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The Undiscovered Dewey: Religion, Morality, and the Ethos of Democracy [Hardcover]

Melvin L. Rogers

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Book Description

Dec 30 2008

The Undiscovered Dewey explores the profound influence of evolution and its corresponding ideas of contingency and uncertainty on John Dewey's philosophy of action, particularly its argument that inquiry proceeds from the uncertainty of human activity. Dewey separated the meaningfulness of inquiry from a larger metaphysical story concerning the certainty of human progress. He then connected this thread to the way in which our reflective capacities aid us in improving our lives. Dewey therefore launched a new understanding of the modern self that encouraged intervention in social and natural environments but which nonetheless demanded courage and humility because of the intimate relationship between action and uncertainty.

Melvin L. Rogers explicitly connects Dewey's theory of inquiry to his religious, moral, and political philosophy. He argues that, contrary to common belief, Dewey sought a place for religious commitment within a democratic society sensitive to modern pluralism. Against those who regard Dewey as indifferent to moral conflict, Rogers points to Dewey's appreciation for the incommensurability of our ethical commitments. His deep respect for modern pluralism, argues Rogers, led Dewey to articulate a negotiation between experts and the public so that power did not lapse into domination. Exhibiting an abiding faith in the reflective and contestable character of inquiry, Dewey strongly engaged with the complexity of our religious, moral, and political lives.

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The Undiscovered Dewey wrestles intelligently with a central question regarding John Dewey's political thought-his optimism and holism-and defends a view that's both controversial and interesting.

(Eric MacGilvray, Ohio State University)

If you don't know much about John Dewey's writings on religion, ethics, and politics, this book is the ideal place to start. If, on the other hand, you think you have Dewey pegged, you should still read the volume, for every chapter will surprise and instruct. Melvin L. Rogers has provided a bold, fresh, exhaustively researched reinterpretation of America's greatest democratic theorist.

(Jeffrey Stout, Princeton University, and author of Democracy and Tradition)

If John Dewey too seldom dwelt on the darker dimensions of human experience and the necessary limits within which we struggle to enrich our lives, he well knew they were there. Melvin L. Rogers rescues Dewey from the brightly lit, ever-smiling caricature drawn by his critics, ably portraying him in chiaroscuro and giving us a democratic philosopher not of naïve optimism but of chastened hope. Precisely what we need.

(Robert Westbrook, University of Rochester, and author of Democratic Hope: Pragmatism and the Politics of Truth)

The book is a welcome and thoughtful contribution... Recommended.


A significant contribution to the growing literature on Dewey's religious and political thought.

(Shane Ralston Journal of Politics)

Melvin Roger's articulate, timely work helps make audible once again Dewey's voice in this fateful conversation.

(Robert W. King Journal of American Studies 1900-01-00)

Rogers offers a revisionist reading of Dewey to recover what he considers lost intellectual and moral resources for a revitalized politics in a pluralist society..... A great virtue of this work is the breadth of his engagement with Dewey across his entire, vast corpus, and the careful pitting of Dewey in conversation with contemporary thinkers such as Walter Lippmann, Hannah Arendt, William James, and George Herbert Mead. This book matters precisely because of its ambitions.

(Matthew S. Hedstrom Journal of the American Academy of Religion)

[Rogers] pushes engagement with democratic theory further, defending Dewey not only against such trenchant critics as Reinhold Neibuhr, Christopher Lasch, and John Patrick Diggins, but also against [Robert] Westbrook, Hillary Putnam, and Cornel West.... Rogers presents his 'undiscovered Dewey' through a reinterpretation of Darwinian evolution's influence on Dewey's conception of 'inquiry,' which Rogers places at the very center of Dewey's epistemology as well as his moral and political philosophy. Rogers situates Dewey in the context of Darwin's broader 'impact on the American religious imagination,' arguing that Dewey was more deeply engaged in theological controversy than is sometimes recognized, and that this engagement left an indelible mark on later developments in his thinking.

(Jason Frank Political Theory)

An impressive achievement... essential for anyone interested in pragmatism and of value for anyone working on democratic theory.

(Colin Koopman Perspectives on Politics)


Melvin L. Rogers's The Undiscovered Dewey is the best book on our greatest public philosopher since Robert Westbrook's classic text. It is one of those rare works that would make John Dewey smile and Richard Rorty grin from the grave.

(Cornel West, Princeton University)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.0 out of 5 stars  2 reviews
0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent Book June 26 2010
By Star1954 - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This book is a valuable addition to the existing literature on Dewey. I am sorry the previous reviewer took it upon himself to bash the publisher, when the purpose of the book review is to review the book. If I could give this book more than five stars, I would.
0 of 6 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Fine book but awful scanning job; shame on the publisher May 29 2010
By Dan Beauchamp - Published on
Verified Purchase
This is a fine and important book that would be worth the price if it were not for the fact that the real book has been scanned by either a very poor machine or a careless graduate student. The publishers ought to be ashamed of themselves. I would try and get my money back but Amazon does not do anything when you complain about poor scanning. If publishers are to make money off digital copies of their books they need to find a better technology than scanning, with all of its imperfections. I regret buying this version of the book. My only consolation is that the print version is so much more expensive. As for the text, the author is making a very important point about the need for humility in inquiry but he does so in that awful philosophical style of writing primarily for other philosophers. Why don't science writers take up the task of translating the opaque prose of so many academics and render them useful for intelligent readers.

There are many other versions of this same kind of poor scanning. I complained to Amazon about one of Rorty's volumes three times and they never responded. Why don't we read more about this in all the rave reviews for Kindle and the iPad?

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