§4. The Two Functions of Pragmatism

206. There are two functions which we may properly require that Pragmatism should perform; or if not pragmatism, whatever the true doctrine of the Logic of Abduction may be, ought to do these two services.

Namely, it ought, in the first place, to give us an expeditious riddance of all ideas essentially unclear. In the second place, it ought to lend support, and help to render distinct, ideas essentially clear, but more or less difficult of apprehension; and in particular, it ought to take a satisfactory attitude toward the element of thirdness.

207. Of these two offices of Pragmatism, there is at the present day not so crying a need of the first as there was a quarter of a century ago when I enunciated the maxim. The state of logical thought is very much improved. Thirty years ago 1) when, in consequence of my study of the logic of relations, I told philosophers that all conceptions ought to be defined, with the sole exception of the familiar concrete conceptions of everyday life, my opinion was considered in every school to be utterly incomprehensible. The doctrine then was, as it remains in nineteen out of every score of logical treatises that are appearing in these days, that there is no way of defining a term except by enumerating all its universal predicates, each of which is more abstracted and general than the term defined. So unless this process can go on endlessly, which was a doctrine little followed, the explication of a concept must stop at such ideas as Pure Being, Agency, Substance and the like, which were held to be ideas so perfectly simple that no explanation whatever could be given of them. This grotesque doctrine was shattered by the logic of relations, which showed that the simplest conceptions, such as Quality, Relation, Self-consciousness could be defined and that such definitions would be of the greatest service in dealing with them.1) By this time, although few really study the logic of relations, one seldom meets with a philosopher who continues to think the most general relations are particularly simple in any except a technical sense; and of course, the only alternative is to regard as the simplest the practically applied notions of familiar life. We should hardly find today a man of Kirchhoff's rank in science saying that we know exactly what energy does but what energy is we do not know in the least.2) For the answer would be that energy being a term in a dynamical equation, if we know how to apply that equation, we thereby know what energy is, although we may suspect that there is some more fundamental law underlying the laws of motion.

208. In the present situation of philosophy, it is far more important that thirdness should be adequately dealt with by our logical maxim of abduction. The urgent pertinence of the question of thirdness, at this moment of the breakup of agnostic calm, when we see that the chief difference between philosophers is in regard to the extent to which they allow elements of thirdness a place in their theories, is too plain to be insisted upon.

209. I shall take it for granted that as far as thought goes, I have sufficiently shown that thirdness is an element not reducible to secondness and firstness. But even if so much be granted, three attitudes may be taken:

(1) That thirdness, though an element of the mental phenomenon, ought not to be admitted into a theory of the real, because it is not experimentally verifiable;

(2) That thirdness is experimentally verifiable, that is, is inferable by induction, [abduction?] although it cannot be directly perceived;

(3) That it is directly perceived, from which the other cotary propositions can hardly be separated.

210. The man who takes the first position ought to admit no general law as really operative. Above all, therefore, he ought not to admit the law of laws, the law of the uniformity of nature. He ought to abstain from all prediction, however qualified by a confession of fallibility. But that position can practically not be maintained.

211. The man who takes the second position will hold thirdness to be an addition which the operation of abduction introduces over and above what its premisses in any way contain, and further that this element, though not perceived in experiment, is justified by experiment. Then his conception of reality must be such as completely to sunder the real from perception; and the puzzle for him will be why perception should be allowed such authority in regard to what is real.

I do not think that man can consistently hold that there is room in time for an event between any two events separate in time. But even if he could, he would (if he could grasp the reasons) be forced to acknowledge that the contents of time consists of separate, independent, unchanging states, and nothing else. There would not be even a determinate order of sequence among these states. He might insist that one order of sequence was more readily grasped by us; but nothing more. Every man is fully satisfied that there is such a thing as truth, or he would not ask any question. That truth consists in a conformity to something independent of his thinking it to be so, or of any man's opinion on that subject. But for the man who holds this second opinion, the only reality, there could be, would be conformity to the ultimate result of inquiry. But there would not be any course of inquiry possible except in the sense that it would be easier for him to interpret the phenomenon; and ultimately he would be forced to say that there was no reality at all except that he now at this instant finds a certain way of thinking easier than any other. But that violates the very idea of reality and of truth.

212. The man who takes the third position and accepts the cotary propositions will hold, with firmest of grasps, to the recognition that logical criticism is limited to what we can control. In the future we may be able to control more but we must consider what we can now control. Some elements we can control in some limited measure. But the content of the perceptual judgment cannot be sensibly controlled now, nor is there any rational hope that it ever can be. Concerning that quite uncontrolled part of the mind, logical maxims have as little to do as with the growth of hair and nails. We may be dimly able to see that, in part, it depends on the accidents of the moment, in part on what is personal or racial, in part is common to all nicely adjusted organisms whose equilibrium has narrow ranges of stability, in part on whatever is composed of vast collections of independently variable elements, in part on whatever reacts, and in part on whatever has any mode of being. But the sum of it all is that our logically controlled thoughts compose a small part of the mind, the mere blossom of a vast complexus, which we may call the instinctive mind, in which this man will not say that he has faith, because that implies the conceivability of distrust, but upon which he builds as the very fact to which it is the whole business of his logic to be true.

That he will have no difficulty with Thirdness is clear enough, because he will hold that the conformity of action to general intentions is as much given in perception as is the element of action itself, which cannot really be mentally torn away from such general purposiveness. There can be no doubt that he will allow hypotheses fully all the range they ought to be allowed. The only question will be whether he succeeds in excluding from hypotheses everything unclear and nonsensical. It will be asked whether he will not have a shocking leaning toward anthropomorphic conceptions. I fear I must confess that he will be inclined to see an anthropomorphic, or even a zoömorphic, if not a physiomorphic element in all our conceptions. But against unclear and nonsensical hypotheses, [of] whatever ægis [he will be protected]. Pragmatism will be more essentially significant for him than for any other logician, for the reason that it is in action that logical energy returns to the uncontrolled and uncriticizable parts of the mind. His maxim will be this:

The elements of every concept enter into logical thought at the gate of perception and make their exit at the gate of purposive action; and whatever cannot show its passports at both those two gates is to be arrested as unauthorized by reason.

The digestion of such thoughts is slow, ladies and gentlemen; but when you come in the future to reflect upon all that I have said, I am confident you will find the seven hours, you have spent in listening to these ideas, have not been altogether wasted.

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