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John Dewey, 1924, Science, Belief, and the Public

March 5, 2014

The fundamental defect in the present state of democracy is the assumption that political and economic freedom can be achieved without first freeing the mind. Freedom of mind is not something that spontaneously happens. It is not achieved by the mere absence of obvious restraints. It is a product of constant, unremitting nurture of right habits of observation and reflection.

Until the taboos that hedge social topics from contact with thought are removed, scientific method and results in subjects far removed from social themes will make little impression upon the public mind. Prejudice, fervor of emotion, bunkum, opinion and irrelevant argument will weigh as heavily as fact and knowledge. Intellectual confusion will continue to encourage the men who are intolerant and who fake their beliefs in the interests of their feelings and fancies…

There is a considerable class of influential persons, enlightened and liberal in technical, scientific and religious matters, who are only too ready to make use of appeal to authority, prejudice, emotion and ignorance to serve their purposes in political and economic affairs. Having done whatever they can do to debauch the habit of the public mind in these respects, they then sit back in amazed sorrow when this same habit of mind displays itself violently with regard, say, to the use of established methods of historic and literary interpretations of the scriptures or with regard to the animal origin of man.

“Fundamentalism” might have been revived even if the Great War had not occurred. But it is reasonable to suppose that it would have not assumed such an intolerant and vituperative form, if so many educated men, in positions of leadership, had not deliberately cultivated resort to bitter intolerance and to coercive suppression of disliked opinions during the war…Until highly respectable and cultivated classes of men cease to suppose that in economic and political matters the importance of the end of social stability and security justifies the use of means other than those of reason, the intellectual habit of the public will continue to be corrupted at the root, and by those from whom enlightenment should be expected.


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