Philosophical pragmatists rarely receive credit for their contribution to virtue ethics. But perhaps they should. How did America’s philosopher of democracy, John Dewey, and one of its most famous elder statesmen, Benjamin Franklin, advise troubled souls in search of moral improvement? According to James Campbell, Dewey and Franklin recommended the cultivation of inquiry-specific virtues, specifically imagination and fallibilism, thereby transforming the moral agent into a more effective ethical problem solver. For Gregory Pappas, open-mindedness and courage resemble Deweyan virtues, since both are integral to the pragmatist’s ideal of a balanced character. However, Pappas contends that Dewey would reject any procedure whereby the virtues are isolated and cultivated individually—a qualification that if applied to Franklin’s virtue project undermines his entire method of moral development. Cultivating virtue, on Pappas’ reading of Dewey’s ethics, must contribute to the integrated whole of a person’s character. The implication of the imperfect Dewey-Franklin comparison is that Dewey is not a strict virtue ethicist. Nevertheless, Dewey’s and Franklin’s respective models of moral improvement offer valuable insight and assistance to the moral agent wanting to cultivate a good character—or so I argue.
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Ralston, Shane J.
"How to Cultivate a Good Character—Pragmatically: Dewey and Franklin on the Virtues,"
Education and Culture: Vol. 38
Available at: https://docs.lib.purdue.edu/eandc/vol38/iss2/art5
Available for download on Monday, October 05, 2026