Implications of Pragmatism in Educational System


One of the most important schools of philosophy of education is pragmatism. Pragmatism stands between idealism and materialism a sort of compromise. Its origin can be traced from the Sophist philosophers of ancient Greece who held that man is the measure of all things.

The term pragmatism derives its origin from a Greek word meaning to do, to make, to accomplish. So the use of words likes ‘action’ or ‘practice’ or ‘activity’. The action gets priority over thought. Experience is at the center of the universe. Everyone is tested on the touchstone of experience. Beliefs and ideas are true if they are workable and profitable otherwise false. Will Durant sums up pragmatism as the doctrine that truth is the practical efficiency of an idea. It follows therefrom that pragmatism is not a philosophy but a method–the method of experimentation. As a basis for school practice, pragmatism opposes pre-determined and pre-ordained objectives and curriculums. The past of the pragmatist is dead.

Values are instrumental only. There are no final or fixed values. They are evolved and are not true for all times and for all situations. According to an undeviating standard of worth, pragmatism tends to be individualistic, selfish; has no values; has no ethics, and is thus superficial.

Forms of Pragmatism

1. Humanistic Pragmatism

This type of pragmatism is particularly found in social sciences. According to it the satisfaction of human nature is the criterion of utility. In philosophy, in religion, and even in science man is the aim of all thinking and everything else is a means to achieve human satisfaction.

2. Experimental Pragmatism

Modern science is based upon experimental methods. The fact that can be ascertained by experiment is true. No truth is final, truth is known only to the extent it is useful in practice. The pragmatists use this criterion of truth in every field of life. Human problems can be solved only through experiments.

3. Nominalistic Pragmatism

When we make any experiment we attend to the result. Our aim is an examination of the material. Some hypothesis about the results invariably precedes every experiment. According to nominalistic pragmatism, the results of an experiment are always particular and concrete, never general and abstract.

4. Biological Pragmatism

The experimentalism of John Dewey is based upon this biological pragmatism according to which the ultimate aim of all knowledge is the harmony of man with the environment. Education develops social skill which facilitates one’s life. The school is a miniature society which prepares the child for future life.

Principles of Pragmatism

1. Pluralism

Philosophically, pragmatists are pluralists. According to them, there are as many words as human beings. The ultimate reality is not one but many. Everyone searches truth and aim of life according to his experiences.

2. Emphasis on Change

The pragmatists emphasize change. The world is a process, a constant flux. Truth is always in the making. The world is ever progressing and evolving. Therefore, everything here is changing.

3. Utilitarianism

Pragmatists are utility is the test of all truth and reality. A useful principle is true. Utility means fulfillment of human purposes. The results decide the good and evil of anything, idea, belief, and acts. Utility means satisfaction of human needs.

4. Changing Aim and Values

The aim and values of life change in different times and climes. The old aims and values, therefore, cannot be accepted as they are. Human life and the world is a laboratory in which the aims and values are developed.

5. Individualism

Pragmatists are individualists. They put a maximum premium upon freedom in human life. Liberty goes with equality and fraternity. Everyone should adjust to his environment.

6. Emphasis on Social Aspects

Since man is a social animal, therefore, he develops in social circumstances. His success is success in society. The aim of education is to make him successful by developing his social personality.

7. Experimentalism

Pragmatists are experimentalists. They give more importance to action than ideas. Activity is the means to attain the end of knowledge. Therefore, one should learn by doing constant experimentation which is required in every field of life.


Activity lies at the center of all educative processes. The basis of all teaching is the activity of the child, says Foster. Every continuous- experience or activity is educative and all education is a fact, resides in having such experience. But continuous growth inexperience is not the whole education. Education is something more. It is a constant reorganizing or reconstructing of experience. Pragmatism approaches the problems of education from the ‘progressivits’ viewpoint “progress implies change. Change further implies novelty”, so education cannot be conceived of as acquired once for all. Problem-solving is at the core of all education. The educative process thus becomes empirical, experimental, and piecemeal: in a word pragmatic.

Educational Implications

1. Education as Life

Pragmatists firmly believe that old and traditional education is dead and lifeless. Education is a continuous re-organizing, reconstruction, and integration the experience and activities of race. They want to conserve the worthwhile culture of the past, think out the solutions to meet the new situations, and then integrate the two. Real knowledge can be gained only be an activity, experiments, and real-life experiences.

2. Education as Growth

Thus education will be useful if it brings about the growth and development of the individual as well as the society in which he lives. Education is meant for the child and the child is not meant for education and the child is not an empty bottle to be filled up by outside knowledge. Each child is born with inherent capacities, tendencies, and aptitudes which are drawn out and developed by education. One of the aims of education is to develop all the inherent capacities of the child to the fullest extent.

3. Education as a Social Process

To pragmatism, man is a social being. He gains more and more knowledge through personal experiences than he gets from books. According to pragmatism, the education of the child should be through the medium of society so that develops in him socially desirable qualities which promote his welfare and happiness. John Dewey rightly speaks out – Education is the social continuity of life.

4. Education a Continuous Restructuring of Experience

Education is a process of development. Knowledge is gained by experiences and experiments, conducted by the learner himself. One exercise leads to another and so on and the area of knowledge is widened by the child. The process of reconstruction of experience goes on and leads to adjustment and development of personality. For pragmatists, the educational process has no end beyond itself. In addition to the individual, it is continuously reorganizing restructuring, and integrating the experience and activities of the race.

5. Education Is the Responsibility of the State

Education is the birthright of each individual and may not be within the right of the individual, so the state should shoulder the responsibility. The refusal of the state to do so may not lead the nation to suffer. It is for the state to make the child capable and confident to meet the problems and challenges of life successfully.

Aims and Pragmatism

Pragmatists do not believe in any pre-conceived aims of education. Aims cannot be conceived of as final, fixed, and immutable. Aims arise out of the ongoing experience and should lie wholly within the child’s experience. Living as we do, in a changing world with an uncertain and shifting future, human experience is prone to change. And so the need to reshape our aims to meet the needs of such a dynamic environment as ours has become where the invention of every machine means a new social revolution. So it has been said that education has no aims. “Continuing education “, says a UNESCO booklet, “has become a necessity in almost every field of life from housekeeping to atomics”. Education is a lifelong process and not as something to discipline the recalcitrant person in to conformity with the pre-existing truth. The pupil should be able to, as they say, ’thing through’ the problems. Education for Dewey is a process of individual growth and development. But “growth itself“, says Brubacher “has no end beyond further growth”. In other words, he goes on to say “education is its own end”. Education means more education.

Pragmatism and Curriculum

In the field of curriculum development, the following principles have been prescribed by pragmatists.

1. Principle of Utility

According to this principle, only those subjects, activities, and experiences should be included in the curriculum which is useful to the present needs of the child and also meets the future expectations of adult life as well. As such Language, physical well-being, physical training, Geography, History, Science, Agriculture, and Home science for girls should be included in the curriculum.

2. Principle of Interest

According to this principle, only those activities and experiences where in the child takes an interest should be included in the curriculum. According to John Dewey, these interests are of four varieties namely- (1) interest in conversation, (2) interest in investigation, (3) interest in construction, and (4) interest in creative expression. Keeping these varieties of interests in view, at the primary stage, the curriculum should include Reading, Writing, Counting, Art, Craft-work, Natural science and other practical work of simple nature.

3. Principle of Experience

The third principle of a pragmatic curriculum is the child’s activity, vocation, and experience. All these three should be closely integrated. The curriculum should consist of such variety of learning experiences which promote original thinking and freedom to develop social and purposeful attitudes.

4. Principle of Integration

Pragmatic curriculum deals with the integration of subjects and activities. According to pragmatism knowledge is one unit. Pragmatists want to construct a flexible, dynamic, and integrated curriculum which aids the developing child and the changing society more and more as the needs, demands, and situations require.

Pragmatism and Methods of Teaching

The whole emphasis of the method of teaching in pragmatism is on the child, not the book, or the teacher, or the subject. The dominant interest of the child is “to do and to make”. The method should be flexible and dynamic. It must be adaptable and modifiable to suit the nature of the subject matter and the potentiality of the students. The pragmatist’s curriculum provides for creative and purposeful activities in the teaching-learning process. Pragmatists regard school is a’ miniature of society’ where the child gets real experiences to act and behave according to his interests, aptitudes, and capacities.

The project method is a contribution of pragmatist philosophy in education. According to Kilpatrick “a project is a wholehearted purposeful activity carried out in a social environment”. The child learns by doing says, John Dewey. All learning must come as a product of action. Learning by doing makes a person creative, confident, and cooperative. They also emphasize the discovery and inquiry methods. A method like problem-solving, play-way, experimental, and laboratory techniques which follow the principle of learning by doing can be used according to a pragmatic view.


Pragmatism regards the teacher as a helper, guide, and philosopher. The chief function of the pragmatic teacher is to suggest problems to his pupils and to stimulate them to find by themselves, the solutions, which will work. The teacher must provide opportunities for the natural development of the innate qualities of children. His main task is to suggest problems to his pupils and to guide them to find out solutions.


To utilize the interest of the pupil is the basis of discipline here. The teacher and pupils attack a problem jointly. The teacher’s role is that of a guide and a director; it is the pupil who acts, learning this becomes a cooperative venture- a joint enterprise. The pursuit of common purposes enforces it own order. Education becomes a social process of sharing between the members of the various groups and all are equal partners in the process. That is no rewards also there are no placing for the martinet so any punishments. The discipline proceeds from the life of the school as a whole.

Contributions of Pragmatism to Education

  • Pragmatism provides definite aims of education. The student is prepared to live in society and learn skills and attitudes. Which are required of him to live as a useful member of society?
  • The teaching methods are based on learning by doing. The project method is the contribution of pragmatism to modern education.
  • Pragmatism encourages a democratic way of learning through purposeful and cooperative projects and activities.
  • Utility in the educative process is the first criterion. The school is expected to provide learning and experiences that are useful.
  • Education is not bound to tradition. Pragmatic philosophers advise us to test everything through our own experience.
  • The teacher has to play a very challenging role in the educative process under pragmatism and he has to be very alert and watchful.

Demerits of Pragmatism

1. Opposition to Eternal Truths

Pragmatism is opposed to pre-determined truth. According to it, truth changes according to a change in circumstances, times, and places and is created by the consequences of our actions and experiences. Pragmatists hold that if the results of activity are satisfying, then it is true otherwise not.

2. Opposition of Pre-determined Ideas and Values

This emphasizes that ideals and values are man-made and change according to changes in circumstances, times, and places. But all noble things have entered into this human world by the efforts of those great persons who were inspired by the great ideals namely- truth, beauty, and goodness.

3. No Pre-determined Aims of Education

There are no set and pre-determined aims of education as well. In the absence of definite aims of education, all educational plans and efforts may go astray and achieve nothing.

4. Negations of Spiritual Values

Pragmatists deny the existence of spiritual values. Negligence of spiritual value is a great blunder. Without developing spiritual values achieving human welfare, peace and satisfaction is simply to cry for the moon.

5. Opposition of Intellectuality

Pragmatists believe that a man’s intelligence is subservient to his innate tendencies. This makes him only an animal.

6. Negation of Post

Agmatists, emphasize only the present and future and neglects the past. Without the knowledge of past, one cannot understand the present and without knowing the present thoroughly nothing can be predicted for the future.

7. Difficulty in the Construction of Curriculum

Pragmatism emphasizes that all knowledge is to be gained from experiences of life. Selecting a project and constructing of curriculum to gain all knowledge from life experiences is very difficult.

8. Pragmatism Is a Method Only

Unlike other philosophical doctrines, pragmatism does not lay down any aims, ideals and values of life to be pursued by human beings. Hence, pragmatism cannot be termed as a philosophy of life.


1. Construction of Project Method

In the field of methods of teaching, pragmatism has given birth to the project method. With this method, a child indulging in various creative activities, is able to solve many problems which cater to his natural progress and development.

2. Importance of Child

Opposing bookish knowledge and formal education, pragmatism lays great stress upon the development of child’s individuality by his own efforts.

3. Emphasis on Activity

Pragmatism emphasizes upon activity. The principle of learning by doing is the main contribution of pragmatism

4. Faith in Applied Life

Pragmatism emphasizes the practical life of a child. Pragmatic education prepares the child for future life in a very effective manner.

5. Social and Democratic Education

Pragmatism develops in the child's love for democratic values and social efficiency which brings harmonious adjustment and development of personality.

6. Infusion of New Life in Education

Pragmatism has revolutionized the process of education to a very great extent. This has infused a new life and zest in education.


The foregoing discussion shows that pupils’ immediate experiences, felt needs and purposes play a prominent part in the determination of educational programs and policies. This confirms the faith in the worth and improvability of individuals. Pragmatism puts emphasis on the free flow of ideas, the spirit of inquiry of investigation, and discussion. Pragmatism upholds the supreme value of man and prescribes freedom of thinking, experimenting, and experiencing for him. Not only this, it lays emphasis upon flexibility, utility, and adjustment in all fields of human activity promoting the continuous development of individuals and society to the fullest extent.

Pragmatic philosophy is a practical philosophy, having no fixed or absolute standards. Man always creates new values and education should help him in doing so. Being a practical and utilitarian school of philosophy, pragmatism has influenced education to the maximum extent. It has tried overcoming the limitations of other schools like idealism and naturalism and has influenced the world in a great deal.

07 July 2022
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