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realities. These devotees tend to forget in their
zeal that the pragmatist way of looking upon all
supposed first principles — that of the consideration
of their utility in and necessity as explanations of
our common experience and its realities — is the
only way of explaining their reality, even as

It requires to be added — so much may, indeed,
have already been inferred from the preceding
chapter — that, apart from their hint about the

prevailingly rationalistic and impersonal conception of knowledge and

1 In his sympathetic and characteristic review of James's " Prag-
matism " in the Journ. of Philos., 1908.

2 See p. 203 (the note) , and p. 263, where I suggest that no philosophy
can exist, or can possibly begin, without some direct contact with
reality, without the experience of some person or persons, without
assumptions of one kind or another.


highest truth being necessarily inclusive of the
highest human purposes, it is by no means easy
to find out from the pragmatists what they mean
by truth, or how they would define it. When
the matter is pressed home, they generally
confess that their attitude is in the main " psycho-
logical " rather than philosophical, that it is the
" making " of truth rather than its " nature "
or its " contents " or its systematic character
that interests them. It is the " dynamical "
point of view, as they put it, that is essential to
them. And out of the sphere and the associations
of this contention they do not really travel. They
will tell you what it means to hit upon this
particular way of looking upon truth, and how
stimulating it is to attempt to do so. And they
will give you many more or less artificial and
tentative, external, descriptions of their philosophy
by saying that ideas are " made for man," and
" not man for ideas," and so on. But, although
they deny both the common-sense view that truth
is a " correspondence " with external reality, and
the rationalist view that truth is a " coherent
system " on its own account, they never define
truth any more than do their opponents the
rationalists. It is a " commerce " and not a
" correspondence," they contend, a commerce *
between certain parts of our experience and
certain other parts, or a commerce between our
ideas and our purposes, but not a commerce with

1 See p. 162.


reality, for the making of truth is itself, in
their eyes, the making of reality.

Secondly, it is another familiar characteristic
of Pragmatism that, although it fails to give a
satisfying account either of truth or reality, the
one thing of which it is for ever talking of, as
fundamental to our entire life as men, is belief. 1
This is the one thing upon which it makes every-
thing else to hang — all knowledge and all action
and all theory. And it is, of course, its manifest
acceptance of belief as a fundamental principle of
our human life, and as a true measure of reality, that
has given to Pragmatism its religious atmosphere. 2
It is this that has made it such a welcome and
such a credible creed to so many disillusioned
and free-thinking people to-day, as well as to so
many of the faithful and the orthodox. " For,
in principle, Pragmatism overcomes the old
antithesis of Faith and Reason. It shows, on the
one hand, that faith must underlie all reason
and pervade it, nay, that at bottom rationality

1 In this attitude Pragmatism is manifestly in a state of rebellion
against " Platonism," if we allow ourselves to think of Pragmatism
as capable of confronting Plato. Plato, as we know, definitely sub-
ordinates " belief " to " knowledge " and " truth." " As being is to
becoming," he says, " so is truth to belief (Timaeus, Jowett's transla-
tion). To Plato belief is a conjectural, or imaginative, estimate
of reality ; it deals rather with " appearance " or " becoming " than
with " reality." " True being " he thinks of as revealed in the Ideas,
or the rational entities that are his development and transformation
of the " definition " of Socrates. Against all this rationalism Prag-
matism (it is enough meantime merely to indicate the fact) would have
us return to the common-sense, or the religious, position that it is in-
variably what we believe in that determines our notion of reality.

2 Cf. p 159.


itself is the supremest postulate of Faith." x
" Truth," again, as James reminds us, " lives in
fact for the most part on a credit system. Our
thoughts and beliefs [how literally true this is !]
pass so long as nobody challenges them, just as
bank-notes pass so long as nobody refuses them." 2
Now it requires but the reflection of a moment
to see that the various facts and considerations
upon which the two last quotations, and the
general devotion of Pragmatism to " belief," both
repose, are all distinctly in favour of the accept-
ability of Pragmatism at the present time. There
is nothing in which people in general are more
interested at the beginning of this twentieth
century than in belief. It is this, for example,
that explains such a thing as the great success
to-day in our English-speaking world of such an
enterprise as the Hibbert Journal of Philosophy
and Religion, or the still greater phenomenon of
the world-wide interest of the hour in the subject
of comparative religion. Most modern men, the
writer is inclined to think, believe 3 a great deal

1 From Dr. Schiller's Humanism.

3 Pragmatism, p. 207.

3 It is this dissatisfaction at once with the abstractions of science
and of rationalism and with the contradictions that seem to exist between
them all and the facts of life and experience as we feel them that
constitutes the great dualism, or the great opposition of modern times.
I do not wish to emphasize this dualism, nor do I wish to set forth faith
or belief in opposition to reason when I extract from both Pragmatism
and Idealism the position that it is belief rather than knowledge
that is our fundamental estimate of reality. I do not believe, as I
indicate in the text above, that this dualism is ultimate. It has come
about only from an unfortunate setting of some parts of our nature,
or of our experience in opposition to the whole of our nature, or the



more than they know, the chief difficulty
about this fact being that there is no recognized
way of expressing it in our science or in
our philosophy, or of acting upon it in our
behaviour in society. It is, however, only the
undue prominence of mathematical and physical
science since the time of Descartes 1 that has
made evidence and demonstration the main
consideration of philosophy instead of belief,
man's true and fundamental estimate of reality.

We have already 2 pointed out that one of the
main results of Pragmatism is the acceptance on
the part of its leading upholders of our fundamental

whole of our experience. That the opposition, however, between reason
and faith still exists in many quarters, and that it is and has been the
opposition of modern times, and that the great want of our times is a
rational faith that shall recall the world of to-day out of its endless
" distraction " (the word is Dr. Bosanquet's), I am certainly inclined
to maintain. In proof of this statement it is enough to recall things
like the words of Goethe about the conflict of belief and unbelief as the
unique theme of the history of the world, or the " ethical headache
which was literally a splitting headache," that Mr. Chesterton finds in
the minds of many of our great Victorian writers. I shall take leave of
it here with three references to its existence taken from the words or
the work of living writers. The first shall be the opposition which Mr.
Bertrand Russell finds in his Philosophical Essays (in the " Free Man's
Worship ") between the " world which science presents for our belief "
and the " lofty thoughts that ennoble his little day." The second shall
be the inconsistency that exists in Mr. Hugh S. R. Elliot's book upon
Modern Science and the Illusions of Professor Bergson, between his initial
acceptance of the mechanical, evolutionary system of modern science
and his closing acceptance of feeling and poetry and love as the " deepest
forms of happiness." The third shall be the declaration of Professor
Sir Henry Jones of Glasgow (in the Hibbert Journal, 1903) that " one
of the characteristics of our time is the contradiction that exists between
its practical faith in morality and its theoretical distrust of the con-
ceptions on which they rest."

1 See p. 203 (note). 8 See p. 7.


beliefs about the ultimately real and about
the realization of our most deeply cherished
purposes. In fact, reality in general is for them,
we may say — in the absence from their writings
of any better description, — simply that which we
can " will," or " believe in," as the basis for action
and for conscious " creative " effort, or construct-
ive effort. As James himself puts it in his book
on The Meaning of Truth : " Since the only
realities we can talk about are objects believed in,
the pragmatist, whenever he says ' reality,' means
in the first instance what may count for the man
himself as a reality, what he believes at the moment
to be such. Sometimes the reality is a concrete
sensible presence. ... Or his idea may be that
of an abstract relation, say of that between the
sides and the hypotenuse of a triangle. . . .
Each reality verifies and validates its own idea
exclusively ; and in each case the verification
consists in the satisfactorily-ending consequences,
mental or physical, which the idea was to set up."
We shall later have to refer to the absence
from Pragmatism of a criterion for achievement
and for " consequences." And, as far as philo-
sophical theories are concerned, these are all,
to the pragmatists, true or false simply in
so far as they are practically credible or not.
James is quite explicit, for example, about
Pragmatism itself in this regard. " No prag-
matist," he holds, " can warrant the objective
truth of what he says about the universe ; he can


only believe it." * There is faith, in short, for
the pragmatist, in every act, in every phase of
thought, the faith that is implied in the realiza-
tion of the purposes that underlie our attempted
acts and thoughts. They eagerly accept, for
example, the important doctrine of the modern
logician, and the modern psychologist, as to the
presence of volition in all " affirmation " and
" judgment/' seeing that in every case of affirma-
tion there is a more or less active readjustment
of our minds (or our bodies) to what either
stimulates or impedes our activity.

A third outstanding characteristic of Prag-
matism is the " deeper " view of human nature
upon which, in contrast to Rationalism, it supposes
itself to rest, and which it seeks to vindicate. It
is this supposedly deeper view of human nature for
which it is confessedly pleading when it insists,
as it is fond of doing, upon the connexion of
philosophy with the various theoretical and
practical pursuits of mankind, with sciences like
biology and psychology, and with social reform, 2
and so on. We have, it may be remembered,
already intimated that even in practical
America men have had their doubts about the
depth of a philosophy that looks upon man as
made in the main for action and achievement
instead of, let us say, the realization of his higher
nature. Still, few of the readers of James can

1 From Pragmatism and its Misunderstanders.
2 See p. 173.


have altogether failed to appreciate the significance
of some of the many eloquent and suggestive
paragraphs he has written upon the limitations
of the rationalistic " temperament " and of its
unblushing sacrifice of the entire wealth of human
nature and of the various pulsating interests of
men to the imaginary exigencies of abstract logic
and " system." x To him and to his colleagues (as
to Socrates, for that part of it) man is firstly a
being who has habits and purposes, and who can,
to some extent, control the various forces of his
nature through true knowledge, and in this very
discrepancy between the real and the ideal does
there lie for the pragmatists the entire problem
of philosophy — the problem of Plato, that of the
attainment of true virtue through true knowledge.
Deferring, however, the question of the success
of the pragmatists in this matter of the unfolding
of the true relation between philosophy and
human nature, let us think of a few of the teachings

1 " You will be surprised to learn, then, that Messrs. Schiller's and
Dewey's theories have suffered a hailstorm of contempt and ridicule.
All rationalism has risen up against them. In influential quarters,
Mr. Schiller in particular has been treated like an impudent school-boy
who deserves a spanking. I should not mention this but for the fact
that it throws so much light upon that rationalist temper to which I have
opposed the temper of pragmatism. Pragmatism is uncomfortable away
from facts. Rationalism is comfortable only in the presence of abstrac-
tions. This pragmatist talk about truths in the plural, about their
utility and satisfactoriness, about the success with which they ' work,'
etc., suggests to the typical intellectualist mind a sort of coarse, lame,
second-rate makeshift article of truth " (James, Pragmatism, pp. 66-
67; italics mine). The words about Rationalism being comfortable
only in the world of abstractions are substantiated by the procedure of
Bosanquet, to whom I refer in Chapter VIII., or by the procedure of
Mr. Bertrand Russell, referred to on p. 169.


of experience upon this truly important and
inevitable relation, which no philosophy indeed
can for one moment afford to neglect. Insistence
upon these facts or teachings and upon the reflec-
tions and criticisms to which they naturally give
rise is certainly a deeply marked characteristic
of Pragmatism.

Man, as has often been pointed out, is endowed
with the power of reflection, not so much to enable
him to understand the world either as a whole or
in its detailed workings as to assist him in the
further evolution of his life. His beliefs and
choices and his spiritual culture are all, as it were,
forces and influences in this direction. Indeed,
it is always the soul or the life principle that is
the important thing in any individual or any
people, so far as a place in the world (or in
" history ") is concerned.

Philosophers, as well as other men, often
exchange (in the words of Lecky) the " love of
truth " as such for the love of " the truth," that
is to say, for the love of the system and the
social arrangements that best suit their interests
as thinkers. And they too are just as eager as
other men for discipleship and influence and
honour. Knowledge with them, in other words,
means, as Bacon put it, " control " ; and even
with them it does not, and cannot, remain at
the stage of mere cognition. It becomes in the
end a conviction or a belief. And thus the
philosopher with his system (even a Plato, or a


Hegel) is after all but a part of the universe, to be
judged as such, along with other lives and other
systems — a circumstance hit off early in the
nineteenth century by German students when
they used to talk of one's being able (in Berlin)
to see the Welt-Geist (Hegel) " taking a walk " in
the Thiergarten.

Reality again, so far as either life or science
is concerned, means for every man that in which
he is most fundamentally interested — ions and
radium to the physicist of the hour, life to the
biologist, God to the theologian, progress to the
philanthropist, and so on.

Further, mankind in general is not likely to
abandon its habit of estimating all systems of
thought and philosophy from the point of view
of their value as keys, or aids, to the problem
of the meaning and the development of life as a
whole. There is no abstract " truth " or " good "
or " beauty " apart from the lives of beings who
contemplate, and who seek to create, such
things as truth and goodness and beauty.

To understand knowledge and intellect, again,
we must indeed look at them in their actual
development in connexion with the total vital
or personal activity either of the average or even
of the exceptional individual. And instead of
regarding the affections and the emotions as
inimical to knowledge, or as secondary and inferior
to it, we ought to remember that they rest in
general upon a broader and deeper attitude to


reality than does either the perception of the
senses 1 or the critical analysis of the under-
standing. In both of these cases is the knowledge
that we attain to limited in the main either to
what is before us under the conditions of time
and space, or to particular aspects of things that
we mark off, or separate, from the totality of
things. As Bergson reminds us, we " desire '
and " will " with the " whole " of our past, but
" think " only with " part " of it. Small wonder
then that James seeks to connect such a broad
phenomenon as religion with many of the un-
conscious factors (they are not all merely
" biological ") in the depth of our personality.
Some of the instincts and the phenomena that
we encounter there are things that transcend
altogether the world that is within the scope of
our senses or the reasoning faculties.

Truth, too, grows from age to age, and
is simply the formulated knowledge humanity
has of itself and its environment. And errors
disappear, not so much in consequence of their
logical refutation, as in consequence of their in-
utility and of their inability to control the life
and thought of the free man. Readers of Schopen-
hauer will remember his frequent insistence upon
this point of the gradual dissidence and dis-
appearance of error, in place of its summary

1 See p. 235 in the Bergson chapter where it is suggested that per-
ception is limited to what interests us for vital or for practical purposes.


Our " reactions " upon reality are certainly
part of what we mean by " reality," and our
philosophy is only too truly " the history of our
heart and life " as well as that of our intellectual
activity. The historian of philosophy invariably
acts upon a recognition of the personal and
the national and the epochal influence in the
evolution of every philosophical system. And
even the new, or the fuller conception of life to
which a given genius may attain at some stage
or other of human civilization will still inevitably,
in its turn, give place to a newer or a more perfect

Now Pragmatism is doubtless at fault in seeking
to create the impression that Rationalism would
seek to deny any, or all, of those characteristic
facts of human nature. Still, it is to some extent
justified in insisting upon their importance in view
of the sharp conflict (we shall later refer to it) that
is often supposed to exist between the theoretical
and the practical interests of mankind, and
that Rationalism sometimes seems to accept with
comparative equanimity. 1 What Pragmatism is
itself most of all seeking after is a view of human
nature, and of things generally, in which the fullest
justice is done to the facts upon which this very
real conflict 2 of modern times may be said to rest.

A fourth characteristic of Pragmatism is its
notorious " anti-intellectualism," 3 its hostility to

1 Cf. p. 92. 2 See p. 65.

3 See p. 234 upon the " anti-intellectualism " in the philosophy of


the merely dialectical use of terms and concepts
and categories, 1 to argumentation that is unduly
detached from the facts and the needs of our
concrete human experience. This anti-intellect-
ualism we prefer meantime to consider not so
much in itself and on its own account (if this be
possible with a negative creed) as in the light of the
results it has had upon philosophy. There is, for
example, the general clearing of the ground that
has undoubtedly taken place as to the actual or
the possible meaning of many terms or conceptions
that have long been current with the transcen-
dentalists, such as " pure thought," the ' 'Absolute,"
' truth ' in and for itself, philosophy as the
" completely rational " interpretation of experi-
ence, and so on. And along with this clearing of
the ground there are (and also in consequence
of the pragmatist movement) a great many recent,
striking concessions of Rationalism to practical,
and to common-sense, ways of looking at things,
the very existence of which cannot but have an
important effect upon the philosophy of the near
future. Among some of the more typical of these
are the following :

From Mr. F. H. Bradley we have the emphatic
declarations that the principle of dialectical
opposition or the principle of " Non-Contradic-
tion ' (formerly, to himself and his followers, the
" rule of the game " in philosophy) " does not
settle anything about the nature of reality " ;

1 See p. 4 and p. 237.


that " truth " is an " hypothesis," and that
" except as a means to a foreign end it is useless
and impossible " ; and " when we judge truth by
its own standard it is defective because it fails to
include all the facts," 1 and because its contents
" cannot be made intelligible throughout and
entirely " ; that " no truth is idle," and that " all
truth " has " practical " and aesthetic " con-
sequences " ; that there is "no such existing
thing as pure thought " ; 2 that we cannot separate

1 From " Truth and Copying," Mind, No. 62.

a From " Truth and Practice," in Mind. Cf. '* This denial of tran-
scendence, this insistence that all ideas, and more especially such ideas
as those of God, are true and real just so far as they work, is to myself
most welcome " (Bradley, in Mind, 1908, p. 227, " Ambiguity of
Pragmatism "). Mr. Bradley has of recent years made so many such
concessions, and has philosophized with such an admirable degree of
independence, and has (also admirably) attached so much weight to his
own experience of " metaphysics," and of other things besides, that
many thinkers like Knox and Dewey and Schiller have been discussing
whether he can any longer be regarded as a rationalist. One could
certainly study, profitably, the whole evolution of philosophy in
England during the last forty years by studying Mr. Bradley's
development. He never was, of course, a Hegelian in the complete
sense (who ever was ?), and he has now certainly abandoned an
abstract, formalistic Rationalism.

By way of an additional quotation or two from Mr. Bradley, typical
of his advance in the direction of the practical philosophy for which
Pragmatism stands, we may append the following : " I long ago pointed
out that theory takes its origin from practical collision [the main
contention of Professor Dewey and his associates]. // Pragmatism
means this, I am a pragmatist " (from an article in Mind on the
" Ambiguity of Pragmatism" — italics mine). " We may reject the limita-
tion of knowledge to the mere world of events which happen, and may
deny the claim of this world to be taken as an ultimate foundation.
Reality or the Good will be the satisfaction of all the wants of our
nature, and theoretical truth will be the perception of ideas which directly
satisfy one of those wants, and so invariably make part of the general satis-
faction. This is a doctrine which, to my mind, commends itself as
true, though it naturally would call for a great deal of explanation "
(from Mind, July 1904, p. 325). And, as typical of the kind of final


truth and practice ; that " absolute certainty is
not requisite for working purposes " ; that it is a
"superstition 1 to think that the intellect is the
highest part of us," and that it is well to attack
a one-sided " intellectualism " ; that both " in-
tellectualism " and " voluntarism " are " one-
sided," and that he has no " objection to identify-
ing reality with goodness or satisfaction, so long as
this does not mean merely practical satisfaction." 2
Then from this same author comes the following
familiar statement about philosophy as a whole :
" Philosophy always will be hard, and what it
promises in the end is no clear vision nor any
complete understanding or vision, but its certain

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Online LibraryWilliam CaldwellPragmatism and idealism → online text (page 6 of 21)