Human Nature and Conduct

by John Dewey

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Last Updated on September 5, 2023, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 338

Human Nature and Conduct is an influential work of social psychology produced by John Dewey. One major theme that Dewey explores in this work is the collaborative relationship between physiological, psychological, and social activity in developing healthy human behavior.

Dewey focuses his study on three categories of human behavior: Habit, Impulse, and Intellect. In his view, Habit is the dominant actor and Impulse and Intellect are important, yet subordinate actors in healthy human behavior. He claims,

Habits once formed perpetuate themselves, by acting unremittingly upon the native stock of activities. They stimulate, inhibit, intensify, weaken, select, concentrate and organize the latter into their own likeness. They create out of the formless void of impulses a world made in their own image. Man is a creature of habit, not of reason nor yet of instinct (125).

Unlike the dualistic (stimulus-response) and reflexive view of human behavior of some of his professional peers, Dewey argues that the highest and healthiest level of human activity is not passive or retroactive but proactive and creative. Dewey declares:

A morals based on study of human nature instead of upon disregard for it would find the facts of man continuous with those of the rest of nature and would thereby ally ethics with physics and biology. It would find the nature and activities of one person coterminous with those of other human beings, and therefore link ethics with the study of history, sociology, law and economics. Such a morals would not automatically solve moral problems, nor resolve perplexities. But it would enable us to state problems in such forms that action could be courageously and intelligently directed to their solution. It would not assure us against failure, but it would render failure a source of instruction. It would not protect us against the future emergence of equally serious moral difficulties, but it would enable us to approach the always recurring troubles with a fund of growing knowledge which would add significant values to our conduct even when we overtly failed-as we should continue to do (58).

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