John Dewey and America

The mantra of the millennial generation-Y.O.L.O.: You only live once. So, live it up! Do whatever feels good and looks good. What does John Dewey and Y.O.L.O. have in common? The creator of the Dewey Decimal System and philosopher behind the American education system has influenced the teens of the 21st Century. Y.O.L.O. America has never recovered.

Dewey flat out denied the existence of a final end, or an ultimate purpose. He believed that “every end is a means.” Inextricably linked with this thinking is the theory that beliefs should be tested in action, that no belief is objectively true, that no belief should be tightly grasped, and finally, that beliefs could be thrown out the window when they were not useful anymore.

Dewey’s theory could be summed up with the well known phrase, “Live for the journey, not the destination.” To Dewey, moral codes were not to ground someone in their belief system. He believed they were to be dealt with experientially. In other words, you can’t know what’s right and wrong before you have sex, you can only know if sex is right for you, after you try it.

However, Dewey’s system could not answer life’s most important questions about living or dying. Take this example about two men: One man is young and believes that every good thing in life happens before 25 years of age. Afterwards, life’s responsibilities and the decreasing of health and strength leads him to want to escape the misfortunes of life and commit suicide. The other man in the scenario believes that life experience and the honors of old age far surpass the joy of youth and believes that living as long as possible is superior.

How can these two different scenarios be tried by the same person? They cannot both die early and live long to see which belief system is better. That is, they cannot experiment as they go to test their belief system, because, well, You Only Live Once.

Dewey’s philosophy led to theory that the end of the journey doesn’t matter. This is turn gave way to focusing on living for the moment because life is short. If this is the moral standard by which we fly, subjectivity reigns and the ultimate standard falls by the wayside giving way to things like drunkenness, debauchery, genocide, totalitarianism, and euthanasia. More importantly, it diminishes the Gospel.

Dewey’s belief about lack of beliefs and moral standards cannot be figured out by experience. Dewey’s theory on an experiential belief system, is immoral, impractical, and behaviorally inconsistent. Does this sound like the younger generation of today? Dewey’s influence lives on. Oh that Christians will heed Paul’s warning in Colossians 2:8 and, “Beware that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deceit based on human tradition.”

For Further Discussion:

Hank Edmondson on the Evils and Legacy of John Dewey


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