Open main menu

Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 83.djvu/398

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



IT is not my purpose upon this occasion to enter into the philosophical aspect of the discussion regarding pragmatism, excepting in so far as may be necessary to call attention to the psychological problems that I now have in mind. I presuppose, of course, a familiarity on the part of all of you with the main outlines of the recent discussions concerning the problem of truth. But I shall not try with any exactness to define what the term pragmatism means. I recognize that the word as now used refers to a considerable variety of opinions, and that the comparison of a "holding company" which Professor Dewey has, I believe, on one occasion employed, is not altogether inapt. It is enough for our present purpose that by the name pragmatism we all of us mean a certain set of tendencies in recent discussion which lay stress upon the importance of defining the truth of propositions or judgments or ideas in terms of those empirical facts and relations of facts which are said to constitute the "workings" of the propositions, or judgments, or ideas which are in question. The favorite summary of pragmatism, to the effect that from the point of view of pragmatism a proposition, or judgment, or idea is true "if it works," is sufficient to serve as a general indication of the tendencies of opinion which are here in question.

What pragmatism asserts about truth may be considered from the point of view of a general theory of knowledge, or of a metaphysic. But pragmatism itself especially emphasizes its relation to psychology, on the one hand, and to the recognized methods of empirical science, on the other. As Mr. Schiller said to me during the Philosophical Congress of 1908 at Heidelberg, "What is most essential to pragmatism is that it insists that the relations and values of the thinking process must be estimated in psychological terms. Success tests truth, and success is itself a matter of experience that can best be understood when it is defined psychologically." Another way of stating the essence of pragmatism is to insist, as Professor Dewey has so often done, upon the fact that the method which pragmatism proposes to apply to all problems is the method already used by the various sciences of experience. They employ "working hypotheses." They test these working hypotheses by