Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
July 24, 1958
NUMBER 12, PAGE 1,10b

Pragmatism, Progressive Education, The Social Gospel, Current Trends -- (I)

Robert Atkinson, Hattiesburg, Mississippi

The philosophy which has exercised the greatest influence on Progressive Education is Pragmatism. Pragmatism is "the philosophy of the immediate (versus the deferred) and of action. The origin of the term 'pragmatism' . . . is Greek. Its root is the word PRAGMA, which means a thing done, business, effective action." The substance of this doctrine is not new; it is the "modernism" of the ages. It was explained by the Greek historian Polybius (123 B. C.), applied by French historians in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, and used by Kant, though it played a decidedly secondary role in his Critical Philosophy. The term was popularized by American Philosopher William James in his volume on Pragmatism. Under James and the late Philosopher-Educator John Dewey ". . . the term was destined to become the name of a whole philosophic school and the banner of a new philosophic battle."

Pragmatism has been described as an attempt to reconcile the differences among the major philosophies which, to some extent, may be generally categorized under Idealism and Realism. This attempted reconciliation is probably what Will Durant had in mind when he wrote, "Instead of asking whence an idea is derived, or what are its premises, pragmatism examines its results . . ." Thus, Idealisti4 Scholasticism asked What is the thing; Realistic Darwinism asked, What is its origin; Pragmatism asks, What are its consequences? It is contended that the latter question is the most important, because it makes us consider action and the future.

Pragmatism contends that there are no eternal truths, no "a priori" knowledge. In Pragmatism, James wrote, "The true . . . is only the expedient in the way of our thinking, just as 'the right' is only the expedient in the way of our behaving . . . The true is the name of whatever proves itself to be good in the way of belief." Durant Drake says, "Authoritarian morality (belief in God-given values, RA.) is blindfolded morality. Not being formed on the consequences of conduct, it is not oven to correction by the sight of disastrous results." In the same vein, Dewey declares. "There is but one sure road of access to truth — the road of cooperative inquiry operating by means of observation, experiment, and controlled reflection." So truth is the "cash value" of an idea. If a thing works and is good for society today, it is true. But if it produces no good tomorrow, it is not true then. For example, if stating facts and holding to convictions in a situation today will cause your death, and from life's experiences you may reasonably conclude that your death will benefit society; then those facts and convictions are valuable and true, you should state them, and your death is your "moment of truth." But if their statement and your death will produce no practical (earthly) good; your facts and convictions have no value, are not truth, and would best be disallowed and discarded in that situation. Morality arises out of trial and error and the basis of morality, values (truths), change constantly because man lives in a changing world. This is a modified "end justifies the means" philosophy which is based on better developed, slightly higher, values than those upon which the materialistic philosophy of Communism is based.

It is contended that Progressive Education, based on Pragmatism, is well adapted to our fast changing world because, "it has no fixed aims or values in advance." So the methodology of Progressive Education is experimental activity. Thru such activity, Progressive Education seeks to supply human needs and values for this life, and do so by demonstrating the necessity for an experimental (scientific) attitude. The "constant change" theme of Dewey is an outgrowth of his wholesale acceptance of geological and biological evolution. He and his disciples insist that man is the highest being in the universe and that man is fully capable of guiding his own steps by scientifically analyzing his experiences. This is the danger of Progressive Education. It is undisguised infidelity. God says, concerning man, ". . . I will direct their work in truth . . ." (Isa. 61:8), and, ". .. I know that the way of man is not in himself: it is not in man that walketh to direct his steps." (Jer. 10:23) Infidelity would rage unchecked if there were not many teachers who believe in God as an omnipotent Creator and regard themselves as dependent creatures. Their belief leads them to carve off Progressive extremes, as advocated by Dewey, Kilpatrick, Brubacher, Brameld, Rugg, and many others; and Progressive Education, as they practice it, is truly progressive. But there is an ever-growing number of teachers who are willing to swallow wholesale the "scientific" approach to values. This is not right, brave, optimistic, intelligent or humane. Germany in the last decade and Russia in this decade have shown conclusively that ruthlessness and brutal disregard for the human personality are wholly compatible with the "scientific" attitude and scientific competence. And as an able opponent of Progressive Education, Michael Demiashkevich pointed out so conclusively the Experimentalist account of value judgment won't make sense unless some object or experience is valuable on its own.

After six thousand years of "experiences" and several centuries of the much-vaunted "spirit-of-scientific inquiry," man has succeeded in "creating" the power to destroy himself abut hasn't come close to "creating" the value necessary to keep himself from doing so. Nor will he. On what scientific or empirical evidence can we base the conviction that man is to be treated as an end instead of as a means? The lack of fixed (authoritative, God-given) values in a changing world has resulted in a fearful, tense, confused world that continually totters on the brink of destruction. Because man, as a race, accepts no universal, fixed values or truths, no general standard or Higher Authority. he has no basis upon which he may build trust, respect, friendship and honor. Man has directed the world into chaos and has powerfully demonstrated the eternal truth of Jesus' statement of hope "I am the way, the truth, and the life . . ." (John 14:6)

(To Be Continued)