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Inquiry, art and consummatory experience: A Deweyan account of the instrumental and aesthetic modes in human well-being

Eric A Evans, University of Nebraska - Lincoln


This dissertation argues that a Deweyan reconstruction of philosophical theories of human well-being is needed. While philosophical interest about human well-being has existed for millennia, significant interest in such theories among philosophers has re-emerged during the past twenty-five years. During this same time there has been a resurgence of interest in the work of John Dewey. His critique of the "philosophical fallacy" is used to examine the legitimacy and value of the theories of human well-being offered by Plato and L.W. Sumner in which the target for evaluation is "happiness" and the criterion is, respectively, P-justice or preference fulfillment. It is argued that these theories fail to provide for an authentic account of human well-being because they are based upon a false understanding of "experience" as either "epistemic or cognitive" instead of "geographic." Dewey's theory of experience is used to redefine both the target of evaluation and the criteria for the evaluation of human well-being. His reconstruction of "experience", "habit" and "situation" leads to rejecting the traditional conceptualization of the "private self"' and to reconstructing it as a "transactionally situated self" that is an embodied, enculturated agent. By placing significant emphasis on the importance of the qualitative aspects of a situation the "pervasive quality of the situation" emerges as the most plausible criterion for the evaluation of human well-being. Dewey's theories of inquiry, ethics, value and art are employed to further establish the naturalistic conditions under which the pervasive quality enters into a situation, i.e., as either settled or unsettled. The problematic situation is shown to be the primary condition under which all inquiry initiates whether it is in the context of science, ethics, values or art. Human well-being is shown to have two modes, the instrumental and the aesthetic, which are context dependent. Finally, by showing that a Deweyan account of human well-being involves "embodied knowing" instead of the traditional view of "cognitive knowledge" it is possible to explain the conditions and mechanisms under which human well-being contributes to the enlargement and enrichment of both individual and collective human experience.

Subject Area

Ethics|Aesthetics|Education philosophy

Recommended Citation

Evans, Eric A, "Inquiry, art and consummatory experience: A Deweyan account of the instrumental and aesthetic modes in human well-being" (2011). ETD collection for University of Nebraska - Lincoln. AAI3482804.