The evils in current social judgments of ends and policies arise […] from importations of judgments of value from outside inquiry. The evils spring from the fact that the values employed are not determined in and by the process of inquiry […].
-John Dewey, Late Works Volume 12, p. 496
The quote illustrates Dewey’s emphasis on the epistemic endeavour of inquiry. The values which lead our social judgements should arise out of this endeavour, at least as far as Dewey is concerned.
The quote also reveals how moralising Dewey can be concerning social judgments. He does not merely accuse the judgements of being bad, he accuses them of being evil. I find this moralising aspect of his theory the hardest to justify. In the end, I do not see how he can defend it without contradicting himself or accepting a fundamental revision to this theory.
If you want, you can add here the usual paragraph about defending the value of inquiry/science/truth in the age of alternative facts.
I continue my series of short comments on Daniel Dennett’s From Bacteria to Bach and Back. These comments are mainly written for an online forum, in which undergraduate students of Professor Dennett post. Each time I raise a point about one chapter. This time I comment on chapter ten.
On page 212 Professor Dennett suggests that a memetic theory of cultural evolution might provide the mechanism that Durkheimian functionalism lacked. I find the claim intriguing, yet dubious for the following reason: At least as far as I am familiar with sociological functionalism the function of social practices, traditions and so forth is relative to the whole society. Memes might also be functional e.g. a word functions very well to express a certain issue and therefore may be operated upon by natural selection. But how could a meme be functional relative to the whole society? How would this functionality lead to the meme being selected for?
Until this question is answered, I do not see Professor Dennett’s account of cultural evolution helping Durkheimian functionalism.
UPDATE (9. 3. 2017)
I have received confirmation from Professor Dennett that he in fact asserts that memes can functional relative to the whole society. Furthermore, I have been pointed to chapters 5-8 of Breaking the Spell.