Philosophy John Dewey
John R. Shook
  • LAST REVIEWED: 22 November 2022
  • LAST MODIFIED: 29 May 2019
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195396577-0227


John Dewey (b. 1859–d. 1952) was America’s foremost philosopher and public intellectual during the first half of the 20th century. As a leading representative of the Progressive movement, Dewey’s educational, ethical, economic, and political views embodied that movement’s demands for the expansion of liberty and opportunity in more democratic societies. Prominent examples of this liberalism are his support for women’s suffrage, equal rights for immigrants and minorities, economic justice, and world peace. He would be rightly categorized as a democratic socialist, and he rejected Communism and governments tending toward fascism or totalitarianism. Dewey’s intellectual foundations lay in his seminal contributions to psychology, pedagogy, and pragmatism. Both functionalist and behaviorist psychology partly sprang from his work at the University of Chicago during the 1890s, and this dynamic view of intelligence infused his original theories about childhood education and life-long learning. Since all learning is basically experimental, Dewey partnered with Charles Peirce and William James to develop pragmatism’s view that the knowable is what is empirically confirmable after putting thoughts into action. From epistemology to philosophy of mind, pragmatism abandons Platonic, Cartesian, and Kantian views that reality and knowledge are statically structured by necessary and unchanging principles. For Dewey, only experience’s explorations of the world ultimately determine the meaning, value, and validity of ideas and propositions, including those of mathematics, logic, science, and philosophy itself. His version of pragmatism, which he usually labeled as “instrumentalism” or empirical naturalism,” has also been influential in the fields of aesthetics, ethics, social theory, philosophy of technology, and philosophy of religion. Dewey taught at Columbia University from 1905 until he retired in 1929 and was a presence there as professor emeritus until 1939. He also traveled the world; major journeys include lecturing in Japan and China from 1919 to 1921, a 1924 stay in Turkey as Ataturk’s educational consultant, and a tour of USSR schools in 1928. Dewey’s thought is respected in many countries, and it has been productively compared and blended with aspects of Asian philosophy in particular.

Dewey’s Collected Works

Dewey 1967–1987 is the critical edition of Dewey’s writings, and most volumes remain in print. His correspondence is published in Dewey 2008 for online subscription access. Dewey 1989 and Dewey 1998 are the best shorter collections of his selected writings.

  • Dewey, John. The Collected Works of John Dewey, 1882–1953. 37 vols. Edited by Jo Ann Boydston. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1967–1987.

    The collected works are also published by InteLex Past Masters for online subscription access.

  • Dewey, John. The Philosophy of John Dewey. Edited by John J. McDermott. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1989.

    An ample collection of writings selected from journal articles and book chapters.

  • Dewey, John. The Essential Dewey. 2 vols. Edited by Larry Hickman and Thomas Alexander. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1998.

    Volume 1 covers pragmatism, education, and democracy. Volume 2 covers ethics, logic, and psychology.

  • Dewey, John. The Correspondence of John Dewey 1871–2007. 4 vols. Edited by Larry Hickman. Charlottesville, VA: InteLex Past Masters, 2008.

    Contains every discovered letter by Dewey and written to Dewey, along with thousands of letters exchanged between Dewey’s colleagues, associates, and family.

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