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Professor Pratt On Truth
by [?]

But the ‘intellectualistic’ position, if I understand Mr. Pratt rightly, is that, altho we can use this fundamentum, this mass of go-between experience, for TESTING truth, yet the truth-relation in itself remains as something apart. It means, in Mr. Pratt’s words, merely ‘THIS SIMPLE THING THAT THE OBJECT OF WHICH ONE IS THINKING IS AS ONE THINKS IT.’

It seems to me that the word ‘as,’ which qualifies the relation here, and bears the whole ‘epistemological’ burden, is anything but simple. What it most immediately suggests is that the idea should be LIKE the object; but most of our ideas, being abstract concepts, bear almost no resemblance to their objects. The ‘as’ must therefore, I should say, be usually interpreted functionally, as meaning that the idea shall lead us into the same quarters of experience AS the object would. Experience leads ever on and on, and objects and our ideas of objects may both lead to the same goals. The ideas being in that case shorter cuts, we SUBSTITUTE them more and more for their objects; and we habitually waive direct verification of each one of them, as their train passes through our mind, because if an idea leads AS the object would lead, we can say, in Mr. Pratt’s words, that in so far forth the object is AS we think it, and that the idea, verified thus in so far forth, is true enough.

Mr. Pratt will undoubtedly accept most of these facts, but he will deny that they spell pragmatism. Of course, definitions are free to every one; but I have myself never meant by the pragmatic view of truth anything different from what I now describe; and inasmuch as my use of the term came earlier than my friend’s, I think it ought to have the right of way. But I suspect that Professor Pratt’s contention is not solely as to what one must think in order to be called a pragmatist. I am cure that he believes that the truth-relation has something MORE in it than the fundamentum which I assign can account for. Useful to test truth by, the matrix of circumstance, be thinks, cannot found the truth-relation in se, for that is trans-empirical and ‘saltatory.’

Well, take an object and an idea, and assume that the latter is true of the former–as eternally and absolutely true as you like. Let the object be as much ‘as’ the idea thinks it, as it is possible for one thing to be ‘as’ another. I now formally ask of Professor Pratt to tell what this ‘as’-ness in itself CONSISTS in–for it seems to me that it ought to consist in something assignable and describable, and not remain a pure mystery, and I promise that if he can assign any determination of it whatever which I cannot successfully refer to some specification of what in this article I have called the empirical fundamentum, I will confess my stupidity cheerfully, and will agree never to publish a line upon this subject of truth again.


Professor Pratt has returned to the charge in a whole book, [Footnote 1: J. B. Pratt: What is Pragmatism. New York, The Macmillan Company, 1909.–The comments I have printed were written in March, 1909, after some of the articles printed later in the present volume.] which for its clearness and good temper deserves to supersede all the rest of the anti-pragmatistic literature. I wish it might do so; for its author admits all MY essential contentions, simply distinguishing my account of truth as ‘modified’ pragmatism from Schiller’s and Dewey’s, which he calls pragmatism of the ‘radical’ sort. As I myself understand Dewey and Schiller, our views absolutely agree, in spite of our different modes of statement; but I have enough trouble of my own in life without having to defend my friends, so I abandon them provisionally to the tender mercy of Professor Pratt’s interpretations, utterly erroneous tho I deem these to be. My reply as regards myself can be very short, for I prefer to consider only essentials, and Dr. Pratt’s whole book hardly takes the matter farther than the article to which I retort in Part I of the present paper.