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to treat of human passions under the light of ascertainable laws, and
that it is (to say the very least) as legitimate for philosophy to seek
for reason and law in human life, and in the evolution of human
history, as in the abstract world of physical and mathematical science.
Can, too, a mathematical philosophy afford any final haven for the spirit
of man, without an examination of the mind of the mathematician and
of the nature of the concepts and symbols that he uses in his researches ?
There is a whole world of dispute and discussion about all these things.



PRAGMATISM AS AMERICANISM 171

own sake, but rather a faith in the endless possi-
bilities open to intelligent energy with resources
at its command. Lastly, it will here certainly
not be necessary either to think or to speak (even
if it were possible to do so) of all American
characteristics. 1

Among the American - like characteristics in
Pragmatism that have already made them-
selves apparent in the foregoing chapters are
its insistence upon " action " and upon the free
creative effort of the individual, its insistence
upon the man-made (or the merely human)
character of most of our vaunted truths, its
instrumentalism, its radicalism, 2 its empiricism

1 I have in view in fact only (or mainly) such American character-
istics as may be thought of in connexion with the newer intellectual
and social atmosphere of the present time, the atmosphere that im-
presses the visitor and the resident from the old world, the atmosphere
to the creation of which he himself and his fellow-immigrants have
contributed, as well as the native-born American of two generations
ago — to go no further back. I mean that anything like a far-reaching
analysis or consideration of the great qualities that go to make up the
" soul " of the United States is, of course, altogether beyond the sphere of
my attention for the present. I fully subscribe, in short, to the truth of
the following words of Professor Santayana, one of the most scholarly
and competent American students (both of philosophy and of life) of
the passing generation : " America is not simply a young country
with an old mentality ; it is a country with two mentalities, one a
survival of the beliefs and standards of the fathers, the other an expres-
sion of the instincts, practice, and discoveries of the younger generation.
In all the higher things of the mind — in religion, literature, in the moral
emotions, it is the hereditary spirit that still prevails, so much so, that
Mr. Bernard Shaw finds that America is a hundred years behind the
times." — " The Genteel Tradition in American Philosophy," in Winds of
Doctrine (p. 187).

2 A contemporary American authority, Professor Bliss Perry, in his
book upon The American Mind naturally singles out radicalism as
one of the well-marked characteristics of Americans. Among the other
characteristics of which he speaks are those of the " love of exaggera-



172 PRAGMATISM AND IDEALISM

(that is to say, its endless faith in experience),
its democratic character, and its insistence
upon the necessity to philosophy of a broad,
tolerant, all-inclusive view of human nature. So,
too, are its insistence upon the basal character
of belief, 1 and upon the importance of a creed
or a philosophy that really " works " in the lives
of intelligent men, its feeling of the inadequacy
of a merely scholastic or dialectical philosophy,
and even its quasi "practical' interpretation of
itself in the realms of philosophy and religion and
ethics — its confession of itself as a " corridor-
theory," as a point of approach to all the
different systems in the history of thought. In
addition to these characteristics we shall attempt
now to speak, in the most tentative spirit, firstly,
of some of the characteristics of American uni-
versity life of which Pragmatism may perhaps
be regarded as a partial expression or reflex,
and then after this, of such broadly -marked
and such well-known American characteristics
as the love of the concrete (in preference to
the abstract), the love of experiment and ex-

tion," " idealism," "optimism," "individualism," "public spirit." 1
refer, I think, to nearly all these things in my pages, although of course
I had not the benefit of Professor Perry's book in writing the present
chapter.

1 I am certainly one of those who insist that we must think of
America as (despite some appearances to the contrary — appearances
to be seen also, for example, in the West of Canada) fundamentally a
religious country. It was founded upon certain great religious ideas
that were a highly important counterpart to some of the eighteenth-
century fallacies about liberty and equality that exercised their
influence upon the fathers of the republic.



PRAGMATISM AS AMERICANISM 173

perimentation, an intolerance of doctrinairism
and of mere book-learning, the general demo-
cratic outlook on life and thought, the composite
or amalgam-like character of the present culture
of the United States, the sociological interest
that characterizes its people, and so on. All these
things are clearly to be seen in Pragmatism as a
would-be philosophical system, or as a preliminary
step in the evolution of such a system.

Owing very largely to the " elective " system
that still prevails in the universities of the United
States, Philosophy is there (to an extent some-
what inconceivable to the student of the European
continent) in the most active competition with
other studies, and the success of a professor of
philosophy is dependent on the success of his
method of presenting his subject to students
who all elect studies believed by them to be useful
or interesting or practically important. It has
long seemed to the writer that there is abundant
evidence in the writings of the pragmatists of this
inevitable attempt to make philosophy a " live "
subject in competition, say, with the other two
most popular subjects in American colleges, viz.
economics and biology. The importance to the
thought of to-day of biological and economic
considerations is one of the things most emphatic-
ally insisted upon by Professor Dewey in nearly
all his recent writings. 1 And both he and James

1 He has recently published a volume dealing especially with the
contributions of Biology and Darwinism to philosophy.



i 7 4 PRAGMATISM AND IDEALISM

— the fact is only too evident — have always written
under the pressure of the economic and socio-
logical interest of the American continent. And
even Schiller's Humanism has become, as we have
seen, very largely the metaphysics of the " evolu-
tionary process," a characterization which we make
below * as a kind of criticism of the philosophy of
Bergson. Our present point, however, is merely
that, owing to the generally competitive
character of the intellectual life there, this bio-
logical influence is felt more acutely in America
than elsewhere.

The one outstanding characteristic again of
every approved academic teacher in the United
States is his method of handling his subject, just
as the one thing that is claimed for Pragmatism by
its upholders is that it is particularly a "method-
ology " of thought rather than a complete philo-
sophy. To the university constituency of the
United States a professor without an approved
and successful method is as good as dead, for
no one would listen to him. The most manifest
sign, to be sure, of the possession of such an
effective method on the part of the university
lecturer is the demonstration of skill in the
treatment of his subject, in the " approach " that
he makes to it for the beginner, in his power
of setting the advanced student to work upon
fruitful problems, and of giving him a complete
" orientation " in the entire field under considera-

1 See p. 252.



PRAGMATISM AS AMERICANISM 175

tion. And then in addition to this he must be
able to indicate the practical and the educational
value of what he is teaching.

In his review of James's classical work upon
Pragmatism, Dewey, while indicating a number of
debatable points in the pragmatist philosophy,
declares emphatically his belief in that philosophy
as a method of " orientation." The title again of
Peirce's famous pamphlet was How to make Ideas
Clear — a phrase of itself suggestive enough of the
inquiring mind of the young student when
oppressed by apparently conflicting and com-
peting points of view. " We are acquainted with
a thing," says James, " as soon as we have learned
how to behave towards it, or how to meet the
behaviour we accept from it." In one of his
books he talks about physics, for example, as
giving us not so much a theory about things as
a " practical acquaintance " with bodies ; " the
power to take hold of them and handle them,"
indicating at the same time his opinion that this
way of regarding knowledge should be extended
to philosophy itself. All of this will serve as a
proof or illustration of the essentially " practical '
and " methodological ' conception of philosophy
taken by the pragmatists. Papini refers, we
remember, to the pragmatist philosophy as a
power of " commanding our material," of " manipu-
lating " for practical purposes the different
" thought-constructions " of the history of philo-
sophy. And those who have any familiarity



176 PRAGMATISM AND IDEALISM

with the early pragmatist magazine literature
know that the pragmatists used to be fond of
asking themselves such preliminary and " labora-
tory-like " inquiries as the following : " What is
truth known as ? ' " What is philosophy known
as? " " What are the different ' thought-levels '
upon which we seem to move in our ordin-
ary experience ? " They never exactly seem to "de-
fine ' philosophy for you, preferring to indicate
what it can do for you, and so on.

Turning now to the matter of American char-
acteristics that are broader and deeper than
the merely academic, we may find an illustra-
tion, for example, of the American practi-
cality and the love of the concrete (instead
of the abstract or the merely general) in the
following declaration of Professor James that
" the whole originality of Pragmatism, the whole
point in it, is its use of the concrete way of seeing.
It begins with concreteness and returns and ends
with it." Of the American love of novelty and
of interest we may find an illustration in the
determination of Pragmatism " never to discuss
a question that has absolutely no interest and no
meaning to any one." Of Pragmatism as an
exemplification of the American love of experiment,
and of experimentation, with a view to definite
and appreciable " returns," we may give the
following : "If you fully believe the pragmatic
method you cannot look on any such word,
i.e. ' God,' ' Matter,' ' Reason,' ' The Absolute,'



PRAGMATISM AS AMERICANISM 177

' Energy/ and such ' solving ' names, as closing
your quest. You must bring out in each word
its practical cash value, set it at work within the
stream of your experience. It appears less as a
solution then than as a programme for more work
and more particularly as an indication of the ways
in which existing realities may be changed." Of
the American intolerance for mere scholarship
and book-learning, and of the American inability
to leave any discovery or any finished product
alone without some attempt to " improve " upon
it or to put it to some new use, we may cite the
following : " When may a truth go into cold
storage in the encyclopaedias, and when shall it
come out for battle ? "

Another very strongly marked characteristic
of American life is the thoroughly eclectic and
composite character of its general culture and of
the general tone of its public life. American daily
life has become, as it were, a kind of social solvent,
a huge melting-pot for the culture and the habits
and the customs of peoples from all over the earth.
This also may be thought of as reflected in the
confessedly complex and amalgam-like character
of Pragmatism, in its boast and profession of being
a synthesis and a fusion of so many different
tendencies of human thought. As a juxtaposition,
or kind of compound solution, of such a variety
of things as the affirmations of religion, the
hypothetical method of science, realism, romanti-
cism, idealism, utilitarianism, and so on, it reminds

12



178 PRAGMATISM AND IDEALISM

us only too forcibly of the endless number of
social groups and traditions, the endless number
of interests and activities and projects to be seen
and felt in any large American city.

Still another general characteristic of American
life of which we may well think in connexion
with Pragmatism is the sociological interest of the
country, the pressure of which upon the prag-
matists and their writings has already been
referred to. The social problem in America has
now become * the one problem that is present with
everybody, and present most of all, perhaps,
with the European immigrant, who has for various
reasons hoped that he had left this problem behind
him. The effect of this upon Pragmatism is to be
seen, not merely in the very living hold that it is
inclined to take of philosophy and philosophical
problems, 2 but in the fact of its boast of being a
"way of living " as well as a " way of thinking."
We have examined this idea in our remarks upon
the ethics of Pragmatism.

Of course the outstanding temperamental
American characteristic that is most clearly seen
in Pragmatism is the great fact of the inevitable
bent of the American mind to action and to
accomplishment, — its positive inability to enter-
tain any idea, or any set of ideas upon any subject
whatsoever, without experiencing at the same

1 The crucial characteristics of the Presidential campaign of 191 2
clearly showed this.

2 We can see this in the many valuable studies and addresses of
Professor Dewey upon educational and social problems.



PRAGMATISM AS AMERICANISM 179

time the inclination to use these ideas for invention
and contrivance, 1 for organization and exploitation.
Any one who has lived in the United States must
in fact have become so habituated and so
accustomed to think of his thought and his
knowledge and his capacities in terms of their
possible social utility, that he simply cannot
refrain from judging of any scheme of thought or
of any set of ideas in the same light. Anywhere,
to be sure, in the United States will they allow a
man to think all he pleases about anything what-
soever — even pre-Socratic philosophy, say, or
esoteric Buddhism. And there is nothing indeed
of which the country is said, by those who know
it best, to stand so much in need as the most
persistent and the most profound thought about
all important matters. But such thought, it is
always added, must prove to be constructive and
positive in character, to be directed not merely
to the solution of useless questions or of questions
which have long ago been settled by others.

We shall now endeavour to think of the value 2

1 It is this fact, or the body of fact and tendency upon which it
rests, that causes Americans and all who know them or observe them, to
think and speak of the apparently purely " economic " or " business-
like " character of the greater part of their activities. Let me quote
Professor Bliss Perry here ..." the overwhelming preponderance of
the unmitigated business-man face [italics mine], the consummate mono-
tonous commonness of the pushing male crowd " (p. 158). " There
exists, in other words, in all classes of American society to-day, just as
there existed during the Revolution, during the ' transcendental '
movement, in the Civil War, an immense mass of unspiritualised,
unvitalised American manhood and womanhood " (p. 160).

3 And this despite of what I have called elsewhere the comparative
failure of Pragmatism to give a rational, and tenable account of
" personality " and of the " self."



180 PRAGMATISM AND IDEALISM

to philosophy and to the thought and practice of
the world (the two things are inseparable) of some
or all of these general and special characteristics
which we have sought to illustrate in Prag-
matism.

We might begin by suggesting the importance
to the world of the production and development
of a man of genius like James, 1 whose fresh and
living presentation of the problems of philosophy
(as seen by a psychologist) has brought the sense
of a lasting and far-reaching obligation upon his
fellow-students everywhere. In no more favour-
able soil could James have grown up into the range
and plenitude of his influence than in that of
America and of Harvard University, 2 that great

1 At the moment of his death (scribens est mortuus) James was
undoubtedly throughout the world the most talked -about English-
speaking philosopher, and nowhere more so than in Germany, the home
of the transcendentalism that he so doughtily and brilliantly attacked.
Stein says, for example, in his article upon "Pragmatism" (Archiv
fur Philosophie, 14, 1907, II. Ab.), that we "have had nothing like
it since Schopenhauer." I have often thought that James and his
work, along with the life and work of other notable American thinkers
(and along with the " lead " that America now certainly has over at
least England in some departments of study, like political and economic
science, experimental psychology, and so on), are part of the debt
America owed, some decades ago, to the Old World in the matter of
the training of many of her best professors — a debt she has long since
cancelled and overpaid. Readers, by the way, who desire more
authentic information about James and his work than the present
writer is either capable, or desirous, of giving in this book, may
peruse either the recent work of Professor Perry of Harvard upon
Present Philosophical Tendencies, or the work of M. Flournoy already
spoken of. Boutroux has a fine appreciation of the value of James's
philosophical work in the work to which I have already referred. And
there was naturally a crop of invaluable articles upon James in the
American reviews shortly after his death.

2 Think alone, for example, of what James says he learnt there from
a teacher like Agassiz : " The hours I spent with Agassiz so taught me



PRAGMATISM AS AMERICANISM 181

nursing-ground of the finest kind of American
imperialism. The great thing, of course, about
James was his invasion, through the activities of
his own personality, 1 of the realm of philosophical
rationalism by the fact and the principle of active
personality. His whole general activity was a
living embodiment of the principle of all human-
ism, that personality and the various phases of
personal experience are of more importance to
philosophy in the way of theory than any number
of supposedly self-coherent, rational or abstract
systems, than any amount of reasoning that is
determined solely by the ideal of conceptual
consistency.

Then again, it might be held that the entire
academic world of to-day has a great deal to learn
from the conditions under which all subjects
(philosophy included) are taught and investigated
in the typical American university of the day.
We have referred to the fact that the American
professor or investigator faces the work of instruc-

the difference between all possible abstractionists and all livers in the
light of the world's concrete fulness that I have never been able to
forget it." — From an article upon James in the Journal of Philosophy ,
ix. p. 527.

1 While this book was passing through the press my eye fell upon
the following words of Professor Santayana in respect of this very person-
ality of James : " It was his personal spontaneity, similar to that of
Emerson, and his personal vitality similar to that of nobody else.
Conviction and ideas came to him, so to speak, from the subsoil. He
had a prophetic sympathy with the dawning sentiments of the age, with
the moods of the dumb majority. His way of thinking and feeling
represents the true America, and represented in a measure the whole
ultra-modern radical world " {Winds of Doctrine, p. 205).



182 PRAGMATISM AND IDEALISM

tion and research in an environment replete with
all modern facilities and conveniences. 1 The very
existence of this environment along with the
presence throughout his country of university
men and workers from all over the world with all
their obvious merits and defects as " social types '
prevent him in a hundred ways from that slavery
to some one school of thought, to some one method
of research that is so often a characteristic of the
scholar of the old world. The entire information
and scholarship in any one science (say, philo-
sophy) is worth to him what he can make of it,
here and now, for himself and for his age and for
his immediate environment. He simply cannot
think of any idea or any line of reflection, in his
own or in any other field, without thinking at the
same time of its " consequences," immediate,
secondary, and remote. This inability is an
instance of the working of the pragmatist element

1 Including, say, the facilities of a completely indexed and authenti-
cated estimate of the work that has been done in different countries
upon his particular subject. It is easy to see that the habit and the
possibility of work in an environment such as this [and again and again
its system and its facilities simply stagger the European] is a thing
of the greatest value to the American professor so far as the idea of his
own best possible contribution to his age is concerned. Should he
merely do over again what others have done ? Or shall he try to work
in a really new field ? Or shall he give himself to the work of real
teaching, to the training of competent men, or to the " organization "
of his subject with his public ? It must be admitted, I think, that the
average American professor is a better teacher and guide in his subject
than his average colleague in many places in Europe. Hence the
justifiable discontent of many American students with what they
occasionally find abroad in the way of academic facilities for investiga-
tion and advanced study.



PRAGMATISM AS AMERICANISM 183

in scholarship and in thought with all its advantages
and disadvantages. 1

And it is true too, it might be held, even upon
the principles of Idealism that the mere facts of
knowledge (for they are as endless in number as
are the different points of view from which we may
perceive and analyse phenomena) are " worth " 2
to-day very largely only what they have meant
and what they may yet mean to human life, to
human thought, to civilization. While there is
certainly no useless truth and no utterly un-
important fact, it is quite possible to burden
and hamper the mind of youth with supposed
truths and facts that have little or no relevancy
to any coherent or any real point of view about
human knowledge and human interests either of
the past or the present. It is merely, for example,
in the light of the effects that they have had upon
the life and thought of humanity 3 that the great

1 The latter (it is perhaps needless to state) have long been perfectly
evident to all American teachers of the first rank in the shape, say, of
the worthless " research " that is often represented in theses and
studies handed in for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy, or for
other purposes. Anything that seems to be " work done," anything
that has attained to some " consequences " or other, has often been
published as studies and researches, and this despite the valuable things
that are to be associated with the idea of the pragmatist element in
American scholarship. The faults, too, of the undue specialization
that still obtains in many American institutions is also, as I have
indicated, becoming more and more apparent to American authorities.

2 I cannot see why idealists should have been so slow to accord to
Pragmatism the element of truth in this idea, and to admit that it
connects the pragmatist philosophy of " consequences " with the
idealist " value-philosophy."

3 The greater part, for example, of our British teaching and writing
about Kant and Hegel has taken little or no recognition of the



184 PRAGMATISM AND IDEALISM

philosophical systems of the past ought (after the
necessary period of preliminary study on the part
of the pupil) to be presented to students in uni-
versity lectures. A teacher who cannot set them
forth in this spirit is really not a teacher at all — a
man who can make his subject live again in the
thought of the present. 1

If the limits of our space and our subject
permitted of the attempt, we might easily con-


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Online LibraryWilliam CaldwellPragmatism and idealism → online text (page 14 of 21)