William Caldwell.

Pragmatism and idealism online

. (page 12 of 21)
Online LibraryWilliam CaldwellPragmatism and idealism → online text (page 12 of 21)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

will, this transformation, is revealed unmistak-
ably in the history of the facts of conduct.

In the recent elaborate researches in sociological
ethics of Hobhouse and Westermarck x we read,

the supreme Mammal, who by and by had a theory of it all, then the
primitive Amoebae which had in them the promise and the potency of
all this were very wonderful Amoebae indeed. There must have been
more in them than met the eye ! We must stock them with initiatives at
least. We are taking a good deal as 'given.' " [Italics mine.] — J. H.
Thomson, Introduction to Science, p. 137.

1 See Westermarck, vol. i. pp. 74, 93, 117, and chapter hi. generally.
The sentence further down in respect of the permanent fact of the moral
consciousness is from Hobhouse, vol. ii. p. 54. As instances of the latter,
Hobhouse talks of things like the " purity of the home, truthfulness,



for example, of facts like the gradual " blunting
of the edges of barbarian ideas," and the recognition
of the " principal moral obligations " in the early
oriental civilizations, the existence of the "doctrine
of forgiveness," and of " disinterested retributive
kindly emotion," the acceptance and redistribution
by Confucius of the traditional standards of
Chinese ethics, the " transformation " by the
Hebrew prophets of the " law of a barbarous
people into the spiritual worship of one God," of
a God of " social justice," of " mercy," and finally
of " love." Both these writers, in view of such
facts and of other facts of a kindred nature, arrive
at the conclusion that the supreme authority
assigned to the moral law is not altogether an
illusion, that there is after all the " great permanent
fact of the moral consciousness persisting through
all stages of development, that whether we believe
or disbelieve in God, or religion, or nature, or what
not, there remain for all of us certain things to do
which affect us with a greater or less degree of
mental discomfort."

Now as we think of it, there is something that
Pragmatism fails to see in respect of this undoubted
transformation of the merely physical basis of our
life that takes place, or that has taken place, in
the moral life of humanity. While firmly holding
in its moral philosophy (we can see this in the

hospitality, help, etc., in Iran, of the doctrine of Non-Resistance in Lao
Tsze, of the high conception of personal righteousness revealed in the
Book of the Dead, of the contributions of monotheism to ethics, etc. etc.


typical work of Dewey and Tufts *) to its far-
reaching principle that our entire intellectual life
has been worked out in the closest kind of relation
to our practical needs, Pragmatism has neverthe-
less failed to see that in the highest reaches of
our active life the controlling ideas (" justice,"
" humanity/' " courage," and so on) have a value
independently of any consequences other than
those of their realization in the purposes and in
the dispositions of men. Or, more definitely, it
is just because moral ideas, like any ideas, cannot
fail to work themselves out into our actions and
into our very dispositions and character, that it
becomes of the utmost importance to conceive
of the truth they embody as having a value
above all consequences and above all ordinary
utility. If sought ever and always for its own
sake, the highest kind of truth and insight, the
truth that we apprehend in our highest intuitions
and in our highest efforts, will inevitably tend to
the creation of a realm of " value," a realm of
personal worth and activity that we cannot but
regard as the highest reality, 2 or the highest plane

1 Cf. p. 167.

2 It may, I suppose, be possible to exaggerate here and to fall to
some extent into what Mr. Bradley and Nietzsche and others have
thought of as the " radical vice of all goodness " — its tendency to forget
that other things, like beauty and truth, may also be thought of as
absolute " values," as revelations of the divine. What I am thinking
of here is simply the realm of fact that is implied, say, in the idea of
Horace, when he speaks of the upright man being undismayed even by
the fall of the heavens {impavidum ferient ruinae) or by the idea of
the Stoic sage that the virtuous man was as necessary to Jupiter
as Jupiter could be to him, or by the idea (attributed to Socrates) that


of experience of which we are conscious. In this
thought, then, in the thought of the reality of the
life and work of human beings who have given all
for truth and goodness and love, there is surely at
least a partial clue to the value of the great idea
after which Pragmatism is blindly groping in its
contention of the importance even to metaphysics
of the notion of our human, " purposive " activity.
Indeed, when we think of the matter carefully
it is doubtful whether the human mind would ever
even have attained to the notion of ideal truth,
with the correlative thought of the shortcomings
or the limits of our ordinary knowledge, if it had
not been for the moral life and the serious problem
it sets before us as men — that of the complete
satisfaction or the complete assertion of our human
personality. We seek truth in the first instance
because we wish to act upon certainty or upon
adequate certainty, and because we feel that we
must be determined by what appeals to our own
convictions and motives, by what has become part
of our own life and consciousness. It is only in fact
because we will it, and because we want it, that the
" ideal " exists — the ideal of anything, more certain

if the rulers of the universe do not prefer the just man to the unjust it
is better to die than to live. If against all this sort of thing one is
reminded by realism of the " splendid immoralism " of Nature, of its
apparent indifference to all good and ill desert, I can but reply, as I
have done elsewhere in this book, that the Nature of which physical
science speaks is an " abstraction " and an unreality, and that it
matters, therefore, very little whether such a Nature is, or is not,
indifferent to morality. We know, however, of no Nature apart from
life, and mind, and consciousness, and thought, and will. It is God,
and not Nature, who makes the sun to shine on the just and the unjust.


knowledge about something, for example, or grati-
fied curiosity, or satisfied desire, and so on. In
every case, say, of the pursuit of an ideal we desire
something or some state of things that does not yet
exist. The actual, if indeed (which is doubtful)
we can think of the actual merely as such, does
not engender the notion of the ideal, although
there is possibly a suggestion of the " ideal ' in
the " meaning " that we cannot, even in sense
perception, 1 attach to the actual.

Even science, as we call it, is very far from
being a mere description of the actual, it is an
ideal " construction " or " interpretation " of the
same in the interest, not of mere utility, but of the
wonder and the curiosity and the intellectual and
aesthetical satisfaction of our entire personality,
of our disinterested love of the highest truth. 2

1 By this " meaning " is to be understood firstly the effects upon our
appetitive and conative tendencies of the various specific items (whether
sensation, or affections, or emotions, or what not) of our experience,
the significance, that is to say, to our total general activity of all the
particular happenings and incidents of our experience. Psychologists
all tell us of the vast system of " dispositions " with which our psycho-
physical organism is equipped at birth, and through the help of which
we interpret the sensations and occurrences of our experience. And
in addition to these dispositions we have, in the case of the adult, the
coming into play of the many associations and memories that are
acquired during the experiences of a single lifetime. It is these various
associations that interpret to us the present and give it meaning. In a
higher sense we might interpret " meaning " as expressive of the higher
predicates, like the good and the beautiful and the true, that we apply
to some things in the world of our socialized experience. And in the
highest sense we might interpret it as the significance that we attach to
human history as distinguished from the mere course of events — the
significance upon which the philosophy of history reposes. See Eucken
in the article upon the Philosophy of History in the " systematic "
volume of Hinneberg's Kultur der Gegenwart.

2 See our second chapter upon the different continental and British


A striking example of the part played by moral
and personal factors in the evolution of truth may
easily be found, as has already been suggested, in
some of the circumstances connected with the
evolution of the Platonic philosophy in the mind
of its creator. Plato's constant use of the dialogue
form of exposition is of itself an expression of the
fact that philosophy was always to him a living
and a personal thing, the outcome of an intellec-
tual emotion of the soul in its efforts after true
knowledge and spiritual perfection. It speaks also
of Plato's essentially social conception of philo-
sophy, as a creation arising out of the contact of
mind with mind, in the search after wisdom and
virtue and justice. And there is little doubt that
his own discontent with the social conditions of
his time and with the false wisdom of the sophists
was a powerful impulse in his mind in the develop-
ment of that body of intellectual and ethical truth
for all time that is to be found in his works. The
determining consideration, again, in the argu-
ments for immortality in the Phaedo is not so
much the imperfect physical and theoretical
philosophy on which they are partly made to

representatives of the hypothetical treatment of scientific laws and
conceptions that is such a well-marked tendency of the present time.
By no one perhaps was this theory put more emphatically than by
Windelband (of Strassburg) in his Prdludien (1884) and in his Geschichte
und Naturwissensckaft (1894). In the latter he contrasts the real
individuals and personalities with which the historians deal with the
impersonal abstractions of natural science. I fully subscribe to this
distinction, and think that it underlies a great deal of the thought of
recent times.


repose as the tremendous conviction of Plato of
the supreme importance of right conduct, of his
belief in the principle of the " best."

Plato has a way, too, of talking of truth as a
kind of " addition " * to being and science, as a
" being " that " shares " somehow in the " idea
of the Good " — a tendency that, despite the
imperfect hold of the Greek mind upon the fact
and the conception of personality, we may also
look upon as a confirmation of the pragmatist
notion of the necessity of ethical and personal
factors in a complete theory of truth.

A still more important instance of the importance
of moral and practical factors to a final philosophy
of things is to be found in the lasting influence of
the great Hebrew teachers upon both the ancient
and the modern world, although the mere mention
of this topic is apt to give offence to some of our
Neo-Hellenists 2 and to thinkers like Schopen-
hauer and Nietzsche. The remarkable thing
about the Hebrew seers is their intuition of
God as " the living source of their life and strength

1 See " truth and real existence " in the Republic, 508 d — Jowett's
rendering of dX-fjOeii re xal t6 6v (" over which truth and real
existence are shining "). Also further in the same place, " The cause of
science and of truth," a/Way 5' cVio-t^s cuVae /ecu d\T70da?. In 389 e
we read that a " high value must be set on truth." Of course
to Plato " truth " is also, and perhaps even primarily, real existence,
as when he says (Rep. 585), " that which has less of truth will also have
less of essence." But in any case truth always means more for him
than " mere being," or existence, or " appearance," it is the highest
form of being, the object of " science," the great discovery of the
higher reason.

■ To Professor Bosanquet, for example; see below, p. 213, note 2.


and joy/' not as a mere first principle of thought,
not as the substance of things, not as the mere
" end of patient search and striving," but as the
''first principle of life and feeling." x And their
work for the world lay in the bringing to an end
of the entire mythology and cosmology of the age
of fable and fancy, and the substitution for all
this of the worship of one God, as something
distinct and different from all the cults of
polytheism, as a great social and ethical achieve-
ment, as a true religion that loved justice and
social order because it loved God. " In Hebrew
poetry," 2 says a recent authority upon this subject,
" all things appear in action. The verb is the
predominating element in the sentence. And
though the shades of time distinctions are blurred,
the richness of the language throws the precise
complexion of the act into clear, strong light."
If this be so, there is, of course, no wonder that
this people elaborated for mankind a living and
practical, a " pragmatist " (if we will) view of
the world, which is so rich by way of its
very contrast both to Greek and to modern
scientific conceptions. With the enumeration of
two specific instances from this same writer
of the Hebrew perception of the importance of
practical and personal factors to a true grasp of
certain fundamental ideas, we may safely leave
this great source of some of the leading ideas of

1 The Poetry of the Old Testament, Professor A. R. Gordon.

2 Ibid. p. 4.


our western world to take care of itself. " The
Hebrew counterpart to the Greek ideal of 6 KaXbs
Kayados, ' the finely-polished gentleman,' is hasid,
the adjective derived from hesed, that is 'the man
of love.' As God is love, the good man is likewise
a lover both of God and of his fellow-men. His
love is indeed the pure reflection of God's- — tender
and true and active as His is. For in no other
ancient religion are the fear and love of God so
indissolubly wedded to moral conduct." x And
secondly, speaking of immortality, Professor
Gordon says, " The glad hope of immortality
rests, not on speculative arguments from the nature
of the soul, but on the sure ground of religious
experience. Immortality is, in fact, a necessary
implicate of personal religion. The man that
lives with God is immortal as He is." 2

If the reader be inclined to interject here that
all that this pragmatist talk about the importance
of action obviously amounts to is simply the
position that the highest truth must somehow
take recognition of our beliefs as well as of our
knowledge, we can but reply that he is literally
so far in the right. Our point, however, for
Pragmatism would here be that belief rests not
merely upon the intellect, but upon the intellect
in conjunction with the active and the ethical
nature of man. It is mainly because we feel our-
selves to be active and legislative and creative,
mainly because we partly are and partly hope to

1 The Poetry of the Old Testament, p. 160. 2 Ibid. pp. 183-184.


be, as the phrase has it, that we believe as well as
seek continually to know. Hence the Tightness
and the soundness of Pragmatism in its contention ;
the truth is not so much a datum (something given)
as a construction, 1 or a thing that is made and
invented by way of an approximation to an ideal.
That it is this almost in the literal sense of these
words is evident from the fact of the slow and
gradual accumulation of truth and knowledge
about themselves and their environment by the
fleeting generations of men. And even to-day
the truth is not something that exists in
nature or in history or in some privileged in-
stitution, or in the teaching of some guild of
masters, but rather only in the attitude of mind
and heart of the human beings who continue to
seek it and to will it and to live it when and
where they may. Truth includes, too, the truth
of the social order, of civilization 2 — this last costly

1 It is this false conception of truth as a " datum " or " content "
that wrecks the whole of Mr. Bradley's argument in Appearance and
Reality. See on the contrary the following quotation from Professor
Boyce Gibson (Eucken's Philosophy of Life, p. 109) in respect of the
attitude of Eucken towards the idea of truth as a personal ideal.
" The ultimate criterion of truth is not the clearness and the distinct-
ness of our thinking, nor its correspondence with a reality external to
it, nor any other intellectualistic principle. It is spiritual fruitfulness
as invariably realized by the personal experient, invariably realized as
springing freshly and freely from the inexhaustible resources which
our freedom gains from its dependence upon God."

2 It is part of the greatness of Hegel, I think, to have sought to
include the truth of history and of the social order in the truth of philo-
sophy, or in spiritual truth generally. His error consists in not allowing
for the fresh revelations of truth that have come to the world through
the insight of individuals and through the actions and the creations of
original men.


work being just as much the creation of the mind
and the behaviour of men as is knowledge itself.
And there can, it would seem, be but slight objec-
tion to an admission of the fact that it is only in
so far as the truth has been conceived as in-
clusive of the truth of human life as well as of that
of the world of things that humanity as a whole
seems to have any abiding interest in its existence,
even where, as in Omar Khayyam and in other
writings, the idea of its discovery is given up as
impossible. Only, in other words, as the working
out of the implications of desire does thought
live, and the completest thought is at bottom but
the working out of the deepest desire. 1

These two elements of our life, thought and

1 There is a sentence in the Metaphysics of which I cannot but think
at this point, and which so far at least as the rationalist-pragmatist
issue is concerned is really one of the deepest and most instructive ideas
in the whole history of philosophy. It is one of Aristotle's troublesome
additional statements in reference to something that he has just been
discussing — in this case the " object of desire " and the " object of
thought." And what he adds in the present instance is this (Bk. xii. 7) :
" The primary objects of these two things are the same — tovtwv to.
wpuira to, avrd — rendered by Smith and Ross " the primary objects
oj thought and desire are the same." The translation, of course, is a matter
of some slight difficulty, turning upon the proper interpretation of
to. wpwra, " the first things," although, of course, the student soon
becomes familiar with what Aristotle means by " first things," and
" first philosophy," and " first in nature," and " first for us," and so
on. Themistius in his commentary on this passage (Commentaria in
Aristotelem Graeca, vol. v. i-vi ; Themistius in Metaphysica, 1072
and 17-30) puts it that " in the case of immaterial existences the
desirable and the intelligible are the same — in primis vero principiis
materiae non immixtis idem est desiderabile atque intelligibile." I
am inclined to use this great idea of the identity of the desirable
and the intelligible — for conscious, intelligent beings as the funda-
mental principle of the true Humanism of which Pragmatism is in
search. It is evidently in this identity that Professor Bosanquet


desire, have had indeed a parallel development in
the life of mankind. What we call the predicate
of thought bespeaks invariably an underlying (or
personal) reaction or attitude towards the so-called
object of thought. 1 When desire ceases, as it does
sometimes in the case of a disappointed man, or the
pessimist, or the agnostic, or the mystic, thought
too ceases. Even the philosophical mood, as like-
wise the expression of a desire, is as such com-
parable to other motives or desires, such as the
scientific or the practical or the emotional, and
subject, too, like them, to the various " conflicts "
of personality. 2 The free speculative thought
or activity that, with the Greeks, we sometimes
think of as the highest attribute of our human
nature, is itself but the highest phase of that
free creative 3 activity which we have found to

also believes in when he says : "lam persuaded that if we critically
understand what we really want and need, we shall find it established
by a straightforward argument " (Preface to Individuality and Value.
See the eighth chapter of this book). It is certainly true that the
constructive philosophy of which we are in search to-day must leave no
gap between thought and desire.

1 I find an illustration or a confirmation of this thought in the
following piece of insight of Mr. Chesterton in regard to the " good,"
which is no doubt a " predicate " of our total thought and feeling and
volition. "Or, in other words, man cannot escape Irom God, because
good is God in man ; and insists on omniscience " ( Victorian Age in Litera-
ture, p. 246 — italics mine). A belief in goodness is certainly a belief in
an active goodness greater than our own ; and it does raise a desire for
a comprehension of things.

2 The reader will find a good deal in Professor Baldwin's Social and
Ethical Interpretations of Mental Development upon the relation of
truth and thought to desire, and also upon the social, or the pragmatist
or the experimental test of beliefs.

3 See Chapter IX., in reference to Bergson's " creative activity."


underlie the moral life and all the various construc-
tions of mankind, inclusive of the work of civiliza-
tion itself.

Lastly, there is, as we know, ample warrant
in the past and the present reflections of men of
science upon the apparent limits 1 and limita-

1 The reader who is anxious to obtain a working idea of the limits
of knowledge from a scientific point of view had better consult such
pieces of literature as Sir Oliver Lodge's recent examination of Haeckel's
Riddle of the Universe, Professor Ward's Naturalism and Agnosticism,
Merz's History of European Thought during the Nineteenth Century, or
Verworn's General Physiology (with its interesting account of the
different theories of the origin of life, and its admission that after all
we know matter only through mind and sensation). Perusal of the
most recent accessible literature upon this whole subject will reveal
the fact that these old questions about the origin of life and motion,
and about the nature of evolution, are still as unsettled as they were in
the last half of the last century. It is not merely, however, of the
actual limits of science at any one time that we are obliged, as human
beings, to think, but of the limits of science in view of the fact that
our knowledge comes to us in part, under the conditions of space and
time, and under the conditions of the limits of our senses and of
our understanding. Knowledge is certainly limited in the light of
what beings other than ourselves may know, and in the light of what
we would like to know about the universe of life and mind.

I do not think that this whole question of the limits of our
knowledge is such a burning question to-day as it was some years ago,
there being several reasons for this. One is that we live in an age of
specialization and discursiveness and " technic." It is quite difficult
to meet with people who think that they may know, some day, every-
thing, from even some single point of view. And then the wide accept-
ance of the hypothetical or the pragmatist conception of knowledge
has caused us to look upon the matter of the limits of science and
knowledge as a relative one, as always related to, and conditioned
by, certain points of view and certain assumptions. We are not
even warranted, for example, in thinking of mind and matter as
separate in the old way, nor can we separate the life of the individual
from the life of the race, nor the world from God, nor man from
God, and so on. See an article by the writer (in 1898 in the Psy. Rev.)
upon " Professor Titchener's View of the Self," dealing with the actual,
and the necessary limits, of the point of view of Structural Psychology

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 12 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21

Online LibraryWilliam CaldwellPragmatism and idealism → online text (page 12 of 21)