Classical Texts in Psychology

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The Import of Pragmatism for the History of Philosophy.

James Gibson Hume (1909)
University of Toronto

First published in Philosophical Review, 18, 176-177.
[Abstract of paper presented at the eighth annual meeting of the
American Philosophical Association,
Johns Hopkins University, December, 1908.][*]

Posted October 2001


Pragmatism, controversially, is opposed to Intellectualism. Psychologically, it asserts the primariness of the vivid sensational or emotional experiences of the present moment, contrasting them with the theoretical constructions regarded as less real. Logically, it endeavors to reduce the ratiocinative process of mediation to successive immediate emotional responses, and defines truth in terms of satisfactoriness of this emotional reaction. Ethically, it uses the same method to get results and applies the same test for their validity. Will is the effort to secure satisfying emotional adaptations, Belief is the anticipation guiding such adaptive effort, Goodness is the successful adaptation. Attacks on Pragmatism follow these lines defence of Intellectualism; denial of the accuracy of the pragmatic psychological assertions; disputing the correctness of the logical method and the sufficiency of the epistemological content; doubting the adequacy of the method and test, and the validity of conclusions, in moral and religious 'belief.' Pragmatism is a continuation and extension of Empiricism. It attacks Plato, defends the Sophists, reinstates David Hume, adds to Hume's "customary conjunction," the Darwinian doctrine of heredity, and accepts evolutionary utilitarianism.

Earlier Empiricism rejected both intellect and will, Pragmatism rejects intellect but asserts the will. Schopenhauer also [p. 177] denies intellect and affirms will, but his will Is transcendent-cosmic, the pragmatic will is empirical-humanistic.

Pragmatism, in separating the will both from the physical motor and the intellectual motive, approaches abstract mediaeval 'liberty of indifference.' Modem intellectualists, affirming both intellect and will, give a more concrete account of will than the pragmatists, e.g., T. H. Green's account of motive and unification of desire, intellect, and will. [Hegel, attacking the mere understanding, asserts concrete synthetic reason.] The materialistic-mechanical attack on Pragmatism has no pertinence, since the mechanical standpoint provides no basis for any distinction between good and evil, true and false, fact and fancy. The real controversy is between objective and subjective idealism, and the central issue is the will. Though pragmatism ostensibly defends empirical subjective idealism and attacks objective idealism, it is really reconstructing empiricism so as to approach more closely to objective idealism.