CHAPTER TWO: IMAGINATION
by Gordon L. Ziniewicz
1. The ideal space of possibilities opened up within experience
by imagination coincides with an openness(1)
within nature itself, a plasticity and susceptibility to change
and endless transformations. The world that environs and nourishes
human affairs is itself suggestive.(2)
Like actuality of brute fact which is more or less organized,
events call attention to themselves (in their immediacy) and yet
point beyond themselves (in their relation to future consequences).
They are both fulfillments and conditions, resting places and
transitions. They please by virtue of their unity (harmony), and
they stir reflection by being open-ended and incomplete. What
makes objects and situations immediately enjoyable is their unitary
quality, their order (harmony) of diverse but cooperating elements.
What makes personal experience rewarding is the moment of unified
experience, where everything comes together, where conditions
work together. But even the good situation suggests a better;
the thing enjoyable in itself is eventually viewed as a step to
something different; the "end" becomes a "means." Thereupon, the
present elicits interest in the absent; and conscious focus turns
from the actual to the possible. In actuality, unity among competing
elements is partial and transient. Imagination pictures harmony
more widespread and stable; it supplies an imaginary completion
of incomplete events. This projecting of imagined completion is
a necessary phase in the process of bringing about actual completion.
Imagination furthers the completion of natural affairs by taking
the first step of anticipating this completion. This sounds Hegelian,
but departs from Hegelianism in two ways. First, there is no predetermined
or preconceived (human or divine) point of completion; improvements
of conditions extend in many possible directions; the possibilities
suggested by events are potentially endless. Meanings are virtually
unlimited, indefinite, and boundless. In addition, improvements
made in natural and human affairs are dependent upon the intervention
of freely thinking individuals. There is no "invisible hand" behind
human affairs. There is no "divine puppeteer" pulling the strings.
There is no "absolute spirit." Nor is it a matter of manipulation
by "nature" conceived as some mysterious agency which operates
through human beings; it is a matter of physical energies concentrated
and organized in human beings as part of nature, who operate "on
their own" (with the help of natural conditions) from the standpoint
of a higher organization of natural energies called intelligence.
Improvements are foreseen and made according to individual angles
of vision and with the expending of individual energies. Individuals
working with individual situations are capable of many different
improvements. As the meanings or interpretations of events are
endless (depending only upon the richness of experience, both
personal and cultural, brought to bear and the power of
imaginative foresight developed through repeated acts of intelligence),
so positive changes that can be wrought in events are uncountable.
Actual progress constitutes but one path cleared. Each path cleared
opens, through the expansion of meanings, new possibilities, new
uncleared and indefinite directions for endeavor. The process
of completing nature reveals even more opportunities for change.
Each fulfillment feeds and intensifies the projective power of
2. Nature supports human creativity and purposeful action
by not being entirely supportive. The world is a mixture of stable
and unstable elements. Human growth and decay are wedded inextricably
to the rhythm of the arrival and departures of natural energies.
Natural energies are variable. They are always on the move, this
way and that way, coming or going, the arrival of some marked
by the departure of others. They move in different directions,
sometimes cooperating, their joint interaction producing a new
organization, a form, even a new organism, sometimes competing,
blocking one another or knocking each other from their initial
paths. At the same time, there is regularity, stability, predictability,
reliability in natural transactions. Nature exhibits both unpredictable
variation and recurrent regularity. Surprises occur (evolution
bears this out) despite and even in the midst of relatively stable
connections and relations. By the same token, patterns seem to
appear within almost indescribable variety. Nature is neither
homogeneous flux nor seamless form, neither Bergsonian process
nor Platonic number. There is a kind of Heraclitean ebb and flow
of natural energies. Resistance and compression or contraction
of energy, followed by release and expansion of energy, conflict
and coordination, stopping and going, motion and rest, are duplicated,
as we shall see, in the inhibition of energies (restraint and
deflection of desires -- habits and impulses) followed by their
release (freedom and expansion). The ebb and flow of nature is
repeated in the higher(3) organization
of human affairs. Contracting and tightening, as well as expanding
and "loosening" or opening, characterize lived fluctuations as
well as tendencies of thought, e.g. constriction versus free play
of imagination. Room and the activity of making room
are both internal (mental) and external conditions. The give and
take between the human organism and environment makes possible
stopping to think about, to assess, actual conditions -- which
include the movement and collision of natural energies -- and
to determine where they are going, where they ought to go, and
how they might be redirected through the application of human
energies (effort) to the situation. Intelligence is a higher organization
of natural energies, continuous with physical-organic energies,
which modifies conditions and which is itself necessarily modified.(4)
Life is continual test and experiment, where undergoing hands
us the results of our deliberate effort ("it serves us right"
in both positive and negative ways) and calls forth additional
reflection aimed at new doing.
3. Variation is largely due to the unique quality and tendencies
of individually existing things. Each existence, down to the last
molecule, exhibits individuality of organization and preference,
but an individuality due to constant interaction with and adaptation
to the movements of surrounding conditions. For this reason, stopping
to "smell the roses" alternates with picking roses to give to
a friend. Things can be enjoyed (or suffered) in their immediate
quality, their unitary form, yet their uniqueness is passed over
when they are seen as possible conditions relative to consequences
envisioned in imagination. In other words, things can be viewed
in their immediacy (individual quality) or in terms of their relations
and associations (connection or continuity with other things).
4. The stable instability of experience gives rise to thinking
and to imagining; thus, it is the impetus for philosophy. Love
of wisdom, for Dewey, means love of a wisdom that is practical,
which is interested in the transformation of experience. In both
thought and action, there is a need to complete the incomplete,
to "fix the broken." This "instrumentalism" goes beyond the everyday
notion of utility to the enrichment of experience with meanings
and ideas artistically woven into deeds and words. It should be
noted that reflection did not originate with dispassionate wonder
of upper class Greeks who had no stake in the events of practice
and production. It began and begins with the facing of downright
troublesome and problematic situations.
5. We often speak of "facing facts." Occasionally, we use
the expression, "facing the music" -- or, more aptly, "facing
the discord," for problematic situations are problematic because
they lack harmony. Conditions do not cooperate; at least they
do not cooperate with our endeavor. There is something wrong.
Energies are pitted against one another. They compete, rather
than cooperate. They constrain, rather than liberate. Oftentimes,
activity comes to a halt, not because of a peaceful collaboration
of forces and energies, but because of conflict and friction.
One cause of conflict and friction is the mixture of the unique
or individual and the familiar or regular; there is something
stubbornly new in every situation requiring some new adaptation.
While the familiar and the stable afford contentment, the novel
and the changing cause disturbance. The "always new" quality of
conditions marked by the relative unpredictability of individuality
combined with the relative stability and predictability of relations
becomes even more important in the analysis of social conditions.(5)
In the problematic situation, two outcomes are projected: one
is the way things will transpire if conditions are allowed to
continue on their present course, with no intervention or "help."
The other is the way things will turn out, if someone intervenes
to redirect moving energies toward more favorable consequences
(where the series of events has a happy "ending"). Each situation
presents its own unique difficulties, difficulties which are more
felt than understood initially. What makes a situation problematic
is not the presence of a problem or isolated task, surrounded
by neutral conditions; in a problematic situation, a quality of
troublesomeness pervades the whole situation; like dye, it colors
the whole situation. Situations constitute a kind of "little world"
within the "bigger world," as "experiences" can be marked off
and distinguished from one another as well as from "experience
as a whole" by the unitary quality that binds together or "colors"
each experience. Some situations are problematic and suggest a
possible resolution; others are immediately satisfying (consummatory).
In a particular situation, focus is limited to those conditions
which work together or are at odds with one another, from the
standpoint of the direction of one's activity. Within the situation
are objects. These elements -- phases of a continuous whole, broken
up by reflection -- work together or fail to work together in
a certain way. They are related in a way specific to the situation.
Thus, account is given by reflection of both objects and relations,
conditions and arrangement of conditions. The better situation
projected constitutes a better arrangement of the factors observed
in the present situation. Better situations are conceivable because
now and then, either accidentally or purposefully or vicariously,
better things have been experienced.(6)
The "good old days" are the imaginative rendering (somewhat romantically
idealized) of qualities and relations of previous experience lifted
from their context in unique and unrepeatable situations (not
problematic, but satisfying) and used as material combined with
observation of actually existing conditions to paint an imaginative
picture better than reality. As we saw before, such use of the
past involves an imaginative leap, since the new never exactly
repeats the old.
6. What is looked for, hoped for, is unity, harmony.
The solution to a problematic situation is the right intervention
of effort (energy expended in the face of obstacles) that leads
to a new situation more unified than the initial situation or
at least where conflict and friction of competing elements is
reduced. The love of wisdom is essentially a search for unity,
for harmony, not just in imagination but in fact. What the imaginary
alternative possesses in greater degree and what the actual situation
possesses in lesser degree (so far as it is problematic) is unity
or harmony of moving factors or conditions. Initially envisioned
harmony never corresponds exactly to eventually achieved harmony,
despite effective controls; for facts combine in new and often
unexpected ways, given the variety of conditions always operating.
We always seem to get more or less or something other than we
"bargained for." Planning and action always leave something unaccounted
for. Outcomes, especially in human affairs, are always somewhat
surprising to the open-minded observer, who has learned to "expect
7. Unity for organisms means stable equilibrium in motion.
On the biological level, life is a continual process of losing
and restoring equilibrium, needing and being satisfied, in a relation
with the environment which is one of continual adjustment and
active adaptation of real conditions. This biological account
of loss and recovery of equilibrium provides a model for understanding
human moral and social growth (which goes beyond the biological
to the experiential level -- the level of communicated meanings).
For Dewey, what is most important is life; and life means
growth. This development occurs, in the case of human beings,
with ever more successful use of intelligence in reorganizing
problematic situations. Thanks to the ability to learn from experience,
each new equilibrium can mark a higher level of organization of
8. The rhythm of life and growth is sustained by and mirrors
the rhythm of nature as a whole. Life is a repeating pattern of
loss and recovery of equilibrium, an alternation of being at odds
with the environment and making peace with it, a peace achieved
not by passive accommodation, but by active change of environmental
conditions. Peace means cooperation and coordination of actual
conditions, human and natural. The recovery of harmony, the movement
from problematic to settled or unified situations, may be due
to effort or happy chance (luck). Some good things
occur accidentally; they just happen. Others are labored and fought
for. Such "goods" are treasured in memory and projected as "ends";
they are esteemed worth working for and bringing into existence
again (or keeping in existence). The fortunate experience of harmony
in the past contrasts with present experience of disharmony, where
good things are lacking, and evokes a projection of possible future
9. Growth means that a wider reach of conditions, a greater
variety of natural energies, is harmonized. Growth does not mean
merely "holding one's own"; it means expansion, enlargement,
greater outward involvement, participation in a broader scene.
The direction of growth, of progress, is inward, outward,
and upward.(8) Thus, the
unity which is sought is a unity with and among a greater variety
of elements and energies. Life needs variety. Contraction or withdrawal,
holding back to reflect and assess and plan, is a part of life.
Enjoyment and satisfaction, the pause taken in newly achieved
equilibrium, the aesthetic appreciation of the fulfilling quality
of an experience, is also a part of life. But there is a time
to stop and think and feel, and there is a time to go on. Too
long a period of withdrawal (or contemplation of the immediately
enjoyable) brings decline. Inwardness, the deepening of existence
(individuality), and outwardness, the extending of the range of
existence (participation) are mutually implicative phases of a
growing experience which both deepens and widens. Individuals
develop individuality by harmonizing relations with an extensive
range of objects and conditions. The new harmony ought to be harmony
which coordinates an increased number of actual transactions or
10. The achievement of unity is an achievement of form. Like
Plato, Dewey believes that the search for unity is a search for
form; and like Plato, Dewey regards form as harmony or arrangement
or order. Unlike Plato, however, Dewey believes that experienced
forms are not preexistent general patterns imposed upon material
(from "above"), but are qualitatively unique functional unities
of dynamic equilibrium, unique fulfillments growing out of interactions
of natural energies. Forms are "eventual"; they are effects or
consequences of complex interacting energies. They change with
the incorporation of new elements. They are fulfillments. They
evolve with the coordination of natural energies. Forms are "organizations,"
the way energies are organized insofar as they are organized.
They are unique. The red of this rose is not the same as the red
of any other rose. Forms are particular, not general. What are
general are conceived relations between conditions and consequences
or connections abstracted from experience used as tools to interpret
or modify conditions. Knowledge, for Dewey, pertains to quantitative
relations between conditions and consequences, regularities in
processes leading to qualitative unities. Forms, as abiding or
fleeting outcomes of organizations of energies, as qualities,
are not known; rather, they are directly experienced, appreciated,
sensed, handled, and enjoyed. The principles of their organization
can be investigated and known, but what things are in their achieved
integrity and unity can only be "experienced." The enjoyment of
qualitative unity is outside of knowledge, but not outside of
experience. This is disappointing only from a standpoint that
makes knowledge, rather than experience, its standard. Knowledge
is part of experience, a mode of experience.
11. The search for unity is a search for equilibrium within
motion, harmony and cooperation of conditions which are initially
discordant and competing. In other words, the human organism seeks
unity within itself (integrity and coordination of energies of
thought and desire), unity with its natural environment, and unity
with other human organisms. What it finds in the problematic situation,
however, is disunity -- conflicts of desires and tendencies within
itself, conflict between its own interests and objective conditions,
and conflict between these same interests and the interests of
others. Present facts prove disappointing by comparison with past
12. If situations were only scenes to be contemplated, then
all humans could do in the face of facts would be to like or dislike
them. That would constitute a purely aesthetic approach. This
is not to say that liking and disliking are unimportant responses;
what is liked in what is experienced -- the prized -- provides
a basis for projecting what is actively sought. What is disliked
provides a stimulus to reflection; it wakes up consciousness to
the whole field of the experienced situation; it focuses attention
upon objects in the situation determined to be obstacles or resources.
In fact, without the discordances of experience, if life went
smoothly along, there would be no consciousness, no longing for
unity, no recollection of unity. Tripping over obstacles reminds
us of the path we are pursuing and are largely taking for granted.
There is, however, a difference between aesthetic contemplation
of the unique quality of an object or situation and thinking in
order to transform and redirect conditions whose present status
or future outcome is viewed to be disappointing. In a word, there
is a difference between an aesthetic or contemplative interest
and a practical or "moral" interest. The aesthetic appreciation
of finished form, a legitimate moment for one who stops to enjoy
the culmination of work which unifies and harmonizes elements
into a whole, was thus taken out of its rightful context of lived
experience, which includes inseparably both doing and enjoying,
working and appreciating. Quite simply, aesthetically-minded Greek
thinkers were surrounded by the finished forms wrought by slaves
and manual laborers. It was natural for the non-working leisure
class to believe that beautifully finished forms were somehow
"already there." Moreover, it was apparently unthinkable that
lowly craftsman and artisans -- who worked with their hands and
not with their heads -- could be inventive, that is, could create
new forms. The possibility or the impossibility of creating new
forms, that is, whether form is to be gazed at or is to be brought
about, is the nub of the disagreement between traditional idealism
and Dewey's experimental or practical idealism. Traditionally,
aesthetic contemplation of real and imagined finished forms --
conceived of as generalities, rather than qualities -- became
identified with philosophical reflection.(9)
13. The appreciation of finished form(10)
is an appropriate phase within the continuity of activity, an
ebb and flow which is analytically broken into phases of ebb and
flow by reflective consciousness. The metaphor of "perches and
flights"(11) attributed by William
James to consciousness applies as well to the continuum of doing
and undergoing which is experience. In the absence of continuous
good fortune, there are breaks or interruptions in the otherwise
straightforward motion of human endeavor. The starting point is
always activity in progress, largely routine, driven by habit
(acquired disposition or tendency, momentum in a certain
direction). Interest and preference, habit and impulse, are always
already operating. Motion, not rest, is the fundamental fact of
existence;(12) rest amounts to
a counterbalancing of natural energies, tranquil order within
14. New and unaccustomed facts shock the human organism. Obstacles
fall in the way of routine activity. There is conflict between
habitual action and new facts calling for some adaptation. Conflict
experienced in the normal course of action, action in a certain
direction, stimulates or activates conscious reflection. This
emotional interruption, perception of a difficulty, brings the
whole situation into view; one becomes aware of what he is doing.
Past, present, and future are brought to light in remembering,
observing, and anticipating. The obstacle awakens perception,
brings focus to the here and now, which evokes recollection and
an attempt to make sense of the present in terms of past meanings
(through the bridging power of imagination). At the same time
as this "whence," the conditions behind present conditions, is
viewed, imagination also works to foretell the "whither." The
meaning of an event, its import, is the direction of its movement,
where it is heading. All perception involves both recollection
and foresight. Foresight means "viewing" or "picturing" possible
consequences of present conditions. It is reading what events
suggest, what they "portend." According to Dewey, this
consciousness is like a drama which sums up its past and points
to its future and becomes itself a condition alongside other conditions.
It becomes a condition tending toward its own consequences,(13)
even as it helps inhibit, deflect, or redirect the overall momentum
of activity. It becomes a redirecting force amidst natural energies;
at the same time, it signals a need for adaptation, for change
in direction. Thought, emotion, impulse -- psychological factors
-- participate with external conditions in the movement of events.
15. When obstacles stop onward overt activity, the onward
push of the momentum of interest and desire continues inwardly
and "ideally." Activity becomes inward. Imaginative thought runs
ahead of actual accomplishment and imaginatively completes the
desired reconstruction of experience. It projects a whole possible
path ahead -- a course of action -- ending in a successful
resolution of present difficulties. It anticipates the unfolding
progress of present conditions. The drama of past, present, and
future as a connected course of action is imaginatively portrayed.
The final act of this imaginative drama, which brings it to a
close, which marks the last stage of the connected series, is
the end as end-in-view. The end-in-view is not an actual
result; it is an imagined culmination and completion of present
open-ended conditions. Furthermore, the end-in-view is not just
an object to be pursued or enjoyed in isolation or apart from
the course of action as it is played out. The end-in-view is unified
experience, an improved situation, which includes those objects
and conditions which satisfy the needs of the present problematic
situation. The end-in-view may focus upon an object, but it is
really a second situation which is desired, where obstacles don't
get in the way and where resources work together for a unified
effect. The end-in-view is the whole "straightening out" of "existing
entanglements." As Dewey often writes, the goal is not the target,
but the activity of hitting the target, a way of acting. Objects
are desired because they are needed to make things fit together,
to remake this unique situation into a better one. To put the
matter simply, what is desired is unity; and unity is always
this unity (unique even as conflict in the situation is
16. Imagination tends to present a picture wherein conditions
presently conflicting work together, wherein energies cooperate
and result in finished form or fulfillment, where the drama beginning
in a recollected past and seen to be continuing in an observed
present has a happy ending in an envisioned future. The need for
unity which is frustrated in action is carried forward in thought.
For Dewey, the term idealize refers to the mental or imaginary
improvement or harmonization of conditions.
17. The desire for unity in the face of infighting among competing
desires and habits, as well as the clash of outward real conditions
among themselves and against these desires and habits, leads to
the first step in the imaginative formation of ends-in-view; ends
and ideals begin as wishes and dreams -- the "if only." Energies
which are frustrated, which cannot be used in overt action, are
diverted to imagination. What cannot be done overtly is done or
contemplated imaginatively. The contraction of overt activity
is offset by an expansion of mental activity. Imagination is action
made inward. It is a withdrawal, a stepping back, a contraction.
It is action gone "indoors."
18. The painting of an imaginative alternative in the "if
only" of the wish is aided by the imaginative retrieval of the
idealized content of past experience. Memory imaginatively remakes
the past. The imagination takes onetime enjoyed consequences,
elaborated and embellished, and reworks them to fit an anticipated
scheme of things. These imaginatively enhanced associations become
new dramatic material added to imaginative observation of present
positive conditions in the artistic portrayal of the ideal situation.
What is good about the present and what was good about the past
come together and are artistically reworked in the vision of a
future possible good. Whereas negative factors in present experience
-- privations, deficits, and lacks -- "pinch," thereby stimulating
imaginative thought, positive factors in experience (past and
present) give it imaginative content.
19. In the face of situations which are lacking, imagination
tends to dream of situations where nothing or at least less is
lacking. In the face of enjoyments which are fleeting, imagination
tends to picture satisfactions which are lasting. In the face
of the negative, imagination tends to present to itself an absent
positive. Again, the imagination unifies, harmonizes, completes,
extends, and stabilizes the discrete, discordant, incomplete,
and unstable features of experience. Holes and breaks in space
and time are smoothed over and reconciled in the wish and the
dream. Projected images have an appeal lacking in present affairs;
they heal in imagination what lies broken in fact.
20. Possibilities suggested by past and present affairs are
literally endless. Events are suggestive. Suggestions are imagined
associations. Imagination, turning from actuality to ideality,
from actual existence to possible existence, can pursue a life
of its own apart from the exigencies of real situations. Suggestions
can be played with and multiplied for their own sake. According
to Dewey, freedom of thought, which means freedom of imaginative
thought, is "playfulness." Play indicates an interest in an activity
for its own sake, not viewed as leading to a culmination or outcome.
Imagination can be engaged in for its own sake. This "play" has
the effect of stretching experience, of multiplying possibilities.
Imaginative play increases power to discover and relate suggestions
or possibilities. It also extends the scope of interests and sympathy.
This means, as we shall see, that imaginative play is essential
for the development of social interests. Imagination(14)
is thought which moves freely among suggestions, which thinks
a wide range of possibilities and associations. This expanse of
imaginative thought is essential to philosophy.(15)
21. But practical imagination operates differently from aesthetic
imagination; and ends-in-view (aims or purposes), while made of
the stuff of wishes and dreams, also include knowledge of real
conditions, how they come about and where they lead. The free
play of unfettered imagination, which has a place in lived experience,
becomes problematic in situations requiring change. Wishing and
dreaming, without reference to real conditions, represent a withdrawal
from overt activity that creates a gap between the ideal and the
real, the actual and the possible. Withdrawal that becomes habitual
is a manner of activity that avoids the often difficult task of
facing and altering facts. This avoidance is sometimes the result
of timidity and sometimes the result of genuine incapacity, due
to lack of knowledge or opportunities to effect real changes.
In either case, external conditions go their way and accidentally
end up well or ill, while dreamy imagination looks the other way
(toward an idealized version of the present situation). The existence
of wishes and dreams points to the frustration of real attempts
to unify experience. This world of dreams constitutes a safe haven,
an asylum, a refuge from difficult circumstance.
22. Science and philosophy are not immune from the tendency
of imaginative thought to become disengaged from the environment.
Dewey views the ideal objects of traditional philosophy and theology
as instances of imaginative ends or ideals wrested from their
true context in experience, from which they were cast and to which
they were meant to return. Human imagination is capable of projecting
unblemished views, but these views are useless insofar as they
are incapable of directing and guiding and evaluating concrete
experience. The ideal "outdoes" the actual. But its primary function
is within activity; the "end" as projected ideal is a means in
the ongoing transformation of actual conditions. Otherwise, ideas
conjured up come to constitute an aesthetic playground. Even Plato
realized this, according to Dewey, although Plato failed to see
that ideas refer to possible rather than actual existence. The
point is that imaginative withdrawal is meant to enhance participation
and outward expansion, not substitute for it. One "goes indoors"
to recuperate and pull oneself together so that "going outdoors"
(unity within expansion) will have new significance and capacity.
One trades in ideas or ideals or possibilities which outrun facts
in order to get a larger view that enables one to intervene intelligently
in the modification of these facts. Once again, ideas and facts
23. Imagination which does not "dodge" the facts maintains
an attitude of relative free play and openness to a wide range
of possibilities, but tethers this "possibilizing" to the facts
at hand. Practical imagination is wedded to acute observation
of present facts and sober knowledge of relations arrived at through
experience. This amounts to a disciplined use of imagination.
Knowledge of past conditions and their consequences, with close
and impartial (so far as possible) inspection of present conditions,
makes mere "fancies" into purposes. Not any possibility will do,
but only that possibility which is indeed "possible," that is,
practicable. A purpose or end-in-view has the appeal of an imaginative
unity, yet is grounded in a realistic assessment of the movement
of (what can be expected from) actual events. Thus, the vision
of a better situation is worked out in concert with the facts.
24. The end-in-view is but a focal point within the whole
"field of view," the projected course of action opened up by imaginative
consciousness. It is the viewing of a series of connected acts,
a continuity of activity, from the standpoint of its anticipated
last stage, the point of resolution or completion. The distinction
between "means" and "end" is simply a matter of change of focus
within the field of the whole temporal series. Note that it is
possible to imagine oneself standing at the end of the series;
it is possible to assume a standpoint within an imaginary situation,
"outside of" or "beyond" the present. Imagination affords an ideal,
i.e. thought, transcendence of present conditions.(16)
Just as the "if only" of the wish jumps from problem to playground,
so practical imagination leaps from the actual to the possible,
but it makes this leap in the general direction of the movement
of real tendencies and conditions; it jumps beyond the facts,
but not away from them. For practical imagination, wish is linked
to foresight based on knowledge of how conditions really work,
what direction they tend to take. The line drawn to the future
moves out of the facts in relation to their antecedent conditions.
Dewey often refers to this as the "axis of conduct." This path
of action begins with the given of actual obstacles and resources
(energies that inhibit or further), including human psychological
obstacles and resources, and fades gradually into the "not-yet"
or possible territory of imaginative foresight. This "axis of
conduct" is not a predetermined course; thought can redirect desire,
and acts can shift the movement of events. The end-in-view gives
a sense of direction to activity, as a landmark to the east helps
one to head east; it is the activity of heading toward the landmark
(not the landmark itself) which is desired. Competing interests
and desires, as well as the stubborn diversity of facts, suggest
a variety of alternative courses of action.
25. The imaginative undertaking or trying out of a number
of imaginary courses of action, Dewey refers to as deliberation.
The normal forward thrust of action is inhibited by thought and
redirected as imaginative portrayal of "what would happen if."
The "if only" of a wish flies over and ignores present conditions.
The "what would happen if" strides forward imaginatively out of
present conditions. With deliberation or reflection, overt activity,
the release of energy in making an actual effort, is suspended.
Imaginary experiment is safer than overt experiment; consequences
of real acts cannot be called back. Imaginative rehearsal allows
for modification and adaptation of habits, desires, and ends-in-view.
Both ends-in-view and selected means can be imaginatively tested.
Deliberation is an imaginary experiment. It is an opportunity
to discover the meaning, i.e. the consequences, of desires and
habits. Their meaning is where they lead. Seeing or foreseeing
where they lead, how far they lead, whether they lead to dead
ends or to more opportunities, requires openness and free play
26. Thus, the direction that affairs are expected to take
if we continue as we have up to the present (habit) is contrasted
with a variety of alternative courses of action having different
possible outcomes and satisfying different competing desires or
interests. Though "purity of heart" would be to "will one thing,"(17)
the usual situation is one of divided interest and conflicting
preferences. This, according to Dewey, is not a bad thing. Achieving
unity within diversity, harmony within an expanding range of interests
and objects of concern, amounts to a higher level of equilibrium
(growth) than afforded by straightforward satisfaction of a contracted
desire. Once again, the general is the generous, the inclusive
and the comprehensive. The following of a diversity of leads (possibilities)
offered by given circumstances, imagining paths in many directions,
willingness to change direction and revise projected ends-in-view,
contributes to an extending of the breadth and depth of experience.
One could even speak of a democracy of desires and thoughts, where
each is allowed a hearing. For Dewey, thought (or intelligence)
is not opposed to desire; intelligence is coordination and cooperation
of desires or preferences.
27. Expansion comes with the scope of deliberation; unity
comes with the reconciliation of competing tendencies in choice.
Choice is the completion of the inward activity of deliberation.
The suspension of overt action, the deflection of energy to imagination
and thought, is followed by a release of energy. One sees a way
out of the situation and forward to a better one. One finds a
way to reconcile opposing desires and habits, at the same time
as one finds a way through outward circumstances. Dewey means
a kind of psychological unity, integrity of thought and desire
achieved in wise choice. A way is found which steers around obstacles
or converts them to resources and uses supportive objects in the
environment as cooperative agencies. Competing preferences and
conflicting conditions are made to work together; imagination
foresees this potential working-together. Interests "reinforce
one another"; ends collect in a single purpose. Imagination is
presented with the possibility of genuinely unified experience,
including integrity of character and harmony with circumstances.
28. Nonetheless, projection of possible unity of the conditions
of experience is not the same thing as achieved unity of actual
conditions. The mind can be made up before the situation is actually
remade. Thus, Dewey maintains that reflection and deliberation
are not really complete when choice closes deliberation. The completion
of reflection and imagination is concrete overt action. The real
test of the value of ends-in-view and possible courses of action
is whether they help to integrate and compose real competing interests
29. Ends-in-view or purposes function within overt activity
as well as in imagination. They give meaning to activity because
they are the meaning of activity. Orientation to a future
unifies separate acts; it ties them together with a single thread
that leads beyond the acts themselves. Means and ends are correlative
terms. Objects chosen as means are objects seen in the perspective
of the whole process undertaken, a process of bringing organization
to a situation lacking it. Actual ends or results are not separate
from means; they are but means organized, another term for unified
30. Projected unity of competing conditions helps to make
sense of existing conditions. This gathering does not eliminate
differences (producing uniformity or homogeneity), but enlists
their diverse energies in combined effort. Purposes or ends-in-view
are means alongside other means, conditions among conditions,
which themselves need constant adaptation and revision. Ideas
are functioning and dynamic parts of activity. Anticipated unity
of actual conditions, realistically framed and reframed in sober
facing of changing facts, gives ongoing conduct perspective and
sense of direction. Planning or the framing of purposes brings
into view the possible cooperation of diverse competing energies.
Purposeful action is that exertion of natural energy (effort)
that "corrals" and coordinates the movement of other natural energies
so as to effect a unified and distinctive form. Thus, conditions
both personal and impersonal are seen or foreseen to converge
in a focus of energies sharing a common direction.
31. Practical wisdom is no more nor less than sense of direction.(18)
The end-in-view unifies acts along a temporal line and collects
energies extended spatially. The love of wisdom means search for
a direction that will unify rather than disperse conduct and experience,
that will both extend the range of interests and ends and yet
bind them together in unitary choice, will, and action. It preserves
the unique quality of individual ends and existences, yet brings
them together imaginatively, then actively, into a cooperative
1. For the idea of an "open universe,"
Dewey owed a great debt to William James, whom I believe he repaid
with interest. In the words of William James, "the incompleteness
of the pluralistic universe, thus assumed and held to as the most
probable hypothesis, is also represented by the pluralistic philosophy
as being self-reparative through us, as getting its disconnections
remedied in part by our behavior." William James, A Pluralistic
Universe (New York: Longman's, Green, and Co., 1909), pp.
329 - 330.
2. The seen suggests something unseen,
3. Generally, that which includes more
elements that work together cooperatively and in a more organized
way is "higher" for Dewey. Intelligence reveals greater organization
than basic and unorganized physico-organic energies.
4. Dewey likes to say that there is no
5. The ideal of democracy must account
for and provide for the uniqueness of individual citizens as well
as their relations to one another and to the environment. Democracy
requires furtherance of unique individuality consonant with resolution
6. One can tell a good day from a bad
day, without a transcendental standard.
7. From a saying of Heraclitus.
8. Toward depth, breadth, and higher organization.
9. This contemplative standpoint is given
a new twist by Nietzsche, who agrees with the dynamic flexibility
attributed by Heraclitus to nature, but who nonetheless regards
war, conflict, tension, and opposition as qualities to be aesthetically
appreciated rather than as stimuli to practical reconstruction.
10. The projection of an ideal is the
anticipation of a finished form.
11. William James, The Principles
of Psychology, Vol. I (New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1910),
12. Dewey would agree with Hobbes that
life means motion; he would not agree, however, that peace within
activity, tranquility within motion, cannot be achieved in this
life. Hobbes writes: "For there is no such thing as perpetual
tranquillity of mind, while we live here; because life itself
is but motion, and can never be without desire, nor without fear,
no more than without sense." (From Leviathan)
13. Thought moves toward its own unification,
through the free play of ideas.
14. Imagination could be described as
mind at its point of greatest flexibility, mobility, and adaptability,
insofar as it is able to "stretch" to accommodate new facts. Imagination
is a playful disposition of mind, developed through adventure
and experiment or diminished through drudgery and routine.
15. Philosophy requires the ability to
play with or rearrange old meanings.
16. Imagination denotes transcendence
within experience, rather than outside of or above experience
(superempirical reason and the like). Compare to Heidegger's view
17. Kierkegaard and Dewey are in agreement
regarding the potential unity of desire and thought.
18. One thinks of the ancient Greek notion
of phronesis, as the art of piloting or steering well --
even through Scylla and Charybdis.
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Copyright © 1992
-1999 Gordon L. Ziniewicz
This page last updated 10/14/12
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