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PRAGMATISM: The word in its technical use originated with C. S. Pierce in 1878 ("How to Make Our Ideas Clear," in Popular Science Monthly, xii. 286–302), who defines the meaning of an idea or an object in terms of its practical bearings. An object is known so far as it is conceived in its effects. In 1898 Prof. William James broadened the term to include particular future consequences in experience whether active or passive (Journal of Philosophy, i. 674). Hence the truth or meaning of a conception is exhausted in the results of it in an experience which is either recommended or expected. If the consequences of one idea are not conceivably different from those of another idea, the two ideas are essentially the same. Pragmatism deals neither with the abstract nor with the pure metaphysical absolute but wholly with the concrete. It turns away from first causes to contemplate final results. It is a theory for unifying experience through its consequences, and so arriving at truth. The chief representatives of this doctrine, while in general agreement emphasize somewhat different aspects of the subject. Professor James, e.g., keeps close to everyday experience—pragmatism; Ferdinand Canning Scott Schiller accentuates the place of feeling in relation to religious faith—humanism, personalism; Professor John Dewey is interested more in the scientific inductive approach to knowledge—instrumentalism or immediate empiricalism, i.e., theories are instrumental as derived from and leading to conduct in which we can rest—things are what they are experienced to be and are valid so far as they are workable. Truth is some claim which has been tested and confirmed by the worth of its consequences or at least by the verifiability of these. It is, therefore, not static but progressive, not absolute but a continuous compromise in which warring interests are held in check until wider values emerge in experience wherein they are adjusted and harmonized. Accordingly, authority is not fixed and final but developmental and transitive, in which external coercion gives place to rational self-direction. The bearings of this doctrine on ethics and religion are of great significance. If the entire world is what we make it, human life itself must share this potentiality. That becomes real which we realize and so far as we realize it; our willing is the condition of its existence. Both our ideals and our character are created by us. Monotheism is not the inevitable and exclusive postulate of religion, but so far as this hypothesis works satisfactorily, it may be held as true. Thus is indicated a place for the "will to believe." The Absolute if accepted at all must be conceived not as static and changeless perfection, but as functional, with infinite potentialities of change, real not beyond but in experience. Pluralism as an interpretation of the universe may not be excluded. If there is anything personal at the heart of things, our bearing toward it will naturally condition its effect upon us. To act as if there were a God may therefore be the sole path to the knowledge and realization of God in the consciousness. The future life may likewise be conditioned on our behavior toward it as a possibility. At the very least meliorism may be the creed and endeavor of the individual. The relation of pragmatism to the movement introduced by Kant (q.v.) is not to be overlooked.

C. A. Beckwith.

Bibliography: W. James, Pragmatism: a new Name for some old Ways of Thinking, London and New York, 1907; idem, in Philosophical Review, xvii (1908), 1–17; F. C. S. Schiller, Humanism, New York, 1903; idem, Studies in Humanism, ib. 1907; H. H. Bawden, The Principles of Pragmatism, ib. 1910; E. W· Lyman, Theology and Human Problems; a comparative Study of absolute Idealism and Pragmatism as Interpreters of Religion, ib. 1910. For list of the numerous magazine and review articles on the subject the reader should consult W. I. Fletcher's Annual Library Index, New York.

« Pragmatic Sanction Pragmatism Prague, Archbishopric of »
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