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).
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
See more Encyclopedia articles on: Philosophy: Biographies
Browse by Subject
- Earth and the Environment +-
- History +-
- Literature and the Arts +-
- Medicine +-
- People +-
- Philosophy and Religion +-
- Places +-
- Australia and Oceania
- Britain, Ireland, France, and the Low Countries
- Commonwealth of Independent States and the Baltic Nations
- Germany, Scandinavia, and Central Europe
- Latin America and the Caribbean
- Oceans, Continents, and Polar Regions
- Spain, Portugal, Italy, Greece, and the Balkans
- United States, Canada, and Greenland
- Plants and Animals +-
- Science and Technology +-
- Social Sciences and the Law +-
- Sports and Everyday Life +-