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Professor’s new book adds "missing chapter" to John Dewey’s philosophy

By his own admission, the eminent American philosopher John Dewey never adequately articulated a theory of personality. Six decades after Dewey's death, Elon University professor Yoram Lubling offers that missing chapter by tracing the philosopher's developing understanding of personhood in a new book titled The Person Vanishes: John Dewey’s Philosophy of Experience and the Self.

Cover artwork for The Person Vanishes was created by Kate Allen '12 in Elon University's Department of Art.

Published by Peter Lang and the first book to provide such articulation of Dewey’s account, Lubling provides a theory of the self that is consistent with Dewey’s philosophical program and, more specifically, with the Copernican revolution in philosophy that Dewey thought he had accomplished.

Lubling’s theory defines a relational and processive model of selfhood consonant with the press of post-modernist historical experience, and more specifically with the theoretical revolutions argued by the evolutionary biology of Darwin, the phenomenological psychology and radical empiricism of William James, the social psychology of G. H. Mead and others, the new physics of Einstein, and Dewey’s own revolutionary empirical naturalism.

“Dewey rejected traditional language and conceptualization associated with the analysis of the self. He viewed terms such as ‘spirit,’ ‘soul,’ ‘consciousness,’ or ‘ego’ as intellectually insufficient and suspect, as well as politically and religiously motivated,” Lubling said in a recent interview. “Personhood is not a substantive object. It is a co-energizing relational field and you cannot account for its reality outside the relationships that have been revealed through science and social studies.”

“For Dewey, personhood is defined by that which gathers around the organism. You are what you are connected to as a process of others processes. The person ought to be defined by its irreducible relationships to other organisms, the human community, and geography as such. The person’s apparent cognitive individuation, we should never forget, is merely a moment in the totality that constitutes its reality. In short, ‘to be is to be situated.’ ”

Dewey was America’s most noted public philosopher, educator, social activist, and naturalist and is best known as the “father of American progressive education,” what came to be known today as engaged learning. However, Lubling points to the long history of misreading, misunderstanding, and misuse of Dewey’s pedagogical philosophy and warns against its oversimplification by contemporary commentators.

As such, Lubling’s writings also draw the necessary conclusions that a naturalistic conception of the self has on the process of education, contemporary social events, and the process of decision-making.

Professor Yoram Lubling's second book, The Person Vanishes: John Dewey’s Philosophy of Experience and the Self, offers a "missing chapter" to the work of American philosopher and social activist John Dewey.

Finally, the book provides an elaborated account of a naturalistic process of deliberation/reflection and decision making, what Dewey called “dramatic-rehearsal.” Using the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as a case-study, Lubling shows how a “situated self” that is grounded in history and habitual formation thinks and acts under actual conditions. By so doing, Lubling’s account rejects traditional tendencies to view the process of thought as detached and spectatorial.

“The activity of creative intelligence,” Lubling argues, “is a proletarian form of engagement and not an aristocratic preoccupation with doubting and re-doubting.”

“The work herein is the process and product of an authentically situated self-in-the-making,” Eric A. Evans, of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, writes in a review of the book. “Taking a cue from John Dewey, Yoram Lubling uses Dramatic Rehearsal to reconnect philosophy with the problems of ordinary people. His case study shows that the true power of philosophical ideas lies in their becoming ‘moving ideas’ in experience.”

The Person Vanishes is Lubling’s second book. His debut work, Twice-Dead: Moshe Y. Lubling, the Ethics of Memory, and the Treblinka Revolt, was published in 2007 and endorsed by the Nobel Laureate Elie Wiesel. Twice-Dead tells the story of Lubling’s grandfather and his role in the uprising at the Treblinka death camp during World War II. In 2009, the book was translated into Hebrew and published by Yediot Books, the most prestigious publishing house in Israel.

Lubling joined the Elon faculty in 1991 and served as chair of the Department of Philosophy from 1998-2004. Fluent in modern and Biblical Hebrew, English and Yiddish/German, his research interests include classical American philosophy and American intellectual history, Holocaust/Jewish/Israel studies and social ethics, among other areas.

He is a member of the American Philosophical Association and the Society for the Advancement of American Philosophy. Lubling, who earned his doctorate from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, also sits on the board of directors for Scholars for Peace in the Middle East, as well as serving as a member of the Alamance Regional Medical Center Ethics Committee.

Lubling is currently serving at Elon as a Senior Faculty Research Fellow for the 2010-2011 and 2011-2012 academic years. He is currently working on his third book titled Vicious Intellectualism: The Academy, the Holocaust, and Radical Islam.

Eric Townsend,
3/10/2011 7:37 AM