In this paper, I argue that many recent interpretations of John Dewey’s vision of democracy distort that vision by filtering it through the prism of contemporary deliberative democratic theories. An earlier attempt to defend Dewey’s theory of moral deliberation is instructive for understanding the nature and function of this filter. In James Gouinlock’s essay “Dewey’s Theory of Moral Deliberation,” he argues that Morton White and Charles L. Stevenson’s criticisms of John Dewey’s ethical theory are based upon fundamental misinterpretations of Dewey’s theory of moral deliberation. In the spirit of Gouinlock’s 1978 essay, I show how this historical debate relates to a claim of political philosophers and political theorists that is currently in vogue, namely, that Dewey’s writings contain a nascent theory of deliberative democracy. Deliberative democratic theorists contend that deliberation is the group activity that transforms individual preferences and behavior into mutual understanding, agreement and collective action. Once Dewey’s vision of democracy is identified with this theory of deliberative democracy, the strategic question for Deweyans arises: If Deweyan democracy is identified too closely with deliberative democracy, will Dewey scholars risk making Dewey’s democratic vision an outmoded approach to theorizing about democracy in the wake of an expired deliberative turn? One way to see our way clear of this strategic question is to remove the deliberative democracy filter and appreciate Dewey’s vision of democracy as a unique and free-standing contribution to democratic theory.

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