Dewey’s pragmatism—or, “cultural naturalism”, which he favored over “pragmatism” and “instrumentalism”—may be understood as a critique and reconstruction of philosophy within the larger ambit of a Darwinian worldview (Lamont 1961; MW4: 3).
Following James’ lead, Dewey argued that philosophy had become an overly technical and intellectualistic discipline, divorced from assessing the social conditions and values dominating everyday life (, LW5: 157–58).
At Michigan, Dewey developed long-term professional relationships with James Hayden Tufts and George Herbert Mead.
In 1886, Dewey married Harriet Alice Chipman; they had six children and adopted one.
He grew up in Burlington, was raised in the Congregationalist Church, and attended public schools.
After studying Latin and Greek in high school, Dewey entered the University of Vermont at fifteen and graduated in 1879 at nineteen.This standpoint, of active adaptation, led Dewey to criticize the tendency of traditional philosophies to abstract and reify concepts derived from living contexts.As did other classical pragmatists, Dewey focused criticism upon traditional dualisms of metaphysics and epistemology (e.g., mind/body, nature/culture, self/society, and reason/emotion) and then reconstructed their elements as parts of larger continuities.Two of the boys died tragically young (two and eight).Chipman had a significant influence on Dewey’s advocacy for women and his shift away from religious orthodoxy.In addition, Dewey developed extensive and often systematic views in ethics, epistemology, logic, metaphysics, aesthetics, and philosophy of religion.Because Dewey typically took a genealogical approach that couched his own view within the larger history of philosophy, one may also find a fully developed metaphilosophy in his work.He sought to reconnect philosophy with the mission of education-for-living (philosophy as “the general theory of education”), a form of social criticism at the most general level, or “criticism of criticisms” (, MW9: 338).Set within the larger picture of Darwinian evolutionary theory, philosophy should be seen as an activity undertaken by interdependent organisms-in-environments.Dewey’s main graduate school influences—Neo-Hegelian idealism, Darwinian biology, and Wundtian experimental psychology—created a tension, which he sought to resolve.Was the world fundamentally biological, functional, and material or was it, rather, inherently creative and spiritual?