The Test of Pragmatism

Hibben, John Grier. “The Test of Pragmatism.” The Philosophical Review 17, no. 4 (1908): 365.

IN a recent number of The Popular Science Monthly, the Italian pragmatist, Papini, makes the very significant statement that "pragmatism is really less a philosophy than a method of doing without a philosophy." From this point of view, any critique of pragmatism would prove gratuitous. However, the doctrines of pragmatism are regarded in many quarters to-day in very different light. Its adherents are not satisfied with considering it as a substitute for philosophy but insist that it merits the name and the rank of the only true philosophy as well.

If pragmatism is to justify itself, it must surely be able to satisfy the test to which it requires all other alleged truth to be subjected. Can it stand its own test? "Whatever works is true." Does pragmatism measure up to this standard? Yes and no. There are so many cases where truth is revealed by the pragmatic test easily and effectually, that it is natural to fall into the error that here is the master-key that will fit all locks. iPhone is lost in the forest and wishes to find the true trail, if the machine is out of gear and needs adjustment, if the child has a fever and needs an antipyretic, if the safe must be opened and only the true combination will do it, in all of these and in an innumerable number of similar cases, the criterion of a practical test both discovers and proves the truth in each instance. There has been too great a tendency on the part of many of the advocates of pragmatism, however, to indulge in the method of proof by illustration. The illustrations are for the most part apposite and convincing as regards both the prevalence and the efficiency of the pragmatic method over extensive areas of thought and practice. But there are also many negative cases where this method proves wholly unsatisfactory. It does not work, and therefore, stands condemned out of its own mouth. And it is this feature of pragmatism, its inadequacy, which it is the purpose of this paper to emphasize and prove. This inadequacy is disclosed in the following ways:

1. Pragmatism is inadequate as a working hypothesis.

2. It is inadequate, because in its application we subordinate it

to other considerations.

3. It is inadequate, because of the limitation of its alleged creative


I. Pragmatism should certainly prove itself as a satisfactory working hypothesis; applied as a test to the practical affairs of life, we should be able to reach a solution which fits each concrete situation. Professor James has given us a working formula: “The true, to put it very briefly, is only the expedient in the way of our thinking, just as the right is only the expedient in the way of our behaving."

The expedient as such, however, often suggests a false lead. We cannot identify the expedient with the true anymore than we can identify it with the right. Nor can the expedient be made the test either of the right or the true without in turn subjecting the expedient to other very essential considerations. We do not trust ourselves to the guidance of expediency in a wholly unreserved manner. In many cases we find that it is convenient to follow in the way of the expedient, but always with open eyes and open mind, and never with a blind implicit confidence. In this connection, I would. Draw attention to Professor Dewey's definition of thinking: "It is the whole dynamic experience with its qualitative and pervasive identity of value, and its inner distraction, its elements at odds with each other, its tension against each other, contending each for its proper place and relationship, that generates the thought situation." And again: “The condition which antecedes and provokes any particular exercise of reflective knowing is always one of discrepancies, struggle, ‘collision.' This condition is practical, for it involves the habits and interests of the organism, an agent. “Let us take this idea, that thinking arises out of a situation involving inner distraction, discrepancies, struggle, collision, and ask ourselves if the test of expediency will assure a complete and satisfactory solution in all such predicaments. Let us take a typical instance of collision and struggle which we all may surely regard as one of the commonplace experiences of our moral life, the struggle between our sense of duty, on the one hand, and that of inclination, on the other. The pragmatic test as to what will most effectively and easily meet the difficulties of the situation which confronts us, we feel is not only inadequate, but also unworthy of our deeper ethical sentiment and conviction. There are cases, and not a few at that, where we not only do not follow the lead of expediency, looking to the possible consequences of our choices, but on the contrary we steadfastly, and somewhat stubbornly it maybe, determine our course of action wholly in scorn of consequences.

Of course, it is quite possible that there are those who naturally take the point of view of the inimitable Harold Skimpole who, upon being asked by Mr. Boythorn,"Is there such a thing as principle, Mr. Harold Skimpole?" replied with a crude but nevertheless, genuine flavor of pragmatic feeling: "Upon my life, I have not the least idea! I don't know what it is you call by that name, or where it is, or who possesses it. If you possess it, and find it comfortable, I am quite delighted, and congratulate you heartily. But I know nothing about it, I assure you; for I am a mere child, and lay no claim to it, and I don't want it." The concrete situation which emerges more often in our lives perhaps than any other is the one which presents this collision between policy and principle, between expediency and duty. And whenever this crisis occurs in our experience, the pragmatic test is wholly unavailing. We dare not commit ourselves unreservedly to its control. "Will it work?" or "Will it pay? “are not formulas by which we seek to ease the strain of perplexing moral emergencies.

Professor James qualifies his definition of the true in terms of the expedient to the extent of insisting that the expedient is that which proves to be the expedient in the long run and on the whole.

The difficulty with this qualification is that, in the particular situation which confronts us, the idea of the expedient in the long run and on the whole can afford us no assistance whatsoever in reaching a definite and immediate solution of the concrete practical problem at hand. Moreover, the pragmatist insists that it is just this particular concrete situation alone which can give rise to truth in a completely satisfactory manner. If, then, there are certain concrete situations such as I have cited, which not only are not relieved by the test of expediency, but which we instinctively scorn even to approach by that way, we are constrained to conclude that the test of expediency is inadequate at that point especially where we would naturally expect it to be most practically available.

Turning from the expedient "in the way of our behaving" to the expedient "in the way of our thinking," we find that the various elements of knowledge which come before us are not received or rejected as knowledge according to the test of their utility. There are certain truths whose "instrumental value" is entirely concealed. They possess, however, an interest in themselves, attract our attention more by what they are than by what they can do for us either in our thinking or in our life of action. Again, there are certain elements of knowledge which not only do not show any indications of utility, but, as a matter of fact, do not possess any vestige of utility in themselves; nevertheless they may conserve a useful end by being brought into combination with certain other elements. Darwin has remarked that, according to his observations, utility generally is the result of a number of elements separately useless.

If the elements which in themselves possess no palpable use are rejected from our body of knowledge by the pragmatic test, then none of the useful combinations, of which they are necessary parts, can ever attain to a realization in our experience. Moreover, the combinations which are often most productive of useful and it may be beneficial results, are those whose various component parts have been gathered from widely different sources. They represent the collaboration of many minds and often the result of several generations of research and speculation. Enough has been said to indicate how impossible it is in certain situations to meet the demand which is urged by Professor James that one should be able to give "truth's cash-value in experiential terms." The fact is that, whenever there is a demand for cash value, then the real value is always subjected to some discounting process. There is always a loss which must be sustained. And a general demand throughout the whole body of our truths for the cash value of each in terms" of directly verifying sensible experiences somewhere," would certainly precipitate a panic in the world of our thinking as surely as would a similar demanding the world of finance. Professor James concedes that all truths which we hold are not subjected to actual verification but are accredited by other truths within one and the same "credit system. “Truth," he states, "lives, in fact, for the most part on the accredit system. Our thoughts and beliefs 'pass,' so long as nothing challenges them, just as bank-notes pass so long as nobody refuses them." This credit system, however, according to Professor James’s account, rests upon no secure foundation. And as proof of this I would cite the following: "For pluralistic pragmatism, truth grows up inside of all the finite experiences. They lean on each other, but the whole of them, if such a whole there be, leans on nothing." If such is the credit system of our thinking, are we not laying ourselves open to the charge of 'kiting checks, ‘to carry out the financial figure which Professor James so appositely uses? When in financial transactions a man maintains his credit in one bank by depositing there a check upon another bank, and that in turn is made good by still another check upon a third bank, and so on within the limit of his daring, each leaning upon the other but the whole leaning upon nothing then he not only runs the risk of the miscarriage of his adventure, but also of fine and imprisonment as well. It is not merely that this scheme has not worked; but in the attempt he has violated a fundamental principle of honesty also. And it is this latter point with which the law is peculiarly concerned. When we trust the credit system of our reasoning by which we pass from one truth to another accredited by it, we are deeply concerned as to whether there is any underlying ground upon which the whole system rests. We too are concerned with principles of procedure, and the necessities of adaptation and of adjustment which must be observed. And it does make a difference to us in our thinking, if the system of knowledge within which we pass from one thought to another has its parts so loosely knit together that it can give no assurance whatsoever of constancy, or of consistency, or of coherency. The idea of " a loose universe," as Professor James styles it, in which all things are possible, and where we may become creators as well as actors, appeals most strongly to our imagination and provokes the spirit of adventure. But does it satisfy certain needs and demands of our logical nature, which cannot be lightly ignored? And this question we will now discuss under the second point of our criticism.

2. The theory of pragmatism is inadequate, because we are constrained to subordinate it to other considerations. There is much talk among pragmatists about purposive thinking, and the insistence that thought is essentially concerned with some problem which must be solved. The line of procedure in thinking is thus declared to be a line directed towards some definite goal. And if the goal is reached, the thought processes are judged to be true. Taking this as the programmed of all logical procedure, it nevertheless remains true that in all of our efforts to reach such a goal, we must obey the rules of the game. Amidst the problems of life and of thought, the line of solution is not always a straight line or the line of least resistance. Its course is determined not merely by the end which we desire to reach, but also by certain laws of necessity and consistency which we disregard at our peril. Our reasoning upon the problems which demand solutions has free play and a wide range, but only within the limits which the rules and penalties of the game of thinking prescribe. In searching in our minds for the probable solution of a problem, we do not subject all possible solutions to their several tests. There are often many solutions which are momentarily suggested, but which we reject almost automatically, because we see that they would violate the rules of the game. This selective function of thought prior to any process of actual verification, and indeed in place of it, certainly indicates that in our thinking we recognize some other test of truth than the mere pragmatic standards to whether it works or not.

To this, no doubt, the pragmatist would rejoin that truth must not only be of such a character that it will fit into the concrete situation of actual facts in a way that can explain them satisfactorily; but also that it will fit into a thought situation in a like satisfactory manner, so as to do no violence to the fundamental laws of our logical nature. Verification of this kind, however, concedes in its very statement the consideration of a high standard to which the simple pragmatic test must conform. Other words, truth's instrumental value is conditioned and determined both in nature and range by the demands of our reason for coherency and consistency. Professor James is plainly conscious of such a demand when he finds himself constrained to make certain reservations which certainly seem to be of the nature of a most significant concession in this regard. He allows that “our experience is all shot through with regularities. One bit of it can warn us to get ready for another bit, can 'intend' or be ‘significant’ of that remote object. The object's advent is the significance’s verification. Truth, in these cases, meaning nothing but eventual verification, is manifestly incompatible with waywardness on our part. Woe to him whose beliefs play fast and loose with the order which realities follow in his experience; they will lead him nowhere or else make false connections. And again: "This need of an eternal moral order is one of the deepest needs of our breast." "Between the coercions of the sensible order and those of the ideal order, our mind is thus wedged tightly. Our ideas must agree with realities, be such realities concrete or abstract, be they facts or be they principles, under penalty of endless inconsistency and frustration." These statements certainly concede the presence of determining factors in our thinking other than the pragmatic factor of realizing a desired end. If the search for truth must be confined to certain definitely determined limits, then the determining factors which set the boundaries of the area of possible solutions must themselves be regarded as directly affecting the nature of the truth which were endeavoring to discover. If, in working out practical solutions of the difficulties which the various experiences of life present, we find ourselves under the coercion of an 'ideal order,' roof a 'moral order,' or of a 'sensible order,' then that which determines to any extent the nature of the means to a certain desired end, must surely be regarded as essential a factor as the end itself in the composition of that truth. Considerations such as these do not bear out the idea which the pragmatists are so fond of urging, that we are free lances in the world of our thinking, that the universe is after all but 'loosely constructed,' and that all theories need to be 'unstiffened,' to use a term of Papini’s. It would be well for the pragmatist to pause in his efforts to test the products of thought, in order to consider the full significance of the coercion and control to which the processes of thought themselves must be continually subjected.

Professor James allows also that every truth must conform to “the collectivity of experience's demands." And, in the same vein, he says that he has " insisted on the fact that truth is made largely out of previous truths. Men's beliefs at any time are so much experience funded." In this connection we should not overlook a very significant feature of our funded experience as a body of truth, namely, that it is not a mere collection of particular experiences, but a system of coherently connected and interdependent parts so held together as to form the ground of the necessary and universal relations which we infer from it. Papini insists that the pragmatist’s “sympathies will be with the study of the particular instance." The particular instance, however, is always unintelligible unless we are able to interpret it in the light of its universal significance and implication. The particular instance can never become a part of our general body of knowledge unless we submit it to some process of thought transmutation, by which it is refined of its particularity, and of all local and temporal color. Professor Dewey is, I think, conscious of this characteristic of thought, when he says that "thought has a distinctive work to do, one which involves a qualitative transformation of (at least) the relationships of the presented matter; as fast as it accomplishes this work, the subject-matter becomes somehow thought's own. As we have just seen, the data are progressively organized to meet thought's ideal of a complete whole, with its members interconnected according to a determining principle."

Professor James, moreover, is quite willing to acknowledge that by virtue of the ' law of the kind ' we pass from truth to truth without recourse to the test of actual verification. He says: “Another great reason beside economy of time for waiving complete verification in the usual business of life is that all things exist in kinds and not singly. Our world is found once for all to have that peculiarity. So that when we have once directly verified our ideas about one specimen of a kind, we consider ourselves free to apply them to other specimens without verification. . .. Relations among purely mental ideas form another sphere where true and false beliefs obtain, and here the beliefs ‘are absolute, or unconditional. ... The objects here are mental objects. Their relations are perceptually obvious at a glance, and no sense verification is necessary. Moreover, once true, always true, of those same mental objects. Truth here has an ‘eternal' character. . .. You are sure to get truth if you can but name the kind rightly, for your mental relations hold good of everything of that kind without exception." In this connection it would be well to call attention to the reason why we trust ourselves to such processes and constantly employ them in our thinking. It is simply because we recognize in certain ideas and the relations obtaining between them a universal significance and certain necessary implications as well. If we entertain certain ideas, we are forced to accept others which are bound up with them, not merely in anticipation of some subsequent verification, but, on the contrary, with a feeling that any attempt at such verification would be wholly superfluous. Aside from the question as to whether such a procedure is logically warranted or not, the fact that we constantly find ourselves abiding by the results of our reasoning processes with an undisturbed satisfaction, and without the faintest suggestion of the need of verification, is in itself most significant.

Moreover, we are not satisfied with a bare verification of any truth upon which we may have happened blindly to stumble. We are restless in our minds until we come to understand the rationale of the process by which one is able to arrive at the truth in question. As children, we were quite satisfied with the result of the problems upon which we were working, if only we could contrive to get our answers to correspond with those given in our textbook. Later on, however, under the spur of a dawning intellectual curiosity, we were not satisfying such a test by itself. We came to demand a reason for the validity of the operations themselves, by which we were able to obtain the desired answer; and then we learned to trust implicitly the results of certain operations which had been accredited in reason, where appeal to text-books and their presumably correct answers was no longer possible. Indeed, we found thief we wished to verify the results of certain mathematical and logical processes, the operation consisted in a procedure which simply amounted to the reversal of the original order of these processes, that is, working them backwards, so that the verification in question was in reality a verification of the processes themselves, and only in an indirect manner of the results of the processes. Such a method of procedure rests upon the supposition that, if the processes are true, the result must be true. Our verification, then, in cases of this kind, is only a checking up of the processes, and thereby eliminating the possibility of error in them.

We are not satisfied, e.g., with the explanation of the method of trigonometry, that they are found to work satisfactorily when applied to certain practical problems; we are by no means satisfied with the mere statement that, if we are surveying a field, we will find it convenient to proceed upon the assumption that the sum of the angles of a triangle equals two right angles, but if were navigating a ship we will be able to verify our work, by appeal to actual distances traversed, only by regarding the sum of the angles of a triangle equal to something more than two right angles. We are not satisfied with the knowledge merely that certain suppositions will work; we wish, and we demand to know also why they must work in different ways under differing circumstances. Science would have made but comparatively slow progress, if the pioneers in that field had remained satisfied in their minds with merely asking the question, what ideas are found to work satisfactorily? and had neglected to insist upon that other question as to the underlying reason why they necessarily must work in just that way which seems to be their peculiar way and in no other. Again, let us regard for a moment the significance of table logarithms in this connection. If there is anything in the world which possesses merely 'instrumental ‘value, it is a table of logarithms. It offers nothing of value in itself. There is no diversion, or comfort, or solace in a table of logarithms. Its value consists solely in what it is able to accomplish; but merely a statement of what it is able to accomplish we refuse absolutely to accept as the validation of the truth of its processes. Our reason demands something more. We wish to know why such a tremendously complicated machinery always produces its results with such a nicety of precision and accuracy. But when we find that this intricate maze of numbers, seemingly unrelated and disconnected, is nevertheless the necessary and natural outcome of the exceedingly simple law of exponential relations, fundamental and universal, then we feel that for the first time we have discovered the truth of the logarithmic relations which is both significant and satisfying.

And in a similar instance, that of any algebraical series, we are not satisfied with the statement that the supposed law of theirs is true, because if we put it to the test as regards any specified term, we will find that it works. We demand that our reasoning once for all should swing clear of all hazards of special empirical verification. We wish to be assured that the law of the series will and must hold for any term whatsoever. We are not satisfied when we have tested the law of the binomial theorem, for instance, for a number of terms, however many we may choose at random for our tests; we insist upon some demonstration that the law in question must hold for all terms and for any power, integral or fractional, positive or negative. In short, the chief aim of all mathematical procedures is to rise from the level of the special case to the higher level of the universal statement, or law. We may define mathematics as that science whose aim is to render special verification superfluous.

It is urged, however, by the pragmatist, as, for instance, by Mr. Schiller in his chapter on "Non-Euclidean Geometry and the Kantian a priori," that the very foundations of mathematics are themselves merely hypothetical, and are true only so far as they may be empirically accredited. But all systems of applied mathematics rest primarily upon some system of a pure mathematic, whose relations and implications exert a controlling and determining power, whatever may be the special condition or circumstance to which they may be applied. Mr. Russell has put this very clearly in his Principles of Mathematics: “What pure mathematics asserts is merely that the Euclidean propositions follow from the Euclidean axioms, i.e., it asserts an implication: any space which has such and such properties has also such and such other properties. Thus, as dealt with in pure mathematics, the Euclidean and non-Euclidean geometries are equally true; in each nothing is affirmed except implications. All propositions as to what actually exists, like the space we live in, belong to experimental or empirical science, not to mathematics; when they belong to applied mathematics, they arise from giving to one or more of the variables in a proposition of pure mathematics some constant value satisfying the hypothesis, and thus enabling us, for that value of the variable, actually to assert both hypothesis and consequent instead of asserting merely the implication. We always assert in mathematics that if a certain assertion p is true of an entity x, or of any set of entities x,y,z, then some other assertion is true of those entities; but we do not assert either/ or q separately of our entities. We assert a relation between the assertions and q, which I shall call formal implication": This point is very important one, that there are certain necessities of implication not only in mathematical reasoning but in all reasoning generally, with which, we know in advance, all pragmatic tests will have to square. They also enable us to cut out many special effort’s verification, which otherwise would prove most tedious, annoying, and time-consuming. And we trust the results which are determined by the law of implication quite as confidently as we do actual evidence of their truth directly manifested in our own experience. When it is asserted by the pragmatist that the laws of mathematics or the laws of physical science rest, at the last analysis upon a hypothetical basis, it would be well for him to inquire somewhat more closely as to the fundamental significance of the hypothetical relation. While it is true that the hypothetical expresses a supposition, it does not by any means rest upon supposition. The statement may be qualified, but if it has any force and significance, it must rest upon an unqualified ground. For instance, we may have the hypothetical judgment, “If a man takes a certain specified quantity of arsenic, it will surely kill him." The antecedent must be realized, or the consequent will not follow; and this is the uncertain and variable element which judgment expresses. But the ground upon which the very uncertainty itself rests is fixed in the constant and unalterable relations of arsenic to the human system. Unless you had some such constant as this, every problem in life, both theoretical and practical, would be wholly indeterminate.

It is urged, moreover, by the pragmatist that such a hypothesis as that of the all-pervading ether to account for the phenomena of light, electricity, magnetism, etc., is only a convenient way of representing to our minds in the crude terms which our intellects can grasp certain relations whose nature can at best only be guessed, and must ever remain most inadequately portrayed. I would insist, however, that our received scientific hypotheses are something more than suggestive figures of speech. They are not merely clever allegories. They have some substantial ground in the inherent nature of the phenomena which they profess to explain. The 'ether' hypothesis, for instance, stands upon a very different footing from that of the legal ‘fiction' of the personality of a corporation. The personality of a corporation is an idea which works, and so proves itself a most useful way of simplifying certain very complex relationships in the law. Our scientific hypotheses, however, are something more than fictions of this type. We have to compare the two, to note the obvious difference. The scientific hypothesis arises out of a system, the nature and interconnection of whose parts necessitate certain inevitable implications which determine the character of the hypothesis in question. The hypothesis is not merely the expression of the most convenient way in which we may choose to regard nature, but rather of the way in which we feel nature constrains us to regard her.

There is a compulsion as well as a lead in our thinking. We only see one aspect of truth when we define it, as Profess James does, as the "function of agreeable leading. “Certain ideas are compelled, and certain others have range only with indefinitely prescribed limits, and 'agreeable leading,' however agreeable it may be, is not the guide which we can trust with implicit and unreserved confidence.

Our powers of prevision are not only to a great extent ordered by the necessary implications of the reason, but they are also wonderfully quickened by them. Purely theoretical knowledge is often highly suggestive of practical truth of supreme importance. As reason plays about a truth, we find that the truth itself expands while we are contemplating it. The thought necessities show certain phases of the truth which were never even suspected before. Thus, we are given anticipations that a certain relation must obtain and that it will work, long in advance of any opportunity to test it. It furnishes us something to test. The pragmatist thinks that truth need only be tested in order to be completely revealed. Does he ever pause to ask the very practical question, where do we get truths to test? Professor James insists that the pragmatic method consists essentially in the " attitude of looking away from first things, principles, categories, supposed necessities, and of looking towards last things, fruits, consequences, facts." I am free to confess that it seems to me that the mind which has not formed the habit of regarding the 'first things, principles, categories, supposed necessities, will hardly be capable of entertaining any last things as ‘fruits, consequences, facts,' which will be deemed worthy of any special value or significance whatsoever. To know the beginnings, the nature, and the ground of any set of phenomena under investigation, as well as the implications which are necessitated by them, is essential to any clear understanding of their worth, or of the possibilities of their practical application. The one who understands the nature of things will be able to do the most with them. As an eminent illustration of this, we have the work of the late Lord Kelvin, a master both in pure and applied science. According to the doctrine of pragmatism, the natural history of the various truths of science follows some such order as this, first, the existence of some felt need, and then the discovery of some way of supplying that need. The history of modern science, however, furnishes abundant instances where scientific discovery has not only preceded any recognized need, but has itself created that need. It is necessary merely to cite the truths of electricity and magnetism and their reciprocal relations, the knowledge of which, acquired under the stimulus of pure science, has created a whole world of modern needs and the possibility of their satisfaction. Moreover, the correlation of mathematical and experimental methods in dealing with physical phenomena, is in itself a proof of the determining and suggestive function of what we may call purely theoretical considerations in interpreting and ordering the world of knowledge which we are constantly building up out of the welter of confused and separate experiences.

3. We now turn to our final count against pragmatism and will endeavor to indicate another phase of its inadequacy. The pragmatist’s claim of 'making truth' can be substantiated in many particular instances; but here again there are obvious limitations of this alleged creative function. It is insisted that the world is plastic, malleable; that truth is man-made, like language, wealth, health, or our institutions of law and government.

Papini, whose statements, if true, would always prove too much, ventures upon the assertion that " The pragmatist's works to alter things rather than to contemplate them, to force things to exist in a definite way, instead of asserting that they already do so exist." Now all of this is very well to a certain extent; but there are constants as well as variables which must be reckoned with. The whole modern spirit of research is most emphatically opposed to the pragmatist's suggestion that we should endeavor to make the phenomena of the universe bend to our will. Indeed, it insists above all things that the investigator in whatever field should seek by patient, laborious observation to know the nature of the given phenomena as they actually are in all of their essential and characteristic features.

Professor James insists that we can always alter the nature of actual facts by shifting our attention from one phase of that which is given to another, or by changing the peculiar form, order, or relations of thoughts in our mind. In this way we are able to command the phenomena of experience, and, by the proper adjusting of our thoughts, can ' make ' truth.3 While no one denies the human touch which thought gives to our various experiences, nevertheless the controlling power of thought does not have a limitless range of possibility before it. It is only in a figurative sense that it can be said to possess a creative function. It may accelerate, retard, modify, or neutralize the forces of nature, but it cannot change essentially their inherent properties; on the contrary, it is only by knowing them thoroughly and accurately, that one can adapt their possibilities to one's own ends, and so compel the cosmical powers to do one's bidding.

In a like vein, Professor Dewey asks the question: “Is not the truth of practical ideas wholly an affair of making them true by constructing, through appropriate behavior, the condition of affairs which satisfies the requirement of the idea? If, in this case, truth means the effective capacity of the idea ' to make good, ‘what is there to forbid the application of analogous considerations to any idea?" Our practical ideas are mostly of our own making, and therefore we can often ' make ' them true by throwing our own effort into the situation which our wills can dominate; however, there are other ideas which, on the contrary, dominate us, and limit our powers of manipulation and adjustment. How are we " to construct the condition of affairs which satisfies the requirement of an idea," such as that which expresses, for instance, the fundamental nature of certain electro-magnetic relations, unless we know accurately what such requirements are. And how can we know what the requirements are unless we Know the nature of the phenomena themselves as they actually are, and not as we for our purposes would have them tube? We dare not ignore the constants whose nature we cannot make or unmake, and which must be reckoned with as determining factors in every creative problem we undertake to solve. We may alter the pattern, but we cannot change the stuff. We may be willing to accomplish certain ends, but are under compulsion to use only certain means, if we would be successful. The relation between the means and the definite end in question lies deep in the nature of things and is wholly independent of our will or wish. Our business is not to change this fundamental relation and make it what we might like to have, but to discover exactly what it is and to deal with it accordingly. We may regard ourselves as artists in the composition of the truth, but hardly as creators.

As to this constant factor, which appears in every problem confronting our thought, Professor James thinks that it is one that is being gradually formed by us. As to the unity which seems to underlie the world of our experience, he insists that itis only a possible empirical unification, the terminus ad quem of our constructive thinking. The world, however, is not merely approaching unification, that ' far off human event, towards which the whole creation moves.' Too many elements are combining, too many lines are converging towards the same point, X for us not to think that there is something behind as well as before this onward movement. There must be a unitary ground if there is to be a unified goal. And there is much to be said in defense of the old scholastic formula, that what is last in execution must be first in conception. This may describe the programmed according to which the history of the world as a whole has unfolded, as well as the manner in which the individual orders his single life. We are not in a 'closed and finished universe ‘it is true; but, on the other hand, we are not in a universe which is solely of our own making. We are in a universe which, why’: in the making, is nevertheless unfolding according to the law and trend of its own potentialities. And if we believe that mends will be realized ultimately, and the complete unity of the whole finally disclosed, may not the consummate reality have been from the beginning, even though in a potential form? And so far as the universe is fashioned by human touch, is it not our primary task to understand the truth of things as they are, so that we may better realize the truth of things as they ought to be?

6 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All