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John Dewey's Instrumentalism

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Brian Prahl American Political Thought Ingram 2-27-03 John Dewey's Instrumentalism John Dewey, largely regarded as America's greatest philosopher, was born in 1859. Throughout his early life, he lived on a farm with protestant, socially ambitious parents. Chores that Dewey was required to do on this farm became a natural part of his life. Dewey also detested school, which he thought was mundane and worthless. He thought that education from "direct contacts with life" was much more worthwhile. These ideas early in his life, helped shape his instrumentalist philosophy. Dewey received his B.A. from the University of Vermont, and his doctorate from Johns Hopkins University. He then taught philosophy at the University of Michigan, University of Minnesota, University of Chicago, and Columbia University. While doing so, he became known for his theory of instrumentalism. The following pages examine this theory and his "application of democratic ideals to education"(Issak). It is impossible to discuss Dewey's instrumentalism without first defining pragmatism. ...read more.


For this to happen, "all members of the group must have an equable opportunity to receive and take from others"(Isaak, 378). This, despite the efforts of Dewey and others, is not the case in modern America. There is a class separation that prohibits equality of opportunity in education, among other things. This separation limits interaction between various social groups, and in turn, limits the commonality of goals between them. Without a variety of common interests, "the influences which educate some into masters, educate others into slaves"(Isaak, 378). We must break down these social barriers in order do maximize potential for individuals in all social groups. Dewey called this the social organization of knowledge. To Dewey, the purpose of education is the progress of humanity as a whole. The Platonic ideal of education was quite similar to Dewey's. The problem, however, is that Plato's view of humanity was limited. "He never got any conception of the indefinate plurality of activities which may characterize an individual or social group," according to Dewey(Isaak, 381). ...read more.


This links directly with pragmatism and instrumentalism in that both philosophies advocate that truth is what has proven to be successful by experience. On a basic level, the goal of society is to solve social problems. The solutions to these problems equal truth. But, since these problems are constantly changing, the ideal society must readily allow change. This society must also educate its members to "personal initiative and adaptability. Otherwise, they will be overwhelmed by the changes," and confusion will result(Isaak, 380). This education, according to Deweyian philosophy, "must begin at the earliest stages of a child's educational experience"(ency.com). Dewey revolutionized public school in America with this philosophy. Dewey believed that the purpose of education is not to prepare individuals for civil life. In this type of educational system, "disjoint facts and ideas are conveyed by the teacher and memorized by the student"(encyc.com). Knowledge of this type is not true knowledge. Dewey insisted that action is involved in knowledge, ... and that it is in experimental knowing that genuine intellectual integrity is found"(A in P). Add personal- Add conclusion ...read more.

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