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Integration through Dissent? Reflections on the Community-Building Potential of Dewey''s “Inquiry”

Dominik Gerber
Stockholm School of Economics in Riga
Dominik Gerber
Stockholm School of Economics in Riga
Open Panel

Abstract

John Dewey’s “inquiry” has emerged as one of the most debated motives in contemporary political theory’s reception of pragmatism. Its central claim – the cooperative effort to clarify problematic “situations” previously determined through shared “experience” – attracted interest especially within the “radical-democratic” discourse. Whilst republicans have detected in inquiry the germs of a normatively substantive communal self-organization, proceduralists got interested in the immanent difference-friendliness of pragmatic problem-solving, whose moral telos is what Dewey calls “growth” or “intelligence.” However, both inquiry-inspired approaches to normatively revivify democratic integration seem dubious from a liberal perspective. It is doubted whether Deweyan democrats succeed in the balance act of justifying moral or political decisions in an experimental procedure, which is expected to induce an ethically connoted community-building, while remaining ‘thin’ enough in order not to become an overly pretentious – or worse, oppressive – prescription of the good life. This view, of course, leaves little space for pragmatic inquiry in modern multicultural contexts. In this contribution I would like to challenge the liberal objection against the integrative potential of inquiry. My argument is twofold: first, I hold that much of the critique is tenable only if inquiry is understood as a metaphysically fixed practice of justification – as a form of cooperation, whose terms of moral rightness are infallibly predetermined. However, such a priori totalities are precisely what Dewey rejects in his moral philosophy; second, I argue that political liberals, especially those of a Rawlsian bent, cannot coherently repudiate an inquiry-based genesis of the common good, as the substance of fair social cooperation is itself not devoid of visions of the good life. The quintessence of my contribution shall be the position that theories of political integration might well be morally substantial, but that the origin of their normativity must always lie within the scope of tangible human experience.