ANDREW FEFFER, University of Pennsylvania


The importance of social activism for the development of John Dewey's philosophy has long been appreciated. Historians view the rise of Chicago Pragmatism as a significant part of the history of progressive liberalism in the United States. The purpose of this study is to rectify some of the historical misunderstandings about the connection between Chicago philosophy and social reform, about Chicago Pragmatism's antecedents in nineteenth-century philosophical discourse, and about the significance of Deweyan theory for twentieth-century political traditions. This study explores the philosophical origins of Chicago philosophy in nineteenth-century liberal theology, particularly in the effort by American theologians to come to terms with post-bellum social crisis. The study then focuses on the concern Dewey and his colleagues shared with earlier religious leaders about the problems of work, industry and work values. Philosophy at the University of Chicago was an extended exploration of the philosophical implications, in psychology, ethics, and pedagogy, of the new factory system. In the functionalist psychology of Dewey and George H. Mead, Chicago philosophers acquired a tool for political and social commentary, as well as a guide to social activism. Their philosophy and their activism led them into the sharp political and social conflicts that broke out in Chicago after 1894, particularly in the city's factories and over the future of the city's schools. The social reform experience of the Chicago philosophers, while determined by the political and ethical biases of their initial philosophical positions, in turn acted back on their philosophy, chanelling it in the direction of social meliorism and the containment of political dissent. This development is particularly evident in the labor arbitration efforts of Mead and James H. Tufts, and in Mead's work on social psychology after 1900.

Subject Area

American history

Recommended Citation

FEFFER, ANDREW, "BETWEEN HEAD AND HAND: CHICAGO PRAGMATISM AND SOCIAL REFORM, 1886 TO 1919 (ILLINOIS)" (1987). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI8725157.