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Two English Critics
by [?]

Mr. Bertrand Russell’s article entitled ‘Transatlantic Truth,’ [Footnote: In the Albany Review for January, 1908.] has all the clearness, dialectic subtlety, and wit which one expects from his pen, but it entirely fails to hit the right point of view for apprehending our position. When, for instance, we say that a true proposition is one the consequences of believing which are good, he assumes us to mean that any one who believes a proposition to be true must first have made out clearly that its consequences be good, and that his belief must primarily be in that fact,–an obvious absurdity, for that fact is the deliverance of a new proposition, quite different from the first one and is, moreover, a fact usually very hard to verify, it being ‘far easier,’ as Mr. Russell justly says, ‘to settle the plain question of fact: “Have popes always been infallible?”‘ than to settle the question whether the effects of thinking them infallible are on the whole good.’

We affirm nothing as silly as Mr. Russell supposes. Good consequences are not proposed by us merely as a sure sign, mark, or criterion, by which truth’s presence is habitually ascertained, tho they may indeed serve on occasion as such a sign; they are proposed rather as the lurking motive inside of every truth-claim, whether the ‘trower’ be conscious of such motive, or whether he obey it blindly. They are proposed as the causa existendi of our beliefs, not as their logical cue or premise, and still less as their objective deliverance or content. They assign the only intelligible practical meaning to that difference in our beliefs which our habit of calling them true or false comports.

No truth-claimer except the pragmatist himself need ever be aware of the part played in his own mind by consequences, and he himself is aware of it only abstractly and in general, and may at any moment be quite oblivious of it with respect to his own beliefs.

Mr. Russell next joins the army of those who inform their readers that according to the pragmatist definition of the word ‘truth’ the belief that A exists may be ‘true’ even when A does not exist. This is the usual slander repeated to satiety by our critics. They forget that in any concrete account of what is denoted by ‘truth’ in human life, the word can only be used relatively to some particular trower. Thus, I may hold it true that Shakespeare wrote the plays that bear his name, and may express my opinion to a critic. If the critic be both a pragmatist and a baconian, he will in his capacity of pragmatist see plain that the workings of my opinion, I being who I am, make it perfectly true for me, while in his capacity of baconian he still believes that Shakespeare never wrote the plays in question. But most anti-pragmatist critics take the wont ‘truth’ as something absolute, and easily play on their reader’s readiness to treat his OWE truths as the absolute ones. If the reader whom they address believes that A does not exist, while we pragmatists show that those for whom tho belief that it exists works satisfactorily will always call it true, he easily sneers at the naivete of our contention, for is not then the belief in question ‘true,’ tho what it declares as fact has, as the reader so well knows, no existence? Mr. Russell speaks of our statement as an ‘attempt to get rid of fact’ and naturally enough considers it ‘a failure’ (p. 410). ‘The old notion of truth reappears,’ he adds– that notion being, of course, that when a belief is true, its object does exist.

It is, of course, BOUND to exist, on sound pragmatic principles. Concepts signify consequences. How is the world made different for me by my conceiving an opinion of mine under the concept ‘true’? First, an object must be findable there (or sure signs of such an object must be found) which shall agree with the opinion. Second, such an opinion must not be contradicted by anything else I am aware of. But in spite of the obvious pragmatist requirement that when I have said truly that something exists, it SHALL exist, the slander which Mr. Russell repeats has gained the widest currency.