Mirror of Justice

A blog dedicated to the development of Catholic legal theory.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

John Dewey: Philosopher of the “Common Good”?

When Paul Blanshard published in 1949 his attack on the Catholic Church under the title, American Freedom and Catholic Power, John Dewey praised the book, saying, “Mr. Blanshard has done a difficult and necessary piece of work with exemplary scholarship, good judgment, and tact.” This recommendation appears on the jacket of the book and is signed, “John Dewey, Dean of American Philosophers.” Dewey's influence may be seen throughout Blanshard’s work. His two chapters against American Catholic schools conclude with the following quotation from Dewey, arguing against any government support for Catholic education: “It is essential that this basic issue be seen for what it is — namely, as the encouragement of a powerful reactionary world organization in the most vital realm of democratic life, with the resulting promulgation of principles inimical to democracy.”

Excerpt from Rev. John A. Hardon, S.J., John Dewey — Radical Social Educator.

Dewey, the leading philosophical influence on American secular liberalism, was a determined critic of traditional religion. He claimed that there was “nothing left worth preserving in the notions of unseen powers, controlling human destiny to which obedience, reverence and worship are due.” Unlike the scientific method, which is “open and public” and based on “continued and rigorous inquiry,” religion is “a body of definite beliefs that need only to be taught and learned as true.” Religion, he said, is based on the “servile acceptance of imposed dogma.” This did not mean that Dewey and his followers were skeptical toward all moral teaching, or that the government should remain “neutral” toward conflicting points of view. To the contrary, Dewey contended that the public schools have an “ethical responsibility” to inculcate social values derived from scientific and democratic principles.

Michael W. McConnell, Religious Freedom at a Crossroads, 59 U. Chi. L. Rev. 115, 123 (1992) (footnote omitted)


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