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The Experience Of Activity
by [?]



In casting about me for a subject for your President this year to talk about it has seemed to me that our experiences of activity would form a good one; not only because the topic is so naturally interesting, and because it has lately led to a good deal of rather inconclusive discussion, but because I myself am growing more and more interested in a certain systematic way of handling questions, and want to get others interested also, and this question strikes me as one in which, although I am painfully aware of my inability to communicate new discoveries or to reach definitive conclusions, I yet can show, in a rather definite manner, how the method works.

The way of handling things I speak of, is, as you already will have suspected, that known sometimes as the pragmatic method, sometimes as humanism, sometimes as Deweyism, and in France, by some of the disciples of Bergson, as the Philosophie nouvelle. Professor Woodbridge’s Journal of Philosophy [86] seems unintentionally to have become a sort of meeting place for those who follow these tendencies in America. There is only a dim identity among them; and the most that can be said at present is that some sort of gestation seems to be in the atmosphere, and that almost any day a man with a genius for finding the right word for things may hit upon some unifying and conciliating formula that will make so much vaguely similar aspiration crystallize into more definite form.

I myself have given the name of ‘radical empiricism’ to that version of the tendency in question which I prefer; and I propose, if you will now let me, to illustrate what I mean by radical empiricism, by applying it to activity as an example, hoping at the same time incidentally to leave the general problem of activity in a slightly–I fear very slightly–more manageable shape than before.

Mr. Bradley calls the question of activity a scandal to philosophy, and if one turns to the current literature of the subject–his own writings included–one easily gathers what he means. The opponents cannot even understand one another. Mr. Bradley says to Mr. Ward: “I do not care what your oracle is, and your preposterous psychology may here be gospel if you please; … but if the revelation does contain a meaning, I will commit myself to this: either the oracle is so confused that its signification is not discoverable, or, upon the other hand, if it can be pinned down to any definite statement, then that statement will be false.”[87] Mr. Ward in turn says of Mr. Bradley: “I cannot even imagine the state of mind to which his description applies…. [It] reads like an unintentional travesty of Herbartian psychology by one who has tried to improve upon it without being at the pains to master it.”[88] Muensterberg excludes a view opposed to his own by saying that with any one who holds it a Verstaendigung with him is ” grundsaetzlich ausgeschlossen “; and Royce, in a review of Stout,[89] hauls him over the coals at great length for defending ‘efficacy’ in a way which I, for one, never gathered from reading him, and which I have heard Stout himself say was quite foreign to the intention of his text.

In these discussions distinct questions are habitually jumbled and different points of view are talked of durcheinander.

(1) There is a psychological question: “Have we perceptions of activity? and if so, what are they like, and when and where do we have them?”

(2) There is a metaphysical question: “Is there a fact of activity? and if so, what idea must we frame of it? What is it like? and what does it do, if it does anything?” And finally there is a logical question: