John Dewey

Professor of Philosophy, Columbia University

The Quest for Certainty

In his series of eleven lectures, Dewey argues that the uncertainty of life in primitive times necessitated the search for certainty. The development of philosophy came from the search for ultimate reality, but eventually separated knowledge from belief. Dewey dispels the possibility of philosophy forming an integrated system of knowledge, but instead asserts that the ‘specialised results of science’ are applied to the larger social context, creating practical steps forward for the betterment of humankind. 


John Dewey was born on 20 October 1859 in Burlington, Vermont. Dewey is widely regarded one of the most prominent figures in American Pragmatism, though he referred to his work as ‘instrumentalism’. After completing a doctorate in 1884, Dewey taught at the universities of Michigan and Minnesota. In 1894, he joined the faculty of philosophy at the University of Chicago where he founded a laboratory and developed his pedagogical method. He became Professor of Philosophy at Columbia University in 1904, remaining there until his retirement. 

His international reputation led to his enlistment as a consultant to the University of Beijing, and he participated in the Commission of Inquiry into the Leon Trotsky trial in Moscow. Dewey contributed to The New Republic and Nation magazines and was involved in contemporary political and social issues. Notable works include Psychology (1887), The School and Society (1899), How We Think (1910), Essays in Experimental Logic (1916), Reconstruction in Philosophy (1920), Human Nature and Conduct (1922), Philosophy and Civilization (1932), Art as Experience (1934), Liberalism and Social Action (1935), and Freedom and Culture (1939).