American Philosophy

John Dewey

What was John Dewey’s theory of art?

First, Dewey thought that inquiry is an art, and he rejected what he called the “spectator theory of knowledge,” whereby knowing is believed to be passive contemplation. According to Dewey, ordinary human life itself is a form of art because it is permeated with aesthetic qualities in human experience. For Dewey, all experience, or anything that can be called “an experience,” has an aesthetic quality that can be directly appreciated. An experience has an immediacy that is directly felt or had and which unites its constituents into the same whole. Dewey meant by this that we are not aware of the physical or chemical aspects of our experience but of holistic actions and qualities. For example, the runner does not experience her sprained ankle in the same way that the sports doctor examining her does. She has a united qualitative experience of strain and pain, whereas the sports doctor understands her condition in terms of which exact tissues have been damaged.


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