Open main menu

Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 73.djvu/71

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.

relevant to the proximate needs of concrete issues. Taken abstractly, these complementary principles have significance only as limiting concepts, like the infinite and the infinitesimal in mathematics; they are signs of operations to be performed, not absolute realities blocking progress. There is no experience in general or in the abstract, no absolute experience; experience is always in specific centers of concrete interest and value. Hence questions of the absolute origin or absolute givenness of reality are unintelligible because irrelevant. We participate in the evolution of reality by every moment of conscious experience. The truth hasn't all happened yet, as Professor James says. Kant was right in a sense when he said that the understanding creates the world. But it is equally true that for any particular individual and for any particular moment of conscious experience, the high-lights of attentional consciousness are set over against a background of what, for the situation, must be taken as given—and this is the truth the metaphysical realists have built into a wall of separation between a subjective and an objective world.

These are some of the implications of the pragmatic philosophy as a doctrine of empiricism. But we maintained that it likewise represents a form of idealism, and that this is not only consistent with, but absolutely indispensable to the integrity of the empirical side of its method.

The pragmatic philosophy, by virtue of the fact that it purports to be a philosophy, is a form of idealism. All philosophies are idealistic in the deepest sense of the word—they are simply developed ideas of the universe. Pragmatic idealism is only a closer-knit synthesis of practise and theory than other forms of philosophy. If we define idealism as any philosophy which finds the key to the nature of reality in ideas, then pragmatism is a form of idealism, since it is itself a theory, an idea, a conception, a philosophy of experience. There is no necessary antagonism between pragmatism and idealism, since there is no necessary conflict between practise and theory. Pragmatism is not opposed to theory, but only to bad theory; it is not opposed to ideas, but only to ideas that do not work in practise; it is not opposed to ideals, but only to ideals that do not stand in organic relation to life.

The idealistic phase of pragmatism is to be found in its theory of knowledge, in its doctrine of the relation of ideas to action. Thinking, it holds, is action in process of transformation into more adequate action; the pragmatic philosophy is only human action or practise passing into the idea or theory phase for the sake of evolving a more adequate practise. Whether pragmatism is idealistic in either of the other two historically important senses of the word, which hold respectively that ultimate reality is mental (metaphysical idealism) and that the objective world has no existence independent of a knowing subject (epistemological idealism), is easily answered: it is not. These forms