John Dewey the Humanist

Isle of Utopia

The ideal society based on humanist ideals, as conceived by Thomas More in his book Utopia

I was amused to find that the Wikipedia article on humanism is illustrated by a 1516 wood- cut from Thomas More’s Utopia with a caption under- neath it, “The ideal society based on humanist ideals…” When I wrote Children: The Pawns of Utopia. I didn’t realize it was used on that page. How very fitting to find it there, but I don’t know about it being an ideal society—I didn’t mention the other day that euthanasia is practiced in Utopia.

At a Catholic homeschool site I found a three-part series on John Dewey written by Rev. John A. Hardon, S.J. In John Dewey: Prophet of American Naturalism, Rev. Hardon discusses Dewey’s beliefs regarding God. Dewey was a bundle of philosophical self-contradictions.

In 1930, Dewey contributed an autobiographical chapter to a volume on Contemporary American Philosophy…. It is also the best key that we have to understanding some of Dewey’s otherwise notorious obscurity of thought.

There is first of all his own confession to what others have called “inconsistency” and “self-contradiction.” On one page he will defend one position, and three pages later the very opposite. And between one year and another, the change may be so radical you wonder if the same author could possibly have written both statements….A Catholic educator who recently finished a doctorate thesis on Dewey’s philosophy remarked that his work was “extremely difficult, in view of the fact that Dewey repeatedly contradicts himself.”

One area in which Dewey appears to have been consistent was his antagonism to God. In 1933 Dewey signed the Humanist Manifesto, a document, which although brief, contains a complete and thorough denial of God, and sets forth man as master of his fate and declares his utopia to be achievable. Humanism is set forth as a religion. Rev. Hardon states it, “contains in nucleo the basic principles for which he stands. In the original document there were fifteen articles to this “Credo in Naturalism,” of which the following are the most representative:”

(1) Religious humanists regard the universe as self-existing and not created.

(2) Humanism believes that man is a part of nature and that he has emerged as the result of a continuous process.

(3) Holding an organic view of life, humanists find that the traditional dualism of mind and body must be rejected.

(4) Humanism asserts that the nature of the universe depicted by modern science makes unacceptable any supernatural or cosmic guarantees of human values.

(5) Religious humanism considers the complete realization of human personality to be the end of man’s life and seeks its development and fulfillment in the here and now.

(6) In the place of the old attitudes involved in worship and prayer, the humanist finds his religious emotions expressed in the heightened sense of personal life and in a co-operative effort to promote social well-being.

(7) The humanists are firmly convinced that existing acquisitive and profit-motivated society has shown itself to be inadequate…. A socialized and co-operative economic order must be established.

(8) Though we consider the religious forms and ideas of our fathers on [sic] longer adequate, the quest for the good life is still the central task for mankind. Man is at last becoming aware that he alone is responsible for the realization of the world of his dreams, that he has within himself the power of its achievement.

So did Dewey find his humanist utopia? Rev. Harndon comments, “The last sentence [of the autobiographical chapter] ends on a personal note and epitomizes Dewey’s lifetime of fruitless effort to discover the truth:”

“Forty years (his own) spent in wandering in a wilderness like that of the present is not a sad fate — unless one attempts to make himself believe that the wilderness is after all itself the promised land.”

Isle of Utopia: public domain {{PD-1923}}.
Rev. Harndon’s text from the Humanist Manifesto is footnoted: “A Humanist Manifesto, published as a separate statement under the auspices of the American Humanist Association, Salt Lake City, 1933, and listed among Dewey’s authentic writings in the official Bibliography of John Dewey, p. 130. New York: Columbia University, 1939.”