If the starting place for all philosophy is expenence, the starting place for epistemology (how do we know what we know) is an analysis of the unitary act of feeling, thinking and willing. Dewey used these three modes of knowing—the aesthetic, reason and willing—from traditional philosophy but turned them into something rather different. He intertwined them into inseparable aspects of knowing
. The aesthetic (not art from art museums but the root source of senses that constitutes the basis of awareness) cannot be subjective since reason cannot function except from within the aesthetic. It provides the consummation and goal of thought and thus must be the primary modality. Action is the drama that reason acts in as it makes connections from within the particular experience in process to the wider world of experiences
. That one can reenter experiences from the past does not mean iat either experience nor reason transcend time (an argument advocated by rationalists). Because of this organic analysis of experience in which reason is guided by the aesthetic he called himself an instrumentalist.
The significance to chemistry is that he offers a multi-dimensional mode of knowing that defies definitions of chemistry in terms of either volumes of information/facts to be known or sets of procedures to be demonstrated or the study of the behavior of the elements. Chemistry includes these definitions but we must acknowledge that experience from which these are derived is bigger still and so chemistry is in reality a philosophy of the elements.
The implication for teaching is to recognize that students learn using all these modalities and the the teacher teaches to these modalities, not merely because students have a variety of preferences in learning styles, but because reality necessarily is understood through a variety of modalities—any one of them is insufflcient. Reality, itself, is multi-dimensional.
Here constructivism and Dewey are in agreement. To quote Dewey (writing earlier than Piaget)—”Education is a continuous process of the reconstruction of experience.”
“Intellectuality is not an end in itself but a means to intelligent ordering.”
The scientific method is not a technique “but a way for getting at the significance of our everyday experience of the world in which we live.”
The problem of traditional education is that it “ignores the internal situation.’’
“What is ignored is not the titillation of mere doing but the act of imaginative entering into an event.”
To summarize, we may say that there are three aspects of knowledge that go to make up a single world of meaning. First, the self may change its own thinking in response to the object of knowledge (aesthetic-feeling). Second, both self and object may interact so that both are changed in the knowing process (interactive-conative). Third, the self may remain unchanged but change the object of knowledge and reduce it to its parts (analytical-rational). The way these three aspects come together will be described below in Dewey’s metaphysics.