative personality, and that natural association
should become community. As hydrogen and oxygen are modified yet
remain distinct in combining to form water, so individuals are
transformed yet made distinctive in vital face-to-face community
and communication. The "dialectic" of the individual and the universal
is the reciprocity between reaching out to include others and
their ideas and developing one's own distinctive manner of thinking
and acting (freedom).
8. Central to the democratic ideal and to the democratic way
of life is the importance of the individual. Equality and liberty
pertain to individuals in their individuality. According to Dewey,
only individuals think and act, even when they think and act together.
The term "society" does not refer to something above or beyond
individuals, a kind of "separate entity." Society means individuals
9. For Dewey, individuality means uniqueness. Every natural
existence has unique quality. Individual forms are unrepeatable
and irreplaceable. They have unique positions and functions within
a possible whole. The red of each rose is different. No two sunsets
are the same. The quality of each human life is unique. Much can
be known about the whence of individual forms, how they
occur. But the fact of the existence of unique individuality (unique
form) is impenetrable and mysterious. It is beyond knowledge,
but not beyond experience. Time is the continual release of new
forms, of new individualities. This release (change) is the basis
of variety and novelty. The present never has the same look as
the past, never simply repeats the past.
10. Recall that the framing of inclusive (humane) ends and
ideals requires imagination of the unique standpoint of others.
Deliberation has to include images of people and their projects,
from their point of view, so far as this is possible. The individuality
of human individuals is their "standpoint," their unique standing
in dynamic interaction with common conditions. It is their unique
approach, their individualized method, where their region touches
upon the world. A person's individuality or standpoint is his
unique angle of vision. The "angle" of unique individuality can
also be referred to as interest. Interest or preference
(bias) characterizes all natural existences. The individuality
of human individuals is more distinctive than the individuality
of atoms and molecules, because of its complexity. The greater
the complexity, incorporating more diverse energies, the greater
is the potential individuality of any existence. Thus, individuality
which is undeveloped (as yet potential), because it has encountered
few objects and resolved few problematic situations, lacks the
unity within extensive experience which characterizes more developed
11. Each individual has something unique to offer. A child,
doing the same problem in addition done by many others many times
before, does it in a way never done before, with a unique
approach. The democratic way of life requires belief that each
unique angle is important and irreplaceable. From the democratic
point of view, each life "stands out," represents a fresh start
for a continually changing universe. With the individuality of
individuals, the meaning-horizon, which includes possible redirections
of energies, undergoes fundamental change. There is something
new under the sun with the appearance of each new individual with
his own way of thinking and doing things. The democratic ideal,
as imaginative vision of the whole, sees these individualities
with their unique standing and position within the whole and imagines
them shining in the fullness of their distinctive character. It
does not merely tolerate, but reverences their uniqueness. It
regards uniqueness and variety on the part of others as stimuli
for fresh thought and new plans of action. For human beings, the
appearance of the genuinely new lights up new possible directions
(possibilities) for thought and action. New actuality suggests
new possibilities. The possibility of endless expansion and change
is guaranteed by the emergence of new unique individualities that
reveal whole new spaces (room) for thought and action. Democratic
faith in experience means faith in time, belief that new forms
are and can be wrought out of old conditions. The only alternative
to faith in time as a sphere of novelty and variety is resignation
before eternity as a closed regime of fixed and predictable forms,
where each "individual" is an example or instance of a general
12. For Dewey, each individual is not an instance of a fixed
class, but is in a class all by itself. The democratic way of
life includes appreciation of individuals as unique and unrepeatable
forms, as incomparable and sui generis. The democratic
disposition acknowledges and welcomes novelty; the authoritarian
disposition fears and denies it. The democratic attitude regards
change as opportunity and the emergence of fresh approaches as
new chances for the universe; the authoritarian attitude is threatened
by change and sees variety as leading to chaos. Variety and novelty,
which produce the breathable atmosphere of democratic life, without
which growth is impossible, depend upon the individuality of individuals.
The flash of original insight, the mutual transformation of old
meanings and new facts, happens as the focal point of individual
13. Though each angle is different, the world it touches is
common and shared. Recall that for Dewey, "form" indicates unique
quality of eventual unity of complex energies. Form, whether in
works of art or in human individuals, is a consequence of the
coordination of diverse energies, not an underlying essence. It
is something unique, not repeatable. It amounts to a qualitatively
unique configuration of operating conditions, of which one "condition"
is the unique angle of vision itself. Though human individuals
share many physical and cultural conditions (insofar as they are
not unjustly excluded from such participation), their way of handling
these same conditions is different. An individual is what he does
with the facts he faces, the obstacles and the resources that
environ him. Personal unity (unique form) is the outcome of unique
active adaptation to actual conditions.
14. Individuality depends upon what is common, what is shared.
Democracy means individuality, not in the sense of atomistic and
isolated quantity, but in the sense of relational and focal quality.
Individuality emerges from and depends upon interactions and "cooperations"
of diverse energies. It is not something that pre-exists any or
all association. According to Dewey, "atomistic individualism,"
which viewed individuals as self-contained and relations as external
(mechanical), was allied to Newtonian views of unchanging bits
of matter in motion. All natural existences are transformed intrinsically,
not just extrinsically, by transactions with their environment.
Equality, as both fact and ideal, means individuality (unique
and distinct). Individuality is, in one sense, something given
(a fact); the infant or the child is already an individual. In
another sense, individuality is something to be achieved (ideal).
For the child, individuality is both actuality and possibility;
he brings to thought and action a unique angle of vision, a unique
approach. Yet individuality is still in front of him; it remains
a possibility. Angle of vision has to be tried out, broadened,
tested, and reworked in the face of actual events. Native capacities,
already unique, are transformed in interaction with the environment;
distinct individuality grows, deepens, widens. Furthermore, it
becomes conscious. An originally unique angle of approach becomes
a distinctive attitude and character. It does this through creative
adaptation of real conditions offered by problematic situations.
Equality as ideal means the full development of original unique
capacities with the help of conditions appropriate to these unique
capacities. The individual has something to offer or to contribute,
only if conditions cooperate with the individual's capacities.
Otherwise, the individuality of the individual remains a possibility
(promise) rather than an actuality (fulfillment). In other words,
the real possibilities of individuals depend upon the existence
of appropriate opportunities, means or conditions that fit their
15. Equality does not mean sameness. It means that individuals
(insofar as they are unique) cannot be compared with one another
or measured by some external "universal" standard. Recall that
qualities, as such, are incomparable and unique. Individuals can
only be compared with themselves (in terms of growth or decline).
What they are can be compared with what they have been and what
they ought to be. Individuals are qualitatively equal; from the
standpoint of individuality, no one can be said to be better or
worse than another. Equality consists in the unique way each person
thinks and acts, if conditions are provided. It is the way he
functions, not the way he appears at any one time. Just as growth
consists in the overall direction of one's life, rather than in
any one phase or stage or object achieved within that life, so
the individuality of individuals consists in their unique growth
and operation, their temporal "careers," rather than in any measurable
markers along the way. Dewey means that human individuals cannot
be compared any more than one can compare violets to oak trees.
Each person is equally individual, and the distinctive individuality
that is his to develop or denigrate is unlike any other; so also,
the overt contribution he can make to his fellows has no substitute.
This means that the projected ideal of individuality varies from
person to person, even as the problem and the good of each situation
are unique. What are measurable are the means or conditions or
possessions that attend the individuality of individuals. For
example, although intelligence as unique angle of vision is a
quality and not a quantity, external performance (such as in intelligence
testing) can be measured. Unfortunately, in education there is
often a tendency to measure the results of a child's thinking
rather than to appreciate the unique way the child thinks
or approaches a problem. In terms of measurable (quantitative)
possessions such as intelligence, strength, learning, etc., individuals
are unequal. In addition, what they receive or contribute to society
is quantitatively unequal. Quantitatively, the child has much
to learn from the father, the untrained from the adept, the naive
from the wise; but qualitatively, the "child is father of the
man."(3) The child's unique offering
and role is as important as the parent's. The violet may not be
as big or as powerful as the oak, but it has its own incomparable
beauty. For Dewey, quantifiable traits or possessions are secondary
to qualitative individuality. One's unique approach to the world
and therefore one's potentially unique and irreplaceable contribution
to the world are more important than one's intellectual and material
16. An alternative to the democratic idea of equality or incomparable
individuality is division of individuals into classes which are
higher and lower (hierarchically arranged). Inequality is an approach
typical of feudalistic regimes, where lower classes submit to
the rule of the "higher-ups." The upper classes are distinguished
by quantitative superiority in terms of birth, wealth, education,
or force of arms. It is their prerogative to do the planning and
thinking for everyone else, to frame purposes and ideals, while
those under their dominion learn how to obey and do the work necessary
to fulfill the purposes they have not framed. In authoritarian
regimes, acquiescence is the virtue of the masses, while creative
power is the virtue of the chosen few.
17. Aristocratic regimes, whether political, social, or intellectual,
often make the mistake of placing quantity above quality. Quantities
are conditions, useful tools, generalities, "matter." They are
means (externals) for the securing of qualities.
Such means include the acquisition of learning, the possession
of wealth and property, the collection and recollection of data.
The real end is growth, unique and specific to the individual,
not the "possession" of things or even the possession of knowledge.
No person ought to be judged on the basis of what is external
(conditions); depth of character and unique wisdom can not be
read off of a person's clothes or bank account or use of grammar
or "breeding." The importance of the "common man" is that he is
really, as an individual, quite uncommon, rare, unique. Those
who feel themselves superior to the "common man" deprive themselves
of unique opportunities for new understanding afforded in the
variety of approaches available for the price of listening. Such
is the "snobbery" of intellectual aristocrats, like Nietzsche,
who divide mankind into "overmen" and "undermen," masters and
slaves, geniuses and peasants, those who count (genuine individuals)
and those who do not (everyone else). Against this feudalistic
or hierarchical view of human affairs (with gradations from anointed
rulers to lowly peasants), set within a hierarchical view of nature
as a whole, Dewey makes a case for a democratic view of nature
and human affairs. The imaginative vision of democracy yields
a whole new view of nature as well as of human society. The world
is not a fixed order of grades of beings. It is not an empire
where lower species serve higher species, where variation occurs
from species to species, but not from individual to individual.
Grades of higher and lower, subordination of the particular to
the universal, do not apply. Each existence is unique and irreplacable.
Each is essential. None is merely an example, an instance, an
"imitation" of a lofty paradigm. Each counts; each stands for
itself, represents only itself. Whereas the error of the feudalistic
hierarchical approach lay in comparing everything on a vertical
scale, the error of atomistic individualism was to make the order
of existence horizontal, without recognizing the dignity of individual
distinctions. Atomistic individualism drowned all distinctions
in a sea of quantity. It mistakenly believed that the importance
of the individual is that he is separate, "distinct" without being
distinctive. Thus, according to that view, liberty and equality
were pre-given birthrights (innate and inalienable), the same
in every individual (one of the "masses"). Like Leibnitz's monads,
the programming within each individual was already complete and
only needing to be run. Everyone was esteemed equal and free,
in advance and apart from circumstances. If individuals were left
alone by government and other agencies, freedom of thought and
action were thought to be assured.
18. The test of any belief is whether it is warranted. It
is warranted if it leads to favorable consequences. From Dewey's
point of view, democratic faith in human nature has yet to be
tried. Equality is still an ideal; it is "formal," rather than
existential or substantial. Old style hierarchical approaches
and rigid as well as pejorative views of human nature, not to
mention class prejudice and elitism of every type, stand in the
way of the democratic experiment. Thus, the fact of equality,
like the fact of partial democracy, is a mixture of equality and
inequality. Human nature is potentially equal and individual.
Human beings can be developed through education and other positive
means to "full blown" equality and distinctive individuality;
or, lacking these favorable conditions, human beings are thereby
denied equal opportunity (conditions appropriate to their individual
capacities), as well as equal participation (having the chance
to contribute in accordance with their capacities); they are then
liable to become passive laborers following the plans of others.
Thus, in America, which is not yet democratic, the movement toward
equality is a movement away from inequality, a movement from exclusion
to inclusion, that abolishes racial and cultural and economic
walls. Barriers that include some and exclude others are "undemocratic."
But even in the midst of inequality, contact with human natures
is apt to suggest possibilities. The democratic attitude
approaches "unfinished" human natures with an eye to what they
could be. It looks at ordinary people and sees inchoate aristocrats
-- artists, philosophers, heroes, and saints.(4)
Human nature includes potentiality and possibility, as well as
actuality; the lines of present conduct can be extended in imaginative
projection. Through sympathy, the appreciation of the standpoint
of the other and the possibilities leading out of this standpoint,
is possible. A key term for Dewey is generosity. As stated
before, the general, the universal,(5)
is, most truly, not the abstract or disengaged thought, but the
generous, open-minded, wide-ranging, and inclusive thought. The
alternative to generosity is narrowness (and superficiality),
as the alternative to appreciation of distinctive individuality
is "sizing" others up in terms of external, static, and quantifiable
measures (labels). Humanism means belief that there is
more to individuals, in terms of angle of vision and future possibilities,
than meets the eye, and that this "more" indicates unique ways
of participating in a natural and social whole. It is the task
of education to maintain this faith in the attempt to assist potential
individualities in attaining fully developed distinctive individuality.
Faith in human nature means faith that growth is possible. And
growth is individualized. An individual's possibilities are always
"his or her own," insofar as they are practicable ends and ideals.
Actively assisting others,(6) whether
in education or elsewhere, requires sympathetic imagination of
their standpoints and possibilities, not the imposition of one's
own ideals, however cherished and hallowed.
19. Growth means ongoing increase, fulfillment, and freeing
of individual capacities. Capacities undergo constant change in
interaction with environing conditions; humans are born with relatively
limited capabilities which are called out, intensified, modified,
and multiplied in contact with a variety of actual conditions
(the more variety the better), some supportive and others inhibiting.
Potentiality or capacity is not an all-at-once fixed and inborn
set of limits. For Dewey, potentiality means power. Power
is usable energy, energy that arises from encounters with many
stimuli and which can be intelligently directed or redirected,
given conditions that cooperate with it (move in the same direction).
Potentialities change depending upon changing conditions. A man
may be able to build his own house, when he has sufficient skills,
wealth, materials, and tools on hand. His power to act is not
something purely "inside of him." The term potentiality can refer
to what a person can do here and now, given available resources,
and what he could do, if certain absent conditions were made present.
Powers or available energies point in specific directions, even
when their fulfillment in those directions is not yet fully supported.
To return to our example, the paupered and uneducated man, if
given the training and the resources, has the potentiality (can
be "empowered") to build his own house. That is the meaning of
democratic faith in the potentiality of human beings (humanistic
faith). It is the belief that if certain conditions are
met (if diversified and appropriate opportunities are provided),
then the genuine capacities of human beings will emerge
and grow. Since potentialities develop as consequences of interactions,
they cannot be known before the interactions have occurred. That
is why democracy means faith in and not knowledge
of human potential; one has to believe it is possible (can be),
that it can come about, in order to do what is necessary to help
it come about. The ideal of the democratic fulfillment of individual
capacities is an hypothesis, a possibility, which can only be
proved by means of genuine democratic experiment.(7)
20. Freedom or liberty is the release (freeing up)
of and fulfillment (development) of individual capacities. It
is allowing pent up or inhibited energies to find suitable outlet
and positive enhancement amidst actual conditions. Thus, freedom
has both a negative (liberating) and a positive (fulfilling) side.
It means freedom from inhibiting and contracting obstacles and
freedom to act based upon furthering and expanding (diverse)
resources. In every problematic or perplexing situation, obstacles
must be overcome or transformed and resources must be identified
and used. It makes no sense to say that a person is free merely
because nothing stands in his way. That is only half of freedom.
Genuine positive freedom consists in the development of capacities
with the help of resources. To tell a man he is free to build
a house, when he has no tools or other means, is to do lip service
to freedom, but not to secure the means of its fulfillment.
21. Freedom (which means growth) is both mental and overt.
It consists in both freedom of thought, the ability to change
one's mind or preference, and freedom of action, the ability to
change the direction of one's actions and transactions with the
environment. It is basically the capacity or power to change (in
a positive sense). The accomplishment of overt freedom requires
the cooperation of natural and social conditions; it also requires
adaptation and accommodation to the capacities and powers of others.
What a person can or cannot do depends upon what others can or
cannot do, their potentials or powers, the presence and movement
of their energies. The liberty of some may mean the restraint
of others. Scientific observation of the behavior of natural energies
shows that cooperation is more effective and efficient than conflict.
Energies operating together are ensured their full development;
the liberties of individuals working together, in a spirit of
friendly as opposed to ruthless competition, are enhanced.(8)
Thus, there is no such thing as liberty isolated from the activities
of others. Though liberty is the fulfillment of distinctive individual
capacities, liberty is always linked to association. The freeing
and activation of individual powers is inseparable from existing
22. Essential to freedom of action, however, is the second
kind of freedom -- freedom of thought. Primarily, freedom means
freedom of mind, growth in intelligence, even more than it means
freedom of action. Freedom of thought requires freedom of action
for its completion; reflection is incomplete without action. But
quantity of action is less important than quality; what counts
is whether acts proceed from due consideration and choice, from
a mind free (able) to imagine, to weigh, and to choose from alternatives.
It can be argued that contraction of overt action (the meeting
of obstacles) is favorable insofar as it diverts energy to expanding
the range of thought possibilities (reflection), although complete
inhibition of action is detrimental to thought (which, shut off
from action, becomes fantasy). One's distinctive individuality
is primarily one's unique angle of vision, one's way of thinking,
and the imprint this individuality leaves upon particular acts.
Overtly, one must accommodate rather than dominate in order to
make room for others to act, since physical space is limited.
Mental space provides more breathing room, whole unexplored frontiers
of possibility opened in imaginative encounter with reality. Democratic
free play of thought and openness of inquiry are the foundation
and the heart of the ideal of liberty.(9)
23. As "negative freedom" (liberation from constriction),
freedom of thought means freedom from prejudice, from dogmatism.
The closed mind does not admit new possibilities. It is reluctant
to stretch or expand its meaning-horizon. It is parochial rather
than universal, exclusive rather than inclusive. Having decided
in advance, it has no need to decide anew or to reassess the facts.
It is not free, because it is held back from new discovery by
its own preconceptions; it cannot appreciate individuals in their
unique individuality, because it already knows everything it needs
to know about "human nature." The dogmatic attitude precludes
growth, because it resists change; it does not exercise the fundamental
freedom of changing one's mind. It yearns to stand still, but
ends up only imagining that it is standing still, in a world that
never stands still and that does not "stand for" beings that fail
to adapt and change, that remain inflexible. Dogmatism is a contractive,
as opposed to an expansive tendency of mind. It is opposed to
life (including the life of the mind), which needs expansion,
variation, and harmony within ever increasing complexity. Dogmatism
may be due to the inertia of habit, fear of change (need for security),
or to reliance upon (or fear of) external authority. Dogmatism
of this variety is a form of obedience, of submission of inferior
to superior, and is opposed to democratic freedom of thought,
whereby the "seat of authority" rests with each individual. The
thinking and scientific mind (democratic) has freedom to roam
a universe of imaginative possibilities shut out by the obedient
and feudalistic mind. The ideal of democracy implies the development
of open-minded citizens who think for themselves, rather than
closed-minded subjects whose thinking is done for them. Just as
democracy requires the replacement of feudalistic with democratic
social structures, so freedom of thought requires the replacement
of authoritarian and hierarchical habits (routines) of mind with
democratic and scientific ways of thinking.
24. Liberation from prejudice and dogma is but the precursor
to positive freedom of thought. Mental freedom, the "inner half"
of undivided freedom or activity, consists in the capacity to
frame purposes, to judge, to reflect or deliberate, and to choose
(means). The "outer half of" undivided freedom or activity is
the power to organize conditions, to realize ends or purposes
in action. Thus, freedom of thought implies framing one's own
purposes, deliberating and judging for oneself, choosing
for oneself, and acting in continuity with these choices.
25. The freedom of individuals is especially bound up with
their capacity or power to frame their own purposes and to envision
their own ideals. They are their own purposes insofar as
they are possibilities of their own actualities, of what counts
as real in their experience, including other people and their
projects. Their imagination of the standpoints of others, which
affects the purposes they frame, is from their standpoint
and bears the stamp of their individuality. Furthermore, even
the social purposes they have in common with others are colored
on their own side by the unique standpoint of their own expanding,
yet centered, experience. The only purposes totally divorced from
their individuality are the purposes they have had no role in
framing; insofar as these are divorced from the conditions of
their existence, they are at the same time detached from the very
means the individual has of carrying them over into action. Individuals,
singly or together, have to have purposes that are connected,
not disconnected, with the means they have at their disposal,
that fit their situation. In other words, purposes are individualized.
Even social purposes, though they are common and shared, are individualized
(have individual contribution and bearing) at their point of attachment
to individuals. Ends disconnected from means are a common occurrence
in industrial society. Activity is free only to the extent that
there is a continuity between purposes framed and action taken.
26. Freedom of thought and freedom of action are summed up
and brought together in choice. Choice, insofar as it is
intelligent, liberates both thought and action. Democratic freedom
is self-expanding. Free acts lead to freer deliberation, as well
as to awareness of new opportunities for action. In other words,
freedom of action and freedom of thought are mutually reinforcing,
complementary facets of a single onward and upward expansion of
individuality. Opening up alternatives in overt action (releasing
capacities) produces new situations which suggest new directions
and possibilities. In other words, creative action makes new facts
suggestive of new possibilities.
27. The only alternatives to such continuity of action (inner
and outer) are action without thought at all, action and thought
which have nothing to do with each other, or action which is connected
to the thought (purposes and plans) of others, but disconnected
from one's own mental activity. That amounts to taking and obeying
orders, where the "seat of authority" rests with those higher
up. As a prolonged rather than merely occasional fact of everyday
existence, this separation of the "thought" side of existence
from the "action" side is opposed to the democratic ideal.(10)
It makes for passivity rather than self-rule, conformity rather
than individuality. It also produces individuals whose daydreams
are far removed from the facts of their day-to-day experience.
28. Not only the ability or power to choose, but the belief
that these personal choices "make a difference," can change things
overtly, is what counts. This means that choice presupposes that
the turn of events is indefinite, and that the power to "define"
them (decide their direction) rests with individuals, and not
with external forces. Liberty means intelligent change(11)
(of mind and conditions) that comes from individuals (the people);
it presupposes a world that is indefinite (plastic). It is implied
that the energies of nature, both non-human and human, can actually
change direction(12) depending
upon the activity of distinct individuals. Democratic belief in
the possibility of liberty is directly opposed to the ideas of
fate or mechanical necessity.
29. Freedom means the ability to change one's mind (to change
one's preferences), and to make choices. It does not mean absence
of preference, which is clearly impossible. Human energies are
always already operating in a particular direction; freedom means
the capacity to change this direction. Initiative, the movement
of energies along a line of preference (the axis of conduct),
indicates the individuality of the individual. Change of direction
means change of individuality. It presupposes the other tendency
of human existence, adaptability and plasticity, its outgoing
tendency. Central to freedom is the ability to change one's own
individuality, rather than to have it changed by external coercion.
It is even mistaken to believe that individual paths can be changed
from without. What gets changed is overt action, while inner preference
continues on its way, albeit imaginatively, as fantasy divorced
from conduct.(13) One cannot anymore
make individuals democratic by autocratic means than one can make
anything move by itself(14) by
towing it. The point is to assist in converting preference into
intelligent preference, to encourage thought. This means an acknowledgement
of the individuality of individuals combined with encouragement
to develop original plasticity or flexibility. Freedom of thought
depends upon the development of democratic openness to variety
and change, based on individuality of standpoint and approach.
30. The ability to change preference requires the power to
think alternatives, to deliberate, to imagine possible courses
of action leading to different consequences. In other words, it
depends upon the capacity to imagine possibilities. Freedom
of thought comes down to free play of imagination (both in framing
purposes and imagining courses of action). The development of
freedom of thought means development of imagination, a
capacity usually found in children (fresh individuals) and then
often discouraged in the name of efficiency or pre-established
"truth." Plasticity in conduct needs plasticity in thought (imagination).
Possibilities have to be opened up mentally before they can be
realized in the opening up or redirection of actual affairs. This
means capacity to stretch the meaning-horizon, to make inferences,
to conceive of possible existence -- in a word, to think the possible
(the ideal). The cultivation of this power stands or falls with
the conditions of associated life, in particular with face-to-face
communication and contact with a wide variety of ideas and facts.
This communication comprises education, both formal and
informal. Freedom means growth. It is the task of education to
provide the atmosphere and conditions that are necessary for expanding
and "fine-tuning" powers of imagination, observation, and judgment,
which empower individuals to enlarge the range of experience (culture
or meaning-horizon). Education leads to expansion, not contraction,
of mind and action, increase, not decrease, of possibilities.
Both personal growth and social progress require variation, variety,
novelty. The fresh outlook of the new individual suggests manifold
new possibilities in the direction of that individuality. The
value of the individuality of individuals to the "common good"
is immeasurable. Plasticity is always this plasticity,
the outgoing and outreaching toward possibilities connected to
actualities near at hand. The arrival of this new individual means,
if education enlightens and does not darken imagination, the arrival
of a whole new region of previously unforeseen possibilities.
Human beings together (society) need human beings individually
because they need the prospects for progress opened up by the
emergence of these new ideas. As long as individuals are being
born and encouraged to keep their "child's heart"(15),
the universe still has a chance; affairs can take a different
turn. In terms of idealizing and realizing democracy, education
of individuals to think for themselves and to imagine anew the
meaning of the democratic ideal, ensures that there is always
the possibility of a new America.
31. Freedom as capacity or power requires openness and flexibility.
Growth in imagination means growth in sympathy, as thinking of
possibilities becomes thinking of possibilities for others, as
one imagines their standpoints. Imagination at its best is "social."
This social imagination is nourished and anchored, its images
are made vivid and effective, by actual contact with the paths
of others, through shared experience, and contact with their ideas,
through the give and take of friendly conversation. Development
of imagination in education means development of social imagination,
of sympathy, in connection with social action which is cooperative
rather than coercive. Freedom of thought means widening of imagination
to include the standpoints of others. Freedom of action means
linking distinctive energies together so as to increase their
unified power and deepen their distinctive quality. The fullness
of equality and liberty are inseparable from full participation
in associated life; the creation of genuinely distinctive individuals
includes the imaginative vision of fraternity.
1. Compare to the ancient Greek emphasis
2. Compare to Confucianism. On the whole,
Confucius believed that human nature is originally neither good
nor bad, but can be cultivated or educated in the direction of
humanity (jen). For Confucius, as for Dewey, developing
human nature is more important than speculating about its original
3. After William Wordsworth, "My Heart
Leaps Up When I Behold."
4. The similarity of my words to Nietzsche's
formulation is intentional.
5. For Dewey, "universal" means "inclusive."
6. According to Dewey, we help others
only indirectly, by providing conditions that enable and empower
them to think and act for themselves.
7. Pessimism regarding human nature usually
confuses what has been achieved with what can be achieved. An
example of this is "intelligence testing."
8. For this reason, laissez-faire capitalism
is opposed to democratic development of everyone's individual
capacities. In laissez-faire capitalism, the liberty of a few
(oligarchs) is purchased at the expense of the many. More in accord
with both democracy and nature is a scheme of things wherein individuals
adjust the movement of their energies to be cooperating rather
than conflicting. This implies that energies be developed in the
first place so as to be moving in the right, i.e. democratic,
direction, so that others are respected as individuals rather
than judged as "being in the way."
9. Thus, it must be repeated that the
democratic ideal is the only ideal consistent with the development
10. Such is the condition of many laborers
who fulfill the capacities of their employers, rather than their
11. This means more than merely the illusion
of change, whereby individuals are convinced that they are the
agents of change, even as an "invisible hand" of divine providence
or mechanical law or absolute reason operates behind the scenes.
12. One should keep in mind that control
of energies is never complete; there are always uncontrolled forces
that operate alongside controlled ones. However, that certain
energies are not controlled does not mean that these energies
cannot be controlled. Fatalism gives up too soon.
13. The forced march of authoritarian
teaching produces individuals who continue to answer politely,
while their inner thoughts "take a hike."
14. Dewey would agree with Aristotle that
freedom consists in self-movement. For this reason, growth (or
natural movement) can be distinguished from artificial production.
Aristotle writes: "So it is with all other artifical products.
None of them has in itself the source of its own production."
Aristotle, Physics, Book II, Chapter 1, 25 - 30.
15. The philosophy of Mencius is valuable
reading in this regard.
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Copyright © 1992
-1999 Gordon L. Ziniewicz
This page last updated 10/14/12
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