by Gordon L. Ziniewicz

1. The democratic ideal, which directs and illumines the thought of John Dewey and which gives it its characteristic American temper, cannot be fully appreciated without understanding in advance -- as far as possible -- what Dewey means in general by the word "ideal." On the other hand, the richness of meaning associated with the ideal "in general" derives, to a great extent, from Dewey's imaginative vision of the ideal of democracy. The ideal Dewey esteems most highly is the humanistic ideal of democracy, an "end" which includes values of individual fulfillment and social unity. The democratic ideal is a vision of social harmony which enhances the distinctive individuality of human beings. The key notions of individuality and cooperation, of unity and harmony within diversity, of comprehensiveness and inclusiveness (universality), provide clues which can be pursued in unpacking Dewey's reflections about ends and ideals in general. Moreover, the importance for Dewey of unity and harmony -- of powers within individuals, of transactions between individuals, of dealings with nature -- suggests a possible relation between projected ideals and the unifying power of imaginative thought. Unity and harmony must be envisioned before they can be realized. This is the practical function of imaginative vision which sees beyond, yet in terms of, the facts that it faces and thereby cooperates with other capacities and powers in the harmonizing of actual affairs. Thus, the notion of an ideal as an extensive and inclusive vision of personal integrity, social cohesion, and cooperation with physical nature may become clearer with a study of the place of imagination in experience, in particular with respect to its practical or "moral" function of bringing unity and the appeal of vivid imagery to the projection of aims and ideals. Some groundwork may thus be laid for understanding the practical function of the ideal of democracy in redirecting social interests as well as reforming current philosophical attitudes and purposes.

2. In general, the word ideal refers to what is thought or imagined, but is not directly experienced. The ideal is contrasted with the real; it refers to possible rather than actual existence. In this sense, every idea is "ideal." It refers to something absent, yet possible. Ideas are hypotheses. They connect possible outcomes to actual or possible conditions; they project "if-thens." Both ideas and ideals are projected possibilities. Every idea, though based on previous experience, has a future orientation. The possible is the absent, the not now existing, the might be, the "not yet." The possible is the conceivable, the thinkable. An idea may be drawn from a past event, possessing a quality or relation not now observed; an image may come to mind (more often than not, spontaneously and unintentionally) which points to a series of past events. Imagination can then embellish this content (imagination's reconstructive or creative function). But the image which points to past fact also has future applicability. It can refer to a possible operation, a possible means-consequence relation. An experience of trouble in the past points to possible experience of trouble in the future. That past honey has tasted sweet points to the possibility that honey in the future will also taste sweet. The anticipated sweetness of honey exists in the present, but it exists as a possibility. If I take a spoonful of honey, I predict that it will be sweet; I predict how the activity of tasting it will turn out. That is, I foresee the consequence of a present use of energy (moving condition). It must be noted that foreseen possibilities may or may not correspond to actual potentialities. Almost any sequence of events is thinkable, but not every series thought can or will come to pass; realistic projection depends upon an objective analysis of the tendencies of moving energies actually present.

3. The seeing of future possibilities in actualities, the anticipation of the possible directions of moving facts (conceived of as conditions relative to consequences) is referred to by Dewey as inference. Unlike demonstration, which proceeds from the known (in terms of general principles) to the known (specification of these principles), to what is implied in the "premises," inference proceeds from the known or given to the unknown (a matter of belief or conjecture). It is the method of discovery, where the proof of the theory lies in the future, not in past actuality. Even definitions are inferences rather than classifications, insofar as they are statements about the operations or functions of things, not about unchanging "essences." A thing is the way it works, what it does or can do. The meaning of a thing is its function (possible operation). As long as the whole process is not directly experienced (part lies in the future), the overall behavior and direction of energies spent remain possibilities; they are hidden from direct observation, although possibilities are directly experienced precisely as "mental facts" representing absent connections (ideas are "given" as ideas). Ideas are actual as images or words or signs that point to possible operations. The projection of future possibilities -- in fact the having of all ideas -- is a matter of belief, of guessing, of hypothesis. Thinking (as this projection) is not knowledge,(1) because events cannot be known before they happen. Projecting possible moral consequences or ends is far riskier than guessing scientifically; human affairs exhibit much greater contingency and complexity than do the more predictable affairs of physical nature. Yet even in physics, there are surprises and overthrow of hypotheses in the face of controverting facts. In either case, the test of the reliability of projected connections of conditions and consequences is the actual outcome or fact. The verification of a projected end or ideal is the turn events take, the way things turn out, in part because of the intervention of intelligence. In science, truth is based on coincidence of results of experiment with formulated hypotheses. In that event, possibility becomes probability (but not certainty).

4. Dewey is careful to distinguish the ideal as the possible from certain traditional notions of the ideal. For metaphysical idealisms, including that of Plato, the ideal represents a higher level of actuality, a superior level of being than that given within experience. The ideal in that case is another kind of accomplished fact, an "eternal fact," as it were. Such "dualism" (between eternal and temporal facts), according to Dewey, devalues ordinary experience and, by making them remote, impoverishes ideal conceptions, which are valuable precisely because they are undetermined possibilities which indicate that the direction of actual energies is not fixed and events can turn out in more than one way. Preoccupation with "ideals" as if they constituted another order of reality avoids the real work of constructing hypotheses on the basis of the real movement of actual conditions. For Dewey, the ideal as thought possibility operates within, not outside of, experience; it is close to home. Thoughts of possible existence and facts of actual existence are democratically cooperative and interdependent functions within experience. The detachment of ideals from experience amounts to letting existing energies continue on their present course without the intervention of intelligent planning and action. The divorce of "spiritual" ideals from "material" conditions guarantees that even matters capable of change will be left alone.

5. Facts and ideas need one another. Facts apart from ideas are "brute" and opaque. Ideas and ideals apart from facts are groundless and ineffectual. Actuality and possibility compensate for one another's deficiencies; they complete one another. Projected possibilities have unity (and coherence), but they lack reality or existence. Given actualities have the sturdiness and the solidity of existence, but they lack the unity, the continuity, of coherent ideas. From the standpoint of practical action or scientific inquiry, facts and ideas, actualities and possibilities, complete one another and give a kind of unity to experience. Experience includes both actualities and possibilities. In the case of moral conduct, the end or ideal which is projected as a valuable or desirable outcome -- not merely a prediction of where conditions are headed, but a judgment of where they ought to head -- has greater unity (though ideal) than given conditions. The same holds true of the anticipated fulfillment or conclusion of scientific inquiry. The unity of aesthetic and religious experience is the unity of possibility and actuality within the present work or act. Practical and scientific activity keep possibility and actuality distinct, yet move from one to the other in reciprocity, and judge each in terms of the other. Attention to facts (observation and experiment) alters ideas and ideas modify facts. The significance of viewing facts and ideas as correlative (the democracy of facts and ideas) extends beyond scientific and practical questions to the issue of the role of philosophy and the relation between thinking and existence or doing. For Dewey, neither the given nor the ideal, though worthy of respect, of "piety," is to be worshipped or held above the other. Ideas as possibilities reveal the meaning of actualities; facts as actualities provide ground and verification to possibilities. In this sense, ideas and ideals are meant to be practical instruments for intervening in actual affairs; and facts are meant to be bases for the formulation and revision of ideas. This points to a continuity between thinking and doing, a continuity which nonetheless retains the relative importance of each partner in the transaction. From this standpoint -- that of the mutual usefulness of facts and ideas -- it would be mistaken to view Dewey's practical idealism as subordinating theory to practice. The achievement of meanings in the free play of ideas is sometimes an end and sometimes a means. It is neither an end nor means absolutely. The enrichment of experience with meanings and of possibilities means the mutual interaction and enhancement of both thinking and doing. Unified experience requires democratic cooperation, not competition for mastery, between theory and practice.

6. According to Dewey, intelligence or reflection -- including the intelligent framing of ideas (as well as their use) -- is an integral part of a larger whole, a context which is largely unreflective. Ideas and ideals -- projected possibilities for understanding and for action -- arise within experience and aid in directing natural energies to bring unity and completeness to experience. Possibilities are real factors and conditions that operate alongside other factors and conditions. Ideas and ideals are immanent, not transcendent, to experience; they belong to the lived continuity, the doing and undergoing between human organisms and their environment. They are part of the broad range of temporal and spatial interactions -- works, fulfillments, and defeats, aesthetic contemplations and active engagements -- that constitute experience. Experience is not to be confused with something personal and private; experience means collective human affairs -- i.e., culture -- which include the personal and the "private."

7. That aims and ideals can be and must be derived from the conditions of experience itself, wrought out in terms of actually moving energies and changing facts, not imported from a transcendental source or authority beyond the spatial-temporal bounds of human affairs, points to the very heart of Dewey's philosophical conviction that experience is the source of ends or ideals, as well as the means to bring them about. For Dewey, experience takes the place traditionally occupied by religion, metaphysics, and non-empirical ethics. Empirically derived ends and purposes are apt to remain closer and more faithful to the facts, without which they cannot be realized.(2) For Dewey, experience can be self-regulating; the aims and methods for transforming or reconstructing experience can be worked out within experience.(3) Dewey's practical or empirical idealism, sympathetic toward the spirit (and methods) of traditional British empiricism, departs from its letter in not confining itself to empirical grasp of facts as ready-made impressions (a backward-looking empiricism); rather, it embraces both prospective (forward-looking) and retrospective (backward-looking) functions (thinking as well as knowledge). In fact, for Dewey, the prospective, though it draws upon the retrospective, reaches further (leaps beyond the known). Imagination (of possible experience) runs ahead of actual experience. Imaginative foresight has a special role in regulating present affairs. Projection of a future, thinking what is possible given what is actual, the light cast to illumine the path down the road, envisioning where present conditions are leading or can lead or should lead, is a matter of "imaginative forecast." Practical imagination is the capacity for framing aims and creating ideals out of the material of enjoyed as well as regretted experience. What is attributed traditionally to supernatural authority and super-empirical realms of eternal truths, the determination of ideals, Dewey attributes to the reconstructing and idealizing work of imaginative thought.

8. Individual imaginative thought relies upon personal history and social communications for the source-material of its reconstructions. Imagination rearranges and reorganizes the content or subject-matter of personal and collective experience. Human ideals come largely from culture. But human culture dwells within nature as a whole. Human beings are organisms within nature, not gods outside of it. Natural energies continually pass in transactions of doing and undergoing between human organisms and the natural environment. Both humans and environment are modified in these transactions. Nature grows and declines with the growth and decline of that human part of itself. Improvements in human affairs constitute improvements in nature as a whole. At the same time, human fulfillment is supported or undermined by the ebb and flow of natural energies in the environment. Physical conditions enter into human accomplishments. Human organisms are rooted in nature; they are part of nature. This does not diminish the worth of cultural and "spiritual" values in human affairs. Rather, it upgrades physical nature and upholds continuity between human and non-human nature. It links material and spiritual conditions. Human culture and individual intelligence are eventual functions or unities which emerge or develop out of physical interactions. Physical and organic interactions are the necessary conditions for higher human functions of intelligence, communicated meaning, and the framing of ends. But for Dewey, an eventual unity achieved through interaction of vital forces represents a higher level -- a "form,"(4) a fulfillment, a second "nature" which has the functioning relative stability of a substance. Human activity incorporates complex movements of natural energies -- such as impulses checked, refined, and released (via reflection). Intelligence is a "force" which emerges out of natural transactions and returns to transform them. The depth of experience is the degree of vital participation of the "live creature" in undergoing and intelligently transforming the conditions with which it is intimately involved.

9. Physical nature, according to Dewey, apart from human involvement, has no meaning (perceived or imagined connections of conditions and consequences). Meaning is a human affair. This does not mean that human beings "bestow" meanings upon natural events, as if meanings were entities somehow existing independently of actual experience (a priori), in some sort of isolated or detached consciousness, and merely "added on" to the face of natural events. Meanings grow out of interactions and transactions of human beings with one another and with their natural environment. Nature also has no purposes of its own, apart from human involvement. Intelligence is a human phenomenon. Natural processes are "plastic"; they are capable of moving in a variety of different ways, none of which is preordained. But since human beings are part of nature, humanly projected ends (possible outcomes) are also the purposes of nature. Purposes and meanings belong to nature because human beings belong to nature. Thus, human framing of ends-in-view and ideals and deliberate activity bringing natural energies to bear in accord with these ideals, completes (without absolute finality) what is incomplete in nature. Put more simply, the humanistic ventures of human organisms are natural but higher organizations of natural energies. For Dewey, the evolutionary model for explaining the emergence of new forms and "natures" from organic interactions (recalling Hegel and Spencer) is valid so long as it does not consider progress in human and non-human affairs inevitable or assured, a fact accomplished with or without human intervention. The achievement of human growth and human social progress are consequences dependent upon free deliberation and responsible choice, as well as upon opportunities afforded by existing conditions (resources).

10. According to Dewey, experience is the foreground of nature which reaches into nature. It constitutes a horizon of meaningful participation within nature, a horizon which expands with inquiry, interpretation (and reinterpretation) of events, and broadening of interests and purposes. Projecting possibilities out of the actualities of natural interactions, formulating new meanings and suggestions, "stretches" the horizon of experience within nature. Experience has breadth as well as depth. Breadth refers to the scope of experience, its range; depth refers to the distinctive quality of individuals within that range. Experience is broadened (made more universal and inclusive) and deepened (made more discriminate and focused), with the penetration of natural affairs by intelligence. Through intelligent intervention, mute processes become events, affairs with meaning. Temporal and spatial dramas, participated in by human beings, have meaning. They go well or they go poorly; their quality and movement can be felt, in fact are felt, before being analyzed and reflected upon. Added to these "intuitions" of immediate qualities are the consciously collected meanings acquired through human inquiry and communication (shared and linguistic experience). This entire meaning-horizon -- the scope of funded meanings (mind or intelligence as habitual orientation) -- is indefinite in extent; that is, there is no limit to the meanings that can enrich and enliven human experience. In fact, each event is capable of limitless interpretation. Quite simply, the indefinite horizon of possible interpretations extends beyond the fund of already existing interpretations (preserved in personal or collective memory). Meanings originally derived from past events modify and are modified in the reading of new events. Intelligence, as gathered meaning-horizon capable of ongoing expansion with the suggestion of new possibilities, is the overall perspective or acquired disposition which makes it possible to put present affairs in meaningful context.

11. As Dewey says, the meaning-horizon stretches. It is elastic or "plastic," as Dewey often likes to say. It grows and expands or at least can grow and expand, given appropriate conditions and attitudes. For this meaning-horizon (considered either personally or socially -- a common culture), can also contract. It can contract voluntarily if biases crowd out reflection or strong cravings cut it short. It can contract involuntarily, as it has for whole groups of people, insofar as their capacity to think for themselves has been stymied by mechanical activity, repressed by authority, or overwhelmed by propaganda.(5) The bigot diminishes his meaning-horizon by choice; the exploited worker has his diminished for him by being denied a share in the creation of purposes that would give "meaning" to his activity. The range of possibilities (possible connections or consequences) viewed, the range of meanings appropriated, is limited only by the limits of inference or imaginative vision. The universe of meaning is capable of infinite expansion. Faith in the possibilities of experience means faith in the limitless capacity of experience for invention and discovery.

12. The key to this process of stretching the scope of meanings is imagination. According to Dewey, imagination helps expand and deepen personal experience. The meaning of things or events is their "import," what they portend, the possible directions their energies can take, viewed in terms of past performances. The "expansion of existing experience" means enhancing present objects of experience with associations and relations recalled from past experience (one's own observations or those learned from others). Memory which comes to the aid of present experience requires embodiment in images and therefore relies upon imagination. Images convey meaning; they are "carriers" of meaning. Older meanings give a wholeness to present experience and are subsequently transformed due to their interaction with present experience. Meanings, connections, and associations missing in the situation can be made present through imagination.

13. The "pressing beyond," the "pushing out of horizons," the transcendence immanent to experience, is the "filling in" and the "opening up" (seeing possibilities) of what is directly handled in the actual situation. It fills in missing connections. It spreads out confining elements. It fills empty spaces in experience by adding meaning and makes room in limited events by projecting possibilities and expanding scope. Thus, the immediate situation receives imaginative remedy for its deficiencies. The given would be opaque -- mere brute fact -- without the additive and infusing significance opened up by imaginative projection or inference. To see a thing meaningfully is to "reckon" what it entails, how past and present conditions are linked to possible future consequences (not here yet). Thus, imagination gives temporal continuity to experience. This perspective is by and large constructed of past sequences or processes imaginatively recalled. But perspective, which ties together immediate facts (with imaginative strings), projects spatial as well as temporal possible connections; it imagines spatial connections which are too far away to see and it fills in the spatial gaps left by elements perceived as missing from the present local situation or scene. Perception of immediate settings or situations is limited spatially, but imagination extends (and completes) this limited view by projecting the imaginative conception of an indefinite envelope or possible horizon referred to as a "world" or "universe." Finally, imagination reorganizes and rearranges its collected material (its qualities and relations), as a child makes new toys from old parts. Here are then, for the purpose of projecting aims, three key functions of imagination: (1) extending the range of present experience (limited by the range of observation as well as the paucity of facts); (2) filling in or completing missing factors and connections, making up for deficits within experience; and (3) reordering the relevant imaginative material.(6) These functions provide imaginative unity to a situation. Imagination gives continuity and scope to a situation which is, in actuality, a mix of continuity and discontinuity. This quality of imagination is essential to the feeling of the whole in aesthetic and religious experience. In sum then, imagination fills in what is lacking in the given situation -- it makes absent associations present; it extends the range of the situation by adding to it the "aura" of a greater whole; and overall it tends to supply an imaginative unity where actual unity is lacking. Imagination puts things together in ways not directly experienced. Further, these newly imagined "unperceived factors" direct response to the actual situation; matters of belief, conjecture, and projection have real bearing upon the intelligent redirection of actual moving energies. The unseen is a partial means of controlling the seen (observable facts and conditions).(7)

14. Although imagination is often associated with romantic illusions and fantasies, imagination actually has an essential role in all conscious life. All conscious life requires imagery to make the absent, remote, or "abstract" vivid and present. Memory of past experience relies upon the use of images; observation of present conditions is suffused with images of things not present; anticipation of future outcomes depends upon imagery. The image is the existential side of an idea; its "ideal" side is the possible existence it points to. General and abstract conceptions (reflected in words and symbols) rely upon the use of images.(8) Imagination links the abstract and the concrete; it brings ideas "down-to-earth" and closer to actual experience. Education means the development of intelligence, and central to intelligent activity is the work of creative imagination.

15. An image possesses both individuality and general reference.(9) It calls attention toward itself as having a unique quality (it has "individuality" and is immediately enjoyable) and away from itself to things associated with it, related to it, suggested by it. While originating from something actually existing and having actual existence of its own, it can point to things not yet existing (possible existents). It can indicate some possible individual existence or quality, or some possible relation or association of existing individuals. For example, one can imagine old facts in new combinations, familiar persons in new relations, prior conditions with new consequences. Because images have indefinite reference, they are important tools of intelligent inference. Images derived from past experience have general because indefinite applicability to future occurrences. The quality of "generality" with respect to images (and the same applies to words), in applying old views to new situations, should not be "hypostatized," as if generality meant anything, apart from indefiniteness with respect to application and operation. Generality refers to the use of the meaning of a particular event for prediction and control of other events; it refers to a possible or future operation.(10) There is no "generality" in itself.(11) Generalities are reflective principles (rules guiding action), not existences; they constitute descriptions, not structures, of existence.

16. Imagination links past, present, and future for the human organism. Recognition and anticipation are both elicited by the image. The past is no longer, but it can be brought back imaginatively, summed up in the image. The future is not yet, but it can be foretold in the image, which by being indefinite can suggest a wide variety of possibilities. The only actual existence -- in the sense of what is given -- is the "here and now" -- the present event, the present activity. But this present activity stretches backward and forward, from a distant past to a remote future, with the aid of imagination. Imagination makes the absent present. Consciously to perceive an event is to perceive it with meaning, to see its continuity with past and future, to see it in perspective. The red of a single rose is a unique red, according to Dewey, as the rose itself is unique; but the meaning "red" and the meaning "rose" suggest a general or wider range of application; "red rose" refers to this rose and to roses already experienced as well as those not yet experienced. It also implies the connection between red roses as consequences and the soil, air, water, sun, and tendance as contributing conditions. The meaning of a thing is its relation or connection with other things, how it is associated with other things. It is its "link," what it has "in common" with other things. To perceive consciously is to locate a thing, a "this," in its continuity with other things, its part in a process, its "history." The present is a fulfillment of the past and a condition of the future. The "this," the single and unique event, intimates a whole, a background, a whence and a whither. A thing is its history, a temporal process which includes both conditions and outcomes. The clue to a thing's future is the path it has followed up until now. As a line drawn between two points can be extended indefinitely, so a line drawn from past condition to present fact, if extended, shows a forecast of the future. Examination of conditions leading to the present is the key to foresight.

17. Mind, which is another term for "intelligence," is a relatively stable, largely subconscious "luminosity," a background of meanings, which erupts as consciousness due to a tensional interaction with a new situation (stimulating emotional perception), as the friction of steel and flint produce a spark. Generally speaking, mind is more stable and slow to change than consciousness, which is nothing other than mind at the point of contact or adjustment with changing conditions. Consciousness is mind undergoing transformation or, rather, mind at that focal point of change between old and new. Conflict or friction between environment and the human organism incites consciousness; a frictionless situation -- completely "smooth sailing" or undisturbed routine (an impossibility to be sure), would be a situation without consciousness. Since past situations and present situations are unique configurations (all existences and situations have unique quality), there is always a gap between the old and the new, a gap that has to be filled by imaginative reconstruction of old understanding. The imaginative link between past meaning and new affairs is a leap, a leap which suffuses the present event with the color of recollected meaning, but which also transforms, readjusts, and even widens the actual content of the meaning-horizon. Imaginative consciousness is a meeting of old meaning and new fact which transforms both. It makes mind enlarged and modified, and it makes events radiate with associations, suggestions, and possibilities. Imagination is the stretching and reworking of the old to make it fit the new. Common parlance refers to the "stretch of the imagination" to refer to this process. This stretch introduces new ideas and new possibilities. Just as each individual is unique and represents a unique configuration and focus, so each new idea born of the adjustment of mind with new conditions has its own unique or "personal" quality. Meanings are cultural and shared, but the having of ideas (thinking or framing purposes) is something initiated within and by individuals.(12) Consciousness is an individual focal point in a context of meaning which is both personal and shared.

18. There are instances when the gap between past and present situations is not so great, either because not much has changed or more often because one is not attentive to new elements and new arrangements. Thus, in one sense, each rose is new, unique. In another sense, a rose is a rose. Repetitive conditions operating in the situation, including habits of mind which are not alert to the novel in ordinary experience, i.e., mental and occupational ruts, may conspire to dim consciousness. The belief that there is nothing new under the sun (as opposed to Heraclitus' saying that the sun is new each day, with which Dewey would agree) contributes to sluggish and contractive ways of thinking and acting. Without the benefit of adapting and flexible consciousness (imagination), action becomes drudgery. Drudgery is activity without meaning, i.e., activity that is not suffused with purpose, import, or significance (possibilities).

19. The term appreciation applies to an emotional and imaginative perception of a thing, in its unique singularity as well as its bearings and possible associations. The first spontaneous idea is a suggestion, provoked by presentation of a given. An actual thing suggests something possible, something besides itself, something related to it, something not present which has been and therefore can be associated with the thing. The perception of a cirrus cloud suggests something not present, clouds remembered, storms to come, a feather of a giant bird. To a scientist it may even suggest such meanings as regularities of physics. Facts are never bare; they are clothed in interpretations, possibilities for thought. Events are enjoyable because they are suggestive. Aesthetic perception tarries longer in the individuality, the unique quality of the perceived. It does not move immediately from thing to possibility; it holds the two together; or rather, it is disinclined to separate them in the first place. Thus, sight and insight are combined. Aesthetic perception views an object in its individual uniqueness (quality) yet abiding in rich manifold of associations. It perceives sense (unity of quality and meaning). Aesthetic perception "sees a world in a grain of sand" without letting go of the individual grain of sand. Generally speaking, however, perception is not aesthetically unified, but either loses itself in an isolated quality or focuses upon what the thing suggests.

20. The meaning of an event includes what it suggests, what it points to, what it signifies, what it portends, its relation to other things. Whereas mind is the contextual horizon of meaning, consciousness is focus. It is the point of tension and resolution of tension, the point of readjustment between old habits and meanings and new conditions and events. Past meanings and present conditions "rub" together; present facts may even rub the wrong way, against the grain of old habits and accustomed ways of thinking. This conflictual interaction produces an initial spark of intelligence, an idea, a suggestion. There is conflict between old and new; there is something "unpredictable" in the new situation; the now and the this present unique challenges to mind; they are a call for change. In this sense, the disturbing quality of new situations and particularly of problematic ones, constitutes, from the standpoint of conscious reflection, an opportunity. The this and the now have to be interpreted in the only light available, that of past experience, and this interpretation necessitates at the same time a reinterpretation and reconstruction of the very fund of meaning brought to bear. The stretching of the breadth of experience, through the remaking of old meanings in the light of new facts, adaptability and flexibility of mind, when consciously cultivated as a disposition or habit of intelligence, becomes an attitude of openness with an aptitude for discovery. The challenge of the new becomes alluring and not frightening. The breadth of imaginative vision can be likened to the nearly limitless potential of the physical frontier of pioneer America, which inspired bursts of energy and creativity. Dewey would argue, now that physical space has contracted and physical opportunities have become limited -- now that there is less "room" physically, the challenge is to make room imaginatively, to clear space for new intellectual growth, new experiment, and new purposes, and thereby create "breathing-space" for intelligent social and personal initiative. The boundless sweep of imaginative vision renews faith in possibility itself.


1. All thinking is future-oriented; knowledge, on the other hand, refers to settled and past experience. Knowledge refers to meanings that are relatively stable (tested); thinking refers to meanings that are relatively indeterminate.

2. Consequences projected must be consequences of actual and present conditions and not past and absent conditions. Purposes based on non-existing personal or social conditions are unrealizable, however admirable they may appear to aesthetic contemplation.

3. Ideas are methods for transforming experience.

4. Form means organized conditions or energies, the way energies work together (functional unity); it does not mean, for Dewey, separable essence (in the Platonic sense).

5. The expansion of the meaning-horizon requires free communication of ideas.

6. This reordering process is a type of "play." This play of ideas (whether images or words) is the basis of thinking new possibilities. Without this "play," the serious task of solving problems is impossible.

7. Also required, of course, is expense of physical energy.

8. Thought uses images, words, or other kinds of symbols. In a sense, images are primary, because even words and symbols have to be imagined, in visual or auditory ways.

9. Words function in a similar way, although they have a public and shared character, as do artworks, which are "public images."

10. In other words, ideas are means, a key notion of instrumentalism.

11. Generalizations are descriptions and tools, not ingredients of reality.

12. One thinks of Plato's Phaedrus, where the distinction is drawn between writing and transformation of the soul. The relation between cultural meanings which are shared and thinking which is individual though dependent on this shared context has important implications for democracy. Consciousness is new with each idea (a unique angle of vision); freedom of thought ensures novelty and inventiveness essential for growth.

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Copyright © 1992 - 1999 Gordon L. Ziniewicz
This page last updated 10/14/12

Please note: These philosophical commentaries, though still in process, are the intellectual property of Gordon L. Ziniewicz. They may be downloaded and freely distributed in electronic form only, provided no alterations are made to the original text. One print copy may be made for personal use, but further reproduction and distribution of printed copies are prohibited without the permission of the author.