Published online by Cambridge University Press: 28 September 2010
John Dewey's way of thinking about thinking invites the intellectual historian. We are scholars eager to put thought in its contexts: not only contexts internal to the history of philosophy but social, political, cultural, and biographical contexts. Dewey not only shared this impulse and wrote some provocative intellectual history himself, but provided the enterprise with philosophical underpinnings. Dewey argued that human beings were thinkers only in the second instance. In the first instance, he said, the self was “an agent-patient, doer, sufferer, and enjoyer.” Thinking emerged out of non-cognitive, “primary experience” and was in the service of controlling and enriching such experience. “To be a man,” Dewey argued, “is to be thinking desire.” In one of his most often-quoted remarks, he warned his fellow philosophers that they were losing sight of their cultural embodiment and that they were on the path to terminal marginality unless philosophy “ceases to be a device for dealing with the problems of philosophers and becomes a method, cultivated by philosophers, for dealing with the problems of men.” Positions such as these not only underwrite intellectual history. They also inevitably provoke the interest of intellectual historians in Dewey's own desires, his own primary experience, and his own engagement with the problems of those outside the narrow circle of professional philosophers. They alert the antennae of intellectual biographers.