John Dewey’s View of Science

Table of Content

I. Science is very near the core of everything that Dewey said regarding society, education, philosophy, and human beings. Typical of his overall approach to science is his statement that “Ultimately and philosophically, science is the organ of general social progress.” According to Dewey, only the scientific method allows for maximum possible comprehensiveness, is the only one compatible with the democratic way of life, lends itself to public scrutiny, and is the method of intelligence. Because of these views, Dewy incorporates the scientific method into all disciplines of life.In his enthusiasm for modern scientific methods, Dewey went so far as not only to redefine the role of scientific method in education, but in the hope of changing people’s attitudes about science.

Although Dewey offered a more or less “conventional” definition of science, such as, the testing of hypotheses in experience, or the changing of old conclusions to fit new findings, his real contribution lies in building a network of science- based concepts that seem to underlie not only scientific thought, but the whole concept of a democratic society in general. As he put it “The experimental method is the only one compatible with the democratic way of life.”Overall, he praised science almost unqualifiedly even in spite of his frequent, and on their face seemingly contradictory disclaimers regarding the inhumane uses to which science may be put, its cold instrumentality(12), or the primary role of the artistic attitude in professional teaching(13). Dewey’s travels in philosophy are those of a protector of the new age of science, constantly in search of new converts, new methods, new ideas, new habits, and new attitudes. He advocated that science become a habit “with intense emotional allegiance,”(14) meaning, something which people will zealously believe in, fight for, and defend. He approved of the possibility of science shaping human desires, and thus reinforcing itself in ever increasing social circles(15).

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It is small wonder that Dewey should become involved in education. Like all moral philosophers worth their salt, Dewey, too, sought to re-build society by re-constructing education. As the guarantor of ideological survival of scientific paradigms well into the future, science-like education plays a key role in Dewey’s thought in generating scientific attitudes and beliefs, and in closing the self-perpetuating circle that starts-ends with education, and ends-starts with scientific institutions. Like all great philosophers ever since Plato, Dewey, too, travelled in ever larger circles that made it harder and harder for the non-initiated to see their common center. In his enthusiasm for the role of science in society, and by default, if not by design, in education, Dewey seems to have allowed a much more central role for science, than the underlying logic of his premises may have warranted.

For example, he did not fully address some of the more obvious criticisms against science, or anticipate or discuss the educational usefulness of non-scientific methods. For example, he did not fully discuss or credit the role that non-scientific methods, such as, imagination-centered education, role-play, or metaphysical discussion, may have in the development of democratic character. Other issues which merit further analysis include the morality of treating nature as a mere means for scientific development; the purely a-moral or instrumental nature of science(16); the employment of scientific methods by non-democratic regimes(17); the possible non-objectivity of scientific inquiry, including its underlying historical and cultural relativism(18); its possibly becoming another essence in the Deweyan lexicon of imperative anti-essentialism(19); its game-like qualities; and finally, and more importantly from an educational perspective, science being possibly used in education not as a means for more control over nature, or more useful work, or more human-centered or “utilitarian” purposes, as advocated Dewey(20), but for better understanding other cultures, coexisting with non-human world-parts (=parts of the world that are not limited to human beings), and engaging in meaningful and enjoyable play. Words/ Pages : 642 / 24

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