John Dewey

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Dewey, John,

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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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Dewey, John


Born Oct. 20, 1859, in Burlington, Vt.; died June 1, 1952, in New York. American idealist philosopher. One of the foremost representatives of pragmatism.

Dewey graduated from the University of Vermont in 1879. He was a professor at the universities of Michigan and Chicago as well as Columbia University (1904-30). Dewey developed a new variant of pragmatism—instrumentalism. He also worked out a pragmatic methodology in logic and a theory of knowledge. According to Dewey, the various types of human activity are essentially instruments, created by man in order to solve individual and social problems. Knowledge is treated by Dewey in the spirit of behaviorism, as a complex form of conduct and in the final analysis, as a means of struggling for biological survival. Truth is defined not as correspondence to objective reality but as practical effectiveness, or utility.

In addition to immutable truths, Dewey also rejected the existence of immutable ethical standards, declaring achievement and practical efficiency to be the criteria of morality. Like science, morality consists merely of technical, operative means of social maneuvering in any given interests. Having rejected the traditional forms of religion, Dewey replaced them with his own “naturalistic” or “humanistic” religion (a kind of bogostroitel’stvo [god-creating]). Dewey reduces the aesthetic to the sensory (“art is life”) and treats it as any expression of harmony or equilibrium between the organism and its environment.

As a social thinker Dewey argued as an ideologist of bourgeois liberalism and the “American way of life.” To the ideas of class conflict he juxtaposed the ideas of class cooperation and “meliorism”—that is, a gradual improvement of society. (Dewey assigned reforms in teaching a special place in this process.) The League for Independent Political Action, which Dewey headed, actively participated in anti-Soviet propaganda. During World War II (1939-45), Dewey argued from positions of bourgeois liberalism against the ideology of fascism, especially against the violence done to pedagogy by the Nazis.

The goal of Dewey’s theory of education is the formation of personalities that can “adapt themselves to various situations” under the bourgeois system of free enterprise. Critical of the prevailing type of school in the USA for its estrangement from life, as well as for the abstract, scholastic nature of instruction, Dewey proposed a reform of the entire school system. He opposed a school system based on the acquisition and assimilation of knowledge, advocating a teaching system that stressed “learning by doing,” so that all knowledge would be drawn from the child’s own activity and personal experience. In the schools that operated according to Dewey’s system there was no rigid program with a sequential system of subjects to be studied. Instead, the only subjects studied were those that might find practical use in the pupils’ life experiences. Dewey was the ideologist of the so-called pedocentric theory and method of instruction, in accordance with which the decisive and guiding role of the teacher in the processes of instruction and upbringing is diminished, and teaching is reduced to guiding the pupils’ own activity and arousing their curiosity. Dewey’s method assigns an excessively important place to games, improvisation, field trips, amateur art activity, and housekeeping, as well as to work. To the concept of disciplining pupils, Dewey contrasted and advocated the development of their individuality.

Dewey paid special attention to evoking loyalty to bourgeois democracy among children. He assigned great importance to the role of the family in upbringing and to drawing parents into the task of implementing the teaching process. With this goal in mind, he organized the Parent-Teacher Association.

Dewey’s pedagogical ideas have had great influence on the general character of teaching and education in schools in the USA and certain other countries, in particular, Soviet schools of the 1920’s. This influence was reflected in the so-called multiple programs and the problem-solving method, which were applied during the 1920’s. Dewey made several trips to various countries (China, Japan, Mexico, Great Britain, and Turkey) in order to disseminate his pedagogical ideas, and in 1928 he visited the USSR.


Reconstruction in Philosophy. New York, 1920.
Ideals, Aims, and Methods of Education. London, 1922.
Experience and Nature. Chicago-London, 1925.
The Quest for Certainty. New York, 1929.
Human Nature and Conduct. New York, 1930.
Individualism Old and New. London, 1931.
Art as Experience. New York, 1934.
Democracy and Education, New York, 1934.
Logic: The Theory of Inquiry. New York, 1938.
Experience and Education. New York, 1948.
In Russian translation:
Psikhologiia i pedagogika myshleniia, 2nd ed. Berlin, 1922.
Vvedenie v filosofiiu vospitaniia. Moscow, 1921.
Shkoly budushchego. Moscow, 1922.
Shkola i rebenok, 2nd ed. Moscow-Petrograd, 1925.
Shkola i obshchestvo. Moscow, 1925.


Crosser, P. Nigilizm Dzh. D’iui. Moscow, 1958. (Translated from English.)
Bogomolov, A. Anglo-amerikanskaia burzhuaznaia filosofiia. Moscow, 1964.
Hill, T. I. Sovremennye teoriipoznaniia. Moscow, 1965. (Translated from English.)
Geiger, G. R. J. Dewey in Perspective. New York, 1958.
Deledalle,G. L’Idée d’expérience dans la philosophic de J. Dewey. [Paris, 1966.]
Bernstein, R. J. J. Dewey. New York, 1967.
Somjee, A. H. The Political Theory of J. Dewey. New York [1968].
Caparède, E. La Pédagogic de J. Dewey. Neuchátel-Paris, 1913.
Rippe, F. Die Padagogik J. Deweys … . [No place] 1934.
Smith, M. J. Dewey and Moral Education. Washington, D. C., 1939.
Schilpp, P. A. The Philosophy of J. Dewey. Evanston-Chicago, 1939.
Thomas, M. H. J. Dewey: A Centennial Bibliography. Chicago, 1962.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.

Dewey, John

(1859–1952) philosopher, psychologist, educator; born in Burlington, Vt. After graduating from the University of Vermont, he taught high school before taking his Ph.D. at Johns Hopkins. He taught philosophy at the Universities of Minnesota and Michigan and gained some reputation for his book Psychology (1887) before going to the University of Chicago (1894–1904) where in 1896 he established a Laboratory School to put his educational theories into practice. His best known innovation was what he called learning by "directed living," with an emphasis on workshop-type projects so that learning was combined with concrete activity and practical relevance. Although not really the first to promote this kind of schooling, he would long be regarded by Americans as the father of progressive education. After a falling-out with the Chicago administration, he went to Columbia University as professor of philosophy (1904–30). He was by this time gaining a reputation as one of the leading exponents of pragmatism, the school of philosophy that stresses the practical application of ideas. At Columbia, he helped move its Teachers College into the forefront of American education by imbuing several generations of educators with his theories of progressive education and pragmatism. When it came to staking out positions on political and international affairs, he did not always make predictable choices, supporting progressive and socialist candidates, then opposing President Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal; he was always opposed to Marxism and communism, however, and he never abandoned his faith in the individual and democracy. As an author of numerous books (The School and Society (1899), Experience and Nature (1925), Experience and Education (1938), Freedom and Culture (1939)), as an advisor to various countries' educational systems, as an officer of various professional societies, and as an intellectual consulted and quoted on a wide range of issues, he played a role in public life that few philosophers in American history have known.
The Cambridge Dictionary of American Biography, by John S. Bowman. Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1995. Reproduced with permission.
References in periodicals archive ?
Dewey, John (1916), Democracy and Education, New York: The Macmillan Company.