The Influence of Darwin on Philosophy and Other Essays

Chapter 7: Beliefs and Existences[1]

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BELIEFS look both ways, towards persons and toward things. They are the original Mr. Facing-both-ways. They form or judge-justify or condemn-the agents who entertain them and who insist upon them. They are of things whose immediate meanings form their content. To believe is to ascribe value, impute meaning, assign import. The collection and interaction of these appraisals and assessments is the world of the common man,-that is, of man as an individual and not as a professional being or class specimen. Thus things are characters, not mere entities; they

(170) behave and respond and provoke. In the behavior that exemplifies and tests their character, they help and hinder; disturb and pacify; resist and comply; are dismal and mirthful, orderly and deformed, queer and commonplace; they agree and disagree; are better and worse.

Thus the human world, whether or no it have core and axis, has presence and transfiguration. It means here and now, not in some transcendent sphere. It moves, of itself, to varied incremental meaning, not to some far off event, whether divine or diabolic. Such movement constitutes conduct, for conduct is the working out of the commitments of belief. That believed better is held to, asserted, affirmed, acted upon. The moments of its crucial fulfilment are the natural " transcendentals "; the decisive, the critical, standards of further estimation, selection, and rejection. That believed worse is fled, resisted, transformed into an instrument for the better. Characters, in being condensations of belief, are thus at once the reminders and the prognostications of weal and woe; they concrete and they regulate the terms of effective apprehension and appropriation of things. This general regulative function is what we mean in calling them characters, forms.

For beliefs, made in the course of existence, reciprocate by making existence still farther, by developing it. Beliefs are not made by existence

( 171) in a mechanical or logical or psychological sense. " Reality " naturally instigates belief. It appraises itself and through this self-appraisal manages its affairs. As things are surcharged valuations, so " consciousness " means ways of believing and disbelieving. It is interpretation; not merely existence aware of itself as fact, but existence discerning, judging itself, approving and disapproving.

This double outlook and connection of belief, its implication, on one side, with beings who suffer and endeavor, and, its complication on the other, with the meanings and worths of things, is its glory or its unpardonable sin. We cannot keep connection on one side and throw it away on the other. We cannot preserve significance and decline the personal attitude in which it is inscribed and operative, any more than we can succeed in making things " states " of a " consciousness " whose business is to be an interpretation of things. Beliefs are personal affairs, and personal affairs are adventures, and adventures are, if you please, shady. But equally discredited, then, is the universe of meanings. For the world has meaning as somebody's, somebody's at a juncture, taken for better or Worse, and you shall not have completed your metaphysics till you have told whose world is meant and how and what for-in what bias and to what effect. Here is a cake that is had only

( 172) by eating it, just as there is digestion only for life as well as by life.

So far the standpoint of the common man. But the professional man, the philosopher, has been largely occupied in a systematic effort to discredit the standpoint of the common man, that is, to disable belief as an ultimately valid principle. Philosophy is shocked at the frank, almost brutal, evocation of beliefs by and in natural existence, like witches out of a desert heath-at a mode of production which is neither logical, nor physical, nor psychological, but just natural, empirical. For modern philosophy is, as every college senior recites, epistemology; and epistemology, as perhaps our books and lectures sometimes forget to tell the senior, has absorbed Stoic dogma. Passionless imperturbability, absolute detachment, complete subjection to a ready-made and finished reality-physical it may be, mental it may be, logical it may be-is its professed ideal. Forswearing the reality of affection, and the gallantry of adventure, the genuineness of the incomplete, the tentative, it has taken an oath of allegiance to Reality, objective, universal, complete; made perhaps of atoms, perhaps of sensations, perhaps of logical meanings. This ready-made reality, already including everything, must of course swallow and absorb belief, must produce it psychologically, mechanically, or logically, according to its own nature; must in any

( 173) case, instead of acquiring aid and support from belief, resolve it into one of its own preordained creatures, making a desert and calling it harmony, unity, totality.[2]

Philosophy has dreamed the dream of a knowledge which is other than the propitious outgrowth of beliefs that shall develop aforetime their ulterior implications in order to recast them, to rectify their errors, cultivate their waste places, heal their diseases, fortify their feeblenesses :-the dream of a knowledge that has to do with objects having no nature save to be known.

Not that their philosophers have admitted the concrete realizability of their scheme. On the

( 174) contrary, the assertion of the absolute " Reality " of what is empirically unrealizable is a part of the scheme; the ideal of a universe of pure, cognitional objects, fixed elements in fixed relations. Sensationalist and idealist, positivist and transcendentalist, materialist and spiritualist, defining this object in as many differing ways as they have different conceptions of the ideal and method of knowledge, are at one in their devotion to an identification of Reality with something that connects monopolistically with passionless knowledge, belief purged of all personal reference, origin, and outlook.[3]

What is to be said of this attempt to sever the cord which naturally binds together personal attitudes and the meaning of things ? This much at least: the effort to extract meanings, values, from the beliefs that ascribe them, and to give the former absolute metaphysical validity while the latter are sent to wander as scapegoats in the wil-

( 175) -derness of mere phenomena, is an attempt, which, as long as " our interest's on the dangerous edge of things," will attract an admiring, even if suspicious, audience. Moreover, we may admit that the attempt to catch the universe of immediate experience, of action and passion, coming and going, to damn it in its present body in order expressly to glorify its spirit to all eternity, to validate the meaning of beliefs by discrediting their natural existence, to attribute absolute worth to the intent of human convictions just because of the absolute worthlessness of their content-that the performance of this feat of virtuosity has developed philosophy to its present wondrous, if formidable, technique.

But can we claim more than a succès d'estime? Consider again the nature of the effort. The world of immediate meanings, of the world empirically sustained in beliefs, is to be sorted out into two portions, metaphysically discontinuous, one of which shall alone be good and true " Reality," the fit material of passionless, beliefless knowledge; while the other part, that which is excluded, shall be referred exclusively to belief and treated as mere appearance, purely subjective, impressions or effects in consciousness, or as that ludicrously abject modern discovery-an epiphenomenon. And this division into the real and the unreal is accomplished by the very individual whom his own

( 176) "absolute" results reduce to phenomenality, in terms of the very immediate experience which is infected with worthlessness, and on the basis of preference, of selection that are declared to be unreal! Can the thing be done?

Anyway, the snubbed and excluded factor may, always reassert itself. The very pushing it out of " Reality " may but add to its potential energy, and invoke a more violent recoil. When affections and aversions, with the beliefs in which they record themselves and the efforts they exact, are reduced to epiphenomena, dancing an idle attendance upon a reality complete without them, to which they vainly strive to accommodate themselves by mirroring, then may the emotions flagrantly burst forth with the claim that, as a friend of mine puts it, reason is only a fig leaf for their nakedness. When one man says that need, uncertainty, choice, novelty, and strife have no place in Reality, which is made up wholly of established things behaving by foregone rules, then may another man be provoked to reply that all such fixities, whether named atoms or God, whether they be fixtures of a sensational, a positivistic, or an idealistic system, have existence and import only in the problems, needs, struggles, and instrumentalities of conscious agents and patients. For home rule may be found in the unwritten efficacious constitution of experience.

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That contemporaneously we are in the presence of such a reaction is apparent. Let us, in pursuit of our topic, inquire how it came about and why it takes the form that it takes. This consideration may not only occupy the hour, but may help diagram some future parallelogram of forces. The account calls for some sketching (1) of the historical tendencies which have shaped the situation in which a Stoic theory of knowledge claims metaphysical monopoly, and (2) of the tendencies that have furnished the despised principle of belief opportunity and means of reassertion.


Imagination readily travels to a period when a gospel of intense, and, one may say, deliberate passionate disturbance appeared to be conquering the Stoic ideal of passionless reason; when the demand for individual assertion by faith against the established, embodied objective order was seemingly subduing the idea of the total subordination of the individual to the universal. By what course of events came about the dramatic reversal, in which an ethically conquered Stoicism became the conqueror, epistemologically, of Christianity?

How are our imaginations haunted by the idea of what might have happened if Christianity had

( 178) found ready to its hand intellectual formulations corresponding to its practical proclamations!

That the ultimate principle of conduct is affectional and volitional; that God is love; that access to the principle is by faith, a personal attitude; that belief, surpassing logical basis and warrant, works out through its own operation its own fulfilling evidence: such was the implied moral metaphysic of Christianity. But this implication needed to become a theory, a theology, a formulation; and in this need, it found no recourse save to philosophies that had identified true existence with the proper object of logical reason. For, in Greek thought, after the valuable meanings, the meanings of industry and art that appealed to sustained and serious choice, had given birth and status to reflective reason, reason denied its ancestry of organized endeavor, and proclaimed itself in its function of self-conscious logical thought to be the author and warrant of all genuine things. Yet how nearly Christianity had found prepared for it the needed means of its own intellectual statement! We recall Aristotle's account of moral knowing, and his definition of man. Man as man, he tells us, is a principle that may be termed either desiring thought or thinking desire. Not as pure intelligence does man know, but as an organization of desires effected through reflection

( 179) upon their own conditions and consequences. What if Aristotle had only assimilated his idea of theoretical to his notion of practical knowledge! Because practical thinking was so human, Aristotle rejected it in favor of pure, passionless cognition, something superhuman. Thinking desire is experimental, is tentative, not absolute. It looks to the future and to the past for help in the future. It is contingent, not necessary. It doubly relates to the individual: to the individual thing as experienced by an individual agent; not to the universal. Hence desire is a sure sign of defect, of privation, of non-being, and seeks surcease in something which knows it not. Hence desiring reason culminating in beliefs relating to imperfect existence, stands forever in contrast with passionless reason functioning in pure knowledge, logically complete, of perfect being.

I need not remind you how through Neo-Platonism, St. Augustine, and the Scholastic renaissance, these conceptions became imbedded in Christian philosophy; and what a reversal occurred of the original practical principle of Christianity. Belief is henceforth important because it is the mere antecedent in a finite and fallen world, a temporal and phenomenal world infected with non-being, of true knowledge to be achieved only in a world of completed Being. Desire is but the self-consciousness of defect striving to its own termination

(180) in perfect possession, through perfect knowledge of perfect being. I need not remind you that the prima facie subordination of reason to authority, of knowledge to faith, in the medieval code, is, after all, but the logical result of the doctrine that man as man (since only reasoning desire) is merely phenomenal; and has his reality in God, who as God is the complete union of rational insight and being-the term of man's desire, and the fulfilment of his feeble attempts at knowing. Authority, " faith " as it then had to be conceived, meant just that this Being comes externally to the aid of man, otherwise hopelessly doomed to misery in long drawn out error and non-being, and disciplines him till, in the next world under more favoring auspices, he may have his desires stilled in good, and his faith may yield to knowledge: for we forget that the doctrine of immortality was not an appendage, but an integral part of the theory that since knowledge is the true function of man, happiness is attained only in knowledge, which itself exists only in achievement of perfect Being or God.

For my part, I can but think that medieval absolutism, with its provision for authoritative supernatural assistance in this world and assertion of supernatural realization in the next, was more logical, as well as more humane, than the modern absolutism, that, with the same logical premises, bids man find adequate consolation and support in

(181) the fact that, after all, his strivings are already eternally fulfilled, his errors already eternally transcended, his partial beliefs already eternally comprehended.

The modern age is marked by a refusal to be satisfied with the postponement of the exercise and function of reason to another and supernatural sphere, and by a resolve to practise itself upon its present object, nature, with all the joys thereunto appertaining. The pure intelligence of Aristotle, thought thinking itself, expresses itself as free inquiry directed upon the present conditions of its own most effective exercise. The principle of the inherent relation of thought to being was preserved intact, but its practical locus was moved down from the next world to this. Spinoza's " God or Nature " is the logical outcome; as is also his strict correlation of the attribute of matter with the attribute of thought; while his combination of thorough distrust of passion and faith with complete faith in reason and all-absorbing passion for knowledge is so classic an embodiment of the whole modern contradiction that it may awaken admiration where less thorough-paced formulations call out irritation.

In the practical devotion of present intelligence to its present object, nature, science was born, and also its philosophical counterpart, the theory of knowledge. Epistemology only generalized in

(182) its loose, although narrow and technical way, the question practically urgent in Europe: How is science possible? How can intelligence actively and directly get at its object?

Meantime, through Protestantism the values, the meanings formerly characterizing the next life' (the opportunity for full perception of perfect being), were carried over into present-day emotions and responses.

The dualism between faith authoritatively supported as the principle of this life, and knowledge supernaturally realized as the principle of the next, was transmuted into the dualism between intelligence now and here occupied with natural things, and the affections and accompanying beliefs, now and here realizing spiritual worths. For a time this dualism operated as a convenient division of labor. Intelligence, freed from responsibility for and preoccupation with supernatural truths, could occupy itself the more fully and efficiently with the world that now is; while the affections, charged with the values evoked in the medieval discipline, entered into the present enjoyment of the delectations previously reserved for the saints. Directness took the place of systematic intermediation; the present of the future; the individual's emotional consciousness of the supernatural institution. Between science and faith, thus conceived, a bargain was struck. Hands off ;each to his own,

(183) was the compact; the natural world to intelligence, the moral, the spiritual world to belief. This (natural) world for knowledge; that (supernatural) world for belief. Thus the antithesis, unexpressed, ignored, within experience, between belief and knowledge, between the purely objective values of thought and the personal values of passion and volition, was more fundamental, more determining, than the opposition, explicit and harassing, within knowledge, between subject and object, mind and matter.

This latent antagonism worked out into the open. In scientific detail, knowledge encroached upon the historic traditions and opinions with which the moral and religious life had identified itself. It made history to be as natural, as much its spoil, as physical nature. It turned itself upon man, and proceeded remorselessly to account for his emotions, his volitions, his opinions. Knowledge, in its general theory, as philosophy, went the same way. It was pre-committed to the old notion: the absolutely real is the object of knowledge, and hence is something universal and impersonal. So, whether by the road of sensationalism or rationalism, by the path of mechanicalism or objective idealism, it came about that concrete selves, specific feeling and willing beings, were relegated with the beliefs in which they declare themselves to the "phenomenal."



So much for the situation against which some contemporary tendencies are a deliberate protest.

What of the positive conditions that give us not mere protest, like the unreasoning revolt of heart against head found at all epochs, but something articulate and constructive? The field is only too large, and I shall limit myself to the evolution of the knowledge standpoint itself. I shall suggest, first, that the progress of intelligence directed upon natural materials has evolved a procedure of knowledge that renders untenable the inherited conception of knowledge; and, secondly, that this result is reinforced by the specific results of some of the special sciences.

1. First, then, the very use of the knowledge standpoint, the very expression of the knowledge preoccupation, has produced methods and tests that, when formulated, intimate a radically different conception of knowledge, and of its relation to existence and belief, than the orthodox one.

The one thing that stands out is that thinking is inquiry, and that knowledge as science is the outcome of systematically directed inquiry. For a time it was natural enough that inquiry should be interpreted in the old sense, as just change of subjective attitudes and opinions to make them square up with a " reality " that is already there

( 185) in ready-made, fixed, and finished form. The rationalist had one notion of the reality, i.e., that it was of the nature of laws, genera, or an ordered system, and so thought of concepts, axioms, etc., as the indicated modes of representation. The empiricist, holding reality to be a lot of little discrete particular lumps, thought of disjointed sensations as its appropriate counterpart. But both alike were thorough conformists. If " reality " is already and completely given, and if knowledge is just submissive acceptance, then, of course, inquiry is only a subjective change in the human " mind " or in " consciousness,"-these being subjective and "unreal."

But the very development of the sciences served to reveal a peculiar and intolerable paradox. Epistemology, having condemned inquiry once for all to the region of subjectivity in an invidious sense, finds itself in flat opposition in principle and in detail to the assumption and to the results of the sciences. Epistemology is bound to deny to the results of the special sciences in detail any ulterior objectivity just because they always are in a process of inquiry-in solution. While a man may not be halted at being told that his mental activities, since his, are not genuinely real, many men will draw violently back at being told that all the discoveries, conclusions, explanations, and theories of the sciences share the same fate, being the products

( 186) of a discredited mind. And, in general, epistemology, in relegating human thinking as inquiry to a merely phenomenal region, makes concrete approximation and conformity to objectivity hopeless. Even if it did square itself up to and by " reality " it never could be sure of it. The ancient myth of Tantalus and his effort to drink the water before him seems to be ingeniously prophetic of modern epistemology. The thirstier, the needier of truth the human mind, and the intenser the efforts put forth to slake itself in the ocean of being just beyond the edge of consciousness, the more surely the living waters of truth recede!

When such self-confessed sterility is joined with consistent derogation of all the special results of the special sciences, some one is sure to raise the cry of " dog in the manger," or of " sour grapes." A revision of the theory of thinking, of inquiry, would seem to be inevitable; a revision which should cease trying to construe knowledge as an attempted approximation to a reproduction of reality under conditions that condemn it in advance to failure; a revision which should start frankly from the fact of thinking as inquiring, and purely external realities as terms in inquiries, and which should construe validity, objectivity, truth, and the test and system of truths, on the basis of what they actually mean and do within inquiry.

Such a standpoint promises ample revenge for

(187) the long damnation and longer neglect to which the principle of belief has been subjected. The whole procedure of thinking as developed in those extensive and intensive inquiries that constitute the sciences, is but rendering into a systematic technique, into an art deliberately and delightfully pursued, the rougher and cruder means by which practical human beings have in all ages worked out the implications of their beliefs, tested them, and endeavored in the interests of economy, efficiency, and freedom, to render them coherent with one another. Belief, sheer, direct, unmitigated belief, reappears as the working hypothesis; action that at once develops and tests belief reappears in experimentation, deduction, demonstration; while the machinery of universals, axioms, a priori truths, etc., becomes a systematization of the way in which men have always worked out, in anticipation of overt action, the implications of their beliefs, with a view to revising them, in the interests of obviating unfavorable, and securing welcome consequences. Observation, with its machinery of sensations, measurements, etc., is the resurrection of the way in which agents have always faced and tried to define the problems that face them; truth is the union of abstract postulated meanings and of concrete brute facts in a way that circumvents the latter by judging them from a new standpoint, while it tests concepts by using

(188) them as methods in the same active experience. It all comes to experience personally conducted and personally consummated.

Let consciousness of these facts dawn a little more brightly over the horizon of epistemological prejudices, and it will be seen that nothing prevents admitting the genuineness both of thinking activities and of their characteristic results, except the notion that belief itself is not a genuine ingredient of existence-a notion which itself is not only a belief, but a belief which, unlike the convictions of the common man and the hypotheses of science, finds its proud proof in the fact that it does not demean itself so unworthily as to work.

Once believe that beliefs themselves are as " real " as anything else can ever be, and we have a world in which uncertainty, doubtfulness, really inhere ; and in which personal attitudes and responses are real both in their own distinctive existence, and as the only ways in which an as yet undetermined factor of reality takes on shape, meaning, value, truth. If " to wilful men the injuries that they themselves procure, must be their schoolmasters "-and all beliefs are wilful--then by the same token the propitious evolutions of meaning, which wilful men secure to an expectant universe, must be their compensation and their justification. In a doubtful and needy universe elements must be beggarly, and the development

( 189) of personal beliefs into experimentally executed systems of actions, is the organized bureau of philanthropy which confers upon a travailing universe the meaning for which it cries out. The apostrophe of the poet is above all to man the thinker, the inquirer, the knower

O Dreamer ! O Desirer, goer down
Unto untraveled seas in untried ships,
O crusher of the unimagined grape,
On unconceivèd lips.

2. Biology, psychology, and the social sciences proffer an imposing body of concrete facts that also point to the rehabilitation of belief-to the interpretation of knowledge as a human and practical outgrowth of belief, not to belief as the state to which knowledge is condemned in a merely finite and phenomenal world. I need not, as I cannot, here summarize the psychological revision which the notions of sensation, perception, conception, cognition in general have undergone, all to one intent. "Motor" is writ large on their face. The testimony of biology is unambiguous to the effect that the organic instruments of the whole intellectual life, the sense-organs and brain and their connections, have been developed on a definitely practical basis and for practical aims, for the purpose of such control over conditions as will sustain and vary the meanings of life. The his-

(190) -toric sciences are equally explicit in their evidence that knowledge as a system of information and instruction is a cooperative social achievement, at all times socially toned, sustained, and directed; and that logical thinking is a reweaving through individual activity of this social fabric at such points as are indicated by prevailing needs and aims.

This bulky and coherent body of testimony is not, of course, of itself philosophy. But it supplies, at all events, facts that have scientific backing, and that are as worthy of regard as the facts pertinent to any science. At the present time these facts seem to have some peculiar claim just because they present traits largely ignored in prior philosophic formulations, while those belonging to mathematics and physics have so largely wrought their sweet will on systems. Again, it would seem as if in philosophies built deliberately upon the knowledge principle, any body of known facts should not have to clamor for sympathetic attention.

Such being the case, the reasons for ruling psychology and sociology and allied sciences out of competency to give philosophic testimony have more significance than the bare denial of jurisdiction. They are evidences of the deep-rooted preconception that whatever concerns a particular conscious agent, a wanting, struggling, satisfied

( 191) and dissatisfied being, must of course be only " phenomenal " in import.

This aversion is the more suggestive when the professed idealist appears as the special champion of the virginity of pure knowledge. The idealist, so content with the notion that consciousness determines reality, provided it be done once for all, at a jump and in lump, is so uneasy in presence of the idea that empirical conscious beings genuinely determine existences now and here! One is reminded of the story told, I think, by Spencer. Some committee had organized and contended, through a long series of parliaments, for the passage of a measure. At last one of their meetings was interrupted with news of success. Consternation was the result. What was to become of the occupation of the committee? So, one asks, what is to become of idealism at large, of the wholesale unspecifiable determination of " reality " by or in " consciousness," if specific conscious beings, John Smiths, and Susan Smiths (to say nothing of their animal relations), beings with bowels and brains, are found to exercise influence upon the character and existence of reals ?

One would be almost justified in construing idealism as a Pickwickian scheme, so willing is it to idealize the principle of intelligence at the expense of its specific undertakings, were it not that this reluctance is the necessary outcome of the Stoic

( 192) basis and tenor of idealism-its preoccupation with logical contents and relations in abstraction from their situs and function in conscious living beings.


I have suggested to you the naïve conception of the relation of beliefs to realities: that beliefs are themselves real without discount, manifesting their reality in the usual proper way, namely, by modifying and shaping the reality of other things, so that they connect the bias, the preferences and affections, the needs and endeavors of personal lives with the values, the characters ascribed to things -the latter thus becoming worthy of human acquaintance and responsive to human intercourse. This was followed by a sketch of the history of thought, indicating how beliefs and all they insinuate were subjected to preconceived notions of knowledge and of " reality " as a monopolistic possession of pure intellect. Then I traced some of the motifs that make for reconsideration of the supposed uniquely exclusive relation of logical knowledge and "reality "; motifs that make for a less invidiously superior attitude towards the convictions of the common man.

In concluding, I want to say a word or two to mitigate for escape is impossible-some misun-

(193) -derstandings. And, to begin with, while possible doubts inevitably troop with actual beliefs, the doctrine in question is not particularly sceptical. The radical empiricist, the humanist, the pragmatist, label him as you will, believes not in fewer but in more " realities " than the orthodox philosophers warrant. He is not concerned, for example, in discrediting objective realities and logical or universal thinking; he is interested in such a reinterpretation of the sort of " reality " which these things possess as will accredit, without depreciation, concrete empirical conscious centers of action and passion.

My second remark is to the opposite effect. The intent is not especially credulous, although it starts from and ends with the radical credulity of all knowledge. To suppose that because the sciences are ultimately instrumental to human beliefs, we are therefore to be careless of the most exact possible use of extensive and systematic scientific methods, is like supposing that because a watch is made to tell present time, and not to be an exemplar of transcendent, absolute time, watches might as well be made of cheap stuffs, casually wrought and clumsily put together. It is the task of telling present time, with all its urgent implications, that brings home, steadies, and enlarges the responsibility for the best possible use of intelligence, the instrument.

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For one, I have no interest in the old, old scheme of derogating from the worth of knowledge in order to give an uncontrolled field for some species beliefs to run riot in,-be these beliefs even faith in immortality, in some special sort of a Deity, or in some particular brand of freedom. Any one of our beliefs is subject to criticism, revision, and even ultimate elimination through the development of its own implications by intelligently directed action. Because reason is a scheme of working out the meanings of convictions in terms of one another and of the consequences they import in further experience, convictions are the more, not the less, amenable and responsible to the full exercise of reason.[4]

Thus we are put on the road to that most de-

(195) -sirable thing; the union of acknowledgment of moral powers and demands with thoroughgoing naturalism. No one really wants to lame man's practical nature; it is the supposed exigencies of natural science that force the hand. No one really bears a grudge against naturalism for the sake of obscurantism. It is the need of some sacred reservation for moral interests that coerces. We all want to be as naturalistic as we can be. But the " can be " is the rub. If we set out with a fixed dualism of belief and knowledge, then the uneasy fear that the natural sciences are going to encroach and destroy " spiritual values " haunts us. So we build them a citadel and fortify it; that is, we isolate, professionalize, and thereby weaken beliefs. But if beliefs are the most natural, and in that sense, the most metaphysical of all things, and if knowledge is an organized technique for working out their implications and interrelations, for directing their formation and employ, how unnecessary, how petty the fear and the caution. Because freedom of belief is ours, free thought may exercise itself; the freer the thought the more sure the emancipation of belief. Hug some special belief and one fears knowledge; believe in belief and one loves and cleaves to knowledge.

We have here, too, the possibility of a common understanding, in thought, in language, in outlook,

(196) of the philosopher and the common man. What would not the philosopher give, did he not have to part with some of his common humanity in order to join a class? Does he not always, when challenged, justify himself with the contention that all men naturally philosophize, and that he but does in a conscious and orderly way what leads to harm when done in an indiscriminate and irregular way? If philosophy be at once a natural history and a logic-an art-of beliefs, then its technical justification is at one with its human justification. The natural attitude of man, said Emerson, is believing; " the philosopher, after some struggle, having only reasons for believing." Let the struggle then enlighten and enlarge beliefs; let the reasons kindle and engender new beliefs.

Finally, it is not a solution, but a problem which is presented. As philosophers, our disagreements as to conclusions are trivial compared with our disagreement as to problems. To see the problem another sees, in the same perspective and at the same angle-that amounts to something. Agreement in solutions is in comparison perfunctory. To experience the same problem another feels that perhaps is agreement. In a world where distinctions are as invidious as comparisons are odious, and where intellect works only by comparison and distinction, pray what is one to do?

But beliefs are personal matters, and the person,

(197) we may still believe, is social. To be a man is to be thinking desire; and the agreement of desires is not in oneness of intellectual conclusion, but in the sympathies of passion and the concords of action -and yet significant union in affection and behavior may depend upon a consensus in thought that is secured only by discrimination and comparison.


  1. Read as the Presidential Address at the fifth annual meeting of the American Philosophical Association, at Cambridge, December 28, 1905, and reprinted with verbal revisions from the Philosophical Review, Vol. XV., March, 1906. The substitution of the word " Existences " for the word "Realities" (in the original title) is due to a subsequent recognition on my part that the eulogistic historic associations with the word " Reality " (against which the paper was a protest) infected the interpretation of the paper itself, so that the use of some more colorless word was desirable.
  2. Since writing the above I have read the following words of a candidly unsympathetic friend of philosophy: " Neither philosophy nor science can institute man's relation to the universe, because such reciprocity must have existed before any kind of science or philosophy can begin; since each investigates phenomena by means of the intellect, and independent of the position and feeling of the investigator; whereas the relation of man to the universe is defined, not by the intellect alone, but by his sensitive perception aided by all his spiritual powers. However much one may assure and instruct a man that all real existence is an idea, that matter is made up of atoms, that the essence of life is corporality or will, that Beat, light, movement, electricity, are different manifestations of one and the same energy, one cannot thereby explain to a being with pains, pleasures, hopes, and fears his position in the universe." Tolstoi, essay on " Religion and Morality," in " Essays, Letters, and Miscellanies."
  3. Hegel may be excepted from this statement. The habit of interpreting Hegel as a Neo-Kantian, a Kantian enlarged and purified, is a purely Anglo-American habit. This is no place to enter into the intricacies of Hegelian exegesis, but the subordination of both logical meaning and of mechanical existence to Geist, to life in its own developing movement, would seem to stand out in any unbiased view of Hegel. At all events, I wish to recognize my own personal debt to Hegel for the view set forth in this paper, without, of course, implying that it represents Hegel's own intention.
  4. There will of course come in time with the development of this point of view an organon of beliefs. The signs of a genuine as against a simulated belief will be studied; belief as a vital personal reaction will be discriminated from habitual, incorporate, unquestioned (because unconsciously exercised) traditions of social classes and professions. In his "Will to Believe" Professor James has already laid down two traits of genuine belief (viz., " forced option," and acceptance of responsibility for results) which are almost always ignored in criticisms (really caricatures) of his position. In the light of such an organon, one might come to doubt whether belief in, say, immortality (as distinct from hope on one side and a sort of intellectual balance of probability of opinion on the other) can genuinely exist at all.

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