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Some Favorite Quotations
from the works of
John Dewey (1859-1952)
John Dewey was an American philosopher and educator who, with Charles Peirce
and William James, was a founder of the school of philosophy known as "pragmatism."
Dewey had a long a distinguished career as a teacher, school reformer, labor
activist, political commentator, and "public intellectual" who was not afraid
to deal, in his philosophical writings, with actual social issues.
Dewey began his career as a Hegelian idealist, but gradually move away
from idealism and adopted an "experimentalism" which stressed the continuity
of human thought and natural conditions, and which emphasized the ways
in which human intelligence may be applied, through inquiry, to the solution
of real problems.
Dewey published over 100 books during his lifetime, dealing with such
topics as education, ethics, logic, metaphysics, aesthetics, religious
experience, war, politics, economics, and valuation. (Several of his booksare
available on-line.) He was often scorned by other philosophers, who deemed
his philosophy too much concerned with practice and not enough concerned
with theory or with traditional philosophical issues such as epistemology
(or "how can we know"), ontology ("what is real"), or traditional logic
("what is truth"). Indeed, Dewey was quite explicit in his claim that
"Philosophy recovers itself when it ceases to be a device for dealing
with the problems of philosophers and becomes a method, cultivated by
philosophers, for dealing with the problems of men." ("The Need for a
Recovery in Philosophy," 1917; MW 10:42)
Craig A. Cunningham, who assembled this page, is interested in the ways
that Dewey's theory of intelligence can inform the practices of schools
in contemporary America. It is his hope that others will benefit from
the availability of these quotations and, perhaps, be motivated to make
real changes in educational and other practices in keeping with Dewey's
Please contact Craig A. Cunningham with comments and suggestions.
Web links to John Dewey
To participate in ongoing discussions about Dewey and his philosophy, send
a subscription message (containing only the words: "subscribe Dewey-L [first
name] [last name]") to LISTSERV@GANGES.CSD.SC.EDU
These quotations from John Dewey's work are from the critical edition, The Collected Works of John Dewey, edited by Jo Ann Boydston (Carbondale
and Edwardsville: Southern Illinois University Press, 1969-1991), and
published as The Early Works (EW), The Middle Works (MW)
and The Later Works (LW). These series designations are followed
by volume and page number, below. For more information about these volumes,
please visit the web site of the Center
for Dewey Studies.
The quotations are used by permission of the Center for Dewey Studies. Note, however, that they have been re-keyed by Craig A. Cunningham,
and have not been approved by the publisher as consistent with their critical
edition standards for The Collected Works.
- "The Need for a Recovery in Philosophy," 1917; MW 10:42
- Philosophy recovers itself when it ceases to be a device for dealing
with the problems of philosophers and becomes a method, cultivated by
philosophers, for dealing with the problems of men.
- Democracy and Education, 1916; MW 9:5
- Education, in its broadest sense, is the means of this social continuity
- Democracy and Education, 1916; MW 9:7
- Men live in a community in virtue of the things which they have in
common; and communication is the way in which they come to possess things
in common. What they must have in common in order to form a community
or society are aims, beliefs, aspirations, knowledge--a common understanding--likemindedness
as the sociologists say. Such things cannot be passed physically from
one to another, like bricks; they cannot be shared as persons would
share a pie by dividing it into physical pieces. The communication which
ensures participation in a common understanding is one which secures
similar emotional and intellectual dispositions--like ways of responding
to expectations and requirements.
- Democracy and Education, 1916; MW 9:8-9
- Not only is social life identical with communication, but all communication
(and hence all genuine social life) is educative. To be a recipient
of a communication is to have an enlarged and changed experience....The
experience has to be formulated in order to be communicated. The formulate
requires getting outside of it, seeing it as another would see it, considering
what points of contact it has with the life of another so that it may
be got into such form that he can appreciate its meaning. Except in
dealing with commonplaces and catch phrases one has to assimilate, imaginatively,
something of another's experience in order to tell him intelligently
of one's own experience. All communication is like art. It may be fairly
said, therefore, that any social arrangement that remains vitally social,
or vitally shared, is educative to those who participate in it. Only
when it becomes cast in a mold and runs in a routine way does it lose
its educative power.
- Democracy and Education, 1916; MW 9:20
- things gain meaning by being used in a shared experience or joint
- Democracy and Education, 1916; MW 9:93
- A democracy is more than a form of government; it is primarily a
mode of associated living, of conjoint communicated experience.
- Democracy and Education, 1916; MW 9:110
- To have a mind to do a thing is to foresee a future possibility;
it is to have a plan for its accomplishment...Mind is capacity to refer
present conditions to future results, and future consequences to present
conditions. And these traits are just what is meant by having an aim
or a purpose...
- Democracy and Education, 1916; MW 9:147
- To "learn from experience" is to make a backward and forward connection
between what we do to things and what we enjoy or suffer from things
in consequence. Under such conditions, doing becomes a trying; an experiment
with the world to find out what it is like; the undergoing becomes instruction--discovery
of the connection of things.
- Democracy and Education, 1916; MW 9:152-53
- Thinking, in other words, is the intentional endeavor to discover specific connections between something which we do and the consequences
which result, so that the two become continuous. Their isolation, and
consequently their purely arbitrary going together, is canceled; a unified
developing situation takes place. The occurrence is now understood;
it is explained; it is reasonable, as we say, that the thing should
happen as it does. Thinking is thus equivalent to an explicit rendering
of the intelligent element in our experience. It makes it possible to
act with an end in view. It is the condition of our having aims.
- Democracy and Education, 1916; MW 9:155
- We sometimes talk as if "original research" were a peculiar prerogative
of scientists or at least of advanced students. But all thinking is
research, and all research is native, original, with him who carries
it on, even if everybody else in the world already is sure of what he
is still looking for. It also follows the all thinking involves a risk.
Certainty cannot be guaranteed in advance.
- Democracy and Education, 1916; MW 9:157
- The general features of a reflective experience ... are (i) perplexity,
confusion, doubt, due to the fact that one is implicated in an incomplete
situation whose full character is not yet determined; (ii) a conjectural
anticipation -- a tentative interpretation of the given elements, attributing
to them a tendency to effect certain consequences; (iii) a careful survey
(examination, inspection, exploration, analysis) of all attainable consideration
which will define and clarify the problem in hand; (iv) a consequent
elaboration of the tentative hypothesis to make it more precise and
more consistent, because squaring with a wider range of facts; (v) taking
one stand upon the projected hypothesis as a plan of action which is
applied to the existing state of affairs: doing something overtly to
bring about the anticipated result, and thereby testing the hypothesis.
It is the extent and accuracy of steps three and four which mark off
a distinctive reflective experience from one on the trial and error
plane. They make thinking itself into an experience.
- Democracy and Education, 1916; MW 9:158
- Thinking is the accurate and deliberate instituting of connections
between what is done and its consequences.
- Democracy and Education, 1916; MW 9:164
- A large part of the art of instruction lies in making the difficulty
of new problems large enough to challenge thought, and small enough
so that, in addition to the confusion naturally attending the novel
elements, there shall be luminous familiar spots from which helpful
suggestions may spring.
- Democracy and Education, 1916; MW 9:167
- Ideas, as we have seen, whether they be humble guesses or dignified
theories, are anticipations of some continuity or connection of an activity
and a consequence which has not as yet shown itself. They are therefore
tested by the operation of acting upon them.
- Democracy and Education, 1916; MW 9:174
- Experience, in short, is not a combination of mind and world, subject
and object, method and subject matter, but is a single continuous interaction
of a great diversity (literally countless in number) of energies. For
the purpose of controlling the course or direction which the
moving unity of experience takes we draw a mental distinction between
the how and the what.
- Democracy and Education, 1916; MW 9:179
- How one person's abilities compare in quantity with those of another
is none of the teacher's business. It is irrelevant to his work. What
is required is that every individual shall have opportunities to employ
his own powers in activities that have meaning. Mind, individual method,
originality (these are convertible terms) signify the quality of purposive
or directed action.
- Democracy and Education, 1916; MW 9:185
- Ideas, as we have seen, are intrinsically standpoints and methods
for bringing about a solution of a perplexing situation; forecasts calculated
to influence responses.
- Democracy and Education, 1916; MW 9:186
- It would be much better to have fewer facts and truths in instruction--that
is, fewer things supposedly accepted,--if a smaller number of situations
could be worked out to the point where conviction meant something real--some
identification of the self with the type of conduct demanded by facts
and foresight of results.
- Democracy and Education, 1916; MW 9:188
- The educator's part in the enterprise of education is to furnish
the environment which stimulates responses and directs the learner's
course. In the last analysis, all that the educator can do is modify
stimuli so that response will as surely as is possible result in the
formation of desirable intellectual and emotional dispositions.
- Democracy and Education, 1916; MW 9:200
- Democracy cannot flourish where the chief influences in selecting
subject matter of instruction are utilitarian ends narrowly conceived
for the masses, and, for the higher education of the few, the traditions
of a specialized cultivated class. The notion that the "essentials"
of elementary education are the three R's mechanically treated, is based
upon ignorance of the essentials needed for realization of democratic
ideals. Unconsciously it assumes that these ideals are unrealizable;
it assumes that in the future, as in the past, getting a livelihood,
"making a living," must dignify for most men and women doing things
which are not significant, freely chosen, and ennobling to those who
do them; doing things which serve ends unrecognized by those engaged
in them, carried on under the direction of others for the sake of pecuniary
- Democracy and Education, 1916; MW 9:225
- Any experience, however, trivial in its first appearance, is capable
of assuming an indefinite richness of significance by extending its
range of perceived connections.
- Democracy and Education, 1916; MW 9:233
- The problem of an educational use of science is then to create intelligence
pregnant with belief in the possibility of the direction of human affairs
- Democracy and Education, 1916; MW 9:235-36
- The function which science has to perform in the curriculum is that
which it has performed for the race: emancipation from local and temporary
incidents of experience, and the opening of intellectual vistas unobscured
by the accidents of personal habit and predilection. The logical traits
of abstraction, generalization, and definite formulation are all associated
with this function. In emancipating an idea from the particular context
in which it originated and giving it a wider reference the results of
the experience of any individual are put at the disposal of all men.
Thus ultimately and philosophically science is the organ of general
- Democracy and Education, 1916; MW 9:304
- every individual has grown up, and always must grow up in a social
medium. His responses grow intelligent, or gain meaning, simply because
he lives and acts in a medium of accepted meanings and values. (see
p. 35.) Through social intercourse, through sharing in the activities
embodying beliefs, he gradually acquires a mind of his own. The conception
of mind as a purely isolated possession of the self is at the very antipodes
of the truth. The self achieves mind in the degree in which knowledge
of things is incarnate in the life about him; the self is not a separate
mind building up knowledge anew on its own account.
- Democracy and Education, 1916; MW 9:312
- The phrase "think for one's self" is a pleonasm. Unless one does
it for one's self, it isn't thinking.
- Democracy and Education, 1916; MW 9:335-36
- the philosophic attitude is general in the sense that it is averse
to taking anything as isolated; it tries to place an act in its context--which
constitutes its significance. . . Philosophy is thinking what the known
demands of us--what responsive attitude it exacts. It is an idea of
what is possible, not a record of accomplished fact. . . Philosophy
might also be described as thinking which has become conscious of itself--which
has generalized its place, function, and value in experience.
- Democracy and Education, 1916; MW 9:349
- In brief, the function of knowledge is to make one experience freely
available to other experiences.
- Democracy and Education, 1916; MW 9:350
- Knowledge is a perception of those connections of an object which
determine its applicability in a given situation.
- Democracy and Education, 1916; MW 9:353-54
- The theory of the method of knowing which is advanced in these pages
may be termed pragmatic. Its essential feature is to maintain the continuity
of knowing with an activity which purposely modifies the environment.
It holds that knowledge in its strict sense of something possessed consists
of our intellectual resources--of all the habits that render our action
- Democracy and Education, 1916; MW 9:366
- In truth, the problem of moral education in the schools is one with
the problem of securing knowledge--the knowledge connected with the
system of impulses and habits. For the use to which any known fact is
put depends upon its connections.
- Democracy and Education, 1916; MW 9:367-8[?]
- To call [certain traits of character] virtues in their isolation
is like taking the skeleton for the living body. . . Morals concern
nothing less than the whole character, and the whole character is identical
with the man in all his concrete make-up and manifestations. To possess
virtue does not signify to have cultivated a few nameable and exclusive
traits; it means to be fully and adequately what one is capable of becoming
through association with others in all the offices of life.
- Democracy and Education, 1916; MW 9:369
- A narrow and moralistic view of morals is responsible for the failure
to recognize that all the aims and values which are desirable in education
are themselves moral. Discipline, natural development, culture, social
efficiency, are moral traits--marks of a person who is a worthy member
of that society which it is the business of education to further.
- Democracy and Education, 1916; MW 9:370
- All education which develops power to share effectively in social
life is moral. It forms a character which not only does the particular
deed socially necessary but one which is interested in that continuous
readjustment which is essential to growth. Interest in learning from
all the contacts is the essential moral interest.
- Ethics, 1932; LW 7: 169
- Every act has potential moral significance, because it is,
through its consequences, part of a larger whole of behavior.
- Ethics, 1932; LW 7: 171:
- Acts are not linked up together to form conduct in and of themselves,
but because of their common relation to an enduring single condition--the
self or character as the abiding unity in which different acts leave
their lasting traces.
- Ethics, 1932; LW 7: 172:
- conduct and character are strictly correlative. Continuity, consistency,
throughout a series of acts is the expression of the enduring unity
of attitudes and habits. Deeds hang together because they proceed from
a single and stable self. Customary morality tends to neglect or blur
the connection between character and action; the essence of reflective
morals is that it is conscious of the existence of a persistent self
and of the part it plays in what is externally done.
- Ethics, 1932; LW 7: 181:
- That men form purposes, strive for the realization of ends, is an
established fact. It if is asked why they do so, the only answer to
the question, aside from saying that they do so unreasonable from mere
blind custom, is that they strive to attain certain goals because they
believe that these ends have an intrinsic value of their own; they are good, satisfactory.
- Ethics, 1932; LW 7: 186:
- [A]n end-in-view arises when a particular consequence is foreseen
and being foreseen is consciously adopted by desire and deliberately
made the directive purpose of action. A purpose or an aim represents
a craving, an urge, translated into the idea of an object... which then
develops into... a whole series of activities to be intelligently carried
- Ethics, 1932; LW 7: 203-4
- the great problem concerning ends is to discriminate between those
which are "good" in a near-by and partial view, and those which are
enduringly and inclusively good. The former are more obvious; the latter
depend on the exercise of reflection and often can be discovered and
sustained in thought only by reflection which is patient and thorough
- Ethics, 1932; LW 7: 209
- the way to eliminate preference for narrow and shortsighted expediences
is not to condemn the practical as low and mercenary in comparison to
spiritual ideals, but to cultivate all possible opportunities for the
actual enjoyment of the reflective values and to engage in the activity,
the practice, which extends their scope
- Ethics, 1932; LW 7: 210
- The office of reflection we have seen to be the formation of a judgment
of value in which particular satisfactions are placed as integral parts
of conduct as a consistent harmonious whole. If values did not get in
one another's way, if, that is, the realization of one desire were not
incompatible with that of another, there would be no need of reflection.
We should grasp and enjoy each thing as it comes along. Wisdom, or as
it is called on the ordinary place, prudence, sound judgment, is the
ability to foresee consequences in such a way that we form ends which
grow into one another and reenforce one another
- Ethics, 1932; LW 7:212
- The business of reflection in determining the true good cannot be
done once and for all, as, for instance, making out a table of values
arranged in a hierarchical order of higher and lower. It needs to be
done, and done over and over and over again, in terms of the conditions
of concrete situations as they arise. In short, the need for reflection
and insight is perpetually recurring
- Ethics, 1932; LW 7:231
- The heart of reflective morality is reflection, and reflection
is sure to result in criticism of some matters generally accepted and
in proposals for variation in what is currently regarded as right. Tolerance
is thus not just an attitude of good-humoured indifference. It is positive
willingness to permit reflection and inquiry to go on in the faith that
the truly right will be rendered more secure through questioning and
discussion, while things which have endured merely from custom will
be amended or done away with
- Ethics, 1932; LW 7:232
- while a general idea arises out of the recurrence of special situations,
it is more than a mere extract from them. It constitutes also a new
attitude toward further special situations. A person may use a variety
of things in succession as if they were tables. When he has the general
ideal of a table, he is in possession of a principle of action.
He can use his idea as an ideal, as something by which to criticize
existing tables, and by which, under changed conditions, to invent a
new table. One might warm himself by a fire a thousand times without
having it occur to him to make a fire when he is cold. When he
has the general idea of a fire, he has something which is emancipated
from any given case and which may be employed to generate a fire when
there is none in actual existence. So a person with a general conception
of duty will have a new attitude; he will be on the lookout for situations
in which the idea applies. He will have an ideal or standard to which
he must bring up particular cases. While general ideals are of utmost
value in the direction and enlargement of conduct, the are also dangerous:
they tend to be set up as fixed things in themselves, apart from reference
to any particular case
- Ethics, 1932; LW 7: 245-6
- Purposes, aims, ends-in-view, are distinct from standards and yet
are closely related to them; and vice versa. Ends-in-view are
connected with desire; they look to the future, because they are projections
of the objects in which desires would be satisfied. Standards, on the
other hand, envisage acts already performed or viewed in imagination as if they had been performed
- A Common Faith, 1934; LW 9:17
- An unseen power controlling our destiny becomes the power of an ideal.
All possibilities, as possibilities, are ideal in character. The artist,
scientist, citizen, parent, as far as they are controlled by the spirit
of their callings, are controlled by the unseen. For all endeavor for
the better is moved by faith in what is possible, not by adherence to
- A Common Faith, 1934; LW 9:19
- Any activity pursued in behalf of an ideal end against obstacles
and in spite of threats of personal loss because of conviction of its
general and enduring value is religious in quality.
- "Time and Individuality," 1938; LW 14: 114
- The artist in realizing his own individuality reveals potentialities
hitherto unrealized. This revelation is the inspiration of other individuals
to make the potentialities real, for it is not sheer revolt against
things as they are which stirs human endeavor to its depths, but vision
of what might be and is not.... Those who have the gift of creative
expression in unusually large measure disclose the meaning of the individuality
of others to those others.
- "Time and Individuality," 1938; LW 14: 113
- The ground of democratic ideas and practices is faith in the potentialities
of individuals, faith in the capacity for positive developments if proper
conditions are provided.
- Theory of Valuation, 1939; LW 13: 218
- Observation of results obtained, of actual consequences in
their agreement with and difference from ends anticipated or held in
view, thus provides the conditions by which desires and interests (and
hence valuations) are matured and tested.
- Freedom and Culture, 1939; LW 13: 187
- An American democracy can serve the world only as it demonstrates
in the conduct of its own life the efficacy of plural, partial, and
experimental methods in securing and maintaining an ever-increasing
release of the powers of human nature, in service of a freedom which
is cooperative and a cooperation which is voluntary.
- Experience and Education, 1938; LW 13: 59
- [E]xperiences in order to be educative must lead out into an expanding
world of subject-matter, a subject-matter of facts or information and
of ideas. This condition is satisfied only as the educator views teaching
and learning as a continuous process of reconstruction of experience.
- [the following three quotations were suggested by Rick Penticoff,
English professor at the University of Idaho]
- Experience and Nature, 1925; LW 1: 138
- The interaction of human beings, namely, association, is not different
in origin from other modes of interaction. There is a peculiar
absurdity in the question of how individuals become social, if the question
is taken literally. Human beings illustrate the same traits of
both immediate uniqueness and connection, relationship, as do other
things. No more in their case than in that of atoms and physical
masses is immediacy the whole of existence . . . Everything
that exists in as far as it is known and knowable is in interaction
with other things. . . . The catching up of
human individuals into association is thus no new and unprecedented
fact; it is a manifestation of a commonplace of existence.
- "The Inclusive Philosophic Idea," 1928; LW 3: 41
- [T]he qualities of things associated are displayed only in association,
since in interactions alone are potentialities released and actualized.
- Democracy and Education, 1916; MW 9: 103
- The conception of education as a social process and function has
no definite meaning until we define the kind of society we have in mind.
©2021 - GRID