Life and works
John Dewey was born in Burlington, Vermont to a family of modest means. He was one of four boys born to Archibald Sprague Dewey and Lucina Artemisia Rich Dewey. Their second son was also named John, but he died in an accident on January 17, 1859. The second John Dewey was born October 20, 1859, forty weeks after the death of his older brother. Like his older, surviving brother, Davis Rich Dewey, he attended the University of Vermont, where he was initiated into Delta Psi, and graduated Phi Beta Kappa in 1879. A significant professor of Dewey's at the University of Vermont was Henry Augustus Pearson Torrey (H. A. P. Torrey), the son-in-law and nephew of former University of Vermont president Joseph Torrey. Dewey studied privately with Torrey between his graduation from Vermont and his enrollment at Johns Hopkins University.
After two years as a high-school teacher in Oil City, Pennsylvania and one teaching elementary school in the small town of Charlotte, Vermont, Dewey decided that he was unsuited as a primary or secondary school teacher. After studying with George Sylvester Morris, Charles Sanders Peirce, Herbert Baxter Adams, and G. Stanley Hall, Dewey received his Ph.D. from the School of Arts & Sciences at Johns Hopkins University. In 1884, he accepted a faculty position at the University of Michigan (1884–88 and 1889–94) with the help of George Sylvester Morris. His unpublished and now lost dissertation was titled "The Psychology of Kant."
In 1894 Dewey joined the newly founded University of Chicago (1894–1904) where he developed his belief in Rational Empiricism, becoming associated with the newly emerging Pragmatic philosophy. His time at the University of Chicago resulted in four essays collectively entitled
Thought and its Subject-Matter, which was published with collected works from his colleagues at Chicago under the collective title
Studies in Logical Theory (1903). During that time Dewey also initiated the University of Chicago Laboratory Schools, where he was able to actualize the pedagogical beliefs that provided material for his first major work on education, The School and Society (1899). Disagreements with the administration ultimately caused his resignation from the university, and soon thereafter he relocated near the East Coast. In 1899, Dewey was elected president of the American Psychological Association. From 1904 until his retirement in 1930 he was professor of philosophy at Columbia University. In 1905 he became president of the American Philosophical Association. He was a longtime member of the American Federation of Teachers.
Along with the historians Charles A. Beard and James Harvey Robinson, and the economist Thorstein Veblen, Dewey is one of the founders of The New School. Dewey's most significant writings were "The Reflex Arc Concept in Psychology" (1896), a critique of a standard psychological concept and the basis of all his further work; Democracy and Education (1916), his celebrated work on progressive education;
Human Nature and Conduct (1922), a study of the function of habit in human behavior; The Public and its Problems (1927), a defense of democracy written in response to Walter Lippmann's The Phantom Public (1925);
Experience and Nature (1925), Dewey's most "metaphysical" statement; Impressions of Soviet Russia and the Revolutionary World (1929), a glowing travelogue from the nascent USSR; Art as Experience (1934), Dewey's major work on aesthetics; A Common Faith (1934), a humanistic study of religion originally delivered as the Dwight H. Terry Lectureship at Yale;
Logic: The Theory of Inquiry (1938), a statement of Dewey's unusual conception of logic; Freedom and Culture (1939), a political work examining the roots of fascism; and Knowing and the Known (1949), a book written in conjunction with Arthur F. Bentley that systematically outlines the concept of trans-action, which is central to his other works (see Transactionalism). While each of these works focuses on one particular philosophical theme, Dewey included his major themes in most of what he published. He published more than 700 articles in 140 journals, and approximately 40 books.
Reflecting his immense influence on 20th-century thought, Hilda Neatby wrote "Dewey has been to our age what Aristotle was to the later Middle Ages, not a philosopher, but the philosopher."
Dewey married to Alice Chipman in 1886 shortly after Chipman graduated with her PhB from the University of Michigan. The two had six children: Frederick Archibald Dewey, Evelyn Riggs Dewey, Morris (who died young), Gordon Chipman Dewey, Lucy Alice Chipman Dewey, and Jane Mary Dewey. Alice Chipman died in 1927 at the age of 68; weakened by a case of malaria contracted during a trip to Turkey in 1924 and a heart attack during a trip to Mexico City in 1926, she died from cerebral thrombosis on July 13, 1927. Dewey married Estelle Roberta Lowitz Grant, "a longtime friend and companion for several years before their marriage" on December 11, 1946. At Roberta's behest, the couple adopted two siblings, Lewis (changed to John, Jr.) and Shirley. John Dewey died of pneumonia on June 1, 1952 at his home in New York City after years of ill-health. and was cremated the next day.
The United States Postal Service honored Dewey with a Prominent Americans series 30¢ postage stamp in 1968.