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The Pragmatist Account Of Truth And Its Misunderstanders
by [?]

So much for the third misunderstanding, which is but one specification of the following still wider one.


This is supposed to follow from his statement that the truth of our beliefs consists in general in their giving satisfaction. Of course satisfaction per se is a subjective condition; so the conclusion is drawn that truth falls wholly inside of the subject, who then may manufacture it at his pleasure. True beliefs become thus wayward affections, severed from all responsibility to other parts of experience.

It is difficult to excuse such a parody of the pragmatist’s opinion, ignoring as it does every element but one of his universe of discourse. The terms of which that universe consists positively forbid any non-realistic interpretation of the function of knowledge defined there. The pragmatizing epistemologist posits there a reality and a mind with ideas. What, now, he asks, can make those ideas true of that reality? Ordinary epistemology contents itself with the vague statement that the ideas must ‘correspond’ or ‘agree’; the pragmatist insists on being more concrete, and asks what such ‘agreement’ may mean in detail. He finds first that the ideas must point to or lead towards THAT reality and no other, and then that the pointings and leadings must yield satisfaction as their result. So far the pragmatist is hardly less abstract than the ordinary slouchy epistemologist; but as he defines himself farther, he grows more concrete. The entire quarrel of the intellectualist with him is over his concreteness, intellectualism contending that the vaguer and more abstract account is here the more profound. The concrete pointing and leading are conceived by the pragmatist to be the work of other portions of the same universe to which the reality and the mind belong, intermediary verifying bits of experience with which the mind at one end, and the reality at the other, are joined. The ‘satisfaction,’ in turn, is no abstract satisfaction ueberhaupt, felt by an unspecified being, but is assumed to consist of such satisfactions (in the plural) as concretely existing men actually do find in their beliefs. As we humans are constituted in point of fact, we find that to believe in other men’s minds, in independent physical realities, in past events, in eternal logical relations, is satisfactory. We find hope satisfactory. We often find it satisfactory to cease to doubt. Above all we find CONSISTENCY satisfactory, consistency between the present idea and the entire rest of our mental equipment, including the whole order of our sensations, and that of our intuitions of likeness and difference, and our whole stock of previously acquired truths.

The pragmatist, being himself a man, and imagining in general no contrary lines of truer belief than ours about the ‘reality’ which he has laid at the base of his epistemological discussion, is willing to treat our satisfactions as possibly really true guides to it, not as guides true solely for US. It would seem here to be the duty of his critics to show with some explicitness why, being our subjective feelings, these satisfactions can not yield ‘objective’ truth. The beliefs which they accompany ‘posit’ the assumed reality, ‘correspond’ and ‘agree’ with it, and ‘fit’ it in perfectly definite and assignable ways, through the sequent trains of thought and action which form their verification, so merely to insist on using these words abstractly instead of concretely is no way of driving the pragmatist from the field,– his more concrete account virtually includes his critic’s. If our critics have any definite idea of a truth more objectively grounded than the kind we propose, why do they not show it more articulately? As they stand, they remind one of Hegel’s man who wanted ‘fruit,’ but rejected cherries, pears, and grapes, because they were not fruit in the abstract. We offer them the full quart-pot, and they cry for the empty quart-capacity.

But here I think I hear some critic retort as follows: ‘If satisfactions are all that is needed to make truth, how about the notorious fact that errors are so often satisfactory? And how about the equally notorious fact that certain true beliefs may cause the bitterest dissatisfaction? Isn’t it clear that not the satisfaction which it gives, but the relation of the belief TO THE REALITY is all that makes it true? Suppose there were no such reality, and that the satisfactions yet remained: would they not then effectively work falsehood? Can they consequently be treated distinctively as the truth-builders? It is the INHERENT RELATION TO REALITY of a belief that gives us that specific TRUTH-satisfaction, compared with which all other satisfactions are the hollowest humbug. The satisfaction of KNOWING TRULY is thus the only one which the pragmatist ought to have considered. As a PSYCHOLOGICAL SENTIMENT, the anti-pragmatist gladly concedes it to him, but then only as a concomitant of truth, not as a constituent. What CONSTITUTES truth is not the sentiment, but the purely logical or objective function of rightly cognizing the reality, and the pragmatist’s failure to reduce this function to lower values is patent.’