“The future of our civilization depends upon the widening spread and deepening hold of the scientific cast of mind.”
John Dewey (1859–1952)
Faculty 1904–1930; Emeritus 1939
Dewey is best known for developing the theory of instrumentalism, which posits the value of an idea in relation to its practical consequences rather than as a transcendent truth. He put the pragmatism of earlier American philosophers, Charles Sanders Peirce and William James, to socially purposeful uses. He is also viewed by both its advocates and critics as the father of progressive education, with its emphasis upon child-centered learning through experimentation. Active in many social causes, he championed women's suffrage and academic freedom. His support for American intervention in World War I, along with his philosophical opposition to conscientious objectors, disappointed many of his liberal admirers, not least the young journalist Randolph Bourne (Columbia College 1912), who felt betrayed by his favorite teacher's utilitarian defense of the resort to violence. Dewey later questioned the correctness of his position, but not the belief that philosophers ought to be politically engaged.