The Influence of Darwin on Philosophy and Other Essays

Chapter 5: The Intellectualist Criterion for Truth[1]

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AMONG the influences that have worked in contemporary philosophy towards distintegration of intellectualism 'of the epistemological type, and towards the substitution of a philosophy of experience, the work of Mr. Bradley must be seriously counted. One has, for example, only to compare his metaphysics with the two fundamental contentions of T. H. Green, namely, that reality is a single, eternal, and all-inclusive system of relations, and that this system of relations is one in kind with that process of relating which constitutes our thinking, to be instantly aware of a changed atmosphere. Much of Bradley's writings is a sustained and deliberate polemic against intellectualism of the Neo-Kantian type. When, however, we find conjoined to this criticism an

(113) equally sustained contention that the philosophic conception of reality must be based on an exclusively intellectual criterion, a criterion belonging to and confined to theory, we have a situation that is thought-provoking. The situation grows in interest when it is remembered that there is a general and growing tendency among those who appeal in philosophy to a strictly intellectualistic method of defining " reality," to insist that the reality reached by this method has a super-intellectual content: that intellectual, affectional, and volitional features are all joined and fused in " ultimate " reality. The curious character of the situation is that Reality is an " absolute experience " of which the intellectual is simply one partial and transmuted moment. Yet this reality is attained unto, in philosophic method, by exclusive emphasis upon the intellectual aspect of present experience and by systematic exclusion of exactly the emotional, volitional features which with respect to content are insisted upon! Under such circumstances the cynically-minded are moved to wonder whether this tremendous insistence upon one factor in present experience at the expense of others, is not because this is the only way to maintain the notion of " Absolute Experience," and to prevent it from collapsing into ordinary every-day experience. This paradox is not peculiar to Mr. Bradley. Looking at the Neo-Kantian movement in the broad in its

(114) modern form, one might almost say that its prominent feature is its insistence upon reaching a " Reality " that includes extra-intellectual factors and phases, traits that are ideal in a moral and emotional sense, by an exclusive recognition of the function of knowledge in its isolation.

Such being the case, an examination of Mr. Bradley's method and criterion may have farreaching implications. First, let us set before ourselves the general points of Mr. Bradley's indictment of intellectualism.[2] Knowledge or judgment works by means of thought; it is predication of idea (meaning) of existence as its subject. Its final aim is to effect a complete union or harmony of existence and meaning. But it is fore-doomed to failure, for in realizing its end it must employ means which contradict its own purpose. This inherent incapacity lurks in judgment with respect to subject, predicate, and copula. The predicate or meaning necessary to complete the reality presented in the subject can be referred to the latter and united with it only by being itself alienated from existence. It heals the wounds or deficiencies of its own subject (and in the end all deficiencies are to the modern idealist discrepancies) only on condition of inflicting another wound,--only by sundering meaning from a prior union with exist-

( 115) -ence in some other phase. This latter existence, therefore, is always left out in the cold. It is as if we wanted to get all the cloth in the world into one garment and our only way of accomplishing this were to tear off a portion from one piece of goods in order to patch it on to another.

The subject of the judgment, moreover, as well as the predicate, stands in the way of judgment fulfilling its own task. It has " sensuous infinitude " and it has " immediacy," but these two traits contradict each other. The details of the subject always go beyond itself, being indefinitely related to something beyond. " In its given content it has relations which do not terminate within that content " (ibid., p. lĪ6 ), while in its immediacy it presents an undivided union of existence and meaning. No subject can be mere existence any more than it can be mere meaning. It is always existent or embodied meaning. As such it claims individuality or the character of a single subsistent whole. But this indispensable claim is inconsistent with its ragged-edged character, its indefinite external reference, which is indispensable to it as subject that it may require and receive further meaning from predication.

With respect to the copula the following quotation from the " Principles " of Logic (p. 10) may serve: " Judgment proper is the act which refers the ideal content (recognized as such) to the

( 116) reality beyond the act." In other words, judgment as act (and it is the act which is expressed in the copula) must always fall outside of the content of knowledge as such; yet since this act certainly falls within reality, it would have to be recognized and stated by any knowledge pretending to competency with respect to reality as a whole. These considerations, stated in this way, are highly technical and presuppose a knowledge not merely of Mr. Bradley's own logic, but also of the logical analysis of knowledge initiated by Kant and carried on by Herbart, Lotze, and others. Their main import may, however, be stated in comparatively non-technical form. Human experience is full of discrepancies. Were experience purely a matter of brute existence (such as we sometimes imagine the animals' experience to be) it would be totally lacking in meaning and there would be no problems, no thinking, no occasion for thinking, and hence no philosophy. On the other hand, if experience were a complete, tight-jointed union of existence and meaning, there would be no dissatisfaction, no problems, no cause for efforts to patch up defects and contradictions. Existences, things, would embody all the meanings that they suggest; while abstract meanings, values that are merely ideal, that are projected or thought of but not fulfilled, would be totally unheard of. But our experience stands in marked contrast to both

(117) these types of experience. It is neither an affair of meaningless existence nor of existence self-luminous with fulfilled meaning. All things that we experience have some meaning, but that meaning is always so partially embodied in things that we cannot rest in them. They point beyond themselves; they indicate meanings which they do not fulfil; they suggest values which they fail to embody, and when we go to other things for the fruition of what is denied, we either find the same situation of division over again, or we find even more positive disappointment and frustration-we find contrary meanings set up. Now all thinking grows out of this discrepancy between existence and the meaning which it partially embodies and partially refuses, which it suggests but declines to express. Yet thinking, the mode of bringing existence and meaning into harmony with each other, always works by selection, by abstraction; it sets up and projects meanings which are ideal only, footless, in the air, matters of thought only, not of sentiency or immediate existence. It emphasizes the ideal of a completed union of existence and meaning, but is helpless to effect it. And this helplessness (according to Mr. Bradley) is not due to external pressure but to the very structure of thought itself.

From every point of view knowledge operates under conditions, (and these not externally imposed

(118) but inherent in its own nature as judgment,) that render it incapable of realizing its aim of complete union of existence and meaning. Granted the argument, and it is difficult to imagine a more serious indictment against the pretensions of philosophy to reach " Reality " via the exclusive path of knowledge.

The presence of contradiction is Mr. Bradley's criterion for " appearance," just as its absence is his criterion for " reality." It thus goes without saying that knowledge and truth which we can attain are matters of appearance. Contradiction between existence and meaning is its last word. This is not merely a logical deduction from Mr. Bradley's position, but is expressly stated by him. " Thus the truth belongs to existence, but it does not as such exist . . . . Truth shows a dissection but never an actual life " (" Appearance and Reality," p. 167). Again, " every truth is appearance since in it we have divorce of quality from being" (ibid., p. 187). " Even absolute truth seems in the end to turn out erroneous.

. . Internal discrepancy belongs irremovably to truth's proper character . . . . Truth is one aspect of experience and is therefore made imperfect and limited by what it fails to include" (ibid., pp. 544-545). Nothing could be more explicit as to the inherently contradictory character of truth, both as an ideal and as an accom-

(119) -plished fact; nothing more positive as to the unreality or appearance-character of truth. We cannot, on Mr. Bradley's method, stop here. Not only is knowledge-working as it does through thought which is always partial, selective, abstractive-doomed to failure in accomplishing its task, but the existence of the contradiction between the suggestion of meanings by existence and this realization in existence is itself due to thought.

Speaking of thought he says: 11 The relational form is a compromise on which thought stands and which it develops." And all the particular antinomies which he discusses are interpreted as having their basis in the category of relation (ibid., p. 180). In his section on Appearance he goes through various aspects and distinctions of the world, such as primary and secondary qualities, substance and its properties, relation and qualitative elements, space and time, motion and change, causation, etc., pointing out irreconcilable discrepancies in them. He does not, in a generalized way, expressly refer them to any common source or root. But it seems a fair inference that the relational character of thought is at the bottom of the whole trouble: so that we have in the cases mentioned precisely the same situation in concreto which is set forth in abstracto in the discussion of thought. The contradictions brought up are in every case resolved into the fundamental discrep-

(120) -ancy supposed to exist between relations and elements related. In each case there is the ideal of a final unity in which relations and elements as such disappear, while in every case the nature of relation is such as to prevent the desired consummation. In at least one place, it is expressly declared that it is the knowledge function which is responsible- for the degradation of reality to appearance. " We do not suggest that - the thing always itself is an appearance. We mean its character is such that it becomes one as soon as we judge it. And this character we have seen throughout our work, is ideality. Appearance consists in the looseness of content from existence.

And we have found that everywhere throughout the world such ideality prevails " (ibid., p. 486, italics not in the original). It is not then strictly true that the divorce of meaning and existence instigates thought; rather thought is the unruly member that creates the divorce and then engages in the task (in which it is self-condemned to failure) of trying to establish the unity which it has gratuitously destroyed. Thinking, self-consciousness, is disease of the naļve unity of thoughtless experience.

On the one hand there is a systematic discrediting of the ultimate claims of the knowledge function, and this not from external physiological or psychological reasons such as are sometimes alleged

( 121) against its capacity, but on the basis of its own interior logic. But on the other hand, a strictly logical criterion is deliberately adopted and employed as the fundamental and final criterion for the philosophic conception of reality. Long familiarity has not dulled my astonishment at finding exactly the same set of considerations which in the earlier portion of the book are employed to condemn things as experienced by us to the region of Appearance, employed in the latter portion of the book to afford a triumphant demonstration of the existence and character of Absolute Reality. The argument I take up first on its formal side, and then with reference to material considerations.[3]

The positive conception of Reality is reached by the conception that " ultimate reality must be such that it does not contradict itself ; here is an absolute criterion. And it is proved absolute by the fact that either in endeavoring to deny it or even in attempting to doubt it, we tacitly assume its validity " ('bid., pp. 186-187). That is to say, when one sets out to think one must avoid selfcontradiction; this avoidance, or, put positively, the attainment of consistency, harmony, is the basic law of all thinking. Since in thinking we set out to attain reality, it follows that reality itself must be self-consistent, and that its self-consistency

( 122) determines the law of thought. Or, as Mr. Bradley again puts the matter, " In order to think at all you must subject yourself to the standard, a standard which implies an absolute knowledge of reality; and while you doubt this, you accept it, and obey, while you rebel" (ibid., p. 153). The absolute knowledge referred to is, of course, the knowledge of the thoroughly self-consistent, non-contradictory character of reality. Every reader of Mr. Bradley's book knows how he goes on from this point to supply positive content to reality; to give an outline sketch of the characters it must possess and the way in which it must possess them in order to maintain its thoroughly self-consistent character. It is, however, only the strictly formal aspect of the matter that I am here concerned with.

On this side we reach, I think, the heart of the matter by asking, in reference to the first quotation: Absolute for what? Surely absolute for the process under consideration, that is absolute for thought. But the significance of this absolute for thought is, one may say, " absolutely " (since we are here confessedly in the realm just of thought) determined by the nature of thought itself. Now this nature has been already referred by considerations " belonging irremovably to truth's proper character," to the world of appearance and of internal discrepancy. Yes, one may say (speaking

(123) formally), the criterion of thought is absolute that is to say absolute or final for thought; but how can one imagine that this in any way alters the essential nature and value of thought? If knowledge works by thought, and thought institutes appearance over against reality, any further fact about thought such as a statement of its criterion falls wholly within the limits of this situation. It is comical to suppose that a special trait of thought can be employed to alter the fundamental and essential nature of thought. The criterion of thought must be infected by the nature of thought, instead of being a redeeming angel which at a critical juncture transforms the fragile creature, thought, into an ambassador with power plenipotentiary to the court of the Absolute.

There really seems to be ground for supposing that the whole argument turns on an ambiguity in the use of the word " absolute." Keeping strictly within the limits of the argument, it means nothing more than that thinking has a certain principle, a law of its own; that it has an appropriate mode of procedure which must not be violated. It means, in short, whatever is finally controlling for the thought-function. But Mr. Bradley immediately takes the word to mean absolute in the sense of describing a reality which by its very nature is totally contradistinguished from appearance-that is to say, from the realm of thought.

( 124) Upon the ambiguity of a word, the systematic indictment of intellectualism becomes the cornerstone of a systematically intellectualistic method of conceiving reality!

Mr. Bradley has himself recognized the seeming contradiction between his indictment of thought and his use of the criterion of thought as the exclusive path to a philosophic notion of the real. In dealing with it, he (to my mind) comes within an ace of stating a truer doctrine, and also exhibits even more clearly the weakness of his own position. He goes so far as to put the following words into the mouth of an objector, and to accept their general import: "All axioms, as a matter of fact, are practical . . . for none of them in the end can amount to more than the impulse to behave in a certain way. And they cannot express more than this impulse, together with the impossibility of satisfaction unless it is complied with" (p. 151). After accepting this (p. 152) he goes on to say: "Take for example the law of avoiding contradiction. When two elements will not remain quietly together, but collide and struggle, we cannot rest satisfied with that state. Our impulse is to alter it and, on the theoretical side, to bring the content to such shape that the variety remains peaceably in one. And this inability to rest otherwise and this tendency to alter in a certain way and direction is, when reflected

(125) upon and made explicit, our axiom and our intellectual standard" (p. 152; italics mine).

The retort is obvious: if the intellectual criterion, the principle of non-contradiction on which his whole Absolute Reality rests, is itself a practical principle, then surely the ultimate criterion for regulating intellectual undertakings is practical. To this obvious answer Mr. Bradley makes reply as follows: " You may call the intellect, if you like, a mere tendency to a movement, but you must remember that it is a movement of a very special kind . . . . Thinking is the attempt to satisfy a special impulse, and the attempt implies an assumption about reality . . . . But why, it may be objected, is this assumption better than what holds for practice? Why i9 the theoretical to be superior to the practical end? I have never said that this is so, only here, that is, in metaphysics, I must be allowed to reply, we are acting theoretically . . . . The theoretical standard within theory must surely be absolute " (p. 153. The italics again are mine; compare with the quotation this, from p. 485: " Our attitude, however, in metaphysics must be theoretical." So, also, p. 154, " Since metaphysics is mere theory and since theory from its nature must be made by the intellect, it is here the intellect alone which is to be satisfied ").

Grant that intellect is a special movement or

(126) mode of practice; grant that we are not merely acting (are we ever merely acting?) but are " specially occupied and therefore subject to special conditions," and the problem remains what special kind of activity is thinking? what is its experienced differentia from other kinds? what is its commerce with them? When the problem is what special kind of an activity is thinking and of what nature is the consistency which is its criterion, somehow we do not get forward by being told that thinking is a special mode of practice and that its criterion is consistency. The unquestioned presupposition of Mr. Bradley is that thinking is such a wholly separate activity (the " intellect alone " which has to be satisfied), that to give it autonomy is to say that it, and its criterion, have nothing to do with other activities; that it is "independent" as to criterion, in a way which excludes interdependence in function and outcome. Unless the term " special " be interpreted to mean isolated, to say that thinking is a special mode of activity no more nullifies the proposition that it arises in a practical contest and operates for practical ends, than to say that blacksmithing is a special activity, negates its being one connected mode of industrial activity.

His underlying presupposition of the separate character of thought comes out in the passage last quoted. " Our impulse," he says, " is to alter the conflicting situation and, on the theoretical side,

( 127) to bring its contents into peaceable unity." If one substitutes for the word " on " the word " through," one gets a conception of theory and of thinking that does justice to the autonomy of the operation and yet so connects it with other activities as to give it a serious business, real purpose, and concrete responsibility and hence testibility. From this point of view the theoretical activity is simply the form that certain practical activities take after colliding, as the most effective and fruitful way of securing their own harmonization. The collision is not theoretical; the issue in " peaceable unity " is not theoretical. But theory names the type of activity by which the transformation from war to peace is most amply and securely effected.[4]

Admit, however, the force of Mr. Bradley's contention on its own terms and see how futile is

( 128) the result. It is quite true, as Mr. Bradley says (p. 153), that if a man sits down to play the metaphysical game, he must abide by the rules of thinking; but if thinking be already, with respect to reality, an idle and futile game, simply abiding by the rules does not give additional value to its stakes. Grant the premises as to the character of thought, and the assertion of the final character of the theoretical standard within metaphysics since metaphysics is -a form of theory-is a warning against metaphysics. If the intellect involves self-contradiction, it is either impossible that it should be satisfied, or else self-contradiction is its satisfaction.


Let us, however, turn from Mr. Bradley's formal proof that the criterion of philosophic truth must be exclusively a canon of formal thought. Let us ignore the contradiction involved in first making the work of thought to be the producing of appearance and then making the law of this thought the law of an Absolute Reality. What about the intellectualist criterion? The intellectualism of Mr. Bradley's philosophy is represented in the statement that it is " the theoretical standard which guarantees that reality is a self-consistent system " (p. 148). But how can the fact that

(129) the criterion of thinking is consistency be employed to determine the nature of the consistency of its object? Consistency in one sense, consistency of reasoning with itself, we know; but what is the nature of the consistency of reality which this consistency necessitates? Thinking without doubt must be logical; but does it follow from this that the reality about which one thinks, and about which one must think consistently if one is to think to any purpose, must itself be already logical? The pivot of the argument is, of course, the old ontological argument, stripped of all theological irrelevancies and reduced to its fighting weight as a metaphysical proposition. Those who question this basic principle of intellectualism will, of course, question it here. They will urge that, instead of the consistency of "reality" resting on the basis of consistency in the reasoning process the latter derives its meaning from the material consistency at which it aims. They will say that the definition of the nature of the consistency which is the end of thinking and which prescribes its technique is to be reached from inquiry into such questions as these: What sort of an activity in the concrete is thinking? what are the specific conditions which it has to fulfil? what is its use; its relevancy; its purport in present concrete experiences? The more it is insisted that the theoretical standard -- consistency-is final within theory, the more ger-

(130) -mane and the more urgent is the question: What then in the concrete is theory? and of what nature is the material consistency which is the test of its formal consistency?[5]

Take the instance of a man who wishes to deny the criterion of self-consistency in thinking. Is he refuted by pointing to the " fact " that eternal reality is eternally self-consistent? Would not his obvious answer to such a mode of refutation be " What of it? What is the relevancy of that proposition to my procedure in thinking here and now? Doubtless absolute reality may be a great number of things, possibly very sublime and precious things; but what I am concerned with is a particular job of thinking, and until you show me the intermediate terms which link that job to the asserted self-consistent character of absolute reality, I fail to see what difference this doubtless

(131) wholly amiable trait of reality has to make in what I am here and now concerned with. You might as well quote any other irrelevant fact, such as the height of the Empress of China." We take another tack in dealing with the man in question. We call his attention to his specific aim in the situation with reference to which he is thinking, and point out the conditions that have to be observed if that aim is to fulfil itself. We show that if he does not observe the conditions imposed by his aim his thinking will go on so wildly as to defeat itself. It is to consistency of means with the end of the concrete activity that we appeal. " Try thinking," we tell such a man, " experiment with it, taking pains sometimes to have your reasonings consistent with one another, and at other times deliberately introducing inconsistencies; then see what you get in the two cases and how the result reached is related to your purpose in thinking." We point out that since that purpose is to reach a settled conclusion, that purpose will be defeated unless the steps of reasoning are kept consistent with one another. We do not appeal from the mere consistency of the reasoning process-the intellectual aspect of the matter-to an absolute self-consistent reality; but we appeal from the material character of the end to be reached to the type of the formal procedure necessary to accomplish it.

With all our heart, then, the standard of think-

(132) -ing is absolute (that is final) within thinking. But what is thinking? The standard of blacksmithing must be absolute within blacksmithing, but what is blacksmithing ? No prejudice prevents acknowledging that blacksmithing is one practical activity existing as a distinct and relevant member of a like system of activities: that it is because men use horses to transport persons and goods that horses need to be shod. The ultimate criterion of blacksmithing is producing a good shoe, but the nature of a good shoe is fixed, not by blacksmithing, but by the activities in which horses are used. The end is ultimate (absolute) for the operation, but this very finality is evidence that the operation is not absolute and self-inclosed, but is related and responsible. Why must the fact that the end of thinking is ultimate for thought stand on any different footing?

Let us then, by way of experiment, follow this suggestion. Let us assume that among real objects in their values and significances, real oppositions and incompatibilities exist; that these conflicts are both troublesome in themselves, and the source of all manner of further difficulties-so much so that they may be suspected of being the source of all man's woe, of all encroachment upon and destruction of value, of good. Suppose that thinking is, not accidentally but essentially, a way, and the only way that proves adequate, of dealing with

( 133) these predicaments-that being " in a hole," in difficulty, is the fundamental " predicament " of intelligence. Suppose when effort is made in a brute way to remove these oppositions and to secure an arrangement of things which means satisfaction, fulfilment, happiness, that the method of brute attack, of trying directly to force warrings into peace fails; suppose then an effort to effect the trans formation by an indirect method-by inquiry into the disordered state of affairs and by framing views, conceptions, of what the situation would be like were it reduced to harmonious order. Finally, suppose that upon this basis a plan of action is worked out, and that this plan, when carried into overt effect, succeeds infinitely better than the brute method of attack in bringing about the desired consummation. Suppose again this indirection of activity is precisely what we mean by thinking. Would it not hold that harmony is the end and the test of thinking? that observations are pertinent and ideas correct just in so far as, overtly acted upon, they succeed in removing the undesirable, the inconsistent.

But, it is said, the very process of thinking makes a certain assumption regarding the nature of reality, viz., that reality is self-consistent. This statement puts the end for the beginning. The assumption is not that " reality " is self-consistent, but that by thinking it may, for some special purpose,

( 134) or as respects some concrete problem, attain greater consistency. Why should the assumption regarding " reality " be other than that specific realities with which thought is concerned are capable of receiving harmonization? To say that thought must assume, in order to go on, that reality already possesses harmony is to say that thought must begin by contradicting its own direct data, and by assuming that its concrete aim is vain and illusory. Why put upon thought the onus of introducing discrepancies into reality in order just to give itself exercise in the gymnastic of removing them? The assumption that concrete thinking makes about " reality " is that things just as they exist may acquire through activity, guided by thinking, a certain character which it is excellent for them to possess; and may acquire it more liberally and effectively than by other methods. One might as well say that the blacksmith could not think to any effect concerning iron, without a Platonic archetypal horseshoe, laid up in the heavens. His thinking also makes an assumption about present, given reality, viz., that this piece of iron, through the exercise of intelligently directed activity, may be shaped into a satisfactory horseshoe. The assumption is practical: the assumption that a specific thing may take on in a specific way a specific needed value. The test, moreover, of this assumption is practical; it con-

(135) -sists in acting upon it to see if it will do what it pretends it can do, namely, guide activities to the required result. The assumption about reality is not something in addition to the idea, which an idea already in existence makes; some assumption about the possibility of a change in the state of things as experienced is the idea-and its test or criterion is whether this possible change can be effected when the idea is acted upon in good faith.

In any case, how much simpler the case becomes when we stick by the empirical facts. According to them there is no wholesale discrepancy of existence and meaning; there is simply a " loosening " of the two when objects do not fulfil our plans and meet our desires; or when we project inventions and cannot find immediately the means for their realization. The " collisions " are neither physical, metaphysical, nor logical; they are moral and practical. They exist between an aim and the means of its execution. Consequently the object of thinking is not to effect some wholesale and "Absolute" reconciliation of meaning and existence, but to make a specific adjustment of things to our purposes and of our purposes to things at just the crucial point of the crisis. Making the utmost concessions to Mr. Bradley's account of the discrepancy of meaning and existence in our experience, to his statement of the relation

(136) of this to the function of judgment (as involving namely an explicit statement at once of the actual sundering and the ideal union) and to his account of consistency as the goal and standard, there is still not a detail of the account that is not met amply and with infinitely more empirical warrant by the conception that the " collision " in which thinking starts and the " consistency " in which it terminates are practical and human.


This brings us explicitly to the question of truth, " truth " being confessedly the end and standard of thinking. I confess to being much at a loss to realize just what the intellectualists conceive to be the relation of truth to ideas on one side and to " reality " on the other. My difficulty occurs, I think, because they describe so little in analytical detail; in writing of truth they seem rather to be under a strong emotional influence as if they were victims of an uncritical pragmatism-which leaves much of their thought to be guessed at. The implication of their discussions assigns three distinct values to the term " truth." On the one hand, truth is something which characterizes ideas, theories, hypotheses, beliefs, judgments, propositions, assertions, etc,-anything whatsoever involving intellectual statement. From

(137) this standpoint a criterion of truth means the test of the worth of the intellectual intent, import, or claim of any intellectual statement as intellectual. This is an intelligible sense of the term truth. In the second place, it seems to be assumed that a certain kind of reality is already, apart from ideas or meanings, Truth, and that this Truth is the criterion of that lower and more unworthy kind of truth that may be possessed or aimed at by ideas. But we do not stop here. The conception that all truth must have a criterion haunts the intellectualist, so that the reality, which, as contrasted with ideas, is taken to be The Truth (and the criterion of their truth) is treated as if it itself had to have support and warrant from some other Reality, lying back of it, which is its criterion. This, then, gives the third type of truth, The Absolute Truth. (Just why this process should not go on indefinitely is not clear, but the necessity of infinite regress may be emotionally prevented by always referring to this last type of truth as Absolute). Now this scheme may be "true," but it is not self-explanatory or even easily apprehensible. In just what sense, truth is (1) that to which ideas as ideas lay claim and yet is (2) Reality which as reality is the criterion of truth of ideas, and yet again is (3) a Reality which completely annuls and transcends all reference to ideas, is not in the least clear to me: nor,

(138) till better informed, shall I believe it to be clear to any one.

In his more strictly logical discussions, Mr. Bradley sets out from the notion that truth refers to intellectual statements and positions as such. But the Truth soon becomes a sort of transcendent essence on its own account. The identification of reality and truth on page 146 may be a mere casual phrase, but the distinction drawn between validity and absolute truth (p. 362), and the discussion of Degrees of Truth and Reality, involve assumptions of an identity of truth and reality. Truth in this sense turns out to be the criterion for the truth, the truth, that is, of ideas. But, again (p. 545), a distinction is made between "Finite Truth," that is, a view of reality which would completely satisfy intelligence as such, and "Absolute Truth," which is obtained only by passing beyond intelligence-only when intelligence as such is absorbed in some Absolute in which it loses its distinctive character.

It would advance the state of discussion, I am sure, if there were more explicit statements regarding the relations of " true idea," " truth," " the criterion of truth " and " reality," to one another. A more explicit exposition also of the view that is held concerning the relation of verification and truth could hardly fail to be of value. Not infrequently the intellectualist admits that the

(139) process of verification is experimental, consisting in setting on foot various activities that express the intent of the idea and confirm or refute it according to the changes effected. This seems to mean that truth is simply the tested or verified belief as such. But then a curious reservation is introduced; the experimental process finds, it is said, that an idea is true, while the error of the pragmatist is to take the process by which truth is found as one by which it is made. The claim of " making truth " is treated as blasphemy against the very notion of truth: such are the consequences of venturing to translate the Latin " verification " into the English " making true."

If we face the bogie thus called up, it will be found that the horror is largely sentimental. Suppose we stick to the notion that truth is a character which belongs to a meaning so far as tested through action that carries it to successful completion. In this case, to make an idea true is to modify and transform it until it reaches this successful outcome: until it initiates a mode of response which in its issue realizes its claim to be the method of harmonizing the discrepancies of a given situation. The meaning is remade by constantly acting upon it, and by introducing into its content such characters as are indicated by any resulting failures to secure harmony. From this point of view, verification and truth are two names for the same

(140) thing. We call it " verification " when we regard it as process; when the development of the idea is strung out and exposed to view in all that makes it true. We call it " truth " when we take it as product, as process telescoped and condensed.

Suppose the idea to be an invention, say of the telephone. In this case, is not the verification of the idea and the construction of the device which carries out its intent one and the same? In this case, does the truth of the idea mean anything else than that the issue proves the idea can be carried into effect? There are certain intellectualists who are not of the absolutist type; who do not believe that all of men's aims, designs, projects, that have to do with action, whether industrial, social, or moral in scope, have been from all eternity registered as already accomplished in reality. How do such persons dispose of this problem of the truth of practical ideas?

Is not the truth of such ideas an affair of making them true by constructing, through appropriate behavior, a condition that satisfies the requirements of the case? If, in this case, truth means the effective capacity of the idea " to make good," what is there in the logic of the case to forbid the application of analogous considerations to any idea?

I hear a noise in the street. It suggests as its meaning a street-car. To test this idea I go to

( 141) the window and through listening and looking intently-the listening and the looking being modes of behavior-organize into a single situation elements of existence and meaning which were previously disconnected. In this way an idea is made true; that which was a proposal or hypothesis is no longer merely a propounding or a guess. If I had not reacted in a way appropriate to the idea it would have remained a mere idea; at most a candidate for truth that, unless acted upon upon the spot, would always have remained a theory. Now in such a case-where the end to be accomplished is the discovery of a certain order of facts -would the intellectualist claim that apart from the forming and entertaining of some interpretation, the category of truth has either existence or meaning? Will he claim that without an original practical uneasiness introducing a practical aim of inquiry there must have been, whether or no, an idea? Must the world for some purely intellectual reason be intellectually reduplicated? Could not that occurrence which I now identify as a noisy street-car have retained, so far as pure intelligence is concerned, its unidentified status of being mere physical alteration in a vast unidentified complex of matter-in-motion? Was there any intellectual necessity that compelled the event to arouse just this judgment, that it meant a street-car? Was there any physical or metaphysical necessity?

(142) Was there any necessity save a need of characterizing it for some purpose of our own? And why should we be mealy-mouthed about calling this need practical? If the necessity which led to the formation and development of an intellectual judgment was purely objective (whether physical or metaphysical) why should not the thing have also to be characterized in countless millions of other ways; for example, as to its distance from some crater in the moon, or its efect upon the circulation of my blood, or upon my irascible neighbor's temper, or bearing upon the Monroe Doctrine? In short, do not intellectual positions and statements mean new and significant events in the treatment of things?

It is perhaps dangerous to attempt to follow the inner workings of the processes by which truth is first identified with some superior type of Reality, and then this Truth is taken as the criterion of the truth of ideas; while all the time it is held that truth is something already possessed by ideas as purely intellectual. But there seems to be some ground for believing that this identification is due to a twofold confusion, one having to do with ideas, and the other with things. As to the first point: After an idea is made true, we naturally say, in retrospect, " it was true all the time." Now this truism is quite innocuous as a truism, being just a restatement of the fact that the idea has, as matter of fact, worked successfully. But it may be re-

(143) -garded not as a truism but as furnishing some additional knowledge; as if it were, indeed, the dawning of a revelation regarding truth. Then it is said that the idea worked or was verified because it was already inherently, just as idea, the truth; the pragmatist, so it is said, making the error of supposing that it is true because it works. If one remembers that what the experimentalist means is that the effective working of an idea and its truth are one and the same thing-this working being neither the cause nor the evidence of truth but its nature-it is hard to see the point of this statement. A man under peculiarly precarious circumstances has been rescued from drowning. A by-stander remarks that now he is a saved man. " Yes," replies some one, " but he was a saved man all the time, and the process of rescuing, while it gives evidence of that fact, does not constitute it." Now even such a statement as pure tautology, as characterizing the entire process in terms of its issue, is objectionable only in the fact that, like all tautology, it seems to say something but does not. But if it be regarded as revealing the earlier condition of affairs, apart from the active process by which it was carried to a happy conclusion, such a statement would be monstrously false; and would declare its falsity in the fact that, if acted upon, the man would have been left to drown. In like fashion, to say, after the event, that a given idea

(144) was true all the time, is to lose sight of what makes an idea an idea, its hypothetical character; and thereby deliberately to transform it into brute dogma-something to which no canon of verification can ever be applied. The intellectualist almost always treats the pragmatic account as if it were, from the standpoint of the pragmatist as well as from his own, a denial of the existence of truth, while it is nothing but a statement of its nature. When the intellectualist realizes this, he will, I hope, ask himself: What, then, on the pragmatic basis is meant by the proposition that an idea is true all the time? If the statement that an idea was true all the time has no meaning except that the idea was one which as matter of fact succeeded through action in achieving its intent, mere reiteration that the idea was true all the time or it could not have succeeded, does not take us far.[6]


On the side of things, reality is identified with truth; then on the principle that two things that are equal to the same thing are equal to each other, truth as idea and truth as reality are taken to be one and the same thing. Wherever there is an improved or tested idea, an idea which has made good, there is a concrete existence in the way of a completed or harmonized situation. The same activity which proves the idea constructs an inherently satisfied situation out of an inherently dissentient one,-for it is precisely the capacity of the idea as an aim and method of action to determine such transformation that is the criterion of its truth. Now unless all the elements in the situation are held steadily in view, the specific way in which the harmonized reality affords the criterion of truth (namely, through its function of being the last term of a process of active determination) is lost from sight; and the achieved existence in its merely existent character, apart from its practical or fulfilment character, is treated as The Truth. But when the reality is thus separated from the process by which it is achieved, when it is taken just as given, it is neither truth nor a criterion of truth. It is a state of facts like any other. The achieved telephone is a criterion of the validity of a certain prior idea in so far as it is the fulfilment of activities that embody the nature of that idea, but just as telephone, as

(146) a machine actually in existence, it is no more truth nor criterion of truth than is a crack in the wall or a cobble-stone on the street.

The intervening term that mediates and completes the confusion of truth with ideas on one hand and " reality " on the other, is, I think, the fact that ideas after they have been tested in action are employed in the development and grounding of further beliefs. There are cases in which an idea ceases to exist as idea as soon as it is made true; this is so as matter of fact and it is impossible to conceive any reason why it should not be so in point of theory. Such is the case, I take it, with a large part-possibly the major portion-of the ideas that mediate the smaller and transient crises of daily practice. I cannot imagine the situation in which the truth to which I have referred abovethe verification of a certain idea about a certain noise--would ever function again as truth-save as I have given it a function in this paper by using it as a corroboration of a certain theory. Such ideas mostly cease, giving way to a matter-of-fact status: say, the perception of the noisy streetcar. One at the time may say " My idea regarding that noise was a true idea "; or one may not even go so far as that, he may just stop with the eventual perception. But the tested idea need not ever recur as a factor of proof in any other problem. Such, however, is conspicuously not

( 147) the case with our scientific ideas. In its first value, the idea or hypothesis of gravitation entertained by Newton, stood, when verified, on exactly the same level as the hypothesis regarding the noise in the street. Theoretically, that truth might have been so isolated that its truth character would disappear from thought as soon as a certain factual condition was ascertained. But practically quite the opposite has happened. The idea operates in many other inquiries, and operates no longer as mere idea, but as proved idea. Such truths get an "eternal" status-one irrespective of application just now and here, because there are so many nows and heres in which they are useful. Just as to say an idea was true all the time is a way of saying in retrospect that it has come out in a certain fashion, so to say that an idea is " eternally true " is to indicate prospective --.odes of application which are indefinitely anticipated. Its meaning, therefore, is strictly pragmatic. It does not indicate a property inherent in the idea as intellectualized existence, but denotes a property of use and employment. Always at hand when needed is a good enough eternal for reasonably minded persons.



I have gone from the very general considerations which occupied us in the earlier portions of this article to matters which relatively at least are specific. I conclude with a summary in the hope that it may bind together the earlier and the later parts of this paper.

1. The condition which antecedes and provokes any particular exercise of reflective knowing is always one of discrepancy, struggle, " collision." This condition is practical, for it involves the habits and interests of the organism, an agent. This does not mean that the struggle is merely personal, or subjective, or psychological. The agent or individual is one factor in the situation-not the situation something subsisting in the individual. The individual has to be identified in the situation, before any situation can be referred-as in psychology-to the individual. But the discrepancy calls out and controls reflective knowing only as the fortunes of an agent are implicated in the crisis. Certain elements stand out as obstacles, as interferences, as deficiencies-in short as unsatisfactory and as requiring something for their completion. Other elements stand out as wanted-as required, as a satisfaction which does not exist. This clash (an accompaniment of all desire) between the given and the wanted, between the pres-

(149) -ent and the absent, is at once the root and the type of that peculiar paradoxical relation between existence and meaning which Bradley insists upon as the essence of judgment. It is not irrational in the sense that we are dealing with appearance wholesale, but it is non-rational-an evidence that we are dealing with a practical affair.

2. The intellectual or reflective and logical is a statement of this conflict: an attempt to describe and define it. It is, as it were, the practical clash held off at arm's length for inspection and investigation. In this way brute blind reaction against the unsatisfactoriness of the situation is suspended.. Action is turned into the channel of observing, of inferring, of reasoning, or defining means and end. It is this change in the quality of activity, from directly overt, to indirect, or inquiring with view to stating, that constitutes the specific nature of reflective practice to which Mr. Bradley calls attention. The discovery of the nature of the conflict supplies materials for the fact or existence side of the judgment. The conception or projection of the object in which the conflict would be terminated furnishes material for the meaning side of the judgment. It is ideal because anticipatory, just as the fact side is existential, because reminiscent or recording. Hence the two are necessarily both distinguished from and yet referred to each other: only

( 150) through location of a problem can a solution be conceived; only in reference to the intent of finding a solution can the elements of a problem be selected and interpreted. In origin and in destiny, this correlative determination of existence and meaning is tentative and experimental. The aim of the subject of the judgment is not to include all possible reality, but .to select those elements of a reality that are useful in locating the source and nature of the difficulty in hand. The aim of the predicate is not to bunch all possible meaning and refer it in one final act indiscriminately to all existence, but to state the standpoint and method through which the difficulty of the particular situation may most effectively be dealt with. The selection of what is relevant to the characterization of the problem and the projection of the method of dealing with it are theoretic, hypothetic, intellectual.--that is, they are tentative ways of viewing the matter for the sake of guiding, economizing, and freeing the activities through which it may really be dealt with.

3. The criterion of the worth of the idea is thus the capacity of the idea (as a definition of the end or outcome in terms of what is likely to be serviceable as a method) to operate ire fulfilling the object for the sake of which it was projected. Capacity of operation in this fashion is the test, measure, or criterion of truth. Hence the criterion is practi-

(151) -cal in the most overt sense of that term. We may, if we choose, regard the object in which the idea terminates through its use in guiding action, as the criterion; but if we so choose, it is at our peril that we forget that this object serves as criterion in its capacity of fulfilment and not as sheer objective existence.

4. Difficulties overlap; problems recur which resemble each other in the kind of treatment they demand for solution. Various modes of activity with their respective ends, going on at some time more or less independently, get organized into single comprehensive systems of behavior. The solution of one problem is found to create difficulties elsewhere; or the truth that is made in the solution of one problem is found to afford an effective method of dealing with questions arising apparently from unallied sources. Thus certain tested ideas in performing a constant or recurrent function secure a certain permanent status. The prospective use of such truths, the satisfaction that we anticipate in their employ, the assurance of control that we feel in their possession, becomes relatively much more important than the circumstances under which they were first made true. In becoming permanent resources, such tested ideas get a generalized energy of position. They are truths in general, truths "in themselves " or in the abstract, truths to which positive value is assigned

(152) on their own account. Such truths are the " eternal truths " of current discussion. They naturally and properly add to their intellectual and to their practical worth a certain esthetic quality. They are interesting to contemplate, and their contemplation arouses emotions of admiration and reverence. To make these emotions the basis of assigning peculiar inherent sanctity to them apart from their warrant in use, is simply to give way to that mood which in primitive man is the cause of attributing magical efficacy to physical things. Esthetically such truths are more than instrumentalities. But to ignore both the instrumental and the esthetic aspect, and to ascribe values due to an instrumental and esthetic character to some interior and a priori constitution of truth is to make fetishes of them.

We may not exaggerate the permanence and stability of such truths with respect to their recurring and prospective use. It is only relatively that they are unchanging. When applied to new cases, used as resources for coping with new difficulties, the oldest of truths are to some extent remade. Indeed it is only through such application and such remaking that truths retain their freshness and vitality. Otherwise they are relegated to faint reminiscences of an antique tradition. Even the truth that two and two make four has gained a new meaning, has had its truth in

(153) some degree remade, in the development of the modern theory of number. If we put ourselves in the attitude of a scientific inquirer in asking what is the meaning of truth per se, there spring up before us those ideas which are actively employed in the mastery of new fields, in the organization of new materials. This is the essential difference between truth and dogma; between the living and the dead and decaying. Above all, it is in the region of moral truth that this perception stands out. Moral truths that are not recreated in application to the urgencies of the passing hour, no matter how true in the place and time of their origin, are pernicious and misleading, i.e., false. And it is perhaps through emphasizing this fact, embodied in one form or another in every system of morals and in every religion of moral import, that one most readily realizes the character of truth.


  1. Reprinted, with many changes, from an article in Mind, Vol. XVI., N.S., July 1907. Although the changes have been made to render the article less technical, it still remains, I fear, too technical to be intelligible to those not familiar with recent discussions of logical theory.
  2. I follow chiefly Chapter XV. of " Appearance and Reality"-the chapter on " Thought and Reality."
  3. The crux of the argument is contained in Chapters XIII. and XIV., on the "General Nature of Reality."
  4. The same point comes out in Mr. Bradley's treatment of the way in which the practical demand for the good or satisfaction is to be taken account of in a philosophical conception of the nature of reality. He admits that it comes in; but holds that it enters not directly, but because if left outside it indirectly introduces a feature of " discontent " on the intellectual side (see p. 155). This, as an argument for the supremacy of the isolated theoretical standard, loses all its force if we cease to conceive of intellect as from the start an independent function, and realize that intellectual discontent is the practical conflict becoming deliberately aware of itself as the most effective means of its own rectification.
  5. This suggests that many of the stock arguments against pragmatism fail to take its contention seriously enough. They proceed from the assumption that it is an account of truth which leaves untouched current notions of the nature of intelligence. But the essential point of pragmatism is that it bases its changed account of truth on a changed conception of the nature of intelligence, both as to its objective and its method. Now this different account of intelligence may be wrong, but controversy which leaves standing the conventionally current theories about thought and merely discusses "truth" will not go far. Since truth is the adequate fulfilment of the function of intelligence, the question turns on the nature of the latter.
  6. Such a statement as, for example, Mr. Bradley's (Mind, Vol. XIII., No. 51, N.S., p. 3, article on " Truth and Practice ") " The idea works . . . but is able to work because I have chosen the right idea" surely loses any argumentative force it may seem to have, when it is recalled that, upon the theory argued against, ability to work and rightness are one and the same thing. If the wording is changed to read " The idea is able to work because I have chosen an idea which is able to work" the question-begging character of the implied criticism is evident. The change of phraseology also may suggest the crucial and pregnant question: How does any one know that an idea is able to work excepting by setting it at work?

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