US pragmatist philosopher and radical educational theorist.
Born in Burlington, Vermont, the son of a grocer, Dewey was educated at the University of Vermont. He worked at the universities of Michigan and Chicago before moving in 1904 to Columbia in New York, where he served as professor of philosophy until his retirement in 1930.
Working in the pragmatic tradition of William James and C. S. Peirce, Dewey sought to develop theories of knowledge and truth. Knowledge he defined as successful practice, while in place of the concept of truth he proposed that we substitute the notion of ‘warranted assertibility’. Dewey presented his mature philosophical views in two late works, The Quest for Certainty (1929) and Experience and Nature (1935).
From such philosophical principles Dewey derived the educational theory that children would learn best by doing. He published his ideas in his The School and Society (1899) and established in Chicago a small experimental school where his ideas could be tested. The success of Dewey's approach convinced many American educationalists that it was necessary to develop less structured, less teacher-centred, and more practical schools.