§1. Two Statements of the Pragmatic Maxim


14. A certain maxim of Logic which I have called Pragmatism has recommended itself to me for divers reasons and on sundry considerations. Having taken it as my guide in most of my thought, I find that as the years of my knowledge of it lengthen, my sense of the importance of it presses upon me more and more. If it is only true, it is certainly a wonderfully efficient instrument. It is not to philosophy only that it is applicable. I have found it of signal service in every branch of science that I have studied. My want of skill in practical affairs does not prevent me from perceiving the advantage of being well imbued with pragmatism in the conduct of life.

15. Yet I am free to confess that objections to this way of thinking have forced themselves upon me and have been found more formidable the further my plummet has been dropped into the abyss of philosophy, and the closer my questioning at each new attempt to fathom its depths.

I propose, then, to submit to your judgment in half a dozen lectures an examination of the pros and cons of pragmatism by means of which I hope to show you the result of allowing to both pros and cons their full legitimate values. With more time I would gladly follow up the guiding thread so caught up and go on to ascertain what are the veritable conclusions, or at least the genera of veritable conclusions to which a carefully rectified pragmatism will truly lead. If you find what I say acceptable, you will have learned something worth your while. If you can refute me, the gain will be chiefly on my side; but even in that I anticipate your acknowledging, when I take my leave of you, that the discussion has not been without profit; and in future years I am confident that you will recur to these thoughts and find that you have more to thank me for than you could understand at first.

16. I suppose I may take it for granted that you all know what pragmatism is. I have met with a number of definitions of it lately, against none of which I am much disposed to raise any violent protest. Yet to say exactly what pragmatism is describes pretty well what you and I have to puzzle out together.

We must start with some rough approximation of it, and I am inclined to think that the shape in which I first stated [it] will be the most useful one to adopt as matter to work upon, chiefly because it is the form most personal to your lecturer, and [upon] which for that reason he can discourse most intelligently. Besides pragmatism and personality are more or less of the same kidney.

17. I sent forth my statement in January 1878; and for about twenty years never heard from it again. I let fly my dove; and that dove has never come back to me to this very day. But of late quite a brood of young ones have been fluttering about, from the feathers of which I might fancy that mine had found a brood. To speak plainly, a considerable number of philosophers have lately written as they might have written in case they had been reading either what I wrote but were ashamed to confess it, or had been reading something that some reader of mine had read. For they seem quite disposed to adopt my term pragmatism. I shouldn't wonder if they were ashamed of me. What could be more humiliating than to confess that one has learned anything of a logician? But for my part I am delighted to find myself sharing the opinions of so brilliant a company. The new pragmatists seem to be distinguished for their terse, vivid and concrete style of expression together with a certain buoyancy of tone as if they were conscious of carrying about them the master key to all the secrets of metaphysics.

Every metaphysician is supposed to have some radical fault to find with every other, and I cannot find any direr fault to find with the new pragmatists than that they are lively. In order to be deep it is requisite to be dull.

18. On their side, one of the faults that I think they might find with me is that I make pragmatism to be a mere maxim of logic instead of a sublime principle of speculative philosophy. In order to be admitted to better philosophical standing I have endeavored to put pragmatism as I understand it into the same form of a philosophical theorem. I have not succeeded any better than this:

Pragmatism is the principle that every theoretical judgment expressible in a sentence in the indicative mood is a confused form of thought whose only meaning, if it has any, lies in its tendency to enforce a corresponding practical maxim expressible as a conditional sentence having its apodosis in the imperative mood.

But the Maxim of Pragmatism, as I originally stated it, Revue philosophique VII, is as follows:

Considérer quels sont les effets pratiques que nous pensons pouvoir être produits par l'objet de notre conception. La conception de tous ces effets est la conception complète de l'objet. [p. 48.]

Pour développer le sens d'une pensée, il faut donc simplement déterminer quelles habitudes elle produit, car le sens d'une chose consiste simplement dans les habitudes qu'elle implique. Le caractère d'une habitude dépend de la façon dont elle peut nous faire agir non pas seulement dans telle circonstance probable, mais dans toute circonstance possible, si improbable qu'elle puisse être. Ce qu'est une habitude dépend de ces deux points: quand et comment elle fait agir. Pour le premier point: quand? tout stimulant à l'action dérive d'une perception; pour le second point: comment? le but de toute action est d'amener au résultat sensible. Nous atteignons ainsi le tangible et le pratique comme base de toute différence de pensée, si subtile qu'elle puisse être. [p. 47.]


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