Moral Philosophy of John Dewey
Dewey’s Moral Philosophy
Dewey formed his moral Philosophy in the period of extraordinary social, economic, demographic, political and technological change. He felt that traditional morality and philosophical ethics served the interests of elites. He realized that moral practice needed to be thoroughly revisited and reconstructed that they are able to respond according to the circumstances.
Dewey emphasizes to use reflective intelligence to revise one’s judgment in the light of the consequences of acting on them. He considers value judgment as a tool to enable one for satisfactory redirection when habit is no longer enough.
For Dewey human behavior is more important than action it includes unconscious and unreflective activity produced by instinct and reaction.
Impulse includes what we would call today drives, appetites, instincts and unconditioned reflexes. Impulsive activity is not purposive. It involves no idea of an end to be achieved by the activity. It has psychological effects in it. Desires are fixed by their ends. Impulses can be directed and shaped towards various ends. For example a newborn feels hungry first no end in view. The child observes that crying results in feeding which releases its hunger. He/she gets idea that by crying hunger can be relieved. So desires are critically shaped by others’ responses.
Habits are socially shaped to particular forms of activity or modes of responses to the environment. They channel impulses in specified directions, towards certain outcome, by entrenching particular uses of means, prescribing certain behaviors in particular circumstances. Most important habits are customs, shared habits of a group that are passed on to children through socialization. Language consists in a body of habits and norms but a few languages were explicitly invented for communication. Food habits are refined into a taste certain food. Some foods are taboo or unclean when its consumption was followed by disaster. When environment changes they may need different results than originally intended.
Once Dewey was asked can adults change their habits? His answer was that habits can be changed through willpower. People find difficult to modify habits because people have attachments with them. Dewey places his hopes to modify habits of young people through education as their impulses are not changed into habits. Adults can change their habits with the help of education when one becomes independent thinker, develops critical inquiry, observation, experimentation, foresight and imaginations and sympathy, then habits becomes more flexible and responsive to the change and according to consequences.
For John Dewey, education and democracy are intimately connected.
According to Dewey good education should have both a societal purpose and purpose for the individual student. For Dewey, the long-term matters, but so does the short-term quality of an educational experience. Educators are responsible; therefore, for providing student with experiences that are immediately valuable and which better enable the students to contribute to society.
Dewey polarizes two extremes in education—traditional and progressive education.
The paradigm war still goes on---on the one hand, relatively structured, disciplined, ordered, didactic tradition education vs. relatively unstructured, free, student-directed progressive education.
Dewey criticizes traditional education for lacking in holistic understanding of students and designing curricula overly focused on content to the well being of individuals and society.
On the other hand, progressive education, he argues, is too reactionary and takes a free approach without really knowing how or why freedom can be most useful in education. Freedom for the sake of freedom is a weak philosophy of education. Dewey argues that we must move beyond this paradigm war, and to do that we need a theory of experience.
Thus, Dewey argues that educators must first understand the nature of human experience.
Dewey’s theory is that experience arises from the interaction of two principles—continuity and interaction. Continuity is that each experience a person has will influence his\her future, for better or for worse. Interaction refers to the situational influence on one’s experience. In other words, one’s past experience of a lesson, will depend on how the teacher arranges and facilitates the lesson, as well my past experience of similar lessons and teachers.
It is important to understand that, for Dewey, no experience has pre-ordained values. Thus, what may be a rewarding experience for one person could be a detrimental experience for another.
The value of the experience is to be judged by the effect that experience has on the individual’s present, their future, and the extent to which the individual is able to contribute to society.
Dewey says that once w have a theory of experience, then as educators can set about progressively organizing our subject matter in a way that it takes accounts of students past experiences, and then provides them with experiences which will help to open up, rather than shut down, a person’s access to future growth experiences, thereby expanding the person’s likely contribution to society.
Dewey examines his theory of experience in light of practical educational problems, such as the debate between how much freedom vs. discipline to use. Dewey shows that his theory of experience (continuity and interaction) can be useful guides to help solving such issues.
Throughout, there is a strong emphasis on the subjective quality of a student’s experience and the necessity for the teacher of understanding the student’s past experiences in order to effectively design a sequence of liberating educational experiences to allow the person to fulfils their potential as a member of society.
John Dewey was influenced by the theory of evolution. He affirmed that the mind as well as the body evolved. Ideas arise from experience and are nothing more than plans of action by which the organism adjusts satisfactorily to his/her environment. Thinking is the process by which man adjusts. Thinking begins as a result of the felt need of the individual. All thinking is problem centered. The product of human thought is the instrument of action. Human thinking is social in that it occurs in a social atmosphere. Social utility is the test by which truth is established.
Instrumentalism believes that truth is an instrument used by human beings to solve the problems. Since problems changes then so must truth. Since problems changes truth changes and therefore there can be no eternal reality. Dewey’s Instrumentalism affirms that cognition consists in forging ideal tools or instruments with which to cope with a given situation. Like James, Dewey maintains that the mind is an instrument for realising purposes. Ideas are teleological weapons of mind. Ideas are changeable and applicable. What is most important in a thing or idea is its value as an instrument of action and that the truth of an idea lies in its usefulness. Ideas are conceived as instruments for transforming the uneasiness arising from facing a problem into the satisfaction of solving it.
Instrumentalism refers to the use of human knowledge and intelligence in one’s interaction with the environment. Techniques can be useful when a person wants to do something but genuinely doesn’t know how to do it. Instrumentalism loves technique for the power it gives to the practitioner.
Dewey’s Philosophy of Instrumentalism
The philosophical teaching of Dewey is known as Instrumentalism. According to him, nature is a continuously flowing stream. It uses thought as an instrument or tool to pass from a given situation, full of ambiguities and disharmonies, to a new and better situation. Although this new situation contains elements implied in the former, it is richer and better because of its new meaning and greater complexity.
Dewey's "instrumentalism" affirms that cognition consists in forging ideal tools or instruments with which to cope with a given situation. Like James, Dewey maintains that the mind is an instrument for realizing purposes. Ideas are teleological weapons of mind. Ideas are plastic and adaptable. They owe their stability to the vital functions which they serve.
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 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.
Dewey’s original philosophy, called instrumentalism, bears a relationship to the utilitarian and pragmatic schools of thought. Instrumentalism holds that the various modes and forms of human activity are instruments developed by human beings to solve multiple individual and social problems. Since the problems are constantly changing, the instruments for dealing with them must also change. Truth, evolutionary in nature, partakes of no transcendental or eternal reality and is based on experience that can be tested and shared by all who investigate. Dewey conceived of democracy as a primary ethical value, and he did much to formulate working principles for a democratic and industrial society.
In education his influence has been a leading factor in the abandonment of authoritarian methods and in the growing emphasis upon learning through experimentation and practice. In revolt against abstract learning, Dewey considered education as a tool that would enable the citizen to integrate culture and vocation effectively and usefully. Dewey actively participated in movements to forward social welfare and woman’s suffrage, protect academic freedom, and affect political reform
INSTRUMENTALISM. Dewey was influenced by the theory of evolution. He affirmed that the mind as well as the body evolved. Ideas arise from experience and are nothing more than plans of action by which the organism adjusts satisfactorily to his environment. Thinking is the process by which man adjusts. Thinking begins as a result of the felt need of the individual. All thinking is problem cantered. The product of human thought is the instrument of action. Human thinking is social in that it occurs in a social milieu. Social utility is the test by which truth is established.
Summary of Dewey's Philosophy of Instrumentalism
Dewey's philosophy was called instrumentalism (related to pragmatism).
Instrumentalism believes that truth is an instrument used by human beings to solve their problems.
Since problems change, then so must truth.
Since problems change, truth changes, and therefore there can be no eternal reality.