John Dewey’s Instrumentalism & Experimentalism Thought of Education

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John Dewey’s Instrumentalism & Experimentalism Thought of Education

Philosophical Thought of John Dewey

John Dewey was born in 1859 at Burlington, Vermont in America. John Dewey was a talented student of philosophy. He had studied several philosophers and philosophical schools of thought. He had particularly studied the philosophical thought of Plato, Hegel, Kant and Darwin. He had made a research on the philosophical thought of Kant and obtained his Ph.D. degree. From the study of his life and articles, we find that his philosophical thought continued to undergo changes. In the beginning he was influenced by his own professor, George S. Maurice, due to whose influence he accepted idealistic philosophy of Hegel. Later, he was influenced by Darwin and he accepted his two principles- ‘struggle for survival’ and ‘survival of the fittest’ and thus relinquished idealism to support pragmatism. He is now famous as a pragmatistic philosopher. Here we shall try to understand the philosophical thought of John Dewey.

Dewey’s Philosophy- Pragmatism Vs. Instrumentation

Dewey’s philosophy represents a happy blend of naturalism and idealism because it is based on the evolutionary concepts of Darwin and Pragmatism of William James. Like Darwin, he believes that world is still in the process of making and that life in this world is an every-changing and self-renewing process. Like William James, he believes that whatever useful is good and whatever good, is useful. Truth is also that which works, which fulfills our purposes and satisfies our desires.

For John Dewey, there are no eternal and absolute values. All values change with time and space. Man is the creator of his own values. What is true today may cease to be true tomorrow. Man’s life is a series of experiments and purposeful action. “Everything is provisional, nothing ultimate. Knowledge is always a means, never an end itself.” It is purely instrumental. Hence the title of Dewey’s philosophy is “Instrumentalism”. Dewey believes that knowledge and thinking are closely associated with action. They are tentative plans of action. They have to be tested by action and by knowing the result of their being acted upon. He affirms, “The essence of pragmatic instrumentalism is to conceive of both, knowledge and practice as means of making good. It does not imply that action is higher and better than knowledge and practice inherently superior to thought. Constant and effective interaction of knowledge and practice is something quiet different from an exaltation of activity, or its own sake. Action, when directed by knowledge, is a method and means, not an end. The aim and end is the securer, freezer end, more widely shared embodiment of values in experience, by means of that active control of objects, which knowledge alone makes possible.

Furthermore, he is convinced of the organic relationship between the individual and the society, to which he belongs. He is conscious of both, the physical and the social environment. Self can neither grow in solitude nor in natural surroundings. For his proper growth, an individual must live both, in natural (or physical) environment and (human or social) environment. Man is not a solitary self, but an individual, who lives with the rest of mankind. “He is a citizen, growing and thinking in a vast complex of interactions and relationships.”

Lastly, Dewey holds that barriers of creed, religion, language, nationality and colour have divided humanity and separated man from man. These barriers must be broken to establish harmony between individuals and groups, and ensure the process of human growth. To him, growth stands for the “being process” and not for the “done product”. Not perfection as a final goal, but the ever enduring process of perfecting, maturing and refining, is the aim of living. He further declares, “The bad man is one, who is beginning to deteriorate, to grow less good. And the good man is one, who is moving to become better.” This is the function of education to break the barriers of separation and bring men and nations together for establishing a happier and nobler world.

Philosophical Thought of John Dewey Vs. Experimentalism

Like James, Dewey too did not use up his time in the analysis of the soul and God, he employed all his energy in the analysis of this concrete world and its activities. Dewey did not think that this world is a divine creation; he took it as the result of numerous activities and thought that this universe is always in the process of construction and undergoes changes all the time. Dewey did not believe in any universal and perennial truth or values too. He reasoned that no unchangeable truths or values can be determined for this changeable world; with the change in the world, its values also undergo a change. According to John Dewey, it should be the function of philosophy to discover the truths and values in the changing world. In his view, this task can be performed by experiments. This ideology of John Dewey is called “Experimentalism” by scholars.

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