John Dewey pp 47-59 | Cite as

Growing Socially

  • John BaldacchinoEmail author
Part of the SpringerBriefs in Education book series (BRIEFSEDUCAT)


For Dewey, “education is the laboratory in which philosophic distinctions become concrete and are tested.” He rejects any hasty presentation of learning as a form of linear or incremental growth. Instead, he attributes growth to immaturity and (inter)dependence—as a relationship between immaturity, dependence and plasticity. Plasticity is the ability to learn from experience and to “develop dispositions.” Plasticity and disposition are concepts that see their origin in pragmatism, which represents a total rejection of fixed foundations. This a discomfort with certainty and foundationalism finds its roots in the effect that the American Civil war had on philosophers of the generation that preceded and influenced Dewey, such as Peirce and James. Dewey was just six years of age when the four-year war ended. Citing the American jurist Oliver Wendell Holmes, Louis Medand explains that, “The lesson Holmes took from the war can be put in a sentence. It is that certitude leads to violence.” Holmes’s lesson captures the underlying anxiety by which subsequent American philosophers, lawmakers, scientists, educators and artists have embraced pragmatism. A further influence came from Germany, where young American scholars began to wrestle with the concept of Bildung, as this had significant institutional influence on the development of the university sector in the United States. Bildung translates in a number of terms, including education, development, constitution, sediment, formation, shape, growth and culture. However within the conceptual parameters of the word Bildung, education is expanded by the notion of a formative-pedagogical process that presents a comprehensive and multi-faceted state of affairs where education and development engage us (as individuals in associated living) in a constant process of agreement and disagreement, of questioning and critical re-definition. By tracing Dewey’s reading of Hegel to his subsequent pragmatist reformulation of this formative-pedagogical trajectory, one begins to understand how, upon rejecting those expectations of a pregiven order of ideas and objects, his critical pragmatism partakes of Bildung’s openness in a very original and dynamic way. This openness leads to avenues that reveal the creative and experimental approach that constantly prompt our curiosity, wonderment and discovery of what is hidden, marginalized or obscured. In this respect, an attention to Bildung pushes philosophy to a crossroads where aesthetics and education meet, and from where we could subsequently take a further cue in ensuing philosophies of education, most prominent of which, is Dewey’s.


Education Growth Plasticity American Civil War Violence of certainty Bildung Aesthetics education 

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© The Author(s) 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of DundeeDundeeUK

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