The limit of inquiry

In my discussion of Dewey last week, I commented offhand that there might be more explicit engagement with the Peircean conception of reality elsewhere in the Dewey corpus. This week I’m teaching “Context and Thought”, where such engagement occurs.

Dewey writes:

Within the limits of any valid inquiry, “reality” … means the confirmed outcome, actual or potential, of the inquiry that is undertaken. … When “reality” is sought for at large, it is without intellectual import; at most the term carries the connotation of an agreeable emotional state.1

Although Dewey doesn’t call out Peirce by name here, the connection is pretty clear. They can both say that reality is what will come to be agreed upon in inquiry. For Peirce, it’s indefinite inquiry by anyone concerned to investigate— but for Dewey, it’s how some actual inquiry will be resolved. He insists that the upshot of present inquiries is reality enough, for now at least, and deferring it indefinitely empties it of anything besides the affect. Peirce’s cheerful hope amounts to nothing more than cheer.

  1. The 1930 lecture was originally published in 1931 and is reprinted in The Essential Dewey vol. 1.

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