The Influence of Darwin on Philosophy and Other Essays

Chapter 4: The Experimental Theory of Knowledge[1]

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IT should be possible to discern and describe a knowing as one identifies any object, concern, or event. It must have its own marks; it must offer characteristic features-as much so as a thunder-storm, the constitution of a State, or a leopard. In the search for this affair, we are first of all desirous for something which is for itself, contemporaneously with its occurrence, a cognition, not something called knowledge by another and from without-whether this other be logician, psychologist, or epistemologist. The " knowledge " may turn out false, and hence no knowledge; but this is an after-affair; it may prove to be rich in fruitage of wisdom, but if this outcome be only wisdom after the event, it does not concern us. What we want is just something which takes itself as knowledge, rightly or wrongly.



This means a specific case, a sample. Yet instances are proverbially dangerous-so naïvely and graciously may they beg the questions at issue. Our recourse is to an example so simple, so much on its face as to be as innocent as may be of assumptions. This case we shall gradually complicate, mindful at each step to state just what new elements are introduced. Let us suppose a smell, just a floating odor. This odor may be anchored by supposing that it moves to action; it starts changes that end in picking and enjoying a rose. This description is intended to apply to the course of events witnessed and recounted from without. What sort of a course must it be to constitute a knowledge, or to have somewhere within its career that which deserves this title? The smell, imprimis, is there; the movements that it excites are there; the final plucking and gratification are experienced. But, let us say, the smell is not the smell o f the rose; the resulting change of the organism is not a sense of walking and reaching; the delicious finale is not the fulfilment of the movement, and, through that, of the original smell; " is not,'-' in each case meaning is `4 not experienced as " such. We may take, in short, these experiences in a brutely serial fashion. The smell, S, is replaced (and displaced) by a felt movement, K, this is re-

(79) -placed by the gratification, G. Viewed from without, as we are now regarding it, there is S-K-G. But from within, for itself, it is now S, now K, now G, and so on to the end of the chapter. Nowhere is there looking before and after; memory and anticipation are not born. Such an experience neither is, in whole or in part, a knowledge, nor does it exercise a cognitive function.

Here, however, we may be halted. If there is anything present in " consciousness " at all, we may be told (at least we constantly are so told) there must be knowledge of it as present present, at all events, in " consciousness." There is, so it is argued, knowledge at least of a simple apprehensive type, knowledge of the acquaintance order, knowledge that, even though not knowledge what. The smell, it is admitted, does not know about anything else, nor is anything known about the smell (the same thing, perhaps) ; but the smell is known, either by itself, or by the mind, or by some subject, some unwinking, unremitting eye. No, we must reply; there is no apprehension without some (however slight) context; no acquaintance which is not either recognition or expectation. Acquaintance is presence honored with an escort; presence is introduced as familiar, or an associate springs up to greet it. Acquaintance always implies a little friendliness; a trace of re-knowing, of

( 80) anticipatory welcome or dread of the trait to follow.

This claim cannot be dismissed as trivial. If valid, it carries with it the distance between being and knowing: and the recognition of an element of mediation, that is, of art, in all knowledge. This disparity, this transcendence, is not something which holds of our knowledge, of finite knowledge, just marking the gap between our type of consciousness and some other with which we may contrast it after the manner of the agnostic or the transcendentalist (who hold so much property in joint ownership!), but exists because knowing is knowing, that way of bringing things to bear upon things which we call reflection-a manipulation of things experienced in the light one of another.

"Feeling," I read in a recent article, " feeling is immediately acquainted with its own quality, with its own subjective being."[2] How and whence this duplication in the inwards of feeling into feel

( 81) -ing the knower and feeling the known? into feeling as being and feeling as acquaintance? Let us frankly deny such monsters. Feeling is its own quality; is its own specific (whence and why, once more, subjective?) being. If this statement be dogmatism, it is at least worth insistent declaration, were it only by way of counter-irritant to that other dogmatism which asserts that being in " consciousness " is always presence for or in knowledge. So let us repeat once more, that to be a smell (or anything else) is one thing, to be known as smell, another; to be a " feeling " one thing, to be known as a " feeling " another.[3] The first is thinghood ; existence indubitable, direct; in this way all things are that are in "consciousness" at all.[4] The second is reflected being, things indicating and calling for other things-something offering the possibility of truth and hence of falsity. The first is

(82) genuine immediacy; the second is (in the instance discussed) a pseudo-immediacy, which in the same breath that it proclaims its immediacy smuggles in another term (and one which is unexperienced both in itself and in its relation) the subject or " consciousness," to which the immediate is related.[5]

But we need not remain with dogmatic assertions. To be acquainted with a thing or with a person has a definite empirical meaning; we have only to call to mind what it is to be genuinely and empirically acquainted, to have done forever with this uncanny presence which, though bare and simple presence, is yet known, and thus is clothed upon and complicated. To be acquainted with a thing is to be assured (from the standpoint of the experience itself ) that it is of such and such a character; that it will behave, if given an opportunity, in such and such a way; that the obviously and flagrantly present trait is associated with fellow traits that will show themselves, if the leadings of the present trait are followed out. To be

( 83) acquainted is to anticipate to some extent, on the basis of prior experience. I am, say, barely acquainted with Mr. Smith: then I have no extended body of associated qualities along with those palpably present, but at least some one suggested trait occurs; his nose, his tone of voice, the place where I saw him, his calling in life, an interesting anecdote about him, etc. To be acquainted is to know what a thing is like in some particular. If one is acquainted with the smell of a flower it means that the smell is not just smell, but reminds one of some other experienced thing which stands in continuity with the smell. There is thus supplied a condition of control over or purchase upon what is present, the possibility of translating it into terms of some other trait not now sensibly present.

Let us return to our example. Let us suppose that S is not just displaced by K and then by G. Let us suppose it persists; and persists not as an unchanged S alongside K and G, nor yet as fused with them into a new further quale J. For in such events, we have only the type already considered and rejected. For an observer the new quale might be more complex, or fuller of meaning, than the original S, K, or G, but might not be experienced as complex. We might thus suppose a composite photograph which should suggest nothing of the complexity of its origin and structure. In this case we should have simply another picture.

( 84)

But we may also suppose that the blur of the photograph suggests the superimposition of pictures and something of their character. Then we get another, and for our problem, much more fruitful kind of persistence. We will imagine that the final G assumes this form: Gratification-terminating-movement-induced-by-smell. The smell is still present; it has persisted. It is not present in its original form, but is represented with a quality, an office, that of having excited activity and thereby terminating its career in a certain quale of gratification. It is not S, but S ; that is S with an increment of meaning due to maintenance and fulfilment through a process. S is no longer just smell, but smell which has excited and thereby secured.

Here we have a cognitive, but not a cognitional thing. In saying that the smell is finally experienced as meaning gratification (through intervening handling, seeing, etc.) and meaning it not in a hapless way, but in a fashion which operates to effect what is meant, we retrospectively attribute intellectual force and function to the smell-and this is what is signified by " cognitive." Yet the smell is not cognitional, because it did not knowingly intend to mean this; but is found, after the event, to have meant it. Nor again is the final experience, the S or transformed S, a knowledge.

Here again the statement may be challenged.

(85) Those who agree with the denial that bare presence of a quale in "consciousness" constitutes acquaintance and simple apprehension, may now turn against us, saying that experience of fulfilment of meaning is just what we mean by knowledge, and this is just what the S of our illustration is. The point is fundamental. As the smell at first was presence or being, less than knowing, so the fulfilment is an experience that is more than knowing. Seeing and handling the flower, enjoying the full meaning of the smell as the odor of just this beautiful thing, is not knowledge because it is more than knowledge.

As this may seem dogmatic, let us suppose that the fulfilment, the realization, experience, is a knowledge. Then how shall it be distinguished from and yet classed with other things called knowledge, viz., reflective, discursive cognitions? Such knowledges are what they are precisely because they are not fulfilments, but intentions, aims, schemes, symbols of overt fulfilment. Knowledge, perceptual and conceptual, of a hunting dog is prerequisite in order that I may really hunt with the hounds. The hunting in turn may increase my knowledge of dogs and their whys. Rut the knowledge of the dog, qua knowledge, remains characteristically marked off from the use of that knowledge in the fulfilment experience, the hunt. The hunt is a realization of knowledge; it alone, if you please, verifies, vali-

(86) -dates, knowledge, or supplies tests of truth. The prior knowledge of the dog, was, if you wish, hypothetical, lacking in assurance or categorical certainty. The hunting, the fulfilling, realizing experience alone gives knowledge, because it alone completely assures; makes faith good in works.

Now there is and can be no objection to this definition of knowledge, provided it is consistently adhered to. One has as much right to identify knowledge with complete assurance, as I have to identify it with anything else. Considerable justification in the common use of language, in common sense, may be found for defining knowledge as complete assurance. But even upon this definition, the fulfilling experience is not, as such, complete assurance, and hence not a knowledge. Assurance, cognitive validation, and guaranteeship, follow from it, but are not coincident with its occurrence. It gives, but is not, assurance. The concrete construction of a story, the manipulation of a machine, the hunting with the dogs, is not, so far as it is fulfilment, a confirmation of meanings previously entertained as cognitional; that is, is not contemporaneously experienced as such. To think of prior schemes, symbols, meanings, as fulfilled in a subsequent experience, is reflectively to present in their relations to one another both the meanings and the experiences in which they are, as a matter of fact, embodied. This reflective at-

( 87) -titude cannot be identical with the fulfilment experience itself; it occurs only in retrospect when the worth of the meanings, or cognitive ideas, is critically inspected in the light of their fulfilment; or it occurs as an interruption of the fulfilling experience. The hunter stops his hunting as a fulfilment to reflect that he made a mistake in his idea of his dog, or again, that his dog is everything he thought he was that his notion of him is confirmed. Or, the man stops the actual construction of his machine and turns back upon his plan in correction or in admiring estimate of its value. The fulfilling experience is not of itself knowledge, then, even if we identify knowledge with fulness of assurance or guarantee. Moreover it gives, affords, assurance only in reference to a situation which we have not yet considered.[6]

Before the category of confirmation or refutation can be introduced, there must be something which means to mean something and which therefore can be guaranteed or nullified by the issue- and this is precisely what we have not as yet found. We must return to our instance and introduce a further complication. Let us suppose that the smell quale recurs at a later date, and that it recurs neither as the original S nor yet as the

( 88) final S, but as an S' which is fated or charged with the sense of the possibility of a fulfilment like unto S. The S' that recurs is aware of something else which it means, which it intends to effect through an operation incited by it and without which its own presence is abortive, and, so to say, unjustified, senseless. Now we have an experience which is cognitional, not merely cognitive; which is contemporaneously aware of meaning something beyond itself, instead of having this meaning ascribed by another at a later period. The odor knows the rose; the rose is known by the odor; and the import of each term is constituted by the relationship in which it stands to the other. That is, the import of the smell is the indicating and demanding relation which it sustains to the enjoyment of the rose as its fulfilling experience; while this enjoyment is just the content or definition of what the smell consciously meant, i.e., meant to mean. Both the thing meaning and the thing meant are elements in the same situation. Both are present, but both are not present in the same way. In fact, one is present as-not-present-in-the-same-way-in-which-the-other-is. It is present as something to be rendered present in the same way through the intervention of an operation. We must not balk at a purely verbal difficulty. It suggests a verbal inconsistency to speak of a thing present-as-absent. But all ideal contents,

(89) all aims (that is, things aimed at) are present in just such fashion. Things can be presented as absent, just as they can be presented as hard or soft, black or white, six inches or fifty rods away from the body. The assumption that an ideal content must be either totally absent, or else present in just the same fashion as it will be when it is realized, is not only dogmatic, but self-contradictory. The only way in which an ideal content can be experienced at all is to be presented as not-present-in-the-same-way in which something else is present, the latter kind of presence affording the standard or type of satisfactory presence. When present in the same way it ceases to be an ideal content. Not a contrast of bare existence over against non-existence, or of present consciousness over against reality out of present consciousness, but of a satisfactory with an unsatisfactory mode of presence makes the difference between the " really " and the " ideally " present.

In terms of our illustration, handling and enjoying the rose are present, but they are not present in the same way that the smell is present. They are present as going to be there in the same way, through an operation which the smell stands sponsor for. The situation is inherently an uneasy one-one in which everything hangs upon the performance of the operation indicated; upon the adequacy of movement as a connecting

(90) link, or real adjustment of the thing meaning and the thing meant. Generalizing from the instance, we get the following definition: An experience is a knowledge, if in its quale there is an experienced distinction and connection of two elements of the following sort: one means or intends the presence of the other in the same fashion in which itself is already present, while the other is that which, while not present in the same fashion, must become so present if the meaning or intention of its companion or yoke-fellow is to be fulfilled through the operation it sets up.


We now return briefly to the question of knowledge as acquaintance, and at greater length to that of knowledge as assurance, or as fulfilment which confirms and validates. With the recurrence of the odor as meaning something beyond itself, there is apprehension, knowledge that. One may now say I know what a rose smells like; or I know what this smell is like; I am acquainted with the rose's agreeable odor. In short, on the basis of a present quality, the odor anticipates and forestalls some further trait.

We have also the conditions of knowledge of the confirmation and refutation type. In the working out of the situation just described, in the trans-

(91)- formation, self-indicated and self-demanded, of the tensional into a harmonious or satisfactory situation, fulfilment or disappointment results. The odor either does or does not fulfil itself in the rose. The smell as intention is borne out by the facts, or is nullified. As has already been pointed out, the subsequent experience of the fulfilment type is not primarily a confirmation or refutation. Its import is too vital, too urgent to be reduced in itself just to the value of testing an intention or meaning.[7] But it gets in reflection just such verificatory significance. If the smell's intention is unfulfilled, the discrepancy may throw one back, in reflection, upon the original situation. Interesting developments then occur. The smell meant a rose; and yet it did not (so it turns out) mean a rose; it meant another flower, or something, one can't just tell what. Clearly there is something

(92) else which enters in; something else beyond the odor as it was first experienced determined the validity of its meaning. Here then, perhaps, we have a transcendental, as distinct from an experimental reference? Only if this something else makes no difference, or no detectable difference, in the smell itself. If the utmost observation and reflection can find no difference in the smell quales that fail and those that succeed in executing their intentions, then there is an outside controlling and disturbing factor, which, since it is outside of the situation, can never be utilized in knowledge, and hence can never be employed in any concrete testing or verifying. In this case, knowing depends upon an extra-experimental or transcendental factor. But this very transcendental quality makes both confirmation and refutation, correction, criticism, of the pretensions or meanings of things, impossible. For the conceptions of truth and error, we must, upon the transcendental basis, substitute those of accidental success or failure. Sometimes the intention chances upon one, sometimes upon another. Why or how, the gods only know-and they only if to them the extra-experimental factor is not extra-experimental, but makes a concrete difference in the concrete smell. But fortunately the situation is not one to be thus described. The factor that determines the success or failure, does institute a difference in the thing

(93) which means the object, and this difference is detectable, once attention, through failure, has been called to the need of its discovery. At the very least, it makes this difference: the smell is infected with an element of uncertainty of meaning-and this as a part of the thing experienced, not for an observer. This additional awareness at least brings about an additional wariness. Meaning is more critical, and operation more cautious.

But we need not stop here. Attention may be fully directed to the subject of smells. Smells may become the object of knowledge. They may take, pro tempore,[8] the place which the rose formerly occupied. One may, that is, observe the cases in which odors mean other things than just roses, may voluntarily produce new cases for the sake of further inspection, and thus account for the cases where meanings had been falsified in the issue; discriminate more carefully the peculiarities of those meanings which the event verified, and thus safeguard and bulwark to some extent the employing of similar meanings in the future. Superficially, it may then seem as if odors were treated after the fashion of Locke's simple ideas,

( 94) or Humes "distinct ideas which are separate existences." Smells apparently assume an independent, isolated status during this period of investigation. " Sensations," as the laboratory psychologist and the analytic psychologist generally studies them, are examples of just such detached things. But egregious error results if we forget that this seeming isolation and detachment is the outcome of a deliberate scientific device-that it is simply a part of the scientific technique of an inquiry directed upon securing tested conclusions. Just and only because odors (or any group of qualities) are parts of a connected world are they signs of things beyond themselves; and only because they are signs is it profitable and necessary to study them as if f they were complete, self-enclosed entities.

In the reflective determination of things with reference to their specifically meaning other things, experiences of fulfilment, disappointment, and going astray inevitably play an important and recurrent rôle. They also are realistic facts, related in realistic ways to the things that intend to mean other things and to the things intended. When these fulfilments and refusals are reflected upon in the determinate relations in which they stand to their relevant meanings, they obtain a quality which is quite lacking to them in their immediate occurrence as just fulfilments or disappointments; viz.,

( 95) the property of affording assurance and correction of confirming and refuting. Truth and falsity are not properties of any experience or thing, in and of itself or in its first intention; but of things where the problem of assurance consciously enters in. Truth and falsity present themselves as significant facts only in situations in which specific meanings and their already experienced fulfilments and non-fulfilments are intentionally compared and contrasted zenith reference to the question of the worth, as to reliability of meaning, of the given meaning or class of meanings. Like knowledge itself, truth is an experienced relation of things, and it has no meaning outside of such relation,[9] any more than such adjectives as comfortable applied to a lodging, correct applied to speech, persuasive applied to an orator, etc., have worth apart from the specific things to which they are applied. It would be a great gain for logic and epistemology, if we were always to translate the noun " truth " back into the adjective " true," and this back into the adverb " truly "; at least, if we were to do so until we have familiarized ourselves thoroughly

(96) with the fact that " truth " is an abstract noun, summarizing a quality presented by specific affairs in their own specific contents.


I have attempted, in the foregoing pages, a description of the function of knowledge in its own terms and on its merits-a description which in intention is realistic, if by realistic we are content to mean naturalistic, a description undertaken on the basis of what Mr. Santayana has well called 11 following the lead of the subject-matter." Unfortunately at the present time all such undertakings contend with a serious extraneous obstacle. Accomplishing the undertaking has difficulties enough of its own to reckon with; and first attempts are sure to be imperfect, if not radically wrong. But at present the attempts are not, for the most part, even listened to on their own account, they are not examined and criticised as naturalistic attempts. They are compared with undertakings of a wholly different nature, with an epistemological theory o f knowledge, and the assumptions of this extraneous theory arc taken as a ready-made standard by which to test their validity. Literally of course, " epistemology " means only theory of knowledge; the term might therefore have been employed simply as a synonym for a descriptive

(97) logic; for a theory that takes knowledge as it finds it and attempts to give the same kind of an account of it that would be given of any other natural function or occurrence. But the mere mention of what might have been only accentuates what is. The things that pass for epistemology all assume that knowledge is not a natural function or event, but a mystery.

Epistemology starts from the assumption that pertain conditions lie, back of knowledge. The mystery would be great enough if knowledge were constituted by non-natural conditions back of knowledge, but the mystery is increased by the fact that the conditions are defined so as to be incompatible with knowledge. Hence the primary problem of epistemology is: How is knowledge dberhaupt, knowledge at large, possible? Because of the incompatibility between the concrete occurrence and function of knowledge and the conditions back of it to which it must conform, a second problem arises: How is knowledge in general, knowledge uberhaupt, valid? Hence the complete divorce in contemporary thought between epistemology as theory of knowledge and logic as an account of the specific ways in which particular beliefs that are better than other alternative beliefs regarding the same matters are formed; and also the complete divorce between a naturalistic, a biological and social psychology, setting forth how

( 98) the function of knowledge is evolved out of other natural activities, and epistemology as an account of how knowledge is possible anyhow.

It is out of the question to set forth in this place in detail the contrast between transcendental epistemology and an experimental theory of knowledge. It may assist the understanding of the latter, however, if I point out, baldly and briefly, how, out o f the distinctively empirical situation, there arise those assumptions which make knowledge a mystery, and hence a topic for a peculiar branch of philosophizing.

As just pointed out, epistemology makes the possibility of knowledge a problem, because it assumes back of knowledge conditions incompatible with the obvious traits of knowledge as it empirically exists. These assumptions are that the organ or instrument of knowledge is not a natural object, but some ready-made state of mind or consciousness, something purely " subjective," a peculiar kind of existence which lives, moves, and has its being in a realm different from things to be known; and that the ultimate goal and content of knowledge is a flied, ready-made thing which has no organic connections with the origin, purpose, and growth of the attempt to know it, some kind of Ding-an-rich or absolute, extra-empirical Reality."

(1) It is not difficult to see at what point in

(99) the development of natural knowledge, or the signifying of one thing by another, there arises the notion of the knowing medium as something radically different in the order of existence from the thing to be known. It arises subsequent to the repeated experience of non-fulfilment, of frustration and disappointment. The odor did not after all mean the rose; it meant something quite different; and yet its indicative function was exercised so forcibly that we could not help-or at least did not help-believing in the existence of the rose. This is a familiar and typical kind of experience, one which very early leads to the recognition that " things are not what they seem." There are two contrasted methods of dealing with this recognition: one is the method indicated above (p. 93). We go more thoroughly, patiently, and carefully into the facts of the case. We employ all sorts of methods, invented for the purpose, of examining the things that are signs and the things that are signified, and we experimentally produce various situations, in order that we may tell what smells mean roses when roses are meant, what it is about the smell and the rose that led us into error; and that we may be able to discriminate those cases in which a suspended conclusion is all that circumstances admit. We simply do the best we can to regulate our system of signs so that they become as instructive as possible, utilizing for this purpose

(100) (as indicated above) all possible experiences of success and of failure, and deliberately instituting cases which will throw light on the specific empirical causes of success and failure.

Now it so happens that when the facts of error were consciously generalized and formulated, namely in Greek thought, such a technique of specific inquiry and rectification did not exist-in fact, it hardly could come into existence until after error had been seized upon as constituting a fundamental anomaly. Hence the method just outlined of dealing with the situation was impossible. We can imagine disconsolate ghosts willing to postpone any professed solution of the difficulty till subsequent generations have thrown more light on the question itself ; we can hardly imagine passionate human beings exercising such reserve. At all events, Greek thought provided what seemed a satisfactory way out: there are two orders of existence, one permanent and complete, the noumenal region, to which alone the characteristic of Being is properly applicable, the other transitory, phenomenal, sensible, a region of non-Being, or at least of mere Coming-to-be, a region in which Being is hopelessly mixed with non-Being, with the unreal. The former alone is the domain of knowledge, of truth; the latter is the territory of opinion, confusion, and error. In short, the contrast within experience of the cases in which things suc-

(101) -cessfully and unsuccessfully maintained and executed the meanings of other things was erected into a wholesale difference of status in the intrinsic characters of the things involved in the two types of cases.

With the beginnings of modern thought, the region of the " unreal," the source of opinion and error, was located exclusively in the individual. The object was all real and all satisfactory, but the " subject " could approach the object only through his own subjective states, his " sensations " and " ideas." The Greek conception of two orders of existence was retained, but instead of the two orders characterizing the " universe " itself, one was the universe, the other was the individual mind trying to know that universe. This scheme would obviously easily account for error and hallucination; but how could knowledge, truth, ever come about such a basis? The Greek problem of the possibility of error became the modern problem of the possibility of knowledge.

Putting the matter in terms that are independent of history, experiences of failure, disappointment, non-fulfilment of the function of meaning and contention may lead the individual to the path of science-to more careful and extensive investigation of the things themselves, with a view to detecting specific sources of error, and guard-

(102) -ing against them, and regulating, so far as possible, the conditions under which objects are bearers of meanings beyond themselves. But impatient of such slow and tentative methods (which insure not infallibility but increased probability of valid conclusions), by reason of disappointment a person may turn epistemologist. He may then take the discrepancy, the failure of the smell to execute its own intended meaning, as a wholesale, rather than as a specific fact: as evidence of a contrast in general between things meaning and things meant, instead of as evidence of the need of a more cautious and thorough inspection of odors and execution of operations indicated by them. One may then say: Woe is me; smells are only my smells, subjective states existing in an order of being made out of consciousness, while roses exist in another order made out of a radically different sort of stuff; or, odors are made out of " finite " consciousness as their stuff, while the real things, the objects which fulfil them, are made out of an " infinite " consciousness as their material. Hence some purely metaphysical tie has to be called in to bring them into connection with each other. And yet this tie does not concern knowledge; it does not make the meaning of one odor any more correct than that of another, nor enable us to discriminate relative degrees of correctness. As a principle of control, this transcendental connec-

(103) -tion is related to all alike, and hence condemns and justifies all alike.[10]

It is interesting to note that the transcendentalist almost invariably first falls into the psychological fallacy; and then having himself taken the psychologist's attitude (the attitude which is interested in meanings as themselves self-inclosed " ideas ") accuses the empiricist whom he criticises of having confused mere psychological existence with logical validity. That is, he begins by supposing that the smell of our illustration (and all the cognitional objects for which this is used as a

( 104) symbol) is a purely mental or psychical state, so that the question of logical reference or intention is the problem of how the merely mental can "know " the extra-mental. But from a strictly empirical point of view, the smell which knows is no more merely mental than is the rose known. We may, if we please, say that the smell when involving conscious moaning or intention is " mental," but this term " mental " does not denote some separate type of existence -existence as a state of consciousness. It denotes only the fact that the smell, a real and non-psychical object, now exercises an intellectual function. This new property involves, as James has pointed out, an additive relation-a new property possessed by a nonmental object, when that object, occurring in a new context, assumes a further office and use.[11] To be " in the mind" means to be in a situation in which the function of intending is directly concerned.[12] Will not some one who believes that the knowing experience is ab origine a strictly " mental " thing, explain how, as matter of fact, it does get a specific, extra-mental reference, capable of being tested, confirmed, or re-

(105) -futed? Or, if he believes that viewing it as merely mental expresses only the form it takes for psychological analysis, will he not explain why he so persistently attributes the inherently " mental " characterization of it to the empiricist whom he criticises? An object becomes meaning when used empirically in a certain way; and, under certain circumstances, the exact character and worth of this meaning becomes an object of solicitude. But the transcendental epistemologist with his purely psychical 11 meanings " and his purely extra-empirical " truths " assumes a Deus ex Machina whose mechanism is preserved a secret. And as if to add to the arbitrary character of his assumption, he has to admit that the transcendental a. Priori faculty by which mental states get objective reference does not in the least help us to discriminate, in the concrete, between an objective reference that is false and one that is valid.

(2) The counterpart assumption to that of pure aboriginal " mental states " is, of course, that of an Absolute Reality, fixed and complete in itself, of which our " mental states " are bare transitory hints, their true meaning and their transcendent goal being the Truth in rerum natura. If the organ and medium of knowing is a self-inclosed order of existence different in kind from the Object to be known, then that Object must stand out there in complete aloofness from the concrete purpose

( 106) and procedure of knowing it. But if we go back to the knowing as a natural occurrence, capable of description, we find that just as a smell does not mean Rose in general (or anything else at large), but means a specific group of qualities whose experience is intended and anticipated, so the function of knowing is always expressed in connections between a given experience and a specific possible wanted experience. The " rose " that is meant in a particular situation is the rose of that situation. When this experience is consummated, it is achieved as the fulfilment of the conditions in which just that intention was entertained-not as the fulfilment of a faculty of knowledge or a meaning in general. Subsequent meanings and subsequent fulfilments may increase, may enrich the consummating experience; the object or content of the rose as known may be other and fuller next time and so on. But we have no right to set up " a rose " at large or in general as the object of the knowing odor; the object of a knowledge is always strictly correlative to that particular thing which means it. It is not something which can be put in a wholesale way over against that which cognitively refers to it, as when the epistemologist puts the " real " rose (object) over against a merely phenomenal or empirical rose which this smell happens to mean. As the meaning gets more complex, fuller, more finely discriminated, the object which realizes or fulfils

(107) the meaning grows similarly in quality. But we cannot set up a rose, an object of fullest, complete, and exhaustive content as that which is really meant by any and every odor of a rose, whether it consciously meant to mean it or not. The test of the cognitional rectitude of the odor lies in the specific object which it sets out to secure. This is the meaning of the statement that the import of each term is found in its relationship to the other. It applies to object meant as well as to the meaning. Fulfilment, completion are always relative terms. Hence the criterion of the truth or falsity of the meaning, of the adequacy, of the cognitional thing lies within the relationships of the situation and not without. The thing that means another by means of an intervening operation either succeeds or fails in accomplishing the operation indicated, while this operation either gives or fails to give the object meant. Hence the truth or falsity of the original cognitional object.


From this excursion, I return in conclusion to a brief general characterization of those situations in which we are aware that things mean other things and are so critically aware of it that, in order to increase the probability of fulfilment and to decrease the chance of frustration, all possible

(108) pains are taken to regulate the meanings that attach to things. These situations define that type of knowing which we call scientific. There are things that claim to mean other experiences; in which the trait of meaning other objects is not discovered ab extra, and after the event, but is part of the thing itself. This trait of the thing is as realistic, as specific, as any other of its traits. It is, therefore,, as open to inspection and determination as to its nature, as is any other trait. Moreover, since it is upon this trait that assurance (as distinct from accident) of fulfilment depends, an especial interest, an absorbing interest, attaches to its determination. Hence the scientific type of knowledge and its growing domination over other sorts.

We employ meanings in all intentional constructions of experience in all anticipations, whether artistic, utilitarian or technological, social or moral. The success of the anticipation is found to depend upon the character of the meaning. Hence the stress upon a right determination of these meanings. Since they are the instruments upon which fulfilment depends so far as that is controlled or other than accidental, they become themselves objects of surpassing interest. For all persons at some times, and for one class of persons (scientists) at almost all times, the determination of the meanings employed in the control of fulfilments (of acting upon meanings) is central.

( 109) The experimental or pragmatic theory of knowledge explains the dominating importance of science; it does not depreciate it or explain it away.

Possibly pragmatic writers are to blame for the tendency of their critics to assume that the practice they have in mind is utilitarian in some narrow sense, referring to some preconceived and inferior use though I cannot recall any evidence for this admission. But what the pragmatic theory has in mind is precisely the fact that all the affairs of life which need regulation-all values o f all types -depend upon utilizations of meanings. Action is not to be limited to anything less than the carrying out of ideas, than the execution, whether strenuous or easeful, of meanings. Hence the surpassing importance which comes to attach to the careful, impartial construction of the meanings, and to their constant survey and resurvey with reference to their value as evidenced by experiences of fulfilment and deviation.

That truth denotes truths, that is, specific verifications, combinations of meanings and outcomes reflectively viewed, is, one may say, the central point of the experimental theory. Truth, in general or in the abstract, is a just name for an experienced relation among the things of experience that sort of relation in which intents are retrospectively viewed from the standpoint of the fullfilment which they secure through their own natural

( 110) operation or incitement. Thus the experimental theory explains directly and simply the absolutistic tendency to translate concrete true things into the general relationship, Truth, and then to hypostatize this abstraction into identity with real being, Truth per se and in se, of which all transitory things and events-that is, all experienced realities -are only shadowy futile approximations. This type of relationship is central for man's will, for man's conscious endeavor. To select, to conserve, to extend, to propagate those meanings which the course of events has generated, to note their peculiarities, to be in advance on the alert for them, to search for them anxiously, to substitute them for meanings that eat up our energy in vain, defines the aim of rational effort and the goal of legitimate ambition. The absolutistic theory is the transfer of this moral or voluntary law of selective action into a quasi-physical (that is, metaphysical) law of indiscriminate being. Identify metaphysical being with significant excellent being-that is, with those relationships of things which, in our moments of deepest insight and largest survey, we would continue and reproduce-and the experimentalist, rather than the absolutist, is he who has a right to proclaim the supremacy of Truth, and the superiority of the life devoted to Truth for its own sake over that of " mere " activity. But to read back into an order of things which exists without

(111) the participation of our reflection and aim, the quality which defines the purpose of our thought and endeavor is at one and the same stroke to mythologize reality and to deprive the life of thoughtful endeavor of its ground for being.


  1. Reprinted, with considerable change in the arrangement and in the matter of the latter portion, from Mind, Vol. XV., N.S., July, 1906.
  2. I must remind the reader again of a point already suggested. It is the identification of presence in consciousness with knowledge as such that leads to setting up a mind (ego, subject) which has the peculiar property of knowing (only so often it knows wrong!), or else that leads to supplying "sensations" with the peculiar property of surveying their own entrails. Given the correct feeling that knowledge involves relationship, there being, by supposition, no other thing to which the thing in consciousness is related, it is forthwith related to a soul substance, or to its ghostly offspring, a "subject," or to "consciousness" itself.
  3. Let us further recall that this theory requires either that things present shall already be psychical things (feelings, sensations, etc.), in order to be assimilated to the knowing mind, subject to consciousness; or else translates genuinely naïve realism into the miracle of a mind that gets outside itself to lay its ghostly hands upon the things of an external world.
  4. This means that things may be present as known, just as they be present as hard or soft, agreeable or disgusting, hoped for or dreaded. The mediacy, or the art of intervention, which characterizes knowledge, indicates precisely the way in which known things as known are immediately present.
  5. If Hume had had a tithe of the interest in the flux of perceptions and in habit-principles of continuity and of organization-which he had in distinct and isolated existences, he might have saved us both from German Erkenntnisstheorie, and from that modern miracle play, the psychology of elements of consciousness, that under the aegis of science, does not hesitate to have psychical elements compound and breed, and in their agile intangibility put to shame the performances of their less acrobatic cousins, physical atoms.
  6. "In other words, the situation as described is not to be confused with the case of hunting on purpose to test an idea regarding the dog.
  7. Dr. Moore, in an essay in " Contributions to Logical Theory" has brought out clearly, on the basis of a criticism of the theory of meaning and fulfilment advanced in Royce's " World and Individual," the full consequences of this distinction. I quote one sentence (p. 350) : " Surely there is a pretty discernible difference between experience as a purposive idea, and the experience which fulfils this purpose. To call them both `ideas' is at least confusing." The text above simply adds that there is also a discernible and important difference between experiences which, de facto, are purposing and fulfilling (that is, are seen to be such ab extra), and those which meant to be such, and are found to be what they meant.
  8. The association of science and philosophy with leisure, with a certain economic surplus, is not accidental. It is practically worth while to postpone practice; to substitute theorizing, to develop a new and fascinating mode of practice. But it is the excess achievement of practice which makes this postponement and substitution possible.
  9. 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. It is the same failure which is responsible for the wholly at large view of truth which characterizes the absolutists.
  10. The belief in the metaphysical transcendence of the object of knowledge seems to have its real origin in an empirical transcendence of a very specific and describable sort. The thing meaning is one thing; the thing meant is another thing, and is (as already pointed out) a thing presented as not given in the same way as is the thing which means. It is something to be so given. No amount of careful and thorough inspection of the indicating and signifying things can remove or annihilate this gap. The probability of correct meaning may be increased in varying degrees and this is what we mean by control. But final certitude can never be reached except experimentally-except by performing the operations indicated and discovering whether or no the intended meaning is fulfilled in propria persona. In this experimental sense, truth or the object of any given meaning is always beyond or outside of the cognitional thing that means it. Error as well as truth is s. necessary function of knowing. But the non-empirical account of this transcendent (or beyond) relationship puts all the error in one place (our knowledge), and all the truth in another (absolute consciousness or else a thing-in-itself).
  11. Compare his essay, " Does Consciousness Exist?" in the Journal of Philosophy, Psychology, and Scientific Methods, Vol. L, p. 480.
  12. Compare the essay on the "Problem of Consciousness," by Professor Woodbridge, in the Garman Memorial Volume, entitled 11 Studies in Philosophy and Psychology"

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