Peace in Motion

John Dewey and the Aesthetics of Well-Being

by Yoram Lubling (Author) Eric Evans (Author)
©2016 Monographs XVIII, 270 Pages
Series: American University Studies, Volume 212


In this book Yoram Lubling and Eric Evans offer a Deweyan reconstruction of our philosophical understanding of well-being. They begin with Dewey’s critique of the «philosophical fallacy» to examine the legitimacy and value of theories of well-being offered by traditional philosophy. However, such theories fail to provide an authentic account of well-being due to a false understanding of experience as either epistemic or cognitive. Next, using Dewey’s theory of experience, they reconstruct «happiness» as the target for evaluation of well-being. This leads them to reject the traditional view of a private encapsulated self, and to offer in its place a transactionally situated self which is an embodied, enculturated agent. Through their emphasis on the importance of the qualitative aspects of Dewey’s understanding of a situation, the pervasive quality of the situation emerges as the most plausible criterion for the evaluation of well-being. The authors use Dewey’s theories of inquiry, ethics, value and art to establish the naturalistic conditions under which such pervasive quality enters into a situation as either settled or unsettled, in other words, as peace in motion. Consequently, a problematic situation becomes the primary condition under which all inquiry initiates whether it is in the context of science, ethics, values, art or ordinary living. Lubling and Evans conclude that a Deweyan account of well-being involves embodied knowing instead of the traditional view of cognitive knowledge. By using such an account, it is possible to explain the conditions and mechanisms under which well-being contributes to the enlargement and enrichment of individual and collective human experience.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of Contents
  • Preface
  • Acknowledgments
  • Frontispiece John Dewey
  • Introduction
  • 1 Seeing Further than Dewey
  • Method of Our Inquiry
  • The Philosophical Fallacy
  • Experience as Ecology
  • 2 The Falsification of Well-Being
  • Happiness and Formalism
  • The Fixation of Happiness
  • The Modern Trajectory of Happiness
  • Preference Fulfillment and Authenticity
  • Well-Being Is Not an Aesthetic Value
  • A Subjective-Relative Theory of Welfare
  • The Tradition as the Philosophical Fallacy
  • 3 Experience and the Situated Self
  • The Intelligibility of Nature
  • Continuity, Interaction and Situation
  • Experience as Geography
  • Habit: The Organized Response in Experience
  • The Unification of Habit
  • The Limits of Cognitive Experience
  • 4 Inquiry and Creative Intelligence
  • Inference as Existential Activity
  • The Reflex Arc
  • Creative Intelligence and Well-Being
  • To Be Is To Be Relational
  • Dramatic Rehearsal in Imagination
  • Imagination, Education and Well-Being
  • 5 Ethics and Value
  • Meliorism and Well-Being
  • Deliberation and the Future of Philosophy
  • Valuation and Well-Being
  • The Existential Context of Desire
  • The Existential Nature of Qualitative Thought
  • Instrumental Well-Being
  • The Nature of Judgment
  • 6 The Live Creature and the Aesthetic Mode
  • The Aesthetic in Ordinary Experience
  • Life and the Live Creature
  • The Meaning of Peace in Motion
  • The Naturalization of Aesthetic Sense
  • Emotion and Expression in Aesthetics
  • The Imaginational Aesthetics of Self-Activity
  • Aesthetics and Vulnerability
  • 7 The Enlargement of Experience
  • The Precarious and the Stable
  • Chance, Choice and Change
  • Discovery and Creativity
  • Authenticity and Well-Being
  • The Transactional Self
  • The Existential Context of Embodied Knowing
  • 8 The Seat of Intellectual Authority
  • Peace in Motion as Aesthetics
  • Overcoming the Fallacy
  • The Quest for Intellectual Authority
  • In the Beginning Is the Relation
  • Epilogue
  • Notes
  • Index

← x | xi →



This is the philosophy of the future, I’ll bet my life.


While initially working within the philosophical framework of analytic philosophy, it was through a fortunate happenstance that we became acquainted with John Dewey’s philosophy. Since the late 1980’s we have continued to maintain our mutual interest in Dewey by working to develop connections between his philosophy and the need for reconstruction of the current paradigm dominating policies and practices in services for people with disabilities. It should be pointed out that Dewey is one of the few philosophers in the Anglo-American philosophical tradition to provide insights that address the lived experiences of people with disabilities. Dewey argued in Experience and Education that, “it is not enough to insist upon the necessity of experience, nor even of activity in experience. Everything depends upon the quality of the experience which is had.”1

In this work we argue that a Deweyan reconstruction of philosophical theories of well-being is needed as a result of a growing and more connected social environment. Such an environment puts more demands upon ordinary individuals and challenges their cultures’ long established habits and practices. While philosophical interest about well-being has existed for millennia, significant interest ← xi | xii → in such theories among philosophers has re-emerged during the past twenty-five years. During this same time there has been a resurgence of interest in the work of John Dewey. We use his critique of the philosophical fallacy to examine the legitimacy and value of the theories of well-being offered by Plato and L.W. Sumner in which the target for evaluation is happiness and the criterion is, respectively, Platonic justice or preference fulfillment. It is argued that these theories fail to provide for an authentic account of well-being because they are based upon a false understanding of “experience” as either epistemic or cognitive instead of geographic or environmental. We will refer to the latter as the distinction between an Ego-logical and an Eco-logical perspective.

We use Dewey’s theory of experience to redefine both the target of evaluation and the criteria for the evaluation of human well-being. His reconstruction of the ideas of experience, habit and situation leads to a rejection of the traditional conceptualization of the private self and to reconstructing it as a transactionally situated self that is an embodied, enculturated man or woman. By placing significant emphasis on the importance of the qualitative aspects of a situation, the pervasive quality of the situation emerges as the most plausible criterion for the evaluation of well-being. We employ Dewey’s theories of inquiry, ethics, value and art to further establish the naturalistic conditions under which the pervasive quality enters into a situation, i.e., as either settled or unsettled. We show that Dewey’s notion of the problematic situation is the primary condition under which all inquiry initiates whether it is in the context of science, ethics, values or art. Well-being is shown to have two modes, the instrumental and the aesthetic, which are context dependent. Finally, by showing that a Deweyan account of well-being involves embodied knowing instead of the traditional view of cognitive knowledge it is possible for us to explain the conditions and mechanisms under which well-being contributes to the enlargement and enrichment of both individual and collective human experience.

Working with Dewey’s writings, at times, has been no easy task. He once confessed to a friend that although he was “deeply aware of my lack of art in writing…in the main I think I am headed in the right direction and it will all come out in the wash that needs to…. (it)…may not be too balanced in thought to have a grip on the reader, or to have its meaning very perceptible. But when it gets a man it sticks—so much may be said.”2 We have a great deal of sympathy for what Dewey is expressing here. At times our involvement in working with Dewey’s texts took on an almost exegetical quality. In this respect, we hope this inquiry will be of some interest to those seeking a condensed treatment of Dewey’s theories of experience, inquiry, ethics, value and aesthetics. We also hope that the account ← xii | xiii → of well-being we propose in this inquiry will be of interest to those who are now engaged in the emerging area of disability studies.

Organization of the Inquiry

In the Introduction we trace the origination of the intellectualist fallacy to Plato’s confusion between intellectual analysis and ontological facts. We point out that this confusion originated in an attempt to resolve the practical problem regarding the desire for true knowledge in a world that resists stability and transcendence. Plato introduced the realm of the Forms as the solution to the problem of change, although the problem remained practically unsolved. The belief in an antecedent reality above the stream of ordinary experience requires a leap of faith and a suspension of reason resulting in over a millennium of falsification in our philosophical imagination. We argue that the fallacy continues to haunt Western metaphysical thinking through the works of Descartes, Locke, Hume, Kant, Russell, religious existentialists, political theorists, pedagogical accounts, psychological thinking, and even in some envisioned scientific modalities of the universe.

In Chapter One we provide the context for our inquiry into well-being and why we see it as an important topic for philosophical study. Although we situate our inquiry within the broader framework of Classical American Philosophy, we give particular attention to why we see John Dewey’s philosophical theories and concepts as being especially well-suited to our endeavor. We emphasize the importance that Dewey gave to the need to make philosophy relevant in the lives of ordinary men and women, i.e. to help them solve their problems through improved methods of inquiry. His method of inquiry serves as a constructive power that is irreducibly moral. We argue that Dewey’s argument against the philosophy fallacy provides the grounds for a devastating criticism of ancient and modern philosophical accounts of well-being. Finally, we introduce our understanding of the geographical nature of experience and its implications in terms of reconstructing our understanding of the person or self and well-being.

In Chapter Two we examine and analyze three problems that are associated with theories of well-being within the context of pragmatic naturalism. We present a trajectory of theories of well-being, beginning with Plato’s virtue-based eudaimonic theory and concluding with Sumner’s authentic happiness theory, in order to assist in understanding the specific nature of Dewey’s criticism of such accounts. Although we also present a brief account of the trajectory of the development of theories of well-being between Plato and Sumner, we do not examine ← xiii | xiv → and analyze these in terms of their legitimacy and value. We do examine and analyze the theories advanced by Plato and Sumner in greater detail and assess their legitimacy and value. We conclude that their legitimacy and value are limited because such theories lead to a disconnection of well-being from experience and nature and that ultimately results in their falsification.

In Chapter Three we begin developing the theoretical bases for a naturalistic account of well-being that reconnects well-being to nature and experience (as geographic). We examine the legitimacy and value of Dewey’s Theory of Experience (DTE) and show that it is not only consistent with nature and human experience, but it also has the conceptual power necessary for developing a thoroughly naturalistic, holistic account of human well-being. We see the most important implication of DTE being that it leads to a radical reconstruction of our understanding of the person or self, i.e., not as a separate, individualistic and private mind, but in terms of the continuous interaction of human beings with the environment as mediated by habit. Such a reconstructed view of self requires a shift away from viewing well-being as solely a cognitive state to viewing it geographically, as the transactional field of organism-environment interactions. The basic understanding of DTE developed here is also necessary for our examination and analysis of Dewey’s other theories presented in subsequent chapters and is central to our assessment of their legitimacy and value for the account of well-being under development in this inquiry.

We assess the legitimacy and value of the nature, function and operation of inquiry (as creative intelligence) in human experience in Chapter Four. We begin with an examination and analysis of: 1) what inquiry consists in or has as its features, i.e., the techniques, attitudes and temperament it requires, 2) the contexts in which inquiry operates or the problems it is called upon to solve, and 3) the mechanics of inquiry, i.e., how we form and handle conceptions, abstractions, propositions and inferences. We conclude that what serves to mark a successful inquiry is that it transforms an indeterminate or conflicted situation into a unified whole for which the pervasive quality of the experience is this unity. By coupling the biological and cultural conditions of inquiry with intelligence, as the function of the interacting conditions in a particular situation with respect to a certain problem and its outcome, we show that Dewey’s theory of inquiry provides a generalized description of the organic, cultural and formal conditions of intelligent action. Inquiry, as creative intelligence, is a powerful tool for use in successfully navigating through our world and, as such, is central to well-being.

In Chapter Five we assess the legitimacy and value Dewey’s theory of ethics and theory of value have for the account of well-being we are developing in this ← xiv | xv → inquiry. We show that all forms of inquiry involve value because it is a process that results in a judgment as to whether the problematic situation has been resolved or not. We see the foremost function of creative intelligence in moral life as involving value formation because whatever functions as value in experience, and is the subject of reconstruction by intelligence, is the crucial determinant of voluntary conduct. However, for it to be of moral significance, the agent must be self-conscious, well informed and interested in a given act whose projected consequences coincide with her preferences and/or long-term projects. We conclude that Dewey’s theories of ethics and valuation provide an empirical grounding for both the valuation and evaluation of the consequences of chance, choice and change in association with human activity. The further unification of Dewey’s theories of inquiry, ethics, and valuation provides the basis for an account of well-being in the instrumental mode, wherein the target for evaluation is betterment as opposed to happiness. This is the result of reconstructing human well-being in terms of the situation and its pervasive quality, i.e., the resulting field of organism-environment transaction which can be evaluated empirically as being better. Although sufficient on empirical grounds, this account remains partial or incomplete in that it conceives well-being only in terms of its instrumental mode.

We examine Dewey’s theory of art and aesthetics in Chapter Six to assess its legitimacy and value for the account of well-being under development herein. We seek to extend the understanding of the instrumental mode of well-being developed in Chapter Five to its logical, existential, and aesthetic conclusion. We conclude that Dewey’s theory of art and aesthetics reveals a continual emphasis on the importance of natural, transactional features in experience such as continuity, interaction, equilibrium, resistance, growth, rhythm and consummation. However, for a Deweyan account of well-being to be complete, we recognize that it must bring into union his earlier empirical theories of inquiry (as creative intelligence), ethics, and valuation with his later theory of art and aesthetics. Such union affords the necessary context required for bringing together truth (inquiry) and meaning (aesthetics) in the service of well-being. The context begins with the “live creature” which, through its transactional engagement with the environment and operating under the demands of the principles of continuity, spontaneity, and interaction, enters into a situation that is qualitative in nature. When interaction and continuity intercept and unite, the resulting transactional experience itself becomes a living, moving, growing and creative force essentially similar to aesthetics. We conclude that this suggests the possibility for understanding well-being in an aesthetic mode that is based upon the natural features of experience. ← xv | xvi →

In Chapter Seven we identify five key themes that serve to insure that the proposed account of well-being is consistent with nature and human experience. We see these themes as providing the framework for a Deweyan account of well-being. This leads us to an examination of an alternative account of cognition, as embodied knowing, and the implications it has for well-being. It is argued that, given that our understanding of the physical universe and the human universe continues to grow and undergo reconstruction, the account of well-being that holds the most promise is the one which is most open to continuous reconstruction not only philosophically, but in other contexts for inquiry as well, e.g., psychology, sociology, education, medicine, and art.

In Chapter Eight we address Dewey’s relationship to contemporary epistemic claims by postmodernists and neo-pragmatists. We argue that knowledge (academic or otherwise) is irreducibly grounded in the scientific method and the process of verification. Dewey was not a postmodernist who believed that every narrative or system of thought is just “another poem,” as Richard Rorty has suggested. Along with Sidney Hook we see nothing in Dewey’s Inquiry that can provide the basis for any romantic wishful or willful believing as conceived by the German Romantics or contemporary postmodernists. The Dewey of the Inquiry is a tough-minded empiricist and realist whose main concern is the intellectual and practical validity of thought in general. For the post-Enlightenment Dewey, it is the scientific method that allows the separation between willful poetry and the ordinary and practical life, which in turn, forms the existential and transactional matrix in which we live our lives.

We note that there are those who argue that Dewey’s philosophical position ultimately progressed over the “limitation” of his scientific realism in the Inquiry, and into the more liberating process of self-activity that he argued for in his Art as Experience. The latter Dewey, Irvin Edman suggested, understood that art is the illustration “par excellence” of all human activities and practices. We see our Deweyan account of well-being as showing that both interpretations of Dewey are consistent with his larger philosophical vision of enlightenment. His vision reconciles, on the one hand, an aesthetical and spontaneous process of self-activity, and on the other hand, with the limitations imposed by science on the claims regarding a cognitivist theory of well-being grounded in traditional dualistic thinking.

← xvi | xvii →



The completion of this work would not have been possible without the ongoing support and assistance of numerous colleagues, co-workers, friends and family. We want to extend our appreciation to Professors Karl Hostetler and Margaret Macintyre Latta for the many wonderful conversations that have helped to deepen our understanding of Dewey’s work. We wish to extend our heart-felt gratitude to Professor Arthur Lothstein who served to introduce us to the originality and brilliance of Dewey’s philosophy. The conversations we had with Professors Latta and Lothstein, in particular, have been most helpful in our efforts to understand Dewey’s theory of art and aesthetics. When it comes to recognizing the contribution of Professor Lothstein to this project, all we can say is that it most likely never would have come into being without him. As Professor’s Lubling undergraduate mentor and friend he has influenced our thinking the most.

We also want to recognize the support and encouragement over the years by a number of friends and colleagues—you know who you are!! Most importantly, though, all the efforts leading to the completion of this work would not have been possible without the continuous support and encouragement of our wives, Amy J. Evans and Lynne Maurer Lubling. We are deeply aware of the many sacrifices they were called upon to make as we continued to pursue this work over the course of the last five years. To them we will be forever grateful. Eric Evans also ← xvii | xviii → wants to acknowledge his daughter Sara Elizabeth, her husband Chad and grandchildren Declan and Zoe. Finally, Yoram Lubling wants to especially thank his two “more than human” Golden Retrievers, Gali and Missy, for bringing Dewey’s conception of aesthetics to life.


XVIII, 270
ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2016 (January)
Philosophical understanding well-being happiness cognitive knowledge
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, Oxford, Wien, 2016. XVIII, 270 pp., num. ill.

Biographical notes

Yoram Lubling (Author) Eric Evans (Author)

Yoram Lubling is Professor of Philosophy at Elon University. He is the author of Twice Dead: Moshe Y. Lubling, the Ethics of Memory, and the Treblinka Revolt (Lang, 2007) and The Person Vanishes: John Dewey’s Philosophy of Experience and the Self (Lang, 2011), as well as numerous book chapters and journal articles on classical American philosophy, John Dewey, Martin Buber, active pedagogy, aesthetics, Holocaust studies, Jewish philosophy and the history of Modern Zionism. Eric Evans teaches undergraduate and graduate level courses in educational foundations, ethics and education, philosophy of education and history of education in the College of Education and Human Sciences at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln. He is CEO at Disability Rights Nebraska, the federal protection and advocacy system for Nebraska, and a former president of the ACLU Nebraska. He has authored book chapters and journal articles on disability-related issues and serves on the Editorial Review Board for the American Journal of Orthopsychiatry.


Title: Peace in Motion
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