Evolution's First Philosopher

John Dewey and the Continuity of Nature

By Jerome A. Popp

Subjects: American Philosophy
Series: SUNY series in Philosophy and Biology
Paperback : 9780791469606, 169 pages, January 2008
Hardcover : 9780791469590, 169 pages, January 2007

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Table of contents

Reading Guide

 1.  Evolution and Philosophy


Darwin’s Influence on Dewey
Russell’s Rejection of Evolution
What about Genetic Determinism?
The Discussion Thus Far
Consider Reading


Part I. Theory of Evolution

 2. What Is Darwinian Evolution?


Sources of Variation
Three Kinds of Selection
The X and Y Chromosomes
Lamarckian Evolution
The Discussion Thus Far
Consider Reading


 3. Preparedness versus Plasticity


Dewey and Unlearned Activities
Where Impulses Come From
Preparedness versus Plasticity
Is Euclidean Geometry Innate?
The Discussion Thus Far
Consider Reading


 4. Brain Development and the Emergence of the Mind


The Triune View of the Brain
The Brain and Information Processing
Neuron Elimination
The Theory of Memes
From Consciousness to Mindedness
The Mind as a Virtual Machine
The Discussion Thus Far
Consider Reading


Part II. Morality Naturalized

 5.  Can Evolution Tell Us What to Do?


Does Natural Selection Have Foresight?
The Problem of the Normative
Dewey’s Solution
Democracy as Means
Intelligence as End
Means-Ends Logic
The Discussion Thus Far
Consider Reading


 6. Democracy and the Baldwin Effect


Intelligence as Inherently Social
The Moral Context of Growth
Dewey’s Criteria for Democracy
The Baldwin Effect
Democracy and the Baldwin Effect
Memeopathy as an Obstacle to Growth
Developing Autonomous Agents
Philosophy for a Small Planet
The Discussion Thus Far
Consider Reading


 7. Evolution and Liberalism


Three Views of the Individual-Society Relationship
Classical Liberalism
Dewey’s New Liberalism
Why Nondemocratic Schools Are Miseducative
Thomas West’s Attack on Dewey’s Progressive Liberalism
Thomas West versus Thomas Jefferson
Is Dewey’s Theory of Mind Too Optimistic?
The Discussion Thus Far
Consider Reading



Examines John Dewey’s ideas in the context of evolutionary theory.


John Dewey was the first philosopher to recognize that Darwin's thesis about natural selection not only required us to change how we think about ourselves and the life forms around us, but also required a markedly different approach to philosophy. Evolution's First Philosopher shows how Dewey's arguments arose from his recognition of the continuity of natural selection and mindedness, from which he developed his concept of growth. Growth, for Dewey, has no end beyond itself and forms the basis of a naturalized theory of ethics. While other philosophers gave some attention to evolutionary theory, it was Dewey alone who saw that Darwinism provides the basis for a naturalized theory of meaning. This, in turn, portends a new account of knowledge, ethics, and democracy. To clarify evolution's conception of natural selection, Jerome A. Popp looks at brain science and examines the relationship between the genome and experience in terms of the contemporary concepts of preparedness and plasticity. This research shows how comprehensive and penetrating Dewey's thought was in terms of further consequences for the philosophical method entailed by Darwin's thesis. Dewey's foresight is further legitimated when Popp places his work within the context of the current thought of Daniel Dennett.

Jerome A. Popp is Professor Emeritus at Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville and the author of Cognitive Science and Philosophy of Education: Toward a Unified Theory of Learning and Teaching and Naturalizing Philosophy of Education: John Dewey in the Postanalytic Period.


"This carefully researched and highly readable volume opens up the kernel of one of Dewey's brightest ideas: his appropriation of Darwin for philosophy. From Dawkins to Dennett, and from genetics to the genesis of norms, Jerome Popp expertly presents a Dewey who is able to hold his own as a major player in a wide range of contemporary debates. " — Larry A. Hickman, The Center for Dewey Studies, Southern Illinois University at Carbondale