Page images
PDF
EPUB

end by so doing, I have a true idea of a, in the applied sense. This kind of truth is much the more common. If we include such knowledge as animals possess, and all of that human competence and skill which is not exactly formulated - all of the art which is not science - it is evident that in bulk it far exceeds the knowledge which is immediately related to the theoretical motive.

But pragmatism is not intended as a disparagement of theory. James naturally resents the description of it “as a characteristically American movement, a sort of bobtailed scheme of thought, excellently fitted for the man on the street, who naturally hates theory and wants cash returns immediately.".. Indeed, owing to the emphasis given the matter by the turn of controversy, the pragmatist writers have devoted a somewhat disproportionate amount of space to the discussion of theoretical truth. That the theoretical process is itself interested in its own way, that it has its characteristic motive and its characteristic successes and failures, is a fact that no one has ever questioned. And 'theoretical truth,' so-called, is its success. An idea is true theoretically, when it works for the theoretical purpose. It remains only to discover what \that purpose may be. What, then, is the theoretical motive for the formation of ideas? Or what is the virtue of forming ideas of things, different from the things themselves, when there is no occasion for acting on the things? In order, the pragmatist replies, to have a compact and easily stored access to these things; in order to be able to find, should one want them, more things than there are room for within the mind at any one time. It follows, then, that the mark of a good idea, from this point of view, is its enabling one by means of it to come directly at a large number of particular facts which it means. Verification is thus the trying out, the demonstration, of an idea's capacity to lead to its objects and obtain their direct presentation to mind. Thus a is true of b, in the theoretical sense, when by virtue of having a in mind I can bring 6 into mind, a being more compact than b. And the adequacy of a will depend upon the extent to which it puts me in virtual possession of the full or complete nature of b. There is always a sense in which nothing can be so true of b as b itself, and were it humanly possible to know everything directly and simultaneously, as we know aspects of things in sense-perception, then there would be no occasion for the existence of ideas. But then there would be no truth, in the particular sense in which James uses the term.

1 Meaning of Truth, p. 185.

It is worth while to observe that .when James defines truth in terms of satisfaction, he has in mind a very specific sort of satisfaction, a determined satisfaction, of which the conditions are imposed on the one hand by the environment, and on the other hand by the interest which called the idea forth. This is by no means the same thing as to say that an idea which is satisfactory is therefore true. It must be satisfactory for a particular purpose, and under particular circumstances. An idea has a certain work to do, and it must do that work in order to be commended as true. There is a situation, again a special situation, in which the general usefulness or liveableness of an idea may be allowed to count towards its acceptance. But the case is exceptional, and is not necessarily implied in the pragmatic theory. I have thought it on the whole clearer and fairer, therefore, to consider it in another connection.

The pragmatic theory of truth is closely connected in the author's mind with “the pragmatic method.” It emphasizes the particular and presentable consequences of ideas, and is thus opposed to verbalism, to abstractionism, to agnosticism, and to loose and irrelevant speculation. But pragmatism here merges into empiricism, where the issues are wider and more diverse.

8 7. James was an empiricist in the most general sense, in that he insisted on the testing of an idea by a resort to that particular

experience which it means. An idea which does Empiricism

not relate to something which may be brought directly before the same mind that entertains the idea, is not properly an idea at all; and two ideas are different only in so far as the things to which they thus lead differ in some particular respect. “The meaning of any proposition can always be brought down to some particular consequence in our future practical experience, whether passive or active ... the point lying rather in the fact that the experience must be particular

I Cf. op. cit., pp. 192 ff.
• See below, under “ The Right to Believe,” pp. 369-371.

than in the fact that it must be active.”. Similarly, “the whole originality of pragmatism, the whole point in it, is its use of the concrete way of seeing.”: Empiricism, or pragmatism, in this sense, is essentially an application of James's theory of the function of ideas. Since it is their office to pave the

way

for direct knowledge, or to be temporarily substituted for it, their efficiency is conditioned by their unobtrusiveness, by the readiness with which they subordinate themselves. The commonest case of an idea in James's sense is the word, and the most notable example of his pragmaticor empirical method is his own scrupulous avoidance of verbalism. It follows that since ideas are in and of themselves of no cognitive value, since they are essentially instrumental, they are always on trial, and “liable to modification in the course of future experience.". The method of hypothesis and experiment is thus the method universal, and the canon of verifiability applies to philosophy as well as to science.

Empiricism in a narrower sense is the postulate," that the only things that shall be debatable among philosophers shall be things definable in terms drawn from experience.”. We find experience itself described as “a process in time, whereby innumerable particular terms lapse and are superseded by others.". This cannot mean that experience is to be identified with the manifold of sense-perception, for he refers repeatedly to "non-perceptual experiences." 5 Nor can it mean that experience is to be identified with the experienced, that is, with consciousness. For consciousness, like matter, is a part of experience. Indeed, “there is no general stuff of which experience at large is made.” “It is made of that, of just what appears, of space, of intensity, of flatness, brownness, heaviness, or what not. .. Experience is only a collective name for all these sensible natures, and save for time and space (and, if you like, for 'being'), there appears no universal element of which all things are made."7 Experience, then, is a colorless name for things in their spatial-temporal conjunctions. Things are experience when these conjunctions are immediately present in the mind; in other words, when they are directly known here and now, or when such a here-and-now knowledge is possible. In other words, we are again brought back to a fundamental insistence on direct or presentative knowledge. In respect of this insistence James is a lineal descendent of Berkeley, Hume, and Mill, and a brother of Shadworth Hodgson and Ernst Mach. In all of these writers the insistence on the immanence of the object of knowledge has tended to lead to phenomenalism; and James, like the rest, is a phenomenalist, in the sense of being opposed to dualism and transcendentalism. But in his later writings, at least, he has made it perfectly clear that while things are “what they are known as,” they need not be known in order to be. Their being known is an accidental relation into which they directly enter as they are. To limit knowledge to experience means only to limit it to what may be immediately apprehended as here and now, to what may be brought directly before the mind in some particular moment of its history.

i Meaning of Truth, p. 210.

? Op. cit., p. 216. For the more popular exposition of this method, and the illustrative application of it, cf. Pragmatism, Lectures II, III.

3 Will to Believe, Preface, p. vii. 4 Meaning of Truth, Preface, p. xii. 6 Ibid., p. III. 6 Cf.“ Does Consciousness Exist ?" Essays in Radical Empiricism, p. 17. ? Ibid., pp. 26-27.

James's empiricism means, then, first, that ideas are to be tested by direct knowledge, and second, that knowledge is limited to what can be presented. There is, however, a third consideration which is both an application of these, and the means of avoiding a difficulty which is supposed to be fatal to them. This is what James calls “radical empiricism,” the discovery that “the relations between things, conjunctive as well as disjunctive, are just as much matters of direct particular experience, neither more so nor less so, than the things themselves.” ; “Adjacent minima of experience” are united by the “persistent identity of certain units, or emphases, or points, or objects, or members. . of the experience-continuum." ; Owing to the fact that the connections of things are thus found along with them, it is unnecessary to introduce any substance below experience, or any subject above, to hold things together. In spite of the atomistic sensationalists, relations are found; and in spite of Mr. Bradley, relations relate. And since the same term loses old relations and acquires new ones without forfeiting its identity, there is no reason why a relation should not unite things and still be adventitious and variable. Thus the idealistic theory, which, in order that there may be some connection, conceives of a transexperiential and immutable connection, is short-circuited. This handling of the question of relation at the same time proves the efficacy of the empirical method, and the futility of “intellectualism.'

1 Cf. “Does Consciousness Exist?” with “The Knowing of Things Together,Psych. Rev., Vol. II, 1895. Cf. also below, p. 368.

· Meaning of Truth, preface, p. xii. Cf. Pluralistic Universe, pp. 279280.

* Pluralistic Universe, pp. 326, 356. Cf. Principles of Psychology, Vol. I. p. 459.

$ 8. The critical application of James's theory of knowledge follows from his notion of conception and its relation to per

ception. “Abstract concepts are salient Percepts and Concepts.

aspects of our concrete experiences which we find The Critique "

it useful to single out.”: He speaks of them elseof Intellectu

where as things we have learned to "cut out,” as alism

"flowers gathered,” and “moments dipped out from the stream of time.” : Without doubt, then, they are elements of the given and independent world; not invented, but selected — and for some practical or theoretical purpose. To knowledge they owe, not their being or their natures, but their isolation or abstraction and the cognitive use to which they are put. This use or function tends to obscure the fact that they are themselves “objective.” They have, as a matter of fact, their own “ideal" relations, their own “lines of order," which when traced by thought become the systems of logic and mathematics.

The human importance of concepts and of ideal systems lies in their cognitive function with reference to the manifold of sense-perception. Therefore it is necessary to inquire just what kind of a knowledge of the latter they afford. Since they are extracts from the same experience-plenum, they may be,

1 Cf. “The Thing and its Relations,” in Pluralistic Universe, pp. 347– 369, passim. Cf. also above, p. 353, and below, pp. 373–374.

* Meaning of Truth, p. 246.

Pluralistic Universe, P. 235. Cf. Principles of Psychology, on “Conception,” and “Reasoning," Chapters XII and XXII.

Essays in Radical Empiricism, pp. 15, 16. Cf. Meaning of Truth, pp. 42, 195, note; Pluralistic Universe, pp. 339-340; Principles of Psychology, Ch. XXVIII. Here as elsewhere of two apparently conflicting statements I have taken the later. The latest and best statement James's view of concepts is to be found in Some Problems of Philosophy, Ch. IV-VI.

« PreviousContinue »