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Justice Holmes impresses John Dewey

March 5, 2015

“The mode in which the inevitable comes to pass is through effort. Consciously or unconsciously, we all strive to make the kind of world that we like. And although with Spinoza we may regard criticism of the past a futile, there is every reason for doing all that we can to make a future such as we desire. … There is every reason also for trying to make our desires intelligent. The trouble is that our ideals for the most part are inarticulate, and that even if we have made them definite, we have very little experimental knowledge of the way to bring them about.”

“That the universe has in it more than we understand, that the private soldiers have not been told the plan of the campaign, or even that there is one… has no bearing on our conduct. We still shall fight – all of us because we want to live, some, at last, because we want to realize our spontaneity and prove our powers, for the joy of it, and we may leave to the unknown the supposed final valuation of that which in any event has value to us. It is enough for us that the universe has produced us and has within it, as less than it, all that we believe and love. If we think of our existence not as that of a little god outside, but as that of a ganglion within, we have the infinite behind us. It gives us our only but our adequate significance. If our imagination is strong enough to accept the vision of ourselves as parts inseparable from the rest, and to extend our final interest beyond the boundary of our skins, it justifies even the sacrifice of our lives for ends outside of ourselves. The motive, to be sure, is the common want and ideals that we find in man. Philosophy does not furnish motives, but it shows men that they are not fools for doing what they already want to do. It opens to the forlorn hopes on which we throw ourselves away, the vista of the farthest stretch of human thought, the chord of a harmony that breathes from the unknown.”

(both quotes included in Dewey’s Experience and Nature [1925])

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