- P r a g m a t i s m ,
A N e w N a m e f o r S o m e
O l d W a y s o f T h i n k i n g
L e c t u r e V I I
P r a g m a t i s m a n d
H u m a n i s m
- What hardens the heart of everyone I approach with the view of truth sketched
in my last lecture is that typical idol of the tribe, the notion of THE Truth,
conceived as the one answer, determinate and complete, to the one fixed enigma
which the world is believed to propound. For popular tradition, it is all the
better if the answer be oracular, so as itself to awaken wonder as an enigma of
the second order, veiling rather than revealing what its profundities are
supposed to contain. All the great single-word answers to the world's riddle,
such as God, the One, Reason, Law, Spirit, Matter, Nature, Polarity, the
Dialectic Process, the Idea, the Self, the Oversoul, draw the admiration that
men have lavished on them from this oracular rôle. By amateurs in philosophy and
professionals alike, the universe is represented as a queer sort of petrified
sphinx whose appeal to man consists in a monotonous challenge to his divining
powers. THE Truth: what a perfect idol of the rationalistic mind! I read in an
old letter - from a gifted friend who died too young - these words: "In everything,
in science, art, morals and religion, there MUST be one system that is right and
EVERY other wrong." How characteristic of the enthusiasm of a certain stage of
youth! At twenty-one we rise to such a challenge and expect to find the system.
It never occurs to most of us even later that the question 'what is THE truth?'
is no real question (being irrelative to all conditions) and that the whole
notion of THE truth is an abstraction from the fact of truths in the plural, a
mere useful summarizing phrase like THE Latin Language or THE Law.
Common-law judges sometimes talk about the law, and school-masters talk about
the latin tongue, in a way to make their hearers think they mean entities
pre-existent to the decisions or to the words and syntax, determining them
unequivocally and requiring them to obey. But the slightest exercise of
reflexion makes us see that, instead of being principles of this kind, both law
and latin are results. Distinctions between the lawful and the unlawful in
conduct, or between the correct and incorrect in speech, have grown up
incidentally among the interactions of men's experiences in detail; and in no
other way do distinctions between the true and the false in belief ever grow up.
Truth grafts itself on previous truth, modifying it in the process, just as
idiom grafts itself on previous idiom, and law on previous law. Given previous
law and a novel case, and the judge will twist them into fresh law. Previous
idiom; new slang or metaphor or oddity that hits the public taste: - and presto, a
new idiom is made. Previous truth; fresh facts: - and our mind finds a new
All the while, however, we pretend that the eternal is unrolling, that the
one previous justice, grammar or truth is simply fulgurating, and not being
made. But imagine a youth in the courtroom trying cases with his abstract notion
of 'the' law, or a censor of speech let loose among the theatres with his idea
of 'the' mother-tongue, or a professor setting up to lecture on the actual
universe with his rationalistic notion of 'the Truth' with a big T, and what
progress do they make? Truth, law, and language fairly boil away from them at
the least touch of novel fact. These things MAKE THEMSELVES as we go. Our
rights, wrongs, prohibitions, penalties, words, forms, idioms, beliefs, are so
many new creations that add themselves as fast as history proceeds. Far from
being antecedent principles that animate the process, law, language, truth are
but abstract names for its results.
Laws and languages at any rate are thus seen to be man-made: things. Mr.
Schiller applies the analogy to beliefs, and proposes the name of 'Humanism' for
the doctrine that to an unascertainable extent our truths are man-made products
too. Human motives sharpen all our questions, human satisfactions lurk in all
our answers, all our formulas have a human twist. This element is so
inextricable in the products that Mr. Schiller sometimes seems almost to leave
it an open question whether there be anything else. "The world," he says, "is
essentially [u lambda nu], it is what we make of it. It is fruitless to define
it by what it originally was or by what it is apart from us; it IS what is made
of it. Hence ... the world is PLASTIC." 1) He
adds that we can learn the limits of the plasticity only by trying, and that we
ought to start as if it were wholly plastic, acting methodically on that
assumption, and stopping only when we are decisively rebuked.
This is Mr. Schiller's butt-end-foremost statement of the humanist position,
and it has exposed him to severe attack. I mean to defend the humanist position
in this lecture, so I will insinuate a few remarks at this point.
Mr. Schiller admits as emphatically as anyone the presence of resisting
factors in every actual experience of truth-making, of which the new-made
special truth must take account, and with which it has perforce to 'agree.' All
our truths are beliefs about 'Reality'; and in any particular belief the reality
acts as something independent, as a thing FOUND, not manufactured. Let me here
recall a bit of my last lecture.
'REALITY' IS IN GENERAL WHAT TRUTHS HAVE TO TAKE ACCOUNT OF; 2)
and the FIRST part of reality from this point of view is the flux of our
sensations. Sensations are forced upon us, coming we know not whence. Over their
nature, order, and quantity we have as good as no control. THEY are neither true
nor false; they simply ARE. It is only what we say about them, only the names we
give them, our theories of their source and nature and remote relations, that
may be true or not.
The SECOND part of reality, as something that our beliefs must also
obediently take account of, is the RELATIONS that obtain between our sensations
or between their copies in our minds. This part falls into two sub-parts: 1) the
relations that are mutable and accidental, as those of date and place; and 2)
those that are fixed and essential because they are grounded on the inner
natures of their terms - such as likeness and unlikeness. Both sorts of relation
are matters of immediate perception. Both are 'facts.' But it is the latter kind
of fact that forms the more important sub-part of reality for our theories of
knowledge. Inner relations namely are 'eternal,' are perceived whenever their
sensible terms are compared; and of them our thought - mathematical and logical
thought, so-called - must eternally take account.
The THIRD part of reality, additional to these perceptions (tho largely based
upon them), is the PREVIOUS TRUTHS of which every new inquiry takes account.
This third part is a much less obdurately resisting factor: it often ends by
giving way. In speaking of these three portions of reality as at all times
controlling our belief's formation, I am only reminding you of what we heard in
our last hour.
Now however fixed these elements of reality may be, we still have a certain
freedom in our dealings with them. Take our sensations. THAT they are is
undoubtedly beyond our control; but WHICH we attend to, note, and make emphatic
in our conclusions depends on our own interests; and, according as we lay the
emphasis here or there, quite different formulations of truth result. We read
the same facts differently. 'Waterloo,' with the same fixed details, spells a
'victory' for an englishman; for a frenchman it spells a 'defeat.' So, for an
optimist philosopher the universe spells victory, for a pessimist, defeat.
What we say about reality thus depends on the perspective into which we throw
it. The THAT of it is its own; but the WHAT depends on the WHICH; and the which
depends on US. Both the sensational and the relational parts of reality are
dumb: they say absolutely nothing about themselves. We it is who have to speak
for them. This dumbness of sensations has led such intellectualists as T.H.
Green and Edward Caird to shove them almost beyond the pale of philosophic
recognition, but pragmatists refuse to go so far. A sensation is rather like a
client who has given his case to a lawyer and then has passively to listen in
the courtroom to whatever account of his affairs, pleasant or unpleasant, the
lawyer finds it most expedient to give.
Hence, even in the field of sensation, our minds exert a certain arbitrary
choice. By our inclusions and omissions we trace the field's extent; by our
emphasis we mark its foreground and its background; by our order we read it in
this direction or in that. We receive in short the block of marble, but we carve
the statue ourselves.
This applies to the 'eternal' parts of reality as well: we shuffle our
perceptions of intrinsic relation and arrange them just as freely. We read them
in one serial order or another, class them in this way or in that, treat one or
the other as more fundamental, until our beliefs about them form those bodies of
truth known as logics, geometries, or arithmetics, in each and all of which the
form and order in which the whole is cast is flagrantly man-made.
Thus, to say nothing of the new FACTS which men add to the matter of reality
by the acts of their own lives, they have already impressed their mental forms
on that whole third of reality which I have called 'previous truths.' Every hour
brings its new percepts, its own facts of sensation and relation, to be truly
taken account of; but the whole of our PAST dealings with such facts is already
funded in the previous truths. It is therefore only the smallest and recentest
fraction of the first two parts of reality that comes to us without the human
touch, and that fraction has immediately to become humanized in the sense of
being squared, assimilated, or in some way adapted, to the humanized mass
already there. As a matter of fact we can hardly take in an impression at all,
in the absence of a pre-conception of what impressions there may possibly
When we talk of reality 'independent' of human thinking, then, it seems a
thing very hard to find. It reduces to the notion of what is just entering into
experience, and yet to be named, or else to some imagined aboriginal presence in
experience, before any belief about the presence had arisen, before any human
conception had been applied. It is what is absolutely dumb and evanescent, the
merely ideal limit of our minds. We may glimpse it, but we never grasp it; what
we grasp is always some substitute for it which previous human thinking has
peptonized and cooked for our consumption. If so vulgar an expression were
allowed us, we might say that wherever we find it, it has been already FAKED.
This is what Mr. Schiller has in mind when he calls independent reality a mere
unresisting [u lambda nu], which IS only to be made over by us.
That is Mr. Schiller's belief about the sensible core of reality. We
'encounter' it (in Mr. Bradley's words) but don't possess it. Superficially this
sounds like Kant's view; but between categories fulminated before nature began,
and categories gradually forming themselves in nature's presence, the whole
chasm between rationalism and empiricism yawns. To the genuine 'Kantianer'
Schiller will always be to Kant as a satyr to Hyperion.
Other pragmatists may reach more positive beliefs about the sensible core of
reality. They may think to get at it in its independent nature, by peeling off
the successive man-made wrappings. They may make theories that tell us where it
comes from and all about it; and if these theories work satisfactorily they will
be true. The transcendental idealists say there is no core, the finally
completed wrapping being reality and truth in one. Scholasticism still teaches
that the core is 'matter.' Professor Bergson, Heymans, Strong, and others,
believe in the core and bravely try to define it. Messrs. Dewey and Schiller
treat it as a 'limit.' Which is the truer of all these diverse accounts, or of
others comparable with them, unless it be the one that finally proves the most
satisfactory? On the one hand there will stand reality, on the other an account
of it which proves impossible to better or to alter. If the impossibility prove
permanent, the truth of the account will be absolute. Other content of truth
than this I can find nowhere. If the anti-pragmatists have any other meaning,
let them for heaven's sake reveal it, let them grant us access to it!
Not BEING reality, but only our belief ABOUT reality, it will contain human
elements, but these will KNOW the non-human element, in the only sense in which
there can be knowledge of anything. Does the river make its banks, or do the
banks make the river? Does a man walk with his right leg or with his left leg
more essentially? Just as impossible may it be to separate the real from the
human factors in the growth of our cognitive experience.
Let this stand as a first brief indication of the humanistic position. Does
it seem paradoxical? If so, I will try to make it plausible by a few
illustrations, which will lead to a fuller acquaintance with the subject.
In many familiar objects everyone will recognize the human element. We
conceive a given reality in this way or in that, to suit our purpose, and the
reality passively submits to the conception. You can take the number 27 as the
cube of 3, or as the product of 3 and 9, or as 26 PLUS 1, or 100 MINUS 73, or in
countless other ways, of which one will be just as true as another. You can take
a chessboard as black squares on a white ground, or as white squares on a black
ground, and neither conception is a false one. You can treat the adjoined figure
[Figure of a 'Star of David'] as a star, as two big triangles crossing each
other, as a hexagon with legs set up on its angles, as six equal triangles
hanging together by their tips, etc. All these treatments are true
treatments - the sensible THAT upon the paper resists no one of them. You can say
of a line that it runs east, or you can say that it runs west, and the line per
se accepts both descriptions without rebelling at the inconsistency.
We carve out groups of stars in the heavens, and call them constellations,
and the stars patiently suffer us to do so - tho if they knew what we were doing,
some of them might feel much surprised at the partners we had given them. We
name the same constellation diversely, as Charles's Wain, the Great Bear, or the
Dipper. None of the names will be false, and one will be as true as another, for
all are applicable.
In all these cases we humanly make an addition to some sensible reality, and
that reality tolerates the addition. All the additions 'agree' with the reality;
they fit it, while they build it out. No one of them is false. Which may be
treated as the more true, depends altogether on the human use of it. If the 27
is a number of dollars which I find in a drawer where I had left 28, it is 28
minus 1. If it is the number of inches in a shelf which I wish to insert into a
cupboard 26 inches wide, it is 26 plus 1. If I wish to ennoble the heavens by
the constellations I see there, 'Charles's Wain' would be more true than
'Dipper.' My friend Frederick Myers was humorously indignant that that
prodigious star-group should remind us Americans of nothing but a culinary
What shall we call a THING anyhow? It seems quite arbitrary, for we carve out
everything, just as we carve out constellations, to suit our human purposes. For
me, this whole 'audience' is one thing, which grows now restless, now attentive.
I have no use at present for its individual units, so I don't consider them. So
of an 'army,' of a 'nation.' But in your own eyes, ladies and gentlemen, to call
you 'audience' is an accidental way of taking you. The permanently real things
for you are your individual persons. To an anatomist, again, those persons are
but organisms, and the real things are the organs. Not the organs, so much as
their constituent cells, say the histologists; not the cells, but their
molecules, say in turn the chemists.
We break the flux of sensible reality into things, then, at our will. We
create the subjects of our true as well as of our false propositions.
We create the predicates also. Many of the predicates of things express only
the relations of the things to us and to our feelings. Such predicates of course
are human additions. Caesar crossed the Rubicon, and was a menace to Rome's
freedom. He is also an American school-room pest, made into one by the reaction
of our schoolboys on his writings. The added predicate is as true of him as the
You see how naturally one comes to the humanistic principle: you can't weed
out the human contribution. Our nouns and adjectives are all humanized
heirlooms, and in the theories we build them into, the inner order and
arrangement is wholly dictated by human considerations, intellectual consistency
being one of them. Mathematics and logic themselves are fermenting with human
rearrangements; physics, astronomy and biology follow massive cues of
preference. We plunge forward into the field of fresh experience with the
beliefs our ancestors and we have made already; these determine what we notice;
what we notice determines what we do; what we do again determines what we
experience; so from one thing to another, altho the stubborn fact remains that
there IS a sensible flux, what is true of it seems from first to last to be
largely a matter of our own creation.
We build the flux out inevitably. The great question is: does it, with our
additions, rise or fall in value? Are the additions WORTHY or UNWORTHY? Suppose
a universe composed of seven stars, and nothing else but three human witnesses
and their critic. One witness names the stars 'Great Bear'; one calls them
'Charles's Wain'; one calls them the 'Dipper.' Which human addition has made the
best universe of the given stellar material? If Frederick Myers were the critic,
he would have no hesitation in 'turning-down' the American witness.
Lotze has in several places made a deep suggestion. We naively assume, he
says, a relation between reality and our minds which may be just the opposite of
the true one. Reality, we naturally think, stands ready-made and complete, and
our intellects supervene with the one simple duty of describing it as it is
already. But may not our descriptions, Lotze asks, be themselves important
additions to reality? And may not previous reality itself be there, far less for
the purpose of reappearing unaltered in our knowledge, than for the very purpose
of stimulating our minds to such additions as shall enhance the universe's total
value. "Die Erhöhung des vorgefundenen Daseins" is a phrase used by Professor
Eucken somewhere, which reminds one of this suggestion by the great Lotze.
It is identically our pragmatistic conception. In our cognitive as well as in
our active life we are creative. We ADD, both to the subject and to the
predicate part of reality. The world stands really malleable, waiting to receive
its final touches at our hands. Like the kingdom of heaven, it suffers human
violence willingly. Man ENGENDERS truths upon it.
No one can deny that such a rôle would add both to our dignity and to our
responsibility as thinkers. To some of us it proves a most inspiring notion.
Signer Papini, the leader of italian pragmatism, grows fairly dithyrambic over
the view that it opens, of man's divinely-creative functions.
The import of the difference between pragmatism and rationalism is now in
sight throughout its whole extent. The essential contrast is that for
rationalism reality is ready-made and complete from all eternity, while for
pragmatism it is still in the making, and awaits part of its complexion from the
future. On the one side the universe is absolutely secure, on the other it is
still pursuing its adventures.
We have got into rather deep water with this humanistic view, and it is no
wonder that misunderstanding gathers round it. It is accused of being a doctrine
of caprice. Mr. Bradley, for example, says that a humanist, if he understood his
own doctrine, would have to "hold any end however perverted to be rational if I
insist on it personally, and any idea however mad to be the truth if only some
one is resolved that he will have it so." The humanist view of 'reality,' as
something resisting, yet malleable, which controls our thinking as an energy
that must be taken 'account' of incessantly (tho not necessarily merely COPIED)
is evidently a difficult one to introduce to novices. The situation reminds me
of one that I have personally gone through. I once wrote an essay on our right
to believe, which I unluckily called the WILL to Believe. All the critics,
neglecting the essay, pounced upon the title. Psychologically it was impossible,
morally it was iniquitous. The "will to deceive," the "will to make-believe,"
were wittily proposed as substitutes for it.
THE ALTERNATIVE BETWEEN PRAGMATISM AND RATIONALISM, IN THE SHAPE IN WHICH WE
NOW HAVE IT BEFORE US, IS NO LONGER A QUESTION IN THE THEORY OF KNOWLEDGE, IT
CONCERNS THE STRUCTURE OF THE UNIVERSE ITSELF.
On the pragmatist side we have only one edition of the universe, unfinished,
growing in all sorts of places, especially in the places where thinking beings
are at work.
On the rationalist side we have a universe in many editions, one real one,
the infinite folio, or edition de luxe, eternally complete; and then the various
finite editions, full of false readings, distorted and mutilated each in its own
So the rival metaphysical hypotheses of pluralism and monism here come back
upon us. I will develope their differences during the remainder of our hour.
And first let me say that it is impossible not to see a temperamental
difference at work in the choice of sides. The rationalist mind, radically
taken, is of a doctrinaire and authoritative complexion: the phrase 'must be' is
ever on its lips. The belly-band of its universe must be tight. A radical
pragmatist on the other hand is a happy-go-lucky anarchistic sort of creature.
If he had to live in a tub like Diogenes he wouldn't mind at all if the hoops
were loose and the staves let in the sun.
Now the idea of this loose universe affects your typical rationalists in much
the same way as 'freedom of the press' might affect a veteran official in the
russian bureau of censorship; or as 'simplified spelling' might affect an
elderly schoolmistress. It affects him as the swarm of protestant sects affects
a papist onlooker. It appears as backboneless and devoid of principle as
'opportunism' in politics appears to an old-fashioned french legitimist, or to a
fanatical believer in the divine right of the people.
For pluralistic pragmatism, truth grows up inside of all the finite
experiences. They lean on each other, but the whole of them, if such a whole
there be, leans on nothing. All 'homes' are in finite experience; finite
experience as such is homeless. Nothing outside of the flux secures the issue of
it. It can hope salvation only from its own intrinsic promises and
To rationalists this describes a tramp and vagrant world, adrift in space,
with neither elephant nor tortoise to plant the sole of its foot upon. It is a
set of stars hurled into heaven without even a centre of gravity to pull
against. In other spheres of life it is true that we have got used to living in
a state of relative insecurity. The authority of 'the State,' and that of an
absolute 'moral law,' have resolved themselves into expediencies, and holy
church has resolved itself into 'meeting-houses.' Not so as yet within the
philosophic class-rooms. A universe with such as US contributing to create its
truth, a world delivered to OUR opportunisms and OUR private judgments!
Home-rule for Ireland would be a millennium in comparison. We're no more fit for
such a part than the Filipinos are 'fit for self-government.' Such a world would
not be RESPECTABLE, philosophically. It is a trunk without a tag, a dog without
a collar, in the eyes of most professors of philosophy.
What then would tighten this loose universe, according to the professors?
Something to support the finite many, to tie it to, to unify and anchor it.
Something unexposed to accident, something eternal and unalterable. The mutable
in experience must be founded on immutability. Behind our de facto world, our
world in act, there must be a de jure duplicate fixed and previous, with all
that can happen here already there in posse, every drop of blood, every smallest
item, appointed and provided, stamped and branded, without chance of variation.
The negatives that haunt our ideals here below must be themselves negated in the
absolutely Real. This alone makes the universe solid. This is the resting deep.
We live upon the stormy surface; but with this our anchor holds, for it grapples
rocky bottom. This is Wordsworth's "central peace subsisting at the heart of
endless agitation." This is Vivekananda's mystical One of which I read to you.
This is Reality with the big R, reality that makes the timeless claim, reality
to which defeat can't happen. This is what the men of principles, and in general
all the men whom I called tender-minded in my first lecture, think themselves
obliged to postulate.
And this, exactly this, is what the tough-minded of that lecture find
themselves moved to call a piece of perverse abstraction-worship. The
tough-minded are the men whose alpha and omega are FACTS. Behind the bare
phenomenal facts, as my tough-minded old friend Chauncey Wright, the great
Harvard empiricist of my youth, used to say, there is NOTHING. When a
rationalist insists that behind the facts there is the GROUND of the facts, the
POSSIBILITY of the facts, the tougher empiricists accuse him of taking the mere
name and nature of a fact and clapping it behind the fact as a duplicate entity
to make it possible. That such sham grounds are often invoked is notorious. At a
surgical operation I heard a bystander ask a doctor why the patient breathed so
deeply. "Because ether is a respiratory stimulant," the doctor answered. "Ah!"
said the questioner, as if relieved by the explanation. But this is like saying
that cyanide of potassium kills because it is a 'poison,' or that it is so cold
to-night because it is 'winter,' or that we have five fingers because we are
'pentadactyls.' These are but names for the facts, taken from the facts, and
then treated as previous and explanatory. The tender-minded notion of an
absolute reality is, according to the radically tough-minded, framed on just
this pattern. It is but our summarizing name for the whole spread-out and
strung-along mass of phenomena, treated as if it were a different entity, both
one and previous.
You see how differently people take things. The world we live in exists
diffused and distributed, in the form of an indefinitely numerous lot of eaches,
coherent in all sorts of ways and degrees; and the tough-minded are perfectly
willing to keep them at that valuation. They can stand that kind of world, their
temper being well adapted to its insecurity. Not so the tender-minded party.
They must back the world we find ourselves born into by "another and a better"
world in which the eaches form an All and the All a One that logically
presupposes, co-implicates, and secures each EACH without exception.
Must we as pragmatists be radically tough-minded? or can we treat the
absolute edition of the world as a legitimate hypothesis? It is certainly
legitimate, for it is thinkable, whether we take it in its abstract or in its
By taking it abstractly I mean placing it behind our finite life as we place
the word 'winter' behind to-night's cold weather. 'Winter' is only the name for
a certain number of days which we find generally characterized by cold weather,
but it guarantees nothing in that line, for our thermometer to-morrow may soar
into the 70's. Nevertheless the word is a useful one to plunge forward with into
the stream of our experience. It cuts off certain probabilities and sets up
others: you can put away your straw-hats; you can unpack your arctics. It is a
summary of things to look for. It names a part of nature's habits, and gets you
ready for their continuation. It is a definite instrument abstracted from
experience, a conceptual reality that you must take account of, and which
reflects you totally back into sensible realities. The pragmatist is the last
person to deny the reality of such abstractions. They are so much past
But taking the absolute edition of the world concretely means a different
hypothesis. Rationalists take it concretely and OPPOSE it to the world's finite
editions. They give it a particular nature. It is perfect, finished. Everything
known there is known along with everything else; here, where ignorance reigns,
far otherwise. If there is want there, there also is the satisfaction provided.
Here all is process; that world is timeless. Possibilities obtain in our world;
in the absolute world, where all that is NOT is from eternity impossible, and
all that IS is necessary, the category of possibility has no application. In
this world crimes and horrors are regrettable. In that totalized world regret
obtains not, for "the existence of ill in the temporal order is the very
condition of the perfection of the eternal order."
Once more, either hypothesis is legitimate in pragmatist eyes, for either has
its uses. Abstractly, or taken like the word winter, as a memorandum of past
experience that orients us towards the future, the notion of the absolute world
is indispensable. Concretely taken, it is also indispensable, at least to
certain minds, for it determines them religiously, being often a thing to change
their lives by, and by changing their lives, to change whatever in the outer
order depends on them.
We cannot therefore methodically join the tough minds in their rejection of
the whole notion of a world beyond our finite experience. One misunderstanding
of pragmatism is to identify it with positivistic tough-mindedness, to suppose
that it scorns every rationalistic notion as so much jabber and gesticulation,
that it loves intellectual anarchy as such and prefers a sort of wolf-world
absolutely unpent and wild and without a master or a collar to any philosophic
class-room product, whatsoever. I have said so much in these lectures against
the over-tender forms of rationalism, that I am prepared for some
misunderstanding here, but I confess that the amount of it that I have found in
this very audience surprises me, for I have simultaneously defended
rationalistic hypotheses so far as these re-direct you fruitfully into
For instance I receive this morning this question on a post-card: "Is a
pragmatist necessarily a complete materialist and agnostic?" One of my oldest
friends, who ought to know me better, writes me a letter that accuses the
pragmatism I am recommending, of shutting out all wider metaphysical views and
condemning us to the most terre-a-terre naturalism. Let me read you some
extracts from it.
"It seems to me," my friend writes, "that the pragmatic objection to
pragmatism lies in the fact that it might accentuate the narrowness of narrow
"Your call to the rejection of the namby-pamby and the wishy-washy is of
course inspiring. But although it is salutary and stimulating to be told that
one should be responsible for the immediate issues and bearings of his words and
thoughts, I decline to be deprived of the pleasure and profit of dwelling also
on remoter bearings and issues, and it is the TENDENCY of pragmatism to refuse
"In short, it seems to me that the limitations, or rather the dangers, of the
pragmatic tendency, are analogous to those which beset the unwary followers of
the 'natural sciences.' Chemistry and physics are eminently pragmatic and many
of their devotees, smugly content with the data that their weights and measures
furnish, feel an infinite pity and disdain for all students of philosophy and
meta-physics, whomsoever. And of course everything can be expressed- -after a
fashion, and 'theoretically' - in terms of chemistry and physics, that is,
EVERYTHING EXCEPT THE VITAL PRINCIPLE OF THE WHOLE, and that, they say, there is
no pragmatic use in trying to express; it has no bearings - FOR THEM. I for my
part refuse to be persuaded that we cannot look beyond the obvious pluralism of
the naturalist and the pragmatist to a logical unity in which they take no
How is such a conception of the pragmatism I am advocating possible, after my
first and second lectures? I have all along been offering it expressly as a
mediator between tough-mindedness and tender-mindedness. If the notion of a
world ante rem, whether taken abstractly like the word winter, or concretely as
the hypothesis of an Absolute, can be shown to have any consequences whatever
for our life, it has a meaning. If the meaning works, it will have SOME truth
that ought to be held to through all possible reformulations, for
The absolutistic hypothesis, that perfection is eternal, aboriginal, and most
real, has a perfectly definite meaning, and it works religiously. To examine
how, will be the subject of my next and final lecture.
Personal Idealism, p. 60.
Mr. Taylor in his Elements of Metaphysics uses this excellent pragmatic definition.