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THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY

These definitions might be continued, but you would probably arrive at the conclusion that pragmatism, instead of being something new, embraces a vast number of already existing things, and that it is already accepted and practised, consciously or not, by all thinking men.

In this, however, you would be wrong, because, seriously, pragmatism contains new things, and if it is practised by many, it is not recognized or accepted by all. The blame lies with the definitions, since they must not or can not be made as long as books. For definitions, reduced to a single phrase attempting to give an explanation and resume of the whole, end at best by failing to make really clear that of which they treat. Oftener still, they give rise to embarrassing equivocations and false representations. In order to show the novelty and specific nature of any doctrine whatever, we must come down from the universal to the particular, and fill such large abstract terms as potentiality, actuality, future, etc., with the wealth of special theories and of concrete facts. Without realizing it, I have already given you an elementary first lesson in pragmatism.

 

2. What may he expected of Pragmatists

As soon as I have begun one task, another lies before me. One of the maxims dearest to the pragmatists is this: that the meaning of theories consists entirely in the consequences which their followers may expect from them. To affirm anything actually means this: I foresee that certain things will follow, or that I shall do certain things.

Now apply this maxim to the definition of pragmatism itself, and ask me: What actions or beliefs may be expected from a thinker who is a confessed pragmatist?

That is soon said. These expectations relate almost wholly to his choices in the world of thought. That is, we can foresee what things he will love and what things he will hate; what problems he will consider important, and what ones he will reject as useless; what will be his sympathies and antipathies in the world of ideas and of men.

He will seek in every way not to concern himself with a great part of the classical problems of metaphysics (in particular with the universal and rationalistic explanation of the sum total of things), which are for him non-existent and senseless problems. On the other hand, he will concern himself strenuously with methods and instruments of knowledge and action, because he will be sure that it is far more important to improve or to create methods of obtaining exact previsions, or of changing ourselves or others, than to sport with empty words around incomprehensible problems.

His sympathies will be with the study of the particular instance; with the development of prevision; with precise and well-determined