John Dewey’s contributions were very relevant to different fields related to the humanities. Although he trained as a philosopher, Dewey also had an influence on psychology, pedagogy, Logic and even in American politics, because he openly defended very progressive positions.
In this article we will review the life and work of John Dewey. We will place particular emphasis on their contributions to philosophy and psychology within the frameworks of pragmatism and functionalism, respectively.
John Dewey biography
American John Dewey was born in 1859 in Burlington, Vermont. There he went to college to study philosophy. Evolutionary theories had a key influence on the development of his thought; Throughout his career he will focus on the interaction between human beings and their environment, inspired by Darwin’s idea of natural selection.
After graduating in 1879, Dewey worked for two years as an elementary and secondary school teacher, but eventually chose to pursue studies in philosophy. He received his doctorate from Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore; for the next 10 years he was professor of philosophy at the University of Michigan and in 1894 joined that of Chicago, which had just been founded.
By this time, Dewey had already written his first two books: Psychology (1887) and New Essays Concerning the Human Understanding (1888) by Leibniz. In these works he synthesized Hegelian idealism and experimental science applied to human behavior and thought.
Further development of his thought
Later, Dewey’s philosophy evolved to approach American pragmatism, which was beginning to develop around this time. He applied his theses to the educational context by publishing the book School and Society (1899) and the foundation of an educational laboratory, Although he eventually resigned his post as director.
For the rest of his life, Dewey worked as a professor of philosophy at Columbia University in New York. There he established a relationship with many philosophers and his thinking was enriched by contributions from very different perspectives.
His goal remained pedagogy, always linked to philosophy, logic and politics; in fact, she was an activist involved in causes such as the defense of immigrant rights, the unionization of teachers, women’s suffrage and participatory democracy in general. John Dewey died in 1952 at the age of 92.
Philosophical proposition: pragmatism
Pragmatism is a philosophical current that emerged in the United States in the 1870s. This tradition maintains that the main function of thought is not the representation of reality but its prediction and its action on it.
We consider that Charles Sanders Peirce was the founder of pragmatism. Other important philosophers who followed him were William James, Chauncey Wright, George Herbert Mead, and John Dewey himself. However, this author describes himself as an instrumentalist and consequentialist rather than a pragmatist.
Dewey believed that philosophers saw real constructs created solely for the purpose of helping conceptualize reality, while ignoring the mental functions which constitute thought in itself. For him, as for the rest of the functionalists, this had to be the center of philosophy.
From this point of view, thought is understood as an active construction that takes place from human interaction with the environment, so it is constantly updated. This contrasts with the classical view of ideas as the passive results of observing the world.
Thus, according to the pragmatism of human concepts, they do not constitute a reflection of reality, nor is there absolute truth, as the rationalist and formalist philosophers claimed. The practical utility of a “truth” or the consequences of an act are what gives them meaning, And therefore philosophy must focus on the purpose and not on the concepts.
Functionalism is a theoretical orientation of psychology that analyzes behavior and cognition from the point of view of active adaptation to the environment. Of course there is a strong relationship between functionalist psychology and pragmatism in philosophy. On a more general level, functionalism was a philosophy that also influenced sociology and anthropology.
William James was the founder of functionalism, although he does not see himself as part of it and does not agree with the division of scientists into schools of thought. Other authors who made relevant contributions in this context, in addition to Dewey, were George Herbert Mead, James McKeen Cattell and Edward Thorndike.
Functionalism appeared as a reaction to Edward Tichtener’s structuralism; James or Dewey rejected their introspective methodology, but continued to emphasize conscious experience. later behaviorism criticized functionalist positions because they were not based on controlled experiments and therefore had no predictive capacity.
Functionalist psychology drew on the evolutionary ideas of Darwin and his followers. Today, functionalism continues to live primarily in evolutionary psychology, which analyzes the development of the human mind from a phylogenetic point of view.