Human Nature and Conduct

by John Dewey

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Last Updated on September 5, 2023, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 219

Human Nature and Conduct by John Dewey is a seminal philosophical work that was partially inspired by Charles Darwin's The Origin of Species. Like Darwin's groundbreaking theory, Dewey became interested in exploring human behavior—both primitive or instinctual, and those shaped by environment and social constructs—as well as the human condition itself.

Dewey explores several interlinked topics, such as the development of human habits, social hierarchies and institutions, and the concept of morality. The central thesis of Human Nature and Conduct is that human nature and social institutions have a symbiotic dynamic.

Human behavior is shaped by social constructs like man-made laws (the judicial system) and divine laws (religion). However, because these social constructs, even the concept of God, are created by humans, it is fellow humans that eventually shape human behavior. It is similar to a feedback loop or echo chamber, but on a grander scale that affects—and possibly constructs—an entire society.

Human Nature and Conduct also offers criticism on Western philosophical schools of thought, especially those concerning ethics and morality. Dewey opined that intelligence and scientific knowledge can address moral issues. For instance, he believed that the truth is not permanent, but is elastic and adaptive to different time periods or cultures. Therefore, only concrete methods, like scientific experiments, can illuminate the "genuine" truth.

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