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From calculation to deliberation: the contemporaneity of Dewey

Patrycja Kaszynska (2021)

Culture, Theory and Critique, Online first

Abstract. The word crisis comes from Ancient Greek κρίσις which can be translated as ‘power of distinguishing’ and is related to modern κρίνω which means ‘to pick out’. This is apt, because the pandemic of 2020 has exposed the limitation of approaches to social governance premised on calculation. The – some would argue false – choice between either saving lives or the economy, is the highest profile example of the necessity to ‘pick’ between different qualitative options. This has brought into relief something suppressed by the calculation approach, namely the need to adjudicate between multiple and competing value orientations in public life. With this, an alternative way of decision making in the public domain is needed, one that does not revert back to mere politics and subjective decisions. This article turns to the writings of John Dewey to look for alternatives. It shows that the model of deliberative inquiry found in Dewey, even though not without its own challenges, presents a viable option to replace metrics-based valuation approaches, without falling back on the whimsy of political judgement. This suggests that Dewey is not just contemporaneous, but that translating his insights into action could not be more urgent.

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