John Dewey Ethics Ethics: John Essay

Excerpt from Essay :

These group standards differed from society to society, but every social construct had them - including large societies such as countries all the way down to small societies such as family units.

The idea behind the group standards was that rules were created that belonged to a group, and people who wanted to be part of that group and be accepted by that group had to follow those rules. Otherwise, those same individuals would not be accepted and would become outcasts. The outcasts could form their own groups, of course, with different rules and taboos. There are many different groups in the world today, and even within a city or small town there are a large number of different groups with different philosophies and different beliefs. People often do not realize the number of groups to which they belong, because they do not spend time analyzing the issue. Dewey, however, was very interested in the kinds of groups to which people belonged and what made them join some groups by choice. Other groups appeared to be thrust upon them, and those groups were not groups from which they could easily walk away or disassociate themselves.

One of the most significant issues where group standards are concerned has to do with taboos. Some people will say that "rules are made to be broken," but there is a limit to that line of thinking. When people in a group break too many rules, or they continue to break the rules or do things that are taboo, those people will often end up cast out of that group or locked up so that they cannot cause problems for the group. This is what is done with prisoners in many countries, but not all countries handle things that way. There are still places in the world today where people are exiled and never allowed to return to a place they once called home, because they did something that was considered to be taboo. They are forever considered outcasts, and they are shunned by family members, friends, and others. Often, they are not allowed to have contact with those to whom they used to speak, and it is as though they are dead - at least for societal purposes.

The severity of the infraction, or just "how taboo" something is can determine whether a person will be exiled or imprisoned, or whether that person will simply be viewed as an outcast in other ways. Dewey saw the significance of taboo in societal circles, but there are many different reactions to taboo behaviors, and there are also many ways in which societies determine what is taboo. These taboos change over time, and something that was not acceptable 50 or even 20 years ago may become acceptable or even applauded in a particular society simply because the feelings and opinions of what is "right" and "wrong" will change. There will also be people who do not agree with the norm, however, and not all of those people will be shunned. Mostly, what those people contribute to society and the various behaviors in which they engage will affect whether they are seen as dangerous and problematic, or simply eccentric and unique. Dewey allowed for those differences, but he also conceded that there is enough of a "herd" mentality in society for those who are different to struggle for any kind of acceptance from others.

Psychological Agencies

Dewey discussed four tendencies toward self-assertion. These are similar to self-assertion issues that have been addressed by other philosophers, but they mostly go against the teachings of others. Aristotle believed that self-assertion was valuable and important, but that it should be used for the greater good of others and not for the betterment of oneself. Since that is the case, Aristotle would likely not have been pleased with Dewey's beliefs on self-assertion, since Dewey was very focused on basic needs such as
...Whether a person was actually honorable was not the issue, however. Instead, the issue was whether the person received or gained honor. If a person is working for something that is not humble and for which he or she really does not deserve recognition, how can that be part of the common good?

Of course, most of the information Dewey discussed throughout his writing was focused on the social aspects of life and how significant they were. People need to feel as though they are honored and valued by society, because a large part of their self-esteem is tied to what others think about them. Whether it should be tied to others' opinions of them is not the issue which is up for debate, of course, because there are many surrounding concerns about that. The issue here, with Aristotle and Dewey, is whether the self-assertions discussed and recommended by Dewey would be acceptable to Aristotle, or whether it would be better to focus on assertions that related to the common good of society and not to the person who needed (or wanted) the assertions. In general, Aristotle would likely both agree and disagree with Dewey's assertions, mostly based on the reasons behind the assertions and not the assertions themselves.

Motive matters, and Dewey's motives appear to be more focused on self as a part of society, where Aristotle appeared more focused on society as an extension of self. That might seem like semantics or the splitting of hairs, but it is actually a significant and important philosophical debate, because the motives behind what a person does can tell a lot about that person and will also allow society to make determinations about that person and how he or she is perceived and accepted. Ultimately, everything goes back to society - even for people who do not care about what society thinks. Even for those who do their own thing and are unconcerned with the opinion of society, society will still judge them for being different. The fact that they do not care only changes how they feel about the judgment, but it will not remove the judgment itself. That is important to remember when it comes to self-assertion, since those who are seeking their own fulfillment often do things far differently than those who are seeking the fulfillment of society.

According to Aristotle, some bias in one's own favor is a good thing - but it must not get in the way of rationality and reason. It needs to be the right type of bias, so that the honor that is being competed for, for example, is one which is truly deserving of being honored. As an example, people who compete for the title of having helped the most people or done the most in their community are deserving of honor, where people who are competing to have the biggest house or the most money are not, according to Aristotle. Again, motive matters, and what a person does means much more than what he or she says. There is nothing wrong with having big houses and a lot of money - but what is that person doing with those things, and how did he or she acquire them? Those are the types of questions which must be examined when a person is addressing the concept of self-assertion, to ensure that his or her motives are pure and appropriate…

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