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Example Question #12 : Reading Comprehension
Passage adapted from John Dewey's "The Need for a Recovery of Philosophy" (1915)
Intellectual advance occurs in two ways. At times increase of knowledge is organized about old conceptions, while these are expanded, elaborated and refined, but not seriously revised, much less abandoned. At other times, the increase of knowledge demands qualitative rather than quantitative change; alteration, not addition. Men's minds grow cold to their former intellectual concerns; ideas that were burning fade; interests that were urgent seem remote. Men face in another direction; their older perplexities are unreal; considerations passed over as negligible loom up. Former problems may not have been solved, but they no longer press for solutions.
Philosophy is no exception to the rule. But it is unusually conservative--not, necessarily, in proffering solutions, but in clinging to problems. It has been so allied with theology and theological morals as representatives of men's chief interests, that radical alteration has been shocking. Men's activities took a decidedly new turn, for example, in the seventeenth century, and it seems as if philosophy, under the lead of thinkers like Bacon and Descartes, was to execute an about-face. But, in spite of the ferment, it turned out that many of the older problems were but translated from Latin into the vernacular or into the new terminology furnished by science.
The association of philosophy with academic teaching has reinforced this intrinsic conservatism. Scholastic philosophy persisted in universities after men's thoughts outside of the walls of colleges had moved in other directions. In the last hundred years intellectual advances of science and politics have in like fashion been crystallized into material of instruction and now resist further change. I would not say that the spirit of teaching is hostile to that of liberal inquiry, but a philosophy which exists largely as something to be taught rather than wholly as something to be reflected upon is conducive to discussion of views held by others rather than to immediate response. Philosophy when taught inevitably magnifies the history of past thought, and leads professional philosophers to approach their subject-matter through its formulation in received systems. It tends, also, to emphasize points upon which men have divided into schools, for these lend themselves to retrospective definition and elaboration. Consequently, philosophical discussion is likely to be a dressing out of antithetical traditions, where criticism of one view is thought to afford proof of the truth of its opposite (as if formulation of views guaranteed logical exclusives). Direct preoccupation with contemporary difficulties is left to literature and politics.
Which of the following might be a bias of Dewey's:
A. He does not believe that all questions are raised in the context of previous answers and outlooks.
B. He does not give enough weight to the importance of thinking with previous great thinkers, even though they might have had problems and questions different from those of people alive today.
C. He is too worried about immediate needs and not long-term goals and solutions.
A and C
A, B, and C
B and C
The best way to begin is by eliminating wrong answers. C is incorrect, though it may not appear so at first glance. Dewey is concerned that philosophy does not pay enough attention to the immediate questions and problems of people; however, that is not the same as saying that he is only worried about immediate needs to the detriment of long-term goals and solutions. He merely wants the questions of philosophers to match the questions being asked by people living at a given time.
We cannot say that Dewey is unaware of the contextual nature of change in knowledge. He does speak of "quantitative" increase in knowledge, which is much like this kind of progressive development of knowledge in the context of previously gained knowledge. Hence, A is also incorrect.
Dewey does seem to think that thinking in terms of former thinkers will mold and potentially bias the kinds of questions being asked, much to the detriment of philosophical progress. We can at least justify choosing this answer. Given the other options eliminated, this is the best possible answer.