Functionalism at Chicago John Dewey

Despite the fact that functionalism was never a well-defined school of thought, as structuralism was, its founding is commonly attributed to John Dewey (1859–1952), even though James, Münsterberg, and Hall certainly laid important groundwork. Although, as we shall see, Dewey was strongly influenced by James, Shook (1995) indicates that several of Dewey’s functionalistic ideas actually

came originally from Wundt’s voluntarism. Dewey was born in Burlington, Vermont. His father, Archibald Sprague Dewey, was a grocer. While attending the University of Vermont as an undergraduate, John Dewey became interested in philosophy. Following graduation, he taught sec- ondary school for three years before entering Johns Hopkins University in 1882 to pursue his interests in philosophy. Dewey had Hall as a teacher but was also strongly influenced by philosopher George S. Morris (1840–1889). Besides psychology, Dewey had a special interest in the philosophies of Hegel and Kant; he wrote his dissertation on Kant’s philos- ophy. Dewey’s first academic appointment was at the University of Michigan, where he taught both phi- losophy and psychology. While at Michigan, Dewey wrote Psychology (1886), which was a mixture of Hegelian philosophy and functionalistic psychology. It preceded James’s Principles by four years. Dewey was at Michigan for 10 years (1884–1894), except for one year spent at the University of Minnesota.

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In 1894, Dewey accepted an appointment as chair of the philosophy department at the newly established University of Chicago (at that time, philosophy included psychology and pedagogy). It was at Chicago that Dewey wrote “The Reflex Arc Concept in Psychology” (1896), which for many marks the formal beginning of the school of func- tionalism. Boring (1953) referred to Dewey’s 1896 article as “a declaration of independence for Ameri- can functional psychology” (p. 146).

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