- Category : Philosopher
- Type : GP
- Profile : 1/3 - Investigating / Martyr
- Definition : Single
- Incarnation Cross : RAX Laws 3
John Dewey ; October 20, 1859 – June 1, 1952) was an American philosopher, psychologist and educational reformer whose ideas have been influential in education and social reform. Dewey was an important early developer of the philosophy of pragmatism and one of the founders of functional psychology. He was a major representative of progressive education and liberalism.
Although Dewey is known best for his publications concerning education, he also wrote about many other topics, including experience, nature, art, logic, inquiry, democracy, and ethics.
In his advocacy of democracy, Dewey considered two fundamental elements—schools and civil society—as being major topics needing attention and reconstruction to encourage experimental
Along with the historians Charles A. Beard and James Harvey Robinson, and the economist Thorstein Veblen, Dewey is one of the founders of The New School. Dewey's most significant writings were "The Reflex Arc Concept in Psychology" (1896), a critique of a standard psychological concept and the basis of all his further work; Democracy and Education (1916), his celebrated work on progressive education; Human Nature and Conduct (1922), a study of the function of habit in human behavior; The Public and its Problems (1927), a defense of democracy written in response to Walter Lippmann's The Phantom Public (1925); Experience and Nature (1925), Dewey's most "metaphysical" statement; Art as Experience (1934), Dewey's major work on aesthetics; A Common Faith (1934), a humanistic study of religion originally delivered as the Dwight H. Terry Lectureship at Yale; Logic: The Theory of Inquiry (1938), a statement of Dewey's unusual conception of logic; Freedom and Culture (1939), a political work examining the roots of fascism; and Knowing and the Known (1949), a book written in conjunction with Arthur F. Bentley that systematically outlines the concept of trans-action, which is central to his other works. While each of these works focuses on one particular philosophical theme, Dewey included his major themes in most of what he published. He published more than 700 articles in 140 journals, and approximately 40 books.
Reflecting his immense influence on 20th-century thought, Hilda Neatby, in 1953, wrote "Dewey has been to our age what Aristotle was to the later middle ages, not a philosopher, but the philosopher."
Dewey was first married to Alice Chipman. They had six children. His second wife was Roberta Lowitz Grant.
The United States Postal Service honored Dewey with a Prominent Americans series 30¢ postage stamp.
Visits to China and Japan
In 1919, while traveling in Japan on sabbatical leave, Dewey was invited by Peking University to visit China, probably at the behest of his former students, Hu Shi and Chiang Monlin. Dewey and his wife, Alice, arrived in Shanghai on May 1, 1919, just days before student demonstrators took to the streets of Peking to protest the decision of the Allies in Paris to cede the German held territories in Shandong province to Japan. Their demonstrations on May Fourth excited and energized Dewey, and he ended up staying in China for two years, leaving in July 1921.
In these two years Dewey gave nearly two hundred lectures to Chinese audiences and wrote nearly monthly articles for Americans in The New Republic and other magazines. Well aware of both Japanese expansionism into China and the attraction of Bolshevism to some Chinese, Dewey advocated that Americans support China's transformation and that Chinese base this transformation in education and social reforms, not revolution. Hundreds and sometimes thousands of people attended the lectures, which were interpreted by Hu Shi. For these audiences, Dewey represented "Mr. Democracy" and "Mr. Science," the two personifications which they thought of representing modern values and replacing "Mr. Confucius," the representative of failed traditional culture. Perhaps Dewey's biggest impact, however, was on the forces for progressive education in China, such as Hu Shi and Chiang Monlin, who had studied with him, and Tao Xingzhi, who had studied at Columbia School of Education.
Their letters from China and Japan describing their experiences to their family were published in 1920, edited by their daughter Evelyn.
At University of Michigan, Dewey published his first two books, Psychology (1887), and Leibniz's New Essays Concerning the Human Understanding (1888), both of which expressed Dewey's early commitment to British neo-Hegelianism. In Psychology, Dewey attempted a synthesis between idealism and experimental science.
While still professor of philosophy at Michigan, Dewey and his junior colleagues, James Hayden Tufts and George Herbert Mead, together with his student James Rowland Angell, all influenced strongly by the recent publication of William James' Principles of Psychology (1890), began to reformulate psychology, emphasizing the social environment on the activity of mind and behaviour rather than the physiological psychology of Wundt and his followers.
By 1894, Dewey had joined Tufts, with whom he would later write Ethics (1908), at the recently founded University of Chicago and invited Mead and Angell to follow him, the four men forming the basis of the so-called "Chicago group" of psychology.
Their new style of psychology, later dubbed functional psychology, had a practical emphasis on action and application. In Dewey's article "The Reflex Arc Concept in Psychology" which appeared in Psychological Review in 1896, he reasons against the traditional stimulus-response understanding of the reflex arc in favor of a "circular" account in which what serves as "stimulus" and what as "response" depends on how one considers the situation, and defends the unitary nature of the sensory motor circuit. While he does not deny the existence of stimulus, sensation, and response, he disagreed that they were separate, juxtaposed events happening like links in a chain. He developed the idea that there is a coordination by which the stimulation is enriched by the results of previous experiences. The response is modulated by sensorial experience.
Dewey was elected president of the American Psychological Association in 1899.
John Dewey's USA Stamp
In 1984, the American Psychological Association announced that Lillian Moller Gilbreth (1878–1972) had become the first psychologist to be commemorated on a United States postage stamp. However, psychologists Gary Brucato Jr. and John D. Hogan later made the case that this distinction actually belonged to John Dewey, who had been celebrated on an American stamp 17 years earlier. While some psychology historians consider Dewey more of a philosopher than a bona fide psychologist, the authors noted that Dewey was a founding member of the A.P.A., served as the A.P.A.'s eighth President in 1899, and was the author of an 1896 article on the reflex arc which is now considered a basis of American functional psychology.
Dewey also expressed interest in work in the psychology of visual perception performed by Dartmouth research professor Adelbert Ames, Jr. He had great trouble with listening, however, because it is known Dewey could not distinguish musical pitches - in other words was tone deaf.
Pragmatism and instrumentalism
Although Dewey referred to his philosophy as "instrumentalism" rather than pragmatism, he was one of the three major figures in American pragmatism, along with Charles Sanders Peirce, who invented the term, and William James, who popularized it. Dewey worked from strongly Hegelian influences, unlike James, whose intellectual lineage was primarily British, drawing particularly on empiricist and utilitarian ideas. Neither was Dewey so pluralist or relativist as James. He stated that value was a function not of whim nor purely of social construction, but a quality situated in events ("nature itself is wistful and pathetic, turbulent and passionate" — Experience and Nature).
James also stated that experimentation (social, cultural, technological, philosophical) could be used as an approximate arbiter of truth. For example he felt that, for many people who lacked "over-belief" of religious concepts, human life was superficial and rather uninteresting, and that while no one religious belief could be demonstrated as the correct one, we are all responsible for making a gamble on one or another theism, atheism, monism, etc. Dewey, in contrast, while honoring the important function that religious institutions and practices played in human life, rejected belief in any static ideal, such as a personal god. Dewey felt that only scientific method could reliably increase human good.
Of the idea of God, Dewey said, "it denotes the unity of all ideal ends arousing us to desire and actions."
As with the reemergence of progressive philosophy of education, Dewey's contributions to philosophy as such (he was, after all, much more a professional philosopher than an educator) have also reemerged with the reassessment of pragmatism, beginning in the late 1970s, by philosophers like Richard Rorty, Richard J. Bernstein and Hans Joas.
Because of his process-oriented and sociologically conscious opinion of the world and knowledge, his theory is considered sometimes as a useful alternative to both modern and postmodern theory. Dewey's non-foundational method pre-dates postmodernism by more than half a century. Recent exponents (like Rorty) have not always remained faithful to Dewey's original ideas, though this itself is completely consistent with Dewey's own usage of other writers and with his own philosophy— for Dewey, past doctrines always require reconstruction in order to remain useful for the present time.
Dewey's philosophy has had other names than "pragmatism". He has been called an instrumentalist, an experimentalist, an empiricist, a functionalist, and a naturalist. The term "transactional" may better describe his views, a term emphasized by Dewey in his later years to describe his theories of knowledge and experience. Religious historian Jerome A. Stone credits Dewey with contributing to the early thinking in the development of Religious Naturalism.
Knowing and the Known
The terminology problem in the fields of epistemology and logic is partially due, according to Dewey and Bentley, to inefficient and imprecise use of words and concepts that reflect three historic levels of organization and presentation. In the order of chronological appearance, these are:
Self-Action: Prescientific concepts regarded humans, animals, and things as possessing powers of their own which initiated or caused their actions.
Interaction: as described by Newton, where things, living and inorganic, are balanced against something in a system of interaction, for example, the third law of motion states that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.
Transaction: where modern systems of descriptions and naming are employed to deal with multiple aspects and phases of action without any attribution to ultimate, final, or independent entities, essences, or realities.
A series of characterizations of Transactions indicate the wide range of considerations involved.
Logic and method
Dewey sees paradox in contemporary logical theory. Proximate subject matter garners general agreement and advance, while the ultimate subject matter of logic generates unremitting controversy. In other words, he challenges confident logicians to answer the question of the truth of logical operators. Do they function merely as abstractions (e.g., pure mathematics) or do they connect in some essential way with their objects, and therefore alter or bring them to light?
Grave of Dewey and his wife in an alcove on the north side of the Ira Allen Chapel in Burlington, Vermont. The only grave on the University of Vermont campus
Logical positivism also figured in Dewey's thought. About the movement he wrote that it "eschews the use of 'propositions' and 'terms', substituting 'sentences' and 'words'." ("General Theory of Propositions", in Logic: The Theory of Inquiry) He welcomes this changing of referents "in as far as it fixes attention upon the symbolic structure and content of propositions." However, he registers a small complaint against the use of "sentence" and "words" in that without careful interpretation the act or process of transposition "narrows unduly the scope of symbols and language, since it is not customary to treat gestures and diagrams (maps, blueprints, etc.) as words or sentences." In other words, sentences and words, considered in isolation, do not disclose intent, which may be inferred or "adjudged only by means of context."
Yet Dewey was not entirely opposed to modern logical trends. Concerning traditional logic, he states:
"Aristotelian logic, which still passes current nominally, is a logic based upon the idea that qualitative objects are existential in the fullest sense. To retain logical principles based on this conception along with the acceptance of theories of existence and knowledge based on an opposite conception is not, to say the least, conductive to clearness – a consideration that has a good deal to do with existing dualism between traditional and the newer relational logics.
Louis Menand argues in The Metaphysical Club that Jane Addams had been critical of Dewey's emphasis on antagonism in the context of a discussion of the Pullman strike of 1894. In a later letter to his wife, Dewey confessed that Addams' argument was
"the most magnificent exhibition of intellectual & moral faith I ever saw. She converted me internally, but not really, I fear.... When you think that Miss Addams does not think this as a philosophy, but believes it in all her senses & muscles-- Great God... I guess I'll have to give it [all] up & start over again."
He went on to add,
"I can see that I have always been interpreting dialectic wrong end up, the unity as the reconciliation of opposites, instead of the opposites as the unity in its growth, and thus translated the physical tension into a moral thing... I don't know as I give the reality of this at all,... it seems so natural & commonplace now, but I never had anything take hold of me so."
In a letter to Addams herself, Dewey wrote, clearly influenced by his conversation with her:
"Not only is actual antagonizing bad, but the assumption that there is or may be antagonism is bad-- in fact, the real first antagonism always comes back to the assumption."
Art as Experience
Art as Experience (1934) is Dewey's major writing on aesthetics. It is, according to his place in the Pragmatist tradition that emphasizes community, a study of the individual art object as embedded in (and inextricable from) the experiences of a local culture. Dewey attempted to justify the idiosyncratic collection of modern art that was assembled by the wealthy Albert C. Barnes at the Barnes Foundation. See his Experience and Nature for an extended discussion of 'Experience' in Dewey's philosophy.
The overriding theme of Dewey's works was his profound belief in democracy, be it in politics, education or communication and journalism. As Dewey himself stated in 1888, while still at the University of Michigan, "Democracy and the one, ultimate, ethical ideal of humanity are to my mind synonymous."
With respect to technological developments in a democracy:
"Persons do not become a society by living in physical proximity any more than a man ceases to be socially influenced by being so many feet or miles removed from others"
—John Dewey from Andrew Feenberg's "Community in the Digital Age"
His work on democracy influenced one of his students, Dr Ambedkar, who later went on to become one of the founding fathers of independent India.
Democracy and Education
Dewey's educational theories were presented in My Pedagogic Creed (1897), The School and Society (1900), The Child and the Curriculum (1902), Democracy and Education (1916) and Experience and Education (1938). Throughout these writings, several recurrent themes ring true; Dewey continually argues that education and learning are social and interactive processes, and thus the school itself is a social institution through which social reform can and should take place. In addition, he believed that students thrive in an environment where they are allowed to experience and interact with the curriculum, and all students should have the opportunity to take part in their own learning.
The ideas of democracy and social reform are continually discussed in Dewey's writings on education. Dewey makes a strong case for the importance of education not only as a place to gain content knowledge, but also as a place to learn how to live. In his eyes, the purpose of education should not revolve around the acquisition of a pre-determined set of skills, but rather the realization of one's full potential and the ability to use those skills for the greater good. He notes that "to prepare him for the future life means to give him command of himself; it means so to train him that he will have the full and ready use of all his capacities" (My pedagogic creed, Dewey, 1897). In addition to helping students realize their full potential, Dewey goes on to acknowledge that education and schooling are instrumental in creating social change and reform. He notes that "education is a regulation of the process of coming to share in the social consciousness; and that the adjustment of individual activity on the basis of this social consciousness is the only sure method of social reconstruction".
In addition to his ideas regarding what education is and what effect it should have on society, Dewey also had specific notions regarding how education should take place within the classroom. In The Child and the Curriculum (1902), Dewey discusses two major conflicting schools of thought regarding educational pedagogy. The first is centered on the curriculum and focuses almost solely on the subject matter to be taught. Dewey argues that the major flaw in this methodology is the inactivity of the student; within this particular framework, "the child is simply the immature being who is to be matured; he is the superficial being who is to be deepened" (1902, p. 13). He argues that in order for education to be most effective, content must be presented in a way that allows the student to relate the information to prior experiences, thus deepening the connection with this new knowledge.
At the same time, Dewey was alarmed by many of the "child-centered" excesses of educational-school pedagogues who claimed to be his followers, and he argued that too much reliance on the child could be equally detrimental to the learning process. In this second school of thought, "we must take our stand with the child and our departure from him. It is he and not the subject-matter which determines both quality and quantity of learning" (Dewey, 1902, p. 13-14). According to Dewey, the potential flaw in this line of thinking is that it minimizes the importance of the content as well as the role of the teacher.
In order to rectify this dilemma, Dewey advocated for an educational structure that strikes a balance between delivering knowledge while also taking into account the interests and experiences of the student. He notes that "the child and the curriculum are simply two limits which define a single process. Just as two points define a straight line, so the present standpoint of the child and the facts and truths of studies define instruction" (Dewey, 1902, p. 16). It is through this reasoning that Dewey became one of the most famous proponents of hands-on learning or experiential education, which is related to, but not synonymous with experiential learning. He argued that "if knowledge comes from the impressions made upon us by natural objects, it is impossible to procure knowledge without the use of objects which impress the mind" (Dewey, 1916/2009, p. 217-218). Dewey's ideas went on to influence many other influential experiential models and advocates. Problem-Based Learning (PBL), for example, a method used widely in education today, incorporates Dewey's ideas pertaining to learning through active inquiry.
Dewey not only re-imagined the way that the learning process should take place, but also the role that the teacher should play within that process. According to Dewey, the teacher should not be one to stand at the front of the room doling out bits of information to be absorbed by passive students. Instead, the teacher's role should be that of facilitator and guide. As Dewey (1897) explains it:
The teacher is not in the school to impose certain ideas or to form certain habits in the child, but is there as a member of the community to select the influences which shall affect the child and to assist him in properly responding to these Thus the teacher becomes a partner in the learning process, guiding students to independently discover meaning within the subject area. This philosophy has become an increasingly popular idea within present-day teacher preparatory programs.
As well as his very active and direct involvement in setting up educational institutions such as the University of Chicago Laboratory Schools (1896) and The New School for Social Research (1919), many of Dewey's ideas influenced the founding of Bennington College and Goddard College in Vermont, where he served on the Board of Trustees. Dewey's works and philosophy also held great influence in the creation of the short-lived Black Mountain College in North Carolina, an experimental college focused on interdisciplinary study, and whose faculty included Buckminster Fuller, Willem de Kooning, Charles Olson, Franz Kline, Robert Duncan, and Robert Creeley, among others. Black Mountain College was the locus of the "Black Mountain Poets" a group of avant-garde poets closely linked with the Beat Generation and the San Francisco Renaissance.
The Public and its Problems
Since the mid-1980s, Deweyan ideas have experienced revival as a major source of inspiration for the public journalism movement. Dewey's definition of "public," as described in The Public and its Problems, has profound implications for the significance of journalism in society. As suggested by the title of the book, his concern was of the transactional relationship between publics and problems. Also implicit in its name, public journalism seeks to orient communication away from elite, corporate hegemony toward a civic public sphere. "The 'public' of public journalists is Dewey's public."
Dewey gives a concrete definition to the formation of a public. Publics are spontaneous groups of citizens who share the indirect effects of a particular action. Anyone affected by the indirect consequences of a specific action will automatically share a common interest in controlling those consequences, i.e., solving a common problem.
Since every action generates unintended consequences, publics continuously emerge, overlap, and disintegrate.
In The Public and its Problems, Dewey presents a rebuttal to Walter Lippmann's treatise on the role of journalism in democracy. Lippmann's model was a basic transmission model in which journalists took information given to them by experts and elites, repackaged that information in simple terms, and transmitted the information to the public, whose role was to react emotionally to the news. In his model, Lippmann supposed that the public was incapable of thought or action, and that all thought and action should be left to the experts and elites.
Dewey refutes this model by assuming that politics is the work and duty of each individual in the course of his daily routine. The knowledge needed to be involved in politics, in this model, was to be generated by the interaction of citizens, elites, experts, through the mediation and facilitation of journalism. In this model, not just the government is accountable, but the citizens, experts, and other actors as well.
Dewey also said that journalism should conform to this ideal by changing its emphasis from actions or happenings (choosing a winner of a given situation) to alternatives, choices, consequences, and conditions, in order to foster conversation and improve the generation of knowledge. Journalism would not just produce a static product that told what had already happened, but the news would be in a constant state of evolution as the public added value by generating knowledge. The "audience" would end, to be replaced by citizens and collaborators who would essentially be users, doing more with the news than simply reading it. Concerning his effort to change journalism, he wrote in The Public and its Problems: "Till the Great Society is converted in to a Great Community, the Public will remain in eclipse. Communication can alone create a great community" (Dewey, p. 142).
Dewey believed that communication creates a great community, and citizens who participate actively with public life contribute to that community. "The clear consciousness of a communal life, in all its implications, constitutes the idea of democracy." (The Public and its Problems, p. 149). This Great Community can only occur with "free and full intercommunication." (p. 211) Communication can be understood as journalism.
Dewey participated with a variety of humanist activities from the 1930s into the 1950s, which included sitting on the advisory board of Charles Francis Potter's First Humanist Society of New York (1929); being one of the original 34 signatories of the first Humanist Manifesto (1933) and being elected an honorary member of the Humanist Press Association (1936).
His opinion of humanism is best summarised in his own words from an article titled "What Humanism Means to Me", published in the June 1930 edition of Thinker 2:
"What Humanism means to me is an expansion, not a contraction, of human life, an expansion in which nature and the science of nature are made the willing servants of human good." — John Dewey, "What Humanism Means to Me"
Social and political activism
As a major advocate for academic freedom, in 1935 Dewey, together with Albert Einstein and Alvin Johnson, became a member of the United States section of the International League for Academic Freedom, and in 1940, together with Horace M Kallen, edited a series of articles related to the infamous Bertrand Russell Case.
As well as being active in defending the independence of teachers, and opposing a communist takeover of the New York Teachers' Union, Dewey was involved in the organization that eventually became the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).
He was an avid supporter of Henry George's proposal for taxing land values. Of George, he wrote, "No man, no graduate of a higher educational institution, has a right to regard himself as an educated man in social thought unless he has some first-hand acquaintance with the theoretical contribution of this great American thinker." As honorary president of the Henry George School of Social Science, he wrote a letter to Henry Ford urging him to support the school.
He directed the famous Dewey Commission held in Mexico in 1937, which cleared Leon Trotsky of the charges made against him by Joseph Stalin, and marched for women's rights, among many other causes.
In 1950, Dewey, Bertrand Russell, Benedetto Croce, Karl Jaspers, and Jacques Maritain agreed to act as honorary chairmen of the Congress for Cultural Freedom.
Dewey's interests and writings included many topics, and according to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, "a substantial part of his published output consisted of commentary on current domestic and international politics, and public statements on behalf of many causes. (He is probably the only philosopher in this encyclopedia to have published both on the Treaty of Versailles and on the value of displaying art in post offices.)"
In 1917, Dewey met F. M. Alexander in New York City and later wrote introductions to Alexander's Man's Supreme Inheritance (1918), Constructive Conscious Control of the Individual (1923) and The Use of the Self (1932). Alexander's influence is referenced in "Human Nature and Conduct" and "Experience and Nature."
As well as his contacts with people mentioned elsewhere in the article, he also maintained correspondence with Henri Bergson, William M. Brown, Martin Buber, George S. Counts, William Rainey Harper, Sidney Hook, and George Santayana.
Dewey is considered the epitome of liberalism by many historians, and sometimes was portrayed as "dangerously radical." Meanwhile, Dewey was critiqued strongly by American communists because he argued against Stalinism and had philosophical differences with Marx, despite identifying himself as a democratic socialist.
Historians have examined his religious beliefs. Biographer Steven C. Rockefeller, traced Dewey's democratic convictions to his childhood attendance at the Congregational Church, with its strong proclamation of social ideals and the Social Gospel. However, historian Edward A. White suggested in Science and Religion in American Thought (1952) that Dewey's work had led to the 20th century rift between religion and science.
intelligence and plurality. Dewey asserted that complete democracy was to be obtained not just by extending voting rights but also by ensuring that there exists a fully formed public opinion, accomplished by effective communication among citizens, experts, and politicians, with the latter being accountable for the policies they adopt.
Life and works
Dewey was born in Burlington, Vermont, to a family of modest means. Like his older brother, Davis Rich Dewey, he attended the University of Vermont, from which he graduated (Phi Beta Kappa) in 1879. A significant professor of Dewey's at the University of Vermont was Henry A. P. Torrey, the son-in-law and nephew of former University of Vermont president Joseph Torrey. Dewey studied privately with Torrey between his graduation from Vermont and his enrollment at Johns Hopkins University.
After two years as a high-school teacher in Oil City, Pennsylvania and one teaching elementary school in the small town of Charlotte, Vermont, Dewey decided that he was unsuited for employment in primary or secondary education. After studying with George Sylvester Morris, Charles Sanders Peirce, Herbert Baxter Adams, and G. Stanley Hall, Dewey received his Ph.D. from the School of Arts & Sciences at Johns Hopkins University. In 1884, he accepted a faculty position at the University of Michigan (1884–88 and 1889–94) with the help of George Sylvester Morris. His unpublished and now lost dissertation was titled "The Psychology of Kant."
In 1894 Dewey joined the newly founded University of Chicago (1894–1904) where he developed his belief in an empirically based theory of knowledge, becoming associated with the newly emerging Pragmatic philosophy. His time at the University of Chicago resulted in four essays collectively entitled Thought and its Subject-Matter, which was published with collected works from his colleagues at Chicago under the collective title Studies in Logical Theory (1903).
During that time Dewey also initiated the University of Chicago Laboratory Schools, where he was able to actualize the pedagogical beliefs that provided material for his first major work on education, The School and Social Progress (1899). Disagreements with the administration ultimately caused his resignation from the University, and soon thereafter he relocated near the East Coast. In 1899, Dewey was elected president of the American Psychological Association. From 1904 until his retirement in 1930 he was professor of philosophy at both Columbia University and Columbia University's Teachers College. In 1905 he became president of the American Philosophical Association. He was a longtime member of the American Federation of Teachers.