A History of Philosophy in America, 1720-2000

By Bruce Kuklick | Go to book overview

10 Instrumentalism in Chicago and New York, 1903-1934

Philosophy in Chicago

After receiving his doctorate from Hopkins in 1884, Dewey spent the next ten years teaching almost entirely at the University of Michigan, becoming head of Philosophy after the early death of his mentor, G. S. Morris. In 1894 he left for a more prestigious position at the new University of Chicago. During his years at Chicago, his well-known instrumentalism emerged from his experimental idealism, as Dewey participated in the urban movements of the late nineteenth century.

He changed his practical focus from the religious to the political. His reformism of the 1890s first benefited from the ideas of the Social Gospel ministry that had influenced intellectual life at the end of the century. For the Social Gospelers, God was immanent in culture, and humanity was redeemable through social progress. Improved institutions would realize the Christian ideals of unity and brotherhood and usher in the Kingdom of God on earth. Teleological evolutionary change and not God's arbitrary will achieved salvation. Consequently, saving individual souls could not exhaust the work of the church. Instead, it should strive to reconstruct the social order, the conditions of spiritual and material growth. Politics and religion were inseparable for the Social Gospelers. Reform, which would result in a spiritually infused political life, had to galvanize the pulpit. The life of the spirit would be social, and culture religious.

The Social Gospel movement desired to preserve effective church institutions while the ethnic composition of cities was radically changing. Religion, prominent churchmen believed, had to attract the growing industrial class. Because American Protestantism could not influence immigrant Catholics and Jews, maintaining the allegiance of the non-immigrant workforce became even more crucial for the churches. To achieve this aim the ministry had to respond to socioeconomic problems of Protestant workers. Protestant thinkers, whether Social Gospelers or not, also believed that the common Protestant heritage allowed the church to

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