Copyright
William Caldwell.

Pragmatism and idealism online

. (page 13 of 21)
Online LibraryWilliam CaldwellPragmatism and idealism → online text (page 13 of 21)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


in regard to the " self." Also Professor Titchener's reply to this article in
a subsequent number of the same review, and my own rejoinder.



158 PRAGMATISM AND IDEALISM

tions of our knowledge of our environment to
justify the correctness of the pragmatist in-
sistence upon the ethical and the personal factors
that enter into truth. Reference having already
been made to these limits, there is perhaps little
need of pursuing this topic any further, either
so far as the facts themselves are concerned or
so far as their admission by scientists and others
is concerned. How any supposed mere physical
order can ever come to know itself as such, either
in the minds of men or in the minds of beings
other than men, is of course the crowning diffi-
culty of what we call a physical philosophy —
a difficulty that transcends altogether the many
familiar and universally admitted difficulties in
respect of topics like the origin of motion and the
origin of life, and the infinite number of adjustments
and adaptations involved in the development
of the world of things and men with which we are
acquainted. Obviously, to say the very least,
only when some explanation of consciousness and
feeling and thought is added on to our knowledge
of Nature (fragmentary as is the latter at best)
will the demands of thought and of desire for
unity in our knowledge be satisfied or set
at rest. Now, of course, to religious thought all
this costly explanation, all this completion and
systematization of our knowledge are revealed,
in the main, only to a faith in God and to a
consequent faith in the final " perfection " of our
human life as the gradual evolution of a divine



PRAGMATISM AS HUMANISM 159

kingdom. And while Pragmatism cannot,
especially in its cruder or more popular form, be
credited with anything like a rational justification
of the religious point of view about reality and of
the vision it opens up, it may, nevertheless, in
virtue of its insistence upon such things as (1) the
rationality of the belief that accompanies all
knowledge, (2) the supposedly deeper pheno-
mena of the science of human nature to which
reference has already been made, and (3) the great
spiritual reality that is present to the individual
in the moral life, and that lifts him " out of him-
self," and that makes it impossible for him to
" understand himself by himself alone," x justifiably
lay claim to the possession of a thorough working
sympathy with the religious view of the world.

With the direction of the attention of the
reader to two important corollaries or consequences
of the " pluralism " and the " dynamic idealism "
of Pragmatism this chapter may well be brought
to a termination.

One of the most obvious corollaries of nearly
everything that has been put forward by us in the
foregoing chapters as pragmatist doctrine or
pragmatist tendency, is the marked distance at
which 2 it all seems to stand from the various
entanglements of the false philosophy of " sub-
jective," or " solipsistic " idealism. In other
words, while we have ventured to censure Prag-

1 See Chapter II. p. 35.
2 Despite what we spoke of in Chapter V. as its " subjectivism," p. 134.



160 PRAGMATISM AND IDEALISM

matism for its inability to recognize the elemental
truth 1 in Idealism, we must now record it as a merit
of Pragmatism that it does not, like so much
modern philosophy, take its start with the " con-
tents " of the consciousness of the individual
as the one indubitable beginning, the one incon-
cussum quid for all speculation. This starting-
point has often, as we know, been taken (even by
students of philosophy) to be the very essence
of Idealism, but it is not so. Although there
is indeed no " object ' without a " subject,"
no " matter " without " mind," neither mind
nor matter is limited to my experience of the
same. 2 It is impossible for me to interpret, or
even to express, to myself the contents of my
experience without using the terms and the con-
ceptions that have been invented by minds and
by personalities other than my own without whom
I could not, and do not, grow up into what I call
my " self-consciousness." 3 We have all talked

1 That is to say, the simple truth that there is no " object " without
a " subject," no " physical " world without a world of " psychical "
experiences on the part of some beings or some being. If our earth
existed before animated beings appeared upon it, it was only as a part
of some other " system " which we must think of as the object of some
mind or intelligence.

2 See p. 235, note 2, in the Bergson chapter, where it is suggested
that to Bergson human perceptions do not, of course, exhaust matter.

3 Among the many other good things in Mr. Marett's admirable
Anthropology (one of the freshest works upon the subject, suggestive
of the need, evidently felt in Oxford as well as elsewhere, of studying
philosophy and letters, and nearly everything else in the mental and
moral sciences, from the point of view of social anthropology) are the
clearness and the relevancy of illustration in his insistence upon the
importance of the " social factor " over all our thoughts of ourselves
as agents and students in the universe of things." Payne shows us



PRAGMATISM AS HUMANISM 161

of ourselves (as we know from experience and
from psychology) in the third person as objects
for a common social experience long before we
learn to use the first personal pronoun. And as
for the adult, his "ego' or self has a meaning
and a reality only in relation to, and in comparison
with, the other selves of whom he thinks as his
associates. An "ego" implies invariably also an
" alter " an "other," and thus our deepest thought
about the universe is always, actually and neces-
sarily, both personal and social. Even in art, and
in religion, and in philosophy, it is the communion
of mind with mind, of soul with soul, that
is at once our deepest experience and our deepest
desire.

I do not suggest for one moment that Prag-
matism is the only philosophy (if indeed we may
call it a philosophy at all) that is necessarily

(p. 146) " reason for believing that the collective ' we ' precedes ' I ' in the
order of linguistic evolution. To begin with, in America and elsewhere,
' we ' may be inclusive and mean ' all of us,' or selective, meaning ' some
of us only.' Hence a missionary must be very careful, and if he is
preaching, must use the inclusive ' we ' in saying ' we have sinned,'
whereas, in praying, he must use the selective ' we,' or God would be
included in the list of sinners. Similarly ' I ' has a collective form
amongst some American languages ; and this is ordinarily employed,
whereas the corresponding selective form is used only in special cases.
Thus, if the question be ' Who will help ? ' the Apache will reply, ' I-
amongst-others,' ' I-for-one ' ; but if he were recounting his personal
exploits, he says sheedah, ' I-by-myself,' to show they were wholly his
own. Here we seem to have group-consciousness holding its own against
individual self-consciousness, as being for primitive folk on the whole the
more normal attitude of mind." It is indeed to be hoped that, in the
future, philosophy, by discarding its abstractionism and its (closely
allied) solipsism, will do its share in making this " group conscious-
ness," this consciousness of our being indeed " fellow-workers" with
all men, once again a property of our minds and our thoughts.

11



162 PRAGMATISM AND IDEALISM

committed to Pluralism, 1 nor am I, of course, blind
to the difficulties that Pluralism, as over against
Monism, presents to many thinking minds. But
I do here say that if Pragmatism be true, as
it is in the main (at least as an " approach " to
philosophy), it follows that the reality with
which we are in contact in all our thoughts and
in all our theorizing is not any or all of the " con-
tents " of the consciousness of the individual
thinker, but rather the common, personal life of
activity and experience and knowledge and
emotion that we as individuals share with
other individuals. This life is that of an entire
" world of intersubjective intercourse," 2 of a

1 One of Professor James's last books is called A Pluralistic Universe,
and both he and Professor Dewey have always written under the
pressure of the sociological interest of modern times. In short, it is
obvious that the " reality " underlying the entire pragmatist polemic
against the hypothetical character of the reading of the world
afforded us by the sciences, is the social and personal life that is the
deepest thing in our experience.

2 This idea of a " world of inter-subjective intercourse," although
now a commonplace of sociology, was first expressed for the writer in
the first series of the Gifford Lectures of Professor James Ward upon
" Naturalism and Agnosticism," in chapters xv. and xvi. The first of
these chapters deals with " Experience and Life," and the second with
the " inter-subjective intercourse " that is really presupposed in the
so-called individual experience of which the old psychology used to
make so much. The reader who wishes to follow out a development
of this idea of a " world of inter-subjective intercourse " cannot do better
than follow the argument of Professor Ward's second series of Gifford
Lectures (" The Realm of Ends," or " Pluralism and Theism "), in which
he will find a Humanism and Theism that is at least akin to the theodicy,
or the natural theology, of which we might suppose Pragmatism to be
enamoured. The double series of these Lectures might well be referred
to as an instance of the kind of classical English work in philosophy of
which we have spoken as not falling into the extremes either of Prag-
matism or of Rationalism. The strong point of the " Realm of Ends,"
from the point of view of this book upon Pragmatism and Idealism,



PRAGMATISM AS HUMANISM 163

communion of thought, and feeling, and effort in
which, as persons, we share the common life of
persons, and are members one of another. 1

Truth itself, in fact, as may be seen, of course,
from the very connexion of the word truth with
other words like " try " 2 and " utter " (and in its

is that it moves from first to last in the reality of that world to which
the science and the philosophy of the day both seem to point the way.
In opposition to " subjectivism " it teaches a Humanism and a Pluralism
that we recognise as an expression of the realities of the world of our
common life and our common efforts, and from this Humanism it
proceeds to a Theism which its author seeks to defend from many of
the familiar difficulties of Naturalism. Were the writer concerned
with the matter of the development and the elaboration of the philo-
sophy that seems to have precipitated itself into his mind after some
years of reflection on the issues between the realists and the idealists,
between the rationalists and the pragmatists, he would have to begin
by saying that its outlines are at least represented for him in the theistic
and pluralistic philosophy of Professor Ward.

1 According to Professor Dawes Hicks in the Hibbert Journal for
April 191 3, there is a great deal in the articles of Professor Alexander on
" Collective Willing and Truth " that supports some of the positions I
am here attempting to indicate, as part of the outcome of the pragmatist-
rationalist controversy. " Both goodness and truth depend, in the first
place, on the recognition by one man of consciousness in others, and,
secondly, upon intersubjective intercourse " (p. 658).

2 I owe this reference (which I have attempted to verify) to a
suggestive and ingenious book (The New Word, by Mr. Allen Upward)
lent to me by a Montreal friend. Skeat, in his Dictionary, gives as the
meaning of truth, " firm, established, certain, honest, faithful," connect-
ing it with A.S. trlou, tryw (" preservation of a compact "), Teut. trewa,
saying that the " root " is " unknown." I suppose that similar things
might be said about the Greek word irebv in its different forms,
which Liddel and Scott connect with " Sans., satyas (verus), O. Nor.
Sannr, A.S. sdtk (sooth)." All this seems to justify the idea of the
social confirmation of truth for which I am inclined to stand, and the
connexion of intellectual truth with ethical truth, with the truth of
human life. I agree with Lotze that truths do not float above, or over,
or between, things, but that they exist only in the thought of a thinker,
in so far as he thinks, or in the action of a living being in the moment of
his action — the Microcosmos as quoted in Eisler, article " Wahrheit " in
the Worterbuch. The Truth for man would be the coherence of his



164 PRAGMATISM AND IDEALISM

root with words like " ware " and " verihood "), is
a social possession, implying both seekers and
finders, listeners and verifiers as well as speakers
and thinkers. Its existence implies a universe
of discourse, as the logicians put it, in which
thoughts and conceptions are elaborated and
corrected, not merely by a kind of self-analysis 1
and internal development, but by the test of the
action to which they lead and of the " re-
sponses " they awaken in the lives and thoughts
of other persons. And it is this very sociological 2
and " pluralistic " character of Pragmatism that,
along with its tendency to " affirmation " in the
matter of the reality of the religious life, has
helped to render it (as far as it goes) such a living
and such a credible philosophy to-day.

Another consequence of the dynamic idealism
and the " radical empiricism " of Pragmatism
is the " immediacy " of our contact with
reality, for which it is naturally inclined to stand

knowledge and his beliefs, and there is no abstract truth, or truth in and
for itself, no impersonal " whole " of truth.

1 As in the Hegelian dialectic.

2 There is another important thing to think of in connexion with
this sociological character of Pragmatism. It is a characteristic that
may be used to overcome what we have elsewhere talked of as
its " subjectivism " and its " individualism," and its revolutionary
tendencies. It is, we might urge, a social and a collective standard of
truth that Pragmatism has in view when it thinks of " consequences "
and of the test of truth. Lalande takes up this idea in an article in the
Revue Philosophique (1906) on " Pragmatisme et Pragmaticisme,"
pointing out that Dr. Peirce would apparently tend to base his prag-
matism on the subordination of individual to collective thought. Dr.
Schiller too, I think, contemplates this social test of truth in his would-
be revival of the philosophy of Protagoras — that man is the measure of
reality — for man.



PRAGMATISM AS HUMANISM 165

in the matter of what we may call the philosophy
of perception. What this new " immediacy "
and this new directness of our contact with reality
would mean to philosophical and scientific thought
can be fully appreciated only by those who have
made the effort of years to live in a " thought
world," in which the first reality is what the
logicians term " mediation " * or inference, a
world of thoughts without the reality of a really
effective thinker, or the reality of a world of real
action — a world from which it is somehow im-
possible to escape either honestly or logically.
It would be a return, of course, on the part of
the thinker to the direct sense of life with which
we are familiar in instinct and in all true living
and in all real thought, 2 in all honest effort and
accomplishment, and yet not a " return " in any
of the impossible senses in which men have often
(and with a tragic earnestness) sought to return
to Nature 3 and to the uncorrupted reality of things.

1 See below, p. 197, where we speak of this "mediation" as the
first fact for Professor Bosanquet as a prominent " Neo-Hegelian "
rationalist.

2 1 have been asked by a friendly critic if I would include " inference "
in this " real thought." I certainly would, because in all real inference
we are, or ought to be, concerned with a real subject-matter, a set of
relations among realities of one kind or another. Possibly all students
in all subjects (especially in philosophy) have lost time in following out
a set of inferences in and for themselves. But such a procedure is
justified by the increased power that we get over the real subject-matter
of our thought. When thought cannot be thus checked by the idea
of such increased power, it is idle thought.

3 I am thinking, of course, of the entire revolutionary and radical
social philosophy that harks back (in theory at least) to the " Social
Contract " and to the State of Nature philosophy of Rousseau and his
associates and predecessors.



166 PRAGMATISM AND IDEALISM

And we have not indeed done justice to the
" instrumentalism " and the " hypothetical "
treatment of ideas and of systems of thought for
which Pragmatism and Humanism both stand
until we see that so far from its being (almost in
any sense) the duty of the thinker to justify, to
his philosophy, this direct contact with the infinite
life of the world, that has been the common
possession of countless mortals who have lived
their life, it is, on the contrary, his duty to justify
(to himself and to his public) the various thought-
systems of metaphysic, by setting forth the various
points of departure and the various points of
contact they have in the reality of the life of
things. 1

We spoke at the close of our fourth chapter
of the strange irony that may be discovered in
the fate of philosophers who have come to attach
a greater importance to their own speculations
and theories than to the great reality (whatever
it may be, or whatever it may prove itself to be)
of which all philosophy is but an imperfect
(although a necessary) explanation. And the
reader has doubtless come across the cynical
French definition of metaphysics as the " art of
losing one's way systematically " 2 (Vart de sigarer

1 See p. 184 of Chapter VII., where I speak of the ability to do this
as the invariable possession of the successful American teacher of
philosophy.

2 An equivalent of it, of course, exists in many sayings, in many
countries, in the conception of the task of the metaphysician as that of
" a blind man in a dark room hunting for a black cat which — is not
there," reproduced by Sir Ray Lankester in the recent book of H. S. R.



PRAGMATISM AS HUMANISM 167

avec methode). In view of all this, and in view of
all the inevitable pain and difficulty of the solitary
thinkers of all time, it is indeed not the least part
of the service of Pragmatism and Humanism, and
of the " vitalistic ' and " voluntaristic ' philo-
sophy with which it may be naturally associated
to-day, to have compelled even metaphysicians
to feel that it is the living reality of the world
that we know and that we experience, that is first,
last, and foremost the real subject-matter of
philosophy.

With the real sceptic, then, with David
Hume, we may indeed be " diffident " of our
" doubts " and at the same time absolutely " free "
and unprejudiced in our hold upon, and in our
treatment of, metaphysical systems as, all of them,
but so many more or less successful attempts to
state and explain, in terms appreciable by the
understanding and the reason, the character and
the reality of the infinite life with which we are in
contact in our acts and in our thoughts and in our
aspirations. Of the reality of that life we can
never be sceptical, for it is the life that we know
in that " world of inter-subjective " intercourse
that, according to Pragmatism and Humanism,
is implied even in sense-perception and in our
daily experience.

Eliot, Modern Science and the Illusions of Bergson. There is generally an
error or a fallacy in such descriptions of philosophy — in this Lankester
story the error that the secret of the world is a kind of " thing in itself "
out of all relation to everything we know and experience — the very error
against which the pragmatists are protesting.



CHAPTER VII

PRAGMATISM AS AMERICANISM

In adopting the title he has chosen for the heading
of this chapter the writer feels that he has laid
himself open to criticism from several different
points of view. What has philosophy as the
universal science to do with nationalism or with
any form of national characteristics ? Then even
if Pragmatism be discovered to be to some extent
" Americanism " in the realm of thought, is this
finding, or criticism, a piece of appreciation or a
piece of depreciation ? And again, is it possible
for any individual to grasp, and to understand,
and to describe such a living and such a far-
reaching force as the Americanism of to-day ?

The following things may be said by way of a
partial answer to these reflections : (i) There are
American characteristics in Pragmatism, and some
of them may profitably be studied by way of an
attempt to get all the light we can upon its essential
nature. Their presence therein has been detected
and recognized by critics, both American and
foreign, and reference has already been made to

168



PRAGMATISM AS AMERICANISM 169

some of them in this book. (2) There is no
universal reason in philosophy apart from its
manifestation in the thoughts and the activities
of peoples who have made or who are making their
mark upon human history. It may well be that
the common reason of mankind has as much to
learn from Americanism in the department of
theory as it has already been obliged to learn from
this same quarter in the realm of practice. (3)
One of the most important phases of our entire
subject is precisely this very matter of the appli-
cation of philosophy to " practice," of the in-
separability, to put it directly, of " theory " and
" practice." It would surely, therefore, be the
strangest kind of conceit (although signs of it
still exist here and there) x to debar philosophy

1 Mr. Bertrand Russell, for example, seems to me to have the
prejudice that philosophy is at its best only when occupied with studies
which (like the mathematics of his affections) are as remote as possible
from human life. " Real life is," he says, " to most men a long second-
best, a perpetual compromise between the ideal and the possible ; but
the world of pure reason knows no compromise, no practical limitations,
no barrier to the creative activity embodying in splendid edifices the
passionate aspiration after the perfect form from which all great work
springs. Remote from human passions, remote even from the pitiful
facts of nature, the generations have gradually created an ordered
cosmos where pure thought can dwell as in its natural home, and where
one, at least, of our nobler impulses can escape from the dreary exile
of the actual world." I cannot — as I have indicated elsewhere in
regard to Mr. Russell — see for one moment how there is any justification
for looking upon this " ordered cosmos " of mathematical physics as
anything other than an abstraction from the real world with which
we are acquainted. It is the creation of only one of our many human
interests. And I cannot see that the thought that occupies itself with
this world is any nobler than the thought that occupies itself with the
more complex worlds of life, and of birth and death, and of knowledge
and feeling and conduct. Mr. Russell might remember, for one thing,
that there have been men (Spinoza among them) who have attempted



170 PRAGMATISM AND IDEALISM

from the study of such a practical thing as the
Americanism of to-day. To connect the two
with any degree of success would certainly not
be to depreciate Pragmatism, but to strengthen
it by relating it to a spirit that is affecting the
entire life and thought of mankind.

One or two other important considerations
should also be borne in mind. It goes without
saying that there are in the United States and
elsewhere any number of Americans who see
beyond both contemporary Pragmatism and
contemporary Americanism, and to whom it
would be, therefore, but a partial estimate of
Pragmatism to characterize it as " Americanism."
So much, to be sure, might be inferred from some
things that have already been said in respect of
the reception and the fate of Pragmatism in its own
country. Again, it is one of the errors of the day
to think of Americanism as in the main merely
a belief in " practicality " and " efficiency." To
those who know it, Americanism is practical
idealism, and its aims, instead of being merely
materialistic and mechanical, are idealistic to
the point of being Utopian. The American belief
in work is not really a belief in work for its


1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 13 15 16 17 18 19 20 21

Online LibraryWilliam CaldwellPragmatism and idealism → online text (page 13 of 21)