John Dewey

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John Dewey (1859–1952) was a highly respected American philosopher, psychologist, and educational reformer, whose ideas continue to be significantly influential.


Dewey was a leading representative of the progressive movement in U.S. schooling during the first half of the 20th century. The ultimate goal of education, for Dewey, was to enable each individual to become an effective member of a democratic society. Dewey was critical of "traditional", teacher-centric educational styles, but equally critical of the overly free "progressive" educational movements for lacking sufficient theory and discipline in their pedagogical methods.

Dewey proposed that a theory of experience was needed in order to be able to understand students' learning experiences and how they might be optimally arranged and facilitated by teachers.

Dewey proposed two key principles in his theory of experience:

  • Continuity: All experiences affect all future experiences (for better or worse)
  • Interaction: All past experiences interact with the present circumstances to give rise to each person's unique experience of the present.

Carver and Enfield (2006)[1] provide a contemporary description of Dewey’s principles of continuity and interaction operating within an experiential education program.

John Dewey's Theory of Valuation[edit]

Dewey’s concern about values was uninterrupted throughout his career but it has its most complete version in his 1938 “Theory of Valuation”. This article is Dewey’s second contribution to the International Encyclopedia of Unified Science, the famous editorial project promoted by the positivist Otto Neurath. In spite of this, Dewey’s article is a discussion with emotivism, the position about ethical judgement upheld by empirical positivists like Ayer and C. L. Stevenson. Dewey’s main thesis is that value judgements are genuine propositions, that is, propositions which can be warranted through scientific inquiry. According to the pragmatist, value judgements are propositions that state that some “end-in-view”, some purpose that we intend to reach through action, is good or bad, right or wrong or morally obligatory. Thus, the problem is to establish if it is possible to base such propositions on reasons or rather if the ends we pursue in action are only based on tradition and bare impulse. In other words, the problem is to determine if it is possible to intelligently decide if some end is worth being pursued. The answer is that it is possible because the process by which we assess propositions about ends is the same by which we assess things considered as means. Therefore, value judgements are genuine propositions because they are based on propositions about means and ends that can be warranted by inquiry. It is important to point out that, in this conception, values do not become equal to bare impulses or pure preferences nor are they determined by means of absolute principles. Instead, values are considered as chosen desires, as ends formed in accordance with some thorough deliberation. In other words, Dewey is maintaining a fallibilist, anti-foundationalist and anti-skeptical approach on values and ethics. To conclude, it is important to note that Dewey’s theory of valuation has received several objections. The most remarkable are the criticism made by M. G. White on the one hand, and by Herbert Marcuse on the other. While the former has attracted the attention of some philosophers and scholars, the latter has passed unnoticed, despite the fact that Marcuse is a well known philosopher.


"Keeping track is a matter of reflective review and summarizing, in which there is both discrimination and record of the significant features of a developing experience. To reflect is to look back over what has been done so as to extract the net meanings which are the capital stock for intelligent dealing with further experiences. It is the heart of intellectual organization and of the disciplined mind."

"Perhaps the greatest of all pedagogical fallacies is the notion that a person learns only the particular thing they are studying at the time."


  1. Carver, R. L., & Enfield (2006. John Dewey’s philosophy of education is alive and well. Education and Culture, 22, 55-67. Retrieved January 30, 2008, from

Dewey, J. Theory of Valuation, in Later Works, vol. 13 (1939).

Gouinlock, J. (1978). Dewey’s Theory of Moral Deliberation. Ethics, 88(3)

Hickman, L. (ed.), 1998, Reading Dewey: Interpretations for a Postmodern Generation, Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

Hook, S. (Ed.). (1950). John Dewey, philosopher of science and freedom; a symposium. New York: Dial Press.

Marcuse, H. (1941). Review: Dewey, John, Theory of Valuation. Zeitschrift für Sozialforschung 9, No. 1, pp. 144-148.

Pappas, G., 2009, John Dewey's Ethics: Democracy as Experience, Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

Sinclair, Robert (2014). Dewey and White on Value, Obligation, and Practical Judgment. _SATS_ 15 (1):39-54.

White, M. (1949). Value and obligation in Dewey and Lewis, 58, (4). The Philosophical Review.

White, M. (1996). Desire and Desirability: A Rejoinder to a Posthumous Reply by John Dewey. Journal of Philosophy, 93(5), 229242.

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