Alexander Kremer is Associate Professor at the Department of Philosophy, University of Szeged. E-mail:
John Dewey (1859-1952) is the most significant philosopher of traditional pragmatism. In his long life he not only wrote several profound philosophical works about the main questions of the world, but he participated in it as a teacher, social critic, political activist and involved family man. His ultimate purpose, to help establishing a society as democratic as possible, can be regarded as valid even today.
Larry A. Hickman, director of the Center for Dewey Studies in the U.S.A. wrote these sentences about Dewey in his biographical article:
During Dewey’s 92 years, Americans experienced profound transformations in almost every area of their lives. At the time of his birth on the eve of the Civil War, James Buchanan was President and America was still to a great extent dependent on wind, water, and wood technologies. During his youth, steam, coal, and steel became dominant features of the American scene. By the time of his death, during the height of the Cold War and just months before the election of Dwight Eisenhower, Americans had come to depend on the atom, plastics, and the transistor.
During his decade at the University of Chicago (1894-1904), Dewey witnessed major demographic changes that included labor unrest, waves of European immigrants, and massive migration by African-Americans from the rural South to the urban North. During his years at Columbia University in New York City (1905-1939), he was involved in the politics of World War I and active participant in the New York Teacher’s Union, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). In 1937, at the age of 77, he traveled to Mexico City to chair The Commission of Inquiry into the charges made against Leon Trotsky in the Moscow Trials. (Hickman, 155)
No doubt, more than any other philosopher of his time, Dewey understood the extent to which the institutions of industrial democracies were being transformed by science and technology. He was the thinker whose effort was not to practicalize intelligence but to intellectualize practice. During a long and fruitful life, Dewey thoroughly and extensively developed the pragmatic method, applying it in a wide variety of fields – to the problems of logic, of the philosophy of science and of metaphysics, to ethics, the philosophy of education and social philosophy, to aesthetics, and to the philosophy of religion. He was the one who made of “pragmatism” – after Peirce and James – a comprehensive system of thought, because he always conceived of philosophy as dealing primarily with the problems generated by conflicts within one’s own culture. Dewey was hailed by the New York Times on the occasion of his ninetieth birthday as “America’s Philosopher.”
Hungary has a fairly long philosophical tradition; it began in the 18th century and became embedded into the so-called continental philosophy during the 19th century. This means that Hungarian philosophers were influenced by the so-called continental philosophy and, first of all, by the German philosophers because Hungary belonged to the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy for a long time. Unfortunately, during the 40 years of Socialist system we were almost cut off from the mainstream philosophical life of the world, but the situation became different after the so-called regime change which took place in 1989.
Our historical heritage made it reasonable to establish the John Dewey Research Center of Hungary at the University of Szeged. We are convinced about the need to learn more about American pragmatism – with special regard to John Dewey, who is the main figure of pragmatism – because of two reasons. On the one hand, theoretically, Dewey’s philosophy and pragmatism in general can give a proper counterbalance to the continental philosophical tradition which can be regarded as overly metaphysical. On the other hand, practically, Dewey’s pragmatism could help us better understand not only American culture, but also our present socio-cultural problems.
The Center promotes research work on American pragmatism. Its members translate the works of Dewey and other pragmatist philosophers. We discuss our professional results in workshops and conferences not only with Hungarian philosophers, but also with experts of pragmatism and Dewey’s philosophy from other countries, primarily with American pragmatist philosophers of the Central European Pragmatist Forum (CEPF, http://www.filozofia.sk/cepf), who meet in Europe every second year (starting from 2000) to exchange ideas. With the Center’s help we also offer new courses based on Dewey’s philosophy and pragmatism in general for our philosophy majors and graduate students.
The John Dewey Research Center of Hungary opened with an inaugural conference on May 30-31, 2007 (Conference site: http://www2.u-szeged.hu/jdrc/public). The articles of this AMERICANA issue are the expanded versions of the papers presented at this important event.
- Hickman, Larry. 2004. “John Dewey, 1959-1952.” In The Blackwell Guide to American Philosophy, A. T. Marsoobian and J. Ryder, eds. Blackwell: Malden, Mass., 155.