PRAGMATISM; A PHILOSOPHICAL APPROACH BY
CONCEPT OF EDUCATION
Education is a systematic process through which a child or an adult acquires knowledge,
experience, skill and sound attitude. It makes an individual civilized, refined, cultured and
educated. Every society gives importance to education because it is a panacea for all troubles.
It is the key to solve the various problems of life. Back in the 1500s, the word education
meant “the raising of children,” but it also meant “the training of animals.” While there are
probably a few teachers who feel like animal trainers, education these days has come to mean
either “teaching” or “the process of acquiring knowledge.”
Different educationist‟s thoughts from both Eastern and Western side have explained the term
„education‟ according to the need of the hour. Various educationists have given their views
on education. Some important definitions are,
"Education means the bringing out of the ideas of universal validity which are latent in the
mind of every man".
"Education is the capacity to feel pleasure and pain at the right moment. It develops in the
body and in the soul of the pupil all the beauty and all the perfection which he is capable of".
"Education is natural harmonious and progressive development of man's innate powers".
“By education I mean an all-round drawing out of the best in man – body, mind and spirit”.
Dr. Zakir Husain
“Education is the process of the individual mind, getting to its full possible development”.
CONCEPT OF PHILOSOPHY
The term philosophy is taken from the Greek word, (philia) meaning "to love" and (Sophia)
meaning "wisdom." Thus, "philosophy" means "the love of wisdom".
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Philosophy is the search for self-understanding.Philosophy is a searching of inquiry into the
deeper values of life. For in the past, philosophy was the only sustained search for
knowledge. Philosophy is the study of general and fundamental problems, such as those
connected with existence, knowledge, values, reason, mind, and language. It is distinguished
from other ways of addressing such problems by its critical, generally systematic approach
and its reliance on rational argument. Philosophy's goal is nothing less than a systematic
world view. Other fields study particular kinds of things. Philosophy asks how it all fits
together. For example, if you want to learn about bodies, take a course in physics or biology.
If you want to learn about minds, take a course in psychology. But if you want to learn about
how minds are related to bodies, or how physics is related to psychology, then philosophy (of
mind) is present to describe all questions.
Philosophy encompasses subfields called philosophy of religion, of law, of economics, of
biology, of physics, of mathematics, of computers, of psychology, of art, of music, of
literature, and so on. Any and all of these topics can be studied in a philosophical way when
one asks how they are related to each other in an overall world view.
Before the 15th century, ideas about science (philosophy) and scientific inventions
(technology) were largely separate. Philosophers didn‟t much care for the crafts of inventors,
and inventors didn‟t much care for the lofty ideas of philosophers. These two aspects of
modern science did not really overlap in ancient times. Also, science as discovery (such as
chemistry) was largely performed by alchemists who didn‟t overlap with either the
philosophers or the inventors. However, after the 15th century, the philosophical ideas that
started in Greece began to merge with the technological discoveries being made by people all
over the world. The discoveries made by alchemists began to play a role in both invention
Scientific thinking got its start in Asia Minor with the Greek philosophers. Thales of Miletus
(625-545 B.C.) was the first Greek philosopher. After Thales of Miletus, there was
Anaximander (611-547 B.C.) and Anaxemenes (550-475 B.C.) both from Miletus. Then there
was Heraclitus of Ephesus (540-475 B.C.), Pythagoras of Samos (582-500 B.C.) Parmenides
of Elea (480 B.C.) Empedocles of Agracas (500-430 B.C.) Leucippus of Miletus (440 B.C.)
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and Democritus of Abdera (420 B.C.)! What a lot of long names to remember! However, all
of these philosophers, in one way or another had something to offer to science.
SOCRATES, PLATO AND ARISTOTLE
These three Greek philosophers that had the biggest influence on science and philosophy
were Socrates (477-399 B.C.) Plato (427-347 B.C.) and Aristotle (384-322 B.C.). Both
Socrates and Plato came from Athens. Aristotle was from Stagira and was the student of
Plato. Plato was the student of Socrates. Socrates did not like to study the natural world. He
liked to think about human nature instead. Socrates didn‟t think there was anything valuable
to learn by looking at nature. Plato, however, did like to look at nature and thought it was
important. He began the first school dedicated to philosophy and natural philosophy. His
school was called the Academy. It was located in Athens and survived for over 800 years.
Plato‟s most famous student was Aristotle. Aristotle studied at the Academy for almost 20
years before he was asked to tutor the son of King Philip II of Macedonia, Alexander.
Alexander would go on to become Alexander the Great. Aristotle took the study of natural
philosophy even further than his teacher Plato. His work, which included logic, physics,
cosmology, anatomy, and even ethics, marked the beginning of a 2000 year history of
Aristotelian thought that dominated much of the Western world.
PHILOSOPHY OF EDUCATION
It is the study of the purpose, nature and ideal content of education. Other questions include
the nature of the knowing mind and the human subject, problems of authority, the
relationship between education and society, etc. Application of philosophical methods to the
theory and practice of Education. Among the topics investigated in the philosophy of
education are the nature of learning, especially in children, the purpose of education,
particularly the question of whether the chief goal of educators should be imparting
knowledge, developing intellectual independence, or instilling moral or political values, the
nature of education-related concepts, including the concept of education itself. Major figures
in the history of the philosophy of education include Plato, Rousseau and John Dewey.
Philosophy of education is a term that is used to define an approach to education that is based
on the planning of courses and curriculum, policies regarding education, and programs that
are used to support or encourage personal and academic development. In many cases, a
philosophy of education will be used to inform the structure and mission of a school. The
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Montessori philosophy of education, for example, is based on the philosophy of education
developed by Maria Montessori, an Italian physician who lived between 1870 and 1952.
INTRODUCTION TO PRAGMATISM
According to Robert R. Rusk, the Oxford Dictionary first referred to the term pragmatic in
1643 and the term pragmatism in 1663. According to the Concise Oxford Dictionary the term
pragmatic means dealing with matters according to their practical significance or immediate
importance. The term pragmatism, according to the same source, means Doctrine that
evaluates any assertion solely by its practical consequences and its bearing on human
interests. The term pragmatism has been derived from the Greek term Pragma which means
action. Thus, pragmatism is an ism according to which uses the criteria of reality.
Pragmatism is basically an epistemological undertaking keynoted by its theory of truth and
meaning. This theory state that truth can be known only through its practical consequences
and is thus and individual or a social matter rather than an absolute. Action gets priority over
thought. Everyone is tested on the touch-stone of experience. Beliefs and ideas are true if
they are workable and profitable otherwise false.
Will Durant sums up pragmatism as the doctrine that truth is the practical efficiency of an
idea. It follows there from that pragmatism is not a philosophy but a method–the method of
As a basis for school practice pragmatism opposes pre-determined and pre-ordained
objectives and curriculums. Values are instrumental only. There are no final or fixed values.
They are evolved and are not true for all times and for all situations. According to an
undeviating standard of worth, pragmatism tends to be individualistic, selfish, has no values,
has no ethics and is thus superficial.
Pragmatism was a philosophical tradition that originated in the United States around 1870.
The most important of the „classical pragmatists‟ were Charles Sanders Peirce (1839–1914),
William James (1842–1910) and John Dewey (1859–1952). The influence of pragmatism
declined during the first two thirds of the twentieth century, but it has undergone a revival
since the 1970s with philosophers being increasingly willing to use the writings and ideas of
the classical pragmatists, and also a number of thinkers, such as Richard Rorty, Hilary
Putnam and Robert Brandom developing philosophical views that represent later stages of the
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pragmatist tradition. The core of pragmatism was the pragmatist maxim, a rule for clarifying
the contents of hypotheses by tracing their „practical consequences‟. In the work of Peirce
and James, the most influential application of the pragmatist maxim was to the concept of
truth. For much of the twentieth century, pragmatism was largely in eclipse. Few
philosophers were familiar with the works of classical pragmatists such as Charles Sanders
Piece and William James, and pragmatist ideas were not at the center of debate. John Dewey,
who had been a dominant philosophical figure in the 1920‟s, was no longer a central figure.
Analytical philosophers and their students had a central role in philosophy. It was not until
the 1970s that interest in the writings of the Pragmatists became widespread and pragmatist
ideas were recognized as able to make a major contribution to philosophy.
JOHN DEWEY’S LIFESPAN
John Dewey (1859–1952) was a pragmatic philosopher, psychologist, and educator
commonly regarded as the founder of the progressive education movement. Dewey was born
in Burlington, Vermont on October 20, 1859. In 1875, he enrolled in the University of
Vermont where he took his BA degree. Although his interest in philosophy emerged as an
undergraduate, he was uncertain about his future. He taught high school for two years in Oil
City, Pennsylvania, and then one more year back in his hometown of Burlington where he
arranged for private tutorials in philosophy with his former teacher H. A. P. Torry. In 1894,
Dewey moved to the University of Chicago to head the department of philosophy,
psychology, and pedagogy. Some of his most influential educational works emerged out of
these laboratories including “My Pedagogic Creed” (1887, EW 5: pp. 84–95), The School
and Society (1900, MW 1: pp. 1–109), and The Child and the Curriculum (1902, MW: pp.
271–291). These works not only set out Dewey‟s practical pedagogy, but they also outlined
the psychological and philosophical principles upon which it relied. These principles
devolved from the trial and error experiments that occurred within and without the walls of
the Laboratory School.
In Dewey‟s philosophy, loving and creating surpass mere knowing. “Philosophy” means,
“love of wisdom;” it derives from the Greek philein (to love) and sophia (wisdom). Dewey
insisted that wisdom is not “systematic and proved knowledge of fact and truth, but a
conviction about moral values.The goal of Dewey‟s philosophy as education is to release the
human potential for growth. Growth through freedom, creativity, and dialogue is, for him, the
all-inclusive ideal, the greatest good. For example, in Democracy and Education he asserts,
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“Since growth is the characteristic of life, education is all one with growing; it has no end
beyond itself”.However, seems appropriate give that Dewey is a philosopher of endless
reconstruction in an ever-evolving, never-ending world.
FORMS OF PRAGMATISM
This type of pragmatism is particularly found in social sciences. According to it the
satisfaction of human nature is the criterion of utility. In philosophy, in religion and even in
science man is the aim of all thinking and everything else is a means to achieve human
Modern science is based upon experimental method. The fact that can be ascertained by
experiment is true. No truth is final, truth is known only to the extent it is useful in practice.
The pragmatists use this criterion of truth in every field of life. The human problems can be
solved only through experiment.
When we make any experiment we attend to the result. Our aim is examination of the
material. Some hypothesis about the results invariably precedes every experiment. According
to nominalist pragmatism, the results of an experiment are always particular and concrete,
never general and abstract.
Experimentalism of John Dewey is based upon this biological pragmatism according to
which the ultimate aim of all knowledge is harmony of the man with the environment.
Education develops social skill which facilitates one‟s life. The school is a miniature society
which prepares the child for future life.
PRINCIPLES OF PRAGMATISM
Philosophically, the pragmatists are pluralists. According to them there are as many words as
human beings. The ultimate reality is not one but many. Everyone searches truth and aim of
life according to his experiences.
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b) EMPHASIS ON CHANGE
The pragmatists emphasize change. The world is a process, a constant flux. Truth is always in
the making. The world is ever progressing and evolving. Therefore, everything here is
Pragmatists are utility is the test of all truth and reality. A useful principle is true. Utility
means fulfillment of human purposes. The results decide the good and evil of anything, idea,
beliefs and acts. Utility means satisfaction of human needs.
d) CHANGING AIM AND VALUES
The aim and values of life change in different times and climes. The old aims and values,
therefore, cannot be accepted as they are. Human life and the world is a laboratory in which
the aims and values are developed.
Pragmatists are individualists. They put maximum premium upon freedom in human life.
Liberty goes with equality and fraternity. Everyone should adjust to his environment.
f) EMPHASIS ON SOCIAL ASPECTS
Since man is a social animal therefore, he develops in social circumstances. His success is
success in society. The aim of education is to make him successful by developing his social
Pragmatists are experimentalists. They give more importance to action than ideas. Activity is
the means to attain the end of knowledge. Therefore, one should learn by doing constant
experimentation which is required in every field of life.
PRAGMATISM AND EDUCATIVE PROCESS
Activity lies at the center of all educative process. The basis of all teaching is the activity of
the child, says Foster. Every continuous- experience or activity is educative and all education,
is fact, resides in having such experience. But continuous growth in experience is not the
whole education. Education is something more. It is a constant reorganizing or reconstructing
of experience. Pragmatism approaches the problems of education from the „progressives‟
view point “progress implies change. Change further implies novelty”, so education cannot
be conceived of as acquired once for all. Problem solving is at the core of all education. The
educative process thus becomes empirical, experimental, and piecemeal: in a word pragmatic.
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1. EDUCATION AS LIFE
Pragmatists firmly believe that old and traditional education is dead and lifeless. Education is
a continuous re-organizing, reconstructing and integrating the experience and activities of
race. They want to conserve the worthwhile culture of the past, think out the solutions to meet
the new situations and then integrate the two. Real knowledge can be gained only be activity,
experiments and real life experiences.
2. EDUCATION AS GROWTH
Thus education will be useful if it brings about the growth and development of the individual
as well as the society in which he lives. Education is meant for the child and child is not
meant for education and child is not empty bottle to be filled up by outside knowledge. Each
child is born with inherent capacities, tendencies and aptitudes which are drawn out and
developed by education. One of the aims of education is to develop all the inherent capacities
of the child to the fullest extent.
3. EDUCATION AS A SOCIAL PROCESS
To pragmatism, man is a social being. He gains more and more knowledge through personal
experiences than he gets from books. According to pragmatism, the education of the child
should be through the medium of society so that develops in him socially desirable qualities
which promote his welfare and happiness. John Dewey rightly speaks out – Education is the
social continuity of life.
4. EDUCATION A CONTINUOUS RESTRUCTURING OF EXPERIENCE
Education is a process of development. Knowledge is gained by experiences and
experiments, conducted by the learner himself. One exercise leads to another and so on and
the area of knowledge is widened by the child. The process of reconstruction of experience
goes on and leads to adjustment and development of personality. For pragmatists educational
process has no end beyond itself. In addition to the individual it is continuous reorganizing
restructuring and integrating the experience and activities of the race.
5. EDUCATION THE RESPONSIBILITY OF STATE
Education is the birth right of each individual and may not be within the right of the
individual, so the state should shoulder the responsibility. The refusal of the state to do so
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may not lead the nation to suffering. It is for the state to make the child capable and confident
to meet the problems and challenges of life successfully.
PRAGMATISM AND CURRICULUM
In the field of curriculum development, the following principles have been prescribed by
PRINCIPLE OF UTILITY
According to this principle, only those subjects, activities and experiences should be included
in the curriculum which are useful to the present needs of the child and also meet the future
expectations of adult life as well. As such Language, physical well-being, physical training,
Geography, History, Science, Agriculture and Home science for girls should be included in
PRINCIPLE OF INTEREST
According to this principle, only those activities and experiences where in the child takes
interest should be included in the curriculum. According to John Dewey these interests are of
four varieties namely, interest in conversation, interest in investigation, interest in
construction and interest in creative expression. Keeping these varieties of interests in view,
at the primary stage, the curriculum should include Reading, Writing, Counting, Art, Craft-
work, Natural science and other practical work of simple nature.
PRINCIPLE OF EXPERIENCE
The third principle of pragmatic curriculum is the child‟s activity, vocation and experience.
All these three should be closely integrated. The curriculum should consist of such varieties
of learning experiences which promote original thinking and freedom to develop social and
PRINCIPLE OF INTEGRATION
Pragmatic curriculum deals with the integration of subjects and activities. According to
pragmatism knowledge is one unit. Pragmatists want to construct flexible, dynamic and
integrated curriculum which aids the developing child and the changing society more and
more as the needs, demands and situation require.
PRAGMATISM AND METHODS OF TEACHING
The whole emphasis of method of teaching in pragmatism is on child, not the book, or the
teacher or the subject. The dominant interest of the child is “to do and to make”. The method
should be flexible and dynamic. It must be adaptable and modifiable to suit the nature of the
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subject matter and potentiality of the students. The pragmatist‟s curriculum provides for
creative and purposeful activities in the teaching- learning process. Pragmatists regard school
is a‟ miniature of society‟ where child gets real experiences to act and behave according to
his interests, aptitudes and capacities.
Project method is a contribution of pragmatist philosophy in education. According to
Kilpatrick “a project is a whole hearted purposeful activity carried out in a social
environment”. The child learns by doing says John Dewey. All learning must come as a
product of action. Learning by doing makes a person creative, confident and co-operative.
They also emphasize the discovery and enquiry methods. The method like problem solving,
play-way, experimental and laboratory techniques which follow the principle of learning by
doing can be used according to pragmatic view.
PRAGMATISM AND TEACHER
Pragmatism regards teacher as a helper, guide and philosopher. The chief function of
pragmatic teacher is to suggest problems to his pupils and to stimulate them to find by
themselves, the solutions, which will work. The teacher must provide opportunities for the
natural development of innate qualities of children. His main task is to suggest problems to
his pupils and to guide them to find out solutions.
PRAGMATISM AND DISCIPLINE
To utilize the interest of the pupil is the basis of discipline here. The teacher and pupils attack
a problem jointly. Teacher‟s role is that of a guide and a director; it is the pupil who acts,
learning this becomes a cooperative venture- a joint enterprise. Pursuit of common purposes
enforces its own order. Education becomes a social process of sharing between the members
of the various groups and all are equal partners in the process. That is no rewards also there
are no placing for the martinet so any punishments. The discipline proceeds from the life of
the school as a whole.
CONTRIBUTIONS OF PRAGMATISM TO EDUCATION
Pragmatism provides definite aims of education. The student is prepared to live in society
and learn skills and attitudes. The teaching methods are based on learning by doing. The
project method is the contribution of pragmatism to modern education.
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Pragmatism encourages a democratic way of learning through purposeful and cooperative
projects and activities.
Utility in the educative process is the first criterion. The school is expected to provide
learning and experiences that are useful.
Education is not bound to tradition. Pragmatic philosophers advise us to test everything
through our own experience.
The teacher has to play a very challenging role in the educative process under pragmatism
and he has to be very alert and watchful.
IMPLICATION OF PRAGMATISM IN EDUCATION SYSTEM
Across the 20th century, a Dewey‟s tradition has been kept alive in education. His texts
including Democracy and Education and Experience and Education, are often read by each
new generation of scholars and practitioners because of their general stance on educational
reform. The interesting aspect of the question about pragmatism concerns its presence in
education today. The all too quick answer is that its actual implementation is very limited but
this misses major ideas and factors that determine what constitutes education. A significant
clue is found in Dewey‟s Experience and Education, penned in the thirties as a response both
to „traditional‟ and „progressive‟ educational practices. His point was to reconstruct the old
and the new into education that is based in a substantive philosophy. This philosophy says
that students‟ life experiences should determine what is taught and learned. Dewey‟s phrase
for teachers is that they understand children‟s interests as well as adults‟ knowledge and in
turn „psychologize‟ the curriculum. Experience and Education is a valuable resource as an
Any mention of the famous phrase “Learning by Doing" brings to mind John Dewey as its
creator. However, in modern times Dewey identified learning by doing as the sole strategy
for any kind of learning. He identified education as a kind of experience, and through saying
this he actually means the same equation between what one actually does and the resultant
learning. So if a student learns how to listen and take notes from a lecture, he or she only
learns how to listen and taking notes. If afterwards the student memorizes the lesson notes,
the student learns how to memorize things. Dewey introduced his problem solving method as
a strategy to teach pragmatic approach towards life problems. In problem solving method, a
student through adopting a procedure solves problems. Thus, according to the equation
between what one does and so one learns, one learns how to solve problems.
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ALLAMA IQBAL’S VIEW PERTINENT TO EDUCATION
As probably to pragmatism, AllamaIqbal‟s consistent philosophy gives a shape to a new
interpretation on the experience of old era. His basic point was that the aim of education
should be personality development of individual. Through different perspectives
AllamaIqbal‟s thought and ideas are viewed in resemblance to John Dewey.
(Ah! Neither the Mulla nor the Jurist is aware of the fact
That unity of thought without unity of character is incomplete and wanting.)
Education must lay prime emphasis upon the character-formation of the child. Unless it goes
to build up good character as well, it will never achieve its real purpose. "Character-training,"
says Professor W.O. Lester Smith "is closely linked with the conception of school as a
society". This view is now being emphasized on different hands.
Iqbal has laid great emphasis on the proper development of the individuality of man. He says
that the Quranic concept of the ego stresses "the individuality and uniqueness of man and has
a definite view of his destiny as a unity of life”. The development of ego is of prime
importance in his way of thinking. He condemns imitation because it curbs one's
individuality. He is against drama and Tamtheel for in them the actor has to adopt the role of
someone else and the repetition of it leads to the assassination of one's own personality.
Iqbal‟s view was that,
Khudi is the determinant of the entire gamut of existence,
All that Thou seestis due to the secrets of Khudi.
Thus, the development of the individuality of man should be a basic tent with education.His
development of the individuality can be achieved only if the child is treated with love and
affection even with a certain degree of respect for his individual self and if his latent faculties
are given ample opportunities for self-expression. He should breathe in an atmosphere of
freedom. Education should become pupil-centered, giving him all possible opportunities to
develop his creative faculties and inherent talents and aptitude.The primary emphasis on
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individuality does not mean that there should be any lack of social sense and collective
responsibility in the students. The virtues of social consciousness and responsibility should be
installed in them from the very beginning and they should be prepared for social service and
The foregoing discussion shows that pupil‟s immediate experiences, felt needs and purposes
play a prominent part in the determination of educational programs and policies. This
confirms the faith in the worth and improvability of individuals. Pragmatism puts emphasis
on free flow of ideas, spirit of inquiry of investigation and discussion. Pragmatism upholds
the supreme value of man and prescribes freedom of thinking, experimenting and
experiencing for him. Not only this, it lays emphasis upon flexibility, utility and adjustment
in all fields of human activity promoting the continuous development of individual and
society to the fullest extent.Pragmatic philosophy is a practical philosophy, having no fixed
or absolute standards. Man always creates new values and education should help him in
doing so. Being practical and utilitarian school of philosophy, pragmatism has influenced
education to the maximum extent. It has tried overcoming the limitations of other schools like
idealism and naturalism and has influenced world in a great deal.
Pragmatism and Education by Daniel Tröhler (Editor), Jürgen Oelkers (Editor)
Broudy, Harry S., Building a Philosophy of Education. Englewood Cliffs, N.J. Prentice-Hall, Inc.,
Frank Thilly, ³A History of philosophy´, Central Publishing House,Allahabad.
The Concise Oxford Dictionary, Sixth Edition, III. Impression, 1976, p-868.McDermid, D. The
Varieties of Pragmatism: Truth, Realism, and Knowledge from James to Rorty. London and New
York: Continuum, 2006.