§1. Theory and Practice


623. I shall have a good deal to say about right reasoning; and in default of better I had reckoned that as a topic of vital importance. But I do not know that the theory of reasoning is quite vitally important. That it is absolutely essential in metaphysics, I am as sure as I am of any truth of philosophy. But in the conduct of life, we have to distinguish everyday affairs and great crises. In the great decisions, I do not believe it is safe to trust to individual reason. In everyday business, reasoning is tolerably successful; but I am inclined to think that it is done as well without the aid of theory as with it. A logica utens, like the analytical mechanics resident in the billiard player's nerves, best fulfills familiar uses.

624. In metaphysics, however, it is not so, at all; and the reason is obvious. The truths that the metaphysician infers can be brought to the test of experience, if at all, only in a department of experience quite foreign from that which furnishes his premisses. Thus a metaphysician who infers anything about a life beyond the grave can never find out for certain that his inference is false until he has gone out of the metaphysical business, at his present stand, at least. The consequence is that unless the metaphysician is a most thorough master of formal logic — and especially of the inductive side of the logic of relatives, immeasurably more important and difficult than all the rest of formal logic put together — he will inevitably fall into the practice of deciding upon the validity of reasonings in the same manner in which, for example, the practical politician decides as to the weight that ought to be allowed to different considerations, that is to say, by the impression those reasonings make upon the mind, only with this stupendous difference, that the one man's impressions are the resultant of long experiential training, while with such training the other man is altogether unacquainted. The metaphysician who adopts a metaphysical reasoning because he is impressed that it is sound, might just as well, or better, adopt his conclusions directly because he is impressed that they are true, in the good old style of Descartes and of Plato. To convince yourself of the extent to which this way of working actually vitiates philosophy, just look at the dealings of the metaphysicians with Zeno's objections to motion. They are simply at the mercy of the adroit Italian. For this reason, then, if for no other, the metaphysician who is not prepared to grapple with all the difficulties of modern exact logic had better put up his shutters and go out of the trade. Unless he will do one or the other, I tell him to his conscience that he is not the genuine, honest, earnest, resolute, energetic, industrious, and accomplished doubter that it is his duty to be.

625. But this is not all, nor half. For after all, metaphysical reasonings, such as they have hitherto been, have been simple enough for the most part. It is the metaphysical concepts which it is difficult to apprehend. Now the metaphysical conceptions, as I need not waste words to show, are merely adapted from those of formal logic, and therefore can only be apprehended in the light of a minutely accurate and thoroughgoing system of formal logic.

626. But in practical affairs, in matters of vital importance, it is very easy to exaggerate the importance of ratiocination. Man is so vain of his power of reason! It seems impossible for him to see himself in this respect, as he himself would see himself if he could duplicate himself and observe himself with a critical eye. Those whom we are so fond of referring to as the »lower animals« reason very little. Now I beg you to observe that those beings very rarely commit a mistake, while we —-! We employ twelve good men and true to decide a question, we lay the facts before them with the greatest care, the »perfection of human reason« presides over the presentment, they hear, they go out and deliberate, they come to a unanimous opinion, and it is generally admitted that the parties to the suit might almost as well have tossed up a penny to decide! Such is man's glory!

627. The mental qualities we most admire in all human beings except our several selves are the maiden's delicacy, the mother's devotion, manly courage, and other inheritances that have come to us from the biped who did not yet speak; while the characters that are most contemptible take their origin in reasoning. The very fact that everybody so ridiculously overrates his own reasoning is sufficient to show how superficial the faculty is. For you do not hear the courageous man vaunt his own courage, or the modest woman boast of her modesty, or the really loyal plume themselves on their honesty. What they are vain about is always some insignificant gift of beauty or of skill.

628. It is the instincts, the sentiments, that make the substance of the soul. Cognition is only its surface, its locus of contact with what is external to it.

629. Do you ask me to prove this? If so, you must be a rationalist, indeed. I can prove it — but only by assuming a logical principle of the demonstration of which I shall give a hint in the next lecture.1) When people ask me to prove a proposition in philosophy I am often obliged to reply that it is a corollary from the logic of relatives. Then certain men say, »I should like exceedingly to look into this logic of relatives; you must write out an exposition of it.« The next day I bring them a manuscript. But when they see that it is full of A, B, and C, they never look at it again. Such men — oh, well.


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