Essays in experimental logic: John Dewey: …

Essays in Experimental Logic Pragmatic Essays after Dewey edited by John Stuhr (1993) John Dewey and American by John Dewey Early essay by John Dewey.

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Born a generation after Peirce and James, and living decades past them both, John Dewey produced a body of work that reached a far greater audience than either of his predecessors. Like Peirce and James, Dewey engaged in academic philosophical writing, publishing many essays and books on metaphysics, epistemology, and value theory. Unlike Peirce and James, though, he also wrote a vast amount on social and political philosophy and very often engaged in dialogue outside of the academy. He became nationally known as an education reformer, frequently participating in public forums, and producing highly influential works such as Democracy and Education. His social and political writings, such as The Public and Its Problems, reached an audience far beyond academic philosophers. Within philosophy proper, Dewey is probably best known for his work on inquiry and logic. Stating that all inquiry is conducted by agents, and not merely by passive information processors, he emphasized the experimental and instrumental nature of human conduct. Taking inquiry to be "the controlled transformation of an indeterminate situation so as to convert the elements of the original situation into a unified whole," Dewey argued that logic, formal rules of inference and implication, are ultimately generalizations of warranted, or warrantable, conclusions. Logic is a species of inquiry, and the latter is never disinterested or free of valuation. This emphasis on purposeful interaction between agents and environments points to Dewey's well-known criticism of what he termed "the quest for certainty." Too much human activity (with philosophers being primary culprits) has been a search for absolutes, whether in the area of ontology, epistemology, or ethics. This, for Dewey, is mistaken. The world is filled with contingencies and is in flux. Human inquiry should be a matter of purposeful action in response to, and ultimately in anticipation of, such contingencies and change. Intelligence is experimental and evaluative; we learn by doing, by engagement with the puzzles and problems presented by a changing environment. While there might not be eternal, absolute standards or criteria for, say, moral judgment, it is also the case that there are criteria that transcend subjective preferences, since there are facts about the contingencies and problems we face.


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Educated at the University of Vermont, Dewey taught high school for two years before returning to study at Johns Hopkins University. He received his doctorate in 1884 and for the next ten years taught at the University of Michigan. In 1887, he published his first book, Psychology and in 1888 his second, Leibniz's New Essays Concerning the Human Understanding, appeared. Dewey became good friends with James Hayden Tufts, with whom he would later collaborate, and in 1894 when Tufts moved to the new University of Chicago, Dewey followed. Dewey established a laboratory school at the University where his pedagogical ideas could be developed. In 1899, he published his first work on education, The School and Society. He resigned in 1904 after disagreements with the administration and joined the Department of Philosophy at Columbia University, where he would spend the remainder of his career. A number of Dewey's articles and essays on education and metaphysics at Columbia were collected and published in The Influence of Darwin on Philosophy and Other Essays in Contemporary Thought (1910). In 1916, he published Essays in Experimental Logic and in 1920 followed with Reconstruction in Philosophy. Dewey's reputation as a leading philosopher and educationalist was firmly established by the 1920's and he was highly sought after on the lecture tour and by leading popular magazines such as The New Republic. From 1919 to 1921 he toured Japan and China and also visited Turkey in 1924 and the Soviet Union in 1928. Dewey retired from teaching in 1930, but continued to write and contribute to philosophical issues until his death at the age of ninety-two. His other works include How We Think (1910), Democracy and Education (1916), Human Nature and Conduct (1922), Experience and Nature (1925), The Public and Its Problems (1927), The Quest for Certainty (1929), Art as Experience (1934), A Common Faith (1934), Logic: The Theory of Enquiry (1938), Freedom and Culture (1939), Theory of Valuation (1939) and Knowing and the Known (1949).


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