Russell and Dewey on the Problem of the Inferred World


  • Josh Zaslow McMaster University



In this paper I explore the little-known first debate, in 1914–19, between John

Dewey and Bertrand Russell over the problem of the external world. After

outlining their respective arguments, I show how Dewey’s criticisms of Russell

miss the mark. Although these thinkers largely speak past one another, I argue

that Dewey’s theory of inference is not only crucial to this exchange but also

reveals what is at stake in their disagreement. Unfortunately, Dewey himself

never explicitly invoked his account of inference during this short-lived and

ultimately fruitless exchange with Russell. Had he done so, the crucial issue of

their differing criteria of justification would have been raised and their exchange

could have been more productive.