Talking The Pluralist with Editor Roger Ward and Contributor Scott Stroud

In the latest episode of the University of Press podcast, The UPside, we sat down (virtually) with the editor of The Pluralist, Roger Ward, and three-time contributing author Scott Stroud to discuss his article and the journal more broadly. You can listen to the podcast here or read below for a transcript of the conversation.  

Scott’s new article, “John Dewey and India: Expanding the John Dewey-Bhimrao Ambedkar Story,” will be FREE to access from July 15, 2024, through August 15, 2024. 

University of Illinois Press (UIP): Welcome to the University of Illinois Press podcast, The UPside. I’m Michelle Woods, Journals Marketing and Communications Manager of the Press, and joining me as co-host today is Dr. Roger Ward, editor of The Pluralist.  

Thanks for being here, Roger. 

Roger Ward (RW): Great to be here. Thanks for the invitation. 

UIP: For this conversation, we’re going to invite a contributor from The Pluralist to join us and discuss his research, while we also talk about submitting to the journal and give a brief peek at upcoming scholarship. But first, I want to start by giving a bit of background on The Pluralist. The Pluralist is a peer-reviewed journal dedicated to advancing the ends of philosophical thought and dialogue in all widely used philosophical methodologies, including non-Western methods and those of traditional cultures. The journal upholds the Socratic dictum of self-knowledge and the love of wisdom as the purpose of philosophy. It seeks to express philosophical insights and concerns humanely and with an eye to literary as well as philosophical excellence, but technical papers are welcome. The Pluralist is a forum for discussion of diverse philosophical standpoints and pluralism’s merits.

The Pluralist considers high-quality submissions on any philosophical topic written from any philosophical perspective. Articles that defend some type of pluralism, apply a pluralistic perspective to contemporary issues, or take a critical stance against pluralism are encouraged. 

The Pluralist is the official journal of the Society for the Advancement of American Philosophy. In addition to research articles, The Pluralist also includes highlights from the SAAP annual meeting, Presidential addresses, Founders’ addresses, and other Society-related information. To learn more, including how to submit or subscribe, visit us online at

With that context, Roger, would you please tell us a bit about your background and time as editor of The Pluralist? 

RW: Sure, be glad to. In fact, I had to go back and look at some early issues just to recall myself. So, the Society for the Advancement of American Philosophy was founded in the 1970s and for years we had a lot a lot of our information and book review shared through a newsletter. Pat Dooley, a guy at St. Bonaventure, was the editor of that newsletter, and asked me at one point to help him with book reviews, which I did. In 2010, Randy Auxier, who’s at Southern Illinois, turned one of the journals that he was working on into The Pluralist and became the editor, and that was the year that the combination between The Pluralist and the Society for the Advancement of American Philosophy began.  

I was a book review editor for two years, I was associate editor in 2012, and in 2013 I became the full-time editor. That’s a that’s a job that I’ve had now, it looks like, for 11 years. I’m kind of surprised by that, but it’s been a very interesting time of handling lots of diverse scholarship as it comes to the journal, especially through the Advancement of American Philosophy meetings, and beyond those meetings. It’s just been a delightful experience and a lot of work. 

UIP: Thank you for that introduction. As I mentioned earlier, we also have another guest joining us today, a three-time contributor to The Pluralist, Dr. Scott R. Stroud.  

So, Roger, was your first time meeting Scott through his 2017 article, “What Did Bhimrao Ambedkar Learn from John Dewey’s Democracy and Education? 

RW: No, actually, I looked back through my email and saw that we’d worked on a review of his 2011 book on Dewey. And, Scott, I don’t recall when we met at the [SAAP] meetings. Do you recall when we met? 

Scott R. Stroud (SRS): You know, I think it was long after we emailed and saw each other in print. So yeah, maybe three years ago was our first meeting in person.  

RW: That sounds about right. 

UIP: Okay, so then in 2022, Scott’s article “Recovering the Story of Pragmatism in India: Bhimrao Ambedkar, John Dewey, and the Origins of Navayana Pragmatism“ was published in Volume 17, Number 1. And, finally, his most recent contribution, “John Dewey and India: Expanding the John Dewey-Bhimrao Ambedkar Story,” appears in the latest installment, Volume 19, Number 2, available in print and online now.  

Without further delay, let’s formally introduce Scott and learn more about his research area.  

Welcome, Scott! Could you please introduce yourself to our audience? 

SRS: Yes, thank you, Michelle, and thank you, Roger, for having me on this podcast. My name’s Scott Stroud. I’m a professor of communication studies in the Moody College of Communication at the University of Texas, at Austin. I’m a philosopher by highest training: I got my degree back in the day studying with people like Richard Shusterman and Joseph Margolis. So, I’ve long known about the wondrous research that’s being done at the Society for the Advancement of American Philosophy. I’ve for quite some time paid attention to The Pluralist and the wonderful stuff they’ve been publishing. I’m excited to talk more about my small part to the spectrum of research that’s happening in The Pluralist

UIP: Thank you for joining us today. With introductions made, I’ll pass the mic over to Roger so you can get into the details of your recent work. 

RW: Yeah, so Scott, let’s start at Columbia, where Ambedkar was a student in John Dewey’s classroom. Since he wasn’t majoring in philosophy, how did he end up in Dewey’s course in the first place? What did he hear there that would change the way he approached these topics? 

SRS: Yeah, that’s a fascinating part to this complex story that Ambedkar represents, because he was sent there on a scholarship from a prince. We call him “an enlightened prince.” He practiced a form of affirmative action where he wanted to uplift the depressed classes, the untouchables, Ambedkar was what was called “an untouchable,” now referred to as Dalit. Ambedkar signed an agreement with this prince in 1913, saying basically, “I will only go there to study economics and finance type courses” and that was Ambedkar’s major.  

But if you look at Ambedkar’s transcript, he took 50-some classes, or at least he audited and took 50 some classes before doing his dissertation writing, and three of those were by John Dewey. So, how did he end up in those classes? That’s a question I’ve wondered. I’ve never found a satisfactory answer. There’s no diary entry, or wish we had Tik-Tok back in the day—we could see what Ambedkar’s reaction video would be. The best I could come up with is that in the 1910s, John Dewey’s star was perhaps close to its apex. He had a slow descent late in his life, he didn’t have an abrupt fall. But he was full of energy, full of ideas, and fairly well ensconced, but not too long ensconced at Columbia. He was starting up the Association of American University Professors, the NAACP. All this stuff was happening around the 1910s.  

Democracy and Education came out in 1916, which Dewey later called the best summary of his work. So, I have a feeling Ambedkar, even if he didn’t come there knowing about John Dewey and pragmatism, knew about this star American philosopher, and Dewey was kind of a star of American philosophy across the nation in 1915–1916. So, surely Ambedkar felt it was okay to break his contract. There’s no one there in New York watching over him and what he did. And so he stumbles into these classes, and I think it changes the face of Indian democracy thereafter. Why? Because fast forward to the 1940s, Ambedkar was one of the chief architects of the Indian Constitution that created the world’s largest democracy. A lot of the stuff in that constitution, I argue in my various articles and in my book, trace back to some of those ideas that he thought worth extending into his classes, and sometimes thought worth resisting in those classes. 

We could chat some more about Dewey’s influence as we go forward, but some of the things he heard in those classes were straightforward key themes to Dewey’s pragmatism. In the fall of 1914, he was in a psychological ethics class taught by John Dewey. One thing I’ve always kind of scratched my head at: Ambedkar scholars study all of these aspects of Ambedkar’s life, and they always say his education is so important. Indeed, he was the first untouchable, or Dalit, PhD, in recorded history. There are no other students from the oppressed classes like him that got this kind of education. Yet, no one knows what happened in his classes.  

In the course of the research for my book, I made it a point to try to find all the lecture notes, the syllabi, the student notes, that I could that give us access into these classes that he heard from Dewey, and I’ve done that, and what you can see is fascinating. Dewey gives them a view of the individual as a habit bearing organism. And then in the next year, where Ambedkar took both courses, the fall one and the spring one on moral and political psychology, these habits turn into customs at the group level. In that two-year period, in that small sampling of just three courses, he heard this fascinating groundwork from which all else of Dewey’s philosophy largely blossoms: habits, customs, society, trying to make these things ameliorated for the better future, and progress and experience. 

RW: Yeah, your research on those notes and those courses were just amazing. I don’t know how you found all those documents and shared notes. But that was just really, really interesting.  

SRS: Well, a lot of it was due to the wonderful resources of the Dewey Center at Southern Illinois University at Carbondale. Once I figured out what courses and what dates, I can go there and dig through the decaying paper, and then you find those courses. And sure enough, one of those courses, the student notetaker was absent for three days, and another peer took notes and it said, “Notes by Ambedkar.”  

RW: Cool. 

SRS: So, we know exactly what he heard on a day-by-day basis because of the wonderful archive there. 

RW: Yeah, that that reconstruction is just really, really cool. So, you talk about the role of mentorship and developing philosophy, and especially with Ambedkar. In your own case, was there a mentor that had a particular influence on your development? 

SRS: You know, some folks, but I wouldn’t dishonor them to call them my mentor, because I have too many flaws to foist upon them as a guru.  

But I’d long been interested in Indian thought, even before I got into pragmatism. Way back in 2004 when I was organizing a student conference, we were lucky enough to have Martha Nussbaum as a keynote. I was helping her get to the right lecture hall, and she knew I was working on Dewey for my dissertation, and she said, “Do you know of a student of Dewey’s in India? A guy named Ambedkar?” I was a grad student. So, my expectations of what I thought I knew probably outstripped what I did, and I said, I don’t know them and I kind of brushed it aside. I’m sure my mentality back then was, let’s focus on the teacher, not the disciple. I put that away in some corner of my mind. And that was okay. I ended up writing that dissertation, which ends up being that book that you mentioned having that review on.  

Then, 10 years later, when I should have been writing a different book on Dewey and rhetorical criticism, I started Googling this Indian student, Ambedkar. I started to see where Dewey was there in his work as an influence, and I started to see spots where Dewey was there that no one else had noticed. And I said, I have to be the one to tell this story, and so that was right around fall 2014 and ever since then, I’ve just devoted myself to trying to dig as deep as I can in archival resources, texts, the history, meet as many people as I can, to figure out this story as best I can, or at least that aspect– the Dewey connection to this story. 

So, Martha Nussbaum, I owe her a great debt for getting me going on this, even though I evaluated the relative weight of this hint differently back in 2004.  

I’ve also been incredibly helped by other scholars who’ve worked on Ambedkar. Christopher Queen has been over there looking at the dusty books in India, and he put me in contact with the right people to give me access to these resources. 

Some of my best friends are part of the Ambedkar community. For instance, Vijay Surwade, who I couldn’t have done this book without. He’s a retired businessperson, city worker really, in Mumbai, and he’s devoted his life to writing book after book on the history of Ambedkar. His spirit, his energy, and his knowledge.… He’s a walking encyclopedia of Ambedkar and has just been such an inspiration and a resource to me. 

RW: That’s really just so interesting. That whole text was just, every time I turned a page was like, discover a new little corner of some library you’d found your way into.  

And one of the really interesting questions that you deal with is the way that Ambedkar, which, in your phrases, “echoes” Dewey. There are lots of things that you cite where Dewey has a page or a passage, and Ambedkar has coopted some language from that text almost directly. The influence of Dewey’s thoughts on Ambedkar really was well displayed. And you actually consider whether or not the influence went the other way. Do you have some thoughts on where you see the possibility that Dewey’s thoughts might have been impacted by Ambedkar’s work? 

SRS: Yes, and so the book you mentioned was my The Evolution of Pragmatism in India book, which is published by Chicago here in the U.S. and HarperCollins India in South Asia. There, I spend a huge amount of time like you said, focusing on how Ambedkar attended to, resisted, or changed certain things in Dewey. One of the questions I always get in India, and in America, when I talk about this project is, “Well, what did Dewey learn from Ambedkar?” I see the logic to the question. Relationships seem to have some kind of two-directionality to them. I kind of put it away in my mind; this book was already too long as it was.  

But I needed to at some point answer this question. The paper that’s coming out in, I believe, July in The Pluralist, is “What Dewey Knew of India.” This paper is my attempt to, as comprehensively as possible, chart out Dewey’s relationship with India, warts and all. Spots where he learned from India, spots where he could have ignored it or disparaged the Indian tradition. 

Simply put, pragmatism is all about openness. But in some way Dewey’s engagement with other cultures is a tragic tale. He comes around to other cultures a little too late. As I chart in my article in painstaking detail, especially in reference to India, he knew of important things about India, like caste, in the 1890s. He knew of things like the Vedantic texts, which were being translated by Orientalist scholars in Germany, largely. In the 1890s, he was reviewing this stuff, but he kind of disparaged it. He said, “Well, you can get the same thing from Schopenhauer or Spinoza here in the West.” He’d use caste as a throwaway term, but he wouldn’t really engage the kind of hierarchy behind it. By the time he’s with Ambedkar, he keeps referring to caste in a fairly correct way, distinguishing it from class, making it a normative concept that someone could uphold the standards of, or even lose caste. He was using this in an intelligent way, but it wasn’t a key part to his philosophy. 

And then around 1930, he writes an introduction to this book on Wisdom of the Vedas, if I remember the title right, by an Indian author. And Dewey writes a short introduction; he’s fairly humble in the introduction. He’s not negative or critical. He says, “You know, this is important stuff. I’m not the right person to introduce this, but this author wanted me to, so definitely give this book your attention.” So that’s around 1930. 

And then by the 1940s, Dewey starts coming around more and more to intercultural philosophy. By 1948 or ’49, he’s sitting in Hawaii writing outlines on letterhead from his hotel in Waikiki about synthetic philosophy. He ends up writing the first article in the very important intercultural community philosophy journal, Philosophy East and West. His is the first article in that first issue.  

So, he comes around too late. He dies shortly after that journal issue’s put out there. In many ways, Dewey could have learned so much more if he was more open to what India had to offer in 1915, let’s say, right when he was 10 feet from Ambedkar in his classroom. Dewey didn’t have many Indian students. He had a lot of Chinese students, and they’re the folks who dragged him to China 1919 to 1921. But his connection with India was a little more tenuous. 

RW: That’s really good. That’s obviously a piece of a larger discussion about the influences and divergences from Dewey and Ambedkar’s forms of pragmatist thoughts, one that your article faces head on. What’s the key takeaway for you that you want your readers to understand about the connection between Dewey and Ambedkar, after reading The Pluralist and listening to this discussion? 

SRS: Well, I think the biggest takeaway is for we who follow in Dewey’s wake. I consider myself a pragmatist. I have great respect for Dewey’s thought. Those of us that value Dewey should recognize that we owe creative students like Ambedkar, courageous students like Ambedkar—he wasn’t just coming up with new books that might get harshly reviewed, he was under the threat of violence back in India as an untouchable—we owe courageous students like Ambedkar a debt.  

Now part of that “debt” terminology comes from a wonderful letter that Bhimrao Ambedkar pinned his wife, Savita Ambedkar, in 1952, when he was flying back to New York to get an honorary doctorate from Columbia University. And, it just so happens when he was on his plane and he arrived, Dewey had just passed away from an illness that he had–pneumonia or something–that came after he broke a hip a few days before. So, he writes this heartfelt letter back to India to Savita, and says, “I have so many friends around me here, but you know I’m just crushed when I learned about Dewey’s passing.”  

Then he says this epochal line, “I owe my whole intellectual life to Dewey.” That was one of the first things I found when I started sniffing around at this topic in 2014. But no one would go deeper than that line. No one could say what that debt was. It’s untrue to say, “Ambedkar is just replicating Dewey.” There was an enigma there to me. What could he have meant? He was not a self-effacing person. He was a self-made man. He was a lawyer, so he was not in the habit of just making nothing of himself, and say, “Oh, I owe my all my thoughts to this other person.” We have to take him seriously, and so my book takes him seriously and looks at that kind of creative engagement from the Ambedkar angle and in The Pluralist article, the bottom line should be that Dewey should have had a greater engagement with India, and we have that possibility because of students like Ambedkar taking the lead and pushing Dewey’s pragmatism forward. 

RW: Thanks. So, yeah, obviously, international travel had a big role on Dewey’s career. In 1919, he was in Japan and then China. That really changed sort of the footprint of both philosophy and American philosophy. Despite Dewey not ever visiting India, your work focuses on bringing his ideas into the India context and culture. So, what challenges did you encounter while researching and writing about this story of pragmatism in India? 

SRS: Yes, and you’re absolutely right: that 1919 period is crucial for Dewey’s own development. That China episode was just so important for him. And, as I document all this in The Pluralist article, it’s a fascinating story that I’ve never heard told: Dewey almost went to India after China.  

Albert Barnes, his eccentric art collecting millionaire friend, kept telling him, “There’s more fine art in the temples in India than all across China and Japan,” and Dewey was all on board. Then the letters start showing Dewey getting homesick. Then eventually the letters show Dewey saying, “On a future trip I will go to the USSR, and then I’ll go back to India.” So, he never set foot in India.  

But one of the key things that would have changed, I believe, was Dewey’s thoughts on religion. A common faith would have been different, not opposite of what it was, but it would just be radically different if he saw the organized religion and this kind of customary religion in India. Caste was a custom. It was a habit. It was a state of mind. It wasn’t just a doctrine about church days, or something like this, and so that kind of that would have made more complex Dewey’s reading of what goes right in religion and the religious, and what goes wrong. 

Now, in terms of my own challenges researching this, one of the biggest challenges is that Ambedkar is a very important figure. He’s important politically. He wears the shoes of this constitutional forefather. He also is a civil rights leader. That’s a key part of his biography. So much of what he did was in battling caste oppression, something that today is said to affect, sometimes in a life-or-death manner, 300 million oppressed caste or backwards caste or untouchable caste individuals in India and across the globe. Think about him as like a Martin Luther King, Jr. figure. This gives him kind of a sheen of importance, but it also makes it tough to study that kind of figure, because it’s hard to criticize that figure. You rely on the relationships of smart people who know his legacy and value it. You don’t want to alienate these folks. This is an interesting and a challenging, but a necessary, object, or person to study.  

It’s different from when you study Dewey, because you can say Dewey got this wrong, and no one’s going to get mad at you. But you say, Martin Luther King, Jr. got something wrong, or you say Jesus got something wrong, or you say Buddha had a bad argument…these are a different class of kind of utterances. And so, this is a challenge. 

Another challenge to studying Ambedkar was that anything he touched—kind of like Dewey, but more so—anything he touched was like a religious artifact. You could imagine someone has access to a notebook he penned his thoughts in. They’re not going to just sell that on eBay. They’re not going to leave it carelessly about. These things are items of importance and even sacred value. Some of this stuff is in archives. Some archives keep it well preserved. Some archives, you’ll get tea right there by the archival research, and you hope not to spill it on a hundred-year-old document. And private collections: some of these folks are very forthcoming and sharing what they know, what they have with you, and some people are much more guarded because they don’t want you to abuse it. I see why they would have that standoffishness, because Ambedkar’s story, the story of caste and Dalits, is a story of exploitation and oppression.  

That’s one thing I tried to do in my research. I tried to thank in my acknowledgements page every Ambedkarite scholar and organization that has helped me, big or small, and I try to in my own scholarship not to bring Ambedkar down. I don’t have many negative things to say about him. I’m not writing “hit” pieces, but at the end of the day, I want to show him as a complex, maybe imperfect, but absolutely crucial thinker and religious leader. That’s my end goal. Each of my small maneuvers try to aim for that, imperfect as they are. So, it’s been the most challenging subject I’ve researched, and I’m definitely not done researching it yet. 

RW: Yeah, I think you’ve got your life’s project in your hands right here. I think in 1956 is when Ambedkar wrote the Annihilation of Caste… 

SRS: That’s actually 1936. 1956 was the conversion. 

RW: The mass conversion, which for pragmatists, especially Deweyan pragmatists, you start talking about mass religious conversion, that seems to throw things way off the rails. What role do you think Dewey had to play in Ambedkar’s decision that mass conversion to Buddhism was the appropriate move? 

SRS: That mass conversion in 1956 in Nagpur—I have not seen anything that fits the form of that across all of these philosophers I’ve studied and, in the right moments, it really moves me, more than just any scholarly writing or object of study moves you. I mean, think about it. What he gets from Dewey, starting from after his days in the classroom was in all the books, because he never wrote Dewey after he left that I’ve been able to find, and Dewey never wrote him after 1916. So, I have a feeling that the way he kept up on Dewey was by buying his books. I’ve identified over 22 books by or about John Dewey that Ambedkar had in his enormous library, more than any other author including Marx. So, he had a huge amount of books, up to the end of his life even. There’s evidence he was keeping an eye on Knowing and the Known from 1949. So, Ambedkar distills out of that mix—some of these books are books that Dewey wouldn’t even swear by anymore. For instance, one book that Ambedkar loved, absolutely loved, he tries to get it again. He gets it again from a student in London. He copies it out, the student does. It was the Ethics of Democracy, 1888. This was when Dewey was in his young mustachioed phase, full of Hegelian energy, talking about personality and self-realization. Ambedkar loved that book, and I think what he loved about it was, later on, Dewey’s story’s big things: The group and the individual are one. There’s no separate individual that comes together to make up the group. So that’s fine for Dewey. Dewey’s fighting that battle against American individualism.  

But what Ambedkar was fighting was very simple. He was born into a caste, an untouchable caste. His presence and his touch were polluting. He was born into that caste, according to his reading of Hinduism and a lot of people’s reading of Hinduism because of a karmic debt in a past life. That’s what preconditioned his birth to those parents, and if he did this life right—did the duties of an untouchable, perhaps, which meant drag away and eat the dead livestock on the road, or do the awful tasks like sewage removal—he might be born in a better place next life. So, stay put, and don’t try to rock the boat. 

I have a feeling that what Ambedkar saw in that that notion of personality was that the individual mattered, the individual really mattered, and beyond what Dewey said when he said the individual and community are a dialectic, Ambedkar saw that as a fulcrum, a lever like a seesaw. Can the individual push down on that lever and move society on the right occasions? So, you get him writing all this stuff with key parts of which extend early things in Dewey, like personality. Key parts extend other things later things in Dewey, like custom as morals, and the need for reflective morality.  

What you get by the 1956 conversion is just absolutely fascinating. You have that stream of philosophy, of personal autonomy and ability to reconstruct yourself. Then you have Ambedkar creating a religious ritual of conversion that helps you in perform this self-reconstruction. This is what I like to say is so unique about the conversion ceremony. It’s not just a religious thing over here. It is literally his philosophy put into a performative, a ritualistic, an instantiated mold. He’s all about “each person can reconstruct their self” and sometimes that means gaining respect for yourself and demanding others respect you. Caste deprived him of that. You can look at this twenty-two vow ceremony of conversion that he authored as his pragmatist way of reclaiming his own dignity, and then giving the chance to the people in the audience to follow him and recite those same vows and become Buddhists of this certain mold.  

Today, his form of Buddhism is typically called Navayana–new vehicle–Buddhism, because it’s slightly different from Theravada, or older strains of Buddhism, and Mahayana, more recent strains of Buddhism. What makes Navayana so different from those? Well, it’s some of those Deweyan emphases that religion should be a social gospel. If religion doesn’t help you alleviate the suffering of the community and the most oppressed in a community, it’s not worth its weight in whatever currency you might have purchased it in.  

So, this is what Ambedkar’s pragmatism sums up to, and I think it’s beautiful–this kind of enacted pragmatism. Dewey has a pedagogic creed, but teachers don’t have to swear by it. Kant has the categorical comparative, but no one has a conversion ceremony to Kantianism. You get this fascinatingly applied pragmatism within Ambedkar’s conversion. 

RW: And you nicely just describe this as this rhetoric force that is building over a whole lifetime of what writing and work that Ambedkar can use at this point to lead this this group into sort of claiming this kind of religious identity that’s separate from their Hindu background. And that I mean, that’s just really striking. 

SRS: I’m glad you bring up rhetoric, Roger, because that’s something I’ve kind of left out of my answers. But you know half of my job duties are writing stuff on rhetoric and communication. I am in a department of communication, and so I’ve always found it weird: philosophers postulate the democratic utopia, and it seems like we just will stare at each other and be silent. But humans talk, humans argue, and those arguments can be done in various ways. Even our best democratic utopia is not going to be homogeneous–people just talking about triangles like Plato would have wanted. It’s going to involve argument and disagreement. And the secret to the utopian ideal of democracy is that those disagreements don’t become destructive or preclude future agreements. So, rhetoric, the kind of attention to persuasion and the style of one’s arguments, is a key theme to my book. The idea is that Ambedkar was a powerful speaker, so he paid attention to how he adjusted his ideas to his audience—as one famous rhetorician from, I believe the ’70s, put it—and how he adjusted his audience to his ideas. How do you adjust your ideas to your audience and try to adjust your audience to your ideas? That’s what rhetoric means, perhaps in a nutshell, and so Ambedkar was a master of that. And I don’t think that often comes out even in the people who study Ambedkar’s thought deeply. He was a great speaker, and he didn’t just give the argument. He gave the best argument as comprehended by this audience. And so that that is a fascinating new angle, I think, to the way we could explore his pragmatism. 

RW: Excellent. Are there other global influences of Dewey or Ambedkar that you’re hoping to explore next? 

SRS: Well, my next immediate project is a trade book for HarperCollins India on Ambedkar as a theorist of democracy in his own right. I mean, I think sometimes people got too caught up that I was talking about Dewey and Ambedkar. In the article I’m talking about Dewey and Ambedkar and so they think they’re not separable. They are, and Ambedkar is a great thinker on his own, and, like Jane Adams, I think he gets pigeonholed into just being an activist or a social worker or a politician. He’s a theorist of democracy that has something to say to people in India, has something to say to people in America. He’s going to have something to say to people in a democracy 50 years down the road. So, I want to start to flesh that out. Of course, there’ll be a good dose of Dewey in there as well.  

One other thinker I’d like to explore more on is Hu Shih, that Chinese thinker that was one of the key Chinese scholars who was instrumental in bringing Dewey to China in 1919. Now, Hu Shih, as I documented my book, sat in the same classroom as Ambedkar in 1915-1916. They both took Dewey’s Philosophy 131-132 moral and political psychology class. This was a fascinating class for a variety of reasons. But one of the reasons I want to flesh that out more is in that class—this is the lead up to World War one, or at least America’s entry into it—Dewey is rather enthusiastic about the US taking part in World War I. It shows in these lectures he gives. He talks about things in ways that he doesn’t talk about in previous iterations of this class. One of those things he talks about is force and force as energy versus force as violence. 

One of the fascinating things I’ve come across is that Hu Shih goes to China and does his own enactment of what pragmatism might be, given his context and his needs. Of course, it doesn’t look anything like Dewey’s. This is the nature of the evolution of pragmatism. But part of that motive force behind Hu’s revisioning a pragmatism for China comes from his pacifist reading of force in reaction to Dewey. In many ways Ambedkar also took very deeply that lesson about “you need force to reform things.” But force is also that problematic aspect of violence, which no one likes. So, how can you tell the difference between good force and bad force?  

Ambedkar, when he gets back to India, right after he gets through with Columbia and then a short spell before the money ran out in London, he gets back to India around 1918 and authors a book review of Bertrand Russell, of all people one of Dewey’s sworn enemies, a book review of Bertrand Russell’s book Principles of Social Reconstruction. In that, that’s his first published reference to the ideas of Professor Dewey on force as violence and force as energy. This is one thing I want to flesh out in probably a side project: the idea of how this kind of Deweyan reading of force as integral to changing the world as we know it, spurred a certain pragmatic reading in China and spurred a different sort of pragmatic reading in India. 

You see, that’s one thing I haven’t mentioned yet, but so many people now know there’s an elaborate history, past, and future of pragmatism in China through people like Hu Shih. It always bugged me that no one could answer the question, “What’s the connection of pragmatism to India?” And so that’s one kind of itch I hope my project on Dewey and Ambedkar, whichever direction you put it, scratches: that no longer can we be ignorant about pragmatism and how it touches on the history and the future of the world’s largest democracy, India. 

RW: That’s great, thanks. 

UIP: Thanks again, Scott, for your multiple contributions to The Pluralist and for this conversation. shifting gears a bit, we wanted to talk about your three published articles in the journal over the past seven years. Given that, I thought you would be able to provide some insight into the process from an author’s perspective. Could you please tell us about your experience of publishing in The Pluralist and working with Roger? 

SRS: Yes, my experience with The Pluralist has been overwhelmingly positive. The reviewers are helpful and constructive and timely. That’s not always something you get in publishing. Roger has a very constructive demeanor as an editor. Some editors just count votes from the reviewers and then kick you off the island, so to speak.  

I’ve been fortunate that my projects seem to have legs, and the reviewers have given me very helpful comments to improve these. Now, one of the challenges is, this project is a very niche project, so there’s not a ton of available reviewers that know a lot of things on Dewey and Ambedkar, so they may know one side or the other. So, kudos to Roger for being able to find reviewers that have enough grasp on that kind of relationship to weigh in and be constructive and evaluate the work. 

But, like I said, it’s been very useful, and The Pluralist has a good readership in those who care about pragmatism and American philosophy. I wanted to make sure, like I was saying a second ago, that these people stop ignoring India as part of their global history of pragmatism. 

UIP: It’s great to hear that it was such a positive experience. And so, our final question for you is, do you have any advice for other scholars looking to publish in The Pluralist? 

SRS: Well, my advice would probably be the advice I’d give to anyone looking to publish anywhere. The challenge is: can you contribute to a valued discourse that’s going on about some figure, let’s say Dewey’s thoughts on Experience and Education, or something, or if you’re doing like my articles propose to do, which is to start or initiate a new dialogue. The challenge in that kind of niche project is different. You’re not saying that I have something new to say about this very extensive discourse in previous literature on this subject matter. Really, what you’re saying is, we’ve missed this and it’s worth paying attention to. So, in some ways that’s easy. You just find something that hasn’t been spoken on in print. In other ways, it’s very difficult, because there are a lot of things we don’t publish on, and for good reason. This is part of the challenge for authors that want to pick up a torch of someone. 

One author I’m going to write more on I came in contact with as part of this Ambedkar story–Mary Kingsbury Simkovich. She was a settlement house organizer. She ran Greenwich House in New York. Her husband was Vladimir Simkovich, who taught five classes of Ambedkar’s at Columbia University. Vladimir and Mary both knew Dewey and Alice Dewey. So, picking up her torch, you have to find a way to justify it. Why should we start attending to this?  

One of the lessons I learned, with a little bit of a learning curve, was that some of the things that strike your passion in a certain way don’t always strike other people’s passion. If you want to study the rhetoric of shrimp or something like this from Bubba Gump–you have got to make sure you’re passionate about it, but can you convince other people to be passionate about it? Because they won’t be passionate about it, because they haven’t done this project. That’s why you’re picking up the torch. So, this would be my advice to authors that want to follow down that path is: try to find ways that you could convince those to gain the sort of passion you have and see the topic as having an importance that you believe it has. 

UIP: Thank you so much. That’s very valuable advice. Now, I wanted to pass the same question back to Roger, to see if you have anything you want to share, any further advice for future contributors, or any particular areas you’re hoping to see more submissions to the journal? 

RW: Yeah, I’m not sure I have any particular areas that I’m either looking for or excluding.  

But I think what Scott said is following your passion, to explore things that may have been emphasized, and you see another angle that can be explored. Or if there’s some lapse, if you think something about a particular thinker that that you find opens up an area of thought or exploration. Now those are those are perfect areas to follow.  

The other thing I would highly recommend is if a scholar or someone who’s got an idea just wants to run an idea like, “Would you be interested in an essay on X or Y?” they should feel free to email me. I’m always glad to look at ideas like that and give some suggestions. Several projects where people have said, “We want to do a series of articles about this one particular thinker. Would you be interested in like an issue focused on it?” We’re always glad to consider those kinds of projects as well. 

Our goal at the at The Pluralist, of course, is to give a voice for the kind of thought that is really inhabiting this community. We’re open to however that thought is going at the time, whatever’s the focus. That’s what we want to find a way to organize, to bring to some kind of concrete expression, and then put it into a good publication. 

UIP: Excellent. Thank you. And speaking of those special focuses, I know there’s an upcoming special issue dedicated to Dr. Richard J. Bernstein, in honor of his life and legacy. What can you tell us about how the idea for this special issue was formed and what we can look expect to find in it? 

RW: Sure. This was an idea brought to me by Tara Mistrelli from Stony Brook. I think it was actually at an American Philosophy Conference where there were some people doing papers about Bernstein. So, we chatted, and she put together this idea of doing a special issue. From that, we developed a call for papers that went out. Dick Bernstein, for those of for those of the listeners who may not be aware, was a long-time professor of American Philosophy, and wrote a bunch of really significant books about what’s vital about the living character of pragmatism. These essays are dedicated to exploring that tradition. It’s a tremendous idea that came up in conversation, and we’re really looking forward to the issue. 

UIP: Thank you for that preview of the upcoming special issue. Well, with that, I think we’ll go ahead and wrap up today’s conversation. Roger, thank you so much for all of your on-going work as editor of the journal and leading us in this discussion today. 

RW: Thanks. That was really fun. 

UIP: Now, to our special guest, Scott, thank you so much for joining us and telling us about your work. 

SRS: Thanks, Michelle, and thanks Roger for helping me get the word out there through the journal. 

UIP: Scott’s latest article appears in Volume 19, Number 2, available in print and online now.  

And, a final thank you to you, our listeners, for listening in to learn about some of the recent research published in The Pluralist. I hope it inspires you to read more and perhaps consider submitting your own work for publication. To learn more about how to read online, subscribe to The Pluralist, or submit your work for consideration in a future issue, visit We even have a library request form online you can fill out to recommend this journal to your institutional or local public library. 

The Pluralist is part of a robust lineup of philosophy-related scholarship at the University of Illinois Press. Other journals in this area include American Journal of Theology and Philosophy, American Philosophical Quarterly, History of Philosophy Quarterly, Journal of Aesthetic Education, Process Studies, and Public Affairs Quarterly.  

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About Kristina Stonehill