Documentary Editing, Association for


Date of this Version


Document Type



.Documentary Editing, Volume 14, Number 2, June 1992

ISSN 2476-1796 (electronic); ISSN 2167-1451 (print)


1992 © the Association for Documentary Editing. Used by permission.


When John Dewey was born in 1859, there were in this country some men, and a few women, who were philosophers, teachers of philosophy, and students of philosophy, but these people could not teach or study American philosophy because there was no body of thought that could be called "American philosophy." Half a century later, we did have an identifiable "American" philosophy and much that is distinctive about it we owe to John Dewey. In fact, by 1920, when Dewey was sixty-one years old, Morris Raphael Cohen was able to say, "John Dewey is unquestionably the one preeminent figure in American philosophy; and if there could be such an office as that of national philosopher, no one else could properly be mentioned for it."! The key word here is of course "national," because Dewey has long been considered the most American of the American philosophers and frequently called "the philosopher of democracy." To bring the record up to date, and to underline the national character of Dewey's philosophy, I should add that Dewey is obviously the only American in the group named by Richard Rorty a few years ago as "the three most important philosophers of our century"-Wittgenstein, Heidegger, and Dewey.2 What kind of man was this great philosopher? I would like for you to know John Dewey as I have come to know him, both as philosopher and as person, chiefly through his own words and the words of others who knew him well.