Chapter XX: Intellectual and Practical Studies - Summary

The Greeks were induced to philosophize by the increasing failure of their traditional customs and beliefs to regulate life. Thus they were led to criticize custom adversely and to look for some other source of authority in life and belief. Since they desired a rational standard for the latter, and identified the customs which had proved unsatisfactory supports with experience, they were led to a flat opposition of reason and experience. The more the former was exalted, the more the latter was depreciated. Since experience was identified with what men do and suffer in particular and changing situations of life, doing shared in the philosophic depreciation. This influence fell in with many others to magnify, in higher education, all the methods and topics which involved the least use of sense-observation and bodily activity. The modern age began with a revolt against this point of view, with an appeal to experience, and an attack upon so-called purely rational concepts on the ground that they either needed to be ballasted by the results of concrete experiences, or else were mere expressions of prejudice and institutionalized class interest, calling themselves rational for protection. But various circumstances led to considering experience as pure cognition, leaving out of account its intrinsic active and emotional phases, and to identifying it with a passive reception of isolated 'sensations.' Hence the educational reform effected by the new theory was confined mainly to doing away with some of the bookishness of prior methods; it did not accomplish a consistent reorganization.

Meantime, the advance of psychology, of industrial methods, and of the experimental method in science makes another conception of experience explicitly desirable and possible. This theory reinstates the idea of the ancients that experience is primarily practical, not cognitive—a matter of doing and undergoing the consequences of doing. But the ancient theory is transformed by realizing that doing may be directed so as to take up into its own content all which thought suggests, and so as to result in securely tested knowledge. 'Experience' then ceases to be empirical and becomes experimental. Reason ceases to be a remote and ideal faculty, and signifies all the resources by which activity is made fruitful in meaning. Educationally, this change denotes such a plan for the studies and method of instruction as has been developed in the previous chapters.