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Global Perspective

Living as Learning

John Dewey in the 21st Century Jim Garrison, Larry Hickman and Daisaku Ikeda

(L-r) Jim Garrison and Larry Hickman, renowned scholars on American educational philosopher John Dewey, publish a dialogue with Ikeda Sensei. Illustration by Rickyhadi / Fiverr.

Ikeda Sensei has had dialogues with leading figures throughout the world to advance peace. To date, more than 80 of his dialogues have been published in book form. This series highlights one dialogue a month.

The following excerpts are from Living As Learning (pp. 31–34), Daisaku Ikeda’s discussion with Jim Garrison and Larry Hickman, renowned scholars of American educational philosopher John Dewey.

From Mentor to Disciple

Sensei meets with (l-r) Jim Garrison and Larry Hickman at the Nagano Training Center in Nagano, Japan, August 2008. Photo by Seikyo Press.

Jim Garrison: I have been interested in your thoughts on the mentor-disciple relationship, which I understand in terms of the teacher-student relationship of shared inquiry.

Daisaku Ikeda: The observation that the mentor-disciple relationship is one of shared inquiry is perceptive. Looking back in history, the mentor-disciple relationship between Socrates and Plato shines above all others as the model pedagogical bond. It is due to Plato that the essence of the philosophy of his teacher, Socrates, has been passed on to us today, nearly two-and-a-half millennia later.

Larry Hickman: In 1930, in a brief autobiographical essay, John Dewey wrote that Plato “still provides my favorite philosophic reading.”[1] What was it in Plato that he found so engaging? He tells us that he is captivated by the:

Dramatic, restless, cooperatively inquiring Plato of the Dialogues, trying one mode of attack after another to see what it might yield; … the Plato whose highest flight of metaphysics always terminated with a social and practical turn.[2]

This is surely the Plato who was so greatly inspired by his teacher, Socrates, whose own restless inquiries are still of great interest and value to us today. It is not, Dewey added, the Plato “constructed by unimaginative commentators who treat him as the original university professor.”[3]

Ikeda: Dewey deeply sympathized with Plato’s unflagging, sincere inquiry and vigorous search for truth. In the Second Epistle, Plato wrote the following: “There is not and will not be any written work of Plato’s own. What are now called his are the work of a Socrates grown young and beautiful.”[4] Scholars have long puzzled over this controversial passage, but the famous Japanese pedagogue Takeji Hayashi thinks that “Socrates grown young and beautiful” refers to the Socrates living within Plato.

In other words, the mentor continues to live forever within the life of the disciple. Countless examples throughout history, as well as my own experience, lead me to believe this to be true.

I am who I am today because of my mentor, Josei Toda. My thoughts and achievements would not exist if I had not benefited from his instruction. Even after his death, I constantly converse with the Josei Toda existing in my heart and can honestly say that I have depended on his guidance in overcoming all kinds of difficulties.

I am sure that, even after the execution of Socrates, Plato continued to engage in intense mental dialogue with him. The fruit of this exchange produced an immortal light of wisdom for humanity.

So it is that we find a wondrous conversation between mentor and disciple and an immortal transmission of their shared spirit in the origins of Western philosophy. The mentor-and-disciple relationship is the inexhaustible wellspring of learning and the light illuminating humanity’s future. …

Garrison: Perhaps the addition of a third party makes the relationship more important still. Unquestionably, the most important triplet is that of Socrates, Plato and Aristotle. Very few people would deny that this is the most important teacher-student inquiry or mentor-disciple relationship in the history of Western thought.

Of course, the triplet of Makiguchi, Toda and Ikeda, too, is interesting because it shows the continuity of the mentor-disciple relationship. You have followed the path they trod before you and, in doing so, have made a highway that others, too, can follow. In a certain sense—much as Socrates’ greatest achievement was his student Plato, and Plato’s his student Aristotle—Makiguchi’s greatest achievement was Toda, and Toda’s greatest achievement may have been Ikeda.

Ikeda: I am grateful for the depth of your understanding of the Soka Gakkai vision of the mentor-disciple relationship. In our movement, we find the mentor and disciple persisting through three generations to be extremely significant, because in the continuity attained by transmitting the intense, person-to-person bond between mentor and disciple to a third generation, the immortality of the mentor and disciple relationship is ensured.

Jim Garrison

Professor of philosophy of education at Virginia Tech University

Notable Achievements

Former president of the Philosophy of Education Society and John Dewey Society.

Wrote many publications on Dewey studies and the philosophy of education, including co-authoring Democracy and Education Reconsidered: Dewey After One Hundred Years.

Received a number of distinguished awards including the Hiroshima Peace Award in 2018.

Larry Hickman

Professor of the philosophy of technology, classical American philosophy and the philosophy of education at Southern Illinois University Carbondale

Notable Achievements

Former director of the Center for Dewey Studies.

Released countless publications on education and philosophy including Philosophical Tools for Technological Culture: Putting Pragmatism to Work.


  1. John Dewey, “From Absolutism to Experimentalism” in The Later Works of John Dewey, 1925–53; vol. 5, 1929–1930, Jo Ann Boydston, ed., Paul Kurtz, intro. (Carbondale, Ill.: Southern Illinois University, 2008), p. 154. ↩︎
  2. Ibid., p. 155. ↩︎
  3. Ibid. ↩︎
  4. Richard Rorty, Contingency and Solidarity (Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 1989), p. 130, n24. ↩︎

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