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Dictionary of the History of Ideas

Studies of Selected Pivotal Ideas

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When Arthur O. Lovejoy (in 1908) discriminated thir-
teen meanings of pragmatism and showed that some
of them were in contradiction with one another, he
raised the problem of whether there was any coherent
core of ideas that could define the doctrine or move-
ment that was so widely discussed by American and
European thinkers in various disciplines. Certainly
Charles S. Peirce and William James (who credited
Peirce in 1897 with inventing the doctrine) had
divergent ideas in their “pragmatic” theories of truth.
There were also divergences among those writers in
the United States and abroad who defended their own
particular versions of pragmatism, e.g., John Dewey,
George H. Mead, F. C. S. Schiller, G. Vailati, G. Papini,
Mario Calderoni, Hans Vaihinger, and others on the
fringes of philosophy. The latter group, ranging from
scientists like Henri Poincaré and Percy Bridgman to
legal, political, and even literary minds such as O. W.
Holmes, Jr., Georges Sorel, and Luigi Pirandello re-
spectively, make it especially difficult to include their
varieties of pragmatism within the same set of ideas
that are common to Peirce, James, and Dewey. At one
extremity one can find self-styled pragmatists with a
Jamesian tendency to regard their personal experience
as a sufficient source and test of truth; the extreme
group in the undefined fringe can only charitably be
included in Peirce's ideal community of minds whose
opinions in the long run are destined to converge on
the one unalterable Platonic truth.

From the standpoint of the history of ideas a well
tried and useful method of arriving at a common core
of component ideas of any group's doctrines is to con-
sider historically the ideas which that group of thinkers
was opposing or trying to combat intellectually with
regard to some problem viewed in its cultural and
historical context. It will become evident that we can
discern historically a substantial though complex core
of such component ideas that came to the fore in the
nineteenth and twentieth centuries in opposition to
certain long established traditional modes of belief.
Common to this substantial core of pragmatism is an
opposition to the absolute separation of thought from
action, of pure from applied science, of intuition or
revelation from experience or experimental verifica-
tion, of private interests from public concern—
concrete applications of older philosophical problems
concerning the relation of universals to particulars. It
will also be evident that each alleged historical exam-
ple of pragmatism shows a wide variety of individual
ways of resolving these problems, especially when we
include the outer fringe of those calling their very
personal effusions “pragmatic.”

It is not the intellectual historian's task to decide
which of the many variants of pragmatism is the “cor-
rect” one. Usage in all its culturally varied ramifications
is the primary concern here, and the historical effects
of such usages on subsequent intellectual developments
in various fields are difficult enough to trace. The usage


or core of ideas central to pragmatism that has been
most influential historically in many fields is found in
contributions to methodology and the theory of value
judgments. Against supernaturalism, authoritarianism,
and eternally fixed norms of belief and values stand
the more flexible method and dynamic values of
naturalistic empiricism, temporalism, and pluralistic
individualism as the chief component ideas at the cen-
ter of what is most coherent and enduring in the many
varieties of pragmatism. However, we cannot overlook
the historical deviations from this central core, espe-
cially as they provide evidence of the pluralism, indi-
vidualism, and relativism defended by our “core”
pragmatists. Since some of these ideas are also found
in other philosophical schools, we must acknowledge
the difficulty of defining the borders of pragmatism.

Hence it is not surprising that there is no one general
definition of pragmatism that covers all the historical
doctrines that have been given that name. In the
comprehensive account of the subject by H. S. Thayer
an attempt at a general definition makes pragmatism
stand for (1) a procedural rule for explicating meanings
of certain philosophical and scientific concepts; (2) “a
theory of knowledge, experience, and reality main-
taining that (a) thought and knowledge are biologically
and socially evolved modes by means of adaptation”
and control; (b) reality is transitional and thought is
a guide to satisfying interests or realizing purposes; (c)
“all knowledge is a behavioral process evaluative of
future experience” and thinking is experimentally
aimed at organizing, planning, or controlling future
experience; and (3) “a broad philosophic attitude to-
ward our conceptualization of experience” (H. S.
Thayer [1968], p. 431). However, Thayer's summary
outline of a definition of “the aim and formative doc-
trines of pragmatism,” despite its comprehensiveness
does not dwell sufficiently on the very varied character
and conflicting theories of method, knowledge, and
reality maintained by pragmatists of different schools
in diverse fields of thought and of diverse cultural and
historical backgrounds.

The opening paragraph of G. Papini's work on
Pragmatismo (1905-1911), a collection of his articles
introducing that doctrine to Italian philosophers, reads:
“Pragmatism cannot be defined. Whoever gives a
definition of Pragmatism in a few words would be
doing the most antipragmatic thing imaginable” (Il
Pragmatismo non si può definire. Chi desse in poche
parole una definizione del Pragmatismo farebbe la cosa
più antipragmatista chi si possa immaginare,
p. 75).
Papini was (in 1906) echoing William James's romantic
aversion to fixed definitions, and even mistakenly
placed Peirce in the same boat with James, thus over-
looking the important difference between James's
nominalism (emphasis on particular perceived conse-
quences of ideas) and Peirce's Scotistic realism (positing
the reality of universals in logic and value judgments:
truth and justice being two of the most powerful ideas
in the world, according to Peirce).

The historical and cultural facets of various prag-
matisms do not all fit under any general definition for
two reasons. First, the philosophical writings of a lead-
ing pragmatist like C. S. Peirce are concerned with
and defend theories of truth and reality that are not
merely procedural, behavioristic, transitional, or
conceptual. Peirce's metaphysical writings contain a
speculative, idealistic version of pragmatism which he
called “pragmaticism” in order to disassociate his phi-
losophy from the pragmatisms of William James and
James's disciple F. C. S. Schiller. Secondly, whole areas
of knowledge, other than those mentioned in the gen-
eral definition above, have been discussed by diverse
pragmatists in their interpretations of the nature of
history, of law and politics, of language, and of mathe-
matical logic. It is true that some pragmatists have
pursued some parts of these subjects, but some have
not; some have professed a profound concern for reli-
gion and others have not. Hence, instead of trying to
find a general definition to cover the conflicting beliefs
and widely divergent interests of all pragmatistic phil-
osophies, the historian of ideas will find it more in-
structive to trace various components of the various
doctrines historically held by pragmatists.

Arthur O. Lovejoy was a student of William James
at Harvard, and outlined more than sixty years ago
the most discriminating criticism of pragmatism in two
short articles, “The Thirteen Pragmatisms” (1908, pp.
1-12, 29-39). Lovejoy's analysis of pragmatism into its
component ideas yields four groups of internal conflicts
and ambiguities: (1) those claims to truth which rest,
on the one hand, on the psychological properties of
belief as a disposition to act from those, on the other
hand, which are based on the changing characters of
the objects of belief; (2) the identification of knowledge
with a form of action based on some form of immediate
perception (e.g., James's “radical empiricism”) versus
knowledge as the result of the mediation of ideas which
interpret experience; (3) ethical and aesthetic judg-
ments validated, on the one hand, by subjective
emotional criteria, e.g., in the “will to believe” doc-
trine of William James and the personalism of F. C. S.
Schiller; and on the other hand, by objective, veri-
fiable social consequences along utilitarian lines, e.g.,
in John Dewey's “instrumentalism” and George Her-
bert Mead's social criteria of meaning; (4) Bergson's
and James's appeal to immediate experience versus
Peirce's “long run” theory of truth as the opinion that
an indefinite community of scientific investigators will


ultimately agree upon after continued experimental

Lovejoy thus insisted that there are incompatible
theories of knowledge, of truth, and of values present
in these diverse ideas maintained by different prag-
matists. F. C. S. Schiller's dramatic response to
Lovejoy's discriminations was to welcome the fact that
there are as many pragmatisms as there are
pragmatists, but Schiller's response does not eliminate
the internal discrepancies among the ideas of prag-
matists. Schiller's “humanistic personalism” is diamet-
rically opposed to Peirce's claims for logic, and reduces
the definition of pragmatism to the problem of ascer-
taining whether there are any common ideas shared
by all pragmatists in the light of the incompatible
components of their philosophies.

One historical investigation of the American foun-
ders and evolutionary background of pragmatism
(Wiener [1949], Ch. 9), by minimizing the differences
and stressing optimistically “the common features,”
attempted to establish the following general compo-
nents: (1) a pluralistic empiricism or method of investi-
gating piecemeal the physical, biological, psychologi-
cal, linguistic, and social problems which are not
resolvable by a single metaphysical formula or a priori
system; e.g., Chauncey Wright, William James, John
Dewey, C. I. Lewis, John H. Randall, Jr., Sidney Hook,
Ernest Nagel, Y. Bar-Hillel, Charles W. Morris; (2) a
temporalistic view of reality and knowledge as the
upshot of an evolving stream of consciousness (W.
James) or of objects of consciousness (C. S. Peirce),
including ideas and claims to truth, processes of obser-
vation, measurement, and experimental testing; (3) a
relativistic or contextualistic conception of reality and
values in which traditional eternal ideas of space, time,
causation, axiomatic truth, intrinsic and eternal values
are all viewed as relative to varying psychological,
social, historical, or logical contexts (Chauncey Wright,
William James, George Herbert Mead, John Dewey,
Stephen C. Pepper, F. P. Ramsey, and C. I. Lewis);
(4) a probabilistic view of physical and social
hypotheses and laws in opposition to both mechanistic
or dialectical determinism and historical necessity or
inevitability, yielding a fallibilistic theory of knowledge
and values opposed to dogmatic certainty and infal-
libility (W. James, C. S. Peirce, O. W. Holmes, Jr., J.
Dewey, Ernest Nagel, Sidney Hook, H. Reichenbach);
(5) a secular democratic individualism asserting the
right of individuals to live in a free society without
the sanctions of supernatural theological revelation or
totalitarian authority. This pragmatic individualism of
the American pragmatists is linked to a political tradi-
tion that goes back to John Locke and the European
Enlightenment, and is represented historically in the
United States by thinkers from all walks of life: John
Woolman, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Paine, Thomas
Jefferson, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David
Thoreau, Abraham Lincoln, and Walt Whitman.

It is typical of pragmatic ideas that they are not
restricted to the ideas of professional philosophers, but
often find influential expression among lawyers and
judges like Nicholas St. John Green (the “grandfather
of pragmatism,” according to C. S. Peirce), Oliver
Wendell Holmes, Jr., Jerome Frank, Carl Llewellyn;
among logicians and scientists like Chauncey Wright,
C. S. Peirce, G. Vailati, Pierre Duhem, Henri Poincaré,
Edward Le Roy, C. I. Lewis, W. V. O. Quine, Percy
Bridgman; among historians like Carl Becker and
Charles Beard; among literary figures such as Irwin
Edman and Luigi Pirandello; and even the syndicalist
Georges Sorel.

We cannot simply equate the “pragmatic” with the
“practical” as is so commonly done by popular writers.
For technically in philosophy, “practical” may refer
to Kant's idea of the categorical imperative in his
Critique of Practical Reason, which placed the
pragmatische on a much lower level than the
praktische. Furthermore, “practical” in ordinary dis-
course is often synonymous with the “convenient,” the
“useful,” and the “profitable” and thus contributes to
enormous misunderstandings of the serious aims of
pragmatism. Among the empirical varieties of prag-
matism “practical” refers to what is experimental or
capable of being tested in action, not quite the same
as Marx's use of “praxis” or alleged “identity of theory
and practice.” The American pragmatists preferred the
experimental meaning without the dialectics. At
Harvard, in the first decades of the twentieth century,
George Santayana criticized William James and John
Dewey for failing to subordinate “practical thought”
to eternal Platonic values.

Santayana's chapter on “How Thought is Practical”
in the first volume of his Life of Reason (5 vols.,
1905-06) is far from making him a pragmatist. Writing
at Harvard as a younger colleague of William James,
Santayana did not consider his own peculiar blend of
Platonism and naturalism in accord with the pragmatic
movement at Harvard; he regarded James as a roman-
tic subjectivist. Santayana, in this first major work, The
Life of Reason,
maintained against the instrumentalist
theory of consciousness that “In so far as thought is
instrumental it is not worth having, any more than
matter, except for its promise; it must terminate in
something truly profitable and ultimate which being
good in itself, may lend value to all that led up to
it.... In a word the value of thought is ideal” (I,
218-19). From Santayana's aristocratic standpoint,
“thought is in no way instrumental or servile; it is an


experience realized, not a force to be used” (ibid., 214).
It is no wonder then that neither James nor Dewey
could accept Santayana's Platonic naturalism.
Santayana was certainly not as democratic as James
or Dewey in political theory, but followed the classical
tradition of Plato and Aristotle in associating democ-
racy with demagoguery and in favoring a form of
intellectual timocracy. Thus the component features
of pragmatism discussed above appear in the American
variety, deeply hued by its British ancestry, and also
in some of the continental European forms of prag-
matism to be discussed below. However, each of the
component aspects of even the American and British
forms of pragmatism has had its antecedents in the
more distant cultural and intellectual history of
Europe, and may be traced back to some of the ideas
of ancient classical and the Enlightenment's versions
of both “practical” and speculative thought, yielding
among its important fruits a pragmatic transformation
of the basis of law in civilization and an empirical
theory of value judgments in general. The next section
explores some of the “old ways of thinking” for which
“pragmatism is only a new name,” as James put it.


The very term “pragmatic” with its Greek root
pragma (“affair, practical matter”) was borrowed by
the Romans to mean “skilled in business, and especially,
experienced in matters of law”; hence, a pragmaticus
was “one skilled in the law, who furnished orators and
advocates with the principles on which they based their
speeches” (Cicero, Orationes 1, 59; cf. also Quintilian
12, 3, 4; Juvenal 7, 123; Ulpian, Digest 48, 17, 9). In
late Latin juridical writings a pragmatic sanction
(pragmatica sanctio) was an imperial decree that per-
mitted an activity in the community's affairs (Justinian
1, 2, 10).

When James and Peirce generously refer to Socrates
as a forerunner of pragmatism, they perhaps had in
mind Plato's dramatized Socratic activity of inquiring
into the meanings of ideas about friendship, courage,
justice, piety, and so forth in dialogues with the young
citizens of the Athenian community. However, the
logic of Plato was more of a semantic exercise than
“pragmatic” in either James's psychological sense or
Peirce's experimental methodology. Without going
into the philosophical question raised by W. Lutoslaw-
ski's thesis that Aristotle's logic was a continuation of
Plato's, it is safe to say that the problems of the syntax
and semantics of language were more systematically
treated in Aristotle's logical treatises. Plato's inquiry
in the Parmenides whether “Being is One or Many”
and whether “Non-Being is or is not” proceeds
semantically to avoid verbal contradictions, but to
imagine that such exercises of language suffice to un-
derstand the problems of existence, such as the struggle
for existence, would be unfair to Plato's purpose. The
semantic analysis is only part of Plato's thinking, but
it predominates over any pragmatic intent. For exam-
ple, viewing the State as “the individual writ large”
(Republic, Book II) leads metaphorically to an ideal
utopia. When Plato seems to be practical in the Laws,
the pragmatic aspects of his political proposals (e.g.,
censorship and religious intolerance with possible death
penalty) are shocking to modern liberals; the result is
that scholars differ in deploring or explaining away the
totalitarian aspects of the Laws.

Aristotle's use of the “practical syllogism” in ethics
and his notion of each subject having its own method
belong to the ancient sources of the functional and
pluralistic methodology of those pragmatists who link
their ideas to an Aristotelianism stripped of medieval
supernaturalism (e.g., G. H. Mead; J. H. Randall, Jr.).
Aristotle's “practical syllogism” consists in stating in
the major premiss the object desired or goal to be
achieved, and in the minor premiss the means which
experience has shown necessary to attain the desired
end, so that one can conclude that a good result may
be attained by acting with the means indicated. For
example, one who wishes to be a good musician must
learn how to play a certain instrument; a practical
syllogism would demonstrate that practice in mastering
that instrument is necessary in order to achieve the
desired goal. The pluralism of methods, categories, and
goals of human endeavor also characterizes certain
“pragmatic” aspects of Aristotle's applied logic. For
example, Aristotle states it would be practically foolish
for a mathematician to prove theorems in his science
by the same methods of argumentation that an orator
uses in a political speech, and conversely.

According to G. H. Mead and John Dewey, what
is not pragmatic in Plato and Aristotle is their belief
that nature, especially human nature, was essentially
fixed in its eternal features. A Sophist like Protagoras
and Sextus Empiricus was closer to the relativistic
and empirical view of modern pragmatists, a view that
can be found even in “God-intoxicated” Spinoza,
namely, that the good is not what eternally determines
our nature or desires; it is the variety of natures and
desires that determines what is good. “Music is good
for the melancholy, bad for the mourner, and neither
good nor bad to the deaf” (Ethics, Part IV, preface).
Again we cannot simply bring under the rubric
“pragmatism” the philosophies of Aristotle, Spinoza,
or Santayana or of any other thinker who espouses this
relativistic view of values, when in fact there are so
many nonempirical aspects present in their philos-
ophies, such as Aristotle's “unmoved mover,” Spi-


noza's “intellectual love of God,” or Santayana's eter-
nal “realms of being.”

Medieval and modern forms of casuistry are con-
sidered by some writers as “pragmatic” insofar as gen-
eral rules are adapted to practical situations; but we
should not therefore regard the Tartuffes as pragma-
tists. Critics of pragmatism often wish to condemn the
doctrine as sheer opportunism, or as “guilt by associ-
ation” with such self-styled “pragmatic” theories as
Georges Sorel's doctrine of violence.

In his “Lessons from the History of Science,” Peirce
viewed science as an outgrowth of the thinking of
ancient and medieval philosophers; Peirce was more
appreciative of medieval logic in the history of the
sciences than nearly all his contemporaries. (Pierre
Duhem, of course, is an outstanding exception among
partly pragmatic philosophical historians of medieval
science.) Peirce adopted Duns Scotus' theory of true
universals as inherent in particulars, and called it
“Scotistic realism.” Peirce had translated Petrus
Peregrinus' difficult manuscript on the magnetic
properties of the lodestone. In these medieval thinkers
Peirce saw some continuity with the modern scientific
method of treating hypotheses (based on analogical
comparisons of present with past observations), draw-
ing inferences (preferably mathematically) from these
conjectured hypotheses, and testing the deduced con-
sequences by experiment. However, he rejected the
scholastics' recourse to the authority of the Church
Fathers and to their version of Aristotle, and favored
the “self-corrective method” of experimental inductive
science. His logic of relations went far beyond the
classical logic, Peirce developing logic as a continuation
and generalization of the subject-predicate logic of
statements, after De Morgan and Boole.

Among the Renaissance precursors of the pragmatic
union of experimental action and theoretical contem-
plation we may surely place the experimentalism in
art and science represented by the works of such mas-
ters as Leonardo da Vinci and Galileo. Rudolfo
Mondolfo, in his essay on the idea of manual and
intellectual work, following a Hippocratic text which
declared that man knows best what he makes (an idea
developed in the Scienza nuova [1725] by G. B. Vico),
has suggested a plausible Renaissance source of this
interrelationship in Galileo's development of an intui-
tion expressed in Ficino's Theologia platonica: “What
is human art? A kind of nature that treats matter from
the outside.” This external treatment of nature takes
the place of the scholastic idea of nature as “being
within matter itself; but human art can produce any
reality produced by nature, so long as man can struggle
successfully with matter and with the necessary instru-
ments.... Leonardo had already expressed his view
of mechanics as the noblest and most useful of the
sciences as well as the paradise of mathematical sci-
ences because it yields the harvested fruit of these
sciences in practical application” (R. Mondolfo [1950],
p. 22, notes 9 and 10).

Of course, the Renaissance sources pertinent to the
roots of pragmatism go back to the revival of classical
ideas of natural processes and ways of living with them
such as were explored by the pre-Socratics, Plato,
Aristotle, Archimedes, the Epicureans, and the Stoics,
and include those medieval thinkers who (like Roger
Bacon and the Padovan Averroists) saw the advantages
of combining experimental activity with theoretical
speculation. Philosophy in the seventeenth and eigh-
teenth centuries developed rival schools, later labelled
“empiricism” and “rationalism” depending on the em-
phasis given to sense-experience or “pure” reasoning,
but that these two aspects of knowledge are inseparable
in scientific knowledge was the great achievement of
Immanuel Kant before the pragmatists developed their
philosophical versions of the interplay of thought and
experience in all scientific and value judgments.

A sharp separation of theory and practice, however,
is reflected in Kant's distinction between ethical and
“pragmatic” rules. Kant's ethical rule is a “categorical
imperative” based on the individual's inner “pure
practical” reason, free will, and universal consciousness
of one's a priori duty to respect all persons as ends
in themselves; Kant's pragmatic (pragmatische) rule is
practical in the very different sense of having to do
only with rules of prudence which belong to the tech-
nical imperatives or means required to achieve desired
ends: “For what is prudence but the skill to use free
men and even natural dispositions and inclinations for
one's own purposes?” (Kant, Critique of Judgment,
Introduction). This Kantian distinction so sharply sep-
arates subjective from objective considerations, ends
from means, and pure reason from social experience
that post-Kantian thinkers, including the romantic
Schelling, as well as Schopenhauer and Hegel and some
of the American pragmatists (especially C. S. Peirce
and John Dewey) were led to seeking a closer and more
organic relationship between morality and mankind's
other intellectual and cultural concerns.

Knowing that Chauncey Wright and C. S. Peirce
daily discussed Kant's philosophy for two years at
Harvard in the third quarter of the nineteenth century,
the historian of pragmatism is not surprised to find that
Kant's limitation of our knowledge of nature to what
is observable became a cardinal empiricistic principle
of some of the Harvard pragmatists, along with con-
troversies about the role of a priori categories in inter-
preting the sensory manifold. There was also critical
discussion of Kant's absolute separation of means and


ends in ethics. Peirce, for example, could accept the
a priori elements in Kant's theory of knowledge but
not his categorical imperative in ethics; for Peirce, as
for James and Dewey, all value judgments are
hypothetical, of the form: if men desire to attain cer-
tain ends in any harmonious way, they will probably
achieve these ends by acting in accord with certain
specifiable empirical conditions. Only by conducting
themselves according to such hypothetical rules, will
men discover after “trial and error” (often painful)
experience, whether they really find the attained ends

Hegel made an impressive attempt to establish the
unity of means and ends, of the subjective and objective
aspects of experience and thought, of the individual
and the state, and of universal reason and particular
events in his monistic metaphysics and philosophy of
history. In this respect Hegelianism is part of the intel-
lectual background of early forms of pragmatism and
of Marxism.

“Pragmatic history,” is a subspecies of “reflective
history” in Hegel's classification of three kinds of his-
tory: (1) “original history” written by those historians
observing events in their own lifetime; (2) “reflective
history,” not limited to the time of the historian “whose
spirit transcends the present”; and (3) “philosophical
history,” which allegedly shows that “Reason is the
Sovereign of the World.” Pragmatic history consists of
didactic reflections on the past for the purpose of
drawing lessons from it that can be applied to moral
and political problems of the present. Examples of
pragmatic history appear in patriotic histories and the
biographies of heroes and spiritual leaders that are
supposed to teach rulers, statesmen, and moralists how
to be guided by the experience of the past. However,
Hegel clearly shows his contempt for this pragmatic
kind of history when he states emphatically:

But what experience and history teach is this—that peoples
and governments never have learned anything from history,
or acted on principles deduced from it

(Philosophy of His-
Introduction, trans. W. Sibree).

This sentence is often quoted by antihistorical
writers; they fail, however, to note that Hegel obvi-
ously draws this meta-historical statement from his
rather extensive study of history. They fail also to note
that Hegel concludes his remarks on pragmatic history
by observing that the more objective reflective histo-
rian will insist on the distinctiveness of his own age
as well as of the age whose history he depicts. Prag-
matic historians still insist that our knowledge of the
past is or should be determined by the interest and
problems of the present, thus ignoring Hegel.

Peirce, in his later years, and Dewey, in his early
career, show the influence of the Hegelian ideas of
organic unity and historical continuity in the cultural
life of mankind. However, their pragmatic attitudes
toward experience and history diverge radically from
Hegel's absolutism and dialectical method: Peirce was
sharply critical of Hegel's logic and deficiency in
mathematics, although he shared with Josiah Royce
sympathy for Hegel's spiritual monism:

My whole method [of using triadic categories] will be found
to be in profound contrast with that of Hegel; I reject his
philosophy in toto, nevertheless, I have a certain sympathy
with it, and fancy that if its author had only noticed a very
few circumstances he would himself have been led to revo-
lutionize his system.... He has usually overlooked external
Secondness, altogether. In other words, he has committed
the trifling oversight of forgetting that this is a real world
with real actions and reactions. Rather a serious oversight
that. Then Hegel had the misfortune to be unusually defi-
cient in mathematics

(Collected Papers, 1.368, “A Guess at
the Riddle,” ca. 1890).

While Peirce criticized Hegel's logic and neglect of
physics and mathematics, Dewey abandoned Hegel's
a priori dialectical method because it was not experi-
mental and had too fixed a conception of human nature,
society, and history. In the United States from the
1860's to the 1880's we can trace the growth of the
impact of Hegelianism. John Dewey's Psychology
(1885) reflected the impact of the St. Louis School of
W. T. Harris and Denton J. Synder. Hegelian ideas
mark the first writings of the positivist J. B. Stallo,
and the Spencerian Hegelian, Francis Ellingwood
Abbot. Also, among the origins of the American prag-
matists was an antimetaphysical “back to Kant” move-
ment in a reaction to Hegel, stimulated by the rapid
growth of the physical sciences and Darwin's evolu-
tionary theory (Wiener [1949], pp. 2f.).

Kant's separation of phenomena from the meta-
physical unknowable “thing-in-itself” (Ding an sich)
led to the positivistic element in empiricistic pragma-
tism. It appears in Chauncey Wright's antimetaphysical
attack on both the Hegelian absolutists and the
Spencerian “social Darwinists” (as they were later
called; Wright, after reading Haeckel, labelled their
ideas “German Darwinism”). There is also a positivistic
strain in the early work of William James, as he admits
in the Preface to his first book, Principles of Psychology


Early twentieth-century developments in logic and
philosophy of science led away from Comte's positiv-
ism and Mill's psychologism to the Viennese school of
logical positivists with whom many pragmatists share
an operational and antimetaphysical viewpoint. Later,


on removal to England and the United States, as well
as in Poland and other countries in Europe, logical
positivists preferred the name “logical empiricists.”
Rudolf Carnap offered a definition of “pragmatics”
following “syntactics” and “semantics” in order to
show the relationship of formal logic to empirical and
psychological aspects of meaning, as well as to distin-
guish all three. “Syntactics” is the formal study of the
logical rules of formation and transformation of state-
ments. In any formal language, e.g., of logic or mathe-
matics, the “rules of formation” determine what state-
ments are “well formed” combinations of the elements
of the language used. The syntactical “rules of trans-
formation” determine the equivalences, inferences, and
forms of proof which are logically acceptable within
a system whose elements and elementary or basic
statements conform to the principles of formation.
“Semantics” (in logic) is concerned with the rela-
tionship of well formed statements or of ordinary lan-
guage to what they designate. The interpretation or
application of a set of axioms in pure mathematics,
for example, would be a semantic question. Finally we
come to “pragmatics” which deals with the behavioral
or experimental conditions for verifying the inferences
or testing the truth claims of hypotheses, laws, and
theories. “Pragmatics” will ask for specification of the
operations that need to be performed and the empirical
conditions that should be met by all experimenters if
their findings are to be acceptable to others. This
“operational” requirement is what is meant by the
criterion of “intersubjectivity” or public verifiability.

Pragmatism then, in this twentieth-century version,
is another name for the operational theory of scientific
method, and is closely linked to logical empiricism.
This operational variety of pragmatism is the historical
outcome of the many attempts of philosophers, mathe-
maticians, and experimental scientists to avoid sterile
speculation, subjective intuitions, and unverifiable
hypotheses (of the sort Newton rejected when he said
hypotheses non fingo, although he accepted absolute
space and time as the ultimate framework of the phys-
ical universe). Bar-Hillel has criticized the separation
of syntax and semantics from the pragmatic elements
of language; he and Roman Jakobson refer to Peirce's
theory of signs (Linguaggi nella società e nella tecnica,
Milan [1970], pp. 3-16, 269-84), and find useful
Peirce's classification of signs as icons, indices, and

Among the mathematical philosophers, especially in
France, Italy, England, and Germany for the last hun-
dred years, the study of formal axiomatic systems and
their relation to experience led to a rejection of
Descartes' view of intuitively self-evident truth based
on his criterion of clear and distinct ideas. This crite
rion of intuitive self-evidence had been employed to
justify the indubitable metaphysical truth of Euclid's
axioms epitomized in Galileo's view that the book of
nature was written in the language of Euclid's geome-
try. The advent of non-Euclidean geometries in the
first part of the nineteenth century put an end to the
exclusive ontological claims of Euclid's axioms, and
reopened fundamental questions in the philosophy of
science about the grounds for determining the meaning
and truth of axiomatic sets. The proofs of the consist-
ency and isomorphism of non-Euclidean and Euclidean
systems made it clear that self-evidence was not an
adequate test of meaning or truth, since the non-
Euclidean axioms were not obvious or self-evident, e.g.,
that through a point outside a line no lines or (in an
alternative system) an infinite number of lines can be
drawn parallel to a given line. The meaning of such
abstract axioms can only be ascertained by working
out the deducible theorems or logical consequences of
the axioms, and their interpretation or application. This
orientation of the mind to developing the consequences
of logically primitive statements instead of attempting
to grasp their meaning in an immediate mental act
of intuition provides the basis for the views of those
German, French, and Italian mathematical philoso-
phers (e.g., Leibniz, Dedekind, Frege, Hilbert,
Cantor; Poincaré, Herbrand, Couturat; Peano, Vacca,
Vailati) who explored the logical foundations of
axiomatic systems of the theory of numbers. By estab-
lishing alternative sets of axioms and tests of internal
consistency, mutual independence, and completeness
of axiom-sets, these scientists showed little or no con-
cern for any “indubitable” self-evidence of their
axioms. Felix Klein and Henri Poincaré also made it
clear that in pure mathematics no axioms are
privileged; the upshot of these developments is to
support a sort of democratic equality among axioms
with respect to claims of truth (Vailati, Scritti). Thus,
in pure mathematics, historically the “queen of the
sciences,” meaning was reducible to the “pencil and
paper operations,” as Percy Bridgman called them in
his operational theory of meaning, for the purely
mathematical and logical aspects of scientific research.
The experimental aspects that yield more concrete
empirically applicable meanings for hypotheses about
“matters of fact” depend on specifying what must be
done experimentally to test the logical consequences
of the hypotheses in question.

C. S. Peirce was the best equipped of the American
founders of pragmatism to develop the operational
logic of mathematical and physical science, and to
extend it to the analysis of philosophical concepts and
problems of meaning. As a first-rate mathematician,
astronomer, physicist, and chemist, he kept in touch


with the new views of Dedekind, Cantor, Mach,
Ostwald, and others who were digging deep into the
foundations of mathematics and physical science.
Peirce translated the chapter on weights and measures
of Mach's important history of the science of mechanics
(1883; trans. 1893), and even claimed prior discovery
of the principle of the “economy of thought” before


Alexander Bain, whom Peirce regarded as the
Scottish ancestor of pragmatism, had in his psychologi-
cal writings defined an idea or belief as a disposition
to act in a certain way under certain conditions.
Applying this definition to the problem of meaning,
Peirce formulated his famous prescription for fixing the
meaning of a concept: “Consider what effects that
might conceivably have practical bearings you con-
ceive the object of your conception to have. Then your
conception of those effects is the WHOLE of your
conception of the object.” This rule for attaining a
higher grade of clarity than Cartesian intuition or
Leibnizian calculus of reasoning is the locus classicus
of Peirce's form of pragmatism. He stated it first in
the early 1870's before the informal “Metaphysical
Club” in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where a group
consisting of the mathematical empiricist Chauncey
Wright, the psychologist William James, three lawyers
(Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., Nicholas St. John Green,
Joseph B. Warner), the historian John Fiske, and the
“scientific theist” Francis E. Abbott met from time to
time to discuss the philosophical questions of the day.
Among those questions the Darwinian controversy
loomed large and led to disputes about science and
religion, positivism and metaphysics, scientific method
and the introspective investigation of the mind, ethics
and legal institutions, the roles of the individual and
the environment in history. The writings of Hume,
Bentham, Bain, Mill, Kant, Comte, Hegel, Spencer, and
Darwin furnished these Harvard Square thinkers with
the fuel for illuminating problems and issues in their
various fields of interest. After much crossfire and
heated discussion, they found themselves more con-
cerned with problems of method than with agreeing
on a single system. The experimental method for mat-
ters of fact and logical analysis for relations of ideas
were accepted as the best instruments of investigation
for the natural and social sciences.

Peirce began philosophizing by discussing problems
of method. His two now classic papers “The Fixation
of Belief” and “How to Make Our Ideas Clear,” (Pop-
ular Science Monthly,
1877-78) were the first two of
a series of “Illustrations of the Logic of Science.” He
claimed, about twenty years later, that these two arti-
cles were the first formulations of his variety of prag-
matism (although that term does not appear in either
paper). Peirce challenged traditional “seminary” types
of bookish learning and contrasted them with the “lab-
oratory” type of thinking which he advocated (in 1905)
as “pragmaticism,” his own brand of pragmatism.
Peirce said (about thirty years after his Metaphysical
Club papers) of his variety of pragmatism:

It will serve to show that almost every proposition of
ontological metaphysics is either meaningless gibberish—
one word being defined by other words, and they by still
others, without any real conception ever being reached—or
else is downright absurd; so that all such rubbish being
swept away, what will remain of philosophy will be a series
of problems capable of investigation by the observational
methods of the true sciences—the truth about which can
be reached without those interminable misunderstandings
and disputes which have made the highest of the positive
sciences a mere amusement for idle intellects, a sort of
chess—idle pleasure its purpose, and reading out of a book
its method

(“What Pragmatism Is,” Monist 15 [1905], 171).

Peirce went on to deny that he was “merely jeering
at metaphysics, like other prope-positivists” because
“the pragmaticist extracts from it [metaphysics] a pre-
cious essence, which will serve to give life and light
to cosmology and physics. At the same time, the moral
applications of the doctrine are positive and potent
and there are many other uses of it not easily classed”

Peirce's “Classification of the Sciences” was com-
posed for his Lowell Institute Lectures in 1903. The
adult education movement in the United States had
taken to talks on the growth of sciences with their
Baconian “promise of providing the relief of man's
estate” as seriously as the older generation had taken
their Bible lessons. These lectures reveal the progres-
sive or futuristic outlook of Peirce's philosophy of
science. There were for Peirce three classes of science
in a descending order of importance: (a) Sciences of
Discovery, (b) Sciences of Review, (c) Practical Sci-
ences. It is well known that classifications of sciences
vary with each new period in the history of science,
but such classifications are a clue to the cultural role
and value of various sciences and the philosophy of
each period. To Peirce, the “Sciences of Discovery”
were first and foremost because Peirce conceived of
science primarily as a method of inquiry, as the most
promising way of exploring the nature of Kant's “starry
heavens above and the moral world within.” The
method of science was not a Baconian new instrument,
because science for Peirce had always been an organon
of the mind, although Peirce would agree with Bacon's
idea that we moderns are the true ancients since we


in our evolution have accumulated the knowledge and
fruits of the experience of our predecessors.

In his experimentalism, Peirce placed great impor-
tance on the neglected role of Hypothesis as a mode
of reasoning. He called the discovery of hypotheses
“Abduction” to supplement what logic books previ-
ously had been mainly concerned with, viz., “Deduc-
tion” and “Induction.” The reason for this novel
importance which Peirce attached to the role of hy-
pothesis is based on the logical ground that all general-
izations from particular facts of observation have to
be continuous extensions of what is typical or repre-
sentative in these facts as gathered from previous ex-
perience. For example, although the life span of man
has increased, the historical fact of man's mortality is
the basis of the major premiss of the argument that
proves that even Socrates was a mortal. No historical
record of all human lives is complete, so that our
general judgment that all men are mortal is a well
grounded hypothesis on the rather large sample of what
our limited historical records and observation have
shown. To the extent that the randomly sampled cases
are alike, some ground for their similarity may be
“abducted” as a probable hypothesis. “Abduction” and
“retroduction” were Peirce's synonyms for the form
of reasoning leading to conjectural hypotheses. All
historical statements about individual events are
hypotheses drawn (“abducted” or “retroducted,” in
Peirce's terminology) from documents, monuments,
remains which serve as our only links to the past if
interpreted carefully. Every medical diagnosis consists
of a hypothesis about the observed “symptoms” of a
disease. Deciphering a secret code or strange language
starts with hypotheses interpreting certain recurrent
signs with the aid of frequency tables. Predictions or
prognoses are hypotheses which when verified become
scientific generalizations.

Peirce defined laws of nature as predictive general-
izations with varying degrees of probability according
to experimental tests. Peirce's contribution to the logic
of hypothesis was regarded by him as the keystone of
his variety of pragmatism; his “pragmaticism,”
armored with symbolic logic, attacked the more
psychological and nominalistic views of William James
and F. C. S. Schiller. Facts or the truth about reported
events are always subject to and inseparable from the
interpretations or hypotheses assumed by the inter-
preter in his reports, which are signs. To Peirce, James's
“radical empiricism” as a form of direct immersion in
facts lacked logical awareness of the role of hypotheses
or interpretation of signs in such allegedly immediate
forms of perception. The theory of signs is central to
Peirce's pragmaticist logic. Peirce's pragmaticism is a
theory of meaning based on the logical analysis of the
conceivable consequences of adopting an hypothesis
in so far as its signs and their implications affect the
conduct of the inquirer in relation to what is designated
by the signs. For example, if a student is puzzled over
the meaning of an abstract set of axioms, and asks a
mathematician to explain or justify his adoption of such
a queer set of “postulates,” the pragmatist's answer
generally will take several forms. From the standpoint
of technique, the axioms enable one to prove with the
aid of acceptable rules of inference a body of theorems
or consequences deducible from the axioms, thus
reducing a large number of theorems to what is con-
tained in a small number of axioms. This reduction is
a practical aid to the memory. Another explanation
or justification would consist in seeking out and show-
ing by concrete interpretations (in which the axioms
are all true) that the axioms are consistent; hence, the
whole system of axioms and theorems must be consist-
ent (this assumes a metalogical rule that only consistent
results can be deduced from consistent axioms). Again,
we may be told pragmatically that this axiomatic set
permits certain “interpretations” or applications to
empirical domains. Euclid's geometry is still useful to
surveyors and engineers, whereas non-Euclidean ge-
ometry is applicable in modern applications of relativ-
ity theory to atomic physics and cosmology. Proof of
the consistency of non-Euclidean geometry establishes
the consistency of Euclid. Peirce's formulation of his
pragmaticism repeatedly applied to formal sciences the
above mentioned test of meaning: Consider what con-
ceivable consequences the object of your conception has
in its bearing on human conduct. Then the sum total
of all these conceivable consequences constitute the
total meaning of your conception.

The notion of conceivability rather than of actual
perception plays a central role in Peirce's analysis of
meaning in which he tried to generalize criteria of
meaning to cover both formal systems and empirical
statements (in physical sciences and everyday expres-
sions). For example, “diamonds are hard” is explicated
by considering what conceivable experimental conse-
quences the hypothesis of the constant hardness of
diamonds has on the bearing of that hypothesis in
human conduct. To an experimenter the conduct in-
volved would consist chiefly in testing the hypothesis
by trying to penetrate or scratch a diamond with other
materials or with another diamond. There is a Moh's
scale of hardness, based on the results of such labora-
tory testing of different substances, from which it be-
comes predictable which substance can penetrate or
scratch others. The need to specify the operations
required to test such properties led scientific thinkers
from Charles Babbage (1792-1871) to Percy Bridgman
to defend a generalized operational methodology. It


is therefore historically justifiable to claim that the hard
core of the American, British, French, German, and
Italian varieties of pragmatism was largely a general-
ization of the reflections of mathematical logicians and
philosophical experimenters in the nineteenth and
twentieth centuries.

G. Vailati in 1906 was the first European to recog-
nize Peirce's importance as greater than James's in the
formulation of pragmatism. In his article in the journal
Leonardo (1906): “Pragmatismo e Logica Matematica,”
Vailati saw three intimate relations between pragma-
tism and symbolic or mathematical logic; symptomatic
of this close connection, he said, “is the fact that the
very inaugurator of the term and conception of
pragmatism, Charles S. Peirce, is also at the same time
the initiator and promoter of an original direction of
logico-mathematical studies” (Vailati [1957], p. 197).
He indicated three points of contact between modern
operational logic and pragmatism: (1) “Their common
tendency is to regard the validity and even meaning
of any assertion as something intimately related to the
use that one could or wished to make of it through
the deduction or construction of definite consequences
or sets of consequences” (p. 198); postulates and axioms
would then no longer be privileged in any autocratic
or aristocratic fashion but be “simple employees in
great 'associations' that constitute the various branches
of mathematics” (p. 199). (2) “The common concern
of Pragmatism and modern logic is to avoid vague and
imprecise generalities by reducing or analyzing every
assertion into its simplest terms: those referring directly
to facts or to relations among facts.” The laws of
science can thus be seen as expressions of hypothetical
relations, contingent on such facts as “boundary condi-
tions.” The classical opposition of “facts” and “laws”
begins to disappear. (3) “A third point of contact
between pragmatists and mathematical logicians is
their interest in historical inquiry into the development
of scientific theory and in the importance that many
of them attribute to such inquiry as a means of recog-
nizing the equivalence or identity of theories which
have appeared in diverse forms at various times or in
different fields, though expressing substantially the
same facts and serving the same purposes” (p. 200).

A further common feature is the interest in economy
of expressions in order to enhance their instrumental
value. Vailati's friend, a mathematical logician, G.
Vacca, reported (ibid., p. 206) that when concepts or
terms introduced in a theory grow arithmetically, the
number of corresponding propositions to be verified
grows much more rapidly in a geometrical progression
according to an exponential law, stated by W. K.
Clifford, and cited by G. Peano (Calcolo geometrico,

What distinguishes Peirce's “pragmaticism” is his
elaboration of metaphysical categories going far be-
yond his proclaimed adherence to the logic of the
“laboratory mind” of the experimenter, and even be-
yond his attempt to revive the medieval doctrine of
objective universals (Scotistic realism). His unpublished
“Hume on the Laws of Nature” was rejected by the
scientific director of the Smithsonian Institution,
Samuel P. Langley, as too abstruse. Instead of defend-
ing the “laws of Nature” as absolute, Peirce insisted
on the absolute reality of one of his favorite meta-
physical triads: (1) Immediately felt Qualities, (2) Brute
Existence, and (3) Ordered Reasonableness, so that the
laws of nature discovered by scientists were approxi-
mations, probable guesses (hypotheses) whose logical
consequences had been tested by controlled experi-
ments. Peirce, at various times in his metaphysical
thought-experiments, stated his categories in various
triads: Feeling, Habit, Purpose; Sensation, Resistance,
Order; Spontaneity, Contingency, Law; and in evolu-
tionary terms, Sporting Mutation, Habit, and Adapta-
tion. The generalization of these triadic categories was
simply Firstness, Secondness, and Thirdness. Peirce
offered applications of these very broad categories in
many fields, e.g., in logic: terms, propositions, infer-
ences; in his theory of signs: icons, indices, symbols;
in his metaphysical doctrines: tychism, synechism,
agapism—Greek-derived words for Chance, Continu-
ity, and Love.

Critics of Peirce have no difficulty showing the
confusing ambiguities of his categories. “Chance” shifts
meaning as Peirce applies it to spontaneity, feeling,
contingency, approximation, random distribution of
energy, unpredictability, individuation, uniqueness,
inexplicability; “Continuity” is ambiguously applied to
the laws of natural phenomena, to human habits, to
all evolution including the history of scientific discov-
eries, and to the history of civilization. “Evolutionary
Love” is a very speculative use of the Platonic idea
of the attraction of all things for order emerging in
millenarian fashion out of a primordial chaos of sport-
ing feelings. No wonder then that Peirce's “Guess at
the Riddle of the Universe” was not taken seriously
by the more hardheaded utilitarian followers of John
Stuart Mill, Herbert Spencer, and the “Social Darwin-
ists” of his day.

It remains nevertheless true that Peirce made pio-
neer contributions to the logic of relations, to the
foundations of mathematics, to the theory of proba-
bility and induction, and to the theory of signs—
contributions which have paved the way for rapid
progress in mathematical logic and the logic of the
sciences. Only in 1967, for example, was it discovered
(by the mathematical logician A. R. Turquette) that


Peirce had, in his unpublished papers, worked out a
truth-table for a three valued logic, together with a
proof of its completeness (Transactions of the Charles
S. Peirce Society,
III, 66-73). Whitehead and Russell
have acknowledged their debt to Peirce's calculus of
relations; Frank P. Ramsey paid tribute to Peirce's
theory of probable inference as truth-frequency and
instrumentalist view of theories in science as “leading
principles.” Whether or not Peirce would have made
his discoveries (e.g., in his physical and psychological
experiments, in his symbolic logic, etc.) without his
restless metaphysical speculations is a difficult histor-
ical and psychological question, even though one can
easily prove that logically there is no necessary con-
nection between his truth-frequency analysis of proba-
bility and his tychistic cosmology.

Josiah Royce, in his The Problem of Christianity (2
vols., 1913, Preface), paid tribute to Peirce: “I owe
much more to our great and unduly neglected Ameri-
can logician, Mr. Charles Peirce, than I do to the
common tradition of recent idealism, and certainly
very much more than I have ever owed, at any point
of my own philosophical development to the doctrines
which... can be justly attributed to Hegel” (ibid.,
p. xi). In fact, Royce by defining an idea as a “plan
of action” developed a theory of knowledge and reality
with the outcome “a sort of absolute pragmatism,
which has never been pleasing either to rationalists or
to empiricists, either to pragmatists or to the ruling
type of absolutists” (ibid., II, 122f.). Royce's theory of
knowledge was, like Peirce's, based on a social theory
of inquiry, meaning, and truth. Both he and Peirce
were very critical of the subjective individualism of
William James. Royce's “absolute pragmatism” re-
quired an ideal community of minds as a logically
necessary condition for knowledge and reality.


It was William James who, in 1897, credited Charles
S. Peirce, his friend and admirer, with having origi-
nated pragmatism. James made this announcement in
a public lecture (at the Philosophical Union of the
University of California in Berkeley) entitled “Philo-
sophical Conceptions and Practical Results.” In subse-
quent correspondence between Peirce and James, both
acknowledged their debt to Chauncey Wright. Wright's
stimulating analytical mind and empiricist methodol-
ogy had been inspired by John Stuart Mill's critical
examination of the Scottish intuitionism of Sir William
Hamilton, and by Charles Darwin's theory of natural
selection. Wright was a mathematician for the Nautical
and had applied his knowledge to a theory
about the optimal arrangement of leaves around the
stems of plants (phyllotaxis) to obtain maximum ex-
posure to air and sunlight. The paper interested Charles
Darwin, who thanked Chauncey Wright for this evi-
dence of evolutionary adaptation.

Wright also argued for a neutral view of science with
regard to moral and religious values, and for John
Stuart Mill's utilitarian, relativistic theory of objective
morality. William James, under the influence of his
Swedenborgian father's religious philosophy, argued
against Wright's skepticism. The “right” and later
“duty” and “will to believe,” which James defended,
was the counterpoise to Wright's positivistic and
“nihilistic” agnosticism. However, James admitted
Wright's influence on his own scientific approach in
the preface to the Principles of Psychology (1890), the
forerunner of nearly all of James's ideas as developed
in his later formulations of his doctrines of the will
to believe, of “radical empiricism,” and of pluralism—
the three major components of his variety of pragma-
tism and of his general philosophy.

James's article “The Function of Cognition,” written
for a psychological journal in 1885, shows the influence
of Peirce's realism as well as elements of the opera-
tional theory of knowledge developed later by John
Dewey and Percy Bridgman. James's realism and “rad-
ical empiricism” went beyond Berkeley's idealistic
view that external objects are merely passive groups
of sensations or ideas. That nothing exists “without the
mind” was for James a totally inadequate expression
of the creative dynamism and transformative powers
of the mind. The same critique was levelled at the
classical rationalists (Descartes, Spinoza, Leibniz) who
maintained that the order and connections of things
were simply reflected by the order and connection of
ideas. The mind, for James, Peirce, Dewey, and
Mead—and their followers—is active in knowledge,
operating on and transforming its experience in order
to grasp the changing relations of things and events,
utilizing ideas tested experimentally as tools needed
to understand and to adapt the mind to nature. We
know the earth's physical properties only when we can
take some of its materials into our laboratories, break
down compounds into elements, discover and create
new ones by experimental activities that control some
of the conditions governing nature's secret powers. So
long as philosophers refer knowledge to antecedent
untouched sensations and eternal ideas, which do
nothing and give the mind nothing to do, they will
discover nothing new and continue to produce static,
unproductive models of mythical ontologies. Homo
can best understand what he can create, but in
order to understand nature man must learn to create
and control the processes at work in nature. While
Peirce, astronomer, mathematical physicist, and


chemist, was concerned with cosmic evolution, James,
physiological psychologist and humanist, was drawn
to the trials and tribulations of the individual mind,
perplexed by the complexity of environing forces and
seeking the freedom to create a life worth living.

After much pondering over metaphysical and theo-
logical arguments—especially influenced by R. H.
Lotze, Charles Renouvier, and Jules Lequier—James
offered his “will to believe” as a solution to the age-old
problem of the freedom of the will. Wright's early
influence on James's thought here had been twofold.
First, Wright followed Kant's and Mill's antimeta-
physical views that absolute freedom of a disembodied
will was beyond logical or empirical proof, but held
that a practical justification for the belief in free will
was to be sought in the moral benefits of holding the
self responsible for the knowable empirical conse-
quences of one's deliberate actions. James agreed with
Wright's empirical approach, and explored the
psychological and physiological experimental facts that
might throw light on the force of instincts, habits, and
association of ideas resulting from previous sensations,
and on the Will, in various chapters of the Principles
of Psychology
but emerged with a negative result. The
last chapter (“Necessary Truths and the Effects of
Experience”) concluded that the scientific study of the
human mind yielded no decisive idea about the precise
relation of bodily behavior to states and acts of con-
sciousness, and thus left James with the “dilemma of

In his paper bearing this title, James distinguished
“soft” from “hard” determinism. The “hard” deter-
minist (James preferred to deal with persons rather
than with doctrines) was one who denied absolutely
that any act was “free” from complete determination
by strict causation, so that freedom of the will was
simply an illusion due to ignorance of the causes behind
one's actions and decisions. The “soft” determinist was
less of a pessimist by admitting the impossibility of
knowing all the determining causes of one's actions,
and by affirming a positive knowledge only of the
probable empirical consequences of choosing between
equally determined alternatives. Soft determinism
appealed to James as more in harmony with the
common-sense belief in the freedom to make some
practical, moral, and religious decisions. The will to
believe might then help release untapped energies.

Furthermore, there are occasions when one is con-
fronted empirically by what James called “genuine,
live, momentous, and forced options” with vital con-
sequences foreseeable with some degree of proba-
bility as one chooses on the basis of previous experience
and present feeling among two or more apparent al-
ternatives. And there are many human situations when
all the scientifically foreseeable consequences are so
equally balanced between two alternatives that there
is no decisive preponderance of evidence in favor of
one over the other. Wright would have argued that
scientific evidence is neutral with regard to moral
decisions about ultimate valuations, and—as the math-
ematician W. K. Clifford later advocated—would sus-
pend judgment if there were no further evidence to
favor one alternative as more useful, socially or indi-
vidually, than another. At this point William James
departed from Wright's negative neutrality and
Clifford's paralyzing suspension of judgment, because
for James action is demanded in genuine, live, momen-
tous, and forced options, and because it is absurd to
expect human beings to suspend their natural inclina-
tions indefinitely.

The criticisms made by both Chauncey Wright and
C. S. Peirce did affect James's doctrine of “the will
to believe” to the extent that James was led to laying
down a condition for the application of his doctrine,
namely, that no belief was to be accepted as true if
it went contrary to available evidence. In other words,
the appeal to the emotional willingness to believe was,
in James's critical judgment, applicable and relevant
only when all the available evidence for and against
a possible decision or action was equally balanced or
indecisive. James's position is saved from the charge
of “mere” subjectivism by his adherence to this condi-
tion, although at times it seems as though he ignored
it, especially when he insists that the very desire to
act in the direction of one's natural inclinations is part
of the objective situation. Such insistence on the objec-
tive status of emotional factors is not surprising for
a philosopher who had devoted so many years to the
scientific study of psychology. The famous “James-
Lange theory of the emotions” is a forerunner of the
objective approach of behaviorists. We tremble not
because we are afraid, but we are afraid because we
tremble. James was not an extreme behaviorist; he
would not dismiss or reduce to physical symptoms the
immediate experience of conscious states or the effects
of subconscious forces. He was willing to adopt the
dual language of physiological and introspective
methods of psychologizing. With G. Stanley Hall, he
early recognized the importance of Freud's ideas.

Later criticisms of the James-Lange theory of emo-
tions by W. B. Cannon and other psychologists show
that James oversimplified the physiological conditions
by referring only to visceral and muscular states. While
James would have welcomed further knowledge and
physiological research on glandular, neurological, and
psychoanalytical conditions of emotional responses, he
would still have left open the question whether con-
scious voluntary effort (such as the “will to believe”


entails) is not also a possible cause for producing emo-
tions that can be beneficial to the human organism.
Like Freud, who accepted analysis of a patient's his-
tory, while awaiting physiological details, William
James accepted introspective reports as equally im-
portant as behavioral data. His sympathy for Freud's
approach was similar to the way in which he opened
his mind to philosophical arguments for free will by
the neo-Kantians Renouvier and Lotze, and even by
the more mystical views of Lequier and Henri Bergson.

Although James died (1910) before the appearance
of Bergson's Two Sources of Morals and Religion (Paris,
1932; London, 1935), he would have approved
Bergson's defense of the “open” as against the
mechanistically “closed” world as well as his sympa-
thetic account of the Christian mystics. Bergson's “cre-
ative evolution” and dynamic spiritualism were not
alien to James's own pluralistic and open-ended world
view and interest in the varieties of religious experi-
ence. For James could argue passionately for pluralis-
tic, democratic individualism and at the same time feel
deeply the self's need for spiritual unity. The many
kinds of “self” (material, social, moral, and spiritual)
which he analyzed in his Principles of Psychology were
not simply Hume's “bundles of habits” and atomistic
sensations; they were the varied organic forms and
directions of the stream of consciousness of an organism
striving not only to survive but to create meaning and
value in its finite existence. James's pragmatism was
as unfinished as his open universe. He died knowing
that he had not solved the eternal enigmas of the
relationship of the Many to the One, of the Material
to the Spiritual. In his own romantic way he had found
spiritual excitement in the quest for truths which are
practically unattainable with either certainty or final
satisfaction, but worth pursuing if only for the glimpses
of their transcendent, elusive values.


James's democratic temper and tender-minded sen-
sitivity to human suffering and political injustice were
clearly evidenced in his attack on the curse of bigness
in the rapid growth of America's giant monopolistic
industries, on the military expansion in the Philippines
and Latin America, and the growing agnosticism and
cynicism. It is, therefore, surprising to note that some
European thinkers referred to James's emphasis on
feeling and action in their own violently antidemo-
cratic programs of political action. For example,
Mussolini, in his socialistic days, said that he admired
James's philosophy though there is no evidence that
he had ever read or understood it. Giovanni Papini,
an enthusiastic supporter of a “magical pragmatism,”
had been hailed earlier by James as a leader of the
pragmatic writers of articles in Leonardo, the philo-
sophical journal founded by Papini in 1903.

Although Papini had said that it was impossible to
give a unique and precise definition of pragmatism,
he offered to indicate “... the dominant feature which
forms the internal unity of all the various elements that
go together under the mantle of its name” (... il
carattere dominante che forma l'unità interna di tutti
i vari elementi che vanno riuniti sotto il mantello del
suo nome
) namely, “the plasticity or flexibility of
theories and beliefs,
that is, the recognition of their
purely instrumental value;... their value being only
relative to an end or group of ends which are suscep-
tible to being changed, varied, and transformed when
needed” (Papini's emphases, Pragmatismo, p. 91).

The elements united thus by Papini turn out to be
more Jamesian than Peircean, more romantic and
“magical” than classical and realistic. He enumerates
six such component ideas: (1) nominalism, (2) utilitari-
(3) positivism (antimetaphysical scientific
method), (4) kantianism (emphasis on the “practical
reason” of the free will), (5) voluntarism of a Schopen-
hauerian sort (ontological priority of the will over
science), (6) fideism or Pascalian apologetics aimed at
restoring religious faiths. Papini adds that different
emphases and combinations of these elements go to
make up the “variety of pragmatism” (ibid., p. 92),
but he lumps Peirce and James together as emphasizing
in the theory of meaning the particular consequences
of ideas in future practical experiences, thus ignoring
the criticism of nominalism by Peirce (ibid., p. 93).

Papini's “magical” pragmatism owes the adjective
to his own emphasis on the personal power of ideas
to transform what we experience by a romantic activity
of the “imitative” imagination. He leans heavily on
James's notion that “faith in a fact can help create
the fact
” (quoted with emphases by Papini, ibid., p.
145). He agrees also with James's statement in “The
Sentiment of Rationality” (Will to Believe, pp. 63-110),
that truths cannot become true till our faith has made
them so” (ibid., p. 96). The confusion between meaning
and truth remains a common feature of James's and
Papini's versions of pragmatism. Papini found James'
Will to Believe “among the most exciting and fruitful
theories of contemporary thought” (Papini, p. 153), but
regretted that in James “there is no trace of the belief
in magical powers, that is to say, in the possibility that
certain men have the power to change by their will
external things and natural phenomena; for James
restricted this power to internal psychological reality”
(Papini's emphasis, ibid., p. 151).

An interesting brief chapter of Papini's book is
entitled “Il Pragmatismo e i parti politici” (“Pragma-
tism and Political Parties,” written in 1905), in which


the eight Italian political parties of his day (Catholic,
Conservative, Liberal, Radical, Republican, Socialist,
Democratic, and Anarchist) are taken to task for using
common locutions but acting differently. They all talk
of aiming at Italy's unity, freedom, prosperity but
pragmatically these terms must have as many different
meanings as the various means or actions that are
specifically proposed and pursued by each party's
leaders. On this point, Dewey, Mead, and Hook would
surely agree with Papini in applying the instrumentalist
interpretation of social and political programs as no
better than possible hypotheses. But the American
pragmatists would also reject Papini's resort to an
antimodernistic and mystical Catholicism, a far cry
from his initial subjective pragmatism.

Although Luigi Pirandello (1867-1936) was not a
professional philosopher, his many plays, translated
in many languages and successfully performed in many
countries in the 1920's and 1930's, almost always con-
tain a Protagorean relativism with respect to truth and
values. The conversations of Pirandello's characters
reflect the version of the subjective relativism in the
pragmatism made current in Italy by Papini's per-
sonalism and Mario Calderoni's “corridor theory” of
truth. Pirandello himself disavowed any philosophical
content in his plays:

In Italy people seem to be intent on following the mis-
leading line (La falsariga) of some critic who believed he
discovered a philosophical content in my things that isn't
there (un contenuto filosofico che non c'è), I guarantee its

(quoted in L. Pirandello, ed. C. Simioni, p.
xxvii; trans. P. P. Wiener).

Yet there was a stormy, philosophical controversy
over so-called Pirandellism; Pirandello's relativism was
criticized by followers of Benedetto Croce, Italy's
dominating metaphysician of the absolutistic Hegelian
type against which the Leonardo group led by Papini,
had led a rebellion in the first decade of the century.
Croce had himself accepted Adriano Tilgher's (one of
Croce's epigoni's) dialectical analysis of “the central
problem” of Pirandello's art, viz., the antithesis of Life
and Form (A. Tilgher, Teoria della critica d'arte, 1913).
A. Gramsci, on the other hand, suggested that
Pirandello was merely displaying his satirical sense of
humor, by creating “philosophical” and nasty doubts
about truth and goodness in order to flaunt subjectivism
and philosophical solipsism (ibid., p. xxviii).

The most extreme form of this abuse of James's
notion of the usefulness of ideas as adaptive means of
action is the theory of the syndicalist Georges Sorel
in his Réflexions sur la violence (Paris, 1908); in what
he took to be a pragmatic justification of using the
weapon of a general strike to bring about the revolu
tionary overthrow of the existing capitalistic system,
Sorel argued as follows: “The myth must be judged
as a means of acting on the present; any attempt to
discuss how far it can be taken literally as future history
is devoid of sense.... The question whether the gen-
eral strike is a partial reality, or only a product of
popular imagination, is of little importance.” Thanks
to revolutionary leaders, “we know that the general
strike is indeed what I have said: the myth in which
Socialism is wholly comprised, i.e., a body of images
capable of evoking instinctively all the sentiments
which correspond to the different manifestations of the
war undertaken by Socialism against modern society.
Strikes have engendered in the proletariat the noblest,
deepest, and most moving sentiments that they possess
...” (pp. 360-61).

Sorel's pragmatic conclusion to his peculiar “scien-
tific ethics” and revolutionary myth of the general
strike, reveals the missionary zeal of the syndicalist's
hopes: “It is to violence that Socialism owes those high
ethical values by means of which it brings salvation
to the modern world” (ibid., p. 365). This variety of
revolutionary pragmatism—surely on the extreme
fringe of the solid core of pragmatism—makes a
dangerous appeal to men's instincts and to irrational
disregard of the consequences of the means employed.
Sorel's appeal to violence, so common to extreme
militants of both fascistic and communistic camps, is
certainly confuted by our core pragmatists who are
concerned as reformers about the human effects or
social consequences of resort to violence which so often
breeds greater violence. Sorel owes some of his ideas,
especially the appeal to instinctive drives, to Bergson's
élan vital and emphasis on action, although Bergson
never advocated violence, and preferred the mystical
road to salvation.

Further illustration of the rich variety to which
pragmatism lends itself, within the French group of
pragmatic thinkers as well as among other nationalities,
is provided by the dispute between Abel Rey and
Pierre Duhem on the philosophical foundations of
physical theory. Professor Rey defended an anti-
metaphysical, positivistic principle of verifiability
against Duhem's attempt to weld experimental physics
to a neo-Thomistic theory of knowledge and reality.
Duhem was perfectly willing and even anxious to have
physical science aim at convenient theories that “save
the appearances,” provided however, that the structure
of physical theories reflected the overarching ultimate
nature of the supernatural invisible reality of God. Abel
Rey, of course, dismissed such theological overtones
as irrelevant to the aims and structure of physical

A French fascist, Drieu La Rochelle, in 1927, took


pride in his epistemological “pragmatism” which to
him meant that “knowledge is the product only of
experience,” that is, of personal experience, as Robert
Soucy explains in his article on “Romanticism and
Realism in the Fascism of Drieu La Rochelle,” in the
Journal of the History of Ideas (31 [Jan. 1970], 78 and
notes 30, 31). Truth had to be “lived,” thus La Rochelle
espoused “a kind of fascist existentialism” without
knowing anything of existentialist philosophy (ibid.).

Bergson's form of pragmatism only tenuously merits
that label (which he did not adopt for his philosophy);
his metaphysical and spiritualistic theory of action
bears all the marks of the fin-de-siècle anti-scientisme
which appears in his criticism of the analytical, con-
ceptual, abstract, and static modes of scientific under-
standing. The flux of immediate experience (les données
immédiates de la conscience,
the subject of his disser-
tation) could not be grasped by the abstract intellect
but required an immersion in the real moving duration
(durée) of the vital impulse (élan vital) which surges
through the dynamic universe. William James was
greatly impressed and awed by the imaginative sweep
and psychological insights of Bergson's ardent defense
of concrete intuitive data of consciousness so similar
to James's “stream of consciousness.” Bergson's Crea-
tive Evolution
(1907) was Lamarckian, however, and
was not compatible with James's defense of August
Weismann's refutation of the Lamarckian theory of the
inheritance of acquired characters. Despite their many
differences, the kinship of Bergson's and James's prag-
matic philosophies is based on their common concern
to transcend static, impersonal conceptual analysis and
to make of man's active, dynamic, emotional nature
the source of a creative moral and spiritual order. This
aim was a far cry from Sorel's appeal to the myth of
a violent class war on the Marxist ground of historical
materialism, but the dynamism is there, and the
existentialists claim Bergson as one of their own.

Sorel, in his work on the Utility of Pragmatism (De
l'utilité du pragmatisme,
1917), during World War I
and nine years after his Réflexions sur la violence,
hoped “to convince readers of this book that the prag-
matic manner of considering the pursuit of truth is
bound to become one of the essential elements of
modern thought” (Sorel [1908], p. 4). He noted that
Peirce in his 1878 essay, “How to Make Our Ideas
Clear,” had said that Catholics and Protestants ought
not be concerned about the idea of transubstantiation
so long as they agree on the effects on moral conduct
of the real Presence. He noted also that Édouard Le
Roy (1870-1954), the Bergsonian physicist, interpreted
Catholic dogmas in Peircean fashion when Le Roy
maintained that these “dogmas would impose strict
rules of conduct on the faithful, but would leave a great
deal of freedom for the intellectual representation of
things” (ibid., pp. 5-6, with reference to Le Roy's
dogme et critique, pp. 19-23, 32). To Peirce, of course,
“conduct” referred to “conduct of the mind,” whereas
James broadened the scope of the term to include, and
indeed to emphasize, moral and religious behavior.

Sorel defended James's idea of the “will to believe”
against the critics who misinterpreted it to mean “the
will to make-believe” or to indulge in wishful thinking.
Sorel also took to task those critics who had picked
on James's phrase “cash value of an idea” as a reflection
of Yankee commercialism. Against this gross and yet
common European misinterpretation of James's lively
rhetorical way of discussing epistemological theories
of truth, Sorel as a political thinker and Marxist, looked
with favor upon James's condemnation of undemo-
cratic State authority and of an infallible Church that
imposed its dogmas upon its members.

Sorel's brand of pragmatism was critical of Bergson's
spiritualism, although Bergson shared with him an
admiration for William James's break away from tra-
ditional, eternalistic metaphysics. What further distin-
guishes Sorel's from Bergson's pragmatic ideas is Sorel's
unwavering confidence in the certainty of scientific
knowledge and of historical materialism. He could find
no value in Bergson's vitalism, antiscientific intuition,
and religious mysticism. He did, however, praise
Bergson's theory of intelligence as “the faculty of man-
ufacturing artificial objects, especially tools for making
tools, and for varying their manufacture indefinitely”
(quoted by Sorel from Bergson's L'évolution créatrice,
p. 151).

Sorel's revolutionary, syndicalist brand of pragma-
tism appealed strongly to Mussolini and the fascists.
Of course, the very different varieties of pragmatism
of James, Peirce, Mead, and Dewey can hardly be held
responsible for either the Marxist or fascist inter-
pretations of James. The very opposite defence of
liberal democracy is at the cultural base of the Ameri-
can, British, Italian (pre-Mussolini), German (H.
Vaihinger), and French varieties of pragmatism.

Communistic ideologists have criticized pragmatism
as a bourgeois capitalistic doctrine of American
imperialism despite James's attacks on big business and
American policies in the Philippines, Cuba, and
Venezuela. At the same time communist philosophers
urge the union of theory and practice in very narrowly
practical terms. “Praxis” occurs often in their theory
of truth; it is the title of a philosophical periodical
in Yugoslavia, edited by more liberal Marxists than in
the USSR or Red China. So long as philosophy is chiefly
an ideological tool among communist theoreticians, it
is subject to modification by the leaders of the party
or state. Thus Soviet philosophy becomes instrumental


in the worst opportunistic sense, the polar opposite
of Dewey's instrumentalism and Peirce's pragmaticism
or of any of the other liberal varieties of pragmatism,
so crudely regarded by its critics as advocating crass
opportunism with respect to truth and human values.

For the social and political forms of pragmatism,
more moderate or liberal than Sorel's or other Marxist
versions of praxis, we must turn to the legal writings
of philosophers like Vaihinger, and the American
pragmatic realists.

In the years 1876 to 1878, while Oliver Wendell
Holmes, Jr. was preparing the chapters of his work
The Common Law, the Kantian commentator Hans
Vaihinger was writing a pragmatic masterpiece, Die
Philosophie des Als Ob.
It was not published until 1911,
and not translated into English until 1924. The legal
philosopher, Lon L. Fuller, has devoted the last third
of his work on Legal Fictions to explaining the contri-
bution to legal thinking made by Vaihinger's “as if”
philosophy. Though conceived independently,
Vaihinger's pragmatic philosophy is similar to James's
and Holmes's views in showing how the mind tends
to project or reify its own conceptual constructions,
which are primarily evolutionary means of adaptation
to a changing world. Whatever and whenever such
adaptive ideas serve to help us confront reality, they
are regarded as if they were real properties. Perhaps
Vaihinger may be considered “more pragmatic than
the American school because... he has obtained his
generalizations about human thinking, not by deduc-
tion from some premise concerning the nature of
thought in general, but from an examination of the
ways and byways of thought in particular sciences”
(Fuller [1967], p. 96). These sciences range from the
mathematical to the legal. “Imaginary numbers” (roots
of negative numbers) can be treated as if they were
quantitative properties of electromagnetic fields. The
fictive “personality” of a corporation is regarded by
the courts as if it were a person subject to specific laws
of liability, bankruptcy, and so forth. In short,
“Vaihinger taught German legal science how to use
its own intellectual tools” (ibid.).


Three of the members of the Metaphysical Club at
Harvard in the 1870's, where Peirce claimed “pragma-
tism saw the light of day,” were concerned, as students,
practitioners, or teachers of law, with the cultural
evolution and philosophical foundations of the law.
They were Nicholas St. John Green (the “grandfather
of pragmatism” who followed A. Bain's idea of belief
as a disposition to act), Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.
(busily editing the twelfth edition of Kent's Commen-
taries on the American Law,
4 vols.), and Joseph B.
Warner (future lecturer in the Harvard Law School,
1886-87, and who in 1896 before the American Bar
Association gave an address on “The Responsibilities
of the Lawyer”). A fourth law student, John Fiske, who
occasionally came to the Metaphysical Club, turned
from law to history. He was a disciple of Comte and
Spencer and wrote a four-volume survey, Outlines of
Cosmic Philosophy
(1874), developing an evolutionary
philosophy of civilization along Spencerian lines.

The law schools were steeped in classical syllogistic
methods of applying the law to individual cases as
previously decided and in the Hobbesian-Austinian
view that the law was “the command of the sovereign.”
The Lockean view of the social contract was mingled
with the Puritan idea of the Covenant with God. Sir
Henry Maine's Ancient Law (1861) and History of
Early Institutions
(1875) were reviewed by Chauncey
Wright in the Nation (July 1, 1875) after he had previ-
ously remarked: “In the Law School there is a vigor
of thought and a stimulus to study which can't be found
elsewhere” (Wiener, p. 272). Maine's work emphasized
the evolution of the law as paralleling the evolution
of society from slavery and feudalism to modern free
enterprise: “from status to contract.” A similar empha-
sis on historical development as an essential key to
understanding the cultural role and evolution of the
law was the prominent feature of Holmes's great work
The Common Law (1881):

The felt necessities of the time, the prevalent moral and
political theories, intuitions of public policy, avowed or
unconscious; even the prejudices which judges share with
their fellow-men have had a good deal more to do than
the syllogism in determining the rules by which men should
be governed. The law embodies the story of a nation's
development through many centuries, and it cannot be dealt
with as if it contained only the axioms and corollaries of
a book of mathematics. In order to know what it is, we
must know what it has been, and what it tends to become.
We must alternately consult history and existing theories
of legislation. But the most difficult labor will be to under-
stand the combination of the two into new products at every
stage. The substance of the law at any given time pretty
nearly corresponds, so far as it goes, with what is then
understood to be convenient; but its form and machinery
and the degree to which it is able to work out desired
results, depend very much upon its past

(Holmes, p. 1).

Holmes illustrated his evolutionary and pragmatic
approach by tracing the change from the primitive
basis of revenge in the punishment of criminals to the
more pragmatic justification of deterring future crimes.
In civil cases, Holmes explained, the evolution of the
laws of liability is shaped mainly by “considerations
of what is expedient for the community concerned”
(ibid., pp. 15, 35).


A progressive combination, and at times radical
application, of British empiricism and utilitarian ethics
was deployed by the American legal pragmatists
against the metaphysical idealism of the German ro-
mantic variety that had come to the United States in
the Hegelian school (mentioned above) of W. T. Harris
in St. Louis, where the Journal of Speculative Philoso-
was launched in 1868. The upshot of pragmatic
jurisprudence was the dissociation of the law from its
scholastic accretions of eternal theological standards
and imputations of original sin and hell-fire for the
nonconformist and iconoclast. The criminal law with
its medieval system of punishment and torture “for the
good of one's soul” was subjected to unsparing criticism
by Nicholas St. John Green (1830-76) in his Essays
and Notes on the Law of Tort and Crime
in 1933). He insisted on an historical approach in his
projected annual publication of criminal law reports
and cases in both the United States and the British
Empire. Before Green's death he had completed the
editing and annotation of the first two volumes
(1874-75) of this bold venture in historical jurispru-
dence. Peirce showed the influence of Green's
analytical use of legal history when he pointed out,
as Green had in the American Law Review (4 [Jan.,
1870], 201), that key terms like “proximate cause”
could not simply be transferred from Aristotelian
physics to the laws of liability. “The idea of making
the payment of considerable damages dependent on
a term of Aristotelian logic or metaphysics is most
shocking to any student of these subjects, and well
illustrates the value of Pragmatism” (C. S. Peirce,
“Proximate Cause and Effect,” Baldwin's Dictionary
of Philosophy
). “Proximate cause” in civil law has to
do with the negligence of a party with respect to the
legal rights of others and nothing to do with spatio-
temporal contiguity or a mechanical chain of causes.
Rights and liabilities are determined by the civil law
in the case of property damages which can even be
inflicted at a distance, e.g., by hiring others to commit

Green's influence on the shaping of legal pragmatism
is not as well known as that of Oliver Wendell Holmes,
Jr. (Wiener, pp. 164ff.). Common to their legal philo-
sophies were: (1) a behavioristic method of determining
intention by regarding an act “as a voluntary muscular
contraction and nothing else” (Holmes, American Law
14, 9) or consisting “as such of inward feelings
and outward motions, the motions forming the evi-
dence of the feelings” (Green, Essays and Notes, p.
192); (2) the irrelevance of the internal phenomena of
conscience (Holmes, Common Law, pp. 62, 110; Green,
Essays and Notes, p. 67); (3) the primacy of public
policy over individual idiosyncrasies. Holmes applied
a tough-minded principle of interpreting the law by
the external standard of the consequences for public
policy as set by the legislature, regardless of the private
feelings or moral ideals that might be affected. The
rule of eminent domain might seem harsh to a property
owner not compensated with as much as he thinks
“just,” but the public interest must prevail, if the com-
munity or state budget is too limited to award more
compensation. The right of free speech must be limited
in time of war, or denied to a mischievous person
crying “Fire” in a crowded theater. But the same right
must be rigorously protected against self-appointed
censors of public morality, because (as John Stuart Mill
had shown in his Essay on Liberty) in the long run
the harm to the public will be greater if ideas are
suppressed than if some allegedly harmful or “im-
moral” ones are tolerated. The test of how good or
bad a new law is becomes a matter of predicting the
social consequences or public effects of enacting and
enforcing the proposed law. Since every judicial deci-
sion as to how the acts of the legislature should be
interpreted or applied may modify the meaning of the
law, Holmes argued that judges make the law as much
as the legislature. The constitution of 1789 is not the
same as that of 1865 or of 1965, not simply because
amendments have been added, but because both the
original articles and amendments have been inter-
preted differently by judges at various times in new
cases having aspects unforeseen by the original makers
of the law. Holmes's predictive theory of the law was
offered as advice to lawyers in doubt about the mean-
ing or applicability of a law. Holmes's counsel
amounted to the rule that the law in any particular
case would mean what one could predict the judges
would decide in that case. Such predictions would vary
with the temperament, education, prejudices, or mood
of the judges. Obviously, however, this predictive the-
ory will not help a judge who is pondering over what
he should decide, for it is tautologous to state that the
law will be or mean what he will decide. Holmes's
realistic dictum that the law is what the courts will
predictably decide also runs afoul of legislation that
aims at curbing the latitude of judicial freedom. Hence,
the pragmatist is faced with the practical questions of
social and political values, and criteria for judging
them, in a rapidly changing society.


One common feature of all the varieties of pragma-
tism is the idea or “the premise that valuation is a
form of empirical knowledge” (C. I. Lewis, Preface,
p. vii). However, the diversified range of empirical
theories of knowledge, due largely to the blurred and
indefinite boundaries of “experience,” leaves the idea


rather vague and the premiss hardly unequivocal. For
example, James's Varieties of Religious Experience does
not exclude revelations of the supernatural, and Peirce
includes purely logical and mathematical reasoning as
forms of “diagramatic experimentation.” In ethical
theory, pragmatists will be either “emotivists” (follow-
ing Wright, James, F. C. S. Schiller), or “cognitivists”
(following Dewey, Mead, or C. I. Lewis). Outside this
variety of pragmatic theories of value—and we must
specify the type or theories of value that are excluded
from the “pragmatic” if this term is to have any identi-
fiable meaning—we can point to a priori or transcen-
dental ideas of the summum bonum which can only
be known by pure reason, by political or theological
authority, or by a transcendental inner conscience or
Ego untouched by common experience, and in any
case, claiming moral jurisdiction not subject to any
appeal to public verification.

William James, F. C. S. Schiller, and Luigi Pirandello
(the latter not as a systematic philosopher, of course,
but as illustrated in his play, Six Characters in Search
of an Author
) based their pragmatic humanism on the
relativism of knowledge and values. On the other hand,
C. I. Lewis aimed to avoid “the errors of Protagorean
relativism or the moral skepticism which would destroy
the normative by reducing it to merely emotive signifi-
cance” (ibid., p. viii). Pragmatic ethics, for C. I. Lewis,
is concerned with the nature of justice, and we have
seen that legal pragmatists like Holmes always insisted
on applying the “external standard” of social
expediency in determining what the law considers

Whether there is a “higher law” above what the law
courts decide is “right” depends on whether we can
appeal to a more general idea of the good or summum
that subsumes or overrides the legal idea. While
it is not difficult to understand the social nature of
justice in the sense of what is considered legally right
or correct, it requires much more argument to accept
a pragmatic criterion of public verification for the
more general theory of values. But that is the kind of
criterion that Peirce, Dewey, G. H. Mead, and C. I.
Lewis have defended against the emotivists and the

The verifiability theory of knowledge is shared by
the core pragmatists (Peirce, James, Dewey, C. I.
Lewis, and their followers) and logical empiricists (M.
Schlick, R. Carnap, A. J. Ayer, and their followers) but
the two schools of thought differ basically on whether
value judgments are verifiable. The pragmatists affirm
the idea that value judgments are verifiable to the
extent that such judgments are implicit hypotheses
about what is valued as desirable or enjoyable.
Hypotheses, as possible truths about what objects or
activities will satisfy desires or yield the enjoyments
anticipated, have logical consequences that will either
be falsified or verified by future experiences of such
objects or activities. This view of value judgments as
verifiable hypotheses is known as the “cognitivist”
view. It is opposed to the “emotivist” view of those
logical empiricists and others who regard value judg-
ments as expressions of personal taste, feeling, or pref-
erence without any reference to knowledge claims.
John Dewey and C. I. Lewis and their pragmatistic
followers have criticized the “emotivist” view by
showing how ideas, reflection, and knowledge of the
consequences of actions modify emotional responses
and behavior. For example, knowing that some mush-
rooms are poisonous will lead even a hungry person
to desist from eating them until he learns to distinguish
them from a nonpoisonous variety. In aesthetics, the
art critic and connoisseur of music, by informed com-
ments on the art object or musical score, the artist's
or composer's, conductor's, or performer's techniques,
can call attention to aspects of the works contemplated
which would be overlooked or ignored by the un-
informed spectator or listener, and thus enhance his
enjoyment. “By their fruits, ye shall know them” was
Peirce's epitome of the pragmatic logic of ethical
judgments. Dewey's pragmatic analysis of aesthetic
judgment in his Art as Experience (1934) applied a
similar maxim to criticisms of works of art. William
James in his Varieties of Religious Experience (Gifford
Lectures, 1902) applied the same pragmatic justifica-
tion of religious beliefs of all creeds whenever he saw
evidence of their effects on transforming the lives of

The general theory of values comprehends not only
the legal and ethical ideas of “right” and “good” but
also the logical grounds of aesthetic judgment, thus
pursuing in greater detail the analysis of the ancient
ideals of the true, the good, and the beautiful. Peirce
had gone so far in his addiction to the romantic ideal-
ism of Friedrich Schiller and Schelling as to argue that
logical theory rested ultimately on ethics because logic
aims to determine what sort of reasoning we ought
to adopt in conducting our inquiries into truth, and
ethics is the science of what we ought to do. Moreover,
what we ought to do ultimately depends on what goals
we desire to achieve, and what is desirable in the end
is a question of aesthetic judgment. Peirce, however,
cannot offer any criterion of what would constitute
a reasonable basis for aesthetic judgment, although he
defends reasonableness as the ultimate end of all
existence. If logic determines what is “reasonable,” we
are back to where we started in Peirce's hierarchical
triad of logic, ethics, and aesthetics.

There is a more fruitful development of the prag-
matic logic of valuation in Dewey, C. I. Lewis, and
their followers by assuming that our value judgments


are essentially hypotheses or tentative claims to know-
ing what is good or bad, either for an individual or
for a society.

By assuming that value judgments are hypotheses,
we make them subject to verification by individual or
public experience. There seems to be for Dewey and
for Mead no absolute demarcation between “private”
and “public” experience, but all verification is or
should be “intersubjective,” i.e., common to and
communicable by all persons capable of testing an idea
of what is proposed as “good” by their past, present,
and anticipated future experiences and feelings of sat-
isfaction or dissatisfaction. By regarding all value judg-
ments as tentative, while being tested or verified, we
make it possible to modify the claims on our approba-
tion or disapprobation implicit in the value judgment.
The modification after verification may range from
complete rejection to some compromise or adjustment,
but always with the reservation that further experience
may make it necessary to reappraise the situation.

Dewey continually emphasizes the need for facing
the peculiar complexities of each specific situation, the
problematic and indeterminate nature of each initial
stage of valuation, and the tentative character of any
solution or resolution resulting from publicly testing
our value judgments. Dewey had the temerity to
attempt to apply his pragmatic instrumentalism to the
complex psychological and social problems of educa-
tion (in the experimental schools of Chicago in 1902,
with George Herbert Mead), to the analysis of the
turbulent scene of political revolutions in Russia,
China, and Mexico, and in trying to form a third party
in the United States during the depression in the 1930's,
in combatting fascism and communism in the 1940's,
and finally in grappling with the momentous issues of
war and peace. Like James, Dewey argued for chan-
neling the aggressive impulses of men towards
combatting the common enemies of mankind: igno-
rance, poverty, disease, and injustice. A liberal democ-
racy for Dewey is a social order that can be achieved
in a common faith by uniting thought and action
against political, economic, and social injustice.

Peirce's tychism and fallibilism, James's soft deter-
minism, O. W. Holmes's “bet-abilitarianism,” and
Dewey's instrumentalism are sharply opposed to the
economic determinism associated with Marxian
dialectical necessity and historical materialism. Only
a simplistic fallacy would link the social liberalism of
these pragmatists to the totalitarianism of Marxian
determinists. The fallacy consists in linking these very
different views by finding a common feature in the fact
that the pragmatists and Marxian determinists were
both opposed to “formalism.” To state that individ-
ualists like Justice O. W. Holmes, Thorstein Veblen,
Charles Beard, James Harvey Robinson, and John
Dewey were “all products of the historical and cultural
emphases of the nineteenth century” (Morton G.
White, quoted by Thayer, p. 444) is to minimize their
role as shapers of nineteenth- and twentieth-century
thought in the United States.

In the field of aesthetics, Peirce regarded Friedrich
Schiller's Letters on the Aesthetic Education of Man-
(1794-95) as one of the first philosophical influ-
ences on his own intellectual development, and
regarded the play element, to which Schiller attributed
so much educational value, as a major factor in art
and even in religious contemplation. (See Peirce's essay
on “A Neglected Argument for the Existence of God”
[Hibbert Journal, 7 (1908), 90-112] in which “muse-
ment” over the order and beauty in nature leads by
a play of ideas to the idea of a divine being.)

The more detailed problems of artistic and literary
criticism are treated pragmatically by Dewey in Art
as Experience
(1934), and by Stephen C. Pepper in
Aesthetic Quality: A Contextualistic Theory of Beauty
(1937). The common basis again of pragmatic criticism
in aesthetics is that aesthetic judgments should not be
based on fixed a priori ideas of classical or avant-garde
models but on experimenting with every possible
means or media for communicating the subtle nuances
of feeling and meanings that elude the ordinary means
of expression.

Knowledge and feeling, meaning and action, are
organically fused in aesthetic experience and artistic
creation, which finally exemplify in the most immedi-
ately enjoyable sense the pragmatic notion that knowl-
edge can and should be instrumental to the enhance-
ment of human values. In both the appreciation and
creation of art, Dewey's pragmatism appeals to the
possibilities of greater public participation than the
elitist conception of art displayed in art galleries with
a “holier-than-thou” aloofness. Against such an esoteric
sanctuary for the arts, but without denying the artist's
need for complete freedom to experiment, Dewey's
pragmatic view aims to extend the field of artistic
experimentation to every human from early childhood
to adult life at home, in the schools, in the community
and world. Knowledge of the history and problems of
artistic creation can help improve our understanding
of artistic values, and such understanding can also help
refine our taste and make us more sensitive to the
values that creative intelligence can elicit from the
untapped potential capabilities of human nature. The
realization of all values for Dewey is inseparable from
his faith in the unlimited possibilities of a liberal civili-
zation based on social and economic justice as well
as on political democracy. Both intelligence and
action—neither subordinated to the other—become
creative instruments for the realization of these values
in Dewey's experimentalist version of pragmatism.



A very full historical account of pragmatism with a
comprehensive bibliography is H. S. Thayer's Meaning and
Action: A Critical History of Pragmatism
(Indianapolis and
New York, 1968). A. J. Ayer, The Origins of Pragmatism (San
Francisco, 1968) is less historical and mostly critical of James
and Peirce. Alexander Bain, The Emotions and the Will
(Edinburgh, 1859). P. W. Bridgman, The Logic of Modern
(New York, 1927). Mario Calderoni, I postulati della
scienza positiva ed il diritto penale
(Florence, 1901); idem,
Scritti, ed. O. Campa, 2 vols. (Florence, 1924). P. Duhem,
La théorie physique—son objet et sa structure, 2nd ed. (Paris,
1914), trans. P. P. Wiener as The Aim and Structure of
Physical Theory
(Princeton, 1954). John Dewey, “The De-
velopment of American Pragmatism,” Studies in the History
of Ideas,
3 vols. (New York, 1925), II, 353-77, repr. in
Philosophy and Civilization (New York, 1931); idem, “The
Pragmatism of Peirce,” Supplementary Essay to Chance,
Love and Logic, Philosophical Essays by the Late Charles
S. Peirce,
edited with Introduction by Morris R. Cohen (New
York, 1923). The Philosophy of John Dewey, ed. P. A. Schilpp
(Evanston, 1939). Southern Illinois University Press has been
publishing a definitive edition of Dewey's works. Lon
L. Fuller, Legal Fictions (Stanford, 1967). Nicholas St. John
Green, Essays and Notes on the Law of Tort and Crime
(Menasha, Wisc., 1933). G. Gullace, “The Pragmatist
Movement in Italy,” Journal of the History of Ideas, 23
(1962), 91-105. O. W. Holmes, Jr., The Common Law
(Boston, 1881). Sidney Hook, The Metaphysics of Pragmatism
(Chicago, 1927). Roman Jakobson, “Language in Relation
to Other Communication Systems,” Linguaggi nella società
e nella tecnica
(Milan, 1970), pp. 3-16; see also Y. Bar-Hillel,
“Communication and Argumentation in Pragmatic Lan-
guages,” ibid., pp. 269-84. William James, The Principles
of Psychology,
2 vols. (New York, 1890); idem, The Will
to Believe and Other Essays in Popular Philosophy
York, 1897); idem, The Varieties of Religious Experience
(New York and London, 1902); idem, Pragmatism, A New
Name for Some Old Ways of Thinking
(New York, 1907).
C. I. Lewis, An Analysis of Knowledge and Valuation (La
Salle, Ill., 1946). Karl N. Llewellyn, Jurisprudence: Realism
in Theory and Practice
(Chicago, 1962). Arthur O. Lovejoy,
The Thirteen Pragmatisms (Baltimore, 1965; reprint of
his articles in the Journal of Philosophy of 1908). George
H. Mead, Mind, Self, and Society: From the Standpoint of
a Social Behaviorist,
ed. with introduction by Charles W.
Morris (Chicago, 1934), bibliography in pp. 390-92; see also
Maurice Natanson, The Social Dynamics of George H. Mead
(Washington, D.C., 1956); Charles Morris, The Pragmatic
Movement in American Philosophy
(New York, 1970); John
W. Petras, ed., George Herbert Mead: Essays on His Social
(New York, 1968). R. Mondolfo, “Trabajo man-
ual y trabajo intellectual desde la antigüedad hasta el
renacimiento,” Revista de la Historia de las Ideas, 1 (1950),
5-26. Ernest Nagel, Principles of the Theory of Probability
(Chicago, 1939); idem, Logic Without Metaphysics (Glencoe,
Ill., 1956); idem, The Structure of Science (New York, 1961).
G. Papini, Pragmatismo 1903-1911 (Milan, 1913; 3rd ed.,
Florence, 1927); idem, Crepùscolo dei Filosofi (Florence,
1925). Charles S. Peirce, Collected Papers, Vols. 1-6, ed.
C. Hartshorne and P. Weiss; Vols. 7-8, ed. A. W. Burks
(Cambridge, Mass., 1931-58). Transactions of the Peirce
is a quarterly edited and published by University
of Massachusetts Press and contains a supplementary list
of Peirce's unpublished papers as well as articles on his
philosophy. Max H. Fisch is preparing a biography of
Peirce, a book to supplement Paul Weiss's valuable article
in the Dictionary of American Biography. L. Pirandello, La
vita che ti diedi, Ciascuno a suo modo,
ed. C. Simioni, with
the chronology of Pirandello's life and times, an introduction
and bibliography (Verona, 1970). Frank P. Ramsey, The
Foundations of Mathematics
(London, 1931). Francis E.
Reilly, Charles Peirce's Theory of Scientific Method (New
York, 1970). George Santayana, The Life of Reason, 5 vols.
(New York, 1905-06). A. Santucci, Il pragmatismo italiano
(Bologna, 1963). F. C. S. Schiller, “William James and the
Making of Pragmatism,” Personalist, 8 (1927), 81-93. H. W.
Schneider, A History of American Philosophy (New York,
1946). Georges Sorel, Réflexions sur la violence (Paris, 1908),
trans. T. E. Hulme, Reflections on Violence (New York,
1920); idem, Les illusions du progrès (1908), trans. J. and
C. Stanley as The Illusions of Progress (Berkeley, 1969);
idem, De l'utilité du Pragmatisme (Paris, 1917; 2nd ed. 1928).
Hans Vaihinger, Die Philosophie des Als Ob (Berlin, 1911),
trans. C. K. Ogden as The Philosophy of As If (New York,
1924). Giovanni Vailati, Il metodo della filosofia, ed. F.
Rossi-Landi (Bari, 1957), with bibliography, pp. 29-36; see
also F. Rossi-Landi, article on Vailati in Encyclopedia of
ed. Paul Edwards, 8 vols. (New York, 1967), Vol.
8. G. Vailati, Scritti, ed. M. Calderoni, U. Ricci, and G. Vacca
(Florence, 1911). Philip P. Wiener, Evolution and the Foun-
ders of Pragmatism,
with Introduction by John Dewey
(Cambridge, Mass., 1949; repr. Gloucester, Mass., 1969).
Ludwig Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations, 3rd ed.
trans. G. E. M. Anscombe (Oxford, 1953; New York, 1968).
Chauncey Wright, Philosophical Discussions, ed. Charles E.
Norton (New York, 1877); idem, Letters of Chauncey Wright,
with an Account of His Life,
ed. James B. Thayer (New
York, 1878).


[See also Evolutionism; Law, Concept of; Positivism; Rela-
tivism in Ethics; Utilitarianism.]