Researched and written by:
Donald F. Kneessi
|I attest that the following biography is a
product of my own original
Dewey was born October 20,
1859, in Burlington, Vermont.
His father, Archibald, left the family tradition of farming, which had
been followed for three generations, to become a grocer in the small
city of Burlington.
Dewey's mother was named Lucina. Archibald
sold the grocery business when he volunteered to join the Union Army in
the Civil War, but after the war he became owner of a cigar and tobacco
shop (Ecker, 1997).
and his two brothers grew up in a middle-class household in a community
that included old Americans as well as new immigrants from Ireland
and French Quebec. Lucina Dewey carried out philanthropic work with
poor families living in the industrial section of Burlington.
At his mother's request, Dewey joined the First Congregational Church
at age eleven, although he later sought a more liberal religious
perspective than was evident in his mother's conservative church
completed his grade school work in Burlington's
public schools at age 12. He selected the college-preparatory track in
high school, starting in 1872 and completed his high school courses in
three years. He began attending the University
of Vermont, in Burlington,
in 1875, when he was 16 years old. The classical curriculum was similar
to Dewey's high school courses, emphasizing Greek and Latin, English
literature, math, and rhetoric; however, the faculty encouraged their
students to be themselves and to think their own thoughts. By his
senior year, Dewey was immersed in studies of political, social, and
moral philosophy (Ecker, 1997).
graduated from the University
of Vermont in 1879. With
the help of a relative, he obtained a high school teaching position in Oil
where he was part of a three-member faculty for two years. Dewey
returned to Vermont in
1881, where he combined high school teaching with continuing study of
philosophy, under the tutoring of Dewey's former undergraduate
professor, Henry A. P. Torrey (Ecker, 1997).
September 1882, Dewey entered Johns
to begin graduate studies in philosophy. Dewey continued to study
philosophy, as well as history and political science as minors (Ecker,
dissertation, "The Psychology of Kant," was completed in 1884. The
manuscript was never published and has never been found; however, an
article by Dewey titled "Kant and Philosophic Method," published in The
Journal of Speculative Philosophy in April 1884 is believed to
cover some of the same material as the dissertation (Ecker, 1997).
the completion of his Ph.D., Dewey received an appointment as an
instructor of philosophy at Michigan,
where he began teaching in September 1884. Dewey taught a variety of
courses and wrote a number of articles. Two articles published in the
journal Mind in 1886, brought Dewey to the attention of the scholarly
community. In these articles Dewey attempted to bring together views of
philosophy and psychology; he argued that philosophy did not need a
special methodology, since it is an expanded or more comprehensive
psychology (Ecker, 1997).
- At Michigan,
Dewey also was involved in founding and supporting a number of student
organizations, including the Philosophical Society, the Students'
Christian Association, and the Michigan Schoolmasters' Club, which
studied the issues and connections between public secondary schools and
universities (Ecker, 1997).
first book, Psychology,
was published in 1887. In it, he explained a single philosophical
system that was based on connections between the scientific study of
psychology and German idealist philosophy. The book was well-received
by some scholars and was adopted as a textbook at several universities,
but it was criticized by Dewey's former professor of psychology, G.
Stanley Hall, and by Hall's mentor, the philosopher William James (Ecker, 1997).
growing reputation as a scholar and teacher led to an offer to join the
faculty at the University of
Dewey accepted the position of Professor of Mental and Moral Philosophy
in 1888. He remained at Minnesota
for only one year, and then returned to Michigan
in 1889 to serve as Chair of the Department of Philosophy.
Dewey continued to teach, write, and be
involved in campus and community issues (Ecker, 1997).
remained at Michigan
until 1894, when he was recruited by William Rainey Harper to join the
faculty at University of Chicago.
Dewey resigned his position at the University
of Chicago in 1904. He established a laboratory school, a radical
innovation in education, which became the cornerstone
for the progressive education movement
(Schultz & Schultz, 2004).
was soon offered a professorship at Columbia
with appointments in Philosophy and the Teacher's College. Dewey
remained at Columbia until
the end of his active teaching career in 1930, and his most noted works
in philosophy and education were completed while he was associated with
He continued his teaching as an emeritus professor until 1939, and then
retired completely from university activities. Dewey continued to write
and speak about intellectual and social issues until shortly before his
death on June 1, 1952.
was brilliant, but he was not a good teacher (Schultz & Schultz,
article “The Reflex Arc Concept in Psychology”, published in the Psychological review (1896). The
article became so popular that it was voted the most influential
article published in the 50 first volumes of the Psychological
Review (Backe cited in Schultz & Schultz, 2004).
the psychological molecularism, elementism, and reductionism of the
reflex arc with its distinction between stimulus and response.
Dewey was arguing that neither behavior nor conscious experience could
be reduced to elements. The reflex arc argued that any unit of
behavior ends with the response to a stimulus, such as when a child
withdraws his or her hand from a flame. Dewey suggested that the
reflex forms more of a circle than an arc because the child perception
of the fame changes, thus serving a different function (Schultz &
- Initially the flame attracted the child,
but after feeling its effects, the child repelled by the flame. The response has altered the child’s
perception of the stimulus (the flame). Therefore,
perception and movement (stimulus and response) must be considered as a
unit and not as a composition of individual sensations and responses
(Schultz & Schultz, 2004).
thus, Dewey was arguing that the behavior involved in a reflexive
response can not be meaningfully reduced to a basic sensorimotor elements anymore than consciousness can be
meaningfully analyzed into elementary component parts. (Schultz &
- This type of
artificial analysis and
reduction causes behavior to lose all meaning, leaving only
abstractions in the mind of the psychologist performing the
Dewey noted that behavior should be treated not as an artificial
construct but rather in the terms of its significance to the organism
adapting to its environment. Dewey concluded that the proper subject
matter for psychology had to be the study of the total organism as it
functions in its environment (Schultz & Schultz, 2004).
Ecker, P. (1997). John
Schultz, D. P., & Schultz, S.
E. (2004). A History of Modern
p. 194-195. Belmont,