Dewey, John

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.

Dewey, John

John Dewey, 1859–1952, American philosopher and educator, b. Burlington, Vt., grad. Univ. of Vermont, 1879, Ph.D. Johns Hopkins, 1884. He taught at the universities of Minnesota (1888–89), Michigan (1884–88, 1889–94), and Chicago (1894–1904) and at Columbia from 1904 until his retirement in 1930. His foreign consultancies included two stints at the Univ. of Beijing and a report on the reorganization of the schools of Turkey.

Dewey's original philosophy, called instrumentalism, bears a relationship to the utilitarian and pragmatic schools of thought. Instrumentalism holds that the various modes and forms of human activity are instruments developed by human beings to solve multiple individual and social problems. Since the problems are constantly changing, the instruments for dealing with them must also change. Truth, evolutionary in nature, partakes of no transcendental or eternal reality and is based on experience that can be tested and shared by all who investigate. Dewey conceived of democracy as a primary ethical value, and he did much to formulate working principles for a democratic and industrial society.

In education his influence has been a leading factor in the abandonment of authoritarian methods and in the growing emphasis upon learning through experimentation and practice. In revolt against abstract learning, Dewey considered education as a tool that would enable the citizen to integrate culture and vocation effectively and usefully. Dewey actively participated in movements to forward social welfare and woman's suffrage, protect academic freedom, and effect political reform.

Among his writings, which are concerned with almost all philosophical fields except metaphysics, are Psychology (1887), The School and Society (1899; rev. ed. 1915), Ethics (with James H. Tufts, 1908), Democracy and Education (1916), Reconstruction in Philosophy (1920), Human Nature and Conduct (1922), Experience and Nature (1925), The Public and Its Problems (1927), The Quest for Certainty (1929), Philosophy and Civilization (1932), A Common Faith (1934), Art as Experience (1934), Liberalism and Social Action (1935), Experience and Education (1938), Logic: The Theory of Inquiry (1938), Freedom and Culture (1939), and Problems of Men (1946).

See J. A. Boydston and K. Poulos, ed., Checklist of Writings about John Dewey, 1887–1977 (1978) and B. Levine, Works about John Dewey, 1886–1995 (1996); G. Dykhuizen, The Life and Mind of John Dewey (1973); J. J. McDermott, ed., Philosophy of John Dewey (2 vol., 1981); biographies by S. C. Rockefeller (1991), R. B. Westbrook (1991), A. Ryan (1995), and J. Martin (2002); studies by G. R. Geiger (1958, repr. 1974), A. Wirth (1966, repr. 1979), F. F. Cruz (1988), L. A. Hickman (1990), H. Cuffaro (1994), and A. Ryan (1996).

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