Reinventing Political Participation: Democracy and Education in the Early 21st Century





Paper Type

Master's Thesis


College of Arts and Sciences

Degree Name

Master of Arts in Practical Philosophy and Applied Ethics (MA)


Philosophy and Religious Studies

First Advisor

Dr. Andrew Buchwalter

Second Advisor

Dr. Erinn Gilson

Third Advisor

Dr. Murray Skees

Department Chair

Dr. Hans Herbert-Kogler

College Dean

Dr. Barbara A. Hetrick


“Since it is one that can have no end till experience itself comes to an end, the task of democracy is forever that of creation of a freer and more humane experience in which all share and to which all contribute.”1 Besides evidencing his incredible forte to perceive human relations from a universal perspective, these closing remarks, given by John Dewey during a speech on his 80th birthday in 1939, also summarize the essence of this essay: that democracy is better served when conceived of as a universal means to particular local ends. Thus, while political theory continually strives to discover the foundational norms of an ideal conception of democracy, political fact continually reinforces the idea that we will never achieve a perfect democracy because it doesn’t exist, either in theory or in reality. Rather, as the opening quote suggests, we ought to conceive of democracy as a method of ordering experiences progressively, i.e. in a “freer and more humane” manner. Such a conception of democracy is based on Dewey’s pragmatic approach, which focuses on perceived consequences as opposed to theoretical presuppositions. The aim of this essay is to revamp Dewey’s pragmatic account of democracy in light of conditions present today in the early 21st century; it will conclude with an introduction to the role of education in such a state.

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