By David Hildebrand
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As an epistemological theory, instrumentalism is completely at home within evolutionary naturalism; within this framework, the determination of knowledge is akin to how we judge the value of a hand or eye – by how well we are empowered to adapt and thrive in an environment: ‘What measures [knowledge’s] value, its correctness and truth, is the degree of its availability for conducting to a successful issue the activities of living beings’ (MW4:180). Dewey’s efforts at resituating epistemology within a natural framework were often met by the non-comprehension or incredulity of peers, whose tradition-bound approaches required that knowledge be related to something fixed and non-natural.
But instead of despairing that truth is a moving target never to be struck, we can reimagine psychology as a philosophy of experience, which can, with constant effort, become increasingly effective at addressing what is problematic about contemporary living. qxp 4/21/2008 2:43 PM Page 40 2 Inquiry: knowledge, meaning, and action Intelligence becomes ours in the degree in which we use it and accept responsibility for consequences. It is not ours originally or by production . . Thoughts sprout and vegetate; ideas proliferate.
Much as your physical sense of balance controls walking, mind constantly adjusts and directs your interpretations of meanings before you. Your vivid consciousness of each successive idea is empowered to move smoothly ahead due to mind. As with other mental elements, Dewey can only attempt to describe consciousness using a new vocabulary of dynamic, organic adaptation. Consciousness is thinking-in-flight, an everreconfiguring series of events that are qualitatively felt as they transform experience at its most urgent.