John Dewey needed to expose the flaws in the existing tradition in order to articulate his own. He thought that the characteristic of Western philosophy was its assumption that what we can know is perfect, stable, and eternal. Three examples are Plato's Forms, the Christian concept of God, and Cartesianism. This latter tradition has made a radical distinction between true reality and the endless varieties of the world's human experience.
Dewey argued that Cartesian philosophy impoverished nature. He rejects the dualism between being and experience and proposed that all things are subject to change and that they change. The static is not natural and the experience is not purely subjective because the human mind is part of nature. The challenge, then, is to determine how to live well with the processes of change, not how to transcend them.
Dewey developed a metaphysics that examined the characteristics that encompassed human experience. Three of these were: precariousness, stories and purposes.
A precarious event makes the experience problematic. Thus any obstacle, disruption, danger or surprise is precarious. The cruelty of a tyrant, the destruction of a flood or the colors of the sunset are equally natural. Human ideas and moral standards must be viewed through this prism. Human knowledge is completely intertwined with precarious and constantly changing nature.
"Like all experience, it is constituted by the interaction betweenthe subject and the object ... is not merely physical or merely mental…” Dewey
History meant a process of change and when processes are identified they are subject to change. The logical result is that fate is not sealed by human nature, temperament, character, talent, or social role. With proper knowledge of the conditions necessary for human growth, an individual can develop in multiple ways. The purpose of education, then, is to promote the fruition of an active human history.
The purposes or final cause is a philosophical concept from the time of Aristotle. For Dewey a purpose is a deliberately constructed historical result and the specific purpose was 'the construction of good' There is no absolute good against which actions can be evaluated but any purpose that promotes human prosperity is good as long as it takes into account precariousness.
Dewey was involved in the American pragmatism movement started by Peirce and James. It integrated James' concept of shifting reality and his idea that the mental experience and the physical world were unclear. He also embraced the importance of experimental research.
Pragmatists were generally inspired by dramatic advances in science and technology during the 19th century. Many had formal scientific training and experimented in the natural, physical, or social sciences.
Willard Van Orman Quine produced original works in logic, ontology, epistemology, and linguistics. He developed a systematic philosophy that is naturalistic, empirical, and behavioral. His epistemology aimed to explain psychologically how scientific knowledge is obtained.
In Epistemology Naturalized (1969) Quine outlines his epistemology. According to Descartes, he affirms that epistemology deals with the foundations of science. However, he thinks that the search for Descartes is a lost cause. According to Quine there can be no strict translation of the notion 'body' in sensory terms so the steps between the evidences of the senses and scientific doctrine are far from being certain.
Quine proposes that we only have the stimulation of sensory receptors as evidence in the construction of our image of the world. So to understand how we make this construction, you have to study psychology empirically.
In ontology Quine recognized only concrete physical objects. He rejected notions like properties, propositions, and meanings as ill-defined or scientifically useless.
"Language is conceived in sin and science is its redemption." Quine
In the philosophy of language Quine opted for the behavioral theory of learning and an indeterministic concept of translation from one language to another in such a way that, according to him, there is no correct translation. This is an example of his vision of 'ontological relativity'. This stipulates that for a given scientific theory there are a multitude of alternatives all covered by the same evidence. In conclusion, there is no point in arguing that one theory or another truly describes the world.