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Tragedy and Moral Experience: John Dewey and Toni Morrison's Beloved

Tragedy and Moral Experience: John Dewey and Toni Morrison's Beloved

Chapter:
(p.17) 1 Tragedy and Moral Experience: John Dewey and Toni Morrison's Beloved
Source:
In a Shade of Blue
Publisher:
University of Chicago Press
DOI:10.7208/chicago/9780226298269.003.0002

No one really questions John Dewey's commitment to democracy, but he was never truly attentive in his philosophical work to the problem of racism in America. Cornel West argues in “Pragmatism and the Sense of the Tragic” that Dewey simply fails to grapple seriously with tragedy and the problem of evil. In his view, Dewey's pragmatism does not address the realities of dread, disease, and death that threaten our democratic ways of thought and life. This chapter argues that Dewey's pragmatic philosophy offers unique insights that can help us address some of the more intractable problems posed by racism in the United States, from the difficulties of identity politics to the persistence of structural racism. It first reconstructs Dewey's philosophy of democracy in light of the realities of race that have defined America, and then maintains that both Hilary Putnam and Cornel West fail to grasp the importance of contingency and conflict in Dewey's philosophy of action. The chapter also examines the tragic dimensions of Dewey's thought by analyzing Toni Morrison's novel Beloved.

Keywords:   tragedy, pragmatism, John Dewey, Toni Morrison, Beloved, democracy, racism, identity politics, Hilary Putnam, Cornel West

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