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instrumental

in·stru·men·tal / ˌinstrəˈmentl/ • adj. 1. serving as an instrument or means in pursuing an aim or policy: the society was instrumental in bringing about legislation. ∎  relating to something's function as an instrument or means to an end: a very instrumental view of education and how it relates to their needs. 2. (of music) performed on instruments, not sung: a largely instrumental piece. ∎  relating to musical instruments: brilliance of instrumental color. 3. of or relating to an implement or measuring device: instrumental error instrumental delivery of a baby. 4. Gram. denoting or relating to a case of nouns and pronouns (and words in grammatical agreement with them) indicating a means or instrument. • n. 1. a piece of (usually nonclassical) music performed solely by instruments, with no vocals. 2. (the instrumental) Gram. the instrumental case. ∎  a noun in the instrumental case. DERIVATIVES: in·stru·men·tal·ly adv.

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instrumental

instrumental, in the grammar of certain languages (e.g., Russian), the case referring to means or instrument. The Latin ablative may in some instances be termed instrumental.

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instrumentalism

instrumentalism See WORK, SUBJECTIVE EXPERIENCE OF.

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instrumentalism

instrumentalism: see Dewey, John.

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Instrumentalism

INSTRUMENTALISM

Instrumentalism is the name given to the pragmatic philosophy of John dewey. In his book The Quest for Certainty (New York 1929) Dewey defines his system thus: "the essence of pragmatic instrumentalism is to conceive of both knowledge and practice as means of making goodsexcellencies of all kindssecure in experienced existence" (37 n.). The instrumental character of knowledge is clearly indicated in Dewey's earlier work How We Think (Boston 1910), where he teaches that thinking is stimulated by a problem presented to a man by his environment. In Dewey's terms, an indeterminate situation becomes problematic and creates a search for some solution that will solve the problem and resolve the situation. The problematic situation instills a "felt need" into the troubled human being. As a result hypothetical solutions are proposed and tested.

By reflective intelligence the individual tries to search for solutions that have worked in the past and may work in the present. According to Dewey, one of the advantages of intellectual knowledge is that solutions proposed in the past may be applied to a present problem, and either be improved upon or rejected before being tried out in actual experience. On this account his system is sometimes called experimentalism. It is true that he considered the scientific method to be a paradigm for philosophers. He did not, however, hold that any inquiry should be judged by being stretched on the Procrustean bed of the positive sciences.

Dewey is obviously concerned with the adaptability of traditional solutions to current problems. He warns, however, that so far as any problem is really new it cannot be seen as a mere repetition of something previous. Therefore the old solution must be adjusted to meet the demands of the new situation. Traditional theory is then always in tension with precisely those novel problems that were not known as problems when it itself was being formed. Dewey recognizes that the only intellectual equipment available for solving a new problem is knowledge already possessed, and he is convinced that one must make the most of the past solution in the present need. But to the extent that the past solution is inadequate it must be modified. One must, therefore, be always ready to add new truths to the tradition already possessed.

An important feature of Dewey's instrumentalism is his conviction of the reality of novelty and his appreciation of the risks involved in the interaction of an organism with its environment. This dialectic of interaction between developing man and reality in process shows the influence of G. W. F. hegel. Reflective intelligence seeks to avoid the risks or gain the rewards in the indeterminate situation. Out of the opposition of the felt need and the reflection of the thinker comes a new solution.

Another aspect of Dewey's instrumentalism is his theory of the "warranted assertion." Whereas William james is content to grant truth to assertions that, when acted upon, make a difference to the individual, Dewey demands that a true statement be warranted by evidence that can be "public" in some suitable way. He is more interested in the problems of men than in those of any one man. In his instrumentalism he seems to focus on human problems in economics, art, ethics, education, and politics, all of which have a direct urgency and relevance for the present situation.

Dewey's instrumentalism is a useful account of practical knowledge. Like the other pragmatists, he over-stresses the role of practical knowledge in human living and leaves little room for contemplation. As a system of practical philosophy his instrumentalism has far greater coherence than that of James, though it leaves room for less objectivity than the pragmaticism of Peirce.

See Also: pragmatism; naturalism.

Bibliography: p. a. schilpp, ed., The Philosophy of John Dewey (Evanston 1939). m. g. white, The Origin of Dewey's Instrumentalism (New York 1943). n. j. fleckenstein, A Critique of John Dewey's Theory of the Nature and the Knowledge of Reality in the Light of the Principles of Thomism (Washington 1954). j. a. mann, "The Role of Reflective Intelligence According to the American Pragmatists," American Catholic Philosophical Association. Proceedings of the Annual Meeting 35 (1961) 117124.

[j. a. mann]

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