John Dewey was a famous American philosopher, psychologist and educational reformer. He was also the founder of functional psychology and one of the earliest developers of philosophy of pragmatism. His ideas made significant impact in social and educational reforms. Apart from writing primarily in publication works, he also wrote about many topics including experience, nature, art, logic, inquiry, democracy, and ethics. He served as a major inspiration for various allied movements that shaped the thought process of 20th century, including empiricism, humanism, naturalism and contextualism. He ranks among the highest thinkers of his age on the subjects of pedagogy, philosophy of mind, epistemology, logic, philosophy of science, social and political theory. Being one of the leading psychological and philosophical figures of his time, he was elected as the president of the American Psychological Association and president of the American Philosophical Association in 1899 and 1905 respectively. Dewey published more than 700 articles in 140 journals and approximately 40 books in his lifetime.
John Dewey Childhood & Early Life
John Dewey was born on October 20, 1859 in Burlington, Vermont. His parents were Archibald Sprague Dewey and Lucina Artemesia Rich; he was the third of the four sons born to the couple. His eldest sibling died in infancy. John, along with his two other brothers, attended the public school, after which the threesome took admission in University of Vermont in Burlington. During his education in University of Vermont, John Dewey was exposed to the evolutionary theory through the teaching of G.H. Perkins. He also studied the Lessons in Elementary Physiology written by famous English evolutionist, T.H. Huxley. His thought process was always influenced by the theory of natural selection which encouraged him to focus on the interaction between man and its environment, while considering questions of psychology. His teacher philosopher, H.A.P. Torrey always remained his close acquaintance and made critical contribution in his philosophical development.
After completing his graduation in 1879, Dewey taught in high school for two years. During this time period, he was struck with the idea of pursuing a career in philosophy. Consequently, he sent a philosophical essay to W.T. Harris, editor of the Journal of Speculative Philosophy. Harris’s acceptance of the essay gave him the encouragement he required to pursue a philosophical career and he traveled to Baltimore to get enrolled at Johns Hopkins University. At John Hopkins, Dewey was influenced by two powerful intellects namely George Sylvester Morris and G. Stanley Hall. George Sylvester Morris was a German-trained Hegelian philosopher, who told him about the organic model of nature characteristic of German idealism. G. Stanley Hall, on the other hand, was an American experimental psychologist who brushed him with the power of scientific methodology as applied to the human sciences. Dewey received his doctorate in 1884 and accepted a teaching post at the University of Michigan, wherein he worked for the next ten years.
While teaching in Michigan, Dewey published his first two books, “Psychology” (1887), and “Leibniz’s New Essays Concerning the Human Understanding” (1888). Both these books had the impression of his early commitment to the Hegelian idealism. At Michigan, he met his future philosophical collaborator and good friend, James Hayden Tufts. Dewey joined the newly found University of Chicago in 1894. During this time period, he transformed his early idealism into a new empirically based theory of knowledge by associating himself with newly emerging Pragmatic philosophy. He compiled his change in philosophy in four essays entitled together as, “Thought and its Subject-Matter”, which he published along with the other essays from colleagues at Chicago in the book, “Studies in Logical Theory”. He also initiated University of Chicago Laboratory Schools, where he got the opportunity to apply his developing ideas to pedagogic method. His experiences during the experimental processes provided the material for his first major work in education, “The School and Social Progress” published in 1899. The same year, he was elected president of the American Psychological Association. Following some discrepancies with the administration, he had to give resignation from the University of Chicago. Dewey’s philosophical reputation helped him in quickly joining the Department of Philosophy at Columbia University. From 1904 till his retirement in 1930, he remained as the post of professor at Columbia University. He became the president of the American Philosophical Association in 1905.
During the first ten years at Columbia, Dewey wrote numerous articles and essays on his theory of knowledge and metaphysics. These articles and essays were later published in the books, “The Influence of Darwin on Philosophy and Other Essays in Contemporary Thought” (1910) and “Essays in Experimental Logic “(1916). His interest in educational theory strengthened during his teaching years in Teachers College at Columbia. This led to the publication of “How We Think” (1910) and the very important, “Democracy and Education” (1916). Apart from gaining popularity as a leading philosopher, he also became famous for his comments on contemporary issues that were frequently published in esteemed magazines like, The New Republic and Nation. Few of his important writings during this period were, “Reconstruction in Philosophy” (1920), “Human Nature and Conduct” (1922), “Experience and Nature” (1925), “The Public and its Problems” (1927), and “The Quest for Certainty” (1929). Dewey took retirement from active teaching in 1930 but didn’t stop his activities as a philosopher and public figure. He didn’t stop writing vigorously even in his last years and wrote few more important philosophical books which included, “Logic: The Theory of Inquiry” (1938), “Art as Experience” (1934), “A Common Faith” (1934), “Freedom and Culture” (1939) and “Theory of Valuation” (1939).
John Dewey was married twice in his lifetime. With his first wife, Alice Chipman he had six children. He married again to Roberta Lowitz Grant.
John Dewey died on June 1, 1952 in New York City at the age of 92 years. He was buried at Dewey Memorial, Burlington.