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John Dewey

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John Dewey

John Dewey
Dewey seated
Dewey in 1902
Born (1859-10-20)October 20, 1859
Burlington, Vermont, United States
Died June 1, 1952(1952-06-01) (aged 92)
New York, United States
Alma mater University of Vermont,
Johns Hopkins University
Religion Western Philosophy
Era 20th-century philosophy
School Pragmatism
Main interests
Philosophy of education, Epistemology, Journalism, Ethics
Notable ideas
Reflective thinking[1]
American Association of University Professors
Immediate empiricism
Inquiry into Moscow show trials about Trotsky
Educational progressivism

John Dewey, FAA (; 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 is one of the primary figures associated with philosophy of pragmatism and is considered one of the founders of functional psychology. A well-known public intellectual, he was also a major voice of progressive education and liberalism.[2][3] Although Dewey is known best for his publications about education, he also wrote about many other topics, including epistemology, metaphysics, aesthetics, art, logic, social theory, and ethics.

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."[4]

Known for his advocacy of democracy, Dewey considered two fundamental elements—schools and civil society—to be major topics needing attention and reconstruction to encourage experimental 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 communication among citizens, experts, and politicians, with the latter being accountable for the policies they adopt.


  • Life and works 1
  • Visits to China and Japan 2
  • Functional psychology 3
  • Pragmatism and instrumentalism 4
    • Epistemology 4.1
  • Logic and method 5
    • Aesthetics 5.1
  • On Philanthropy, Women and Democracy 6
  • On education 7
  • On journalism 8
  • On humanism 9
  • Social and political activism 10
  • Other interests 11
  • Criticism 12
  • Academic awards 13
  • Honors 14
  • Publications 15
  • See also 16
  • References 17
  • Further reading 18
  • External links 19

Life and works

Dewey was born in Burlington, Vermont, to a family of modest means.[5] Dewey was one of four boys born to Archilbald Sprague Dewey and Lucina Artemisia Rich Dewey. The second born son and first John born to Archilbad and Lucina died in a tragic accident on January 17, 1859. On October 20, 1859 John Dewey was born, forty weeks after the death of his older brother. Like his older brother, Davis Rich Dewey, he attended the University of Vermont, from which he graduated (Phi Beta Kappa)[6] 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.[7][8]

After two years as a high-school teacher in Kant."

In 1894 Dewey joined the newly founded University of Chicago (1894–1904) where he developed his belief in Rational Empiricism, 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 Society (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.[9] In 1905 he became president of the American Philosophical Association. He was a longtime member of the American Federation of Teachers.

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."[10]

Dewey was first married to Alice Chipman. They had six children.[11] His second wife was Roberta Lowitz Grant.[12]

The United States Postal Service honored Dewey with a Prominent Americans series 30¢ postage stamp.

Visits to China and Japan

Photograph of John Dewey and Hu Shih, from 1938-1942.

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.[13]

In these two years, Dewey gave nearly 200 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 hailed him as "Second Confucius". 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.[14]

Their letters from China and Japan describing their experiences to their family were published in 1920, edited by their daughter Evelyn.[15]

Functional psychology

At the 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.[16]

While still professor of philosophy at Michigan, Dewey and his junior colleagues, 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 behavior 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,[17] 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.[18]

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.[19]

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, who had mostly British intellectual lineage, drawing particularly on empiricist and utilitarian ideas, and more pluralist and relativist than Dewey.[20] Dewey 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."[21]

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.[22]


The terminology problem in the fields of epistemology and logic is partially due, according to Dewey and Bentley,[23] to inefficient and imprecise use of words and concepts that reflect three historic levels of organization and presentation.[24] 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.[25]

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?[26]

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."[26]

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.
—(Qualitative Thought 1930)

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."[27]

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 (1934) is Dewey's major writing on aesthetics.

It is, in accordance with 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. In the original illustrated edition, Dewey drew on the modern art and world cultures collection assembled by Albert C. Barnes at the Barnes Foundation, whose own ideas on the application of art to one's way of life was influenced by Dewey's writing. Barnes was particularly influenced by "Democracy and Education" (1916) and then attended Dewey's seminar on political philosophy at Columbia University in the fall semester of 1918.

On Philanthropy, Women and Democracy

Dewey founded the University of Chicago laboratory school, supported educational organizations, and supported settlement houses especially Jane Addams’ Hull House. [28]

Through his work at the Hull House serving on its first board of trustees, Dewey was not only an activist for the cause but also a partner working to serve the large immigrant community of Chicago and women’s suffrage. Dewey experienced the lack of children’s education while contributing in the classroom at the Hull House and the lack of education and skills of immigrant women.[29] Stengel argues:

Addams is unquestionably a maker of democratic community and pragmatic education; Dewey is just as unquestionably a reflector. Through her work at Hull House, Addams discerned the shape of democracy as a mode of associated living and uncovered the outlines of an experimental approach to knowledge and understanding; Dewey analyzed and classified the social, psychological and educational processes Addams lived.[30]

His leading views on democracy included: “First, Dewey believed that democracy is an ethical ideal rather than merely a political arrangement. Second, he considered participation, not representation, the essence of democracy. Third, he insisted on the harmony between democracy and the scientific method: ever-expanding and self-critical communities of inquiry, operating on pragmatic principles and constantly revising their beliefs in light of new evidence, provided Dewey with a model for democratic decision making…Finally, Dewey called for extending democracy, conceived as an ethical project, from politics to industry and society”.[31] This helped to shape his understanding of human action and the unity of human experience.

Dewey believed that a woman’s place in society was determined by her environment and not just her biology. On women he says, “You think too much of women in terms of sex. Think of them as human individuals for a while, dropping out the sex qualification, and you won’t be so sure of some of your generalizations about what they should and shouldn’t do”.[32] John Dewey’s support helped to increase the support and popularity of Jane Addams’ Hull House and other settlement houses as well. With growing support, involvement of the community grew as well as the support for the women’s suffrage movement.

As commonly argued by Dewey’s greatest critics, he was not able to come up with strategies in order to fulfill his ideas that would lead to a successful democracy, educational system, and a successful women’s suffrage movement. While knowing that traditional beliefs, customs, and practices needed to be examined in order to find out what worked and what needed improved upon, it was never done in a systematic way.[33] “Dewey became increasingly aware of the obstacles presented by entrenched power and alert to the intricacy of the problems facing modern cultures”.[34] With the complex of society at the time, Dewey was criticized for his lack of effort in fixing the problems.

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, B. R. Ambedkar, who later went on to become one of the founding fathers of independent India.[35] T

On 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).[36] 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, pp. 217–218).[37] 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.[38]

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, Robert Creeley, and Paul Goodman, 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.

On journalism

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.[39]
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,[40] 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.

On humanism

As an atheist[41] and a secular humanist, Dewey participated with a variety of humanistic 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).[42]

His opinion of humanism is summarized 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"[43]

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,[44] and in 1940, together with Horace M Kallen, edited a series of articles related to the 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 Ford urging him to support the school.[46]

He directed the famous Dewey Commission held in Mexico in 1937, which cleared Leon Trotsky of the charges made against him by Joseph Stalin,[47] and marched for women's rights, among many other causes.

In 1939, John Dewey was elected President of the Students for a Democratic Society.[48]

In 1950, Dewey, false-front anti-communist advocacy group founded that year and funded by the CIA.

Other interests

Caricature of John Dewey.

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.)"[50]

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."[51]

As well as his contacts with people mentioned elsewhere in the article, he also maintained correspondence with George Santayana.


Dewey is considered the epitome of liberalism by many historians,[52][53] and sometimes was portrayed as "dangerously radical."[54] Meanwhile, Dewey was critiqued strongly by American communists because he argued against Stalinism and had philosophical differences with Marx, identifying himself as a democratic socialist.[55] On the other hand, some conservatives have called Dewey a Soviet apologist.[56][57]

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.[58] 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.

Academic awards



Besides publishing prolifically himself, Dewey also sat on the boards of scientific publications such as Sociometry (advisory board, 1942) and Journal of Social Psychology (editorial board, 1942), as well as having posts at other publications such as New Leader (contributing editor, 1949).

The following publications by John Dewey are referenced or mentioned in this article. A more complete list of his publications may be found at List of publications by John Dewey.

  • "The New Psychology" Andover Review, 2, 278–289 (1884)
  • Psychology (1887)
  • Leibniz's New Essays Concerning the Human Understanding (1888)
  • "The Ego as Cause" Philosophical Review, 3,337–341. (1894)
  • "The Reflex Arc Concept in Psychology" (1896)
  • "My Pedagogic Creed" (1897)
  • (1899)The School and Society
  • The Child and the Curriculum (1902)
  • "The Postulate of Immediate Empiricism" (1905)
  • Moral Principles in Education (1909) The Riverside Press Cambridge Project Gutenberg
  • How We Think (1910)
  • German Philosophy and Politics (1915)
  • Democracy and Education: an introduction to the philosophy of education (1916)
  • Reconstruction in Philosophy (1919)
  • Human Nature and Conduct: An Introduction to Social Psychology
  • China, Japan and the U.S.A. (1921)
  • Experience and Nature (1925)
  • The Public and its Problems (1927)
  • The Quest for Certainty Gifford Lectures (1929)
  • The Sources of a Science of Education (1929) The Kappa Delta Pi Lecture Series
  • Individualism Old and New (1930)
  • Philosophy and Civilization (1931)
  • Ethics, second edition (with James Hayden Tufts) (1932)
  • Art as Experience (1934)
  • A Common Faith (1934)
  • Liberalism and Social Action (1935)
  • Experience and Education (1938)
  • Logic: The Theory of Inquiry (1938)
  • Freedom and Culture (1939)
  • Theory of Valuation (1939). ISBN 0-226-57594-2
  • Knowing and the Known (1949)
  • Unmodern Philosophy and Modern Philosophy ISBN 0809330792 (Lost in 1947, finally published in 2012)[59]

See also

Dewey's Complete Writings is available in 3 multi-volume sets (37 volumes in all) from Southern Illinois University Press:

  • The Early Works: 1892–1898 (5 volumes)
  • The Middle Works: 1899–1924 (15 volumes)
  • The Later Works: 1925–1953 (17 volumes)
  • Posthumous Works: 1956–2009

The Collected Works of John Dewey: 1882–1953, The Correspondence of John Dewey 1871–1952, and The Lectures of John Dewey are available online via monographic purchase to academic institutions and via subscription to individuals, and also in TEI format for university servers. (The CD-ROM has been discontinued).

See also


  1. ^ John Dewey, How we think (1910), p. 9.
  2. ^ Alan Ryan, John Dewey and the High Tide of American Liberalism, (1995) p 32
  3. ^ Violas, Paul C.; Tozer, Steven; Senese, Guy B. School and Society: Historical and Contemporary Perspectives. McGraw-Hill Humanities/Social Sciences/Languages. p. 121.  
  4. ^ Early Works, 1:128 (Southern Illinois University Press) op cited in Douglas R. Anderson, AAR, The Journal of the American Academy of Religion, Vol. 61, No. 2 (1993), p. 383
  5. ^ Gutek, Gerald L. Historical and Philosophical Foundations of Education: A Biographical Introduction. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education Inc. p. 338.  
  6. ^ Who Belongs To Phi Beta Kappa, Phi Beta Kappa website, accessed Oct 4, 2009
  7. ^ Bowling Green State Universitybio of Dewey from
  8. ^ Louis Menand, The Metaphysical Club: A Story of Ideas in the United States. New York: Farrar, Staus and Giroux, 2002.
  9. ^ The New York Times edition of January 19, 1953, page 27
  10. ^ Hilda M. Neatby, So Little for the Mind (Toronto: Clarke Irwin & Co. Ltd., 1953), pp.22–23.
  11. ^ Biography at Muskingum College
  12. ^ InteLex Past Masters series
  13. ^ Jessica Ching-Sze Wang. John Dewey in China: To Teach and to Learn. Albany: State University of New York Press, Suny Series in Chinese Philosophy and Culture, 2007. ISBN 9780791472033 p. 3-5.
  14. ^ Wang, pp. 8–10, 13–14.
  15. ^ John Dewey, Harriet Alice Chipman Dewey Letters from China and Japan. New York,: E.P Dutton, 1920; rpr. Project Guttenberg
  16. ^ Field, Richard. John Dewey in The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Northwest Missouri State University – The University of Tennessee at Martin Retrieved 29 August 2008. 
  17. ^ Benjamin, L.T. (2003). "Why Can't Psychology Get a Stamp?". Journal of applied psychoanalytic studies 5 (4): 443–454. 
  18. ^ Brucato, G. & Hogan, J.D. (1999, Spring). "Psychologists on postage stamps" The General Psychologist, 34(1):65
  19. ^ Zeltner, Philip N.; John Dewey's Aesthetic Philosophy; p. 93 ISBN 90-6032-029-8
  20. ^ Good (2006). A Search for Unity in Diversity: The "Permanent Hegelian Deposit" in the Philosophy of John Dewey. Lexington Books.
  21. ^ A Common Faith, p. 42 (LW 9:29).
  22. ^ Religious Naturalism Today, page 44-52
  23. ^ John Dewey, Arthur Bentley, (1949). Knowing and the Known. Beacon Press, Boston.
  24. ^ John Dewey, Arthur Bentley, (1949). Knowing and the Known. Beacon Press, Boston, p107-109.
  25. ^ John Dewey, Arthur Bentley, (1949). Knowing and the Known. Beacon Press, Boston, p121-139.
  26. ^ a b "The Problem of Logical Subject Matter", in Logic: The Theory of Inquiry 1938
  27. ^ Louis Menand. The Metaphysical Club p. 313
  28. ^ Stengel, Barbara. [. "Dewey's Pragmatic Poet: Reconstructing Jane Addams's Philosophical Impact"]. Project Muse: 29-39. Retrieved November 30, 2014. 
  29. ^ Upin, Jane S. "“Charlotte Perkins Gilman”: Instrumentalism beyond Dewey:Hypatia". JSTOR 8 (2): 38–63. Retrieved November 30, 2014. 
  30. ^ Stengel, Barbara. [. "Dewey's Pragmatic Poet: Reconstructing Jane Addams's Philosophical Impact"]. Project Muse: 29-39. Retrieved November 30, 2014. 
  31. ^ Westbrook, Robert B. "John Dewey and American Democracy". JSTOR 97 (3): 919–920. Retrieved November 30, 2014. 
  32. ^ Upin, Jane S. "“Charlotte Perkins Gilman”: Instrumentalism beyond Dewey:Hypatia". JSTOR 8 (2): 38–63. Retrieved November 30, 2014. 
  33. ^ Upin, Jane S. "“Charlotte Perkins Gilman”: Instrumentalism beyond Dewey:Hypatia". JSTOR 8 (2): 38–63. Retrieved November 30, 2014. 
  34. ^ Westbrook, Robert B. "John Dewey and American Democracy". JSTOR 97 (3): 919–920. Retrieved November 30, 2014. 
  35. ^ Ambedkar, Bhimrao. Annihilation of castes. Critical Quest. p. 64.  
  36. ^ Dewey, J. (1902). The child and the curriculum. Retrieved from
  37. ^ Dewey, J. (2009). Democracy and education: An introduction to the philosophy of education. New York: WLC Books. (Original work published 1916)
  38. ^ Savery, J. R. (2006). Overview of Problem-based Learning: Definitions and Distinctions. Journal of Problem-based Learning, 1(1).
  39. ^ Dewey, J. 1927. The Public and its Problems. Henry Holt & Co., New York. pp 126.
  40. ^ John Corcoran . Conditions and Consequences. American Philosophy: an Encyclopedia. 2007. Eds. John Lachs and Robert Talisse. New York: Routledge. Pages 124–7.
  41. ^ A. G. Rud, Jim Garrison, Lynda Stone, ed. (2009). Dewey at One Hundred Fifty. Purdue University Press. p. 22.  
  42. ^ "John Dewey Chronology" 1934.04.08, 1936.03.12, 1940.09, and 1950.09.11.
  43. ^ Italics in the original. "What Humanism Means to Me," first published in Thinker 2 (June 1930): 9–12, as part of a series. Dewey: Page lw.5.266 [The Collected Works of John Dewey, 1882–1953, The Electronic Edition]
  44. ^ American Institute of Physics
  45. ^ Dewey, J. (1927) An Appreciation of Henry George
  46. ^ Dewey, J. (1939) A Letter to Henry Ford
  47. ^ "Dewey Commission Report"
  48. ^ The Cambridge Companion to Dewey, edited by Molly Cochran. Cambridge University Press, 2010. Page xvii.
  49. ^ "Origins of the Congress for Cultural Freedom, 1949–1950" CIA official web site
  50. ^ "Dewey's Political Philosophy" Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
  51. ^ F. M. Alexander Constructive Conscious Control of the Individual, E. P. Dutton & Co., 1923 ISBN 0-913111-11-2
  52. ^ Ryan, John Dewey and the high tide of American liberalism
  53. ^ William Paringer, John Dewey and the paradox of liberal reform (1990) p. 13
  54. ^ William R. Caspary, Dewey on Democracy. (2000)
  55. ^ Baird, Robert B Westbrook (1993). John Dewey and American Democracy. Cornell University Press.  
  56. ^ Daren Jonescu, "Dewey: Stalin's Propagandist, the World's Teacher" American Thinker. Retrieved 4 June 2013.
  57. ^
  58. ^ Stephen Rockefeller, John Dewey: Religious Faith and Democratic Humanism. (1994) p 13
  59. ^ Dewey worked on this book from 1939 before its loss in 1947. For a full account of this publication's history, see Philosophy Now magazine, here (link), accessed 3rd June 2014.

Further reading

  • Alexander, Thomas. John Dewey's Theory of Art, Experience, and Nature (1987) [1] SUNY Press
  • Bernstein, Richard J. John Dewey (1966) Washington Square Press.
  • Boisvert, Raymond. John Dewey: Rethinking Our Time. (1997) [2] SUNY Press
  • Campbell, James. .Understanding John Dewey: Nature and Cooperative Intelligence (1995) Open Court Publishing Company
  • Caspary, William R. Dewey on Democracy (2000). Cornell University Press.
  • Crick, Nathan. Democracy & Rhetoric: John Dewey on the Arts of Becoming (2010) University of South Carolina Press.
  • Fishman, Stephen M. and Lucille McCarthy. John Dewey and the Philosophy and Practice of Hope (2007). University of Illinois Press.
  • Garrison, Jim. Dewey and Eros: Wisdom and Desire in the Art of Teaching. Charlotte: Information Age Publishing, 2010. Original published 1997 by Teachers College Press.
  • Good, James (2006). A Search for Unity in Diversity: The "Permanent Hegelian Deposit" in the Philosophy of John Dewey. Lexington Books.  
  • Hickman, Larry A. John Dewey's Pragmatic Technology. (1992) Indiana University Press.
  • Hook, S. John Dewey: An Intellectual Portrait (1939)
  • Kannegiesser, H. J. "Knowledge and Science" (1977) The Macmillan Company of Australia PTY Ltd
  • Lamont, Corliss (ed., with the assistance of Mary Redmer). Dialogue on John Dewey. (1959) [3] New York: Horizon Press
  • Knoll, Michael (2014) Laboratory School, University of Chicago. In D. C. Phillips (ed) Encyclopaedia of Educational Theory and Philosophy, Vol. 2 (London: Sage), pp. 455–458.
  • Knoll, Michael (2014) John Dewey as Administrator: The Inglorious End of the Laboratory School in Chicago. Journal of Curriculum Studies, 50 pp.
  • Martin, Jay. The Education of John Dewey. (2003) [4] Columbia University Press
  • Morse, Donald J. Faith in Life: John Dewey's Early Philosophy. (2011) [5] Fordham University Press
  • Pappas, Gregory. John Dewey's Ethics: Democracy as Experience. (2008) Indiana University Press.
  • Pring, Richard (2007). John Dewey: Continuum Library of Educational Thought. Continuum.  
  • Popkewitz, Thomas S. (ed). Inventing the Modern Self and John Dewey: Modernities and the Traveling of Pragmatism in Education. (2005) New York: Palgrave Macmillan.
  • Putnam, Hilary. "Dewey's Logic: Epistemology as Hypothesis". In Words and Life, ed. James Conant. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1994.
  • Rockefeller, Stephen. John Dewey: Religious Faith and Democratic Humanism. (1994) [6] Columbia University Press
  • Rogers, Melvin. The Undiscovered Dewey: Religion, Morality, and the Ethos of Democracy (2008). Columbia University Press.[7]
  • Roth, Robert J. John Dewey and Self-Realization. (1962). Prentice Hall
  • William Allan Kritsonis, PhD - Philosophies of Education, Houston, Texas
  • Rorty, Richard. "Dewey's Metaphysics". In The Consequences of Pragmatism: Essays 1972–1980. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1982.
  • Rud, A. G., Garrison, Jim, and Stone, Lynda (eds.) John Dewey at 150: Reflections for a New Century. West Lafayette: Purdue University Press, 2009.
  • Ryan, Alan. John Dewey and the High Tide of American Liberalism. (1995) [8] W.W. Norton.
  • Seigfried, Charlene Haddock, (ed.). Feminist Interpretations of John Dewey (2001) [9] Pennsylvania State University Press
  • Shook, John. Dewey's Empirical Theory of Knowledge and Reality. (2000) [10] The Vanderbilt Library of American Philosophy
  • Sleeper, R.W. The Necessity of Pragmatism: John Dewey's Conception of Philosophy. Introduction by Tom Burke. (2001) [11] University of Illinois Press.
  • Talisse, Robert B. A Pragmatist Philosophy of Democracy (2007) Routledge
  • Westbrook, Robert B. John Dewey and American Democracy. (1991) [12] Cornell University Press. online edition, the standard scholarly biography
  • White, Morton. The Origin of Dewey's Instrumentalism. (1943). Columbia University Press.

External links

  • Center for Dewey Studies
    • John Dewey Papers, 1858–1970 at Southern Illinois University Carbondale, Special Collections Research Center
    • John Dewey Chronology at Southern Illinois University
  • John Dewey Society
  • Works by John Dewey at Project Gutenberg
  • John Dewey entry in the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy
Educational offices
Preceded by
Hugo Münsterberg
8th President of the American Psychological Association
Succeeded by
Joseph Jastrow
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