Humanism And Truth by William James

Story type: Essay

[Footnote: Reprinted, with slight
verbal revision, from Mind, vol. xiii, N. S., p. 457 (October,
1904). A couple of interpolations from another article in Mind,
‘Humanism and truth once more,’ in vol. xiv, have been made.]

RECEIVING from the Editor of Mind an advance proof of Mr. Bradley’s
article on ‘Truth and Practice,’ I understand this as a hint to me
to join in the controversy over ‘Pragmatism’ which seems to have
seriously begun. As my name has been coupled with the movement, I
deem it wise to take the hint, the more so as in some quarters
greater credit has been given me than I deserve, and
probably undeserved discredit in other quarters falls also to my

First, as to the word ‘pragmatism.’ I myself have only used the term
to indicate a method of carrying on abstract discussion. The serious
meaning of a concept, says Mr. Peirce, lies in the concrete
difference to some one which its being true will make. Strive to
bring all debated conceptions to that’ pragmatic’ test, and you will
escape vain wrangling: if it can make no practical difference which
of two statements be true, then they are really one statement in two
verbal forms; if it can make no practical difference whether a given
statement be true or false, then the statement has no real meaning.
In neither case is there anything fit to quarrel about: we may
save our breath, and pass to more important things.

All that the pragmatic method implies, then, is that truths should
HAVE practical [Footnote: ‘Practical’ in the sense of PARTICULAR, of
course, not in the sense that the consequences may not be MENTAL as
well as physical.] consequences. In England the word has been used
more broadly still, to cover the notion that the truth of any
statement CONSISTS in the consequences, and particularly in their
being good consequences. Here we get beyond affairs of method
altogether; and since my pragmatism and this wider pragmatism are
so different, and both are important enough to have different names,
I think that Mr. Schiller’s proposal to call the wider pragmatism by
the name of ‘humanism’ is excellent and ought to be adopted. The
narrower pragmatism may still be spoken of as the
‘pragmatic method.’

I have read in the past six months many hostile reviews of
Schiller’s and Dewey’s publications; but with the exception of Mr.
Bradley’s elaborate indictment, they are out of reach where I write,
and I have largely forgotten them. I think that a free discussion of
the subject on my part would in any case be more useful than a
polemic attempt at rebutting these criticisms in detail. Mr. Bradley
in particular can be taken care of by Mr. Schiller. He repeatedly
confesses himself unable to comprehend Schiller’s views, he
evidently has not sought to do so sympathetically, and I
deeply regret to say that his laborious article throws, for my mind,
absolutely no useful light upon the subject. It seems to me on the
whole an IGNORATIO ELENCHI, and I feel free to disregard
it altogether.

The subject is unquestionably difficult. Messrs. Dewey’s and
Schiller’s thought is eminently an induction, a generalization
working itself free from all sorts of entangling particulars. If
true, it involves much restatement of traditional notions. This is a
kind of intellectual product that never attains a classic form of
expression when first promulgated. The critic ought therefore not to
be too sharp and logic-chopping in his dealings with it, but should
weigh it as a whole, and especially weigh it against its possible
alternatives. One should also try to apply it first to one instance,
and then to another to see how it will work. It seems to me that it
is emphatically not a case for instant execution, by conviction of
intrinsic absurdity or of self-contradiction, or by caricature of
what it would look like if reduced to skeleton shape. Humanism is in
fact much more like one of those secular changes that come upon
public opinion overnight, as it were, borne upon tides ‘too deep for
sound or foam,’ that survive all the crudities and extravagances of
their advocates, that you can pin to no one absolutely essential
statement, nor kill by any one decisive stab.

Such have been the changes from aristocracy to democracy, from
classic to romantic taste, from theistic to pantheistic feeling,
from static to evolutionary ways of understanding life–changes of
which we all have been spectators. Scholasticism still opposes to
such changes the method of confutation by single decisive
reasons, showing that the new view involves self-contradiction, or
traverses some fundamental principle. This is like stopping a river
by planting a stick in the middle of its bed. Round your obstacle
flows the water and ‘gets there all the same.’ In reading some of
our opponents, I am not a little reminded of those catholic writers
who refute darwinism by telling us that higher species cannot come
from lower because minus nequit gignere plus, or that the notion of
transformation is absurd, for it implies that species tend to their
own destruction, and that would violate the principle that
every reality tends to persevere in its own shape. The point of view
is too myopic, too tight and close to take in the inductive
argument. Wide generalizations in science always meet with these
summary refutations in their early days; but they outlive them, and
the refutations then sound oddly antiquated and scholastic. I
cannot help suspecting that the humanistic theory is going through
this kind of would-be refutation at present.

The one condition of understanding humanism is to become inductive-
minded oneself, to drop rigorous definitions, and follow lines
of least, resistance ‘on the whole.’ ‘In other words,’ an opponent
might say, ‘resolve your intellect into a kind of slush.’ ‘Even so,’
I make reply,–‘if you will consent to use no politer word.’ For
humanism, conceiving the more ‘true’ as the more ‘satisfactory’
(Dewey’s term), has sincerely to renounce rectilinear arguments and
ancient ideals of rigor and finality. It is in just this temper of
renunciation, so different from that of pyrrhonistic
scepticism, that the spirit of humanism essentially
consists. Satisfactoriness has to be measured by a multitude of
standards, of which some, for aught we know, may fail in any given
case; and what is more satisfactory than any alternative in sight,
may to the end be a sum of PLUSES and MINUSES, concerning which we
can only trust that by ulterior corrections and improvements a
maximum of the one and a minimum of the other may some day be
approached. It means a real change of heart, a break with
absolutistic hopes, when one takes up this inductive view of the
conditions of belief.

As I understand the pragmatist way of seeing things, it owes its
being to the break-down which the last fifty years have brought
about in the older notions of scientific truth. ‘God geometrizes,’
it used to be said; and it was believed that Euclid’s elements
literally reproduced his geometrizing. There is an eternal and
unchangeable ‘reason’; and its voice was supposed to reverberate in
Barbara and Celarent. So also of the ‘laws of nature,’ physical and
chemical, so of natural history classifications–all were supposed
to be exact and exclusive duplicates of pre-human archetypes buried
in the structure of things, to which the spark of divinity hidden in
our intellect enables us to penetrate. The anatomy of the world
is logical, and its logic is that of a university professor, it was
thought. Up to about 1850 almost every one believed that sciences
expressed truths that were exact copies of a definite code of non-
human realities. But the enormously rapid multiplication of
theories in these latter days has well-nigh upset the notion of any
one of them being a more literally objective kind of thing than
another. There are so many geometries, so many logics, so many
physical and chemical hypotheses, so many classifications, each one
of them good for so much and yet not good for everything, that the
notion that even the truest formula may be a human device and not a
literal transcript has dawned upon us. We hear scientific laws now
treated as so much ‘conceptual shorthand,’ true so far as they are
useful but no farther. Our mind has become tolerant of symbol
instead of reproduction, of approximation instead of exactness, of
plasticity instead of rigor. ‘Energetics,’ measuring the bare
face of sensible phenomena so as to describe in a single formula all
their changes of ‘level,’ is the last word of this scientific
humanism, which indeed leaves queries enough outstanding as to the
reason for so curious a congruence between the world and the mind,
but which at any rate makes our whole notion of scientific truth
more flexible and genial than it used to be.

It is to be doubted whether any theorizer to-day, either in
mathematics, logic, physics or biology, conceives himself to be
literally re-editing processes of nature or thoughts of God. The
main forms of our thinking, the separation of subjects from
predicates, the negative, hypothetic and disjunctive judgments, are
purely human habits. The ether, as Lord Salisbury said, is only a
noun for the verb to undulate; and many of our theological ideas are
admitted, even by those who call them ‘true,’ to be humanistic in
like degree.

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I fancy that these changes in the current notions of truth are what
originally gave the impulse to Messrs. Dewey’s and Schiller’s views.
The suspicion is in the air nowadays that the superiority of one of
our formulas to another may not consist so much in its
literal ‘objectivity,’ as in subjective qualities like
its usefulness, its ‘elegance’ or its congruity with our residual
beliefs. Yielding to these suspicions, and generalizing, we fall
into something like the humanistic state of mind. Truth we conceive
to mean everywhere, not duplication, but addition; not the
constructing of inner copies of already complete realities, but
rather the collaborating with realities so as to bring about a
clearer result. Obviously this state of mind is at first full of
vagueness and ambiguity. ‘Collaborating’ is a vague term; it must at
any rate cover conceptions and logical arrangements. ‘Clearer’ is
vaguer still. Truth must bring clear thoughts, as well as clear
the way to action. ‘Reality’ is the vaguest term of all. The only
way to test such a programme at all is to apply it to the various
types of truth, in the hope of reaching an account that shall be
more precise. Any hypothesis that forces such a review upon one has
one great merit, even if in the end it prove invalid: it gets
us better acquainted with the total subject. To give the theory
plenty of ‘rope’ and see if it hangs itself eventually is better
tactics than to choke it off at the outset by abstract
accusations of self-contradiction. I think therefore that a decided
effort at sympathetic mental play with humanism is the provisional
attitude to be recommended to the reader.

When I find myself playing sympathetically with humanism, something
like what follows is what I end by conceiving it to mean.

Experience is a process that continually gives us new material to
digest. We handle this intellectually by the mass of beliefs
of which we find ourselves already possessed, assimilating,
rejecting, or rearranging in different degrees. Some of the
apperceiving ideas are recent acquisitions of our own, but most of
them are common-sense traditions of the race. There is probably not
a common-sense tradition, of all those which we now live by, that
was not in the first instance a genuine discovery, an inductive
generalization like those more recent ones of the atom, of inertia,
of energy, of reflex action, or of fitness to survive The notions of
one Time and of one Space as single continuous receptacles; the
distinction between thoughts and things, matter and mind between
permanent subjects and changing attributes; the conception of
classes with sub classes within them; the separation of
fortuitous from regularly caused connections; surely all these were
once definite conquests made at historic dates by our ancestors in
their attempt to get the chaos of their crude individual experiences
into a more shareable and manageable shape. They proved of such
sovereign use as denkmittel that they are now a part of the very
structure of our mind. We cannot play fast and loose with them. No
experience can upset them. On the contrary, they apperceive every
experience and assign it to its place.

To what effect? That we may the better foresee the course of our
experiences, communicate with one another, and steer our lives by
rule. Also that we may have a cleaner, clearer, more inclusive
mental view.

The greatest common-sense achievement, after the discovery of one
Time and one Space, is probably the concept of permanently
existing things. When a rattle first drops out of the hand of a
baby, he does not look to see where it has gone. Non-perception he
accepts as annihilation until he finds a better belief. That our
perceptions mean BEINGS, rattles that are there whether we hold them
in our hands or not, becomes an interpretation so luminous of what
happens to us that, once employed, it never gets forgotten. It
applies with equal felicity to things and persons, to the
objective and to the ejective realm. However a Berkeley, a Mill, or
a Cornelius may CRITICISE it, it WORKS; and in practical life we
never think of ‘going back’ upon it, or reading our
incoming experiences in any other terms. We may,
indeed, speculatively imagine a state of ‘pure’ experience before
the hypothesis of permanent objects behind its flux had been framed;
and we can play with the idea that some primeval genius might have
struck into a different hypothesis. But we cannot positively
imagine today what the different hypothesis could have been, for the
category of trans-perceptual reality is now one of the foundations
of our life. Our thoughts must still employ it if they are to
possess reasonableness and truth.

This notion of a FIRST in the shape of a most chaotic pure
experience which sets us questions, of a SECOND in the way of
fundamental categories, long ago wrought into the structure of our
consciousness and practically irreversible, which define the general
frame within which answers must fall, and of a THIRD which gives the
detail of the answers in the shapes most congruous with all our
present needs, is, as I take it, the essence of the
humanistic conception. It represents experience in its
pristine purity to be now so enveloped in predicates historically
worked out that we can think of it as little more than an OTHER, of
a THAT, which the mind, in Mr. Bradley’s phrase, ‘encounters,’ and
to whose stimulating presence we respond by ways of thinking which
we call ‘true’ in proportion as they facilitate our mental or
physical activities and bring us outer power and inner peace. But
whether the Other, the universal THAT, has itself any definite inner
structure, or whether, if it have any, the structure resembles any
of our predicated WHATS, this is a question which humanism leaves
untouched. For us, at any rate, it insists, reality is an
accumulation of our own intellectual inventions, and the struggle
for ‘truth’ in our progressive dealings with it is always a struggle
to work in new nouns and adjectives while altering as little as
possible the old.

It is hard to see why either Mr. Bradley’s own logic or his
metaphysics should oblige him to quarrel with this conception. He
might consistently adopt it verbatim et literatim, if he would, and
simply throw his peculiar absolute round it, following in this the
good example of Professor Royce. Bergson in France, and his
disciples, Wilbois the physicist and Leroy, are thoroughgoing
humanists in the sense defined. Professor Milhaud also appears to be
one; and the great Poincare misses it by only the breadth of a hair.
In Germany the name of Simmel offers itself as that of a humanist of
the most radical sort. Mach and his school, and Hertz and Ostwald
must be classed as humanists. The view is in the atmosphere and must
be patiently discussed.

The best way to discuss it would be to see what the alternative
might be. What is it indeed? Its critics make no explicit
statement, Professor Royce being the only one so far who has
formulated anything definite. The first service of humanism to
philosophy accordingly seems to be that it will probably oblige
those who dislike it to search their own hearts and heads. It will
force analysis to the front and make it the order of the day. At
present the lazy tradition that truth is adaequatio intellectus et
rei seems all there is to contradict it with. Mr. Bradley’s only
suggestion is that true thought ‘must correspond to a
determinate being which it cannot be said to make,’ and obviously
that sheds no new light. What is the meaning of the word to
‘correspond’? Where is the ‘being’? What sort of things are
‘determinations,’ and what is meant in this particular case by ‘not
to make’?

Humanism proceeds immediately to refine upon the looseness of these
epithets. We correspond in SOME way with anything with which we
enter into any relations at all. If it be a thing, we may produce an
exact copy of it, or we may simply feel it as an existent in a
certain place. If it be a demand, we may obey it without knowing
anything more about it than its push. If it be a proposition, we may
agree by not contradicting it, by letting it pass. If it be a
relation between things, we may act on the first thing so as to
bring ourselves out where the second will be. If it be
something inaccessible, we may substitute a hypothetical object for
it, which, having the same consequences, will cipher out for us real
results. In a general way we may simply ADD OUR THOUGHT TO IT; and
if it SUFFERS THE ADDITION, and the whole situation harmoniously
prolongs and enriches itself, the thought will pass for true.

As for the whereabouts of the beings thus corresponded to, although
they may be outside of the present thought as well as in it,
humanism sees no ground for saying they are outside of finite
experience itself. Pragmatically, their reality means that we submit
to them, take account of them, whether we like to or not, but this
we must perpetually do with experiences other than our own. The
whole system of what the present experience must correspond to
‘adequately’ may be continuous with the present experience itself.
Reality, so taken as experience other than the present, might be
either the legacy of past experience or the content of experience to
come. Its determinations for US are in any case the adjectives which
our acts of judging fit to it, and those are essentially humanistic

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To say that our thought does not ‘make’ this reality means
pragmatically that if our own particular thought were annihilated
the reality would still be there in some shape, though possibly it
might be a shape that would lack something that our thought
supplies. That reality is ‘independent’ means that there is
something in every experience that escapes our arbitrary control. If
it be a sensible experience it coerces our attention; if a sequence,
we cannot invert it; if we compare two terms we can come to only one
result. There is a push, an urgency, within our very experience,
against which we are on the whole powerless, and which drives us in
a direction that is the destiny of our belief. That this drift of
experience itself is in the last resort due to something independent
of all possible experience may or may not be true. There may or may
not be an extra-experiential ‘ding an sich’ that keeps the ball
rolling, or an ‘absolute’ that lies eternally behind all the
successive determinations which human thought has made. But
within our experience ITSELF, at any rate, humanism says, some
determinations show themselves as being independent of others; some
questions, if we ever ask them, can only be answered in one way;
some beings, if we ever suppose them, must be supposed to have
existed previously to the supposing; some relations, if they exist
ever, must exist as long as their terms exist.

Truth thus means, according to humanism, the relation of less fixed
parts of experience (predicates) to other relatively more fixed
parts (subjects); and we are not required to seek it in a relation
of experience as such to anything beyond itself. We can stay at
home, for our behavior as exponents is hemmed in on every side. The
forces both of advance and of resistance are exerted by our own
objects, and the notion of truth as something opposed to waywardness
or license inevitably grows up SOLIPSISTICALLY inside of every human

So obvious is all this that a common charge against the humanistic
authors ‘makes me tired.’ ‘How can a deweyite discriminate sincerity
from bluff?’ was a question asked at a philosophic meeting where I
reported on Dewey’s Studies. ‘How can the mere [Footnote: I know of
no ‘mere’ pragmatist, if MERENESS here means, as it seems to, the
denial of all concreteness to the pragmatist’s THOUGHT.] pragmatist
feel any duty to think truly?’ is the objection urged by Professor
Royce. Mr. Bradley in turn says that if a humanist understands his
own doctrine, ‘he must hold any idea, however mad, to be the truth,
if any one will have it so.’ And Professor Taylor
describes pragmatism as believing anything one pleases and calling
it truth.

Such a shallow sense of the conditions under which men’s thinking
actually goes on seems to me most surprising. These critics appear
to suppose that, if left to itself, the rudderless raft of our
experience must be ready to drift anywhere or nowhere. Even
THO there were compasses on board, they seem to say, there would be
no pole for them to point to. There must be absolute sailing-
directions, they insist, decreed from outside, and an
independent chart of the voyage added to the ‘mere’ voyage itself,
if we are ever to make a port. But is it not obvious that even
THO there be such absolute sailing-directions in the shape of pre-
human standards of truth that we OUGHT to follow, the only
guarantee that we shall in fact follow them must lie in our human
equipment. The ‘ought’ would be a brutum fulmen unless there were a
felt grain inside of our experience that conspired. As a matter of
fact the DEVOUTEST believers in absolute standards must admit that
men fail to obey them. Waywardness is here, in spite of the eternal
prohibitions, and the existence of any amount of reality ante rem is
no warrant against unlimited error in rebus being incurred. The only
REAL guarantee we have against licentious thinking is the
CIRCUMPRESSURE of experience itself, which gets us sick of
concrete errors, whether there be a trans-empirical reality or not.
How does the partisan of absolute reality know what this orders him
to think? He cannot get direct sight of the absolute; and he has no
means of guessing what it wants of him except by following the
humanistic clues. The only truth that he himself will ever
practically ACCEPT will be that to which his finite experiences lead
him of themselves. The state of mind which shudders at the idea of a
lot of experiences left to themselves, and that augurs protection
from the sheer name of an absolute, as if, however inoperative,
that might still stand for a sort of ghostly security, is like the
mood of those good people who, whenever they hear of a social
tendency that is damnable, begin to redden and to puff, and say
‘Parliament or Congress ought to make a law against it,’ as if an
impotent decree would give relief.

All the SANCTIONS of a law of truth lie in the very texture of
experience. Absolute or no absolute, the concrete truth FOR US will
always be that way of thinking in which our various experiences most
profitably combine.

And yet, the opponent obstinately urges, your humanist will always
have a greater liberty to play fast and loose with truth than
will your believer in an independent realm of reality that makes the
standard rigid. If by this latter believer he means a man who
pretends to know the standard and who fulminates it, the humanist
will doubtless prove more flexible; but no more flexible than the
absolutist himself if the latter follows (as fortunately
our present-day absolutists do follow) empirical methods of inquiry
in concrete affairs. To consider hypotheses is surely always better
than to DOGMATISE ins blaue hinein.

Nevertheless this probable flexibility of temper in him has been
used to convict the humanist of sin. Believing as he does, that
truth lies in rebus, and is at every moment our own line of most
propitious reaction, he stands forever debarred, as I have heard a
learned colleague say, from trying to convert opponents, for does
not their view, being THEIR most propitious momentary reaction,
already fill the bill? Only the believer in the ante-rem brand of
truth can on this theory seek to make converts without self-
stultification. But can there be self-stultification in urging any
account whatever of truth? Can the definition ever contradict the
deed? ‘Truth is what I feel like saying’–suppose that to be the
definition. ‘Well, I feel like saying that, and I want you to feel
like saying it, and shall continue to say it until I get you to
agree.’ Where is there any contradiction? Whatever truth may be
said to be, that is the kind of truth which the saying can be held
to carry. The TEMPER which a saying may comport is an extra-logical
matter. It may indeed be hotter in some individual absolutist than
in a humanist, but it need not be so in another. And the humanist,
for his part, is perfectly consistent in compassing sea and land to
make one proselyte, if his nature be enthusiastic enough.

‘But how can you be enthusiastic over any view of things which you
know to have been partly made by yourself, and which is liable to
alter during the next minute? How is any heroic devotion to the
ideal of truth possible under such paltry conditions?’

This is just another of those objections by which the anti-humanists
show their own comparatively slack hold on the realities of
the situation. If they would only follow the pragmatic method and
ask: ‘What is truth KNOWN-AS? What does its existence stand for in
the way of concrete goods?’–they would see that the name of it is
the inbegriff of almost everything that is valuable in our lives.
The true is the opposite of whatever is instable, of whatever is
practically disappointing, of whatever is useless, of whatever is
lying and unreliable, of whatever is unverifiable and
unsupported, of whatever is inconsistent and contradictory, of
whatever is artificial and eccentric, of whatever is unreal in the
sense of being of no practical account. Here are pragmatic reasons
with a vengeance why we should turn to truth–truth saves us from a
world of that complexion. What wonder that its very name awakens
loyal feeling! In particular what wonder that all little provisional
fool’s paradises of belief should appear contemptible in comparison
with its bare pursuit! When absolutists reject humanism because they
feel it to be untrue, that means that the whole habit of their
mental needs is wedded already to a different view of reality, in
comparison with which the humanistic world seems but the whim of a
few irresponsible youths. Their own subjective apperceiving mass is
what speaks here in the name of the eternal natures and bids them
reject our humanism–as they apprehend it. Just so with us
humanists, when we condemn all noble, clean-cut, fixed,
eternal, rational, temple-like systems of philosophy. These
contradict the DRAMATIC TEMPERAMENT of nature, as our dealings with
nature and our habits of thinking have so far brought us to conceive
it. They seem oddly personal and artificial, even when not
bureaucratic and professional in an absurd degree. We turn from them
to the great unpent and unstayed wilderness of truth as we feel it
to be constituted, with as good a conscience as rationalists
are moved by when they turn from our wilderness into their neater
and cleaner intellectual abodes. [Footnote: I cannot forbear quoting
as an illustration of the contrast between humanist and rationalist
tempers of mind, in a sphere remote from philosophy, these remarks
on the Dreyfus ‘affaire,’ written by one who assuredly had
never heard of humanism or pragmatism. ‘Autant que la Revolution,
“l’Affaire” est desormais une de nos “origines.” Si elle n’a pas
fait ouvrir le gouffre, c’est elle du moins qui a rendu patent et
visible le long travail souterrain qui, silencieusement,
avait prepare la separation entre nos deux camps d’aujourd’hui, pour
ecarter enfin, d’un coup soudain, la France des traditionalistes
(poseurs de principes, chercheurs d’unite, constructeurs de systemes
a priori) el la France eprise du fait positif et de libre examen;–
la France revolutionnaire et romantique si l’on veut, celle qui met
tres haut l’individu, qui ne veut pas qu’un juste perisse, fut-ce
pour sauver la nation, et qui cherche la verite dans toutes ses
parties aussi bien que dans une vue d’ensemble … Duclaux ne
pouvait pas concevoir qu’on preferat quelque chose a la verite.
Mais il voyait autour de lui de fort honnetes gens qui, mettant
en balance la vie d’un homme et la raison d’Etat, lui avouaient de
quel poids leger ils jugeaient une simple existence
individuelle, pour innocente qu’elle fut. C’etaient des
classiques, des gens a qui l’ensemble seul importe.’ La Vie de
Emile Duclaux, par Mme. Em. D., Laval, 1906, pp. 243, 247-248.]

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This is surely enough to show that the humanist does not ignore the
character of objectivity and independence in truth. Let me turn next
to what his opponents mean when they say that to be true, our
thoughts must ‘correspond.’

The vulgar notion of correspondence here is that the thoughts must
COPY the reality–cognitio fit per assimiliationem cogniti
et cognoscentis; and philosophy, without having ever fairly sat down
to the question, seems to have instinctively accepted this idea:
propositions are held true if they copy the eternal thought; terms
are held true if they copy extra-mental realities. Implicitly, I
think that the copy-theory has animated most of the criticisms
that have been made on humanism.

A priori, however, it is not self-evident that the sole business of
our mind with realities should be to copy them. Let my reader
suppose himself to constitute for a time all the reality there is in
the universe, and then to receive the announcement that another
being is to be created who shall know him truly. How will he
represent the knowing in advance? What will he hope it to be? I
doubt extremely whether it could ever occur to him to fancy it as a
mere copying. Of what use to him would an imperfect second edition
of himself in the new comer’s interior be? It would seem pure waste
of a propitious opportunity. The demand would more probably be for
something absolutely new. The reader would conceive the knowing
humanistically, ‘the new comer,’ he would say, ‘must TAKE ACCOUNT OF
TO US BOTH. If copying be requisite to that end, let there be
copying; otherwise not.’ The essence in any case would not be
the copying, but the enrichment of the previous world.

I read the other day, in a book of Professor Eucken’s, a phrase,
‘Die erhohung des vorgefundenen daseins,’ which seems to
be pertinent here. Why may not thought’s mission be to increase and
elevate, rather than simply to imitate and reduplicate, existence?
No one who has read Lotze can fail to remember his striking comment
on the ordinary view of the secondary qualities of matter, which
brands them as ‘illusory’ because they copy nothing in the thing.
The notion of a world complete in itself, to which thought comes as
a passive mirror, adding nothing to fact, Lotze says is irrational.
Rather is thought itself a most momentous part of fact, and the
whole mission of the pre-existing and insufficient world of matter
may simply be to provoke thought to produce its far more precious

‘Knowing,’ in short, may, for aught we can see beforehand to the
REALITY whether copying be one of the relations or not.

It is easy to see from what special type of knowing the copy-theory
arose. In our dealings with natural phenomena the great point is to
be able to foretell. Foretelling, according to such a writer as
Spencer, is the whole meaning of intelligence. When Spencer’s ‘law
of intelligence’ says that inner and outer relations must
‘correspond,’ it means that the distribution of terms in our inner
time-scheme and space-scheme must be an exact copy of
the distribution in real time and space of the real terms. In strict
theory the mental terms themselves need not answer to the real terms
in the sense of severally copying them, symbolic mental terms being
enough, if only the real dates and places be copied. But in our
ordinary life the mental terms are images and the real ones are
sensations, and the images so often copy the sensations, that we
easily take copying of terms as well as of relations to be the
natural significance of knowing. Meanwhile much, even of this common
descriptive truth, is couched in verbal symbols. If our symbols
FIT the world, in the sense of determining our expectations rightly,
they may even be the better for not copying its terms.

It seems obvious that the pragmatic account of all this routine of
phenomenal knowledge is accurate. Truth here is a relation, not
of our ideas to non-human realities, but of conceptual parts of our
experience to sensational parts. Those thoughts are true which
guide us to BENEFICIAL INTERACTION with sensible particulars as they
occur, whether they copy these in advance or not.

From the frequency of copying in the knowledge of phenomenal fact,
copying has been supposed to be the essence of truth in
matters rational also. Geometry and logic, it has been supposed,
must copy archetypal thoughts in the Creator. But in these abstract
spheres there is no need of assuming archetypes. The mind is free to
carve so many figures out of space, to make so many numerical
collections, to frame so many classes and series, and it can analyze
and compare so endlessly, that the very superabundance of the
resulting ideas makes us doubt the ‘objective’ pre-existence of
their models. It would be plainly wrong to suppose a God whose
thought consecrated rectangular but not polar co-ordinates, or
Jevons’s notation but not Boole’s. Yet if, on the other hand, we
assume God to have thought in advance of every POSSIBLE flight of
human fancy in these directions, his mind becomes too much like
a Hindoo idol with three heads, eight arms and six breasts, too much
made up of superfoetation and redundancy for us to wish to copy it,
and the whole notion of copying tends to evaporate from these
sciences. Their objects can be better interpreted as being created
step by step by men, as fast as they successively conceive them.

If now it be asked how, if triangles, squares, square roots, genera,
and the like, are but improvised human ‘artefacts,’ their
properties and relations can be so promptly known to be ‘eternal,’
the humanistic answer is easy. If triangles and genera are of our
own production we can keep them invariant. We can make them
‘timeless’ by expressly decreeing that on THE THINGS WE MEAN time
shall exert no altering effect, that they are intentionally and it
may be fictitiously abstracted from every corrupting real associate
and condition. But relations between invariant objects will
themselves be invariant. Such relations cannot be happenings, for by
hypothesis nothing shall happen to the objects. I have tried to
show in the last chapter of my Principles of Psychology [Footnote:
Vol. ii, pp. 641 ff.] that they can only be relations of comparison.
No one so far seems to have noticed my suggestion, and I am too
ignorant of the development of mathematics to feel very confident of
my own view. But if it were correct it would solve the difficulty
perfectly. Relations of comparison are matters of direct inspection.
As soon as mental objects are mentally compared, they are perceived
to be either like or unlike. But once the same, always the same,
once different, always different, under these timeless conditions.
Which is as much as to say that truths concerning these man-made
objects are necessary and eternal. We can change our conclusions
only by changing our data first.

The whole fabric of the a priori sciences can thus be treated as a
man-made product. As Locke long ago pointed out, these sciences have
no immediate connection with fact. Only IF a fact can be humanized
by being identified with any of these ideal objects, is what
was true of the objects now true also of the facts. The truth itself
meanwhile was originally a copy of nothing; it was only a relation
directly perceived to obtain between two artificial mental
things. [Footnote: Mental things which are realities of course
within the mental world.]

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We may now glance at some special types of knowing, so as to see
better whether the humanistic account fits. On the mathematical and
logical types we need not enlarge further, nor need we return at
much length to the case of our descriptive knowledge of the course
of nature. So far as this involves anticipation, tho that MAY mean
copying, it need, as we saw, mean little more than ‘getting ready’
in advance. But with many distant and future objects, our practical
relations are to the last degree potential and remote. In no sense
can we now get ready for the arrest of the earth’s revolution by the
tidal brake, for instance; and with the past, tho we suppose
ourselves to know it truly, we have no practical relations at all.
It is obvious that, altho interests strictly practical have been the
original starting-point of our search for true
phenomenal descriptions, yet an intrinsic interest in the bare
describing function has grown up. We wish accounts that shall be
true, whether they bring collateral profit or not. The
primitive function has developed its demand for mere exercise. This
theoretic curiosity seems to be the characteristically human
differentia, and humanism recognizes its enormous scope. A true idea
now means not only one that prepares us for an actual perception. It
means also one that might prepare us for a merely possible
perception, or one that, if spoken, would suggest possible
perceptions to others, or suggest actual perceptions which the
speaker cannot share. The ensemble of perceptions thus thought of as
either actual or possible form a system which it is obviously
advantageous to us to get into a stable and consistent shape; and
here it is that the common-sense notion of permanent beings finds
triumphant use. Beings acting outside of the thinker explain, not
only his actual perceptions, past and future, but his possible
perceptions and those of every one else. Accordingly they gratify
our theoretic need in a supremely beautiful way. We pass from our
immediate actual through them into the foreign and the potential,
and back again into the future actual, accounting for innumerable
particulars by a single cause. As in those circular panoramas, where
a real foreground of dirt, grass, bushes, rocks and a broken-down
cannon is enveloped by a canvas picture of sky and earth and of a
raging battle, continuing the foreground so cunningly that the
spectator can detect no joint; so these conceptual objects, added to
our present perceptual reality, fuse with it into the whole
universe of our belief. In spite of all berkeleyan criticism, we do
not doubt that they are really there. Tho our discovery of any one
of them may only date from now, we unhesitatingly say that it not
only IS, but WAS there, if, by so saying, the past appears connected
more consistently with what we feel the present to be. This is
historic truth. Moses wrote the Pentateuch, we think, because if he
didn’t, all our religious habits will have to be undone. Julius
Caesar was real, or we can never listen to history again. Trilobites
were once alive, or all our thought about the strata is at
sea. Radium, discovered only yesterday, must always have existed, or
its analogy with other natural elements, which are permanent, fails.
In all this, it is but one portion of our beliefs reacting on
another so as to yield the most satisfactory total state of mind.
That state of mind, we say, sees truth, and the content of its
deliverances we believe.

Of course, if you take the satisfactoriness concretely, as something
felt by you now, and if, by truth, you mean truth taken
abstractly and verified in the long run, you cannot make them
equate, for it is notorious that the temporarily satisfactory is
often false. Yet at each and every concrete moment, truth for
each man is what that man ‘troweth’ at that moment with the maximum
of satisfaction to himself; and similarly, abstract truth, truth
verified by the long run, and abstract satisfactoriness, long-run
satisfactoriness, coincide. If, in short, we compare concrete with
concrete and abstract with abstract, the true and the
satisfactory do mean the same thing. I suspect that a certain
muddling of matters hereabouts is what makes the general philosophic
public so impervious to humanism’s claims.

The fundamental fact about our experience is that it is a process of
change. For the ‘trower’ at any moment, truth, like the visible area
round a man walking in a fog, or like what George Eliot calls ‘the
wall of dark seen by small fishes’ eyes that pierce a span in the
wide Ocean,’ is an objective field which the next moment enlarges
and of which it is the critic, and which then either suffers
alteration or is continued unchanged. The critic sees both the first
trower’s truth and his own truth, compares them with each other, and
verifies or confutes. HIS field of view is the reality independent
of that earlier trower’s thinking with which that thinking ought to
correspond. But the critic is himself only a trower; and if the
whole process of experience should terminate at that instant, there
would be no otherwise known independent reality with which HIS
thought might be compared.

The immediate in experience is always provisionally in this
situation. The humanism, for instance, which I see and try so
hard to defend, is the completest truth attained from my point of
view up to date. But, owing to the fact that all experience is a
process, no point of view can ever be THE last one. Every one is
insufficient and off its balance, and responsible to later points of
view than itself. You, occupying some of these later points in your
own person, and believing in the reality of others, will not agree
that my point of view sees truth positive, truth timeless, truth
that counts, unless they verify and confirm what it sees.

You generalize this by saying that any opinion, however
satisfactory, can count positively and absolutely as true only so
far as it agrees with a standard beyond itself; and if you then
forget that this standard perpetually grows up endogenously inside
the web of the experiences, you may carelessly go on to say that
what distributively holds of each experience, holds also
collectively of all experience, and that experience as such and in
its totality owes whatever truth it may be possessed-of to its
correspondence with absolute realities outside of its own being.
This evidently is the popular and traditional position. From
the fact that finite experiences must draw support from one another,
philosophers pass to the notion that experience uberhaupt must
need an absolute support. The denial of such a notion by humanism
lies probably at the root of most of the dislike which it incurs.

But is this not the globe, the elephant and the tortoise over again?
Must not something end by supporting itself? Humanism is willing to
let finite experience be self-supporting. Somewhere being must
immediately breast nonentity. Why may not the advancing front of
experience, carrying its immanent satisfactions and
dissatisfactions, cut against the black inane as the luminous orb of
the moon cuts the caerulean abyss? Why should anywhere the world be
absolutely fixed and finished? And if reality genuinely grows,
why may it not grow in these very determinations which here and now
are made?

In point of fact it actually seems to grow by our mental
determinations, be these never so ‘true.’ Take the ‘great bear’ or
‘dipper’ constellation in the heavens. We call it by that name, we
count the stars and call them seven, we say they were seven before
they were counted, and we say that whether any one had ever noted
the fact or not, the dim resemblance to a long-tailed (or long-
necked?) animal was always truly there. But what do we mean by this
projection into past eternity of recent human ways of thinking? Did
an ‘absolute’ thinker actually do the counting, tell off the stars
upon his standing number-tally, and make the bear-comparison, silly
as the latter is? Were they explicitly seven, explicitly bear-like,
before the human witness came? Surely nothing in the truth of
the attributions drives us to think this. They were only implicitly
or virtually what we call them, and we human witnesses first
explicated them and made them ‘real.’ A fact virtually pre-exists
when every condition of its realization save one is already there.
In this case the condition lacking is the act of the counting and
comparing mind. But the stars (once the mind considers them)
themselves dictate the result. The counting in no wise modifies
their previous nature, and, they being what and where they are, the
count cannot fall out differently. It could then ALWAYS be
made. NEVER could the number seven be questioned, IF THE QUESTION

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We have here a quasi-paradox. Undeniably something comes by the
counting that was not there before. And yet that something was
ALWAYS TRUE. In one sense you create it, and in another sense you
FIND it. You have to treat your count as being true beforehand, the
moment you come to treat the matter at all.

Our stellar attributes must always be called true, then; yet none
the less are they genuine additions made by our intellect to the
world of fact. Not additions of consciousness only, but additions of
‘content.’ They copy nothing that pre-existed, yet they agree with
what pre-existed, fit it, amplify it, relate and connect it with a
‘wain,’ a number-tally, or what not, and build it out. It seems to
me that humanism is the only theory that builds this case out in the
good direction, and this case stands for innumerable other kinds of
case. In all such eases, odd as it may sound, our judgment may
actually be said to retroact and to enrich the past.

Our judgments at any rate change the character of FUTURE reality by
the acts to which they lead. Where these acts are acts expressive
of trust,–trust, e.g., that a man is honest, that our health is
good enough, or that we can make a successful effort,–which
acts may be a needed antecedent of the trusted things becoming true.
Professor Taylor says [Footnote: In an article criticising
Pragmatism (as he conceives it) in the McGill University
Quarterly published at Montreal, for May, 1904.] that our trust is
at any rate UNTRUE WHEN IT IS MADE, i. e; before the action; and I
seem to remember that he disposes of anything like a faith in the
general excellence of the universe (making the faithful person’s
part in it at any rate more excellent) as a ‘lie in the soul.’
But the pathos of this expression should not blind us to the
complication of the facts. I doubt whether Professor Taylor would
himself be in favor of practically handling trusters of these kinds
as liars. Future and present really mix in such emergencies, and one
can always escape lies in them by using hypothetic forms. But Mr.
Taylor’s attitude suggests such absurd possibilities of practice
that it seems to me to illustrate beautifully how self-
stultifying the conception of a truth that shall merely register a
standing fixture may become. Theoretic truth, truth of passive
copying, sought in the sole interests of copying as such, not
because copying is GOOD FOR SOMETHING, but because copying ought
schlechthin to be, seems, if you look at it coldly, to be an
almost preposterous ideal. Why should the universe, existing in
itself, also exist in copies? How CAN it be copied in the solidity
of its objective fulness? And even if it could, what would
the motive be? ‘Even the hairs of your head are numbered.’ Doubtless
they are, virtually; but why, as an absolute proposition, OUGHT the
number to become copied and known? Surely knowing is only one way of
interacting with reality and adding to its effect.

The opponent here will ask: ‘Has not the knowing of truth any
substantive value on its own account, apart from the collateral
advantages it may bring? And if you allow theoretic satisfactions to
exist at all, do they not crowd the collateral satisfactions out of
house and home, and must not pragmatism go into bankruptcy, if she
admits them at all?’ The destructive force of such talk disappears
as soon as we use words concretely instead of abstractly, and ask,
in our quality of good pragmatists, just what the famous
theoretic needs are known as and in what the
intellectual satisfactions consist.

Are they not all mere matters of CONSISTENCY–and emphatically NOT
of consistency between an absolute reality and the mind’s copies of
it, but of actually felt consistency among judgments, objects, and
habits of reacting, in the mind’s own experienceable world? And
are not both our need of such consistency and our pleasure in it
conceivable as outcomes of the natural fact that we are beings that
do develop mental HABITS–habit itself proving adaptively beneficial
in an environment where the same objects, or the same kinds of
objects, recur and follow ‘law’? If this were so, what would have
come first would have been the collateral profits of habit as such,
and the theoretic life would have grown up in aid of these. In point
of fact, this seems to have been the probable case. At life’s
origin, any present perception may have been ‘true’–if such a
word could then be applicable. Later, when reactions became
organized, the reactions became ‘true’ whenever expectation was
fulfilled by them. Otherwise they were ‘false’ or ‘mistaken’
reactions. But the same class of objects needs the same kind of
reaction, so the impulse to react consistently must gradually have
been established, and a disappointment felt whenever the results
frustrated expectation. Here is a perfectly plausible germ for all
our higher consistencies. Nowadays, if an object claims from us a
reaction of the kind habitually accorded only to the opposite class
of objects, our mental machinery refuses to run smoothly. The
situation is intellectually unsatisfactory.

Theoretic truth thus falls WITHIN the mind, being the accord of some
of its processes and objects with other processes and objects–
‘accord’ consisting here in well-definable relations. So long as
the satisfaction of feeling such an accord is denied us, whatever
collateral profits may seem to inure from what we believe in are but
as dust in the balance–provided always that we are highly
organized intellectually, which the majority of us are not. The
amount of accord which satisfies most men and women is merely the
absence of violent clash between their usual thoughts and
statements and the limited sphere of sense-perceptions in which
their lives are cast. The theoretic truth that most of us think we
‘ought’ to attain to is thus the possession of a set of predicates
that do not explicitly contradict their subjects. We preserve it as
often as not by leaving other predicates and subjects out.

In some men theory is a passion, just as music is in others. The
form of inner consistency is pursued far beyond the line at
which collateral profits stop. Such men systematize and classify and
schematize and make synoptical tables and invent ideal objects for
the pure love of unifying. Too often the results, glowing with
‘truth’ for the inventors, seem pathetically personal and artificial
to bystanders. Which is as much as to say that the purely theoretic
criterion of truth can leave us in the lurch as easily as any other
criterion, and that the absolutists, for all their pretensions,
are ‘in the same boat’ concretely with those whom they attack.

I am well aware that this paper has been rambling in the extreme.
But the whole subject is inductive, and sharp logic is hardly yet in
order. My great trammel has been the non-existence of any
definitely stated alternative on my opponents’ part. It may conduce
to clearness if I recapitulate, in closing, what I conceive the main
points of humanism to be. They are these:–

1. An experience, perceptual or conceptual, must conform to reality
in order to be true.

2. By ‘reality’ humanism means nothing more than the other
conceptual or perceptual experiences with which a given present
experience may find itself in point of fact mixed up.
[Footnote: This is meant merely to exclude reality of an
‘unknowable’ sort, of which no account in either perceptual
or conceptual terms can be given. It includes of course any
amount if empirical reality independent of the knower.
Pragmatism, is thus ‘epistemologically’ realistic in its account.]

3. By ‘conforming,’ humanism means taking account-of in such a way
as to gain any intellectually and practically satisfactory result.

4. To ‘take account-of’ and to be ‘satisfactory’ are terms that
admit of no definition, so many are the ways in which these
requirements can practically be worked out.

5. Vaguely and in general, we take account of a reality by
preserving it in as unmodified a form as possible. But, to be then
satisfactory, it must not contradict other realities outside of it
which claim also to be preserved. That we must preserve all the
experience we can and minimize contradiction in what we preserve, is
about all that can be said in advance.

6. The truth which the conforming experience embodies may be a
positive addition to the previous reality, and later judgments
may have to conform to it. Yet, virtually at least, it may have been
true previously. Pragmatically, virtual and actual truth mean the
same thing: the possibility of only one answer, when once the
question is raised.

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