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Professor Hebert On Pragmatism
by [?]

The anti-pragmatist view is that the workings are but evidences of the truth’s previous inherent presence in the idea, and that you can wipe the very possibility of them out of existence and still leave the truth of the idea as solid as ever. But surely this is not a counter-theory of truth to ours. It is the renunciation of all articulate theory. It is but a claim to the right to call certain ideas true anyhow; and this is what I meant above by saying that the anti-pragmatists offer us no real alternative, and that our account is literally the only positive theory extant. What meaning, indeed, can an idea’s truth have save its power of adapting us either mentally or physically to a reality?

How comes it, then, that our critics so uniformly accuse us of subjectivism, of denying the reality’s existence? It comes, I think, from the necessary predominance of subjective language in our analysis. However independent and elective realities may be, we can talk about them, in framing our accounts of truth, only as so many objects believed-in. But the process of experience leads men so continually to supersede their older objects by newer ones which they find it more satisfactory to believe in, that the notion of an ABSOLUTE reality inevitably arises as a grenzbegriff, equivalent to that of an object that shall never be superseded, and belief in which shall be endgueltig. Cognitively we thus live under a sort of rule of three: as our private concepts represent the sense-objects to which they lead us, these being public realities independent of the individual, so these sense-realities may, in turn, represent realities of a hypersensible order, electrons, mind- stuff. God, or what not, existing independently of all human thinkers. The notion of such final realities, knowledge of which would be absolute truth, is an outgrowth of our cognitive experience from which neither pragmatists nor anti-pragmatists escape. They form an inevitable regulative postulate in every one’s thinking. Our notion of them is the most abundantly suggested and satisfied of all our beliefs, the last to suffer doubt. The difference is that our critics use this belief as their sole paradigm, and treat any one who talks of human realities as if he thought the notion of reality ‘in itself’ illegitimate. Meanwhile, reality-in-itself, so far as by them TALKED OF, is only a human object; they postulate it just as we postulate it; and if we are subjectivists they are so no less. Realities in themselves can be there FOR any one, whether pragmatist or anti-pragmatist, only by being believed; they are believed only by their notions appearing true; and their notions appear true only because they work satisfactorily. Satisfactorily, moreover, for the particular thinker’s purpose. There is no idea which is THE true idea, of anything. Whose is THE true idea of the absolute? Or to take M. Hebert’s example, what is THE true idea of a picture which you possess? It is the idea that most satisfactorily meets your present interest. The interest may be in the picture’s place, its age, its ‘tone,’ its subject, its dimensions, its authorship, its price, its merit, or what not. If its authorship by Corot have been doubted, what will satisfy the interest aroused in you at that moment will be to have your claim to own a Corot confirmed; but, if you have a normal human mind, merely calling it a Corot will not satisfy other demands of your mind at the same time. For THEM to be satisfied, what you learn of the picture must make smooth connection with what you know of the rest of the system of reality in which the actual Corot played his part. M. Hebert accuses us of holding that the proprietary satisfactions of themselves suffice to make the belief true, and that, so far as we are concerned, no actual Corot need ever have existed. Why we should be thus cut off from the more general and intellectual satisfactions, I know not; but whatever the satisfactions may be, intellectual or proprietary, they belong to the subjective side of the truth-relation. They found our beliefs; our beliefs are in realities; if no realities are there, the beliefs are false but if realities are there, how they can even be KNOWN without first being BELIEVED; or how BELIEVED except by our first having ideas of them that work satisfactorily, pragmatists find it impossible to imagine. They also find it impossible to imagine what makes the anti-pragmatists’ dogmatic ‘ipse dixit’ assurance of reality more credible than the pragmatists conviction based on concrete verifications. M. Hebert will probably agree to this, when put in this way, so I do not see our inferiority to him in the matter of connaissance proprement dite.