Copyright
William Caldwell.

Pragmatism and idealism online

. (page 11 of 21)
Online LibraryWilliam CaldwellPragmatism and idealism → online text (page 11 of 21)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


sequences," and they confound, too, " theories "
with " truths " and " concepts " just as they
confound concepts and propositions.

(2) That logic and the theory of proof is thus
one of the weak spots of Pragmatism has perhaps
then been sufficiently indicated. We have seen,
in fact, the readiness of Pragmatism to confess its
inability 2 to prove its own philosophy — that is,
to prove it in the ordinary sense of the term. 3
That it should have made this confession is, of
course, only in keeping with the fact that its
interest in logic is confined to such subordinate
topics as the framing and verification of hypo-
theses, the development of concepts and judg-
ments in the " thought-process," and so on. Of
complete proof, as involving both deduction

1 See the Note on p. 21.

2 Cf. supra, p. 67.

3 Papini, in fact (in 1907), went the length of saying that you cannot
even define Pragmatism, admitting that it appeals only to certain kinds
of persons.



CRITICAL 131

and induction, it takes but the scantiest
recognition. And it has made almost no effort
to connect its discoveries in " genetic logic " and
in the theory of hypotheses with the traditional
body of logical doctrine. 1 Nor, as may perhaps be
inferred from the preceding paragraph, has it made
any serious attempt to consider the question of the
discovery of new truth in relation to the more or
less perfectly formulated systems and schemes of
truth already in the possession of mankind.

The case is similar in regard to the " theory of
knowledge " of the pragmatists. While they have
made many important suggestions regarding the
relation of all the main categories and principles
of our human thought to the theoretical and
practical needs of mankind, there is in their
teachings little that is satisfactory and explicit
in the matter of the systematization of first
principles, 2 and little too that is satisfactory in
respect of the relation of knowledge to reality.
They sometimes admit (with James) the importance
of general points of view like the " causal," the
"temporal," "end," and "purpose," and so on.
At other times they confess with Schiller that
questions about ultimate truth and ultimate

1 For a serviceable account, in English, of the differences between
the pragmatist philosophy of hypotheses and the more fully developed
philosophy of science of the day, see Father Walker's Theories of
Knowledge, chapter xiii., upon " Pragmatism and Physical Science."

2 Cf. supra, p. 10 and p. 15. And this failure to systematize be-
comes, it should be remembered, all the more exasperating, in view of
the prominence given by the pragmatists to the supreme principles of
" end " and " consequences."



i 3 2 PRAGMATISM AND IDEALISM

reality cannot be allowed to weigh upon our spirits,
seeing that " actual knowing " always starts from
the " existing situation."

Now of course actual knowing certainly does
start from the particular case of the existing
situation, but, as all thinkers from Aristotle
to Hume have seen, it is by no means explained
by this existing situation. In real knowledge
this is always made intelligible by references to
points of view and to experiences that altogether
transcend it. The true theory of knowledge, in
short, involves the familiar Kantian distinction
between the " origin ' and the " validity " of
knowledge — a thing that the pragmatists seem
continually and deliberately to ignore. Schiller,
to be sure, reminds us with justice that we must
endeavour to " connect," rather than invariably
" contrast," the two terms of this distinction.
But this again is by no means what the pragmatists
themselves have done. They fail, in fact, to
connect their hints about the practical or ex-
perimental origin of most of our points of view
about reality with the problem of the validity
of first principles generally.

There is a suggestion here and there in their
writings that, as Schiller * puts it, there can be no
coherent system of postulates except as rooted
in personality, and that there are postulates
at every stage of our development. What this
statement means is that there are " points of

1 In the " Axioms as Postulates " essay in Personal Idealism.



CRITICAL 133

view " about reality that are incidental to the
stage of our natural life (as beings among other
beings), others to the stage of conscious sensations
and feelings, still others to that of our desires
and thoughts, to our aesthetic appreciation, to
our moral life, and so on. But, as I have already
said, there is little attempt on the part of the
pragmatists to distinguish these different stages
or planes of experience adequately from one
another.

(3) References have already been made to the
failures of our Anglo-American pragmatists to
attain to any intelligible and consistent kind of
reality, whether they conceive of this latter
as the sum-total of the efforts of aspiring and
achieving human beings, or with Schiller as an
"original, plastic sub-stratum," or as the reality
(whatever it is) that is gradually being brought
into being by the creative efforts of ourselves and
of beings higher or lower than ourselves in the
scale of existence. Their deepest thought in the
matter seems to be that the universe (our universe ?)
is essentially " incomplete," and that the truth of
God, as James puts it, " has to run the gauntlet
of other truths." One student of this topic,
Professor Leighton, has arrived at the conclusion
that pragmatism is essentially " acosmistic," x

1 Bourdeau makes the same charge, saying that all pragmatists
have the illusion that " reality is unstable." Professor Stout has
something similar in view in referring to Dr. Schiller's " primary
reality " in the Mind review of Studies in Humanism. It is only the
reality with which we have to do (reality vpbs was as an Aristotelian



134 PRAGMATISM AND IDEALISM

meaning, no doubt, and with good reason, that
Pragmatism has no place of any kind for objective
order or system. Now it is just this palpable
lack of an " objective," or rational, order that
renders the whole pragmatist philosophy liable
to the charges of (i) " subjectivism," and (2)
irrationality. There are in it, as we have tried
to point out, abundant hints of what reality must
be construed to be on the principles of any workable
or credible philosophy, namely something that
stimulates both our thought and our endeavour.
And there is in it the great truth that in action
we are not only in contact with reality as
such, but with a reality, moreover, that transcends
the imperfect reality of our lives as finite individuals
and the imperfect character of our limited effort
and struggle. But beyond the vague hints that
our efforts must somehow count in the .final
tale of reality, and that what the world of ex-
perience seems to be, it must somehow be con-
ceived ultimately to be, there is no standing-
ground in the entire pragmatist philosophy for
want of what, in plain English, must be termed
an intelligible theory of reality. " You see,"
says James, "how differently people take things.
The world we live in exists diffused and distributed



might say) that is " in the making " : for God there can be no such
distinction between process and product. But it is quite evident
that Pragmatism does not go far enough to solve, or even to see, such
difficulties. It confines itself in the main to the contention that man
must think of himself as a maker of reality to some extent — a conten-
tion that I hold to be both true and useful, as far as it goes.



CRITICAL 135

in the form of an indefinitely numerous lot of
eaches, coherent in all sorts of ways and degrees ;
and the tough-minded are perfectly willing to take
them at that valuation. They can stand the
world, their temper being well adapted to its
insecurity." *

The present writer, some years ago, in an article
in Mind, 2 ventured to point out the absurdity of
expecting the public to believe in a philosophy
which sometimes speaks as if we could now, to-day,
by our efforts begin to make the world something
different from what it is or what it has been. " As
far as the past facts go," so James put it in 1899,
" there is indeed no difference. These facts are
bagged (is not the phraseology too recklessly
sporting ?), are captured, and the good that's in
them is gained, be the atoms, be the God their
cause." And again, " Theism and materialism,
so indifferent when taken retrospectively [?],
point, when we take them prospectively, to wholly
different, practical consequences, to opposite
outlooks of experience." And again, " But I say
that such an alternation of feelings, reasonable
enough in a consciousness that is prospective, as
ours now is, and whose world is partly yet to come,
would be absolutely senseless (!) and irrational in a
purely retrospective consciousness summing up a
world already past." Now on what theory of
things is it that the future of the world and our
future may be affected by ideal elements and

1 Pragmatism, p. 264. 2 "Pragmatism," October 1900.



136 PRAGMATISM AND IDEALISM

factors (God, Freedom, Recompense, Justice)
without having been so affected or determined
in the past ? x

(4) The unsatisfactoriness of Pragmatism in
the realm of ethics. Crucial and hopeless as is
the failure of Pragmatism in the realm of ethics,
a word or two had better be said of the right of
the critic to judge of it in this connexion. In the
first place, the thinking public has already ex-
pressed its distrust of a doctrine that scruples not
to avow its affinity with utilitarianism, with the
idea of testing truth and value by mere conse-
quences and by the idea of the useful. " The
word ' expedient,' " wrote a correspondent to
Professor James, " has no other meaning than that
of self-interest. The pursuit of this has ended by
landing a number of officers of national banks in
penitentiaries. A philosophy that leads to such
results must be unsound."

Then again, Professor Dewey (now doubtless
the foremost living pragmatist) is the joint author
of a book upon ethics, the most prominent feature
of which is the application of pragmatist-like
methods and principles to moral philosophy. This
book sums up, too, a great many previous illuminat-
ing discussions of his own upon ethical and educa-
tional problems, for all of which, and for its general
application of the principles of Humanism to the
realm of morals he has deservedly won the

1 The same line of reflection will be found in James's Pragmatism,
p. 96.



CRITICAL 137

praise of Professor James himself. So we have
thus the warrant both of the public and of Dewey
and James for seeking to judge Pragmatism from
the point of view of moral philosophy.

Another justification for seeking to judge of
Pragmatism from the point of view of moral
philosophy is that the whole weight of its
" humanism " and of its " valuation " philosophy
must inevitably fall upon its view of the moral
judgment. Dr. Schiller, we have seen, is quite
explicit in his opinion that for Humanism the roots
of metaphysics " lie, and must lie," in ethics.
And this is all the more the case, as it were, on
account of the proclamation 1 by Pragmatism of
the inability of Intellectualism to understand
morality, and also on account of its recurring
contention in respect of the merely hypothetical
character of all intellectual truth.

1 Professor Moore has a chapter in his book (Pragmatism and its
Critics) devoted to the purpose of showing the necessary failure of
Absolutism (or of an Intellectualism of the absolutist order) in the
realm of ethics, finding in the experimentalism and the quasi-Darwinism
of Pragmatism an atmosphere that is, to say the least, more favourable
to the realities of our moral experience. While I cannot find so much
as he does in the hit-and-miss ethical philosophy of Pragmatism, I
quite sympathize with him in his rejection of Absolutism or Rational-
ism as a basis for ethics. The following are some of his reasons for
this rejection : (1) The " purpose " that is involved in the ethical life
must, according to Absolutism, be an all-inclusive and a fixed purpose,
allowing of no " advance " and no " retreat " — things that are impera-
tive to the idea of the reality of our efforts. (2) Absolutism does not
provide for human responsibility ; to it all actions and purposes are
those of the Absolute. (3) The ethical ideal of Absolutism is too
" static." (4) Absolutism does not provide any material for " new
goals and new ideals." See pp. 218-225 in my eighth chapter, where I
censure, in the interest of Pragmatism and Humanism, the ethical
philosophy of Professor Bosanquet.



138 PRAGMATISM AND IDEALISM

Now, unfortunately for Pragmatism, the one
thing that the otherwise illuminating book of
Dewey and Tufts almost completely fails to do,
as the writer has already sought to indicate, is to
provide a theory of the ordinary distinction
between right and wrong. 1 The only theme that
is really successfully pursued in this typically
American book is the " constant discovery, forma-
tion, and re-formation of the ' self ' in the ' ends '
which an individual is called upon to sustain and
develop in virtue of his membership of a ' social
whole.' " But this is obviously a study in
" genetic psychology," or in the psychology of
ethics, but by no means a study in the theory of
ethics. " The controlling principle," it character-
istically tells us, " of the deliberation which renders
possible the formation of a voluntary or socialized
self out of our original instinctive impulses is the
love of the objects which make this transformation
possible." But what is it, we wish to know, that
distinguished the objects that make this trans-
formation possible from the objects that do not
do so ? The only answer that we can see in the
book is that anything is " moral " which makes
possible a "transition from individualism to efficient
social personality" — obviously again a purely
sociological point of view, leaving the question
of the standard of efficiency quite open. The
whole tendency, in short, of the pragmatist treat-

1 See p. 224, where I arrive at the conclusion that the same thing
may be said of the Absolutism of Dr. Bosanquet.



CRITICAL 139

ment of ethical principles is to the effect that
standards and theories of conduct are valuable
only in so far as they are, to a certain extent,
" fruitful " in giving us a certain " surveying
power ' in the perplexities and uncertainties of
" direct personal behaviour." They are all, in
other words, merely relative or useful, and none
of them is absolute and authoritative. It is this
last thing, however, that is the real desider-
atum of ethical theory. And so far as practice is
concerned, all that this Pragmatism or " Relativ-
ism ' in morals inevitably leads to is the con-
clusion that whatever brings about a change,
or a result, or a " new formation," or a new
" development " of the moral situation, is neces-
sarily moral, that " growth " and " liberation "
and " fruitfulness," and " experimentation " are
everything, and moral scruples and conscience
simply nothing. In the celebrated phrase of
Nietzsche, " Everything is permissible and nothing
is true or binding."

Is not, then, this would-be ethical phase of
Pragmatism just too modernistic, too merely
practical, too merely illuminative and enlighten-
ing ? And would it not be better for the
youth of America (for Dewey's book is in the
American Science Series) and other countries to
learn that not everything " practical " and " forma-
tive ' and " liberative " and " socializing ' is
moral in the strict sense of the term ? ' In saying

1 Students of that important nineteenth-century book upon Ethics,



140 PRAGMATISM AND IDEALISM

this I am, of course, giving but a very imperfect
idea of the contents of a book which is, in many
respects, both epoch-marking and epoch-making.
It is, however, unfortunately, in some respects,
only too much in touch with " present facts and
tendencies," with the regrettable tendency of
the hour, for example, to justify as right any
conduct that momentarily " improves the situa-
tion," or that " liberates the activities ' of the
parties concerned in it. It is not enough, in other
words (and this is all, I am inclined to think, that
Pragmatism can do in morals), to set up a some-
what suggestive picture of the " life of the moral
man in our present transitional ' and would-
be " constructive " age. A moral man does not
merely, in common parlance, " keep up with the
procession," going in for its endless "formations'
and " re-formations." He seeks to " lead "it,
and this leading of men, this setting up of a standard
of the legitimacy or of the illegitimacy of certain
social experiments is just what Pragmatism can-
not do in morals.

It is otherwise, doubtless, with a true human-
ism, or with the humanism that Pragmatism is
endeavouring to become.

the Methods of Ethics, by Henry Sidgwick, will remember that Sidgwick
expressly states it as a grave argument against Utilitarianism that it is
by no means confirmed by the study of the actual origin of moral
distinctions. As we go back in history we do not find that moral
prescriptions have merely a utilitarian value.



CHAPTER VI

PRAGMATISM AS HUMANISM

In spite of the objections that have been brought
in the preceding chapters against Pragmatism as
Instrumentalism and Practicalism, the great
thing about Pragmatism as the Humanism
that it is tending to become is the position that it
virtually occupies in respect of the ethical and the
personal factors that enter into all our notions
about final truth. To Pragmatism the im-
portance of these factors in this connexion is
apparent from the outset, it being to it the merest
truism that by final truth we cannot mean " truth "
existing on its own account, but rather the truth
of the world as inclusive of man and his purposes.
For so much it stands by its very letter as well as
by its spirit. And if we can find any confirmation
for this attitude in some of the concessions of the
rationalists that have been previously mentioned,
so much the better, as it were, for Pragmatism.

Now it might well seem as if Pragmatism by
the denial of an absolute or impersonal truth is

so far simply another version of modern agnosti-

141



142 PRAGMATISM AND IDEALISM

cism, or of the older doctrine of the " relativity "
of human knowledge. There is a great difference,
however, between these two things and Pragmatism.
A mere agnostical, or relativity, philosophy
generally carries with it the belief that the inmost
reality of things is both unknowable and out of all
relation alike to human purpose and to human
knowledge. Pragmatism, on the contrary, would
like to maintain — if it could do so logically — that
in human volition, we do know something about
the inward meaning of things, that the " develop-
mental " view of things is, when properly inter-
preted, the real view, that reality is at least what
it comes to be in our " purposes " and in our
ideals, and not something different from this.

The main reason, however, of the inability of
Pragmatism to do what it would like to do in this
connexion is what we have already complained
of as its failure either to recognize, or to use, the
help that could be afforded to it by (i) Idealism,
and by (2) the " normative " 1 view of ethical
science.

1 What I understand by the " normative idea of ethical science "
will become more apparent as I proceed. I may as well state,
however, that I look upon the distinction between the " descrip-
tive " ideals of science and the " normative " character of the ideals
of the ethical and the socio-political sciences as both fundamental
and far-reaching. There are two things, as it were, that constitute
what we might call the subject-matter of philosophy — "facts"
and " ideals " ; or, rather, it is the synthesis and reconciliation of
these two orders of reality that constitute the supreme problem of
philosophy. It is with the description of facts and of the laws of the
sequences of things that the " methodology " of science and of Prag-
matism is in the main concerned. And it is because Pragmatism
has hitherto shown itself unable to rise above the descriptive and



PRAGMATISM AS HUMANISM 143

In respect of the first point, we have already
suggested, for example, that Pragmatism is in-
clined in various ways to make much of its " radical
empiricism," its contention that reality must, to
begin with, be construed to be what it seems to
be in our actual dealings with it and in our actual
experience of it. 1 To the biologist, as we put it
in our fourth chapter, reality is life ; to the
physicist it is energy ; to the theologian it is
the unfolding of the dealings of God with His
creatures ; to the sociologist it is the sphere of
the evolution of the social life of humanity ;
to the lover of truth it is a " partly intelligible
system." The only rational basis, however, for
all this constructive interpretation of reality is
the familiar idealist position of the necessary
implication of the " subject " in the " object,"
the fact that " things " or " existences " are
invariably thought of as the elements or com-
ponent parts in some working system or sphere
of reality that is contemplated by some being
or beings in reference to some purpose or end.
On its so-called lowest plane, indeed, reality is
conceived as the play of all the particles of matter,
or of all the elemental forces of nature, upon
each other. And on this construction of things

hypothetical science of the day to the ideals of the normative sciences
(ethics, aesthetics, etc.) that it is an imperfect philosophy of reality as
we know it, or of the different orders of reality.

1 Cf. Professor Ward in Naturalism and Agnosticism (vol. ii. p. 155) :
" What each one immediately deals with in his own experience is, I
repeat, objective reality in the most fundamental sense."



144 PRAGMATISM AND IDEALISM

the susceptibility of everything to the influence of
everything else is no less certainly assumed than in
the case of the world of life itself. But, as the
idealist realizes in a moment, there is no possibility
of separating, either in thought or experimentally,
this supposed physical world from the so-called
experiences and relations and laws through
which it is interpreted and described, even as a
world of objects or of forces. This is what
Parmenides saw ages ago when he said that
" thought " and " being " are the same thing,
that " being " belongs to " thought," that " being "
is the true object of thought, and that being is the
" rational " and the " thinkable " and not some-
thing outside thought. It is what a scientist, an
expounder of science, like Professor J . A. Thompson
means and partly states when he says, speaking
of the work of many of his fellow-scientists of the
day, " The matter of physical science is an
abstraction, whereas the matter of our direct
experience is in certain conditions the physical
basis of life and the home of the soul." *

To the objector who again retorts that this line
of reflection seems to rest upon a very large
assumption as to the nature of the apparently
illimitable physical universe, the idealist can but
reply, firstly, that we know nothing of the so-called
natural world save through the so-called spiritual
or psychical world, 2 and secondly, that even the

1 Introduction to Science, p. 137.

2 " But if the primitive Amoebae gave rise ' in the natural course of
events ' to higher organisms and these to higher, until there emerged



PRAGMATISM AS HUMANISM 145

most complete description of the world from the
point of view of science would, of course, still leave
the world of our mental experiences entirely
unexplained. It is surely, therefore, so far, much
more logical to use this last world as at least the
partial explanation of the former rather than
vice versa.

And as for the " normative ' view of ethics
and the help it affords to Pragmatism in its
contention in respect of final truth, it may be
said, to begin with, that it is in the ethical life
that what we call the truth of things becomes
the basis of an ideal of personal achievement.
It is not merely of man's well-known trans-
formation and utilization of the forces of nature
that we are at present thinking, but of the fact
that in the moral life man " superposes," as
has been said, an order of his own upon the
so-called natural order of things, transforming it
into a spiritual order. This superposition, if we


1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 11 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21

Online LibraryWilliam CaldwellPragmatism and idealism → online text (page 11 of 21)