This chapter examines some minor works surrounding Psychology, on the grounds that in the buildup (and aftermath) to something momentous, one can often detect significant motives. It focuses, in particular, on a little-read piece about nihilism that Dewey wrote with uncharacteristic force and passion. In “The Lesson of Contemporary French Literature,” Dewey bemoans the deeply rooted pessimism of his times and is at some pains to characterize its precise contours, in order to know best how to combat it. This chapter also focuses on “The Present Position of Logical Theory”, a chapter in which Dewey settles on one main cause of pessimism, namely, the confrontation with scientific materialism that seems to render the universe barren of meaning, merely “the playground” of indifferent “natural forces” (EW 3: 42). Dewey is vitally concerned here, as this chapter tries to show, with how human meaning is possible in the world.
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