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WITH A PREFACE BY DR. F.C.S. SCHILLER
PHILOSOPHIES ANCIENT AND MODERN
PREFACE BY DR. F.C.S. SCHILLER
I. THE GENESIS OF PRAGMATISM
II. THE NEW PSYCHOLOGY
III. WILL IN COGNITION
IV. THE DILEMMAS OF DOGMATISM
V. THE PROBLEM OF TRUTH AND ERROR
VI. THE FAILURE OF FORMAL LOGIC
VII. THE BANKRUPTCY OF INTELLECTUALISM
VIII. THOUGHT AND LIFE
Mr. Murray's youthful modesty insists that his study of Pragmatism needs
a sponsor; this is not at all my own opinion, but I may take the
opportunity of pointing out how singularly qualified he is to give a
good account of it.
In the first place he is young, and youth is an almost indispensable
qualification for the appreciation of novelty; for the mind works more
and more stiffly as it grows older, and becomes less and less capable of
absorbing what is new. Hence, if our 'great authorities' lived for ever,
they would become complete _Struldbrugs_. This is the justification of
death from the standpoint of social progress. And as there is no subject
in which _Struldbruggery_ is more rampant than in philosophy, a youthful
and nimble mind is here particularly needed. It has given Mr. Murray an
eye also to the varieties of Pragmatism and to their connections.
Secondly, Mr. Murray has (like myself) enjoyed the advantage of a
severely intellectualistic training in the classical philosophy of
Oxford University, and in its premier college, Balliol. The aim of this
training is to instil into the best minds the country produces an
adamantine conviction that philosophy has made no progress since
Aristotle. It costs about L50,000 a year, but on the whole it is
singularly successful. Its effect upon capable minds possessed of common
sense is to produce that contempt for pure intellect which distinguishes
the British nation from all others, and ensures the practical success of
administrators selected by an examination so gloriously irrelevant to
their future duties that, since the lamentable demise of the Chinese
system, it may boast to be the most antiquated in the world. In minds,
however, which are more prone to theorizing, but at the same time
clear-headed, this training produces a keenness of insight into the
defects of intellectualism and a perception of the _intellectual
necessity_ of Pragmatism which can probably be reached in no other way.
Mr. Murray, therefore, is quite right in emphasizing, above all, the
services of Pragmatism as a rigorously critical theory of knowledge, and
in refuting the amiable delusion of many pedants that Pragmatism is
merely an emotional revolt against the rigors of Logic. It is
essentially a reform of Logic, which protests against a Logic that has
become so formal as to abstract from meaning altogether.
Thirdly, an elementary introduction to Pragmatism was greatly needed,
less because the subject is inherently difficult than because it has
become so deeply involved in philosophic controversy. Intrinsically it
should be as easy to make philosophy intelligible as any other subject.
The exposition of a truth is difficult only to those who have not
understood it, or do not desire to reveal it. But British philosophy had
long become almost as open as German to the (German) gibe that
'philosophy is nothing but the systematic misuse of a terminology
invented expressly for this purpose,' and Pragmatism, too, could obtain
a hearing only by showing that it could parley with its foes in the
technical language of Kant and Hegel.
Hence it had no leisure to compose a fitting introduction to itself for
students of philosophy. William James's _Pragmatism_, great as it is as
a work of genius, brilliant as it is as a contribution to literature,
was intended mainly for the man in the street. It is so lacking in the
familiar philosophic catchwords that it may be doubted whether any
professor has quite understood it. And moreover, it was written some
years ago, and no longer covers the whole ground. The other writings of
the pragmatists have all been too controversial and technical.
The critics of Pragmatism have produced only caricatures so gross as to
be unrecognizable, and so obscure as to be unintelligible. Mr. Murray's
little book alone may claim to be (within its limits) a complete survey
of the field, simply worded, and yet not unmindful of due technicality.
It is also up to date, though in dealing with so progressive a subject
it is impossible to say how long it is destined to remain so.
THE GENESIS OF PRAGMATISM
There is a curious impression to-day in the world of thought that
Pragmatism is the most audacious of philosophic novelties, the most
anarchical transvaluation of all respectable traditions. Sometimes it is
pictured as an insurgence of emotion against logic, sometimes as an
assault of theology upon the integrity of Pure Reason. One day it is
described as the reckless theorizing of dilettanti whose knowledge of
philosophy is too superficial to require refutation, the next as a
transatlantic importation of the debasing slang of the Wild West. Abroad
it is frequently denounced as an outbreak of the sordid commercialism of
the Anglo-Saxon mind.
All these ideas are mistaken. Pragmatism is neither a revolt against
philosophy nor a revolution in philosophy, except in so far as it is an
important evolution of philosophy. It is a collective name for the most
modern solution of puzzles which have impeded philosophical progress
from time immemorial, and it has arisen naturally in the course of
philosophical reflection. It answers the big problems which are as
familiar to the scientist and the theologian as to the metaphysician and
epistemologist, and which are both intelligible and interesting to
The following questions stand out: (1) Can the possibility of knowledge
be maintained against Hume and other sceptics? Certainly, if it can be
shown that 'The New Psychology' has antiquated the analysis of mind
which Hume assumed and 'British Associationism' respectfully continued
to uphold. (2) Seeing that inclination and volition indisputably play a
part in the _acceptance_ of all beliefs, scientific and religious, what
is the logical significance of this fact? This yields the problem 'The
Will to Believe,' and more generally of 'the place of Will in
cognition.' (3) Is there no criterion by which the divergent claims of
rival creeds and philosophies--to be possessed of unconditional
truth--can be scientifically tested? The sceptic's sneer, that the
shifting systems of philosophy illustrate only the changing fashions of
a great illusion about man's capacity for truth, plunges dogmatism into
a 'Dilemma,' from which it can emerge only by finding a way of
discriminating a 'truth' from an 'error,' and so solving the 'problem of
Truth and Error.' The weird verbalism of the traditional Logic suggests
a problem which strikes deeper even than the question, 'What _do_ you
mean by truth?' viz.: 'Do you mean anything?' and so the 'problem of
Meaning' is propounded by the failure of Formal Logic. Is Logic not
concerned at all with _meaning_, is it only juggling with empty forms of
words? Lastly, if from all this there springs up a conviction of 'The
Bankruptcy of Intellectualism,' the question suggests itself whether the
relation between abstract thinking and concrete experience, between
'Thought' and 'Life,' has been rightly grasped. Is life worth living
only for the sake of philosophic contemplation, or is thinking only
worth doing to aid us in the struggle for life? Are 'theory' and
'practice' two separate kingdoms with rigid frontiers, strictly guarded,
or does it appear that theories which cannot be applied have, in the
end, neither worth, nor truth, nor even meaning?
It is plain from this catalogue of inquiries that Pragmatism makes no
abrupt breach in tradition. It is not the _petroleuse_ of philosophy. It
does not wipe out the history of speculation in order to announce a
millennium of new ideas; it claims, on the contrary, to be the
culmination and _denoument_ of that history. It cannot rightly be
represented as trying either to sell new lamps for old, or to
jerry-build a new metaphysical system on the ruins of all previous
achievements. Its real task is singularly modest. It aims merely at
instructing system-builders in the elementary laws which condition the
stability of such structures and conduce to their conservation.
It is therefore a grave mistake to regard it as a parochial
eccentricity, as a specific Americanism. Nor is it the product of the
misplaced ingenuity of individual paradox-mongers. It has come into
being by the _convergence_ of distinct lines of thought pursued in
different countries by different thinkers.
1. One of the most interesting of these has originated in the scientific
world. The immense growth of scientific knowledge during the last
century was bound to react on human conceptions of scientific procedure.
The enormous number of new facts brought to light by manipulating
hypotheses could not but modify our view of scientific law. Laws no
longer seem to scientists the immutable foundations of an eternal order,
but are inevitably treated as man-made formulae for grouping and
predicting the events which verify them. The labours of physicists like
Mach, Duhem, and Ostwald, point to alternative formulations of new
hypotheses for the best established laws. The physics of Newton are no
longer final, and the notion of 'energy' is a dangerous rival to the
older conception of 'matter.' It is, of course, indifferent to the
philosopher whether the new physics are successful in superseding the
old or not. What it concerns him to note is that dogmatic confidence in
the finality of scientific laws has given place to a belief that our
"laws" are only working formulae for scientific purposes, and that no
science can truly boast of having read off the mind of the Deity. As Sir
J.J. Thomson neatly puts it, a scientific theory, for the enlightened
modern scientist, is a 'policy and not a creed.' Science has become
content to be only 'a conceptual shorthand,' provided that its message
be humanly intelligible. It no longer claims truth because abstractly
and absolutely it 'corresponds with Nature,' but because it yields a
convenient means of mastering the flux of events.
Even mathematics, long the pattern of absolute knowledge, has not
escaped the stigma of relativity. 'Metageometries' have been invented by
Riemann and Lobatschewski as rivals to the assumptions of Euclid, and
the brilliant writings of Poincare have explained the human devices on
which mathematical concepts rest. Euclidean geometry is reduced to a
useful interpretation of the data of experience; it is not theoretically
the only one. Its superior validity is dependent upon its use when
applied to the physical world. Even mathematics, therefore, lend
themselves to the philosophic inference drawn by Henri Bergson and
others, that all conceptual systems of the human mind have a merely
conditional truth, depending on the circumstances of their application.
2. Another fountain-head of Pragmatic philosophy has been Darwinism.
Indeed, the Pragmatic is the only philosophizing which has completely
assimilated Evolution. The insight into the real fluidity of natural
species ought long ago to have toned down the artificial rigidity of
logical classifications. To know reality man can no longer rest in a
'timeless' contemplation of a static system; he must expand his thoughts
so as to cope with a perpetually changing process. Since the world
changes, his 'truths' must change to fit it. He is faced with the
necessity of a continuous reconstruction of beliefs. This influence of
Darwin has inspired the logical theories of Professor Dewey and the
'Chicago School' of Pragmatists. Thought in their writings is
essentially the instrument of this readjustment. Its function is to
effect the necessary changes in beliefs as economically and usefully as
possible. It is an evolving process which keeps pace with the evolution
of reality and the changing situations of mortal life.
3. It is not, however, entirely the reaction of science upon philosophy
which has given birth to Pragmatism. Philosophy itself has been rent by
internal convulsions. These have been emphasized in the work of Dr.
F.C.S. Schiller, who has shown that already in the days of Plato the
distinction between 'truth' and 'error' was baffling philosophy, that
Plato's _Theaetetus_ has failed to establish it, and that the famous
dictum of Protagoras, 'Man is the measure of all things,' distinctly
foreshadows the 'Pragmatic,' or, as he calls it, the 'Humanist,'
solution of the difficulty.
Elsewhere Dr. Schiller has commented on the controversies raised by
Hume's criticism of dogmatism. He has shown that Kant failed to answer
Hume because he accepted Hume's psychology, and that no _a priori_
philosophers have since been able to devise any consistent and tenable
doctrine. The idealistic theories of the 'Absolute' reveal their
futility by their want of application to the genuine problems of life,
and by the theoretic agnosticism from which they cannot escape. Hence
the need for a new Theory of Knowledge and a thorough reform of Logic.
4. At this point he joins forces with Mr. Alfred Sidgwick, who has long
been urging a radical criticism of the procedures of Formal Logic, and
shown the gulf between them and the processes of concrete thought.
Sidgwick has demonstrated that the belief in formal truth renders Logic
merely verbal, and that the actual _meaning_ of assertions completely
5. The most sensational approach to Pragmatism, however, is that from
the side of religion. The Pragmatic method of deciding religious
problems, which asserts the legitimacy of a 'Faith' that precedes
knowledge, has always been, more or less consciously, practised by the
religious. It is brilliantly advocated in the _Thoughts_ of Pascal, and
clearly and forcibly defended in that most remarkable essay in
unprofessional philosophy, Cardinal Newman's _Grammar of Assent_. This
line of reasoning, however, is most familiarly associated with the name
of William James; he first illustrated the Pragmatic Method by a famous
paper (for a theological audience) on _The Will to Believe,_ and founded
the psychological study of religious experience in his Gifford Lectures
on _The Varieties of Religious Experience_.
6. This brings us to the last, and historically the most fertile, of the
sources of Pragmatism, Psychology. The publication in 1890 of James's
great _Principles of Psychology_ opened a new era in the history of that
science. More than that, it was destined in the long run to work a
transformation in philosophy as a whole, by introducing into it those
biological and voluntaristic principles to which he afterwards applied
the generic name of Pragmatism, or philosophy of action. We must pass,
then, to consider the New Psychology of William James.
THE NEW PSYCHOLOGY
Until the year 1890, when James's _Principles_ were published, the
psychology of Hume reigned absolutely in philosophy.[A] All empiricists
accepted it enthusiastically, as the sum of philosophic wisdom; all
apriorists submitted to it, even in supplementing and modifying it by
'transcendental' and metaphysical additions; in either case it remained
uncontested _as psychology_, and, by propounding an utterly erroneous
analysis of the mind and its experience, entangled philosophy in
Hume had, as philosophers commonly do, set out from the practically
sufficient analysis of experience which all find ready-made in language.
He accepted, therefore, from common sense the belief that physical
reality is composed of a multitude of separate existences that act on
one another, and tried to conceive mental life strictly on the same
analogy. His theory of experience, therefore, closely parallels the
atomistic theory of matter. Just as the physicist explains bodies as
collections of discrete particles, so Hume reduced all the contents of
the mind to a number of elementary sensations. Whether the mind was
reflecting on its own internal ideas, or whether it was undergoing
impressions which it supposed to come from an external source, all that
was really happening was a succession of detached sensations. It seemed
to Hume indisputable that every distinct perception (or 'impression')
was a distinct existence, and that all 'ideas' were equally distinct,
though fainter, copies of impressions. Beyond impressions and ideas it
was unnecessary to look. Thus to look at a chessboard was to have a
number of sensations of black and white arranged in a certain order, to
listen to a piece of music was to experience a succession of loud and
soft auditory sensations, to handle a stone was to receive a group of
sensations of touch. To suppose that anything beyond these sensory units
was ever really experienced was futile fiction. Experience was a mosaic,
of which the stones were the detached sensations, and their washed-out
copies, the ideas.
If this analysis of the mind were correct--and its correctness was not
disputed for more than a hundred years, for were not the sensations
admitted to be the ultimate analysis of all that was perceived?--the
common-sense belief that knowledge revealed a world outside the thinker
was, of course, erroneous. For common sense could hardly treat 'things'
as merely 'sensations' artificially grouped together in space, each
'thing' being a complex of a number of sensations having relation to
similar complexes. It held rather that the successive appearances of
things were related in time, in such a way that they could be supposed
to reveal a single object able to endure in spite of surface changes,
and to manifest the identity of its sensory 'qualities.' Similarly, the
succession of ideas within the mind was for it supported by the inward
unity of the soul within which they arose. Moreover, Hume's analysis
made havoc of all idea, of 'causation.' If every sensation was a
separate being, how was it to be connected with any other in any regular
or necessary connection? Two events related as 'cause' and 'effect' must
be a myth.
These subversive consequences of his theory Hume did not conceal, though
he did not push his mental 'atomism' to its logical extreme. When he
defined material objects as 'coloured points disposed in a certain
order,' he was in fact admitting space as a relating factor; when he
spoke of the succession of impressions and ideas in experience, he was
tacitly assuming that what was apprehended was not a bare succession of
sensations, but _also_ the fact that they were succeeding one another,
and so allowing a sense of temporal relation. But further than this he
refused to go. The idea of a continuous self was fantastic. There was
nothing beneath the ideas to connect them. The notion of causal
connection was equally chimerical. Each sensation was distinct and
existed in its own right. It could therefore occur alone. There was
nothing to link together the distinct impressions. Hence necessary
connection in events could not be more than a fiction of the mind based
on expectation of customary sequences; how the mind he had described as
non-existent could form an expectation or observe a sequence was calmly
left a mystery.
Hume, then, seemed to leave to his successors in philosophy a task of
synthesis. He had tumbled the soul off her high watch-tower, but how to
combine her shattered fragments again into a working unity he declined
to say. He saw the sceptical implications of his analysis, but professed
himself unable to suggest a remedy.
He had, however, made the embarrassments of the theory of knowledge
sufficiently clear for Kant, his most important successor, to hit upon
the most obvious palliative, and in the _Critique of Pure Reason_ Kant
set himself to patch up Hume's analysis. Experience as it came through
the channels of sense, he admitted Hume had analysed correctly; it was
'a manifold,' a whirl of separate sensations. But these _per se_ could
not yield knowledge. They must be made to cohere, and the way to do this
he had found. The mind on to which they fell was equipped with a
complicated apparatus of faculties which could organize the chaotic
manifold of sense and turn it into the connected world which common
sense and science recognize. First it views the data of sense in the
light of its own 'pure intuitions,' and, lo! they are seen to be in
Space and Time; then it solidifies them with its own 'categories,' which
turn them into 'substances' and 'causes' and endow them with all the
attributes required to sustain that status; finally it refers them all
to a Transcendental Ego, which is not, indeed, a soul, but sufficiently
like one to provide something that can admire the creative synthesis of
'mind as such.'
Had Hume lived to read Kant's _Critique_, he would probably have jeered
at the vain complications of Kant's transcendental machinery, and made
it clear that between the primary manifold of sensation and the first
constructions of the intellect there still yawns a gulf which Kant's
laboured explanations nowhere bridge.
Why does the chaotic 'matter' of sensations submit itself so tamely to
the forming of the mind? How can the _a priori_ necessities of thought,
which are the 'presuppositions' of the complexities Kant loved, operate
upon so alien a stuff as the sensations are assumed to be? And, after
all, was not Kant a bit premature in proclaiming the _finality_ of his
analysis and of his refutation of empiricism for all time? The searching
question, Why should the future resemble the past? had received no
answer, and so might not the mind itself, with all its categories, be
susceptible to change? Was it certain that the miracle whereby the data
presented to our faculties conformed to them would be a standing one?
Had not Kant himself as good as admitted that our faculties might
distort reality instead of making it intelligible?
The truth is that at this point Kant is open to a charge against which
the assumptions he shared with Hume admit of no defence. Hume had been
the first to discover that we are in the habit of trying to rationalize
our sense-data by putting ideal constructions upon them, though he had
abstained from sanctifying the practice by a hideous jargon of technical
terminology. But this way of eking out the facts only seemed to him to
_falsify_ them. Truth in his view was to be reached by accepting with
docility the sensations given from without. To set to work to 'imagine'
connections between them, and to claim for them a higher truth, had
seemed to him an outrage. What right, then, had Kant to legitimate the
mind's impudence in tampering with sensations? Was not every _a priori_
form an 'imagination,' and a vain one at that?
To these objections the Kantian school have never found an answer. They
have simply repeated Kant's phrases about the necessary
'presuppositions' which were to be added to Hume's data. The English
psychologists (the Mills, Bain, etc.) exhibited a similar fidelity. They
never accepted the _a priori_, but relied on 'the association of ideas'
to build up a mind out of isolated sensations. But was this expedient
really thinkable? For if all 'sensations' or qualities are separate
entities, how can the addition of more 'distinct existences' of the same
sort really bind them together? If in 'the cat is upon the wall,' 'upon'
is a distinct entity which has to relate 'cat' and 'wall,' what is to
connect 'cat' with 'upon' and 'upon' with 'wall'? The atomizing method
carried to its logical extreme demands that not only 'sensations' but
also 'thoughts' should be essentially disconnected, and then, of course,
_no_ thinking can cohere.
Psychology, then, had worked itself to a breakdown by accepting the
'sensationalistic' analysis offered by Hume, and dragged philosophy with
it. Yet the escape was as easy as the egg of Columbus to the insight of
genius. William James had merely to invert the problem. Instead of
assuming with Hume that because some experiences seemed to attest the
presence of distinct objects, all connections were illusory and all
experience must ultimately consist of psychical atoms, James had merely
to maintain that this separation was secondary and artificial, and that
experience was initially a continuum. Once this is pointed out, the fact
is obvious. The stream of experience no doubt contains what it is
afterwards possible to single out as 'sensations,' but it presents them
also as connected by 'relations.' Moreover, the 'sensations' or
'qualities' and their 'relations' exhibit the immediate indiscerptible
unity of a fluid rather than a succession of flashes. Temporal and
spatial relations with all the connections they sustain are perceived
just as directly as what we come to distinguish as the 'things' in them.
'Consciousness,' James insists, 'does not appear to itself chopped up in
bits,' and 'we ought to say a feeling of _and_, a feeling of _if_, a
feeling of _but_, and a feeling of _by_, quite as readily as we say a
feeling of _blue_ or a feeling of _cold_. All things in experience
naturally 'compenetrate,' to use a phrase of Bergson's; they are
distinct and they are united at the same time.
The great crux in Hume is thus seen to be illusory. Immediate experience
does not require 'synthesis': it calls for 'analysis.' It is not a
jigsaw puzzle, to be pieced together without glue: it is a confused
whole which has to be divided and set in order for clear thinking.
Hume's mistake was to have started from experience _as partly analysed_
by common sense, and not from the flux _as given_. His 'sensations' were
the qualities already analysed out of the flux; he took these selections
for the whole and neglected the other less obvious features in it--viz.,
the relations which floated them.
Thus the puzzle 'How do "relations" relate?' received its solution in
this new account of experience. Philosophers are puzzled by this
question because they confuse percepts with concepts. Percepts are
_given_ in relation; but concepts, being ideal dissections of the
perceptual flux, are discontinuous terms which have to be related by an
act of thought, because they were made for this very purpose of
distinction. Thus the eye sees cats sitting upon walls, as parts of a
rural landscape, and without the sharp distinctions which exist between
the concepts 'cat,' 'upon,' 'wall.' These ideas were _meant_ to
disconnect 'the cat' in thought from the site it sat upon. Thought,
then, has _made_ the 'atomism' it professed to find. It has only to
unmake it, and to allow the distinctions it held apart to merge again
into the stream of change.
All Hume's problems, therefore, are unreal, and those of his apriorist
critics are doubly removed from reality. The whole conception of
philosophy as aiming at uniting disjointed data in a higher synthesis
runs counter to the real movement, which aims at the analysis of a given
whole. The real question about causation is not how events can be
connected causally, but why are certain antecedents preferred and
dissected out and entitled 'causes.' So the 'self' is not one
(undiscoverable) item imagined to keep in order a host of other such
items. Any given moment of a consciousness is just the mass of its
'sensations,' but these are consciously the heirs of its history and
connected with a past which is remembered. No Transcendental Ego could
do more to support the process of experience than is achieved by 'a
stream of consciousness which carries its own past along.' Here, then,
is the straight way James desiderated, a critical philosophy which goes,
not 'through' the complexities of Kantism, but leaves them on one side
as superfluous 'curios.'
But there remains an even more important deduction from the new
psychology. Hume had been convicted of error in selecting those elements
of the flux which served his purpose and neglecting the rest. But this
mistake might reveal the important fact that all analysis was a choice,
and inspired by volitions. A mind that analyses cannot but be _active_
in handling its experience. It manipulates it to serve its ends. It
emphasizes only those portions of the flux which seem to it important.
In a better and fairer analysis than Hume's these features will persist.
It, too, would be a product of selection, of a selection depending on
its maker's preferences. As James showed, the distinction between
'dreams' and 'realities,' between 'things' and 'illusions,' results only
from the differential values we attach to the parts of the flux
according as they seem important or interesting to us or not. The
volitional contribution is all-pervasive in our thinking. And once this
volitional interference with 'pure perception' is shown to be
indispensable, it must be allowed to be legitimate. Nor can this
approval of our interference be restricted to selections. It must be
extended to _additions_. Just as we can select factors from 'the given'
to construct 'reality,' we can add hypotheses to it to make it
'intelligible.' We can claim the right of causal analysis, and assume
that our dissections have laid bare the inner springs of the connection
of events. Moreover, to the 'real world which our choice has built out
of the chaos of 'appearances' we may hypothetically add 'infernal' and
'heavenly' regions.[B] Both are transformations of 'the given' by the
will, but, like the postulate of causal series, experience _may_ confirm
them. Kant's _a priori_ activity of the mind may thus in a sense supply
an answer to Hume--but only in a voluntaristic philosophy which would
probably have seemed too bold both to him and to Hume.
There can be no doubt that we do not approach the data of perception in
an attitude of quiescent resignation. Our desires and needs equip us
with assumptions and 'first principles,' which originate from within,
not from without. But how precisely should this mental contribution to
knowledge be conceived? In the last chapter of his _Psychology_ James
suggested that the mind's organization is essentially biological. It has
evolved according to sound Darwinian principles, and in so doing the
fittest of its 'variations' have survived. But were these variations
quite fortuitous? May they not have been purposive responses to the
stimulation of environment? Can logic have been invented like saws and
ships for purposes of human service? These are some of the stimulating
questions which James's work in _Psychology_ has suggested.
[Footnote A: Not in Bradley's "Logic."]
[Footnote B: This is the substance of the doctrine of 'The Will to
WILL IN COGNITION
The new psychology of James was bound to produce a new theory of
knowledge, and though it did not actually explore this problem, it
contained several valuable suggestions upon the subject. For instance,
in a brief passage discussing 'The Relations of Belief and Will,' James
pointed out that belief is essentially an attitude of the will towards
an idea, adding that in order to acquire a belief 'we need only in cold
blood act as if the thing in question were real, and keep acting as if
it were real, and it will infallibly end by growing into such a
connection with our life that it will become real' (ii., p. 321). This
passage is an outline of the doctrine of 'The Will to Believe,' which he
was afterwards to develop so forcibly.
Again, in his last chapter, James criticized the doctrine of Spencer
that all the principles of thought, all its general truths and axioms,
were derived from impressions of the external world. He argued, on the
other hand, that such ways of looking at phenomena must originate in the
mind, and be prior to the experience which confirms them. Without
digging further into the character of this mental contribution to
knowledge, James contented himself with the suggestion that the use of
these axiomatic principles might be construed in Darwinian style as a
'variation' surviving by its fitness, thus introducing into his account
of mental process the important idea that thinking might be tested by
its vital value.
What if knowledge be neither a dull submission to dictation from without
nor an unexplained necessity of thought? What if it be a bold adventure,
an experimental sally of a Will to live, to know and to control reality?
What if its principles were frankly _risky_, and their truth had to be
_desired_ before it was tested and assured? In a word, what if first
principles were to begin with _postulates?_ Thus the way is paved from
the new psychology to a new theory of knowledge. A third alternative to
the banal dilemma of 'empiricism' or 'apriorism' suggests itself.
The old _empiricist_ view, as typified by Mill, was that the mind had
been impressed with all its principles, such as the truths of
arithmetic, the axioms of geometry, and the law of causation, by an
uncontradicted course of experience, until it generalized facts into
'laws,' and was enabled to predict a similar future with certainty. But
this theory had really been exploded in advance by Hume. Facts do not
_appear_ as causally connected, nor, if they did, would this guarantee
that they will continue to do so in the future. The continuum of
experience, we may add, is not _given_ as a series of arithmetical units
or geometrical equalities, unless we deliberately measure it out in
accordance with mathematical principles. Empiricism thus gives no real
account of the scientific rational order of the world.
But does it follow from the failure of empiricism that apriorism is
true? This has always been assumed, and held to dispense rationalist
philosophers from giving any direct and positive proof that these
principles are _a priori_ truths. But manifestly their procedure is
logically far from cogent. If a third explanation can be thought of, it
will _not_ follow that apriorism is true. All that follows is that
_something_ has to be assumed before experience proves it. What that
something is, and whence it comes, remains an open question. Moreover,
apriorism has _not_ escaped from the empirical doubt about the future.
Even granted that facts now conform to the necessities of our thoughts,
why should they so comport themselves for ever?
Let us, therefore, try a compromise, which ignores neither that which we
bring to experience (like empiricism), nor that which we gain from
experience (like apriorism). This compromise is effected by the doctrine
of postulation. For though a postulate proceeds from us, and is meant to
guide thought in anticipating facts, it yet allows the facts to test and
mould it; so that its working modifies, expands, or restricts its
demands, and fits it to meet the exigencies of experience, and permits,
also, a certain reinterpretation of the previous 'facts' in order to
conform them to the postulate.
A postulate thus fully meets the demands of apriorism. It is 'universal'
in claim, because it is convenient and economical to make a rule carry
as far as it will go; and it is 'necessary,' because all fresh facts are
on principle subjected to it, in the hope that they will support and
illustrate it. Yet a postulate can never be accused of being a mere
sophistication, or a bar to the progress of knowledge, because it is
always willing to submit to verification in the course of fresh
experience, and can always be reconstructed or abandoned, should it
cease to edify. A long and successful course of service raises a
postulate to the dignity of an 'axiom'--_i.e._, a principle which it is
incredible anyone should think worth disputing--whereas repeated failure
in application degrades it to the position of a prejudice--_i.e._, an _a
priori_ opinion which is always belied by its consequences.
A 'postulate' thus differs essentially from the '_a priori_ truth' by
its dependence upon the will, by its being the product of a free choice.
We have always to select the assumptions upon which we mean to act in
our commerce with reality. We select the rules upon which we go, and we
select the 'facts' by which we claim to support our rules, stripping
them of all the 'irrelevant' details involved by their position in the
flux of happenings. Thus we emphasize that side of things which fits in
with our expectations, until the facts are 'faked' sufficiently to
figure as 'cases' of our 'law.' Postulation and the verifying of
postulates is thus a process of reciprocal discrimination and selection.
The postulate once formulated, we seek in the flux for confirmations of
it, and thus construct a system of 'facts' which are relative to it;
that is how the postulate reacts upon experience. If, on the other hand,
this process of selection is unfruitful, and the confirmations of our
rule turn out infinitesimal, we alter the rule; and thus the 'facts' in
the case reject the postulate.
This continuous process of selection and rejection of 'principles' and
'facts' has, as we have said, a thoroughly _biological_ tinge. The
fitness of a postulate to survive is being continually tested. It
springs in the first place from a human hope that events may be
systematized in a certain way, and it endures so long as it enables men
to deal with them in that way. If it fails, the formation of fresh
ideals and fresh hypotheses is demanded; but that which causes one
postulate to prevail over another is always the satisfaction which, if
successful, it promises to some need or desire. Thus 'thought' is
everywhere inspired by 'will.' It is an _instrument_, the most potent
man has found, whereby he brings about a harmony with his environment.
This harmony is always something of a compromise. We postulate
conformity between Nature and one of our ideals. We usually desire more
than we can get, but insist on all that Nature can concede.
Causation serves as a good example. Experience as it first comes to us
is a mere flood of happenings, with no distinction between causal and
casual sequences. Clearly our whole ability to control our life, or even
to continue it, demands that we should _predict_ what happens, and guide
our actions accordingly. We therefore postulate a right to _dissect_
the flux, to fit together selected series without reference to the
rest. Thus, a systematic network of natural 'laws' is slowly knit
together, and chaos visibly transforms itself into scientific order. The
postulation of 'causes' is verified by its success. Moreover, it is to
be noted that to this postulate there is no alternative. A belief that
all events are casual would be scientifically worthless. So is a
doctrine (still popular among philosophers) that the only true 'cause'
is the total universe at one moment, the only true 'effect,' the whole
of reality at the next. For that is merely to reinstate the given chaos
science tried to analyse, and to forbid us to make selections from it.
It would make prediction wholly vain, and entangle truth in a totality
of things which is unique at every instant, and never can recur.
The principles of mathematics are as clearly postulates. In Euclidean
geometry we assume definitions of 'points,' 'lines,' 'surfaces,' etc.,
which are never found in nature, but form the most convenient
abstractions for measuring things. Both 'space' and 'time,' as defined
for mathematical purposes, are ideal constructions drawn from empirical
'space' (extension) and 'time' (succession) feelings, and purged of the
subjective variations of these experiences. Nevertheless, geometry
forms the handiest system for applying to experience and calculating
shapes and motions. But, ideally, other systems might be used. The
'metageometries' have constructed other ideal 'spaces' out of postulates
differing from Euclid's, though when applied to real space their greater
complexity destroys their value. The postulatory character of the
arithmetical unit is quite as clear; for, in application, we always have
to _agree_ as to what is to count as 'one'; if we agree to count apples,
and count the two halves of an apple as each equalling one, we are said
to be 'wrong,' though, if we were dividing the apple among two
applicants, it would be quite right to treat each half as 'one' share.
Again, though one penny added to another makes two, one drop of water
added to another makes one, or a dozen, according as it is dropped.
Common sense, therefore, admits that we may reckon variously, and that
arithmetic does not _apply_ to _all_ things.
Again, it is impossible to concede any meaning even to the central 'law
of thought' itself--the Law of Identity ('A is A')--except as a
postulate. Outside of Formal Logic and lunatic asylums no one wishes to
assert that 'A is A.' All significant assertion takes the form 'A is B.'
But A and B are _different_, and, indeed, no two 'A's' are ever _quite_
the same. Hence, when we assert either the 'identity' of 'A' in two
contexts, or that of 'A' and 'B,' in 'A is B,' we are clearly _ignoring
differences which really exist--i.e._, we postulate that in spite of
these differences A and B will for our purposes behave as if they were
one ('identical'). And we should realize that this postulate is of our
making, and involves a risk. It may be that experience refuses to
confirm it, and convicts us instead of a 'mistaken identity.' In short,
_every identity we reason from is made by our postulating an irrelevance
There is thus, perhaps, no fundamental procedure of thought in which we
cannot trace some deliberately adopted attitude. We distinguish between
'ourselves' and the 'external' world, perhaps because we have more
control over our thoughts and limbs, and less, or none, over sticks and
stones and mountains; fundamental as it is, it is a distinction _within_
experience, and is not given ready-made, but elaborated in the course of
our dealings with it. Similarly, in accordance with its varying degrees
of vividness, continuity, and value, experience itself gets sorted into
'realities,' 'dreams,' and 'hallucinations.' In short, when the
processes of discriminating between 'dreams' and 'reality' are
considered, all these distinctions will ultimately be found to be
judgments of value.
Nor is it only in the realm of scientific knowing that postulation
reveals itself as a practicable and successful method of anticipating
experience and consolidating fact. The same method has always been
employed by man in reaching out towards the final syntheses which (in
imagination) complete his vision of reality. The 'truths' of all
religions originate in postulates. 'Gods' and 'devils,' 'heavens' and
'hells,' are essentially demands for a moral order in experience which
transcend the given. The value of the actual world is supplemented and
enhanced by being conceived as projected and continued into a greater,
and our postulates are verified by the salutary influence they exercise
on our earthly life. Both postulation and verification, then, are
applicable to the problems of religion as of science. This is the
meaning of the Will to Believe. When James first defined and defended
it, it provoked abundant protest, on the ground that it allowed everyone
to believe whatever he pleased and to call it 'true.' The critics had
simply failed to see that verification by experience is just as integral
a part of voluntaristic procedure as experimental postulation, and that
James himself had from the first asserted this. Indeed, that he had
first given a theological illustration of the function of volition in
knowing was merely an accident. But that the will to believe was capable
of being generalized into a voluntarist theory of all knowledge was soon
shown in Dr. Schiller's _Axioms as Postulates_.
THE DILEMMAS OF DOGMATISM
Every man, probably, is by instinct a dogmatist. He feels perfectly sure
that he knows some things, and is right about them against the world.
Whatever he believes in he does not doubt, but holds to be
self-evidently or indisputably true. His naive dogmatism, moreover,
spontaneously assumes that his truth is universal and shared by all
If now he could live like a fakir, wholly wrapped in a cloud of his own
imaginings, and nothing ever happened to disappoint his expectations, to
jar upon his prejudices, and to convict him of error; if he never held
converse with anyone who took a different view and controverted him, his
dogmatism would be lifelong and incurable. But as he lives socially, he
has in practice to outgrow it, and this lands him in a serious
theoretical dilemma. He has to learn to live with others who differ from
him in their dogmatizing. Social life plainly would become impossible
if all rigidly insisted on the absolute rightness of their own beliefs
and the absolute wrongness of all others.
So compromises have to be made to get at a common 'truth.' It must be
recognized that not everything which is believed to be 'knowledge' is
knowledge. In fact, it is safer to assume that none have knowledge,
though all think they have; to say fact, men only have 'opinions,' which
may be nearer to or farther from 'the truth,' but are not of necessity
as unquestionable as they seem to be. Out of this concession to the
social life arise three problems. How are 'opinions' to be compared with
each other, and how is the extent of their 'truth' or 'error' to be
determined? How is the belief in absolute truth to be interpreted and
discounted? How is the penitent dogmatist, once he has allowed doubt to
corrupt his self-confidence, to be stopped from doubting all things and
As regards the first problem, the first question is whether we shall try
to _test_ opinions and to arrive at a standard of value by which to
measure them by comparing the opinions themselves with one another, or
shall presume that there must be some absolute standard which alone is
truly true, whether we are aware of it or not. The former view is
_relativism_, the latter is _absolutism_, in the matter of truth.
Now, there can be no doubt that absolutism is more congenial to our
natural prejudices. Accordingly it is the method tried first; but it
soon conducts dogmatism to an awkward series of dilemmas.
1. If there is absolute truth, who has it? and who can use the absolute
criterion of opinions it is supposed to form? Not, surely, everyone who
_thinks_ he has. It will never do to let every dogmatist vote for
himself and condemn all others. That way war and madness lie. Until
there is absolute agreement, there cannot be absolute truth.
2. But absolute truth may still be reverenced as an ideal, to save us
from the scepticism to which a complete relativity of truth would lead.
But would it save us? If it is admitted that no one can arrogate to
himself its possession, what use is it to believe that it is an ideal?
For if no one can assume that he has it, all _human_ truth is, in fact,
such as the relativist asserted, and scepticism is just as inevitable as
before. It makes no difference to the sceptical inference whether there
is no absolute truth, or whether it is unattained by man, and human
3. It was a mistake, therefore, to admit that opinions cannot be
compared together. Some are much more certain than others, and, indeed,
'self-evident' and 'intuitive.' Let us therefore take these to be
'truer.' If so, the thinker who feels most certain he is right is most
likely to be right.
4. This suggestion will be welcomed by all dogmatists--until they
discover that it does not help them to agree together, because they are
all as certain as can be. But a critically-minded man will urge against
it that _'certainty' is a subjective and psychological criterion_, and
that no one has been able to devise a method for distinguishing the
alleged logical from the undeniable psychological certainty. He will
hesitate to say, therefore, that because a belief seems certain it is
true, and to trust the formal claim to infallibility which is made in
every judgment. And when 'intuitions' are appealed to, he will ask how
'true' intuitions are to be discriminated from 'false,' sound from
insane, and inquire to what he is committing himself in admitting the
truth of intuitions. He will demand, therefore, the publication of a
list of the intuitions which are absolutely true. But he will not get
it, and if he did, it may be predicted that he would not find a single
one which has not been disputed by some eminent philosopher.
5. Intuitions, therefore, are an embarrassment, rather than a help to
Intellectualism. It has to maintain both that intuitions are the
foundations of all truth and certitude, and also that not all are true.
But our natural curiosity as to how these sorts are to be known apart is
left unsatisfied. We must not ask which are true, and which not. No one
can say in advance about what matters intuitive certainty is possible;
what is, or is not, an intuition is revealed only to reflection after
the event. Only if an intuition _has_ played us false, we may be sure it
_was_ not infallible; it must either have been one of the fallible sort,
or else no intuition at all.
6. At this point universal scepticism begins to raise its hydra head,
and to grin at the dogmatist's discomfiture. For in point of fact the
history of thought reveals, not a steady accumulation of indubitable
truth, but a continuous strife of opinions, in which the most widely
accepted beliefs daily succumb to fresh criticism and fall into
disrepute as the 'errors of the past.' Nothing, it seems, can guarantee
a 'truth,' however firmly it may be believed for a time, from the
corrosive force of new speculation and changed opinion; to survey the
field of philosophic dispute, strewn with the remains of 'infallible'
systems and 'absolute' certainties, is to be led irresistibly to a
sceptical doubt as to the competence of human thought. If 'absolute
truth' is our ideal and acquaintance with 'absolute reality' our aim,
then, in view of the persistent illusions on both these points to which
the human mind is liable, it seems necessary to recognize the
hopelessness of our search. Thus the last dilemma of dogmatism is
reached. In view of the diversity of human beliefs and the discredit
which has historically fallen on the most axiomatic articles of faith,
we must either admit scepticism to be the issue of the debate, or else,
condemning our absolute view of truth, find some means of utilizing the
relative truths which are all that humanity seems able to grasp. But to
come to terms with relativism is to renounce the dogmatic attitude
entirely, and to approach the problems of philosophy in a totally
THE PROBLEM OF TRUTH AND ERROR
It has been shown in the last chapter how urgent has become the problem
of discriminating between the true and false among relative 'truths.'
For absolute truth has become a chimera, self-evidence an illusion, and
intuition untrustworthy. All three are psychologically very real to
those who believe in them, but logically they succumb to the assaults of
a scepticism which infers from the fact that no 'truths' are absolute
that all may reasonably be overthrown.
The only obstacle to its triumph lies in the existence of 'relative'
truths which are _not_ absolute, and do not claim to be, and in the
unexamined possibility that in a relativist interpretation of all truth
a meaning may be found for the distinction between 'true' and 'false.'
Now, not even a sceptic could deny that the size of an object is better
measured by a yard-measure than by the eye, even though it may be
meaningless to ask what its size may be absolutely; or that it is
probable that bread will be found more nourishing than stone, even
though it may not be a perfect elixir of life. Even if he denied this,
the sceptic's _acts_ would convict his _words_ of insincerity, and
_practically_, at any rate, no one has been or can be a sceptic,
whatever the extent of his _theoretic_ doubts.
This fact is construed by the pragmatist as a significant indication of
the way out of the epistemological _impasse_. The 'relative' truths,
which Intellectualism passed by with contempt, may differ in _practical
value_ and lead to the conceptions of _practical truth_ and certainty
which may be better adapted to the requirements of human life than the
elusive and discredited ideals of absolute truth and certainty, and may
enable us to justify the distinctions we make between the 'true' and the
'false. At any rate, this suggestion seems worth following up.
To begin with, we must radically disabuse our minds of the idea that
thinking _starts from certainty._ Even the self-evident and
self-confident 'intuitions' that impress the uncritical so much with
their claim to infallibility are really the results of antecedent doubts
and ponderings, and would never be enunciated unless there were thought
to be a dispute about them. In real life thought starts from
perplexities, from situations in which, as Professor Dewey says, beliefs
have to be 'reconstructed,' and it aims at setting doubts at rest. It is
psychologically impossible for a rational mind to assert what it knows
to be true, and supposes everyone else to admit the truth of. This is
why even a philosopher's conversation does not consist of a rehearsal of
all the unchallenged truisms that he can remember.
Being thus conditioned by a doubt, every judgment is a challenge. It
claims truth, and backs its claims by the authority of its maker; but it
would be folly to imagine that it thereby becomes _ipso facto_ true, or
is meant to be universally accepted without testing. Its maker must know
this as well as anyone, unless his dogmatism has quite blotted out his
common sense. Indeed, he may himself have given preference to the
judgment he made over the alternatives that occurred to him only after
much debate and hesitation, and may propound it only as a basis for
further discussion and testing.
Initially, then, every judgment is a _truth-claim_, and this claim is
merely _formal_. It does not _mean_ that the claim is absolutely true,
and that it is impious to question it. On the contrary, it has still to
be validated by others, and may work in such a way that its own maker
withdraws it, and corrects it by a better. The intellectualist accounts
of truth have all failed to make this vital distinction between
'truth-claim' and validated truth. They rest on a _confusion of formal
with absolute truth_, and it is on this account that they cannot
distinguish between 'truth' and error. For false judgments also formally
claim 'truth,' No judgment alleges that it is false.[C]
On the other hand, if the distinction between truth-claims and validated
truths is made, there ceases to be any _theoretic_ difficulty about the
conception and correction of errors, however difficult it may be to
detect them in practice. 'Truths' will be 'claims' which have worked
well and maintained themselves; 'errors,' such as have been superseded
by better ones. All 'truths' must be _tested_ by something more
objective than their own self-assertiveness, and this testing by their
working and the consequences to which they lead may go on indefinitely.
In other words, however much a 'truth' has been validated, it is always
possible to test it further. _I.e.,_ it is never theoretically
'absolute,' however well it may practically be assured. For a
confirmation of this doctrine Pragmatism appeals to the history of
scientific truth, which has shown a continuous correction of 'truths,'
which were re-valued as 'errors,' as better statements for them became
It may also be confirmed negatively by the breakdown of the current
definitions of truth, which all seem in the end to mean nothing.
The oldest and commonest definition of a 'truth' which is given is that
it is 'the correspondence of a thought to reality.' But Intellectualism
never perceived the difficulties lurking in it. At first sight this
seems a brave attempt to get outside the circle of thought in order to
test its value and to control its vagaries. Unluckily, this theory can
only assert, and neither explains nor proves, the connection between the
thought and the reality it desiderates. For, granting that it is the
intent of every thought to correspond with reality, we must yet inquire
how the alleged correspondence is to be made out. Made out it must be;
for as the criterion is quite formal and holds of all assertions, the
claim to 'correspond' may be false. To prove the correspondence, then,
the 'reality' would have somehow to be known apart from the truth-claim
of the thought, in order that the two might be compared and found to
agree. But if the reality were already known directly, what would be
the need of asserting an idea of it and claiming 'truth' for this? How,
moreover, could the claim be tested, if, as is admitted, the reality is
not directly known? To assert the 'correspondence' must become a
groundless postulate about something which is defined to transcend all
knowledge. The correspondence theory, then, does not _test_ the
truth-claim of the assertion; it only gives a fresh definition of it. A
'true' thought, it says, is one which _claims to correspond_ with a
'reality.' _But so does a false,_ and hence the theory leaves us as we
were, puzzled to distinguish them.[D]
Yet the theory is not wholly wrong. Many of our thoughts do claim to
correspond with reality in ways that can be verified. If the judgment
'There is a green carpet in my hall' is taken to mean 'If I enter my
hall, I shall _see_ a green carpet,' perception tests whether the
judgment 'corresponds' with the reality perceived, and so goes to
validate or disprove the claim. But the limits within which this
correspondence works are very strait. It applies only to such judgments
as are anticipations of perception,[E] and will test a truth-claim only
where there is willingness to act on it. It implies an experiment, and
is not a wholly intellectual process.
The superiority of the 'correspondence' theory over the belief in
'intuitions' lies in its insistence that thought is not to audit its own
accounts. Its success or failure depends upon factors external to it,
which establish the truth or falsehood of its claims. No such guarantee
is offered by the next theory, which is known as the 'consistence' or
'coherence' theory. In order to avoid the difficulty which wrecked the
'correspondence' theory, that of making the truth of an assertion reside
in an inexperienceable relation to an unattainable reality, this view
maintains that an idea is true if it is consistent with the rest of our
thoughts, and so can be fitted with them into a coherent system. No
doubt a coherence among our ideas is a convenience and a part of their
'working,' but it is hardly a test of their objective truth. For a
harmonious system of thoughts is conceivable which would either not
apply to reality at all, or, if applied, would completely fail. On this
theory systematic delusions, fictions, and dreams, might properly lay
claim to truth. True, they might not be quite consistent: but neither
are the systems of our sciences. If, then, this _absolute_ coherence be
insisted on, this test condemns our whole knowledge; if not, it remains
formal, and fails to recognize any distinctions of value in the claims
which can be systematized.
To avoid this _reductio ad absurdum_, it has been suggested that it is
not the coherence of the idea in human, finite, minds which constitutes
'truth,' but the perfect consistency of the experience of an Absolute
Mind. The test, then, of our limited coherency will lie in its relation
to this Absolute System. But here we have the correspondence doctrine
once again in a fresh disguise; our human systems are now 'true' if they
correspond with the Absolute's, But as there is no way for us of sharing
the Absolute Experience, our test is again illusory, and productive of a
depressing scepticism; and, again, we have only asserted that truth is
what _claims_ to be part of the Absolute System.
A word may be devoted to the simple refusal of intuitionists to give an
account of Truth on the ground that it is 'indefinable.' Truth is taken
to be an ultimate unanalyzable quality of certain propositions,
intuitively felt, and incapable of description. Error, by the same
token, should be equally indefinable and as immediately apprehended.
How, then, can there be differences of opinion, and mistakes as to what
is true and what false? How is it that a proposition which is felt to be
'true' so often turns out to be erroneous? If all errors are felt to be
true by those they deceive, is it not clear that immediate feeling is
not a good enough test of a validated truth? Thus, once again, we find
that an account of truth-claim is being foisted on us in place of a
description of truth-testing.
The intellectualist, then, being in every case unable to justify the
vital distinction commonly made between the true and the false, we
return to the pragmatist. He starts with no preconceptions as to what
truth must mean, whether it exists or not; he is content to watch how
_de facto_ claims to truth get themselves validated in experience. He
observes that every question is intimately related to some scheme of
human purposes. For it has to be _put_, in order to come into being.
Hence every inquiry arises, and every question is asked, because of
obstacles and problems which arise in the carrying out of human
purposes. So soon as uncertainty arises in the course of fulfilling a
purpose, an idea or belief is formulated _and acted on_, to fill the gap
where immediate certitude has broken down. This engenders the
truth-claim, which is necessarily a 'good' in its maker's eyes, because
it has been selected by him and judged _preferable_ to any alternative
that occurred to him.
How, then, is it tested? Simply by the consequences which follow from
adopting it and using it as an assumption upon which to work. If these
consequences are satisfactory, if they promote the purpose in hand,
instead of thwarting it, and thus have a valuable effect upon life, then
the truth-claim maintains its 'truth,' and is so far validated. This is
the universal method of testing assertions alike in the formation of
mathematical laws, physical hypotheses, religious beliefs, and ethical
postulates. Hence such pragmatic aphorisms as 'truth is useful' or
'truth is a matter of practical consequences' mean essentially that all
assertions must be _tested by being applied to a real problem of
knowing._ What is signified by such statements is that no 'truth' must
be accepted merely on account of the insistence of its claim, but that
every idea must be tested by the consequences of its working. Its truth
will then depend upon those consequences being fruitful for life in
general, and in particular for the purpose behind the particular inquiry
in which it arose. Truth is a _value_ and a satisfaction; but
'intellectual satisfaction' is not a morbid delight in dialectical and
verbal juggling: it is the satisfaction which rewards the hard labour of
rationalizing experience and rendering it more conformable with human
It should be clear, though it is often misunderstood, that there is
nothing arbitrary or 'subjective' in this method of testing beliefs. It
does not mean that we are free to assert the truth of every idea which
seems to us pretty or pleasant. The very term 'useful' was chosen by
pragmatists as a protest against the common philosophic licence of
alleging 'truths' which could never be applied or tested, and were
supposed to be none the worse for being 'useless.' It is clear both that
such 'truths' must be a monopoly of Intellectualism, and also that they
do allow every man to believe whatever he wishes, provided only that he
boldly claims 'self-evidence' for his idiosyncrasy. In this purely
subjective sense, into which Intellectualism is driven, it is, however,
clear that there can be no useless ideas. For any idea anyone decided to
adopt, because it pleased or amused him, would be _ipso facto_ true.
Pragmatism, therefore, by refuting 'useless' knowledge, shows that it
does _not_ admit such merely subjective 'uses.' It insists that ideas
must be more objectively useful--viz., by showing ability to cope with
the situation they were devised to meet. If they fail to harmonize with
the situation they are untrue, however attractive they may be. For ideas
do not function in a void; they have to work in a world of fact, and to
adapt themselves to all facts, though they may succeed in transforming
them in the end.
Nor has an idea to reckon only with facts: it has also to cohere with
other ideas. It must be congruous with the mass of other beliefs held
for good reasons by the thinker who accepts it. For no one can afford to
have a stock of beliefs which conflict too violently with those of his
fellows. If his 'intuitions' contrast too seriously with those of
others, and he acts on them, he will be shut up as a lunatic. If, then,
the 'useful' idea has to approve itself both to its maker and his
fellows without developing limitations in its use, it is clear that a
pragmatic truth is really far less arbitrary and subjective than the
'truths' accepted as absolute, on the bare ground that they seem
'self-evident' to a few intellectualists.
If, however, it be urged that pragmatic truths never grow absolutely
true at all, and that the most prolonged pragmatic tests do not exclude
the possibility of an ultimate error in the idea, there is no difficulty
about admitting this. The pragmatic test yields _practical_, and not
'absolute,' certainty. The existence of absolute certainty is denied,
and the demand for it, in a world which contains only the practical
sort, merely plays into the hands of scepticism. The uncertainty of all
our verificatory processes, however, is not the creation of the
pragmatist, nor is he a god to abolish it. Abstractly, there is always a
doubt about what transcends our immediate experience, and this is why it
is so healthy to have to repudiate so many theoretic doubts in every act
we do. For beliefs have to be acted on, and the results of the action
rightly react on the beliefs. The pragmatic test is practically
adequate, and is the only one available. That it brings out the risk of
action only brings out its superiority to a theory which cannot get
started at all until it is supplied with absolute certainty, and
meantime can only idly rail at all existing human truths.
We have in all this consistently referred the truth of ideas to
individual experiences for verification. This evidently makes all truths
in some sense dependent upon the personality of those who assert and
accept them. Intellectualist logic, on the other hand, has always
proclaimed that mental processes, if true, are 'independent' of the
idiosyncrasies of particular minds. Ideas have a _fixed_ meaning, and
cohere in bodies of 'universal' truth, quite irrespective of whether any
particular mind harbours them or not. This is not only a contention
fatal to the pragmatic claims, but also bound up with other assumptions
of Formal Logic. So it becomes necessary to inquire whether this Logic
is a success, and so can coherently abstract from the personality of the
knower and the particular situations that incite him to know.
[Footnote C: Not even 'I lie,' which is meaningless as it stands, _Cf._
Dr. Schiller's _Formal Logic_, p. 373.]
[Footnote D: This same difficulty reappears in various forms, as _e.g._,
in a recent theory which makes the truth of a judgment lie in its
asserting a relation between different objects, and not in the existence
of those objects themselves. This formula also applies as evidently to
false judgments as to true. It, too, brings no independent evidence of
the existence of the objects referred to, and might fall into error
through asserting a relation between objects which did not exist. It is,
moreover, incapable of showing that a relation corresponding to the idea
we have of it really exists when we judge that it does.]
[Footnote E: Each perception, however, contains much that is supplied by
the mind, not 'given' to it.]
THE FAILURE OF FORMAL LOGIC
In order to escape the necessity of concerning itself with personality
and particular circumstances in questions of truth and error,
Intellectualism appeals to Logic, which it conceives as a purely formal
science and its impregnable citadel. This appeal, however, rests on a
number of questionable assumptions, and most of these are not avowed.
1. It assumes that forms of thought can be treated in abstraction from
their matter--in other words, that the general types of thinking are
never affected by the particular context in which they occur. Now, this
means that the question of real truth must not be raised; for, as we
have seen (Chapter V.), real truth is always an affair of particular
consequences. The result is, that as truth-claims are no longer tested,
they _all pass as true_ for Logic, and are even raised to the rank of
'absolute truths,' or are mistaken for them. For the notion of a really
('materially') true judgment which someone has chosen, made, and tested,
there is substituted that of a formally valid proposition, and in the
end Logic gets so involved in the study of 'validity' that it puts aside
altogether all real tests of truth, and becomes a game with verbal
symbols which is entirely irrelevant to scientific thinking.
2. Formal Logic assumes the right of abstracting from the whole process
of making an assertion. It presumes that the assertion has already been
made somehow. How, it does not inquire. Yet it is clear that in each
case there were concrete reasons why just _that_ assertion was preferred
to any other. These concrete reasons it makes bold to dismiss as
'psychological,' and between 'logic' and 'psychology'[F] it decrees an
absolute divorce. Where, when, why, by and to whom, an assertion was
made, is taken to be irrelevant, and put aside as 'extralogical.'
3. This convenient assumption, however, ultimately necessitates an
abstraction from meaning, though Formal Logic does not avow this openly.
Every assertion is meant to convey a certain meaning in a certain
context, and therefore its verbal 'form' has to take on its own
individual _nuance_ of meaning. What any particular form of words does
in fact mean on any particular occasion always depends upon the use of
the words in a particular context. Meaning, therefore, cannot be
depersonalized; if meanings are depersonalized, they cease to be real,
and become verbal.
Formal Logic has, in fact, mistaken _words_, which are (within the same
language) identical on all occasions, for the _thoughts_ they are
intended to express, which are varied to suit each occasion. Words alone
are tolerant of the abstract treatment Formal Logic demands. This
'science,' therefore, finally reduces to mere verbalism, distracted by
inconsistent relapses into 'psychology.'
But will this conception of Logic either work out consistently in itself
or lead to a tenable theory of scientific thinking? Emphatically not.
What is the use of a logic which (1) cannot effect the capital
distinction of all thought, that between the true and the false? (2) is
debarred by its own principles from considering the _meaning_ of any
real assertion? and (3) is thus tossed helplessly from horn to horn of
the dilemma 'either verbalism or psychology'?
We may select a few examples of this fatal dilemma.
1. In dealing with what it calls 'the meaning' of terms, propositions,
etc., Formal Logic has always to choose between the meaning of the
_words_ and the meaning of the _man_. For it is clear that words which
may be used ambiguously may on occasion leave no doubt as to their
meaning, while conversely all may become 'ambiguous' in a context. If,
therefore, the occasion is abstracted from, all forms must be treated
verbally as ambiguous formulae, which may be used in different senses.
If it is, nevertheless, attempted to deal with their actual meaning on
any given occasion, what its maker meant the words to convey must be
discovered, and the inquiry at once becomes 'psychological'--that is to
2. If judgments are not to be verbal ('propositions'), but real
assertions which are actually meant, they must proceed from personal
selections, and must have been chosen from among alternative
formulations because of their superior value for their maker's purpose.
But all this is plainly an affair of psychology. So inevitable is this
that a truly formal Ideal of 'Logic' would exclude all judgment whatever
from the complete system of 'eternal' Truth. For from such a system no
part could be rightly extracted to stand alone. Such a selection could
be effected and justified only by the exigencies of a human thinker.
The impotent verbalism of the formal treatment of judgment appears in
another way when the question is raised _how_ a 'true' judgment is to be
distinguished from a 'false.' For the logician, if his public will not
accept either the relegation of this distinction to 'psychology' or the
proper formal answer that _all_ judgments are (formally) 'true' and even
'infallible,' can think of nothing better to say than that if the
'judgment' is not true it was not a 'true judgment,' but a false
'opinion' which may be abandoned to 'psychology.'[G] Apparently he is
not concerned to help men to discriminate between 'judgments' and
'opinions,' or even to show that true 'judgments' do in fact occur.
3. Inference involves Formal Logic in a host of difficulties.
_(a)_ If it is not to be a verbal manipulation of phrases whose coming
together is not inquired into, it must be a connected train of thought.
But such a connection of thoughts cannot be conceived or understood
without reference to the purpose of a reasoner, who _selects_ what he
requires from the totality of 'truths.' If, then, 'Logic' has merely to
contemplate this eternal and immutable system of truth in its integrity,
and forbids all selection from it for a merely human purpose, how can it
either justify, or even understand, the drawing of any inference
(_b_) Formal Logic clearly will not quail before the charge of
uselessness. But on its own principles it ought to be consistent. But by
this test also, when it is rigorously judged by it, it fails completely.
Its inconsistencies are many and incurable. It cannot even be consistent
in its theory of the simplest fundamentals. It is found upon some
occasions to define judgment as that which may be _either_ true _or_
false; and upon others as that which is 'true' (formally)--_i.e._, it
cannot decide whether or not to ignore the existence of error.
(_c_) The Formal view of inference regards it as a 'paradox.' An
inference is required on the one hand to supply fresh information, and
on the other to follow rigorously from its premisses; it must, in a
word, exhibit both _novelty_ and _necessity_. It would seem, however,
that if our inference genuinely had imparted new knowledge, the event
must be merely psychological; for how can any process or event perturb,
or add to, the completed totality of truth in itself? On the other hand,
if the 'necessity' of the operation be taken seriously, the 'inference'
becomes illusory; for if the conclusion inferred is already contained
in the premisses, what sense is there in the purely verbal process of
drawing it out?
(_d_) Most glaringly inadequate of all, however, is the Formal doctrine
of 'Proof' contained in its theory of the Syllogism. A Formal or verbal
syllogism depends essentially on the ability of its Middle Term to
connect the terms in its conclusion. If, however, the Middle Term has
not _the same_ meaning in the two premisses, the syllogism breaks in
two, and no 'valid' conclusion can be reached. Now, whether in fact any
particular Middle Term bears the same meaning in any actual reasoning
Formal Logic has debarred itself from inquiring, by deciding that actual
meaning was 'psychological.' It has to be content, therefore, with an
identity _in the word_ employed for its Middle, But this evidence may
always fail; for when two premisses which are (in general) 'true' are
brought together for the purpose of drawing a particular conclusion, a
glaring falsehood may result. _E.g._, it would in general be granted
that 'iron sinks in water,' yet it does not follow that because 'this
ship is iron' it will 'sink in water,' Hence syllogistic 'proof' seems
quite devoid of the 'cogency' it claimed. After a conclusion has been
'demonstrated' _it has still to come true in fact_. This flaw in the
Syllogism was first pointed out by Mr. Alfred Sidgwick.
(_e_) The formal Syllogism, moreover, conceals another formal flaw. An
infinite regress lurks in its bosom. For if its premisses are disputed,
they must in turn be 'proved.' Four fresh premisses are needed, and if
these again are challenged, the number of true premisses needed to prove
the first conclusion goes on doubling at every step _ad infinitum_. The
only way to stop the process that occurred to logicians was an appeal to
the 'self-evident' truth of 'intuitions'; but this has been shown to be
argumentatively worthless. From this difficulty the pragmatist alone
escapes, by assuming his premisses _provisionally_ and arguing
_forwards_, in order to test them by their consequences. If the deduced
conclusion can be verified in fact, the premisses grow more assured.
Thus every real inference is an experiment, and 'proof' is an affair of
continuous trial and verification--not an infinite falling back upon an
elusive 'certainty,' but an infinite reaching forwards towards a fuller
(_f_) So long as the logician regards his premisses not as hypotheses to
be tested, but as established truths, he must condemn the Syllogism as a
formal fallacy. It is inevitably a _petitio principii_. If the argument
'All men are mortal; Smith is a man, therefore Smith is mortal,' means
that we know, before drawing our inference, that literally all men are
mortal, we must already have discovered that Smith is mortal; if we did
not know beforehand that Smith is mortal, we were not justified in
stating that _all_ men are mortal. Nor is it an escape to interpret 'All
men are mortal' to mean that immortals are excluded from 'man' by
definition. For then the question is merely begged in the minor premiss.
That 'Smith is a man' cannot be asserted without assuming that he is
mortal. If, lastly, 'All men are mortal' be taken to state a law of
nature conjoining inseparably mortality and humanity, the logician
either already knows that Smith is rightly classed under the species
'man,' and so subject to its mortality, or else he _assumes_ this. But
how does he know Smith is not like Elijah or Tithonus, a peculiar case,
to which for some reason the law does not apply? Will he declare it to
be 'intuitively certain' that whatever is called, or looks like, a case
of a 'law' _ipso facto_ becomes one?
The logician's analysis of reasoning, then, breaks down. In whichever
way he interprets the Syllogism it is revealed as either a superfluity
or a fallacy: it is never a 'formally valid inference' that can compel
assent. But common sense is undismayed by the pragmatist's discovery
that if the Syllogism is to have any sense its premisses _must_ be taken
as disputable; for, unlike Formal Logic, it has perceived that men do
not reason about what they think they know for certain, but about
matters in dispute.
4. It is not necessary to dwell at length on the futility of the formal
notion of Induction. Formal Induction presupposes that enough particular
instances have been collected to establish a general rule; but in actual
practice inductions always repose, not on indiscriminate observation,
but on a _selection of relevant instances_, and never claim to be based
upon an _exhaustive_ knowledge of particulars. Hence _in form_ the most
satisfactory induction is always incomplete, and differs in no wise from
a bad one. 'All bodies fall to the ground' is an induction which has
worked. 'All swans are white' broke down when black swans were
discovered in Australia. The validity of an induction, then, is not a
question of form.
The necessity for such selection no intellectualist theory of Induction
has understood. All have aimed at exhaustiveness, and imagined that if
it could be attained, inductive reasoning would be rendered sound, and
not impossible. Their ideal 'cause' was the totality of reality,
identified with its 'effect,' in a meaningless tautology. Nothing but
voluntarism can enable logicians to see that our actual procedure in
knowing is the reverse of this, that causal explanation is the
_analysis_ of a continuum, and that 'phenomena,' 'events,' 'effects,'
and 'causes' are all creations of our selective attention; that in
selecting them we run a risk of analyzing falsely, and that if we do,
our 'inductions' will be worthless. But whether they are right or wrong,
valuable or not, real reasoning from 'facts' can never be a 'formally
We are thus brought to see the hollowness of the contention that 'Pure
Reason' can ignore its psychological context and dehumanize itself. A
thought, to be thought at all, must seem _worth_ thinking to someone, it
must convey the meaning he intends, it must be true in his eyes and
relevant to his purposes in the situation in which it arises--_i.e._, it
must have a motive, a value, a meaning, a purpose, a context, and be
selected from a greater whole for its relevance to these. None of these
features does intellectualist logic deign to recognize. For if truth is
absolute and not relative, it is all or nothing. Yet no actual thinking
has such transcendent aims. It is content with selections relative to a
concrete situation. If it were permissible to diversify a
debate--_e.g._, about the authorship of the _Odyssey_--by an irruption
of undisputed truths--_e.g._, a recitation of the multiplication
table--how would it be possible to distinguish a philosopher from a
Formal Logic is either a perennial source of errors about real thinking,
or at best an aimless dissection of a _caput mortuum--i.e._, of the
verbal husks of dead thoughts, whose value Formal Logic could neither
establish nor apprehend, A real Logic, therefore, would most anxiously
avoid all the initial abstractions which have reduced Formal Logic to
such impotence, and would abandon the insane attempt to eliminate the
thinker from the theory of thought.
[Footnote F: The descriptive science of thought, in its concrete
actuality in different minds.]
[Footnote G: The most popular contribution which Oxford makes just now
to the theory of Error is, 'A judgment which is erroneous is not really
a judgment.' So when a professor 'judges' he is infallible--by
THE BANKRUPTCY OF INTELLECTUALISM
We have now struggled through the quagmires of intellectualist
philosophy, and found that neither in its Psychology, which divided the
mind's integrity into a heap of faculties, and comminuted it into a
dust-cloud of sensations; nor in its Epistemology, which ignored the
will to know and the value of knowing; nor in its Logic, which
abstracted thought wholly from the thinking and the thinker, and so
finally from, all meaning, could man find a practicable route of
philosophic progress. But our struggles will not have been in vain if
they have left us with a willingness to try the pragmatist alternative,
and convinced us that it is not a wanton innovation, but the only path
of salvation for the scientific spirit.
But before we venture on it, it will be well to restore confidence in
the solvency of human thought by analysing the causes of the bankruptcy
of Intellectualism and exposing the extravagance of the assumptions
which conducted to it.
Was it not, after all, an unwarranted assumption that severed the
intellect from its natural connection with human activity? No doubt it
seemed to simplify the problem to suppose that the functioning of the
intellect could be studied as a thing apart, and unrelated to the
general context of the vital functions. Again, it was to simplify to
assume that thought could be considered apart from the personality of
the human thinker. But it should not have been forgotten that it is
possible to pay too dearly for simplifications and abstractions, and
that they all involve a risk, which the event may show should never have
been taken. So it is in this case. Its rash assumptions confront
Intellectualism with a host of problems it cannot attack. It can do
nothing to assuage the conflict of opinions which all claim truth with
equal confidence. It cannot understand the correction of error which is
continually proceeding. Nor can it understand, either the existence of
error or the meaning of truth, or the means of distinguishing between
them. It has no means of testing and confuting even the wildest and
maddest assertions. It cannot discriminate between the intuitions of the
sage and of the lunatic. It is forced to view energy of will in knowing
as a source merely of corruption, and when it finds that as a psychic
fact willing is ineradicable, it must conclude that we are
constitutionally incapable of that passive reflection of reality which
it regards as the _sine qua non_ of truth. Hence, if disinterestedness
is the condition of knowing, knowledge is impossible. And it is so
entangled in its unintelligible theory of truth as a copying of reality
that, rather than renounce it, when it finds that human knowing is _not_
copying, it prefers a surrender to Scepticism.
Yet is not its whole procedure a signal example of human arbitrariness
and perversity? We professed to be impelled by logical necessity at
every step, but were free to escape from all our perplexities by
adopting the pragmatic inferences from them. The Pragmatic Method of
observing the consequences readily suggests the means of discriminating
between truth and error, of sifting values and of testing claims. And,
though not infallible, it is adequate to all our needs. The pragmatic
notion that _Truth is practical_ closes the artificial gulf between the
theoretic and the practical side of life, and assigns to truth a
biological function and vital value. The humanist contention that _Truth
is human_ rescues man from the despondency in which his failure to grasp
absolute truth had left him. The Protagorean dictum that _Man is the
measure of all things_ assures him that _his_ knowledge may become
adequate to _his_ reality, and that the value of truths and the
differences between truth and error also are susceptible of estimation.
True, this policy averts the bankruptcy of the intellect by scaling down
the intolerable charges on it. True, practical knowledge is not
absolute; but if it is enough to live by, is it not better to live by it
than to be lured on to perish in the deserts of Scepticism by the
_mirage_ of an absolute truth not humanly attainable? True, verification
is not 'proof,' but as its conclusions are not incorrigible, its defects
are not fatal, and its demands are not impracticable. True, no truth and
no reality are wholly 'objective,' in the sense of wholly indifferent to
our action; but to say that the human and 'subjective' factor in all
knowledge must be taken into account does not preclude our apprehending
and measuring an 'objective' world as real as, and more knowable than,
any other theory can offer.
Thus the proposals of Pragmatism for reconstructing the business of the
intellect, and rescuing it from the bankruptcy of Intellectualism, are
not unreasonable. They open out to it a prospect of recovering its
credit and its usefulness by returning to the service of Life.
THOUGHT AND LIFE
The mission of Pragmatism is to bring Philosophy into relation to real
Life and Action. So far from regarding Thought as a self-centred,
self-enclosed activity, Pragmatism insists upon replacing it in its
context among the other functions of life, and in measuring its value by
its effect upon them. So far, again, from regarding the abstract
intellect as a vast Juggernaut machine which absorbs and crushes the
individual thinker, it treats him individually as having his own
constitution, _raison d'etre,_ and intrinsic interest, and credits him
with a power to make new truths and to enrich the resources of thought.
Each thinker has before him an individual situation, a system of aims
and values, a stock of knowledge and of means from which he must select
what is relevant to his ends, and so cannot escape in any judgment from
the responsibilities of a personal decision.
Thus, for Pragmatism _every thought is an act_ with a person behind it,
who is responsible for launching it into the world of fact. The result
of this change of attitude is immediate. In the first place, as has been
shown in Chapter V., by bringing thought face to face with the whole
experience upon which it claims to work, we are enabled to find a
tangible rule for evaluating its assertions and distinguishing truth
from error. And, secondly, by recognizing that the mind is not an
apparatus which functions in a vacuum, but is a constituent of an
individual organism, we see that thinking always depends upon a purpose;
for it is the purpose of an inquiry which gives reflection its cue, and
determines its scope and (most essential of all) its meaning.
We are thus led from the narrower logical question, 'What constitutes
the "truth" of a statement?' to a wider outlook, from which we can
survey the place of knowing in human life at large. This may be called
the transition from Pragmatism to Humanism. This last word was
introduced into philosophic terminology by Dr. Schiller in order to
describe his general philosophical position as distinct from the
original question of the theory of knowledge, which had been treated by
James under the name of Pragmatism.
To the Humanist the best definition of life is one which displays it as
throughout purposive, as a rational pursuit of ends. This raises the
question of the validity of valuations. Valuation is a widespread human
practice. In their most general aspect we classify all objects as 'good'
and 'bad,' according as they are ends to be pursued or avoided, or means
which further or frustrate the pursuit of ends. This general antithesis
between the 'good' and the 'bad' has numerous specific forms, applicable
to different departments of human activity. Thus, in conduct, actions
are judged 'good' or 'evil' and 'right' or 'wrong'; in thinking, ideas
are 'true' or 'false,' and 'relevant' or 'irrelevant'; for art, objects
are 'beautiful' or 'ugly,' and so forth, for the modes of valuation in
life are innumerable. Any one of these adjectives either denotes value
or censures lack of worth, and each gets its meaning by reference to the
specific purpose, moral, aesthetic, or intellectual, it appeals to. The
_summum bonum_, or supreme good, will then be the ideal of the
harmonious satisfaction of all purposes.
What, then, from the standpoint of Humanism, is the function of
'truth-values' in our life? They indicate a relation to the cognitive
end. What is this end? Surely not self-sufficing? A truth that is merely
true in itself has no interest for human life, and no human mind has an
interest in discovering and affirming it. Truth, therefore, cannot
stand aloof from life. It must somehow subserve our vital purposes. But
how shall it do this? Only by becoming applicable to the reality we have
to live with, by becoming useful for the changes we desire to effect in
it. Whoever will not admit this, and renders truth inapplicable, does in
fact render it unmeaning.
The fact that thought essentially refers to a 'reality' external to it
in no way diminishes its purposive character. Whether the mind is
idealizing an aspect of reality (as in mathematics) or abstracting,
classifying, and predicting (as in science), it is always the fact that
a particular kind of reality is needed for some serious or trivial
purpose which guides the operations of the thinker. A mind which craved
to embrace all or 'any' reality need not _think_; it would do better to
float without discrimination upon the flux of change. This procedure
would be so absolutely antithetical to human knowing that it seems a
wanton paradox on that account to treat it as the final goal of
Actually, of course, the philosophers who claim to be devoted to pure
theory follow no such course. They deliberately choose their ideal of
what is worth knowing--_e.g._, 'God,' or 'the unity of all things,' or
'the laws of the universe'--and, disregarding all other existences,
they pursue the kind of reality they desire because of its religious or
moral or aesthetic value. For there could be no greater mistake than to
suppose that the common antithesis between 'reality' and the 'un-real'
usually means the same thing as the distinction between what 'exists'
and what is absolutely non-existent. On the contrary, it is usually a
judgment of value. We may say that the 'haunted' house is real and the
'ghost' is not; but as an hallucination the ghost is real enough. Utopia
is unreal for the politician, but exists as an ideal for the theorist.
The Platonist treats our physical world of sight and touch, which we
think the most real of all, as a mere illusion compared to the 'Ideas'
of his metaphysical world. The thinker who declares he wants to know all
about 'reality' does not mean that he wishes to investigate _everything_
which in any sense exists, but that he wishes to know what _he_
considers _best worth knowing_--and this, of course, implies a personal
valuation, a purged and expurgated extract, which will not offend his
taste. So all philosophies are, in fact, selective. Even the more
conscientious rationalists show very little anxiety to include in their
intellectual scheme a knowledge of their opponents' opinions--indeed,
they seem to think that the existence of such facts may be made
dependent wholly on their will to recognize them. An exposition of
Pragmatism is for them a 'reality' which does not count: it is not worth
knowing about. And this is only natural, after all. For 'reality,' the
object of the mind's search, is always a selection, conceived after the
likeness of the heart's desire, the product of a human purpose.
To recognize this is to appreciate the wisdom of Humanism's refusal to
treat the world, for good or bad, as a given and completed whole. For
not only is what we call the real world always a selection from a larger
whole from which we have ventured to exclude great masses of
irrelevance, but every day brings fresh experience, and may bring fresh
enlightenment. And since man has always an interest in improving his
condition, is it not futile to forbid him to re-make his world as beat
he can? Why prematurely claim to have reached finality, when unexpected
novelties may shatter any system before it is even completed? Our world
is plastic, it is most 'really' what we can make of it, and the process
of our making is not ended. Whether a decree of Fate has fixed any
ultimate limits to our efforts we have no means of knowing, and no
occasion to assume. Is not our wisest course, then, to persist in
trying? It is bad method ever to despair of knowing what we need.
For good or ill, the world with which the Humanist contends is always a
world that reveals itself to him. Reality, as it is assumed, presumed,
or guessed to be 'in itself,' apart from our experience of it, is
cancelled from his reckonings. For he cannot discover how he (or anyone)
can get any 'knowledge' or 'intuition' which transcends all human
faculties. The theories of metaphysicians on these lofty themes he
regards as personal postulates which, in so far as they cannot be
subjected to the pragmatic method, must remain open questions. Human
experience does not warrant such gratuitous demands. It confirms neither
the rigid system of unchanging fact which realism postulates (seeing
that the only facts that science speaks of are ever changing in its
progress), nor finds its problems, conflicts, and errors credible as a
reflexion of any Universal Mind, unless Idealism ultimately repudiates
the sanity of its Absolute.
The superiority of Humanism, then, lies in this, that it does not
discourage human enterprise by assuming that the real is completely
rigid and eternally achieved without regard to human effort. In the
drama that unrolls reality, every man, it teaches, has a duty and a
power to play his humble but essential part. Humanism is neither an
Optimism nor a Pessimism--both of which must consistently, in their
extreme form, deny that reality can be improved--but concedes to man the
right and duty to improve the world. It impresses us with the necessity
of acting, it vindicates the procedure of acting on our hopes, it shows
us how we may correct our errors, and so gives reasons for our faith in
the possibility of Progress.
_The Principles of Psychology_, 1890.
_The Will to Believe, and Other Essays in Popular Philosophy_, 1897.
_The Varieties of Religious Experience_, 1902.
_Pragmatism, a New Name for Some Old Ways of Thinking_, 1907.
_A Pluralistic Universe_, 1909.
_The Meaning of Truth_, 1909.
_Some Problems of Philosophy_, 1911.
_Radical Empiricism_, 1912.
_Riddles of the Sphinx_, 1891 (revised edition, 1910).
_Axioms as Postulates_ (in _Personal Idealism_, ed. Henry
_Humanism: Philosophical Essays_, 1903.
_Studies in Humanism_, 1907.
_Formal Logic, a Scientific and Social Problem_, 1912.
_Idola Theatri, a Criticism of Oxford Thought and Thinkers from the
Standpoint of Personal Idealism_, 1906.
J. DEWEY AND OTHERS:
_Studies in Logical Theory_, 1903.
_The Influence of Darwinism, and Other Essays_, 1910.
_The Evolution of Truth_, Quarterly Review, No. 419. April, 1909.
_Pragmatism and its Critics_, 1911.
_The Application of Logic_, 1910.