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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 70.djvu/367

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363
A DEFENCE OF PRAGMATISM

Schiller's, Dewey's and my own doctrine of truth, which I can not discuss with detail until my sixth lecture.[1] Let me now say only this, that truth is one species of good, and not, as is usually supposed, a category distinct from good, and coordinate with it. The true is the name of whatever proves itself to be good in the way of belief, and good, moreover, for definite practical reasons. Surely you must admit this, that if there were no value for life in true ideas, or if the knowledge of them were positively disadvantageous and false ideas the only useful ones, then the current notion that truth is divine and precious, and its pursuit a duty, would never have grown up or become a dogma. In a world like that, the duty would be to shun truth, rather. But in this world, just as certain foods are not only agreeable to our taste, but good for our teeth, our stomach and our tissues; so certain ideas are not only agreeable to think about, or agreeable as supporting other ideas that we are fond of, but they are also helpful in life's practical struggles. If there be any life that it is really better we should lead, and if there be any idea which, if believed in, would help us to lead that life, then it would be really better for us to believe in that idea—unless, indeed, belief in it incidentally clashed with other greater vital benefits.

'What it would be best that we should believe'! This sounds very like a definition of truth. It comes very near to saying 'what we ought to believe,' and in that definition of truth none of you would find any oddity. Ought we ever to believe what it is not better for us to believe? And can we then keep the notion of what is better for us, and what is true for us, permanently apart?

Pragmatism says no, and I fully agree with her. Probably you also agree, so far as the abstract statement goes, but with a suspicion that if we practically did believe everything that made for good in our own personal lives, we should be found indulging all kinds of foolish fancies about this world's affairs, and all kinds of sentimental superstitions about a world hereafter. Evidently something does happen, when you pass from the abstract to the concrete, that complicates the situation.

I said just now that what it is best that we should believe is true unless the belief incidentally clashes with some other vital benefit. Now in real life what vital benefits is any particular belief of ours most liable to clash with? What indeed except the vital benefits yielded by other beliefs when these prove incompatible with the first ones? In other words, the greatest enemy of any one of our truths may be the rest of our truths. Truths have once for all this desperate instinct of self-preservation and of desire to extinguish whatever contradicts them. Grant that the Absolute may be true in giving me a moral holiday. Nevertheless, as I conceive it (and I proceed to speak, now not as an

  1. That sixth lecture will soon appear in the Journal of Philosophy, Psychology and Scientific Methods.