John Dewey

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A society which is mobile, which is full of channels for the distribution of a change occurring anywhere, must see to it that its members are educated to personal initiative and adaptability. Otherwise, they will be overwhelmed by the changes in which they are caught and whose significance or connections they do not perceive.

John Dewey (October 20 1859June 1 1952) was an American philosopher, psychologist and educational reformer. A major figure in the Pragmatist school of American philosophy, his work has been widely influential in a wide range of fields.

See also:
Democracy and Education (1916)

Misc. Quotes[edit]

Every thinker puts some portion of an apparently stable world in peril and no one can wholly predict what will emerge in its place.
Every great advance in science has issued from a new audacity of imagination.
  • We have to a considerable extent, given up thinking of this life as merely a preparation for another life. Very largely, however, we think of some parts of this life as merely preparatory to other later stages of it. It is so very largely as to the process of education; and if I were asked to name the most needed of all reforms in the spirit of education, I should say: 'Cease conceiving of education as mere preparation for later life, and make it the full meaning of the present life.' And to add that only in this case does it become truly a preparation for after life is not the paradox it seems. An activity which does not have worth enough to be carried on for its own sake cannot be very effective as a preparation for something else. By making the present activity the expression of the full meaning of the case, that activity is, indeed, an end in itself, not a mere means to something beyond itself; but, in being a totality, it is also the condition of all future integral action. It forms the habit of requiring that every act be an outlet of the whole self, and it provides the instruments of such complete functioning.
    • Self-Realization as the Moral Ideal (1893)
  • It is no accident that all democracies have put a high estimate upon education; that schooling has been their first care and enduring charge. Only through education can equality of opportunity be anything more than a phrase. Accidental inequalities of birth, wealth, and learning are always tending to restrict the opportunities of some as compared with those of others. Only free and continued education can counteract those forces which are always at work to restore, in however changed a form, feudal oligarchy. Democracy has to be born anew every generation, and education is its midwife.
    • The Need of an Industrial Education in an Industrial Democracy (1916)
  • Every thinker puts some portion of an apparently stable world in peril and no one can wholly predict what will emerge in its place.
    • Experience and Nature (1925), Ch. VI: Nature, Mind and the Subject
  • Every great advance in science has issued from a new audacity of imagination.
    • The Quest for Certainty (1929), Ch. XI
  • As long as politics is the shadow cast on society by big business, the attenuation of the shadow will not change the substance.
    • Quoted in John Dewey and American Democracy by Robert Westbrook (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1991), p. 440; cited in Understanding Power (2002) by Noam Chomsky, ch. 9, footnote 16; originally from "The Need for a New Party" (1931) by John Dewey, Later Works 6, p. 163. (Via Westbrook.)
  • This intelligence-testing business reminds me of the way they used to weigh hogs in Texas. They would get a long plank, put it over a cross-bar, and somehow tie the hog on one end of the plank. They'd search all around till they found a stone that would balance the weight of the hog and they'd put that on the other end of the plank. Then they'd guess the weight of the stone.

Quotes from Art as Experience (1934)[edit]

"The difference between the artificial the artful in the artistic lies on the surface in the former there is a split between what is overly done and what is intended. The appearance is one of cordiality; the intent is that of gaining favor. Whenever this split between what is done and its purpose exists, there is insincerity, a trick, a simulation of an act that intrinsically has another effect. When the natural and the cultivated blend into one, acts of social intercourse are works of art. The animating impulsion of genial friendship and the deed performed completely coincide without intrusion of ulterior motive. Awkwardness may prevent adequacy of expression."

"If one examines the reason why certain works of art offend us, one is likely to find that the cause is that there is no personally felt emotion guiding the selecting the assembling of the materials presented. We derive the impression that the artist, say the author of a novel, is trying to regulate by conscious intent the nature of the emotion aroused. We are irritated by a feeling that he is manipulating materials to secure an effect decided upon in advance. The facets of the work, the variety so indispensable to it, are held together by some external force. The movement of the parts and the conclusion disclose no logical necessity. The author, not the subject matter, is the arbiter.

In reading a novel, even one written by an expert craftsman, one may get a feeling early in the story that hero or heroine is doomed, doomed not by anything inherent in situations and character but by the intent of the author who makes the character but by the intent of the author who makes the character a puppet to set forth his own cherished idea. The painful feeling that results is resented not because it is painful but because it is foisted upon us by something that we feel comes from outside the movement of the subject matter. A work may be much more tragic and yet leave us with an emotion of fulfillment instead of irritation. We are reconciled to the conclusion because we feel it is inherent in te movement of the subject matter portrayed. The incident is tragic but the wolrd in which such fateful things happen is not an arbitrary and imposed world. The emotion of the author and that aroused in us are occasioned by scenes in that world and they blend with subject matter. It is for similar reasons that we are repelled by the intrusion of a moral design in literature while we esthetically accept any amount of moral content if it is held together by a sincere emotion that controls the material. A white flame of pity or indignation may find material that feeds it and it may fuse everything assembled into a vital whole." -- pg 71

"Just because emotion is essential to that act of expression which produces a work of art, it is easy for inaccurate analysis to misconceive its mode of operation and conclude that the work of art has emotion for its significant content. One may cry out with joy or even weep upon seeing a friend from whom one has been long separated. The outcome is not an expressive object -- save to the onlooker. But if the emotion leads one to gather material that is affiliated to the mood which is aroused, a poem may result. In the direct outburst, an objective situation is the stimulus, the cause, of the emotion. In the poem, objective material becomes the content and matter of the emotion, not just its evocative occasion." -- pg 71-72

"In the development of an expressive act, the emotion operates like a magnet drawing to itself appropriate material: appropriate because it has an experienced emotional affinity for the state of mind already moving. Selection and organization of material are at once a function and a test of the quality of the emotion experienced. In seeing a drama, beholding a picture, or reading a novel, we may feel that the parts do not hang together. Either the maker had no experience that was emotionally toned, or, although having at the outset a felt emotion, it was not sustained, and a succession of unrelated emotions dictated the work. In the latter case, attention wavered and shifted, and an assemblage of incongruous parts ensued. The sensitive observer or reader is aware of junctions and seams, of holes arbitrarily filled in. Yes, emotion must operate. But it works to effect continuity of movement, singleness of effect amid variety. It is selective of material and directive of its order and arrangement. But it is not what is expressed. Without emotion, there may be craftsmanship, but not art; it may be present and be intense, but if it is directly manifested the result is also not art." -- pg 72

"The determination of the mot juste, of the right incident in the right place, of exquisiteness of proportion, of the precise tone, hue, and shade that helps unify the whole while it defines a part, is accomplished by emotion. Not every emotion, however, can do this work, but only one informed by material that is grasped and gathered. Emotion is informed and carried forward when it is spent indirectly in search for material and in giving it order, not when it is directly expended." -- pg 73

"I do not think that the dancing and singing of even little children can be explained wholly on the basis of unlearned and unformed responses to then existing objective conditions. Clearly there must be something in the present to evoke happiness. But the act is expressive only a there is in it a unison of something stored from past experience, something therefore generalized, with present conditions. In the case of expressions of happy children the marriage of past values and present incidents takes place easily; there are few obstructions to be overcome, few wounds to heal, few conflicts to resolve. With maturer persons, the reverse is the case. Accordingly the achievement of complete unison is rare; but when it occurs it is so on a deeper level and with a fuller content of meaning. And then, even though after long incubation and after precedent pangs of labor, the final expression may issue with the spontaneity of the cadenced speech or rhythmic movement of happy childhood." 74

Democracy and Education (1916)[edit]

Experience and Nature (1925)[edit]

  • A philosophy has no private store of knowledge or methods for attaining truth, so it has no private access to good. As it accepts knowledge and principles from those competent in science and inquiry, it accepts the goods that are diffused in human experience. It has no Mosaic or Pauline authority of revelation entrusted to it. But it has the authority of intelligence, of criticism of these common and natural goods.
  • p. 407–8 cited in: Hilary Putnam (2008) "Pragmatism and nonscientific knowledge" James Conant, Urszula M. Zeglen (2012) Hilary Putnam: Pragmatism and Realism. p. 21

Logic: Theory of Inquiry (1938)[edit]

  • It is a familiar and significant saying that a problem well put is half-solved.
    • “The Pattern of Inquiry” from Logic: Theory of Inquiry

Time and Individuality (1940)[edit]

  • ...classic philosophy maintained that change, and consequently time, are marks of inferior reality, holding that true and ultimate reality is immutable and eternal. Human reasons, all too human, have given birth to the idea that over and beyond the lower realm of things that shift like the sands on the seashore there is the kingdom of the unchanging, of the complete, the perfect. The grounds for the belief are couched in the technical language of philosophy, but the grounds for the cause is the heart's desire for surcease from change, struggle, and uncertainty. The eternal and immutable is the consummation of mortal man's quest for certainty.
  • The rise of new science in the seventeenth century laid hold upon general culture in the next century. The enlightenment... testified to the widespread belief that at last light had dawned, that dissipation of ignorance, superstition, and bigotry was at hand, and the triumph of reason was assured -- for reason was counterpart in man of the laws of nature which science was disclosing. The reign of law in the natural world was to be followed by the reign of law in human affairs.
  • In the late eighteenth and the greater part of the nineteenth centuries appeared the first marked cultural shift in the attitude taken toward change. Under the names of indefinite perfectibility, progress, and evolution, the movement of things in the universe itself and of the universe as a whole began to take on a beneficent instead of hateful aspect.
  • This new philosophy, however, was far from giving the temporal an inherent position and function in the constitution of things. Change was acting on the side of man but only because of fixed laws which governed the changes that take place. There was hope in change just because the laws that govern it do not change.
  • Not til the late nineteenth century was the doctrine of the subordination of time and change seriously challenged. Bergson and William James, animated by different motives and proceeding by different methods, then installed change at the very heart of things. Bergson took his stand on the primacy of life and consciousness, which are notoriously in a state of flux. He assimilated that which is completely real in the natural world to them, conceiving the static as that which life leaves behind as a deposit as it moves on. From this point of view he criticized mechanistic and teleological theories on the ground that both are guilty of the same error, although from opposite points. Fixed laws which govern change and fixed ends toward which changes tend are both the products of a backward look, one that ignores the forward movement of life. They apply only to that which life has produced and has then left behind in its ongoing vital creative course, a course whose behavior and outcome are unpredictable both mechanistically and from the standpoint of ends.
  • The intellect is at home in that which is fixed only because it is done and over with, for intellect is itself just as much a deposit of past life as is the matter to which it is congenial. Intuition alone articulates in the forward thrust of life and alone lays hold of reality.
  • The animating purpose of James was, on the other hand, primarily moral and artistic. It is expressed in his phrase, "block universe," employed as a term of adverse criticism. Mechanism and idealism were abhorrent to him because they both hold to a closed universe in which there is no room for novelty and adventure. Both sacrifice individuality and all the values, moral and aesthetic, which hang upon individuality; for according to absolute idealism, as to mechanistic materialism, the individual is simply a part determined by the whole of which he is a part. Only a philosophy of pluralism, of genuine indetermination, and of change which is real and intrinsic gives significance to individuality. It alone justifies struggle in creative activity and gives opportunity for the emergence of the genuinely new.
  • When we come to inanimate elements, the prevailing view has been that time and sequential change are entirely foreign to their nature. According to this view they do not have careers; they simply change their relations is space. We have only to think of the classic conception of atoms. The Newtonian atom, for example, moved and was moved, thus changing its position in space, but it was unchangeable in its own being. ...In itself it was like a God, the same yesterday, today, and forever.
  • The discovery that mass changes with velocity, a discovery made when minute bodies came under consideration, finally forced surrender of the notion that mass is a fixed and inalienable possession of ultimate elements or individuals, so that time is now considered to be their fourth dimension.
  • It may be remarked incidentally that the recognition of the relational character of scientific objects completely eliminates an old metaphysical issue. One of the outstanding problems created by the rise of modern science was due to the fact that scientific definitions and descriptions are framed in terms of which qualities play no part. Qualities were wholly superfluous. As long as the idea persisted (an inheritance from Greek metaphysical science) that the business of knowledge is to penetrate into the inner being of objects, the existence of qualities like colors, sounds, etc., was embarrassing. The usual way of dealing with them is to declare that they are merely subjective, existing only in the consciousness of individual knowers. Given the old idea that the purpose of knowledge (represented at its best in science) is to penetrate into the heart of reality and reveal its "true" nature, the conclusion was a logical one. ...The discovery of the nonscientific because of the empirically unverifiable and unnecessary character of absolute space, absolute motion, and absolute time gave the final coup de grâce to the traditional idea that solidity, mass, size, etc., are inherent possessions of ultimate individuals.
  • The revolution in scientific ideas just mentioned is primarily logical. It is due to recognition that the very method of physical science, with its primary standard units of mass, space, and time, is concerned with measurements of relations of change, not with individuals as such.
  • This idea is that laws which purport to be statements of what actually occurs are statistical in character as distinct from so-called dynamic laws that are abstract and mathematical, and disguised definitions. Recognition of the statistical nature of physical laws was first effected in the case of gases when it became evident that generalizations regarding the behavior of swarms of molecules were not descriptions or predictions of the behavior of any individual particle. A single molecule is not and cannot be a gas. It is consequently absurd to suppose that a scientific law is about the elementary constituents of a gas. It is a statement of what happens when a large number of such constituents interact with one another under certain conditions.
  • The application of scientific formulations of the principle of probability statistically determined is thus a logical corollary of the principle already stated, that the subject matter of scientific findings is relational, not individual. It is for this reason that it is safe to predict the ultimate triumph of the statistical doctrine.
  • Classical science was based upon the belief that it is possible to formulate both the position and velocity at one time of any given particle. It followed that knowledge of the position and velocity of a given number of particles would enable the future behavior of the whole collection to be accurately predicted. The principle of Heisenberg is that given the determination of position, its velocity can be stated only as of a certain order of probability, while if its velocity is determined the correlative factor of position can be stated only as of a certain order of probability. Both cannot be determined at once, from which it follows necessarily that the future of the whole collection cannot possibly be foretold except in terms of some order of probability.
  • The utmost possible regarding an individual is a statement as to some order of probability about the future. Heisenberg's principle has been seized upon as a basis for wild statements to the effect that the doctrine of arbitrary free will and totally uncaused activity are now scientifically substantiated. Its actual force and significance is generalization of the idea that the individual is a temporal career whose future cannot logically be deduced from its past.
  • Individuality, conceived as a temporal development involves uncertainty, indeterminacy, or contingency. Individuality is the source of whatever is unpredictable in the world.
  • But the individual butterfly or earthquake remains just the unique existence which it is. We forget in explaining its occurrence that it is only the occurrence that is explained, not the thing itself.
  • The mystery is that the world is at it is -- a mystery that is the source of all joy and all sorrow, of all hope and fear, and the source of development both creative and degenerative. The contingency of all into which time enters is the source of pathos, comedy, and tragedy.
  • Genuine time, if it exists as anything else except the measure of motions in space, is all one with the existence of individuals as individuals, with the creative, with the occurrence of unpredictable novelties. Everything that can be said contrary to this conclusion is but a reminder that an individual may lose his individuality, for individuals become imprisoned in routine and fall to the level of mechanisms. Genuine time then ceases to be an integral element of their being. Our behavior becomes predictable, because it is but an external rearrangement of what went before.
  • Surrender of individuality by the many to someone who is taken to be a superindividual explains the retrograde movement of society. Dictatorships and totalitarian states, and belief in the inevitability of this or that result coming to pass are, strange as it may sound, ways of denying the reality of time and the creativeness of the individual.
  • Freedom of thought and of expression are not mere rights to be claimed. They have their roots deep in the existence of individuals as developing careers in time. Their denial and abrogation is an abdication of individuality and a virtual rejection of time as opportunity.
  • The ground of democratic ideas and practices is faith in the potentialities of individuals, faith in the capacity for positive developments if proper conditions are provided. The weakness of the philosophy originally advanced to justify the democratic movement was that it took individuality to be something given ready-made, that is, in abstraction from time, instead of as a power to develop.
  • The other conclusion is that art is the complement of science. Science as I have said is concerned wholly with relations, not with individuals. Art, on the other hand, is not only the disclosure of the individuality of the artist but also a manifestation of individuality as creative of the future, in an unprecedented response to conditions as they were in the past. Some artists in their vision of what might be, but is not, have been conscious rebels. But conscious protest and revolt is not the form which the labor of the artist in creation of the future must necessarily take. Discontent with things as they are is normally the expression of the vision of what may be and is not, art in being the manifestation of individuality is this prophetic vision.
  • To regiment artists, to make them servants of some particular cause does violence to the very springs of artistic creation. But it does more than that. It betrays the very cause of a better future it would serve, for in its subjugation of the individuality of the artist it annihilates the source of that which is genuinely new. Where the regimentation is successful, it would cause the future to be but a rearrangement of the past.
  • The artist in realizing his own individuality reveals potentialities hitherto unrealized. The revelation is the inspiration of other individuals to make the potentialities real, for it is not sheer revolt against things as they are which stirs human endeavor to its depth, but vision of what might be and is not. Subordination of the artists to any special cause no matter how worthy does violence not only to the artist but to the living source of a new and better future.
  • Art is not the possession of the few who are recognized writers, painters, musicians; it is the authentic expression of any and all individuality. Those who have the gift of creative expression in unusually large measure disclose the meaning of the individuality of others to those others. In participating in the work of art, they become artists in their activity. They learn to know and honor individuality in whatever form it appears. The fountains of creative activity are discovered and released. The free individuality which is the source of art is also the final source of creative development in time.


Misattributed[edit]

  • The only way to abolish war is to make peace heroic.
    • James Hinton, Philosophy and Religion: Selections from the Manuscripts of the Late James Hinton, ed. Caroline Haddon, (2nd ed., London: 1884), p. 267.
    • Widely misattributed on the internet to Dewey, who actually attributes it to Hinton in Human Nature and Conduct: An Introduction to Social Psychology (New York: 1922), p. 115.
  • Education is not preparation for life; education is life itself.
    • This is a paraphrase of an idea that Dewey expressed using other words in My Pedagogic Creed (1897) and Democracy and Education (1916); it is widely misattributed to Dewey as a quotation.
    • Cf. James William Norman, A Comparison of Tendencies in Secondary Education in England and the United States (New York: Teachers College, Columbia University, 1922), p. 140 (emphasis added): "...there has for years been a strong and growing tendency in the United States under the leadership of Dewey, and more recently of Kilpatrick, to find an educational method correlative of democracy in society with the belief that education is life itself rather than a mere preparation for life, and that practice in democratic living is the best preparation for democracy."
  • To free one's mind of chains is to free it of the care of what is acceptable or viewed so by society, this is when true freedom is discovered.
    • This text is commentary (not a quotation of Dewey) that was added to this page at 05:36, 2 February 2009 (UTC); the text was later removed from this page but not before being misattributed to Dewey on several web sites, including in a sermon given at an Episcopal church. The statement was commenting on a quotation from Democracy and Education (1916): "The first step in freeing men from external chains was to emancipate them from the internal chains of false beliefs and ideals."

Quotes about John Dewey[edit]

  • In [Dewey's] thought the hope of achieving a vantage point which transcends the corruptions of self-interest takes the form of trusting ... "the procedure of organized co-operative inquiry which has won the triumphs of science in the field of physical nature." ...

    Not a suspicion dawns on Professor Dewey that no possible "organized inquiry" can be as transcendent over historical conflicts of interest as it ought to be to achieve the disinterested intelligence he attributes to it. Every such "organized inquiry" must have its own particular social locus. No court of law, thought supported by age-old traditions of freedom from party conflict, is free of party bias whenever it deals with issues profound enough to touch the very foundations of the society upon which the court is reared.

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