The Undiscovered Dewey

Religion, Morality, and the Ethos of Democracy

Melvin L. Rogers

Columbia University Press

The Undiscovered Dewey

Google Preview

Pub Date: October 2012

ISBN: 9780231144872

352 Pages

Format: Paperback

List Price: $30.00£25.00

Pub Date: December 2008

ISBN: 9780231144865

352 Pages

Format: Hardcover

List Price: $90.00£75.00

Pub Date: December 2008

ISBN: 9780231516167

352 Pages

Format: E-book

List Price: $29.99£25.00

The Undiscovered Dewey

Religion, Morality, and the Ethos of Democracy

Melvin L. Rogers

Columbia University Press

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.

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

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

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

Roger's book is a welcome addition to the literature on Dewey… suitable for suggested reading on syllabi for advanced undergraduate and graduate students.

Education and Culture
List of Abbreviations
Part I: From Certainty to Contingency
1. Protestant Self-Assertion and Spiritual Sickness
2. Agency and Inquiry After Darwin
Part II: Religion, the Moral Life, and Democracy
3. Faith and Democratic Piety
4. Within the Space of Moral Reflection
5. Constraining Elites and Managing Power

About the Author

Melvin L. Rogers is assistant professor of philosophy at Emory University, where he teaches political theory.