A New Conatus for the New World: Dewey’s Response to Perfectionist Conceptions of Democratic Education

Published: Dec 28, 2021
conatus education collective democracy humanism perfectionism Spinoza Dewey
Jasmin Özel
David Beisecker
Joe Ervin
We argue for a reconsideration of the claim that Spinoza’s perfectionist conception of education was ushering in a form of radical humanism distinctly favorable to democratic ideals. With the rise of democratic societies and the corresponding need to constitute educational institutions within those societies, a more thoroughgoing commitment to democratic social ideals arose, first and foremost in American educational thought. This commitment can be seen especially in Dewey’s philosophy of education. Specifically, Dewey and Spinoza had strikingly distinct conceptions of the overall aims of schooling. While Spinoza takes the aim of education to be the perfection of a student’s original nature, Dewey takes education to involve the collective acquisition of an additional nature, reflecting the norms and expectations of one’s specific community. In this paper, we juxtapose these two distinct conceptions of education alongside one another, with an eye towards illuminating the limitations of a perfectionist theory of education for the individual, as we find it in Spinoza, within a democratic society.
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Author Biographies
Jasmin Özel, University of Las Vegas, Nevada; Universität Leipzig

Graduate student with Prof. Nikolaos Psarros at the University of Leipzig (educated at Leipzig and Pittsburgh)

Adjunct instructor at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas

David Beisecker, University of Nevada, Las Vegas
Associate Professor of Philosophy at UNLV; PhD University of Pittsburgh.
Joe Ervin, University of Nevada, Las Vegas
Assistant Professor-in-Residence in the Academic Success Center (ASC) at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV); PhD University of Nevada at Las Vegas.
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