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John Dewey (1859 – 1952) was an American liberal philosopher, pragmatist and founder of functional psychology. We do not learn from experience…we learn from reflecting on experience.

John Dewey

John Dewey was a liberal philosopher of functional psychology.

Sources: WikiQuote, GoodReads, BrainyQuote,


Quotations from John Dewey

We do not learn from experience…we learn from reflecting on experience.

The educational process has no end beyond itself; it is its own end.

We always live at the time we live and not at some other time, and only by extracting at each present time the full meaning of each present experience are we prepared for doing the same thing in the future.

The most important attitude that can be formed is that of desire to go on learning.

Of all affairs, communication is the most wonderful.

The goal of education is to enable individuals to continue their education.

I feel the gods are pretty dead, though I suppose I ought to know that however, to be somewhat more philosophical in the matter, if atheism means simply not being a theist, then of course I’m an atheist.

A problem well put is half solved.

Conflict is the gadfly of thought. It stirs us to observation and memory. It instigates invention. It shocks us out of sheep-like passivity, and sets us at noting and contriving…conflict is a sine qua non of reflection and ingenuity.

Give the pupils something to do, not something to learn; and the doing is of such a nature as to demand thinking; learning naturally results.

The only freedom that is of enduring importance is the freedom of intelligence, that is to say, freedom of observation and of judgment, exercised in behalf of purposes that are intrinsically worth while. The commonest mistake made about freedom is, I think, to identify it with freedom of movement, or, with the external or physical side of activity.

Every one has experienced how learning an appropriate name for what was dim and vague cleared up and crystallized the whole matter. Some meaning seems distinct almost within reach, but is elusive; it refuses to condense into definite form; the attaching of a word somehow (just how, it is almost impossible to say) puts limits around the meaning, draws it out from the void, makes it stand out as an entity on its own account.

Failure is instructive. The person who really thinks learns quite as much from his failures as from his successes.

Education is not preparation for life; education is life itself.

To find out what one is fitted to do, and to secure an opportunity to do it, is the key to happiness.

The good man is the man who, no matter how morally unworthy he has been, is moving to become better.

The self is not something ready-made, but something in continuous formation through choice of action.

Were all instructors to realize that the quality of mental process, not the production of correct answers, is the measure of educative growth something hardly less than a revolution in teaching would be worked.

Arriving at one goal is the starting point to another.

To me faith means not worrying.

The self is not something ready-made, but something in continuous formation through choice of action.

We only think when we are confronted with problems.

The path of least resistance and least trouble is a mental rut already made. It requires troublesome work to undertake the alternation of old beliefs.

Luck, bad if not good, will always be with us. But it has a way of favoring the intelligent and showing its back to the stupid.

Without some goals and some efforts to reach it, no man can live.

No man’s credit is as good as his money.

Man lives in a world of surmise, of mystery, of uncertainties.

Such happiness as life is capable of comes from the full participation of all our powers in the endeavor to wrest from each changing situations of experience its own full and unique meaning.

Every thinker puts some portion of an apparently stable world in peril and no one can wholly predict what will emerge in its place.

Every great advance in science has issued from a new audacity of imagination.

A society which is mobile, which is full of channels for the distribution of a change occurring anywhere, must see to it that its members are educated to personal initiative and adaptability. Otherwise, they will be overwhelmed by the changes in which they are caught and whose significance or connections they do not perceive.

Particularly it is true that a society which not only changes but which has the ideal of such change as will improve it, will have different standards and methods of education from one [society] which aims simply at the perpetuation of its own customs.

The two points selected by which to measure the worth of a form of social life are the extent in which the interests of a group are shared by all its members, and the fullness and freedom with which it interacts with other groups. An undesirable society, in other words, is one which internally and externally sets up barriers to free intercourse and communication of experience. A society which makes provision for participation in its good of all its members on equal terms and which secures flexible readjustment of its institutions through interaction of the different forms of associated life is in so far democratic.

Family life may be marked by exclusiveness,suspicion, and jealousy as to those without, and yet be a model of amity and mutual aid within. Any education given by a group tends to socialize its members, but the quality and value of the socialization depends on the habits and aims of the group.

The way our group or class does things tends to determine the proper objects of attention, and thus prescribe the directions and limits of observation and memory. What is strange and foreign (that is to say outside the activities of the group) tends to be morally forbidden and intellectually suspect. It seems almost incredible to us, for example, that things which we know very well, could have escaped recognition in past ages. We incline to account for it by attributing congenital stupidity to our forerunners and by assuming superior native intelligence on our own part. But the explanation is that their modes of life did not call for attention to such facts, but held their minds riveted to other things.

In order to have a large number of values in common, all members of the group must have an equable opportunity to receive and to take from others. Members must be able to accept each others ideas and must be able to compromise. There must be a large variety of shared undertakings and experiences. Otherwise, the influences which educate some into masters, educate others into slaves. And the experience of each party loses in meaning, when the free interchange of varying modes of life-experience is arrested. A separation into a privileged and subject-class prevents social endosmosis. The evils thereby affecting the superior class are less material and less perceptible, but equally real. Their culture tends to be sterile, to be turned back upon itself; their art becomes a showy display and artificial; their wealth luxurious; their knowledge overspecialized; their manners fastidious rather than humane.


COMMENTS on the quotations of John Dewey

We do not learn from experience…we learn from reflecting on experience. This is a profound quote, because it reminds us that it requires thinking about the experiences we have encountered. We may learn some habitual responses when having the experiences, but it is when we consider what preceded the critical turning points, and what we should do should those precursors occur again, that we are really exercising our human mental powers. Also, in more abstract situations it is through carefully turning over in our minds the qualities of the perplexing phenomena we have encountered that creative new responses become possible. These are the turning points for humanity when they are really new solutions to common problems.

The most important attitude that can be formed is that of desire to go on learning. This is a theme to which John Dewey returns to repeatedly, and thus he must value it highly, but I disagree with the premise that learning is an end in itself. My view is that goal-directed action is the end, and that learning is a preparation for completing the intended action. The more clearly one has set out goals the more specific and useful the learning becomes. Just learning for the idle fun of it isn’t going to go anywhere of much use; it’s like a boat in the middle of the ocean just sailing about randomly.

The goal of education is to enable individuals to continue their education. This is another example of Dewey’s placing the process of education as an end goal, but the problem is that it consumes personal time, energy, and money and wastes other people’s time, energy and money. If there isn’t a worthwhile end, then the so-called education is a dead-end blunder.

A problem well put is half solved. That is a fine sentiment, but the more basic question is, what is a potential procedure for discovering problems and for working them into a sequence of words that will offer a way of discovering a good answer? This isn’t an impossible problem, and was answered in one of potentially an infinity of ways by Karl Popper. John Dewey was a fine educator, but he wasn’t a first-rank inquirer into exploring the human potential.