John Dewey was born in Burlington, Vermont on 20 October 1859 and died in New York City on 1 June 1952. This issue of the journal celebrates his life and the 150th anniversary of his birth. It also represents the commemoration of this anniversary by the John Dewey Society (founded 1936). All contributors are members of the Society selected for their diversity of interests in Dewey’s philosophy as well as differing interpretations of his work.
Born before the Civil War (in which his father served) and dying during the Korean conflict in the Cold War, his life spanned a tumultuous time in U.S. and world history in which he was a prominent domestic and global figure. Besides his many academic books and publications, Dewey wrote hundreds of pieces for the popular press, including The Atlantic Monthly, Ladies Home Journal, The Nation, The New Republic, The New York Times, and such widely read educational journals as Teachers College Record, The Social Frontier, and the Journal of the National Education Association. As a social activist, he was involved in the founding of the American Association of University Professors, American Civil Liberties Union, and the New York City Teachers Union and he presided at the trial of Leon Trotsky, among many other involvements.
For decades, he was America’s most public intellectual, perhaps the most uncloistered and wide-ranging thinker in the history of the nation. A truly cosmopolitan philosopher, his ninetieth birthday was formally celebrated in Canada, Denmark, England, France, Holland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Norway, Sweden, and Turkey as well as the United States. The ninetieth birthday fund committee, designed to raise $90,000 for Dewey to donate as he saw fit, received contributions from people as diverse as cartoonist Al Capp, Justice Hugo Black, Harvard president James B. Conant, union leader David Dubinsky, entertainer Jimmy Durante, [End Page 1] Albert Einstein, and the actor Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. The first message read at his birthday dinner was from President Truman. The prime minister of India, Jawaharlal Nehru, attended while Justice Felix Frankfurter spoke to an assembly of some five hundred. At the Columbia University celebration, Dwight D. Eisenhower, president of the University and future U.S. president, called him “the philosopher of freedom.”1 This issue of the journal celebrates another birthday sixty years later at a time when, once again, Dewey’s philosophical reach is global.
Dewey’s grasp was as great as his reach. He made enduring contributions to all the major domains of philosophical study including, logic, aesthetics, metaphysics, ethics, political philosophy, philosophy of religion, and such. He made major contributions in psychology as the leader of the Chicago School of functionalism. He was elected president of the American Psychological Association (1899) before he was president of the American Philosophical Association (1905). He was also world renowned for his original thinking about education, declaring in his monumental Democracy and Education that “philosophy may even be defined as the general theory of education.”2
Often called the philosopher of reconstruction, he reconstructed his thought slowly but steadily in his lifetime, moving from Hegelian objective idealism to experimental naturalism and pragmatism. The context and course of events sometimes led him to dramatically change his mind, as when he recognized his mistake in supporting WWI and became a leader in the Outlawry of War movement. Today, in the Deweyan spirit, we must critically recover and reconstruct Dewey for our time. It is our hope that the present issue will prove a valuable contribution to this goal. With this end in mind, we have asked each contributor to provide “reflections for the twenty-first century.” In an effort to create a temporal mirror on our times, we will provide a brief historical contextualization for each contribution before leaving it to readers to draw out their own connections and conclusions.
When Nel Noddings suggests “A Common Faith is arguably one of John Dewey’s least effective books,” she is probably right. It was a rhetorical failure that convinced few people who read it then or more recently. The typical response of friends and foe alike assumes a rather narrow list of...