Panel Submission for SAAP 2008:


Title: “Addams and the Lost Individual”


2 Presenters (papers), and 1 Respondent (commentary on the 2 papers)



Abstract for the panel:


     In The World and the Individual (1902), Josiah Royce describes the self as wandering lonely through the “forest of common human ignorance…by destiny forever a frontiersman” who often “seems to be discovering only new barrenness in the lonely wilderness.” In Individualism Old and New (1930), John Dewey describes the self as a “lost individual,” who has no choice but to “vibrate between a past that is intellectually too empty to give stability and a present that is too diversely crowded and chaotic to afford balance or direction to ideas and emotion.”  Neither Royce nor Dewey let this be the final word, however, as each offer a way out of the wilderness, a method by which the submerged individual may be recovered.  In the case of Royce, the answer is loyalty; for Dewey, it is a type of acceptance fostering creativity and growth.

     Another figure in the American philosophical tradition demands our consideration here, however, and that is Jane Addams.  These presentations argue that Addams possesses a markedly acute appreciation of the existential situation of the “lost” individual.  One effect of this is that the myriad manifestations of this metaphor employed in the works of Royce and Dewey become more concrete when considered in light of her thought.  Another, more important, result is that she brings into relief novel renderings of the “lost” individual, which capture in more accurate and finer detail its doings and undergoings than those sketched by Royce and Dewey.  Consequently, although the calls to action of Royce and Dewey are undoubtedly insightful and potentially helpful, that prescribed by Addams is more promisingly melioristic.

One presentation takes up the connection between Addams and Royce, while the other takes up the connection between Addams and Dewey.  The former culminates in observing the very different articulations of the process of emergent selfhood in the philosophies of Royce and Addams, highlighting what it is about women’s experience and historical situation that requires a modification by Addams of the otherwise useful model of emergent selfhood found Royce.  It is concluded that the wilderness of Royce is not the same wilderness as that of Addams and the consequences of such a conclusion for Addams’ characterization of individuation are explored.  The latter presentation engages Dewey’s notion of the individual “lost” in the shuffle of shifting mores, through what is argued to be a perennially relevant case, that of changing attitudes concerning filiality.  This case helps to illustrate that the lost individuals of Dewey and Addams are one and the same tragic figure.  Still, owing to her sharp perceptiveness of the trials endured and losses suffered by the individual, Addams’ is more likely to achieve recovery, at least to the extent that a tragic figure can do so.

Perhaps most important of all points made in these presentations is that the lonely, wandering, lost, submerged, confused individual is not an abstraction – we are this individual.  This is the view of Royce, Dewey, and Addams, as well as each of the presenters on this panel.  We believe that this subject is applicable to everyone, and as such, is relevant for reasons well beyond our engaging a few of our American philosophical heroes.  We believe we provide an interesting pair of perspectives on the value of Addams’ thought about the individual, and along with the contributions of our commentator, would make an excellent panel at this year’s meeting of SAAP.



Abstract for Paper 1: “Determined Selves: Addams and Royce on Individuation”


One familiar feminist plaint about the popularity of postmodernism runs something like this:  “Just when women are finally allowed to be selves, along comes postmodernism with its eager cry to decenter or, worse, to deconstruct that self.”  While this characterization may be unfair in numerous ways, it does make an important point.  Women became selves much later than men.  In part because of that history, and in larger part because of the different experiences stemming from that history, women’s path to selfhood may well diverge from that typical of men.  In this paper I should like to examine the process of individuation – the path to selfhood – developed in the work and life of Jane Addams.  To that end I shall consider some of her works, in particular Democracy and Social Ethics, The Long Road of Woman’s Memory, and Twenty Years at Hull-House.  Many have argued that Addams’ work most closely reflects that of her friend and colleague John Dewey.  There are perhaps good reasons for drawing that conclusion.  But I should like in this paper to claim something different:  One can use the life and work of American idealistic philosopher Josiah Royce to assist in explaining better what Addams understood by “individuation.”  But, finally, while Royce’s work is illuminating, it is not definitive.  Ultimately, neither Dewey nor Royce can quite capture the sense of Addams’ account of the genesis of selfhood.

Michael A. Weinstein, in his 1982 The Wilderness and the City, offered an analysis of classical American philosophy as a moral quest.  In that work, he made frequent use of Royce’s metaphor of the philosopher as the wanderer lost in the woods, a metaphor best developed in Royce’s The World and the Individual and, to a lesser extent, in The Philosophy of Loyalty and The Problem of Christianity.  In those works Royce the idealist proposed a dialectical understanding of selfhood.  The self wanders lonely through the “forest of common human ignorance”; he is “by destiny forever a frontiersman” who often “seems to be discovering only new barrenness in the lonely wilderness.”  (Royce [1900] 1976, pp. 2-3)  But that self has left the community; separation from that community is the antithesis (and thus a necessary condition) of a reunification with the community wherein the self can flourish.  A self left wandering is a self bereft, ultimately, of identity.  Royce used an analogous dialectic in his later works where “loyalty” becomes the moment which ultimately synthesizes one’s desire for self-assertion with one’s desire to escape the discomfort of the inevitable conflict with other self-asserting humans.  And loyalty, for Royce, always requires and is, in fact, definitive of the community.  The process of individuation in Royce, then, is a process of emergence from, negation of, and reconciliation with the community.

For Royce, however, humans are always, first and foremost, knowers.  His account, again in keeping with his Hegelian idealism, was a cognitive one.  His forest, as cited above, was a forest of ignorance and doubt.  Speculative reason is the instrument through which this reconciliation of individual with community happens.  Individuation is the product of an essentially and primarily rational activity.

At first glance, this dialectical process has much to offer in aiding our understanding of individuation in the work of Jane Addams.  A striking initial similarity between Royce and Addams is the fact of their personal relationship to the “frontier.”  Addams’ father left Pennsylvania for the (then) far reaches of Illinois, the wilderness which also produced his friend Abraham Lincoln, in the early 19th century.  Royce was born in a mining town in California.  Both of them traveled a great deal, to Europe as well as within the United States, not to the “wilderness.”  Royce ended up in New England and Addams in Chicago, both firmly ensconced in (reconciled with?) established communities.  Both were also strong selves.  Addams acquired a public reputation as a formidable woman, moreso perhaps after her work as a pacifist than as the good mother of Hull-House.  She became a strong self during a time when women were just, historically, beginning to emerge as selves out of a history of being the property of others.  On the other hand Royce’s emergence into selfhood was unquestionable and undeniable.  Of course he was a self.  He was a man, a philosopher.  Addams’ accomplishment seems, thus, the more difficult and less obvious one.  Perhaps we can use her life as a concrete model of emergent selfhood that illustrates what her work articulates in a different way from his.

For Addams, as for Royce, the “self” was the product of an ongoing process.  It was neither substance nor a permanent entity of any sort.  It was malleable and meliorable.  It emerged over the years and through activities.  It was engaged in a dialectical relationship with its surroundings, through its activities.  But here, perhaps, the analogy between Royce’s and Addams’ views begins to limp.  While the process of individuation for each entailed constant tension and revision, in Royce it was – despite his pleas for religious in addition to theoretic philosophy – much more intellectual, the activity of speculative reason.  We figured out, finally, who we are by reflecting upon our wanderings.

Addams’ work moved beyond that of Royce in a few original ways.  First of all, for her the process was not primarily but only secondarily intellectual.  It was above all practical, practical in the pragmatist sense of being informed practice, i.e. praxis.  Royce, despite his attention to the world, remained the Harvard professor and the Hegelian idealist.

More important still is Addams’ different articulation of the very process of emergent selfhood.  For Royce, for Dewey, for male philosophers who had been selves at least since the advent of modernity, the dialectical process begins with a not-yet-determined but not completely indeterminate self.  Even if the first step of the dialectic is the city rather than the wilderness, those philosophers saw themselves as selves within that city.  They had already a secure place and identity there.  The facts of women’s history modify that characterization.  Selfhood for them, too, is a negation of (emergence from) the community.  But the character of that negation will be different because the late 19th and early 20th centuries introduced modes of negation not often seen before in their history.  They were attempting to move into a public domain where they were strangers and aliens.  They were, like Addams, engaged in public discourse about war and peace, about civil rights.  They were, like Lucy Sprague Mitchell, taking on administrative positions in public universities.  They were demanding entry into the public political arena, e.g. the vote.  And even when they, like the younger Addams at Hull-House, appeared to embrace traditional roles such as “mother to other peoples’ children,” they were subverting those roles while welcoming them.  So there are two significant differences here from Royce’s philosophy:  Women in the original community (city) are not the clear-cut unique selves that men are.  They are instead types or roles or functions (daughter, sister, mother, wife).  Secondly, the wilderness that serves as the site of their negation is not the frontier but is the public arena from which they had been previously excluded.  Their “wilderness” is men’s “city.”

Therefore, the remainder of this presentation will begin with an exploration of Twenty Years at Hull-House and its potential for constructing a self.  We shall then turn to Democracy and Social Ethics to explain more concretely the tensions that arise from one’s negation of one’s immediate private community of the family (in “Filial Relations”) and to envision a social ethics that is not simply the corporate assertion of individual will (in “Industrial Amelioration”).  We shall continue that exploration of how “much of our ethical maladjustment in social affairs arises from the fact that we are acting upon a code of ethics adapted to individual relationships, but not to the larger social relationships to which it is bunglingly applied” (Addams [1907] 1964, p. 221) by examining her chapter on “Political Reform.”  We shall conclude with her The Long Road of Woman’s Memory to ascertain more definitively what it is about women’s experience and historical situation that requires a modification of the otherwise useful model of emergent selfhood we discover in Royce.  We shall conclude that the wilderness of Royce is not the same wilderness as that of Addams and shall explore the consequences of such a conclusion for her characterization of individuation.






Addams, Jane.  Democracy and Social Ethics.  Edited by Anne Firor Scott.  Cambridge: Belknap Press.  1964.


__________.  The Long Road of Woman’s Memory.  New York: Macmillan.  1916.


__________.  Twenty Years at Hull-House.  New York:  Macmillan.  1910.


Royce, Josiah.  The Philosophy of Loyalty.  New York:  Macmillan.  1919.


__________.  The Problem of Christianity.  Chicago: University of Chicago Press.  1968.


__________.  The World and the Individual, Second Series.  Gloucester: Peter Smith.  1976.


Weinstein, Michael A.  The Wilderness and the City.  Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press.  1982.



Abstract for Paper 2: “Morally Tragic Growth: Addams, Dewey, and the Filial Individual”


     John Dewey’s critique of the quest for certainty (The Quest for Certainty, 1929) might be summarized as a skepticism of the possibility of its satisfaction, due to the unpredictable nature of the vicissitudes of experience.  In his words, experience “involves change” and “deals with individualized and unique situations which are never exactly duplicable and about which, accordingly, no complete assurance is possible.”[1]  Not only do the presence of change and the uniqueness of situations stymie the search for certitude, they result in experience being fraught with the “pathos of unfulfilled expectation” and the “tragedy of defeated purpose and ideals.”[2]  However carefully we may tread, the ground we walk on is ineluctably precarious; we can never fully control the circumstances that give rise to, nor the consequences that grow out of, our actions.

     In his Pragmatism and the Tragic Sense of Life (1974), Sidney Hook admits that he is “not aware that Dewey ever used the phrase ‘the tragic sense of life,’” but holds that “he felt what I shall describe by it and that it is implied by his account of moral experience.”[3] Although this claim has been criticized as a case of moving “much too quickly,”[4] one cannot ignore characterizations of experience like the aforementioned (in a text dealing mainly with epistemological questions, no less), nor can one turn a blind eye to this sense as it pervades those texts more pointedly focused on moral and social matters.  For the purposes of this paper, I consider Individualism Old and New (1930).  In this text, Dewey describes “The Lost Individual,” who is indeed lost in two senses, each of which invokes the tragic.  On one hand, the individual is removed from sight as such, as the homogenizing forces of corporatization favor, and indeed, force, the abandoning of individuals’ personal projects for a lifestyle of conformity in the pursuit of a purportedly greater ideal.  On the other hand, the individual is bewildered, struggling to find footing in a world of polarizing political landscapes and shifting social mores, which cause turbulence and confusion on a seemingly chronic scale.  In both cases, the individual could not have prevented finding him/herself lost; the source of the problem is much larger than him/her.  Dewey’s recommendation for recovery, achieved through a dual sense of “acceptance,” further underscores the tragic nature of the situation.  The recovered individual is one who accepts the new state-of-affairs as the circumstance in which one now resides, but who also accepts the challenge presented by this new state-of-affairs, as an opportunity for adaptation or reconstruction, and in either case, growth.  Thus, the individual allays much of the cognitive dissonance brought about by the mercurial nature of experience, and is able to instate one’s individuality anew.   Yet this recovery is tragic, for as Dewey is aware, it is only temporary, as unforeseen and jarring circumstances like these are sure to present themselves again, indeterminately.

One claim of this paper is that Jane Addams articulates the plight of the tragic lost individual earlier than Dewey does, though this is not suggested for the sake of discrediting Dewey.  On the contrary, what each has to say about the situation of the lost individual (whose profile I submit to be no one’s but our own) is complementary of the other.  Putting it baldly, Dewey does in broader theoretical strokes what Addams does in finer applied detail.  Of course, Addams does not refer explicitly to Dewey’s “lost individual,” and in fact, in the works of hers engaged in this presentation, it would be anachronistic to suggest so.  Yet it is clear that Addams has this individual in mind in Democracy in Social Ethics (1902).   Charlene Haddock Seigfried describes the chapters of this text as “organized around what Addams identifies as a perplexity that reveals a rupture with conventional attitudes, beliefs, and practices.”[5]  Indeed, in the chapter on “Filial Relations,” for instance, Addams discusses the maladjustment experienced by both parents and daughter when the young woman attempts to move beyond the life of the family to a more active role in the community at large.       

     In this essay, I dwell on Addams’ discussion of filial relations, for it presents a clear picture of a recurrent problem that results in individuals becoming lost in the ways Dewey describes.  Although there are certainly several cases to the contrary, generation after generation, we see parents and children clash over what courses of action and walks in life are appropriate or beneficial for the children.[6]  In reference to the young daughter at the turn of the twentieth century, Addams explains that when she returns home from college with a sense of independence and concomitant desire to branch out beyond those roles she has inhabited in the home, “she finds herself jarring against ideals which are so entwined with filial piety, so rooted in the tenderest affections of which the human heart is capable, that both daughter and parents are shocked and startled when they discover what is happening.”[7]  If the young woman chooses to heed only her filial duty, she closes herself off from meeting her obligation to society.  If she acts only on her obligation to society, she subverts her ability to maintain her filial duty.  So, in her quest to be moral, she is doomed – tragically – to immorality.  In fact, Addams describes the situation as necessarily tragic.[8]  “The collision of interests, each of which has a real moral basis and a right to its own place in life” is tragic for it is “a struggle between two claims, the destruction of either of which would bring ruin to the ethical life.”[9]

     As I will show, Addams’ solution to this predicament theoretically anticipates Dewey’s notion of “acceptance” as a way of recovering the lost individual.  At the same time, however, Addams offers more to the lost individual than Dewey does, for her recommendations often grow out of lived experiences (at Hull House, for instance) and are incredibly explicit and substantive, whereas Dewey’s advice, while potentially ameliorative, is decidedly vague and thus less helpful.  To further support my view that we should look more closely at Addams should we want to recover the lost individual (again, i.e., ourselves), I also consult salient episodes recounted by Addams in Twenty Years at Hull House (1910) and The Long Road of Woman’s Memory (1916), as well as her treatments of the relationships of parents with their children in combat, as detailed in Newer Ideals of Peace (1906) and Peace and Bread in Time of War (1922).  While I will insist that we are behooved if we attend to all of what Addams tells us with respect to the filiality, with thousands of our sons and (fewer, though many) daughters at war, I will note that the latter texts resonate as particularly pertinent today.

     I conclude that the individual who is lost with respect to his/her filial relations finds guidance in the words of both Dewey and Addams, though the words of Addams carry with them the most meliorative power in the face of an irremediably tragic situation.




[1] John Dewey, The Quest for Certainty (New York: Minton, Balch and Co., 1929), 6-7.

[2] Ibid., 6.

[3] Sidney Hook, Pragmatism and the Tragic Sense of Life. (New York: Basic Books, 1974), 9-10.

[4] Cornel West, The American Evasion of Philosophy: A Genealogy of Pragmatism. (Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Press, 1989), 120.

[5] Charlene Haddock Seigfried, “Introduction to the Illinois Edition” in Jane Addams, Social Democracy and Ethics (Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2002 [1902]), xxiii.

[6] Very recently, I gave a university-level ethics class an assignment that involved writing about any ethical dilemma they had faced.  I was struck by the fact that one fourth of the students wrote about situations concerning conflicts between what they wanted and what their parents wanted for them, and in more than half of these cases, the point of contention was the field of study the students had chosen and differing notions concerning the future in store for the student as a result of earning a degree in said field.

[7] Ibid., 40.

[8] Apropos of this, Addams compares the situation to that experienced by Assisi and St. Francis (Ibid., 38-39), as well as that endured by King Lear and Cordelia (Ibid., 44-46).  

[9] Ibid., 37.