What does it mean when he states, “Education is the laboratory in which philosophic distinctions become concrete and are tested.”

This is in John Dewey's Democracy and Education, Chapter 24: Philosophy of Education.

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    Do you have a source for the quote? That may help someone provide an answer. Welcome to this SE! Nov 3, 2018 at 5:42
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    I found a reference and made an edit. You may roll this back or continue editing. Again, welcome! Nov 3, 2018 at 5:49

1 Answer 1


The question is what does the following sentence from John Dewey's Democracy and Eduction mean:

Education is the laboratory in which philosophic distinctions become concrete and are tested.

In that same paragraph Dewey warns that students of philosophy may see philosophy as relevant to philosophers alone:

The student of philosophy "in itself" is always in danger of taking it as so much nimble or severe intellectual exercise—as something said by philosophers and concerning them alone.

Dewey, however, sees more value in philosophy than this "intellectual exercise":

If we are willing to conceive education as the process of forming fundamental dispositions, intellectual and emotional, toward nature and fellow men, philosophy may even be defined as the general theory of education.

Given the above what Dewey may mean is that philosophy should not be merely "intellectual exercises", but it should be down-to-earth "concrete". This can be accomplished in the "laboratory" of "education" where "philosophical distinctions" can be "tested".


John Dewey, Democracy and Education, Project Gutenberg EBook produced by David Reed, and David Widger, 2008 https://www.gutenberg.org/files/852/852-h/852-h.htm

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    Good answer! Perhaps it is helpful to say that "concrete" and especially "laboratory" and "test" are terms that indicate that philosophy has to become a practice if it wants to be considered knowledge. Otherwise, it is just that: A hypothesis. Or even worse: a theory about a theory. The link to education then is to be considered as an emphasis of the fact that the distinctions would have to be useful for Man, i.e. in human life, not just for some philosophers in their ivory towers. Is there any better place to find out about that than a classroom full of (relatively "uneducated") people?
    – Philip Klöcking
    Nov 3, 2018 at 11:00
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    @PhilipKlöcking Good point that philosophy has to become a practice for Dewey if it wants to be knowledge. Nov 3, 2018 at 11:10

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