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abundantly proved to us, that in the work-a-day lives of the very
humblest of men spiritual phenomena manifest themselves — mysterious,
direct workings, that bring soul nearer to soul " (ibid. 33). " Is it
to-day or to-morrow that moulds us ? Do we not all spend the greater
part of our lives under the shadow of an event that has not yet come
to pass ? " (ibid. 51). I do not of course for one moment imply that
the facts of experience referred to in such sentences as these should be
received at any higher value than their face value, for there are indeed
many considerations to be thought of in connexion with this matter
of the realization of our plans and our destiny as individuals. But I
do mean that the beliefs to which men cling in this respect are just as
much part of the subject-matter of philosophy as other beliefs, say the
belief in truth as a whole, or the beliefs investigated by the Society for
Psychical Research. And there may conceivably be a view of human
nature upon which the beliefs in question are both natural and rational.

a See p. 101.


plishment of ends and of the right must, in other
words, be rationally believed by him to be part
of the nature of things. It is this conviction,
we feel sure, that animates Pragmatism in the
opposition it shares both with common sense and
with the radical thought of our time against the
meaninglessness to Hegelianism, or to Absolutism, 1
many of the hopes and many of the convictions
that we feel to be so necessary and so real in the
life of mankind generally.

And there are other lines of reflection among
Neo-Hegelians against which Pragmatism is
equally determined to make a more or less definite
protest, in the interest, as before, of our practical
and of our moral activity. We may recall, to
begin with, the memorable words of Mr. Bradley,
in his would-be refutation of the charge that the
ideals of Absolutism " to some people " fail to
" satisfy our nature's demands." " Am I," he
indignantly asks, " to understand that we are to
have all we want, and have it just as we want
it ? " adding (almost in the next line) that he
" understands," of course, that the " views " of
Absolutism, or those of any other philosophy, are
to be compared " only with views " that aim at
"theoretical consistency" and not with mere
practical beliefs. 2 Now, speaking for the moment
for Pragmatism, can it be truly philosophical to

1 See p. 198 on Dr. Bosanquet's dismissal of the problem of teleology
from the sphere of reasoned philosophy.

2 Appearance and Reality, p. 561.


contemplate with equanimity the idea of any such
ultimate conflict as is implied in these words
between the demands of the intellect 1 and the
demands of emotion — to use the term most
definitely expressive of a personal, as distinct
from a merely intellectual satisfaction ?

Then again there is, for example, the dictum
of Dr. McTaggart, that there is " no reason to trust
God's goodness without a demonstration which
removes the matter from the sphere of faith." 2
May there not, we would ask, be a view of things
according to the truth of which the confidence
of the dying Socrates in the reasonableness
and the goodness of God are at least as reason-
able as his confession, at the same time, of his
ignorance of the precise, or the particular, fate
both of the just and of the unjust ? And is not,
too, such a position as that expressed in these
words of Dr. McTaggart's about a logically com-
plete reason for believing in the essential
righteousness of things now ruled out of court by
some of the concessions of his brother rationalists
to Pragmatism, to which reference has already been
made ? It is so ruled out, for example, even by
Mr. Bradley's condemnation as a " pernicious
prejudice " of the idea that " what is wanted for
working purpose is the last theoretical certainty
about things." 3

1 See p. 155.

a I think that I have taken this phrase from Some Dogmas of
Religion. 8 From " Truth and Copying," Mind, No. 62.



It requires now but a slight degree of penetration
to see that beneath this entire matter of an
apparent opposition between our " theoretical "
and our " practical " satisfaction, and beneath
much of the pragmatist insistence upon the
" consequences " of ideas and of systems of
thought, there is the great question of the simple
fact of human action and of its significance for
philosophy. And it might truly be said that the
raising of this question is not merely another of
the more or less definitely marked features of
Pragmatism, but in some respects it is one out-
standing characteristic.

For some reason or other, or for some strange
combination of reasons, the phenomenon that
we call "action" 1 (the activity of man as an

1 By action in this chapter and elsewhere in this book, I do not mean
the mere exhibition or expenditure of physical energy. I mean human
activity in general, inclusive of the highest manifestations of this
activity, such as the search for truth, contemplation, belief, creative
activity of one kind or another, and so on. There is no belief and no
contemplation that is not practical as well as theoretical, no truth that
fails to shape and to mould the life of the person who entertains it. I



agent) and the apparently simple facts of the
reality and the intelligibility of action have long
been regarded as matters of altogether secondary
or subordinate importance by the rationalism of
philosophy and by the mechanical philosophy of
science. This Rationalism and this ostensibly
certain and demonstrable mechanical philosophy
of science suppose that the one problem of
human thought is simply that of the nature of
truth or of the nature of reality (the reality
of the " physical " world) as if either (or each)
of these things were an entity on its own
account, an absolutely final finding or considera-
tion. That this has really been the case so far
as philosophy is concerned is proved by the fact
even of the existence of the many characteristic
deliverances and concessions of Rationalism in
respect of Pragmatism to which reference has
already been made in the preceding chapter.
And that it has also been the case so far as
science is concerned is proved by the existence
of the many dogmatic attempts of many natural
philosophers from Holbach to Haeckel to apply
the " iron laws " of matter and motion to the

quite agree with Maeterlinck, and with Bergson and others, that the
soul is to some extent limited by the demands of action and speech,
and by the duties and the conventions of social life, but I still believe
in the action test for contemplations and thoughts and beliefs and ideas,
however lofty. It is only the thoughts that we can act out, that we can
consciously act upon in our present human life, and that we can persuade
others to act upon, that are valuable to ourselves and to humanity. It
is to their discredit that so many men and so many thinkers entertain,
and give expression to, views about the universe which renders their
activities as agents and as thinkers and as seekers quite inexplicable.


reality of everything else under heaven, 1 and of
everything in the heavens in spite of the frequent
confessions of their own colleagues with regard to
the actual and the necessary limits and limitations
of science and of the scientific outlook.

Only slowly and gradually, as it were, has the
consideration come into the very forefront of our
speculative horizon that there is for man as a
thinking being no rigid separation between theory
and practice, between intellect and volition,
between action and thought, between fact and
act, between truth and reality. 2 There is clearly
volition or aim, for example, in the search after
truth. And there is certainly purpose in the
attention 3 that is involved even in the simplest

1 There are, of course, no heavens in the old mediaeval and
Aristotelian sense after the work of Copernicus and Galileo in the
physical sciences, and of Kant in the realm of mind.

2 Professor Moore well points out (Pragmatism and its Critics, p. 13)
that the " challenge " of the idea that our thinking has " two founda-
tions : one, as the method of purposing — its ' practical ' function ; the
other as merely the expression of the specific and independent instinct
to know — its ' intellectual ' function," marks the " beginnings of the
pragmatic movement." The idea of two kinds of thought goes back to
Aristotle and is one of the most famous distinctions of thought. It
dominated the entire Middle Ages, and it is still at the root of the false
idea that " culture " can be separated from work and service for the
common good. I am glad, as I indicate in the text, a few lines further
on, that the idealists are doing their share with the pragmatists in
breaking it up. In America there is no practical distinction between
culture and work. See my chapter on Pragmatism as Americanism.

8 The importance of this consideration about the " attention " that
is (as a matter of fact and a matter of necessity) involved in all " percep-
tion," cannot possibly be exaggerated. We perceive in childhood and
throughout life in the main what interests us, and what affects our total
and organic activity. It is, that is to say, our motor activity, and its
direction, that determine what we see and perceive and experience.
And in the higher reaches of our life, on the levels of art and religion
and philosophy, this determining power becomes what we call our


piece of perception, the selection of what interests
and affects us out of the total field of vision or ex-
perience. And it is equally certain that there
is thought in action — so long, that is to say,
as action is regarded as action and not as im-
pulse. Again, the man who wills the truth
submits himself to an imperative just as surely
as does the man who explicitly obeys the law of
duty. It is thus impossible, as it were, even
in the so-called intellectual life, to distinguish
absolutely between theoretical and practical con-
siderations — "truth" meaning invariably the
relations obtaining in some " sphere," or order,
of fact which we separate off for some purpose or
other from the infinite whole of reality. Equally
impossible is it to distinguish absolutely between
the theoretical and the practical in the case
of the highest theoretical activity, in the case,
say, of the " contemplation " that Aristotle talks
of as the most " godlike " activity of man. This
very contemplation, as our Neo-Hegelian * friends

reason and our will and our selective attention. Perception, in other
words, is a kind of selective activity, involving what we call impulse
and effort and will. Modern philosophy has forgotten this in its
treatment of our supposed perception of the world, taking this to
be something given instead of something that is constructed by our
activity. Hence its long struggle to overcome both the apparent
materialism of the world of the senses, and the gap, or hiatus, that
has been created by Rationalism between the world as we think it, and
the world as it really is.

1 E.g. Professor Bosanquet, in his 1908 inaugural lecture at St.
Andrews upon The Practical Value of Moral Philosophy. " Theory
does indeed belong to Practice. It is a form of conation " (p. 9). It
" should no doubt be understood as Theoria, or the entire unimpeded life
of the soul" (p. 11 ; italics mine).


are always reminding us, is an activity that is
just as much a characteristic of man, as is his
power of setting his limbs in motion.

We have referred to the desire of the prag-
matists to represent, and to discover, a supposedly
deeper or more comprehensive view of human
nature than that implicitly acted upon by In-
tellectualism — a view that should provide, as
they think, for the organic unity of our active
and our so-called reflective tendencies. This
desire is surely eminently typical of what we
would like to think of as the rediscovery by
Pragmatism for philosophy, of the active, or
the volitional, aspects of the conscious life of
man, and along with this important side of our
human nature, the reality also of the activities
and the purposes that are revealed in what
we sometimes speak of as unconscious nature.
The world we know, it would hold, in the spirit
and almost in the letter of Bergson, lives and
grows by experiment, 1 and by activities and pro-
cesses and adjustments. Pragmatism has doubt-
less, as we pointed out, been prone to think of
itself as the only philosophy that can bake bread,
that can speak to man in terms of the actual life
of effort and struggle that he seems called upon
to live in the environment in which he finds him-
self. And, as we have just been insisting, the

1 This is surely the teaching of the new physics in respect of the
radio-active view of matter. I take up this point again in the Bergson



main ground of its hostility to Rationalism is the
apparent tendency of the latter to treat the various
concepts and hypotheses that have been devised
to explain the world, and to render it intelligible,
as if they were themselves of more importance
than the real persons and the real happenings
that constitute the world of our experience. 1

If it were at all desirable to recapitulate to
any extent those phenomena connected with
Pragmatism that seem to indicate its rediscovery
of the fact of action, and of the fact of its meaning
for philosophy, as its one outstanding characteristic,
we may point to such considerations as the follow-
ing : (i) The fact of its having sought to advance
from the stage of a mere " instrumentalist " view
of human thought to that of an outspoken
1 ' humanism ' ' or a socialized utilitarianism. (2) The
fact of its seeking to leave us (as the outcome
of philosophy) with all our more important
" beliefs," with a general " working " view of the
world in which such things as religion and ideals
and enthusiasm are adequately recognized.
Pragmatism is really, as we have put it, more
interested in belief than in knowledge, the former
being to it the characteristic, the conquering
attitude of man to the world in which he finds
himself. (3) Its main object is to establish a
dynamical view of reality, as that which is
" everywhere in the making," as that which
signifies to every person firstly that aspect of the

1 See p. 238.


life of things in which he is for the time being
most vitally interested. 1 (4) In the spirit of the
empirical philosophy generally its main anxiety
is to do the fullest justice to all the aspects of
our so-called human experience, looking upon
theories and systems as but points of view
for the interpretation of this experience, and of
the great universal life that transcends it. And
proceeding upon the theory that a true meta-
physic must become a true " dynamic " or a true
incentive to human motive, it seeks the relation-
ships and affiliations that have been pointed out
with all the different liberating and progressive
tendencies in the history of human thought.
(5) It would " consult moral experience directly,"
finding in the world of our ordinary moral and
social effort a spiritual reality 2 that raises the
individual out of and above and beyond himself.
And it bears testimony in its own more or less
imperfect manner to the autonomous element 3 in
our human personality that, in the moral life, and
in such things as religious aspiration and creative
effort and social service, transcends the merely
theoretical descriptions of the world with which
we are familiar in the generalizations of science
and of history.

Without attempting meanwhile to probe at all
deeply into this pragmatist glorification of "action"
and its importance to philosophy, let us think of a

1 See p. 143 or p. 229 (note).

2 See p. 34 in Chapter II. in reference to the idea of M. Blondel.

3 See p. 147 and p. 265.


few of the considerations that may be urged in
support of this idea from sources outside those
of the mere practical tendencies and the affilia-
tions of Pragmatism itself.

There is first of all the consideration that it is
the fact of action that unites or brings together
what we call " desire " and what we call " thought,"
the world of our desires and emotions and the
world of our thoughts and our knowledge.
This is really a consideration of the utmost
importance to us when we think of what we have
allowed ourselves to call the characteristic dualism x
of modern times, the discrepancy that seems to
exist between the world of our desires and the
impersonal world of science — which latter world
educated people are apt to think of as the
world before which everything else must bend
and break, or at least bow. Our point here is not
merely that of the humiliating truth of the wisdom
of the wiseacres who used to tell us in our youth
that we will anyhow have to act in spite of all
our unanswered questions about things, but the
plain statement of the fact that (say or think what
we will) it is in conscious action that our desires
and our thoughts do come together, and that it is
there that they are both seen to be but partial
expressions of the one reality — the life that is
in things and in ourselves, and that engenders in
us both emotions and thoughts, even if the latter
do sometimes seem to lie " too deep for tears."

1 See p. 65, note 3.


It is with this life and with the objects and
aims and ends and realities that develop and
sustain it that all our thoughts, as well as all
our desires, are concerned. If action, therefore,
could only be properly understood, if it can some-
how be seen in its universal or its cosmic signific-
ance, there would be no discrepancy and no gap
between the world of our ideals and the world of
our thoughts. We would know what we want, 1 and
we would want and desire what we know we can
get — the complete development of our personality.
Again there is the evidence that exists in the
sciences of biology and anthropology in support
of the important role played in both animal
and human evolution by effort and choice and
volition and experimentation. " Already in the
contractibility of protoplasm and in the activities
of typical protozoons do we find ' activities ' that
imply 2 volition of some sort or degree, for there
appears to be some selection of food and some
spontaneity of movement : changes of direction,
the taking of a circuitous course in avoidance of
an obstruction, etc., indicate this." Then again,
" there are such things as the diversities in
secondary sexual characters (the ' after-thoughts
of reproduction ' as they are called), the endless
shift of parasites, the power of animals to alter
their coloration to suit environment, and the

1 Sec p. 192, note 3.

8 Needham, General Biology, 191 1. For the mention of this book as
a reliable recent manual I am indebted to my colleague, Professor
Willey of McGill University.


complex ' internal stimuli ' of the higher animals
in their breeding periods and activities, which
make us see only too clearly what the so-called
struggle for life has been in the animal world." . . .

Coming up to man let us think of what scientists
point out as the effects of man's disturbing
influence in nature, and then pass from these on
to the facts of anthropology in respect of the
conquest of environment by what we call invention
and inheritance and free initiative. " In placing
invention," says a writer of to-day in a recent
brilliant book, " at the bottom of the scale of
conditions [i.e. of the conditions of social develop-
ment], I definitely break with the opinion that
human evolution is throughout a purely natural
process. ... It is pre-eminently an artificial
construction." 1 Now it requires but the reflection
of a moment or two upon considerations such as
the foregoing, and upon the attested facts of
history as to the breaking up of the tyranny
of habit and custom by the force of reflec-
tion and free action and free initiative, to grasp
how really great should be the significance to
philosophy of the active and the volitional nature
of man that is thus demonstrably at the root not
only of our progress, but of civilization itself.

If it be objected that while there cannot,
indeed, from the point of view of the general
culture and civilization of mankind, be any
question of the importance to philosophy of the

1 Marett, Anthropology, p. 155.


active effort and of the active thought that underlie
this stupendous achievement, the case is perhaps
somewhat different when we try to think of the
pragmatist glorification of our human action from
the point of view of the (physical ?) universe as a
whole. 1 To this reflection it is possible here to say
but one or two things. Firstly, there is apparently
at present no warrant in science for seeking to
separate off this human life of ours from the
evolution of animal life in general. 2 Equally
little is there any warrant for separating the
evolution of living matter from the evolution of
what we call inanimate matter, not to speak of
the initial difficulty of accounting for things
like energy and radio-active matter, and the
evolution and the devolution that are calmly
claimed by science to be involved in the various
"systems' within the universe — apart from an
ordering and intelligent mind and will. There
is therefore, so far, no necessary presumption
against the idea of regarding human evolution as
at least in some sense a continuation or develop-
ment of the life that seems to pervade the uni-

1 Cf. supra, p. 101

2 So much may, I suppose, be inferred from the contentions (explicit
and implicit) of all biologists and evolutionists. Human life they all
seem to regard as a kind of continuity or development of the life of
universal nature, whether their theory of the origin of life be that of
(1) " spontaneous generation," (2) " cosmozoa " (germs capable of
life scattered throughout space), (3) " Preyer's theory of the continuity
of life," (4) " Pfliiger's theory of the chemical characteristics of proteid,"
or (5) the conclusion of Vervvorn himself, " that existing organisms are
derived in uninterrupted descent from the first living substance that
originated from lifeless substance" (General Physiology, p. 315).


verse in general. And then, secondly, there is the
familiar reflection that nearly all that we think
we know about the universe as a whole is but an
interpretation of it in terms of the life and the
energy that we experience in ourselves and in
terms of some of the apparent conditions of this
life and this energy. For as Bergson reminds
us, " As thinking beings we may apply the laws
of our physics to our world, and extend them to
each of the worlds taken separately, but nothing
tells us that they apply to the entire universe nor
even that such affirmation has any meaning ;
for the universe is not made but is being made
continually. It is growing perhaps indefinitely
by the addition of new worlds." 1

On the ground, then, both of science and of
philosophy 2 may it be definitely said that this
human action of ours, as apparently the highest
outcome of the forces of nature, becomes only too

1 Creative Evolution, pp. 245-5.

2 It is, I think, an important reflection that it is precisely in this very
reality of " action " that science and philosophy come together. That
all the sciences meet in the concept, or the fact, of action is, of
course, quite evident from the new knowledge of the new physics.
Professor M'Dougall has recently brought psychology into line with
the natural sciences by defining its subject-matter as the actions
or the " behaviour " of human beings and animals. And it is surely
not difficult to see that — as I try to indicate — it is in human behaviour
that philosophy and science come together. Another consideration
in respect of the philosophy of action that has long impressed me
is this. If there is one realm in which, more than anywhere else, our
traditional rationalism and our traditional empiricism really came
together in England, it is the realm of social philosophy, the realm of
human activity. It was the breaking down of the entire philosophy of

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Online LibraryWilliam CaldwellPragmatism and idealism → online text (page 8 of 21)