Page images
PDF
EPUB

verification from perception or consistency. And “sometimes alternative theoretic formulas are equally compatible with all the truths we know, and then we choose between them for subjective reasons."1 But there remains an important difference between the grounds of the validation of the alternatives, and the grounds of the validation of such a choice from among them. All this strongly suggests that it might be clearer if the term 'true' were restricted to ideas verified in one of these ways - by perception or by ideal consistency. “Subsequential utility” and “subjective reasons” would then remain as extralogical grounds of belief. One might readily agree that truth in this narrower sense was an insufficient criterion, that the exigencies of life required belief in excess of proof. But the stricter truth tests would not be confused nor their priority compromised. The virtue of such a course will become more apparent as we proceed.

§ 6. By 'verification by operation' I mean the same thing that James means by “subsequential utility.” Verificaton by

to employ another distinction made by the Operation and same author, I mean verification by “activeby Sentiment

rather than "passive" experience. Thus my idea of

my

future state is verified in this sense in so far as the plans which I base on it succeed. Such would be the case, for example, if I were to receive my reward in heaven for sacrifices deliberately made in this world.

Pragmatism has rightly insisted upon the relation of cognition to collateral interests. That there is always some such relation no one will be disposed to deny. The cognitive interest is one of the functions of a complex organism, and has developed because of its organic usefulness.

Whatever is known is available for any uses of which the organism is capable; it can be felt, acted on, talked about, written down, thought about, or dealt with

1

James: Pragmatism, pp. 211, 217; cf. pp. 216–217; Meaning of Truth, pp. 206 sq.

* Meaning of Truth, p. 210.

[ocr errors]

in any of the other ways characteristic of human life. Mr. Schiller goes to unnecessary lengths to show that there are no useless truths. His conclusion could be drawn at once from the unity of the psychophysical organism; the sensory, associative, affective, and motor elements in human nature all contribute to a more or less common fund of resources. And one may easily go farther, and show that the solidarity of society and the ready means of communication and intercourse, make these resources available for humanity at large. But this is very far from a proof that truth consists in such uses. They are involved because of the organic and social connections of the truth-seeking function; but truth would not cease to be truth if some organic or social abnormality were to make it impossible to use it. As a matter of fact, since the development of scientific method it has been customary to reach truths by the theoretical means above described, and to regard their truth as established quite independently of the uses to which subsequently they may or may not

be put.

The issue is somewhat confused by the fact that, entirely apart from the process of verification itself, many truths are practical in their subject matter. The cognitive interest, originally in bondage to the organism, is most urgently concerned with what may be called truths of use. The most immediately important truths, the cash truths, so to speak, are answers to questions of this form: What will happen to me if I do a to b? Truths of physical science are largely of this order; and it is natural to regard these as generally typical because of their bulk and urgency. But it will be observed that truth is here made, not by the practical sequel to the theory, but by embracing the practical sequel within the theory, and then testing the whole by perception. If I find that c will happen to me if I do a to , T am experiencing the nature of a temporal circuit, including terms belonging both to the environment and to my own body. Experiment is here not an external

[ocr errors][ocr errors]

practical test, but the living through, the direct serial experience of, a set of connected events.

It is proper to ask, then, whether verification by operation is an independent test of truth. For it would appear to be either the employment of truths already established by our two former tests, or only a special form of these tests. Let me quote an example from Professor A. W. Moore. “ The idea of an ache as the ache of a certain tooth is true, if an operation on the tooth alters the ache."i This verification can be construed in one of two ways. On the one hand, the judgment 'such a tooth is aching' is verified by observing the localization of the ache, or by inference from the diseased character of the tooth. The latter would, I should suppose, be regarded as in the last analysis the most reliable test; and both would fall under one or the other of the strictly theoretical criteria above described. And whether one thereupon has the tooth pulled, or not, would not affect the truth of the judgment so verified. The truth would be useful, but its usefulness would be a secondary and irrelevant circumstance. Or, on the other hand, the judgment "were I to have this tooth pulled, the pain would disappear” is verified by observing the sequence tooth pulled ache gone, where the judgment refers to an operation and is verified by perceiving the operation. Thus in both cases truth is, tested by perception or consistency; and pragmatism instead of adding a new test, is confined to showing the pragmatic character of the old familiar tests of experiment and inference.

Verification by sentiment, is the proof of an idea by its immediate pleasantness or by its tonic effect upon the will. Thus my idea of my future state is verified in this sense if “I like the idea,” or if it makes life better worth living. “We choose the kind of theory to which we are already partial,” says James; "we follow 'elegance' or 'economy.'' “No completely pessimistic system is ever judged com

i Pragmatism and its Critics, p. 87.

pletely 'true,"” says Schiller; “because it leaves unremoved and unresolved a sense of final discord in existence, it must ever stimulate anew to fresh efforts to overcome the discrepancy. But it is clearly recognized by both of these writers that such considerations of sentiment are to be allowed to weigh only when the tests of perception or consistency are not decisive. Were the less parsimonious or less harmonious hypothesis to be verified by an experimentum crucis, or proved the only means of avoiding contradiction, man's taste for parsimony and harmony would not create the least presumption against it. The perfectly agreeable hypothesis must yield at once before fact or contradiction.

Would it not be clearer and more accurate, then, to say that while sentiment has nothing to do with truth, it may, as an extra-logical motive, be allowed to influence belief where verification proper is impossible? Indeed this is, I think, a fair rendering of James's famous “right to believe.” The religious hypothesis is essentially an unverifiable hypothesis. Appeal to sensible facts and inference from established truth both leave the issue doubtful. But meanwhile it is necessary to act on some such hypothesis. We must in the practical sense believe where we cannot in the theoretical sense know. And here we are justified in allowing our tastes and our hopes to incline the balance. For we should be no better supported by proof if we believed the contrary, and should lose the emotional values beside. Furthermore, in this case, belief contributes evidence in its own support. For what I believe in is, so far as I am actively concerned in it, the more likely to prevail if I do so believe. Such a making true, means making facts which will in time afford a sensible verification for my belief. So in James's entire philosophy of religion' it is constantly implied that there is a strict sense of the term 'truth,' relating to the cognitive or theoretic

* James: Pragmatism, p. 217; F. C. S. Schiller: Humanism, p. 50. • See below, pp. 369-370.

1

interest, and both independent of and prior to all sentimental grounds for belief.

8 7. Verification by general utility, is the proof of an idea's truth by the total satisfaction it affords, by its Verification by suitability to all the purposes of life, individual General Utility and social. “Truth,” writes Schiller, “is that manipulation of (objects) which turns out upon trial to be useful, primarily for any human end, but ultimately for that perfect harmony of our whole life which forms our final aspiration.". Thus, my idea of the future state

” would be proved true on this ground, if it proved in all respects a good idea to live by, borne out by facts, consistent with my other ideas, a good working hypothesis, and above all consoling and inspiring. And it would receive additional verification of the same type if it satisfied the needs of mankind in the aggregate and survived the test of time.

The significant thing about this criterion is its indiscriminate merging of the more specific criteria discussed above. Pragmatists have repeatedly protested that the truth of an idea is determined by the specific purpose and the specific situation that give rise to the idea. Thus Dewey says, "It is the failure to grasp the coupling of truth of meaning with a specific promise, undertaking, or intention expressed by a thing which underlies, so far as I can see, the criticisms passed upon the experimental or pragmatic view of the truth.” In this opinion Dewey is undoubtedly correct. Pragmatism has seemed to most of its critics to put strictly cognitive considerations upon a par with considerations of sentiment and subsequential utility. And pragmatist writers are responsible for this impression - or misunderstanding, if such it be. Owing perhaps to the

Humanism, p. 61. * Influence of Darwin on Philosophy, and other Essays, p. 95, note. Cf. also Studies in Logic, pp. 20, 23, where he defines a logic concerned with "description and interpretation of the function of reflective thought,” and insists that thought cannot be judged "apart from the limits of particular crises in the growth of experience.”

« PreviousContinue »