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Continuity in How We Think

by George Stanic & Dee Russell - 2002

Prawat (2000, 2001) claims that a major discontinuity appeared in John Dewey’s thinking in 1915, when Dewey moved away from the thinking of William James to that of Charles Peirce. The change is described as a “dramatic” and “stunning about face” in Dewey’s views. We look at one crucial part of Prawat’s evidence of discontinuity, the 1910 and 1933 versions of How We Think. Prawat cites passages from the 1933 version to make his case for discontinuity when, often, very similar (even identical) text can be found in the 1910 version. Focusing on Dewey’s views on the role of the teacher, the place of aesthetics and ethics in inquiry, the form of concepts, and the generation of ideas, we conclude that Prawat’s hypothesis of discontinuity cannot be sustained. The role of the imagination did become more explicit and important in Dewey’s work over time, but Prawat fails to see the imagination in Dewey’s early work and miscasts development and reconstruction as discontinuity.

Prawat (2000, 2001) claims that a major discontinuity appeared in John Dewey's thinking in 1915, when Dewey moved away from the thinking of William James to that of Charles Peirce. The change is described as a "dramatic" and "stunning about face" in Dewey's views. We look at one crucial part of Prawat's evidence of discontinuity 9 the 1910 and 1933 versions of How We Think. Prawat cites passages from the 1933 version to make his case for discontinuity when, often, very similar (even identical) text can be found in the 1910 version. Focusing on Dewey's views on the role of the teacher, the place of aesthetics and ethics in inquiry, the form of concepts, and the generation of ideas, we conclude that Prawat's hypothesis of discontinuity cannot be sustained. The role of the imagination did become more explicit and important in Dewey /s work over time, but Prawat fails to see the imagination in Dewey's early work and miscasts development and reconstruction as discontinuity.

Whether a major discontinuity appeared in John Dewey's thinking in about 1915 has been the subject of recent discussion in the Teachers College Record (See Garrison, 2001; Prawat, 2000, 2001). According to Prawat, who contrasts his view with Garrison's, Dewey moved away from the thinking of William James to that of Charles Peirce, becoming a Peircean social constructivist rather than a Jamesian induetionist. Prawat contends that the change was apparent in, among other things, Dewey's description of the process of inquiry. And the change was not subtle: Prawat describes it as a "dramatic" and "wrenching" change, a "stunning about face," reflected in "graphic evidence"; Prawat goes so far as to characterize Dewey's limited recognition of the importance of Peirce's work in his own thinking as "disingenuous"—in effect, as too little, too late.

Prawat (2000, 2001) does not cite such critics of Dewey's mature philosophy as Pepper, Croce, Bernstein, and Rorty (See Alexander, 1998), all of whom see a turn back toward idealism in Dewey's later work, especially after 1925. In a short essay focused on Dewey's aesthetics, Alexander (1998) discusses alternative views of Dewey's development: either "a natural development, a blossoming," or a "deep reorientation" similar to Heidegger's "turn." Alexander points to the surprise and confusion felt by the first readers of Experience and Nature in 1925 and Art as Experience in 1934, works in which Dewey formulated "art and the aesthetic [as] a central, ultimate response to the issues that motivated his philosophy as such" (p. 5). However, for Alexander, these works are not evidence of a turn toward idealism; instead, says Alexander, "Dewey's thinking about art crystallized major themes that characterize his philosophy as it took shape in the late 1890s and certainly by the early 1900s" (p. 5).

Prawat does credit Diggins (1994) and Edel and Flower (1985) for noticing the change in Dewey. Indeed, in their introduction to the 1932 rewrite of Dewey's Ethics, Edel and Flower provide some evidence of change in Dewey's thinking. They discuss "very serious revisions" in Dewey's description of ethical concepts, as well as in his depiction of the "sociocultural dimension" of ethics. Most important for Prawat's argument are the revisions in Dewey's views of the social and the individual, of custom and habit, and of intelligence and reason. Edel and Flower discuss Dewey's replacement of individual and social with private and public (p. xix), his altering of the "conception of custom and its constituent idea of habit in such a way that reflection could penetrate and be at home within the customary" (p. xiii), and his emphasis on a constructive and creative intelligence "as against following prescriptive reason" (p. xxv)—all of which are part of Prawat's argument (published 15 years after Edel and Flower's introduction). However, rather than characterizing the change in Dewey as representing a fundamental discontinuity in his work, they instead present the revisions in contrast to ongoing continuities, one of which—the "reflex arc concept" (1896/1972d)—is used by Prawat to portray the early Jamesian Dewey who was to undergo a dramatic and discontinuous change. Furthermore, Prawat miscasts the timing of the revisions described by Edel and Flower. Instead of identifying the change as occurring in the early 1920s, as Prawat (2000) in a number of passages says they did, Edel and Flower say "the changes in the sociocultural dimension [as opposed to those in the analysis of ethical concepts] from 1908 to 1932 were slow, uneven, and not for the most part self-consciously announced" (p. xxv). Edel and Flower refer to several periods of "reconstruction," identifying, for example, 1919-1922 as the crucial period in Dewey's reconstruction of custom and habit and 1917-1919 (a range of years Prawat does mention once, on p. 830) as the corresponding period when intelligence began to take over the "mantle of reason." Prawat says his "1915 date is the more likely choice because it is consistent with other events happening in Dewey's life" (p. 833). Prawat then cites Rockefeller (1991) as claiming that 1915 to 1918 was a period of "great stress" for Dewey because "James had died the year before," because "Dewey was physically and emotionally worn down from his intense labors as a philosopher and reformer," and because Dewey's "marriage was in trouble" (p. 833). Telling readers that "Dewey . . . was about to enter into a romantic relationship with a younger woman," Prawat concludes that "it is thus not surprising that Dewey took this occasion to also put his philosophical house in order" (p. 833). Actually, it is surprising to us that, under the circumstances, any of Dewey's "houses" would have been put in order at the beginning of such a stressful period. Edel and Flower (1985), unlike Prawat, give clear, specific, and substantively related reasons for developments in Dewey's thinking at particular points in time. They say, for example, that 1919 (when Dewey gave the lectures in Japan that were to become Reconstruction in Philosophy, published in 1920) to 1922 (when Dewey, after spending 2 years in China, published Human Nature and Conduct—called Nature and Human Conduct by Prawat on p. 830 of his 2000 article) were the years during which Dewey reconstructed his notion of habit and custom in part because he was "stimulated by contact with a large-scale instance of what happens to custom in a situation of revolutionary change" (p. xxii). Such explanations from Edel and Flower make sense to us, as does their image of reconstruction to characterize the development of Dewey's thinking: The foundation and the weight-bearing columns remained intact, while the partitions (such as those dividing individual from social} were shifted (dividing private from public).

Prawat himself presents a slight change in his characterization of the timing of the discontinuity. In 2000, he unequivocally identifies 1915 as the crucial year, while noting that Dewey wrote to James in 1903 about the importance of Peirce's work. By the 2001 piece, Prawat is saying,

The assignment of a date certain to Dewey's embrace of Peircean pragmatism should not be taken too literally. As early as 1903, Dewey indicated to James that he was seriously studying Peirce's work; this may have been triggered by a series of invited lectures that Peirce gave at Harvard and that Dewey may have attended. Prior to 1915, however, Dewey continues to cling to James's controversial, individualistic brand of pragmatism (cf., MW 4: pp. 98-115), and to the educational inductionism that naturally follows (MW 6: pp. 177-356). After that time, which was a period of personal upheaval (cf., Rockefeller, 1991), Dewey's thinking increasingly parallels that of Peirce (Prawat, 2000). (Prawat, 2001, p. 719)1

Some influence from Peirce having been apparent at least as early as 1903 and an increasing parallelism between Dewey and Peirce beginning in 1915 do not demonstrate the theme of dramatic discontinuity (so dramatic that it was an intellectual about-face) for which Prawat otherwise argues.

Even more interesting (and important) to us is Prawat's use of Diggins's work:

The changes in Dewey's thinking evident when one compares the 1910 and 1933 editions of How We Think are not limited to education. Indeed, as I argue in this paper, they reflect more profound changes in Dewey's epistemology and ontology. John Patrick Diggins (1994), one of the few Deweyan scholars to highlight this shift, attributes it to Dewey's growing disenchantment with James's extreme subjectivism and individualism. James, Dewey began to realize, seemed almost oblivious to social context. Dewey expressed his misgivings about this orientation in a letter to James: "The individual qua individual is the organ or instrument of truth," he conceded, "but not its author" (in Diggins, p. 140). Knowledge must do more than satisfy individual needs, he continued; it must also "secure the conditions of its objective expression" (p. 141). (Prawat, 2000, pp. 810-811)

Prawat for some reason does not give the date of this important letter from Dewey to James. A look at Diggins's book reveals that Prawat (2000) is actually quoting from two different letters, not just one; both, however, were written in the same year—1891. Yes, it was in 1891 that Dewey expressed this "disenchantment" with the ideas of James. In the same place where Prawat found the letters, Diggins makes obvious what is apparent in these letters—that Dewey, his "great affection and admiration for the magnanimous James" notwithstanding, never hesitated "to offer advice to the senior pragmatist" (p. 140). This is not the picture of a man (Dewey) who 24 years later was to make the "wrenching . . . shift," the "stunning about face," the "dramatic change in thinking" described by Prawat. No wonder this sort of change has "largely gone unnoticed by philosophers and educators" before Prawat (2000, p. 811).

In fact, even a reader of Prawat in 1999 would find it difficult to believe that Dewey made a dramatic shift from a Jamesian to a Peircean perspective in 1915. Using one of the same 1891 quotes he found in Diggins (1994), Prawat (1999) links the early Dewey to Peirce (again failing to make the date of the quote clear, but without consequence for his position in 1999):

There is both an individual and social component to the abduction process, Peirce insists. Dewey captures this complex notion well when he writes, "The individual qua individual is the organ or instrument of truth but not its author" (in Diggins, 1994, p. 140). Ideas are socially authored, individually validated. (Prawat, 1999, p. 51)

It is clear in the 2000 and 2001 pieces that Prawat has changed since 1999, when he saw an early connection between Dewey and Peirce, when he was more willing to see the importance of the social in Dewey's early work, and, indeed (as a reading of the entire 1999 piece indicates), when he was even willing to give Dewey some credit for the generation and development of such ideas. "It should be kept in mind," says the 1999 Prawat, ". . . that Peirce and Dewey were contemporaries. They, along with James, founded the pragmatic movement in the United States. They thus share much in common; each person's views, in a sense, complements the other's" (p. 61). A reader of the 1999 article might even conclude that Dewey had some effect on Peirce (not just that Peirce affected Dewey).

Giving the Prawat of 2000 and 2001 the benefit of some initial doubt that arises from checking his references and his own previous work, one might reasonably wonder whether Dewey—who never said he was undergoing such a dramatic about-face in his thinking and never said after 1915 that what he wrote before 1915 needed to be understood as reflective of an "early" self overly influenced by James and not yet by Peirce—was so stupid that he did not notice he had changed so dramatically or so deceitful and dishonest that he knew but did not want anyone else to notice. In his 2001 article, Prawat in fact begins to account for Dewey's behavior in a comparison of Dewey's 1903 and 1916 works on logic. Before getting to what Prawat has to say about this matter, we must first note that Prawat does not clearly describe these works as the fairly distinct compilations of essays they are. The first, Studies in Logical Theory (1903/19766), contained 11 essays by eight different authors from the Departments of Philosophy and Greek at the University of Chicago. (This is only one of several works on which Dewey collaborated with others; throughout his life, he seemed to be comfortable in acknowledging the social context of his thinking.) The second collection to which Prawat refers, Essays in Experimental Logic, published in 1916, was a compilation of essays by Dewey only. This volume included, in addition to an introduction written by Dewey in 1916, his four essays from the earlier Studies, six pieces that had been published from 1907 to 1915, and one article originally published in 1900. In characterizing the 1916 Essays in Experimental Logic as a "revision" of an earlier work, Prawat therefore misleads the reader: It is true that both books are collections of essays centered around a common theme, but the earlier is by multiple authors and the later includes works only by Dewey (and written over a number of years).2 Furthermore, though Dewey made revisions in the essays for the 1916 publication, the original and revised essays were similar enough that each essay appears only once in the collected works of Dewey published by Southern Illinois University Press. Each essay appears according to the original date of publication but with subsequent changes made by Dewey. The changes made in the text of the original publications are noted in the "Textual Apparatus" section in the back of the volumes of the collected works (unfortunately, however, only in the hardcover volumes). When one looks, for example, at the changes made in the four essays that originally expressed appeared in the 1903 Studies (see, in volume 2 of the Middle Works, the "emendation" o pp. 405-425, it is difficult to find anything indicating that a dramatic shift, an about-face, had occurred in Dewye's thinking.

Prawat (2001), however, though he calls the 1916 volume a revision of 1903 work, does not discuss changes in particular essays. Instead, he emphasizes the introduction: "Had this background of the essays been more explicitly depicted [when they are originally published], I do not know whether they would have met with more acceptance, but it is likely that they would not have met with so many misunderstandings" (1916/1980, pp.325-326). The issue, says Prawat, was not misunderstandings: it is fair to say, in light of the profound changes that Dewey underwent from 1903-1916 that the clarification Dewy offered . . . are aimed less at clearing up past misunderstanding than at bringing new, retrospective understanding to bear" (.176). Why one might wonder, if they were a dramatic about-face in his thinking, would Dewy reprint the four essay that had been published in the 1903 Studies, as well as other works that had first appeared before the crucial 1915 date suggested by Prawat, including one from 1900?Why if there were a wrenching changes, would Dewey, in his introduction, want to clarify the background common to all the essay and not clearly articulate the stunning changes in his thinking? Instead of answering questions at this point in his 2001 article (a starting answer of sort to the second question will soon appear, Prawat actually confuses the issue even more by presenting the essay that appeared "almost exactly at the midpoint in the period covering in the anthology" as an indicator of Dewey's Peircean brand of logical realism" (p.175). Prawat does not appeared adequately explain the consequences of this claim (about a work originally published in 1911) for his argument about the significance of the 1915 date, particularly important because Prawat also does not present an analysis of the changes 'Dewey made in the original work of its republication in 1916 (and a look at the emendation in volume 6 of the Middle Works, p.538, indicates that Prawat noted above, elsewhere in the 2001 article (actually, throughout both of his pieces in the Record), Prawat has Dewey cling to James until 1915, with Dewey's thinking being increasingly parallel to Peirce's "after that time" (p.179).

Leaving such confusion behind, Prawat (2001) decides to support his self-described "strong statement' about Dewey's retrospective understandings brought up in the context of Essay in Experimental Logic by offering " a more obvious example" of such corrective retrospection by Dewey—“the sudden and dramatic shift in Dewey's attitude toward Kant" (p.716). After quationg and paraphrasing a series of passage in which Dewey, from 1897 expressed concerns about the ideas of Kant, Prawat claims a 1925 quote from Dewey indicates "a mid-career about-face on Kant" (p. 717): "Neo-Kantian influence was very marked in the United States during the last decade of the nineteenth century. I myself, and those who have collaborated with me in the exposition of instrumentalism, began by being neo-Kantians, in the same way that Peirce's point of departure was Kantianism" (1925/1984, p. 14, italics added by Prawat). Apparently not noticing that Dewey said he had begun by being a mo-Kantian and not recognizing that statements of concern by Dewey beginning in 1897 about Kant's views are not incompatible with that position (especially if one understands Dewey's use of "point of departure" in the last part of the quote), Prawat concludes that Dewey had presented a "surprising 1925 portrayal of himself as a neo-Kantian" (p. 717). Our reading of this 1925 quote is not that the 66-year-old Dewey was indicating a midcareer about-face, but that he was commenting on his early philosophical roots.3

More important, however, in how Prawat (2001) accounts for Dewey's behavior is what comes next. Prawat says Dewey's midcareer about-face on Kant was caused by his ''private embrace of Peirce" (p. 717, our italics). Worried that any subtle attempt to call Dewey intellectually dishonest (not Prawat's term, but we are not certain what else he could mean) would "escape the reader's notice," Prawat emphasizes that "Dewey's about face on Kant, as well as the first of his several public acknowledgments of Peirce's contributions to logic and philosophy, followed rather than preceded the widespread dissemination of Peirce's work" (p. 717, Prawat's emphasis). These first acknowledgments, already suspect by their timing, revealed other flaws in Dewey's character (again, not Prawat's phrase but the conclusion he must want the reader to draw), for Dewey, in his "first public acknowledgment" of Peirce's influence in 1924, was "compelled to add that the man, unfortunately, was somewhat 'wayward' in his work" (p. 717). According to Prawat, Dewey by the early 1930s was calling Peirce the "philosopher's philosopher" but still problematically discussing "the waywardness theme." Acknowledging that Dewey "in his massive 1938 tome on logic" mentioned his indebtedness to Peirce, Prawat nonetheless calls Dewey "disingenuous" for having criticized Peirce's work because "Peirce had indeed laid a deep and massive foundation . . . that was sturdy enough to support [Dewey's] own elaborated version of Peircean logic, ethics, and esthetics" (p. 718). Prawat adds that "Dewey, fortunately, was more candid near the end of this [sic] life about his debt to Peirce" (p. 718); however, such candidness was, for Prawat, still not enough of a confession: "It is well past time," he concludes, "for scholars to acknowledge the enormous debt that Dewey owes to Peirce" (p. 719).4

The worst that Prawat, no doubt carefully, says directly to characterize Dewey's behavior is that he was disingenuous for criticizing Peirce. But no reasonable definition of dishonesty, of deceit, even of plagiarism could fail to encompass Dewey's behavior if Prawat's story is true. We believe we have fairly pushed Prawat's characterization of Dewey to its logical conclusion, but we freely acknowledge that we have not come close to doing justice to the full substance of Prawat's story. Prawat (2000, 2001) comes to his important conclusion about Dewey and Peirce by creating, across two articles in the Record, a carefully pieced-together mosaic of evidence not just for a dramatic about-face in Dewey's thinking but for why Dewey never adequately acknowledged that, as early as 1915, he was facing in the opposite intellectual direction: In short, Dewey was dishonest for.as long as he thought he could get away with it (again, not explicitly stated in this way by Prawat but readily apparent in his story—Prawat damns Dewey with mild criticism and no praise). And, though Prawat does not try to explain why Dewey thought he could get away with such dishonesty until Peirce's work was collected and more widely disseminated in the 1920s, stupidity should probably be attributed to Dewey as well. Dewey, as a graduate student, completed coursework with Peirce, who served briefly as a faculty member at Johns Hopkins in the early 1880s (see Rockefeller, 1991; Westbrook, 1991). (Garrison, 2001, says Peirce was even on Dewey's doctoral examining committee in 1884.) Prawat (2000, 2001) mentions no such association; instead, in a note and once again without providing a date, Prawat (2000) speculates that Peirce's initial influence may have come from Dewey's having attended lectures Peirce gave at Harvard. Assuming that the information from Rockefeller and Westbrook is correct,5 one might speculate that only a John Dewey who was much more stupid than we think could have thought that his debt to a man of some reputation (with published works) who was part of his graduate program would have gone unnoticed had that man's collected works not appeared. Perhaps even worse, Prawat's Dewey, when he realized he could no longer hide his debt to Peirce, only grudgingly and inadequately recognized that debt publicly. The Dewey in Prawat's story was deceitful to the end.

We do not want to believe that Dewey was a dishonest, deceitful, and stupid plagiarist, but we are not prepared in this article to deal fully with that issue. We must say here, however, that we do not understand why Prawat would claim that Dewey did not publicly acknowledge his indebtedness to Peirce until 1924. In 1893, Dewey wrote, "This article ['The Superstition of Necessity'], as the title may indicate, was suggested by Mr. Peirce's article upon 'The Doctrine of Necessity Examined.' As, however, my thought takes finally a different turn, I have deemed it better to let it run its own course from the start, and so have not referred, except indirectly, to Mr. Peirce's argument. I hope this will not be taken as a desire to slur over my indebtedness to him" (1893/1971, p. 19). Ten years later, discussing "Logical Conditions of a Scientific Treatment of Morality," Dewey noted, "So far as I know, Mr. Charles S. Peirce was the first to call attention to this principle ... of continuity: A past idea can operate only so far as it is psychically continuous with that upon which it operates" (1903/1977b, pp. 19-20). In another work, Dewey explicitly Belied on and noted similarities between Peirce and James:

Experience thus comes to mean, to use the words of Peirce, "that which is forced upon a man's recognition will-he, nill-he, and shapes his thoughts to something quite different from what they naturally would have been." The same definition is found in James, in his chapter on Necessary Truths: "Experience means experience of something foreign supposed to impress us whether spontaneously or in consequence of our own exertions and acts." (1906/1977a, p. 130)

Of the three main points in Prawat's most recent work on Dewey—that Dewey was indebted to Peirce, that Dewey never gave Peirce the credit he deserved, and that Dewey's move to Peirce in 1915 represented a dramatic about-face (a discontinuity) in Dewey's thinking—we choose to look closely at one part of Prawat's evidence of discontinuity, albeit an important part. A number of pieces in Prawat's mosaic of evidence come from his comparison of the 1910 and 1933 versions of How We Think. Prawat cites as evidence of the dramatic change Dewey's own preface to the 1933 version, emphasizing that Dewey "totally rewrote part two of the book, entitled 'Logical Considerations,' and reworked a key chapter in part three dealing with pedagogy" (Prawat, 2000, p. 808). Then, using numerous passages from the 1933 version, Prawat (2000, 2001) shows how much the later (i.e., from 1915 on) Dewey was indebted to Peirce and argues that the 1910 Dewey was still under the influence of James. In this article, we do not claim that Prawat is wrong in his general claim of discontinuity. We cannot make such a claim because we do not come close to dealing with the remarkable argument that Prawat was allowed to present in 91 pages of text, notes, and references across his two articles in the Record. Indeed, we do not even have enough room here to discuss all of what Prawat says about How We Think. With references to other works as necessary, we simply discuss whether what Prawat has to say about the two versions of How We Think holds up under closer scrutiny. His claims, we think, do not hold up well.6

Our reading of the 1910 and 1933 editions of How We Think reveals more continuity than Prawat sees, at least in the context of the passages he cites from the 1933 restatement. In particular, we were struck by the times that Prawat quotes from the 1933 version to make his case for discontinuity when a very similar (or even identical) passage can be found in the 1910 version. Among the areas where Prawat notes a dramatic change in Dewey's thinking (and where Prawat ignores important passages in the 1910 How We Think) are Dewey's beliefs about the role of the teacher, his view on the place of aesthetics and ethics in inquiry, his notion of concepts, and his description of the generation of ideas.7 The last area is, for us, the most important because it is here where one can find a crucial development in Dewey's thinking (but not a discontinuous one). The imagination did become more important in Dewey's work over time (see Russell, 1996), but the Prawat of 2000 and 2001 (as opposed to the Prawat of 1999) writes as though Dewey discovered the imagination in Peirce's work and only understood and accepted its importance in 1915. Though Prawat in the 2000 article casts the change in Dewey as being a move from inductionist to social constructivist, he might just as well have described it as a move from inductionist to "abductionist." Peirce's abduction is an imaginative process that accounts for "the sudden transcending of current possibilities, the leap to new understandings" (Prawat, 1999, p. 55). As indicated previously, a reader of the 1999 article by Prawat might reasonably conclude that Peirce and both the early and the later Dewey were as one about the importance of abduction in inquiry. By 2000, Prawat is saying that Dewey never actually used the word abduction in his own work and is arguing that only the later Dewey had escaped from the grip of James and accepted Peirce's ideas (abduction and others), if not his terms. In 2001, Prawat actually calls Dewey's character into question for not giving Peirce enough credit for the ideas Dewey had taken from him.

Our goal in this article is simply to push a little further the conversation about discontinuity in Dewey's thought by looking more closely at some of the evidence presented by Prawat in the 2000 and 2001 articles. We conclude, on the basis of the evidence we examine, that Prawat's hypothesis of discontinuity cannot at this point be sustained. We want, however, to be very careful here. First, we do not argue that the passages Prawat (2000, 2001) quotes from the 1933 version of How We Think do not indicate Peirce's influence on Dewey; we argue only that if they do, then one has to conclude Peirce had a similar influence on the 1910 Dewey. Second, even if we are able to call into question the discontinuity Prawat sees across the two versions of How We Think, he could take another look at the two versions to make his case (as will be seen later, we even help him a bit in this area but still do not find necessary or sufficient evidence for discontinuity in Dewey's thinking). Third, Prawat's argument for discontinuity does not depend solely on the differences in the two versions of How We Think, though having such a work that was written before the claimed dramatic change and rewritten after the change would seem to provide an important case to test the hypothesis. Fourth, and perhaps most important, we recognize that what we say in this article does not come close to doing justice to the historical and philosophical work of Prawat in connecting Kant, Peirce, and Dewey. It would be unfortunate to let any dispute over discontinuity get in the way of the appreciation Prawat is due from the people interested in John Dewey's work. (We are doing our best here to ignore Prawat's depiction of Dewey's character because we are too stunned by the depiction to be able to respond well at the moment.)


"Around 1915," says Prawat (2000) ". . . Dewey finally and firmly rejected James's extreme subjectivism in favor of Peirce's brand of pragmatism, which Dewey recognized integrates the biological and sociological aspects of knowledge and mind in a way that is unique and powerful" (p. 805). Likewise, Prawat (2001) claims "Dewey underwent a major transformation in his thinking as more and more criticism was leveled at the Jamesian brand of pragmatism that had been his mainstay through the turn of the century" (p. 684). By 1916, "Dewey's thinking . . . had caught up with Peirce"; in fact, Dewey's "debt to Peirce" was clear "from 1915 on" (p. 685). This dramatic change in Dewey is, from Prawat's perspective, well reflected in the two versions of How We Think:

The fact that Dewey entertained two dramatically different views about teaching and learning explains why some regard him as the champion of activity-based learning while others view him as a discipline-based social constructivist. . . . Dewey underwent a dramatic change in thinking and this explains the disparity in views. Illustrative of this shift in thinking are the major changes Dewey introduced in the revised, 1933 version of his 1910 classic, How We Think. (Prawat, 2000, pp. 807-808)

In the following subsection on the role of the teacher, we discuss evidence Prawat presents from How We Think for the dramatic change in Dewey's view of teaching. In the next three subsections—on aesthetics and ethics, on concepts, and on the generation of ideas—we discuss evidence Prawat provides to substantiate the similarly dramatic change in Dewey's view of inquiry and learning. In general, we find Prawat's discontinuity hypothesis more dramatic than the evidence he provides from How We Think.


Early in the 2000 article, Prawat introduces the later Dewey. Ignoring the early Dewey's mention of educative experience that Prawat himself is about to present in a quotation from My Pedagogic Creed (1897/1972b), he argues that "well into the progressive education movement, Dewey went out of his way to emphasize that teachers must attend to the educative value of the experiences they create for youngsters" (p. 806, our italics). Prawat explains that the later Dewey called an experience educative "if it increases the quality of one's interactions with important objects and events in the immediate environment and lays the groundwork for even more expansive interactions in the future. This does not occur, typically," paraphrases Prawat, "in situations where teachers take their cue primarily from students" (p. 806). Prawat then quotes and connects with paraphrase two passages from the 1933 version of How We Think to demonstrate that this was the view taken by the later Dewey:

"It is held out that, out of due respect for the mental freedom of those taught, all suggestions are to come from them," Dewey complained in 1933 (1986a, p. 334 [sic/). This is wrongheaded; it is only natural that the teacher take the lead in the give and take of classroom discussion as envisioned by the later Dewey. It is through the process of social negotiation, directed by the teacher, that powerful ideas get constructed and consensus is reached on how those ideas are to be tested. It is the teacher's responsibility to make sure that ideas are worked out in a way that honors the discipline and the students' own efforts to understand. The teacher needs to strike a careful balance in this regard, Dewey writes, between "so little showing and telling as to fail to stimulate reflection and so much as to choke thought" (p. 334). (Prawat, 2000, pp. 806-807, our italics)

The first passage Prawat quotes from Dewey (1933/1986) actually comes from page 337, not from page 334 (an important mistake because page 337 comes in a new section on "The Function of the Teacher" added to the chapter on "The Recitation and the Training of Thought" in the rewrite, which would seem to support Prawat's case).

A closer look at the 1910 version of How We Think, however, finds an early Dewey very similar to that described by Prawat as the later Dewey. In a section on "Communication of Information" that comes in the chapter before the recitation chapter, Dewey talked about "suggestions contributed by others" (1910/1978, p. 336). The section is much like one of the same title in the 1933 version (and, in both versions, Dewey referred back to this section in his discussion of the recitation). Dewey opened the 1910 section with a passage that is almost identical to the one that would appear in 1933 (cf. 1933/1986, p. 323):

When all is said and done the field of fact open to any one observer by himself is narrow. Into every one of our beliefs, even those that we have worked out under the conditions of utmost personal, first-hand acquaintance, much has insensibly entered from what we have heard or read of the observations and conclusions of others. In spite of the great extension of direct observation in our schools, the vast bulk of educational subject-matter is derived from other sources—from textbook, lecture, and viva-voce interchange. No educational question is of greater import than how to get the most logical good out of learning through transmission from others. (1910/1978, p. 335)

Dewey stated the problem in another way as "how to convert [the learning of other persons] into an intellectual asset. . . . How shall we treat the subject-matter supplied by textbook and teacher so that it shall rank as material for reflective inquiry, not as ready-made intellectual pabulum to be accepted and swallowed" (1910/1978, p. 335; cf. 1933/1986, p. 323). Most important here in regard to Prawat's quote from the new section of the 1933 How We Think is that the 1910 Dewey likewise saw suggestions from others, including teachers, as important. A student's originality in thinking "is not incompatible with large use of materials and suggestions contributed by others" said Dewey (1910/1978, p. 336; 1933/1986, p."324; our italics).

In the passage from Prawat (2000, pp. 806-807), he not only confuses a new section with a new idea, he even quotes from the 1933 version to characterize the later Dewey when the early Dewey said exactly the same thing. It was not only the 1933 Dewey who talked about the appropriate amount of showing and telling. What Prawat tells us, correctly this time, the 1933 Dewey said on page 334 (1933/1986), the 1910 Dewey said in an identical passage:

The practical problem of the teacher is to preserve a balance between so little showing and telling as to fail to stimulate reflection and so much as to choke thought. Provided the student is genuinely engaged upon a topic, and provided the teacher is willing to give the student a good deal of leeway as to what he assimilates and retains (not requiring rigidly that everything be grasped or reproduced), there is comparatively little danger that one who is himself enthusiastic will communicate too much concerning a topic. (1910/1978, pp. 343-344)

Dewey was concerned enough about the role of the teacher that, as we said previously, he added a section on the teacher's function to the 1933 version of How We Think (pp. 337-340). But the evidence provided from How We Think by Prawat does not substantiate a later Dewey who was dramatically different from his earlier self. Where Prawat sees drama and discontinuity, we see fundamental continuity with greater emphasis on the role of the teacher in the later work.


Prawat (2001) suggests that reconsidering Peirce's work led the mature Dewey to bring the aesthetic and ethical into his description of inquiry. In his "The Reflex Arc Concept in his introduction to Essay in experimental Logic (1916/1980), Dewey stated that "inquiry occupies n intermediate and mediating place in the development of an experience" arising from "a prior stage of a different kind, a opment of an experience in the essay as social, affectional, technological, aesthetic, etc." (p.320).

The intellectual element is set in a context which is non-cognitive and which hold within it in suspense a vast complex of other qualities and things that in the experience itself are object of esteem or aversion, of decision, of use, of suffering, of endeavor and revolt, not to look back and find these things and qualities (quales would be a better word or vales, if the latter word were not so open to misconstruction), we are only too prone to suppose that they were then what they are now—objects of a cognitive regard, themes of an intellectual gesture. (p. 322)

Here, in what Prawat calls the later Dewey (though most of the essay to which Dewey was referring were written before 1915), Dewey was making explicit the nonreflective matrix of experience out of which object of knowledge are developed by means of inquiry. Forgetting or ignoring this wider nonreflective context can lead a "professional philosopher" to make claims about only portions of this wide world, portions that may have taken on significance in the course inquiry. The challenge anyone (Dewey included) faces is how to convey the rich variety of the qualitatives aspects (quales) of ongoing lived experiences. He tried to get at this several times in the course of this introduction. Experience, he said, "means just such an immense and operatives world of diverse and interacting elements" (p.323) a definition he quickly expanded.

Experience in ordinary usage (as distinct from its technical use in psychology and philosophy) expressly denotes something which a specific term like "typewrite" does not designate: namely, the indefinite range of context in which the typewriter is actually set, its spatial and temporal environment, including the habitudes, plans, and activities of its operator. (p.324)

Dewey was describing an interaction between a human organism and an environment that extends outward in both time and space.

Dewey claimed that he was writing this introduction to Essay in Experimental Logic in 1916 to make explicit the background that was common to the collected essay, all which were originally published between 1900 and 1915. Prawat would have us believe otherwise, claiming that this is an example of the Peircean Dewey bringing his profound and wrenching changes to the essay, but one can see this common background even in Dewey's work outside this collection—and well before 1915. As early as 1896 (1972d), in "The Reflex Arc in Psychology," Dewey tried to convey the "fundamental psychical unity" (p. 97) of the experience of an organism in continuous interaction with its environment by using a string of hyphenated words:

The burn [suffered by a child touching a candle flame] is the original seeing, the original optical-ocular experience enlarged and transformed in its value. It is no longer mere seeing; it is seeing-of-a-light-that-means-pain-when-contact-occurs. (p. 98)

In this early essay, Dewey was describing an enlarged and developed experience that is not merely cognitive, but within which, in the course of development, various factors may become distinct. In words similar to those of 1916 ("we are only too prone to suppose that they were then what they are now"), he cautioned, "A set of considerations which hold good only because of a completed process, is read into the content of the process which conditions this completed result" (1896/1972d, p. 105).

In 1897 (1972b) Dewey wrote: "All life has, from the outset, a scientific aspect; an aspect of art and culture and an aspect of communication. ... I believe finally, that education must be conceived as a continuing reconstruction of experience" (p. 91). Here, in 1897, Dewey wrote of aspects of life rather than the non-reflective experience of 1916—the change is, for us, an example of Dewey's reconstruction of his own experience, gradually formulating his insights with greater precision. In the talks and essays collected in The School and Society (1899/1976d), Dewey described the personal, emotionally centered life of the child as the foundation out of which more logically formulated subject matter would develop; he identified inquiry as one of the four basic and interrelated interests to be developed in a school (pp. 29-33). Inquiry was also to be fostered in the teachers: "The demand is to secure arrangements that will permit and encourage freedom of investigation . . . conditions that will enable the educational practice indicated by the inquiry to be sincerely acted upon" (p. 68). In The Child and the Curriculum (1902/1976a), Dewey suggested that recognizing the continuity of experience is the way to resolve the seeming dualism between the child-centered classroom focused on spontaneity, personal interest, and activity and the subject-focused classroom centered on effort, logical organization, and recitation. The multifaceted "doings, thinkings, and sufferings" (p. 288) of the child can be reconstructed, through the interaction with a teacher using the curriculum as a means to interpret and to guide the child, into a logically formulated subject matter. "Doings, thinkings, and sufferings" connect to Dewey's persistent recognition that humans are whole beings with volitional, cognitive, and affective aspects, and link directly to words he used in 1916, "our doings, sufferings, enjoyments of the world and of one another" (1916/1980, p. 326).

The nonreflective context of reflective thinking is rendered in both versions of How We Think, in the opening chapter in which the various aspects of thought are described. Out of streams of emotionally linked images arise reflective thinking. In a later chapter on "Observation and Information in the Training of Mind," Dewey (1910/1978) contrasted nonreflective with reflective thought:

As the centre of interest of observations becomes less personal, less a matter of means for effecting one's own ends, and less aesthetic, less a matter of contribution of parts to a total emotional effect, observation becomes more consciously intellectual in quality. . . . In short, observation becomes scientific in nature. (p. 334)

This passage suggests that Dewey was interested in helping children move beyond the personal and emotional to the scientific. Yet,  immediately after the above passage, Dewey emphasized the importance of maintaining a certain

rhythm between the extensive and the intensive . . . a certain alternation between a wide and somewhat loose soaking in of relevant facts and a minutely accurate study of a few selected facts. The wider, less exact observation is necessary to give the student a feeling for the reality of the field of inquiry, a sense f its bearings and possibilities, and to store his mind with materials that imagination may transform into suggestions. (p. 334; cf. 1933/1986, p. 322)

Within the same breath of describing how observation becomes scientific, Dewey clarified that imagination—as the means by which qualitative, perceptual material is carried over into inquiry—plays a significant role in the back-and-forth movement of reflective thinking. And he did so in both versions of How We Think.

In his 1933 restatement, at the end of the written chapter on the recitation (1933/1986, pp. 326-341; cf. 1910/1978, pp. 338-347), Dewey added a section on "Appreciation" that appears to be completely new. This section draws the reader to attend to the emotional coloring of thinking and makes very explicit what has previously been implicit in Dewey's discussion of suggestion and imagination, the "definite opposition between an idea or a fact grasped merely intellectually and the idea or fact which is emotionally colored because it is felt to be connected with the needs and satisfactions of the whole personality. In the latter case, it has immediate value; that is, it is appreciated" (1933/1986, p. 340, Dewey's italics). This statement, in 1933, of the importance of grasping an idea with emotion and interest, reminds us point Dewey made in 1897, when, in My Pedagogic Creed, he described interest and emotion as significant aspects of the method of teaching (1897/1972b, pp. 92-93). In 1933, Dewey developed the educational bearings of appreciation, especially for those schools that, in their breaking away from traditional drill and routine, made distinctions betweens subjects that involve facts and principles and those that involve the arts:

The evil that especially concerns us in this connection, however, is failure to see that vial appreciations—that is, ideas involving emotional response and imaginative projection—are ultimately as necessary in history, mathematics, scientific fields, in all so-called "informational" and "intellectual" subjects, as they are in literature and the fine arts. Human beings are not normally divided into two parts, the one emotional, the other imaginative. The split does, indeed often get established, but that is always because of false methods of education. Natively and normally the personality works as a whole. There is no integration of character and mind unless there is fusion of the intellectual and the emotional, of meaning and value, of fact and imaginative running beyond fact into the realm of desired possibilities. (1933/1986, p. 341)

Prawat (2001) asserts that only the later "Dewey, taking his lead from Pierce, believed that the word esthetic should be used in a broader way then [sic] that associated with beauty or ugliness. Esthetic quality, Dewey wrote, can be used to characterize any natural situation as it presents itself qualitatively (LW 1: p. 82)" (p. 705). As early as 1987, however, when Dewey addressed the National Educational Association, he noted that “The aesthetic Element in Education" is "a certain phase of all education" (1897/1972a, p. 202). In this address, he began by defining responsiveness as "an emotional reaction to ideas and acts" that is "a necessary as "an emotional reaction to ideas and acts" that is "a necessary factor in moral character" and that supplies "a delicacy and quickness of recognition in the face of practical situation" (p. 202). He closed by saying,

Modern theory and practice in education have laid relatively too much stress upon the volitional training in practical control and intellectual training in the acquisition of information, and too little upon the training of responsiveness. We need to return more to the Greek conception, which defined education as the attaching of pleasure and pain to the right objects and ideals in the right way. The ideal over-emphasized the emotional element, but we have now gone to the opposite extreme. (pp. 202-203)

We read this brief address as a call to recognize that the aesthetic element, responsiveness, is an aspect that needs to be reintegrated into all of education. Dewey's focus on delicacy and sensitivity of response seems, to us, to point to qualitative aspects of experience. Similarly, in the 1910 version of How We Think, Dewey used the word aesthetic in just such a way, to characterize qualitative aspects of a situation: Parts contribute to "a total emotional effect" (1910/1978, p. 334). For us, the "wide and somewhat loose soaking in of relevant facts" (p. 334) includes qualitative aspects of a lived situation.

Another essay that Dewey published before 1915 should make one cautious about sharply contrasting the early and later Dewey in this area. Commenting on "The Moral Significance of the Common School Studies" (1909/1977c), Dewey made clear the emotional elements that are present in all subject matter:

Because art, natural science, and mathematics have been evolved in the doings and sufferings of man, they are something more than merely intellectual; they are the outcome of human desire, passion, endeavor, success and failure. They have not been produced by some ' mind in the abstract, interested only in knowing, but have been worked out in the long-continued, arduous struggle of man to come into sound and effective connection with nature and with fellowman. Because of this fact they are full of moral meaning, (p. 205)

In a statement that might have come from the 1933 section on "Appreciation," Dewey (1909/1977c) asserted that "works of art are appreciated, not consciously dissected. To say that they are appreciated means that the organ for taking them in is a sympathetic imagination" (p. 207). And the sympathetic imagination is important in appreciating not just works of art:

"Studies" are of moral value in the degree in which they enable the pupil sympathetically and imaginatively to appreciate the social scene in which he is a partaker; to realize his own indebtedness to the great stream of human activities which flow through and about him; the community of purpose with the large world of nature and society and his consequent obligation to be loyal to his inheritance and sincere in his devotion to the interests which have made him what he is and given him the opportunities he possesses, (p. 213)

Whether or not Dewey is indebted to Peirce for his understanding of the role of aesthetics and ethics in inquiry, it was there before 1915—and, quite honestly, we suspect that this understanding is less related to Peirce than to Dewey's grasp of the many aspects of a living organism in continuous interaction with the many factors of an ongoing environment, a grasp that we feel is evident in such early works as My Pedagogic Creed (1897/1972b) and "The Reflex Arc Concept in Psychology" (1896/1972d), as well as in the series of works that flowed from his years at the University of Chicago Laboratory School: The School and Society (1899/1976d), The Child and the Curriculum (1902/1976a), and How We Think (1910/1978, 1933/1986).


Looking at the outcomes of reflective inquiry, Prawat (2000) claims there was a dramatic, discontinuous change in Dewey's view of concepts and their development. He is wrong about Dewey's description of concepts; he again misreads or fails to read the evidence from the two versions of How We Think. According to Prawat, the 1933 Dewey "ablated all material that equates concept formation with classification. Gone, for example, are earlier statements that define concepts as a kind of 'bounded space' (e.g., 4 a meaning that supplies a standard rule for the identification and placing of particulars' [1910/1978, p. 280]). In their place is new text that emphasizes the inherent fuzziness of concepts, at least early on, characterizing them as 'vague and pulpy' and 'wavering' (1933/1986, p. 240 [sic])" (Prawat, 2000, p. 808; the text from Dewey, 1933/1986, is on p. 241, not p. 240).

Actually, Dewey's characterization of concepts as standard (or standardized) meanings is in both the 1910 and 1933 versions. For example, in 1910, he said "conceptions, or standard meanings, are instruments (i) of identification, (ii) of supplementation, and (Hi) of placing in a system" (1910/ 1978, pp. 278—279). In 1933, he said "conceptions, or standard meanings, are instruments-of (a) identification, (b) supplementation, and (c) placing an object in a system" (1933/1986, p. 237). In both versions, to describe the three elements, he used the same example ("a little speck of light hitherto unseen" that is ultimately identified as a comet) with almost the same text (1910/1978, p. 279; 1933/1986, pp. 237-238). Also in both versions, Dewey then used an anecdote about Darwin to conclude that "scientific notions make explicit the systematizing tendency involved in all use of concepts" (1910/1978, p. 280; 1933/1986, p. 238).

Prawat (2000) is correct in claiming that there is new text in the 1933 version that uses the phrases "vague and pulpy, wavering" to describe the beginning of concept formation, but, contrary to Prawat's interpretation, Dewey did not emphasize "the inherent fuzziness of concepts" (Prawat's qualifier of "at least early on" notwithstanding). Dewey carefully used the word idea when he said the child's "original idea of Fido is vague and pulpy, wavering, as long as Fido is the only dog (and much more so if the only animal) he knows" (1933/1986, p. 241). Furthermore, although this text is new in 1933, it could easily be interpreted as an extension and clarification of what was said in 1910, rather than the result of Dewey's ablation of material—what Prawat would have his readers believe. The new material comes in the middle of text that across the two versions is again virtually identical. The Dewey of 1910 and of 1933 described what concept formation was not and what it was in the context of a child's development of the concept of dog. In 1910, Dewey summarized as follows:

He does not begin with a lot of ready-made objects from which he extracts a common meaning; he tries to apply to every new experience whatever from his old experience will help him understand it, and as this process of constant assumption and experimentation is fulfilled and refuted by results, his conceptions get body and clearness. (1910/1978, pp. 280-281, our italics)

The 1933 Dewey said,

He does not begin with a lot of ready-made objects from which he extracts a common meaning; he tries to apply in every new experience whatever result of his old experience will help him understand and deal with it. (1933/1986, p. 241)

Instead of including in 1933 the text we italicized from the 1910 quote, Dewey added a one-paragraph section called "They Become More Definite With Use." It is in that new paragraph that the presumably important difference noted by Prawat (2000) appears. For us, that paragraph simply expands the 1910 text and clarifies, again in contrast to what Prawat claims, that the later Dewey did not think concepts were inherently fuzzy:

During the whole process he has been trying to fit his idea, vague or definite according to his stage of experience, on all animals that are at all similar to dogs, applying it when he can, becoming aware of differences whenever it won't fit. By these processes, his idea gets body, steadiness, distinction; it becomes a concept. (1933/1986, p. 241, our italics)

None of this added text by Dewey is incompatible with what he said in 1910; it expands and clarifies the text that was already there. The subsequent text in both 1910 and 1933 is about conceptions being general. Once again, Dewey in 1933 began with text almost identical to that in 1910 and then expanded it (in this case by discussing further the notions of analysis and synthesis in a way consistent with how they were presented in 1910).


Prawat's discussion of the generation of ideas (that with body, steadiness, and distinction become concepts) is more compelling, but it is another example of his reading of the two versions of How We Think being different from our own. It is in this context that Prawat discusses Dewey's use of Peirce's notion of abduction. Wanting to "evoke a new type of mental process—one that is much more open to flights of fancy than traditional mechanisms like deduction and induction" (Prawat, 2001, p. 689), Peirce coined the term abduction. "Abduction is a perceptually based form of inference, more akin to the process of metaphoric projection than syllogistic reasoning" (p. 689).8 If Prawat could show that, like Peirce, the later Dewey tried to "intellectualize perception" by using Peirce's notion of abduction, and if Prawat could show that the notion is in the 1933 version of How We Think but not the 1910 version, he would have strong evidence for his discontinuity hypothesis, presuming that he could also show that the adding of abduction to Dewey's thinking was not a helpful addition consistent with what he had to say earlier but, instead, a profound change indicating a dramatic shift in thinking. After admitting that Dewey never actually used Peirce's term, Prawat uses passages from the 1933 version of How We Think to conclude that what Dewey had to say "maps nicely onto Peirce's notion of abduction. Clearly," says Prawat, "Dewey came as close as one could to describing Peirce's process without actually using Peirce's novel term" (p. 692).

In the work mentioned previously, published before the two articles in the Record, Prawat (1999) presents Peirce's notion of abduction as a means to resolve the "learning paradox," or "how it is that new and better knowledge is fashioned out of prior, less complex knowledge" (p. 47). In this work, Prawat lumps Dewey together with Peirce and Peirce's term: "The process that Peirce and Dewey credit with giving rise to ideas, termed abduction, defies easy description" (p. 59). Then Prawat describes Peirce's term:

Peirce uses the term abduction to describe the approach to idea generation, a term he decided on, he said, "because its legitimacy depends upon altogether different principles than those of other kinds of inference" (1955, p. 151). Abduction is superior to deduction and induction in its ability to get new ideas into the system. "Deduction proves that something must be," Peirce declares. "Induction shows that something actually is operative; abduction merely suggests that something may be" (1934, Vol. 5, p. 171). Peirce elaborates on this form of reasoning. "Abduction," he writes, "consists in studying facts and devising a theory to explain them" (1934, Vol. 5, p. 90). (Prawat, 1999, p. 60)

Prawat (1999) supplies the example of a teacher helping students understand plant life by suggesting the metaphor of a food factory. "Abduction, as the example suggests, is a metaphoric process" (p. 60). (Russell, 1999, notes that a similar metaphor had been used by Katherine Camp, one of the teachers in Dewey's Laboratory School, in 1897; see School Record, 1896-1899.)

In presenting the evidence for the dramatic change in Dewey's thinking, Prawat (2001) first paraphrases Dewey, saying, "There is something ineffable about the process of idea generation, Dewey concluded in 1933, changing his earlier view in the process” (p. 691, our italics). To make his point, Prawat (2001, pp. 691-692) then quotes from the 1933 version of How We Think (a quote Prawat also uses in the 2000 article, p. 809): "The having of ideas is not so much something we do, as it is something that happens to us" (1933/1986, p. 145). Truly, if abduction is less syllogistic reasoning that is consciously controlled by the thinker and more metaphoric projection, then it is possible that Dewey's "the having of ideas" is related to Peirce's abduction. But we wonder whether Prawat is correct in his assessment that Dewey changed his earlier view. Compare the 1933 passage to what Dewey, seemingly unnoticed by Prawat, said in 1910: "Primarily, naturally, it is not we who think, in any actively responsible sense; thinking is rather something that happens in us" (1910/1978, p. 208). It is not easy for us to see a dramatic change or an about-face in Dewey's thinking from this example, unless the shift from "happens in us" to "happens to us" can be seen as an about-face.

But Prawat (2001) does not rely on the above passage alone from the 1933 edition to provide evidence of the later Dewey's acceptance of Peirce's notion of abduction. "Not content to rest with this," says Prawat (p. 692), Dewey compared idea generation to perception:

Just as, when we open our eyes, we see what is there; so, when suggestions occur to us, they come to us as functions of our past experience and not of our present will and intention. So far as thoughts in this particular meaning are concerned, it is true to say "it thinks" (as we say "it rains"), rather than "I think." (1933/1986, p. 145)

Prawat again fails to see the connection to the earlier How We Think. In addition to Dewey having said in 1910, as noted above, "it is not we who think," he also said the following (ending with a quote from Wordsworth): "Many a child has tried his best to see if he could not 'stop thinking,' but the flow of suggestions goes on in spite of our will, quite as surely as 'our bodies feel, where'er they be, against or with our will'" (1910/1978, p. 208). Dewey clearly tried to clarify his point (with "it thinks") in 1933, but we still find it easier to see continuity than discontinuity in his thinking.

Prawat (2001) concludes his discussion of Peirce's notion of abduction in Dewey's later work by adding the following (in the passages quoted from Dewey, Prawat, without punctuation or comment, leaves a few words out and removes Dewey's italics for idea, but the meaning of the affected text is not lost):

Dewey attached the label "inference" to the process of arriving at an idea, explaining later in the [1933] book that this process, as he currently viewed it, "runs beyond what is found, upon careful examination, to be actually present. It relates, therefore, to what is possible, rather than to what is actual. It proceeds by anticipation, supposition, conjecture, imagination" (LW 8: p. 198). "Ideas are necessary constituents of inference," Dewey added. "There is a time during our investigation when meaning is only suggested; when we hold it in suspense as a possibility rather than accept it as an actuality. Then the meaning is an idea. An idea thus stands midway between assured understanding and mental confusion and bafflement" (LW 8: p. 221). (p. 692, our italics added to Prawat's words)

Although it, too, escaped Prawat's notice, Dewey seems to have used the label inference and viewed the process of arriving at an idea in a similar manner in 1910:

Suggestion is the very heart of inference; it involves going from what is present to something absent. Hence, it is more or less speculative, adventurous. Since inference goes beyond what is actually present, it involves a leap, a jump, the propriety of which cannot be absolutely warranted in advance, no matter what precautions be taken. . . . The suggested conclusion so far as it is not accepted but only tentatively entertained constitutes an idea. Synonyms for this are supposition, conjecture, guess, hypothesis, and (in elaborate cases) theory. (1910/1978, p. 239)

Now, the passages are not exactly the same, but the differences we see are not what we would characterize as a dramatic about-face. As in the previous instances, one would have expected Prawat to present and discuss the corresponding passage from 1910, but he does not. If what Dewey said in 1933 mapped "nicely onto Peirce's notion of abduction" and "came as close as one could to describing Peirce's process without actually using Peirce's novel term" (Prawat, 2001, p. 692), what Dewey said in 1910 could be described as having clone so as well.

Because abduction is an imaginative process, it is odd that Prawat, in making his argument, does not focus on Dewey's use of imagination in the passage above from 1933. Instead, as he does throughout the two Record articles, Prawat claims that a quoted passage as a whole indicates a debt of the later Dewey to Peirce, when most of what Prawat quotes from the later Dewey was also said by the early Dewey. Here is an instance when the so-called later Dewey used a word that could be taken to support Prawat's argument; but, as Russell (1996, 1999, the latter being a solicited response to Prawat, 1999) has pointed out, the imagination was an important element in the thinking of Dewey throughout his career. Dewey and Peirce described similar processes of how we think, using distinctive systems of terminology, which we believe cannot be mapped neatly one onto the other. Over time, Dewey reconstructed his view of the imagination, applying what he originally saw in the lives of children to the lives of all thinking persons, but not in a way that represents a discontinuity—in 1915 or any other year.


"Peirce," says Prawat (2000), "who began to chart his new vision in the 1880s, was one of the first to argue that scientific ideas are acts of individual imagination and not induction" (p. 817). From Prawat's perspective, Dewey finally understood and used Peirce's vision in 1915. For some reason, Prawat chooses to ignore Dewey's discussion of the imagination before 1915. Throughout his years at the University of Chicago, as he worked to develop an elementary school that could serve as a kind of laboratory for the development of curriculum, Dewey wrote about the psychology of young children and about the characteristics of an effective school. In these articles, he often wrote of the importance of imagination: "Imagination is simply the inner, the mental side of play" (1899/1976c, p. 340), he said. "The imagination is the medium in which the child lives" (1899/1976d, p. 38). When describing the play period in children's mental development, Dewey (1900/1976b) wrote that imagination "does not originate, as is often said, in picking out and piecing together parts of a number of disconnected experiences, but rather in the expansion of a given experience through suggestion, into a larger and richer whole" (p. 197).

The image, as Dewey used the word in this period, had components from all the senses, overflowed into action, and was the principal means of instruction (Russell, 1996, 1998a, 1998b). Dewey, in his effort to overcome the dualistic thinking that separated mind from body, often wrote of the close connection between the mental and the physical. In 1900, for example, Dewey noted that one aspect of children's activity is the immediate extension from image to action:

It is the very nature of the image to find for itself an outlet in action—to express or realize itself. . . . The energy aroused must overflow and the outgoing or motor nerves are the natural paths of discharge. Thus the movement serves to maintain and build up the image. An image which is not acted upon, or rather in this period acted out, is fleeting; it dies. The image lives only in its own motor expression. (Dewey, 1900/1976b, p. 198)

In fact, for Dewey, learning, as he defined it in his "Plan of Organization of the University Primary School" (1895?/1972c), "arrives normally when an image in process of expression is compelled to extend itself and to relate itself to other images, in order to secure proper expression" (p. 229).

Expression feeds back into the image, giving it greater definition: "The imagination must be really constructive; must find outlet in some actual building up of what to the child is reality. The image must result in doing, and in a doing which carries the child beyond his imperfect image and helps correct it" (Dewey, 1899/1976c, p. 340). In My Pedagogic Creed (1897/ 1972b), Dewey summed up his understanding of the interrelation of image and expression as a means of learning: Since "the image is the great instrument of instruction . . . , much of the time and attention now given to the preparation and presentation of lessons might be more wisely and profitably expended ... in seeing . . . that [the child] was continually forming definite, vivid, and growing images of the various subjects with which he comes in contact in his experience" (p. 92). Dewey continued to draw attention to the intimate relation between the image and its active expression. The image leads to doing, which, in turn, feeds back into the image.

The image as an instrument of instruction was especially significant given Dewey's understanding of stages of child development. When, in the 1890s, Dewey wrote about the Laboratory School (called the University Elementary School when it opened in 1896) at the University of Chicago, he linked the development of thinking to particular ages. A simple formulation appeared as an article later collected in The School and Society (1899/ 1976d). The first of two stages was characterized by the direct and prompt relation among impressions, ideas, and action. Dewey included imagination as one of the aspects of this earlier stage of development. Later, children would move toward a sense of permanent, objective results, would perceive the need to control actions toward distinct, enduring ends. Here we get a glimpse of what was always a vital concern of Dewey's: how to develop thinking from the immediate and personal toward wider, social ends.

The two versions of How We Think have in common a discussion that makes clear that the imagination is not disconnected from the real world. In the chapter on "Activity and the Training of Thought" (1910/1978, pp. 304-313; 1933/1986, pp. 281-292), Dewey, as a developmental psychologist, presented ideas about the development of activity from infancy through early childhood and its differentiation into play and work. He argued that sharply opposing play and work is based on a false distinction between utility and imagination. Some educators (Montessori, for instance), emphasizing the tangible and manipulable (not the symbolic or fanciful) properties of the world, encouraged useful pastimes for children: planting seeds and tending a garden, washing dishes and sweeping floors, hammering and sawing a pencil box; others (such as Froebel) focused on pastimes that encouraged creativity and make-believe: representing familiar objects with blocks or colored shapes. In a typical move, Dewey argued that what appear to be disparate dualities (real and make-believe, useful and symbolic) are, in experience, balanced points, each being present with the other. The imagination is not made healthy through an indulgence in fanciful stories and fairy tales but through expanding what is present in the given situation with what is suggested from prior situations, as action is given a purpose. "The healthy imagination deals not with the unreal, but with the mental realization of what is suggested . . . a method of expanding and filling in what is real" (1910/1978, pp. 310-311; 1933/ 1986, p. 289). The playful child is making real for herself all the elements suggested by a particular situation.

At the end of this discussion on the role of imagination in children's lives, Dewey made a wonderful turn, directing attention back to adults: "To suppose that activities customarily performed by adults only under the pressure of utility may not be done perfectly freely and joyously by children indicates a lack of imagination" (1910/1978, p. 311; 1933/1986, p. 289). Adults can focus too narrowly on their own fanciful theories, attaching their own meanings to the observed facts of children's play. They make play mean something that may not be intended by the child. And, since work and leisure can have such distinctive characteristics for adults, they read these distinct qualities back into children's activities, arguing that play is mere amusement, while work is laborious and purposeful. But, Dewey suggested, children's lives are "more united and more wholesome" (1910/1978, p. 311; 1933/1986, p. 289): A quality of mind, an attitude, differentiates work and play. Both activities involve imaginative pleasure, and purpose; only the emphasis differs. Imagination is not only a part of children's lives; it is necessary for adult interpreters as well, in order to break free of their own preconceptions.

Both versions of How We Think focus on the development of reflective thinking, on moving from types of thinking in which the relationships are loosely knit toward reflective thinking, where relationships are tightly bound and "owned" by the thinker. Within the first chapter in 1910, Dewey described various senses of the term thought. In 1933, Dewey titled this chapter not "What is Thought?" but "What is Thinking?" and discussed different "meanings," not "senses." One sense, or meaning, gets at what is not directly perceived: "Most important in this class are successions of imaginative incidents and episodes" (1910/1978, p. 183; 1933/1986, p. 115) which may have a coherence related to a good story with a well-constructed plot. Another sense, the focus of How We Think, is that marked by "the close of study into facts, of scrutiny and revision of evidence, of working out the implications of various hypotheses, and of comparing these theoretical results with one another and with known facts" (1910/1978, p. 185). In 1933, the sense that is marked by "the close of study into facts . . ." was transmogrified into the meaning that rests "upon careful and extensive study, upon purposeful widening of the area of observation, upon reasoning out the conclusions of alternative conceptions to see what would follow in case one or the other were adopted for belief" (1933/1986, p. 117). In both versions, it is this latter meaning of thought, this "laboratory habit of mind" (Peirce, again cited by Dewey before 1924, 1908/1977e, p. 100), that Dewey encouraged us to develop.

The laboratory habit of mind is central to Dewey's understanding of the distinction between the empirical and the experimental. In 1910, Dewey introduced his discussion of empirical thinking by noting that "apart from the development of the scientific method, inferences depend upon habits that have been built up under the influence of a number of particular experiences not themselves arranged for logical purposes" (1910/1978, p. 293). These habitual inferences carry the weight of repeated occurrence; they are often accurate and are of use in practical life; they may be passed along in some codified form, as proverbs, traditional stories, or doctrine. In 1933, Dewey clarified his introductory statement: "Many of our ordinary inferences, in fact all of them that have not been regulated by scientific method, are empirical in character; that is to say, they are in effect habits of expectation based upon some regular conjunction or coincidence in the experience of the past" (1933/1986, p. 268). Such empirical thinking, unregulated by scientific method, may result in "mental inertia, laziness, [and] unjustifiable conservatism" (1910/1978, p. 295; 1933/1986, p. 270).

Breaking free of this mental inertia requires a new way of thinking, of managing the new. This new way, scientific thinking, breaks up the "coarse or gross facts of observation into a number of minutes processes not directly accessible to perception" (1910/1978, p. 296; 1933/1986, p. 272) and then proceeds by noting the differences in those processes when conditions are intentionally varied. Experience has varying shades of meaning, depending upon whether it is understood in the light of empirical or experimental thinking. In the one, experience is conservatively bound to the repetitive associations of the past; in the other, experience is open to the anticipated consequences and novel possibilities of the future.

To see the novel relations not perceived by the senses in the "coarse and gross facts" of observation requires an act of imagination: namely, abstraction. In 1910, at the end of the chapter on "Empirical and Scientific Thinking," Dewey wrote, "A certain power of abstraction, of deliberate turning away from the habitual responses to a situation, was required before men could be emancipated to follow up suggestions that in the end are fruitful" (p. 301). In 1933, in "Empirical and Scientific Thought," Dewey widened his discussion of abstraction, noting that "the logical value of abstraction consists in seizing upon some quality or relation not previously grasped at all, making it stand out" and "abstracting . . . makes possible a more analytic and more extensive inference" (1933/1986, p. 277). At the close of this chapter, Dewey made explicit that abstraction is an act of the imagination: "Abstract thought is imagination seeing familiar objects in a new light and thus opening new vistas in experience" (1933/1986, p. 278). This abstracting quality of imagination is central to the widening of experience through the clarification of the relations among observed facts. The word imagination appeared in the 1933 restatement, but the fundamental process was described in both versions of How We Think.

At the close of the first edition of How We Think, Dewey (1910/1978) wrote, "The proper function of imagination is vision of realities that cannot be exhibited under existing conditions of sense-perception" (p. 355); he (1933/1986) later restated this sentence as, "The proper function of imagination is vision of realities and possibilities that cannot be exhibited under existing conditions of sense perception" (p. 351). "And possibilities"—these two words adumbrate what Dewey made clearer about imagination in his restatement of how we think. They do not make clear a discontinuity in his thinking.


Prawat (2000, 2001) says that Dewey was indebted to Peirce, that Dewey never gave Peirce the credit he deserved, and that Dewey's acceptance of Peirce's ideas in 1915 represented a dramatic about-face—a discontinuity—in Dewey's thinking. We have focused our efforts in this article on the discontinuity hypothesis (in a manner not as comprehensive as that of Garrison, 2001), and we have concluded that a comparison of the two versions of How We Think does not provide the support Prawat claims is there to substantiate his claim of discontinuity. Perhaps the main point of this article is that what Dewey actually said matters, especially if one is trying to compare Dewey to himself. Prawat's analysis of the 1933 version of How We Think is important, but the 1910 version deserved a more careful reading than he gave it.

Dewey (1933/1986) admitted that the second edition of How We Think was "an extensive rewriting" of the first (p. 107). However, even in reading the preface of the 1933 restatement, Prawat miscasts what Dewey said. For example, as noted previously, Prawat (2000) emphasized that Dewey "totally rewrote part two of the book, entitled 'Logical Considerations'" (p. 808). Dewey (1933/1986) himself said the changes related to the "development of major ideas [were] most numerous and complete in Part II, the theoretical section of the book. There," he said, "the whole logical analysis of reflection has been rewritten and, it is believed, very considerably simplified in statement. At the same time," added Dewey—unnoticed or not believed by Prawat—" the basic ideas, those that gave the original work its distinctive character, have not only been retained but have also been enriched and developed further" (p. 107, our italics). We believe Dewey.

We also believe Dewey when he wrote, in the preface to the first edition of How We Think (1910/1978), that his ideas were inspired by his wife, Alice, "through whose work in connection with the Laboratory School, existing in Chicago between 1896 and 1903, the ideas attained such concreteness as comes from embodiment and testing in practice" (p. 179). We see the connection between this edition and Dewey's earlier articles on children and schools, written to support and to develop the new elementary school at the University of Chicago. In 1933, to bring greater clarity to a new generation of teachers, Dewey restated his ideas. "These changes," said Dewey (1933/1986), "reflect the large changes that have taken place in schools, especially in the management of teaching and studying . . . Some methods that were criticized because of their currency at that time have now practically disappeared from the better schools. New topics have come to the fore. Adjustments have accordingly been made in the text" (pp. 107-108). Dewey saw the world changing around him and thought it was important to recast his basic ideas in light of changing times. Thus, we see the two versions of How We Think rooted in the experience of a school and seeding further experience in newer schools. Dewey, as is typical of his writing, used familiar words (suggestion, inference, idea, imagination, abstraction) to express new thoughts arising from daily life in classrooms. Dewey—early, middle, late, always—saw that one aspect of human thinking was a loosely articulated, emotionally colored flow of images; that aspects of prior experience could be suggested by aspects of present experience; that ideas could form standpoints or frames that related loosely connected facts into coherent, meaningful wholes. We believe that Dewey's understanding of suggestion and idea generation is related to, but not identical with, the process that Peirce described as abduction.9

If, as Prawat has suggested elsewhere (see Prawat, 1999), ideas are socially constructed and are skin-traversable, then the task of circumscribing a particular idea to a single person, time, and place, and then tracing its trajectory to another person, is a difficult, if not a futile, task. Such a task is made more difficult in this instance, given that the people involved continued to explore the same ideas (such as those to be found in Plato, Aristotle, Kant, and Hegel) again and again. Dewey and Peirce (and James) were associated during their careers in a similar project; they read and commented on each other's work. We believe, paraphrasing Dewey's own words, that his basic ideas, those that gave his work its distinctive character, were, over the years, not only retained but also enriched and developed further in the social and public context he clearly valued and recognized.


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GEORGE STANIC is an associate professor of elementary education at the University of Georgia. He and Jeremy Kilpatrick are coeditors of a two-volume history of school mathematics published by the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics. Correspondence to Dr. Stanic can be addressed to University of Georgia, Department of Elementary Education, 427 Ader-hold Hall, Athens, GA 30605, gstanic@coe.uga.edu, (706) 542-4244.

DEE RUSSELL is an associate professor and chair of the Department of Early Childhood and Middle Grades Education at Georgia College & State University. His research on the role of the imagination in John Dewey's work has appeared in Educational Theory and the American Educational Research Journal Correspondence to Dr. Russell can be addressed Georgia College &: State University, John H. Lounsbury School of Education, Department of Early Childhood and Middle Grades Education, Campus Box 071, Milledgeville, GA 31061, drussell@gcsu.edu, (478) 445-5479.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 104 Number 6, 2002, p. 1229-1269
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 10989, Date Accessed: 5/28/2022 6:18:02 AM

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  • George Stanic
    University of Georgia
    E-mail Author
    GEORGE STANIC is an associate professor of elementary education at the University of Georgia. He and Jeremy Kilpatrick are coeditors of a two-volume history of school mathematics published by the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics
  • Dee Russell
    Georgia College & State University
    E-mail Author
    DEE RUSSELL is an associate professor and chair of the Department of Early Childhood and Middle Grades Education at Georgia College & State University. His research on the role of the imagination in John Dewey’s work has appeared in Educational Theory and the American Educational Research Journal.
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