Experimentalism And Pragmatism (Dr. Manzoor-ul-Haque)

We are grouping Experimentalism and Pragmatism together, partly for convenience, but more especially to avoid duplication. As a matter of fact, we could group the philosophies of Pragmatism, Positivism, Instrumentalism, Empiricism, Reconstructionism, and Progressivism under the general name “Experimentalism,” without doing violence to any of them. Although these philosophies differ in particulars, their position follows the line delineated in the following paragraphs.


Uniformly, all Experimentalists and Pragmatists reject metaphysics as a legitimate area of philosophical inquiry. Reality, they argue, is determined by an individual’s sense experience. Man can know nothing beyond his experience. Therefore, questions pertaining to the ultimate nature of man and the universe simply cannot be answered because these problems transcend one’s experience. For example, there is no way for any living being to determine whether there is life after death, because life after death cannot be experienced while one is living. Any conclusion we make about life after death is merely a sheer conjecture. Unless we can experience the phenomenon in question, it is impossible to verify any solution suggested for such problems. Therefore, Experimentalists and Pragmatists hold that the philosopher who attempts to think through such problems is wasting time, because the conclusions would be meaningless. Attempts to answer metaphysical questions are little more than guessing games, in their opinion.


The Experimentalists and Pragmatists reject the dualism that separates the perceiver from the object that is perceived. Man is both in the world of his perception and of the world of his perception. All that can be known is dependent upon experience. This experiencing of phenomena determines knowledge. Because the phenomena are constantly changing, it follows that knowledge and truth must similarly be changing. Truth is something that happens to an idea. Whatever is considered true today must also be considered as possibly changing tomorrow. Circumstances do alter cases: to a starving sailor, marooned on a desert island, a moldy loaf of bread that a suburban parent would throw into the garbage would be worth more than its weight in gold.


In Experimentalists and Pragmatists theory, values derive from the human condition. Because man is a part of his society, the consequences of his actions are either good or bad, according to their results. If the consequences prove worth while socially, then the value of the action is proven to be good. Thus, value in ethics and aesthetics depends upon the relative circumstances of the situation as it arises. Ultimate values cannot exist, for truth is always relative and conditional. Nevertheless, value judgments are useful as a means to an intelligent life that is successful, productive, and happy.


Aims of Education

Education must teach one how to think so that one can adjust to an ever-changing society. The school must aim at developing those experiences that will enable one to lead a good life. These objectives include:

1.      Good health.2.      Vocational skills.3.      Interests and hobbies for leisure living.4.      Preparation for parenthood.5.      Ability to deal effectively with social problems.

Additional specific goals must include an understanding of the importance of democracy. Democratic government enables each citizen to grow and live through the social interaction that takes place with other citizens. Education must help its students become excellent citizens in the democracy.


According to the Experimentalists and Pragmatists, the democratic tradition is a self-correcting tradition. As such, the social heritage of the past is not the focus of educational interest. Rather, the focus is for the good life now and in the future. The standard of social good is constantly being tested and verified through changing experiences; therefore, education must work to preserve democracy. The nature of this democracy is dynamic and changing as a result of its continually undergoing reconstructive experiences. However, this reconstruction does not demand or include total change. Only the serious social problems of society are re-examined in order to arrive at new solutions.

In the Experimentalists and Pragmatists view, the curriculum of the education imparting institution must not exist apart from the social context. The subject matter of education is the tool for solving individual problems and as the individual learner is improved or reconstructed, society is improved in similar fashion. Therefore, the problems of democratic society must form the basis of the curriculum; and the means to resolve the problems of democratic institutions must also be included in the curriculum. Therefore, there must be

1.      A social basis to the curriculum.2.      Opportunity to practice democratic ideals.3.      Democratic planning at every level of education.4.      Group definition of common social goals.5.      Creative means to develop new skills.6.      Activity-centered and pupil-centered curriculum.

The Teaching-Learning Process

In Experimentalism and Pragmatism, learning is always considered to be an individual matter. Teachers ought not to try to pour the knowledge they have into the learners, because such efforts are fruitless. What each learner learns depends upon his own personal needs, interests, and problems. In other words, the content of knowledge is not an end in itself but a means to an end. Thus, a learner who is faced by a problem may be able to reconstruct his environment so as to solve this felt need. To help him the teacher must

  1. Provide experiences that will excite motivation. Field trips, films, records, and guest experts are examples of activities designed to awaken learner interest in an important problem.
  2. Guide the learner into formulating a specific definition of the problem. Because each learner approaches the problem from his own experiential background, the teaches should encourage the learners to formulate their own aims and goals.
  3. Plan with the class the individual and group objectives to be used in solving the problem.
  4. Assist the learners in collecting the information pertaining to the problem. Essentially, the teacher serves as a guide by introducing skills, understandings, knowledge, and appreciations through the use of books, compositions, letters, resource speakers, films, field trips, television, or anything else that may be appropriate.
  5. Evaluate with the class what was learned; how they learned it; what new information occurred; what each learner discovered for himself.

Methods of Teaching

The teaching-learning method just described is the method of problem solving. Experimentalists and Pragmatists are committed to the use of the problem-solving inquiry and discovery method. This approach to teaching requires that a teacher be

1.      Permissive.2.      Friendly.3.      A guide.4.      Open-minded.5.      Enthusiastic.6.      Creative.7.      Socially aware.8.      Alert.9.      Patient.10.  Cooperative and sincere.

This whole constitutes Experimentalism and Pragmatism.

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