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Professor Pratt On Truth
by [?]

I think that Dr. Pratt ought to do something more than repeat the name ‘trueness,’ in answer to my pathetic question whether that there be not some CONSTITUTION to a relation as important as this. The pathway, the tendency, the corroborating or contradicting progress, need not in every case be experienced in full, but I don’t see, if the universe doesn’t contain them among its possibilities of furniture, what LOGICAL MATERIAL FOR DEFINING the trueness of my idea is left. But if it do contain them, they and they only are the logical material required.

I am perplexed by the superior importance which Dr. Pratt attributes to abstract trueness over concrete verifiability in an idea, and I wish that he might be moved to explain. It is prior to verification, to be sure, but so is the verifiability for which I contend prior, just as a man’s ‘mortality’ (which is nothing but the possibility of his death) is prior to his death, but it can hardly be that this abstract priority of all possibility to its correlative fact is what so obstinate a quarrel is about. I think it probable that Dr. Pratt is vaguely thinking of something concreter than this. The trueness of an idea must mean SOMETHING DEFINITE IN IT THAT DETERMINES ITS TENDENCY TO WORK, and indeed towards this object rather than towards that. Undoubtedly there is something of this sort in the idea, just as there is something in man that accounts for his tendency towards death, and in bread that accounts for its tendency to nourish. What that something is in the case of truth psychology tells us: the idea has associates peculiar to itself, motor as well as ideational; it tends by its place and nature to call these into being, one after another; and the appearance of them in succession is what we mean by the ‘workings’ of the idea. According to what they are, does the trueness or falseness which the idea harbored come to light. These tendencies have still earlier conditions which, in a general way, biology, psychology and biography can trace. This whole chain of natural causal conditions produces a resultant state of things in which new relations, not simply causal, can now be found, or into which they can now be introduced,–the relations namely which we epistemologists study, relations of adaptation, of substitutability, of instrumentality, of reference and of truth.

The prior causal conditions, altho there could be no knowing of any kind, true or false, without them, are but preliminary to the question of what makes the ideas true or false when once their tendencies have been obeyed. The tendencies must exist in some shape anyhow, but their fruits are truth, falsity, or irrelevancy, according to what they concretely turn out to be. They are not ‘saltatory’ at any rate, for they evoke their consequences contiguously, from next to next only; and not until the final result of the whole associative sequence, actual or potential, is in our mental sight, can we feel sure what its epistemological significance, if it have any, may be. True knowing is, in fine, not substantially, in itself, or ‘as such,’ inside of the idea from the first, any more than mortality AS SUCH is inside of the man, or nourishment AS SUCH inside of the bread. Something else is there first, that practically MAKES FOR knowing, dying or nourishing, as the case may be. That something is the ‘nature’ namely of the first term, be it idea, man, or bread, that operates to start the causal chain of processes which, when completed, is the complex fact to which we give whatever functional name best fits the case. Another nature, another chain of cognitive workings; and then either another object known or the same object known differently, will ensue.

Dr. Pratt perplexes me again by seeming to charge Dewey and Schiller [Footnote: Page 200] (I am not sure that he charges me) with an account of truth which would allow the object believed in not to exist, even if the belief in it were true. ‘Since the truth of an idea,’ he writes, ‘means merely the fact that the idea works, that fact is all that you mean when you say the idea is true’ (p. 206). ‘WHEN YOU SAY THE IDEA IS TRUE’–does that mean true for YOU, the critic, or true for the believer whom you are describing? The critic’s trouble over this seems to come from his taking the word ‘true’ irrelatively, whereas the pragmatist always means ‘true for him who experiences the workings.’ ‘But is the object REALLY true or not?’–the critic then seems to ask,–as if the pragmatist were bound to throw in a whole ontology on top of his epistemology and tell us what realities indubitably exist. ‘One world at a time,’ would seem to be the right reply here.