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The Ineffable Immediate: Reading Pervasive Qualitative in Dewey’s Aesthetics

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One of the more contested elements of Dewey’s philosophy is his insistence that thought depends on singular but ineffable qualitative backgrounds. Dewey’s notion of the qualitative plays a vital role in his aesthetic theory, in which he theorizes that a “pervasive quality” unifies and governs attention within an aesthetic experience. Neo-pragmatist readings of Dewey’s aesthetic theory, like the one Richard Shusterman offers in his recent work, reject this element because it cannot be linguistically rendered. Shusterman suggests that habit and purpose will suffice to unify experience, without the need to hypothesize a pervasive quality. This paper examines the role of “pervasive quality” in Dewey’s aesthetic and asks after the fate of art when felt immediacy is denied and when meaning is understood only as linguistic.


Bethany Henning    
Southern Illinois University
United States


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