DEMOCRACY AND IMAGINATION: THE PRACTICAL IDEALISM OF JOHN DEWEY

CHAPTER TWO: IMAGINATION AND ENDS

by Gordon L. Ziniewicz

1. The ideal space of possibilities opened up within experience by imagination coincides with an openness(1) within nature itself, a plasticity and susceptibility to change and endless transformations. The world that environs and nourishes human affairs is itself suggestive.(2) Like actuality of brute fact which is more or less organized, events call attention to themselves (in their immediacy) and yet point beyond themselves (in their relation to future consequences). They are both fulfillments and conditions, resting places and transitions. They please by virtue of their unity (harmony), and they stir reflection by being open-ended and incomplete. What makes objects and situations immediately enjoyable is their unitary quality, their order (harmony) of diverse but cooperating elements. What makes personal experience rewarding is the moment of unified experience, where everything comes together, where conditions work together. But even the good situation suggests a better; the thing enjoyable in itself is eventually viewed as a step to something different; the "end" becomes a "means." Thereupon, the present elicits interest in the absent; and conscious focus turns from the actual to the possible. In actuality, unity among competing elements is partial and transient. Imagination pictures harmony more widespread and stable; it supplies an imaginary completion of incomplete events. This projecting of imagined completion is a necessary phase in the process of bringing about actual completion. Imagination furthers the completion of natural affairs by taking the first step of anticipating this completion. This sounds Hegelian, but departs from Hegelianism in two ways. First, there is no predetermined or preconceived (human or divine) point of completion; improvements of conditions extend in many possible directions; the possibilities suggested by events are potentially endless. Meanings are virtually unlimited, indefinite, and boundless. In addition, improvements made in natural and human affairs are dependent upon the intervention of freely thinking individuals. There is no "invisible hand" behind human affairs. There is no "divine puppeteer" pulling the strings. There is no "absolute spirit." Nor is it a matter of manipulation by "nature" conceived as some mysterious agency which operates through human beings; it is a matter of physical energies concentrated and organized in human beings as part of nature, who operate "on their own" (with the help of natural conditions) from the standpoint of a higher organization of natural energies called intelligence. Improvements are foreseen and made according to individual angles of vision and with the expending of individual energies. Individuals working with individual situations are capable of many different improvements. As the meanings or interpretations of events are endless (depending only upon the richness of experience, both personal and cultural, brought to bear and the power of imaginative foresight developed through repeated acts of intelligence), so positive changes that can be wrought in events are uncountable. Actual progress constitutes but one path cleared. Each path cleared opens, through the expansion of meanings, new possibilities, new uncleared and indefinite directions for endeavor. The process of completing nature reveals even more opportunities for change. Each fulfillment feeds and intensifies the projective power of imagination.

2. Nature supports human creativity and purposeful action by not being entirely supportive. The world is a mixture of stable and unstable elements. Human growth and decay are wedded inextricably to the rhythm of the arrival and departures of natural energies. Natural energies are variable. They are always on the move, this way and that way, coming or going, the arrival of some marked by the departure of others. They move in different directions, sometimes cooperating, their joint interaction producing a new organization, a form, even a new organism, sometimes competing, blocking one another or knocking each other from their initial paths. At the same time, there is regularity, stability, predictability, reliability in natural transactions. Nature exhibits both unpredictable variation and recurrent regularity. Surprises occur (evolution bears this out) despite and even in the midst of relatively stable connections and relations. By the same token, patterns seem to appear within almost indescribable variety. Nature is neither homogeneous flux nor seamless form, neither Bergsonian process nor Platonic number. There is a kind of Heraclitean ebb and flow of natural energies. Resistance and compression or contraction of energy, followed by release and expansion of energy, conflict and coordination, stopping and going, motion and rest, are duplicated, as we shall see, in the inhibition of energies (restraint and deflection of desires -- habits and impulses) followed by their release (freedom and expansion). The ebb and flow of nature is repeated in the higher(3) organization of human affairs. Contracting and tightening, as well as expanding and "loosening" or opening, characterize lived fluctuations as well as tendencies of thought, e.g. constriction versus free play of imagination. Room and the activity of making room are both internal (mental) and external conditions. The give and take between the human organism and environment makes possible stopping to think about, to assess, actual conditions -- which include the movement and collision of natural energies -- and to determine where they are going, where they ought to go, and how they might be redirected through the application of human energies (effort) to the situation. Intelligence is a higher organization of natural energies, continuous with physical-organic energies, which modifies conditions and which is itself necessarily modified.(4) Life is continual test and experiment, where undergoing hands us the results of our deliberate effort ("it serves us right" in both positive and negative ways) and calls forth additional reflection aimed at new doing.

3. Variation is largely due to the unique quality and tendencies of individually existing things. Each existence, down to the last molecule, exhibits individuality of organization and preference, but an individuality due to constant interaction with and adaptation to the movements of surrounding conditions. For this reason, stopping to "smell the roses" alternates with picking roses to give to a friend. Things can be enjoyed (or suffered) in their immediate quality, their unitary form, yet their uniqueness is passed over when they are seen as possible conditions relative to consequences envisioned in imagination. In other words, things can be viewed in their immediacy (individual quality) or in terms of their relations and associations (connection or continuity with other things).

4. The stable instability of experience gives rise to thinking and to imagining; thus, it is the impetus for philosophy. Love of wisdom, for Dewey, means love of a wisdom that is practical, which is interested in the transformation of experience. In both thought and action, there is a need to complete the incomplete, to "fix the broken." This "instrumentalism" goes beyond the everyday notion of utility to the enrichment of experience with meanings and ideas artistically woven into deeds and words. It should be noted that reflection did not originate with dispassionate wonder of upper class Greeks who had no stake in the events of practice and production. It began and begins with the facing of downright troublesome and problematic situations.

5. We often speak of "facing facts." Occasionally, we use the expression, "facing the music" -- or, more aptly, "facing the discord," for problematic situations are problematic because they lack harmony. Conditions do not cooperate; at least they do not cooperate with our endeavor. There is something wrong. Energies are pitted against one another. They compete, rather than cooperate. They constrain, rather than liberate. Oftentimes, activity comes to a halt, not because of a peaceful collaboration of forces and energies, but because of conflict and friction. One cause of conflict and friction is the mixture of the unique or individual and the familiar or regular; there is something stubbornly new in every situation requiring some new adaptation. While the familiar and the stable afford contentment, the novel and the changing cause disturbance. The "always new" quality of conditions marked by the relative unpredictability of individuality combined with the relative stability and predictability of relations becomes even more important in the analysis of social conditions.(5) In the problematic situation, two outcomes are projected: one is the way things will transpire if conditions are allowed to continue on their present course, with no intervention or "help." The other is the way things will turn out, if someone intervenes to redirect moving energies toward more favorable consequences (where the series of events has a happy "ending"). Each situation presents its own unique difficulties, difficulties which are more felt than understood initially. What makes a situation problematic is not the presence of a problem or isolated task, surrounded by neutral conditions; in a problematic situation, a quality of troublesomeness pervades the whole situation; like dye, it colors the whole situation. Situations constitute a kind of "little world" within the "bigger world," as "experiences" can be marked off and distinguished from one another as well as from "experience as a whole" by the unitary quality that binds together or "colors" each experience. Some situations are problematic and suggest a possible resolution; others are immediately satisfying (consummatory). In a particular situation, focus is limited to those conditions which work together or are at odds with one another, from the standpoint of the direction of one's activity. Within the situation are objects. These elements -- phases of a continuous whole, broken up by reflection -- work together or fail to work together in a certain way. They are related in a way specific to the situation. Thus, account is given by reflection of both objects and relations, conditions and arrangement of conditions. The better situation projected constitutes a better arrangement of the factors observed in the present situation. Better situations are conceivable because now and then, either accidentally or purposefully or vicariously, better things have been experienced.(6) The "good old days" are the imaginative rendering (somewhat romantically idealized) of qualities and relations of previous experience lifted from their context in unique and unrepeatable situations (not problematic, but satisfying) and used as material combined with observation of actually existing conditions to paint an imaginative picture better than reality. As we saw before, such use of the past involves an imaginative leap, since the new never exactly repeats the old.

6. What is looked for, hoped for, is unity, harmony. The solution to a problematic situation is the right intervention of effort (energy expended in the face of obstacles) that leads to a new situation more unified than the initial situation or at least where conflict and friction of competing elements is reduced. The love of wisdom is essentially a search for unity, for harmony, not just in imagination but in fact. What the imaginary alternative possesses in greater degree and what the actual situation possesses in lesser degree (so far as it is problematic) is unity or harmony of moving factors or conditions. Initially envisioned harmony never corresponds exactly to eventually achieved harmony, despite effective controls; for facts combine in new and often unexpected ways, given the variety of conditions always operating. We always seem to get more or less or something other than we "bargained for." Planning and action always leave something unaccounted for. Outcomes, especially in human affairs, are always somewhat surprising to the open-minded observer, who has learned to "expect the unexpected."(7)

7. Unity for organisms means stable equilibrium in motion. On the biological level, life is a continual process of losing and restoring equilibrium, needing and being satisfied, in a relation with the environment which is one of continual adjustment and active adaptation of real conditions. This biological account of loss and recovery of equilibrium provides a model for understanding human moral and social growth (which goes beyond the biological to the experiential level -- the level of communicated meanings). For Dewey, what is most important is life; and life means growth. This development occurs, in the case of human beings, with ever more successful use of intelligence in reorganizing problematic situations. Thanks to the ability to learn from experience, each new equilibrium can mark a higher level of organization of energies.

8. The rhythm of life and growth is sustained by and mirrors the rhythm of nature as a whole. Life is a repeating pattern of loss and recovery of equilibrium, an alternation of being at odds with the environment and making peace with it, a peace achieved not by passive accommodation, but by active change of environmental conditions. Peace means cooperation and coordination of actual conditions, human and natural. The recovery of harmony, the movement from problematic to settled or unified situations, may be due to effort or happy chance (luck). Some good things occur accidentally; they just happen. Others are labored and fought for. Such "goods" are treasured in memory and projected as "ends"; they are esteemed worth working for and bringing into existence again (or keeping in existence). The fortunate experience of harmony in the past contrasts with present experience of disharmony, where good things are lacking, and evokes a projection of possible future harmony.

9. Growth means that a wider reach of conditions, a greater variety of natural energies, is harmonized. Growth does not mean merely "holding one's own"; it means expansion, enlargement, greater outward involvement, participation in a broader scene. The direction of growth, of progress, is inward, outward, and upward.(8) Thus, the unity which is sought is a unity with and among a greater variety of elements and energies. Life needs variety. Contraction or withdrawal, holding back to reflect and assess and plan, is a part of life. Enjoyment and satisfaction, the pause taken in newly achieved equilibrium, the aesthetic appreciation of the fulfilling quality of an experience, is also a part of life. But there is a time to stop and think and feel, and there is a time to go on. Too long a period of withdrawal (or contemplation of the immediately enjoyable) brings decline. Inwardness, the deepening of existence (individuality), and outwardness, the extending of the range of existence (participation) are mutually implicative phases of a growing experience which both deepens and widens. Individuals develop individuality by harmonizing relations with an extensive range of objects and conditions. The new harmony ought to be harmony which coordinates an increased number of actual transactions or interactions.

10. The achievement of unity is an achievement of form. Like Plato, Dewey believes that the search for unity is a search for form; and like Plato, Dewey regards form as harmony or arrangement or order. Unlike Plato, however, Dewey believes that experienced forms are not preexistent general patterns imposed upon material (from "above"), but are qualitatively unique functional unities of dynamic equilibrium, unique fulfillments growing out of interactions of natural energies. Forms are "eventual"; they are effects or consequences of complex interacting energies. They change with the incorporation of new elements. They are fulfillments. They evolve with the coordination of natural energies. Forms are "organizations," the way energies are organized insofar as they are organized. They are unique. The red of this rose is not the same as the red of any other rose. Forms are particular, not general. What are general are conceived relations between conditions and consequences or connections abstracted from experience used as tools to interpret or modify conditions. Knowledge, for Dewey, pertains to quantitative relations between conditions and consequences, regularities in processes leading to qualitative unities. Forms, as abiding or fleeting outcomes of organizations of energies, as qualities, are not known; rather, they are directly experienced, appreciated, sensed, handled, and enjoyed. The principles of their organization can be investigated and known, but what things are in their achieved integrity and unity can only be "experienced." The enjoyment of qualitative unity is outside of knowledge, but not outside of experience. This is disappointing only from a standpoint that makes knowledge, rather than experience, its standard. Knowledge is part of experience, a mode of experience.

11. The search for unity is a search for equilibrium within motion, harmony and cooperation of conditions which are initially discordant and competing. In other words, the human organism seeks unity within itself (integrity and coordination of energies of thought and desire), unity with its natural environment, and unity with other human organisms. What it finds in the problematic situation, however, is disunity -- conflicts of desires and tendencies within itself, conflict between its own interests and objective conditions, and conflict between these same interests and the interests of others. Present facts prove disappointing by comparison with past fulfillments.

12. If situations were only scenes to be contemplated, then all humans could do in the face of facts would be to like or dislike them. That would constitute a purely aesthetic approach. This is not to say that liking and disliking are unimportant responses; what is liked in what is experienced -- the prized -- provides a basis for projecting what is actively sought. What is disliked provides a stimulus to reflection; it wakes up consciousness to the whole field of the experienced situation; it focuses attention upon objects in the situation determined to be obstacles or resources. In fact, without the discordances of experience, if life went smoothly along, there would be no consciousness, no longing for unity, no recollection of unity. Tripping over obstacles reminds us of the path we are pursuing and are largely taking for granted. There is, however, a difference between aesthetic contemplation of the unique quality of an object or situation and thinking in order to transform and redirect conditions whose present status or future outcome is viewed to be disappointing. In a word, there is a difference between an aesthetic or contemplative interest and a practical or "moral" interest. The aesthetic appreciation of finished form, a legitimate moment for one who stops to enjoy the culmination of work which unifies and harmonizes elements into a whole, was thus taken out of its rightful context of lived experience, which includes inseparably both doing and enjoying, working and appreciating. Quite simply, aesthetically-minded Greek thinkers were surrounded by the finished forms wrought by slaves and manual laborers. It was natural for the non-working leisure class to believe that beautifully finished forms were somehow "already there." Moreover, it was apparently unthinkable that lowly craftsman and artisans -- who worked with their hands and not with their heads -- could be inventive, that is, could create new forms. The possibility or the impossibility of creating new forms, that is, whether form is to be gazed at or is to be brought about, is the nub of the disagreement between traditional idealism and Dewey's experimental or practical idealism. Traditionally, aesthetic contemplation of real and imagined finished forms -- conceived of as generalities, rather than qualities -- became identified with philosophical reflection.(9)

13. The appreciation of finished form(10) is an appropriate phase within the continuity of activity, an ebb and flow which is analytically broken into phases of ebb and flow by reflective consciousness. The metaphor of "perches and flights"(11) attributed by William James to consciousness applies as well to the continuum of doing and undergoing which is experience. In the absence of continuous good fortune, there are breaks or interruptions in the otherwise straightforward motion of human endeavor. The starting point is always activity in progress, largely routine, driven by habit (acquired disposition or tendency, momentum in a certain direction). Interest and preference, habit and impulse, are always already operating. Motion, not rest, is the fundamental fact of existence;(12) rest amounts to a counterbalancing of natural energies, tranquil order within change.

14. New and unaccustomed facts shock the human organism. Obstacles fall in the way of routine activity. There is conflict between habitual action and new facts calling for some adaptation. Conflict experienced in the normal course of action, action in a certain direction, stimulates or activates conscious reflection. This emotional interruption, perception of a difficulty, brings the whole situation into view; one becomes aware of what he is doing. Past, present, and future are brought to light in remembering, observing, and anticipating. The obstacle awakens perception, brings focus to the here and now, which evokes recollection and an attempt to make sense of the present in terms of past meanings (through the bridging power of imagination). At the same time as this "whence," the conditions behind present conditions, is viewed, imagination also works to foretell the "whither." The meaning of an event, its import, is the direction of its movement, where it is heading. All perception involves both recollection and foresight. Foresight means "viewing" or "picturing" possible consequences of present conditions. It is reading what events suggest, what they "portend." According to Dewey, this consciousness is like a drama which sums up its past and points to its future and becomes itself a condition alongside other conditions. It becomes a condition tending toward its own consequences,(13) even as it helps inhibit, deflect, or redirect the overall momentum of activity. It becomes a redirecting force amidst natural energies; at the same time, it signals a need for adaptation, for change in direction. Thought, emotion, impulse -- psychological factors -- participate with external conditions in the movement of events.

15. When obstacles stop onward overt activity, the onward push of the momentum of interest and desire continues inwardly and "ideally." Activity becomes inward. Imaginative thought runs ahead of actual accomplishment and imaginatively completes the desired reconstruction of experience. It projects a whole possible path ahead -- a course of action -- ending in a successful resolution of present difficulties. It anticipates the unfolding progress of present conditions. The drama of past, present, and future as a connected course of action is imaginatively portrayed. The final act of this imaginative drama, which brings it to a close, which marks the last stage of the connected series, is the end as end-in-view. The end-in-view is not an actual result; it is an imagined culmination and completion of present open-ended conditions. Furthermore, the end-in-view is not just an object to be pursued or enjoyed in isolation or apart from the course of action as it is played out. The end-in-view is unified experience, an improved situation, which includes those objects and conditions which satisfy the needs of the present problematic situation. The end-in-view may focus upon an object, but it is really a second situation which is desired, where obstacles don't get in the way and where resources work together for a unified effect. The end-in-view is the whole "straightening out" of "existing entanglements." As Dewey often writes, the goal is not the target, but the activity of hitting the target, a way of acting. Objects are desired because they are needed to make things fit together, to remake this unique situation into a better one. To put the matter simply, what is desired is unity; and unity is always this unity (unique even as conflict in the situation is unique).

16. Imagination tends to present a picture wherein conditions presently conflicting work together, wherein energies cooperate and result in finished form or fulfillment, where the drama beginning in a recollected past and seen to be continuing in an observed present has a happy ending in an envisioned future. The need for unity which is frustrated in action is carried forward in thought. For Dewey, the term idealize refers to the mental or imaginary improvement or harmonization of conditions.

17. The desire for unity in the face of infighting among competing desires and habits, as well as the clash of outward real conditions among themselves and against these desires and habits, leads to the first step in the imaginative formation of ends-in-view; ends and ideals begin as wishes and dreams -- the "if only." Energies which are frustrated, which cannot be used in overt action, are diverted to imagination. What cannot be done overtly is done or contemplated imaginatively. The contraction of overt activity is offset by an expansion of mental activity. Imagination is action made inward. It is a withdrawal, a stepping back, a contraction. It is action gone "indoors."

18. The painting of an imaginative alternative in the "if only" of the wish is aided by the imaginative retrieval of the idealized content of past experience. Memory imaginatively remakes the past. The imagination takes onetime enjoyed consequences, elaborated and embellished, and reworks them to fit an anticipated scheme of things. These imaginatively enhanced associations become new dramatic material added to imaginative observation of present positive conditions in the artistic portrayal of the ideal situation. What is good about the present and what was good about the past come together and are artistically reworked in the vision of a future possible good. Whereas negative factors in present experience -- privations, deficits, and lacks -- "pinch," thereby stimulating imaginative thought, positive factors in experience (past and present) give it imaginative content.

19. In the face of situations which are lacking, imagination tends to dream of situations where nothing or at least less is lacking. In the face of enjoyments which are fleeting, imagination tends to picture satisfactions which are lasting. In the face of the negative, imagination tends to present to itself an absent positive. Again, the imagination unifies, harmonizes, completes, extends, and stabilizes the discrete, discordant, incomplete, and unstable features of experience. Holes and breaks in space and time are smoothed over and reconciled in the wish and the dream. Projected images have an appeal lacking in present affairs; they heal in imagination what lies broken in fact.

20. Possibilities suggested by past and present affairs are literally endless. Events are suggestive. Suggestions are imagined associations. Imagination, turning from actuality to ideality, from actual existence to possible existence, can pursue a life of its own apart from the exigencies of real situations. Suggestions can be played with and multiplied for their own sake. According to Dewey, freedom of thought, which means freedom of imaginative thought, is "playfulness." Play indicates an interest in an activity for its own sake, not viewed as leading to a culmination or outcome. Imagination can be engaged in for its own sake. This "play" has the effect of stretching experience, of multiplying possibilities. Imaginative play increases power to discover and relate suggestions or possibilities. It also extends the scope of interests and sympathy. This means, as we shall see, that imaginative play is essential for the development of social interests. Imagination(14) is thought which moves freely among suggestions, which thinks a wide range of possibilities and associations. This expanse of imaginative thought is essential to philosophy.(15)

21. But practical imagination operates differently from aesthetic imagination; and ends-in-view (aims or purposes), while made of the stuff of wishes and dreams, also include knowledge of real conditions, how they come about and where they lead. The free play of unfettered imagination, which has a place in lived experience, becomes problematic in situations requiring change. Wishing and dreaming, without reference to real conditions, represent a withdrawal from overt activity that creates a gap between the ideal and the real, the actual and the possible. Withdrawal that becomes habitual is a manner of activity that avoids the often difficult task of facing and altering facts. This avoidance is sometimes the result of timidity and sometimes the result of genuine incapacity, due to lack of knowledge or opportunities to effect real changes. In either case, external conditions go their way and accidentally end up well or ill, while dreamy imagination looks the other way (toward an idealized version of the present situation). The existence of wishes and dreams points to the frustration of real attempts to unify experience. This world of dreams constitutes a safe haven, an asylum, a refuge from difficult circumstance.

22. Science and philosophy are not immune from the tendency of imaginative thought to become disengaged from the environment. Dewey views the ideal objects of traditional philosophy and theology as instances of imaginative ends or ideals wrested from their true context in experience, from which they were cast and to which they were meant to return. Human imagination is capable of projecting unblemished views, but these views are useless insofar as they are incapable of directing and guiding and evaluating concrete experience. The ideal "outdoes" the actual. But its primary function is within activity; the "end" as projected ideal is a means in the ongoing transformation of actual conditions. Otherwise, ideas conjured up come to constitute an aesthetic playground. Even Plato realized this, according to Dewey, although Plato failed to see that ideas refer to possible rather than actual existence. The point is that imaginative withdrawal is meant to enhance participation and outward expansion, not substitute for it. One "goes indoors" to recuperate and pull oneself together so that "going outdoors" (unity within expansion) will have new significance and capacity. One trades in ideas or ideals or possibilities which outrun facts in order to get a larger view that enables one to intervene intelligently in the modification of these facts. Once again, ideas and facts are interdependent.

23. Imagination which does not "dodge" the facts maintains an attitude of relative free play and openness to a wide range of possibilities, but tethers this "possibilizing" to the facts at hand. Practical imagination is wedded to acute observation of present facts and sober knowledge of relations arrived at through experience. This amounts to a disciplined use of imagination. Knowledge of past conditions and their consequences, with close and impartial (so far as possible) inspection of present conditions, makes mere "fancies" into purposes. Not any possibility will do, but only that possibility which is indeed "possible," that is, practicable. A purpose or end-in-view has the appeal of an imaginative unity, yet is grounded in a realistic assessment of the movement of (what can be expected from) actual events. Thus, the vision of a better situation is worked out in concert with the facts.

24. The end-in-view is but a focal point within the whole "field of view," the projected course of action opened up by imaginative consciousness. It is the viewing of a series of connected acts, a continuity of activity, from the standpoint of its anticipated last stage, the point of resolution or completion. The distinction between "means" and "end" is simply a matter of change of focus within the field of the whole temporal series. Note that it is possible to imagine oneself standing at the end of the series; it is possible to assume a standpoint within an imaginary situation, "outside of" or "beyond" the present. Imagination affords an ideal, i.e. thought, transcendence of present conditions.(16) Just as the "if only" of the wish jumps from problem to playground, so practical imagination leaps from the actual to the possible, but it makes this leap in the general direction of the movement of real tendencies and conditions; it jumps beyond the facts, but not away from them. For practical imagination, wish is linked to foresight based on knowledge of how conditions really work, what direction they tend to take. The line drawn to the future moves out of the facts in relation to their antecedent conditions. Dewey often refers to this as the "axis of conduct." This path of action begins with the given of actual obstacles and resources (energies that inhibit or further), including human psychological obstacles and resources, and fades gradually into the "not-yet" or possible territory of imaginative foresight. This "axis of conduct" is not a predetermined course; thought can redirect desire, and acts can shift the movement of events. The end-in-view gives a sense of direction to activity, as a landmark to the east helps one to head east; it is the activity of heading toward the landmark (not the landmark itself) which is desired. Competing interests and desires, as well as the stubborn diversity of facts, suggest a variety of alternative courses of action.

25. The imaginative undertaking or trying out of a number of imaginary courses of action, Dewey refers to as deliberation. The normal forward thrust of action is inhibited by thought and redirected as imaginative portrayal of "what would happen if." The "if only" of a wish flies over and ignores present conditions. The "what would happen if" strides forward imaginatively out of present conditions. With deliberation or reflection, overt activity, the release of energy in making an actual effort, is suspended. Imaginary experiment is safer than overt experiment; consequences of real acts cannot be called back. Imaginative rehearsal allows for modification and adaptation of habits, desires, and ends-in-view. Both ends-in-view and selected means can be imaginatively tested. Deliberation is an imaginary experiment. It is an opportunity to discover the meaning, i.e. the consequences, of desires and habits. Their meaning is where they lead. Seeing or foreseeing where they lead, how far they lead, whether they lead to dead ends or to more opportunities, requires openness and free play of imagination.

26. Thus, the direction that affairs are expected to take if we continue as we have up to the present (habit) is contrasted with a variety of alternative courses of action having different possible outcomes and satisfying different competing desires or interests. Though "purity of heart" would be to "will one thing,"(17) the usual situation is one of divided interest and conflicting preferences. This, according to Dewey, is not a bad thing. Achieving unity within diversity, harmony within an expanding range of interests and objects of concern, amounts to a higher level of equilibrium (growth) than afforded by straightforward satisfaction of a contracted desire. Once again, the general is the generous, the inclusive and the comprehensive. The following of a diversity of leads (possibilities) offered by given circumstances, imagining paths in many directions, willingness to change direction and revise projected ends-in-view, contributes to an extending of the breadth and depth of experience. One could even speak of a democracy of desires and thoughts, where each is allowed a hearing. For Dewey, thought (or intelligence) is not opposed to desire; intelligence is coordination and cooperation of desires or preferences.

27. Expansion comes with the scope of deliberation; unity comes with the reconciliation of competing tendencies in choice. Choice is the completion of the inward activity of deliberation. The suspension of overt action, the deflection of energy to imagination and thought, is followed by a release of energy. One sees a way out of the situation and forward to a better one. One finds a way to reconcile opposing desires and habits, at the same time as one finds a way through outward circumstances. Dewey means a kind of psychological unity, integrity of thought and desire achieved in wise choice. A way is found which steers around obstacles or converts them to resources and uses supportive objects in the environment as cooperative agencies. Competing preferences and conflicting conditions are made to work together; imagination foresees this potential working-together. Interests "reinforce one another"; ends collect in a single purpose. Imagination is presented with the possibility of genuinely unified experience, including integrity of character and harmony with circumstances.

28. Nonetheless, projection of possible unity of the conditions of experience is not the same thing as achieved unity of actual conditions. The mind can be made up before the situation is actually remade. Thus, Dewey maintains that reflection and deliberation are not really complete when choice closes deliberation. The completion of reflection and imagination is concrete overt action. The real test of the value of ends-in-view and possible courses of action is whether they help to integrate and compose real competing interests and affairs.

29. Ends-in-view or purposes function within overt activity as well as in imagination. They give meaning to activity because they are the meaning of activity. Orientation to a future unifies separate acts; it ties them together with a single thread that leads beyond the acts themselves. Means and ends are correlative terms. Objects chosen as means are objects seen in the perspective of the whole process undertaken, a process of bringing organization to a situation lacking it. Actual ends or results are not separate from means; they are but means organized, another term for unified experience.

30. Projected unity of competing conditions helps to make sense of existing conditions. This gathering does not eliminate differences (producing uniformity or homogeneity), but enlists their diverse energies in combined effort. Purposes or ends-in-view are means alongside other means, conditions among conditions, which themselves need constant adaptation and revision. Ideas are functioning and dynamic parts of activity. Anticipated unity of actual conditions, realistically framed and reframed in sober facing of changing facts, gives ongoing conduct perspective and sense of direction. Planning or the framing of purposes brings into view the possible cooperation of diverse competing energies. Purposeful action is that exertion of natural energy (effort) that "corrals" and coordinates the movement of other natural energies so as to effect a unified and distinctive form. Thus, conditions both personal and impersonal are seen or foreseen to converge in a focus of energies sharing a common direction.

31. Practical wisdom is no more nor less than sense of direction.(18) The end-in-view unifies acts along a temporal line and collects energies extended spatially. The love of wisdom means search for a direction that will unify rather than disperse conduct and experience, that will both extend the range of interests and ends and yet bind them together in unitary choice, will, and action. It preserves the unique quality of individual ends and existences, yet brings them together imaginatively, then actively, into a cooperative whole.

Notes:

1. For the idea of an "open universe," Dewey owed a great debt to William James, whom I believe he repaid with interest. In the words of William James, "the incompleteness of the pluralistic universe, thus assumed and held to as the most probable hypothesis, is also represented by the pluralistic philosophy as being self-reparative through us, as getting its disconnections remedied in part by our behavior." William James, A Pluralistic Universe (New York: Longman's, Green, and Co., 1909), pp. 329 - 330.

2. The seen suggests something unseen, yet-to-come.

3. Generally, that which includes more elements that work together cooperatively and in a more organized way is "higher" for Dewey. Intelligence reveals greater organization than basic and unorganized physico-organic energies.

4. Dewey likes to say that there is no "unmoved mover."

5. The ideal of democracy must account for and provide for the uniqueness of individual citizens as well as their relations to one another and to the environment. Democracy requires furtherance of unique individuality consonant with resolution of conflict.

6. One can tell a good day from a bad day, without a transcendental standard.

7. From a saying of Heraclitus.

8. Toward depth, breadth, and higher organization.

9. This contemplative standpoint is given a new twist by Nietzsche, who agrees with the dynamic flexibility attributed by Heraclitus to nature, but who nonetheless regards war, conflict, tension, and opposition as qualities to be aesthetically appreciated rather than as stimuli to practical reconstruction.

10. The projection of an ideal is the anticipation of a finished form.

11. William James, The Principles of Psychology, Vol. I (New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1910), p. 243.

12. Dewey would agree with Hobbes that life means motion; he would not agree, however, that peace within activity, tranquility within motion, cannot be achieved in this life. Hobbes writes: "For there is no such thing as perpetual tranquillity of mind, while we live here; because life itself is but motion, and can never be without desire, nor without fear, no more than without sense." (From Leviathan)

13. Thought moves toward its own unification, through the free play of ideas.

14. Imagination could be described as mind at its point of greatest flexibility, mobility, and adaptability, insofar as it is able to "stretch" to accommodate new facts. Imagination is a playful disposition of mind, developed through adventure and experiment or diminished through drudgery and routine.

15. Philosophy requires the ability to play with or rearrange old meanings.

16. Imagination denotes transcendence within experience, rather than outside of or above experience (superempirical reason and the like). Compare to Heidegger's view of projection.

17. Kierkegaard and Dewey are in agreement regarding the potential unity of desire and thought.

18. One thinks of the ancient Greek notion of phronesis, as the art of piloting or steering well -- even through Scylla and Charybdis.


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Copyright © 1992 -1999 Gordon L. Ziniewicz
This page last updated 10/14/12

Please note: These philosophical commentaries, though still in process, are the intellectual property of Gordon L. Ziniewicz. They may be downloaded and freely distributed in electronic form only, provided no alterations are made to the original text. One print copy may be made for personal use, but further reproduction and distribution of printed copies are prohibited without the permission of the author.