Pragmatism and Education

Definition of Pragmatism
Pakistani Public education is heavily reliant on Dewey's ideas. Dewey, on the other hand was one of the all time great educationist and thinker, and a proponent of pragmatism.
"Pragmatism" is derived from “Pragma” means practice. Originated in America, Pragmatism maintains that ideas and theories are results of practice, and their value is assessed through knowing their practical results .

Meaning and value are two important subject matters of philosophy. The two most important questions are:

1. How meanings are created?
2. How values are determined?

Sanders Peirce answers the first question about meaning of ideas. He holds that meaning of ideas lie in their practical consequences. If we want to know the meaning of word hard , it can be known through performing a practical. Through scratching an object, we can know if it is hard or soft. We can scratch a soft object, and we can't scratch a hard one. This precisely is the meaning of the concept 'hardness.'

William James, while giving an understanding to the value we assign to an idea or belief, says that ideas and beliefs are good if their results are good, bad if the result are bad. If we want to know the value of religion, we have to practice it. If this practice results in good, then religion is good, if not ,than it is not good.

Generally, Pragmatism emphasises cnsequences, utility and practicality as determinants of meaning and values. Pragmatism rejects positivism that claims that human concepts and intellect represent reality . According to pragmatism, human intellect learns when it solves problems .That belief is true, idea or theory is true which works and helps in problem solvinhg.

Major positions of  Pragmatism

  • Change is permanant
  • Morality lies in finding novel and socially acceptable ways to follow impulses
  • Intellect progresses with problem solving

      Change is permanant. Pragmatism maintains that change is the principle of reality. Reality changes, and this change affects the ways human beings address the problems of life. Ideas and values act like instruments to solve human problems. If an idea no longer remains useful, it should be changed. If a value becomes redundant, it should be abandoned.
      Morality. Morality and moral standards develop when an individual tries to pursue his impulses in a social system. A person feels the impulse of liking a girl can marry that girl. This is the socially approved way of addressing this impulse. Sometimes, an impulse has no socially acceptable response, and individual has to deal with such impulse creatively. If that creation is socially acceptable, it adds a new instrument to the moral tool box of the society.
      Intellectual Development. Intellect deveops when humans face a problem and try to it. Pragmatism believes in problem solving as a means of human evolution.

Pragmatism in Education
Dewey's ideas are of key importance in understanding education. For Dewey the aim of education is more education. Dewey says that education basically is a type of experience . More education means more and more experience, but of a certain quality, for all experiences are not educatiove.

In a bid to define educative experience, Dewey says that educative experience should be interactive and continuous. Education should allow humans to interact with the society in an effective manner. Continutity means that what we learn from education should have a possibility of forward growth.
Our experiences should have a quality of expansion and the ability to interact with the social reality.
For these reasons, Dewey calls education a continuous reconstruction of experience.

Pragmatism short-circuited many of the age-old tensions in philosophy:
· Between subject and object
· Between logical validity and moral quality
· between thought and judgment

Pragmatism disarmed heavy debate with an evolutionary perspective: thoughts which improve one’s situation (and societies) are “good”. Those that do not are “bad”.
Pragmatism implies that knowledge creation is an essentially human endeavor.
There are no “deeper truths” to be discovered, beyond what people believe that serves them well.
At the same time, religious truth is as valid as scientific truth. Both are social constructions with social merit.
Pragmatism in action
Pragmatism is an applied philosophy. Its validity derives from its social impact – which would be nothing except through its application.
That includes
· Psychology through the work of James,
· Education via John Dewey,
· Law through the work of O.W. Holmes
· Mathematics and Logic via Pierce
John Dewey on Pragmatism :(1859-1952)
In a philosophy he called Instrumentalism, John Dewey attempted to combine both Perice’s and James’ philosophies of Pragmatism. It was thus both about logical concepts as well as ethical analysis. Instrumentalism describes Dewey’s ideas the conditions under which reasoning and inquiry occurs. On the one hand it should be controlled by logical constraints; on the other hand it is directed at producing goods and valued satisfactions.
John Dewey was a leading proponent of the American school of thought known as "pragmatism," a view that rejected the dualistic epistemology and metaphysics of modern philosophy in favor of a naturalistic approach that viewed knowledge as arising from an active adaptation of the human organism to its environment. On this view, inquiry should not be understood as consisting of a mind passively observing the world and drawing from this ideas that if true correspond to reality, but rather as a process which initiates with a check or obstacle to successful human action, proceeds to active manipulation of the environment to test hypotheses, and issues in a re-adaptation of organism to environment that allows once again for human action to proceed. With this view as his starting point, Dewey developed a broad body of work encompassing virtually all of the main areas of philosophical concern in his day. He also wrote extensively on social issues in such popular publications as the New Republic, thereby gaining a reputation as a leading social commentator of his time.
John Dewey on Pragmatism :(1859-1952)
John Dewey's (1859–1952) life spanned nearly a full century, and his written work reflects a corresponding breadth of influences and interests. Dewey brought pragmatism to maturity by focusing on the pragmatic method of inquiry as an ever-ongoing, self-correcting, and social process. Dewey used the scientific method as a paradigm of controlled and reflective inquiry, and referred, in various works, to his version of pragmatism as "instrumentalism" and "experimentalism." Dewey combined Peirce's community-sense of inquiry with the affective elements of James's work. As a result, Dewey's version of pragmatism deemphasized knowledge and belief as the sole ends of inquiry, and instead sought to combine intelligent reflection with intelligent action.
Darwin's evolutionary thought had a profound impact on Dewey's contributions to pragmatism. Dewey's instrumentalism is a theory of the process of the transformation of an inchoate, problematic situation into a coherent unified one where knowledge is the product of inquiry and the means, or instrument, by which further inquiries may be made. Dewey's fallibilism, inherited from Peirce, holds that no belief, view, or claim to knowledge is immune to possible future revision. Whereas Peirce's fallibilism emphasized the reversibility of scientific theories, Dewey sought to advocate the ways in which ongoing communication among diverse persons and experiences may inform and refine each other. Knowledge, for Dewey, was the product of inquiry, built out of the raw materials of experience. Knowledge, or "warranted assert ability," is not a private
Extreme type of utilitarianism(judging of activities in terms of human experiences and relating them to human purpose).
Opposition of higher and spiritual values
Negation of fixed aims of education
Humanities and cultural activities find no place in the pragmatic scheme of education.

It is anti-intellectual. The main area concern for pragmatist is the market place of daily life.
No faith in internal truth( truth is seen as constantly being changed and tested rather than a stable body of know;edge)
It is theoretical rather than practical.


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