Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 71.djvu/357

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1. Pragmatism can not he defined

WHOEVER should define pragmatism in a few words would be doing the most anti-pragmatic thing imaginable. In fact, he who should try to include in a single brief phrase all the tendencies and theories which make up pragmatism would surely be doing something generic and incomplete, and the pragmatists despise nothing so much as vagueness and indefiniteness.

On the other hand, I want you, my readers, to be interested at once in the argument, and love, says Leonardo, is born, and increases with acquaintance. But how shall I proceed? I might give two or three definitions of pragmatism which I have here quite ready, and which reduce all its characteristics and elements to a single one, but I do not feel that I can recommend my wares.

I could tell you, for example, that pragmatism is nothing but "a collection of methods for augmenting the power of man" but you could answer that even a manual for tunnel builders would then form a part of pragmatism. Another pragmatist could, on the other hand, assure you that his doctrine is founded upon preoccupation with the future (consequences, previsions), and that therefore it might also be called prometheism. You would promptly ask him if books of meteorology, or manuals of prophecy from dreams, or the Utopias of the reformers, form parts of pragmatism.

It would be worse yet if any one should undertake to say that the theory of pragmatism lays stress upon the practical and, in the selection of its doctrines, substitutes the criterion of utility for that of truth. This definition contains much that is true, but one must examine closely what is meant by the practical and by utility, in order that they may gain an undeniable meaning. In fact, what theory is there whose originator does not claim for it practical consequences? What theory would be completely unutilitarian? Theories have a certain sort of utility which coincides with their truth, as, for example, it is commonly useful to hold theories which bring about true previsions. And there is another sort of utility in contrast with this, as, for example, the moral enthusiasm which a belief might give us, even though it were entirely absurd.

  1. Translated by Katharine Royce.