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PRAGMATISM

By

D.L. MURRAY

WITH A PREFACE BY DR. F.C.S. SCHILLER


PHILOSOPHIES ANCIENT AND MODERN

PRAGMATISM




CONTENTS

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
BIBLIOGRAPHY




PREFACE


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 £50,000 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.

F.C.S. SCHILLER.




CHAPTER I


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
common sense.

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 _pétroleuse_ 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 _dénoûment_ 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 Poincaré 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
escapes it.

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.




CHAPTER II


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
inextricable difficulties.



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


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