Guide John Dewey: Liberty and the Pedagogy of Disposition

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EN looks to existing characteristics of human culture, anthropologically, to see what they reveal, more generally, about nature. While this entry lacks space for even a bare summary, it is worth noting that EN begins with an extensive discussion of method and experience as a new starting point for philosophy.

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An extensive presentation of the generic traits follows, which, in due course, evokes and informs discussions regarding science, technology, body, mind, language, art, and value. Since Dewey is a pragmatist and meliorist, it is worth asking: How can metaphysics contribute to the world beyond academic philosophy? EN , LW1: Dewey raises the issue, prophylactically:. As a statement of the generic traits manifested by existences of all kinds without regard to their differentiation into physical and mental, [metaphysics] seems to have nothing to do with criticism and choice, with an effective love of wisdom.

The activity of metaphysical map-making fits in with the more engaged role Dewey envisioned for philosophers. Metaphysical maps draw from contemporary circumstances and purposes, so they would not promise certainty or permanency. Just as physical maps must be redrawn based on changing needs and purposes, so would metaphysical maps; in the meantime, hopefully, criticism is sharpened and value is more effectively secured. Critics often overlooked that his position was aiming to undercut prevailing metaphysical genres; often, his view was just aligned with one or another existing position.

He was taken, variously, as in league with realism, idealism, relativism, subjectivism, etc. See Hildebrand Qualities are immediate, while relations are mediate; how could both coexist in the same item of experience? In recent years, some specialists in pragmatism and American philosophy have debated whether Dewey should have engaged in metaphysics at all. Others have argued that Dewey invented a genuinely new approach to metaphysics which avoided old problems while contributing something salutary to culture at large Myers forthcoming, Garrison , Boisvert a, Alexander forthcoming.

The interactional, organic model Dewey developed in his psychology informed his theories of learning and knowledge. Seen from this standpoint, change and transformation are natural features of the actual world, and knowledge and logic are ways to adapt, survive, and thrive. The vitality of the world in which we reason, its dynamic and biological basis, is more informative about knowledge and truth than the paradigms of physics or mathematics, historically celebrated by philosophy.

The test of validity of [an] idea is its functional or instrumental use in effecting the transition from a relatively conflicting experience to a relatively integrated one. Studies , MW2: Thus, instrumentalism abandons all psycho-physical dualisms and all correspondentist theories of knowing.

In the logical process the datum is not just external existence, and the idea mere psychical existence. Both are modes of existence—one of given existence, the other of possible , of inferred existence…. In other words, datum and ideatum are divisions of labor, cooperative instrumentalities, for economical dealing with the problem of the maintenance of the integrity of experience.

Studies , MW2: — Classical empiricists insisted that the origins of knowledge lay in sensory experience. They were motivated, in part, by the concern that rationalistic accounts, seeking to trace knowledge to thought alone rather than particular, independent sense stimuli , were too unchecked. Without the limits imposed by sense experience, philosophy would continue to produce wild and divergent dogmatisms.

There was in classical empiricism, as in Dewey, a genuine interest in scientific progress; for science to advance, it needed to escape unfettered speculation.

Rationalists, in contrast, argued that knowledge was by nature both abstract and deductively certain. Consider, for a moment, your sensory experiences: they are fluid, individualized, and permeated by the relativity borne of innumerable external conditions. How could a philosophical account of genuine knowledge—necessarily certain, self-evident, and unchanging—be derived using a method so besotted with sensorial flux? Knowledge must derive, rather, from inner concepts, which could be certain.

Kant responded to the empiricist-rationalist tension by reigning in their overweening ambitions; he argued that philosophy must stop attempting to transcend the limits of thought and experience. Kant, then, refused an originary role to either percepts or concepts, arguing instead that sense and reason are co-constitutive of knowledge. More important, Kant argued that what epistemology requires is an account of the mind as a systematic and constructive force. Any proposal premised on a disconnected mind and body—or upon one assuming that stimuli be they causes or impressions or whatever were atomic and in need of synthesis—was a non-starter for Dewey.

Chief among these assumptions was the idea that knowledge must be certain; that nature and intellect were categorically distinct; and that a noumenal realm things-in-themselves was a justified posit. Thus, for Dewey, Kant cannot achieve the philosophical perspective necessary for a dynamic synthesis of perception and conception, nature and reason, practice and theory.

The missing insight was knowledge as dynamic instrument , consisting in managing predicting, controlling, guiding future experience. Dewey remains focused on these subject matters but insisted on a more empirical approach. How, he asked, does reasoning and learning actually happen? Throughout his career, Dewey described processes and patterns evident in active problem solving. Here, we consider three: inquiry, knowledge, and truth. Next, because what is initially present is indeterminate, 2 a problem must be specifically formulated; problems do not preexist inquiry, as typically assumed.

Next, in phase 4 , one reasons through the meanings involved in the hypothesis, sizing up the implications or possible contradictions involved; frequently, what is discovered here requires a return to an earlier phase to reformulate the hypothesis or even the problem. The inquiry pattern Dewey sketched is schematic; he noted that actual cases of reasoning often do not show such discreteness or linearity.

Thus, the pattern is not a summary of how people always think but rather how exemplary cases of inquirential thinking unfold e. Apart from this relation, its meaning is so empty that any content or filling may be arbitrarily poured in. LTI , LW To understand a product, one must understand the process; this is what Dewey does. Denying the importance of knowledge, qua isolable product, is effectively denying a metaphysical account of reality that makes mind-the-substance separate from everything else. Truth, too, is radically reevaluated.

For too long, truth connoted an ideal—an epistemic fixity a correspondence, a coherence which could terminate all further inquiry. As this is not the actual situation human beings or philosophy inhabits, the ideal should be set aside. In scientific inquiry, the criterion of what is taken to be settled, or to be knowledge, is being so settled that it is available as a resource in further inquiry; not being settled in such a way as not to be subject to revision in further inquiry.

Truth does not stand outside of experience, but is an experienced relation, particularly one which is socially shared. In How We Think , Dewey wrote,. Truth, truthfulness, transparent and brave publicity of intercourse, are the source and the reward of friendship. Truth is having things in common.

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It is probably fair to say that, around the world, Dewey remains as well know for his educational theories see entry on philosophy of education, section Rousseau, Dewey, and the progressive movement as for his philosophical ones. In effect this was a call to see philosophy from the standpoint of education. Education offers a vantage ground from which to penetrate to the human, as distinct from the technical, significance of philosophic discussions…. The educational point of view enables one to envisage the philosophic problems where they arise and thrive, where they are at home, and where acceptance or rejection makes a difference in practice.

If we are willing to conceive education as the process of forming fundamental dispositions, intellectual and emotional, toward nature and fellow-men, philosophy may even be defined as the general theory of education. DE , MW9: Dewey was active in education his entire life. Besides high school and college teaching, he devised curricula, established, reviewed and administered schools and departments of education, participated in collective organizing, consulted and lectured internationally, and wrote extensively on many facets of education.

This school also became a site for democratic expression by the local community. Learning deserves to be framed in this way: as a cumulative, progressive process where inquirers move from the dissatisfying phase of doubt toward another marked by the satisfying resolution of a problem. The native and unspoiled attitude of childhood, marked by ardent curiosity, fertile imagination, and love of experimental inquiry, is near, very near, to the attitude of the scientific mind.

HWT , MW6: Learning as an activity which incorporated actual problems necessitated a careful integration of lessons with specific learners. One way to do this was by identifying specific problems able to bridge curriculum and student and then create situations in which students have to work them out. As active and creative beings, education should not fetter growth—even instruction should be subordinated to content if necessary.

Content was supreme, and instruction should discipline children to ensure they are receptive. Dewey developed an interactional model to move beyond that debate. He refused to privilege either child or society. While Romantics correctly identified the child replete with instincts, powers, habits, and histories as an indispensable starting point for pedagogy, Dewey argued that the child cannot be the only starting point. Larger social groups family, community, nation also have a legitimate stake in passing along extant interests, needs, and values as part of an educational synthesis.

Still, of these two approaches, Dewey tilted more strongly against the high value placed by traditionalists on discipline and memorization. While recognizing the legitimacy of conveying content facts, values , Dewey thought it paramount for schools to eschew indoctrination. Educating meant incorporating , with a wide berth for personal freedom, unique individuals into a changing society which—this had to remain clear—would soon be under their dominion.

This is why who the child was mattered so very much. Following colleague and lifelong friend G. Because character, rights, and duties are informed by and contribute to the social realm, schools were critical sites to learn and experiment with democracy. Democratic life consists not only in civic and economic conduct, but more crucially in habits of problem solving, compassionate imagination, creative expression, and civic self-governance. The full range of roles a child might assume in life is vast; once this is appreciated, it is incumbent upon society to make education its highest political and economic priority.

There will be almost a revolution in school education when study and learning are treated not as acquisition of what others know but as development of capital to be invested in eager alertness in observing and judging the conditions under which one lives. Yet until this happens, we shall be ill-prepared to deal with a world whose outstanding trait is change.

Individuals exist in communities; as their lives change, needs and conflicts emerge that require intelligent management; we must make sense out of new experiences. Democracy is the faith that the process of experience is more important than any special result attained, so that special results achieved are of ultimate value only as they are used to enrich and order the ongoing process.


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Since the process of experience is capable of being educative, faith in democracy is all one with faith in experience and education. All ends and values that are cut off from the ongoing process become arrests, fixations. They strive to fixate what has been gained instead of using it to open the road and point the way to new and better experiences.

The success or failure of democracy rests on education. Education is most determinative of whether citizens develop the habits needed to investigate problematic beliefs and situations, to communicate openly, throughout. While every culture aims to convey values and beliefs to the coming generation, it is critical, Dewey thought, to distinguish between education which inculcates collaborative and creative hypothesizing and education which foments obeisance to parochialism and dogma.

And philosophy must apply this same standard to itself. Dewey wrote extensively on ethics throughout his career; some writings were explicitly about ethics, but ethical analyses are present in works with other foci. Dewey, in contrast, argued for a more experimental approach. Rather than a grand and final explanatory account of moral life, ethics describes intelligent methods for dealing with novel and morally perplexing situations. There are no stipulated, ultimate values, nor should any be sought.

John Dewey, Inquiry, & Progressive Education (Part 1)

Actual resolutions to moral problems, Dewey observed, typically point toward plural factors aims, duties, virtues , rather than just one TIF , LW5. Moreover, actual conduct including inquiry is undertaken not by isolated, rational actors but by fundamentally social beings. It is social, whether bad or good.

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HNC , MW Such strategies tend to fail. Progress in ethical theory, then, means improvements that render inquiry more discriminating, more revelatory of alternatives and consequences.

John Dewey Liberty and the Pedagogy of Disposition

Anderson While those proving valuable can be retained for reuse, all are considered fallible and capable of reconstruction. Dewey rejected approaches relying upon non-empirical, a priori assumptions e. These events strained prevailing liberal theories, and Dewey labored to revise both democracy and liberalism. Such experience, expressed as collaborative inquiry, required the intellectual and emotional competencies necessary to tackle shared problems and negotiate value differences.

Ultimately, democracy requires faith in experience as a sufficient resource for future solutions and that it is no longer necessary to place faith into transcendent rules or aims. Such publics consist of members lacking the critical education, time, and attention necessary for inquiry. They present democracy with perhaps its most significant and undermining condition PP , LW2: , Festenstein Third, it analyzes the communicative functions of art, especially in education and political life.

Nevertheless, it is also life at its fullest. Thus, the main question AE poses is: How did a chasm arise between the arts, artists and ordinary people? Because aesthetic experience has organic roots, it can be recognized even in everyday objects and events. Leddy The whole story of man shows that there are no objects that may not deeply stir engrossing emotion. One of the few experiments in the attachment of emotion to ends that mankind has not tried is that of devotion, so intense as to be religious, to intelligence as a force in social action. A Common Faith , a, LW9: 52— Dewey grew up in a religious family; his mother was especially devout and pressured her sons to live up to a similar devotion.

His family church was Congregationalist; a bit later, including in college, Liberal Evangelicalism proved to be a more acceptable form of Christianity. There was no vision, not even a definable emotion—just a supremely blissful feeling that his worries [about whether he prayed sufficiently in earnest] were over.

Dykhuizen Dewey belonged to congregations for about thirty-five years and turned away circa , as he left for a post in Chicago. McDermott put it,. McDermott , 50— The challenge A Common Faith took on seems, in retrospect, insurmountable. He wished to reconstruct religion in a way which harmonized it with his empiricism and naturalism, while showing how the power of religious experience and belief could be transformed in ways which supported and advanced a secular conception of democracy. Religions vary, of course, but to a large degree they posit transcendent, eternal, unobservable entities and reveal themselves in ways which are not, shall we say, open to verification.

Empirical experience regardless of its specific construal is seen as inferior—whether castigated as flux, illusion, uncertainty, or confusion, it must be left behind. In short, Dewey had squared himself against the metaphysics, epistemology, and seemingly the morality, of major religions. Dewey was not addressing believers contented with supernatural religion, nor religious liberals seeking a via media postulating discrete realms to scientific and spiritual truths.

Also, he was not addressing militant atheists, whose dogmatism Dewey rejected. ACF was meant to salvage whatever made the religious attitude experientially valuable while shedding both traditional religious frameworks and supernaturalistic beliefs. To mention just two conclusions, Dewey found that whichever qualities exhibited by religious experience feelings of peace, wholeness, security, etc.

A second conclusion was that religious experience is not hermetic, unable to color or affect other experiences. Dewey analyzed religiosity in this sense by comparing it with a certain kind of coping. Consider, as adjustment , the case of of becoming a parent which demands significant changes that encompass both self and environment. In adjustment, imaginative possibilities are projected and then put into action—both in oneself wants, aims, ideals and in surrounding conditions—and the cumulative impact is an evolution of identity ACF , LW9: Faith, typically, is juxtaposed with reason.

Faith requires neither empirical inquiry nor verification; one has faith in the evidence of transcendent, ultimate things not seen. Dewey made at least two important criticisms of traditional faith. First, faith is too closely identified with intellectual acceptance, which eclipses its pragmatic side; faith in a cause , for example, indicates a practical willingness to act strong enough to modify present desires, purposes, and conduct.

By over-identifying the meaning of faith with intellectual recognition, the traditional account attenuates inquiry and constructive action. Second, traditional faith tends to reify its objects e. Insofar as traditional faith frustrates inquiry which could be ameliorative, it runs counter to the aims of morality. ACF, LW9: Belief in God is neither warranted nor advisable. Very briefly, he asks that we think not of a singular object but of the qualities to which God is compared—goodness, wisdom, love. Such descriptions show that God represents our highest ideals.

This idea of God, or of the divine is also connected with all the natural forces and conditions—including man and human association—that promote the growth of the ideal and that further its realization…. ACF , LW9: 34; see also 29— As a pragmatist, a meliorist, and a humane democrat, Dewey sought a way to harness the undeniable power of religion and religious experience toward an end beneficial to all.

Religion, he understood, provides people with a story about the larger universe and how they fit within it. He knew it was not enough to criticize religion, because this leaves powerful human needs unmet.

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The methods of inquiry and criticism are not mysteries; they are deeply familiar already. The necessary turn would come when religious persons realize that inquiry could be extended to enhance religious experience and values ACF , LW9: If it could be appreciated how many celebrated accomplishments were due not to God but to intelligent, human collaboration, then perhaps the idea of community could inspire a non-sectarian, common faith. Because the idea of the supernatural was, by definition, suspicious of experience as an adequate guide and, consequently, suspicious of empirical methods of inquiry.

Unchecked by lived experience or experiment, supernaturalism can produce especially deep divisions. The series includes:.

In-text citations give the original publication date, series abbreviation, followed by volume and page number. Addams, Jane aesthetics of the everyday associationist theories of thought Berkeley, George civic education critical theory critical thinking Dewey, John: aesthetics Dewey, John: moral philosophy Dewey, John: political philosophy education, philosophy of faith feminist philosophy, approaches: pragmatism globalization God: concepts of Green, Thomas Hill Hook, Sidney hope Hume, David information technology: and moral values introspection James, William Kant, Immanuel liberalism Locke, John Mead, George Herbert metaphysics ontology of art, history of Peirce, Charles Sanders pragmatism process philosophy rationality: historicist theories of religion: and morality religious experience Rorty, Richard Sellars, Wilfrid Wundt, Wilhelm Maximilian.

Hildebrand ucdenver. John Dewey First published Thu Nov 1, Psychology 2. Experience and Metaphysics 3. Inquiry and Knowledge 4. Philosophy of Education 5.

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Ethics 7. Political Philosophy 8. Art and Aesthetic Experience 9. Biographical Sketch John Dewey lead an active and multifarious life. Born in Burlington, Vermont Receives A. Dies in New York City. Tufts, [ E-rev ] , Ethics , revised edition, with James H. Academic Tools How to cite this entry. Enhanced bibliography for this entry at PhilPapers , with links to its database. Hildebrand John Dewey, American Pragmatist, at pragmatism. The full text of this article hosted at iucr.

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