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The Essence of Humanism Author(s): William James Source: The Journal of Philosophy, Psychology and Scientific Methods, Vol. 2, No. 5 (Mar. 2, 1905), pp. 113-118 Published by: Journal of Philosophy, Inc. Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2012206 Accessed: 17/09/2010 13:38
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VOL. II.

No. 5.

MARCH 2, 1905

THE

JOURNAL OF PHILOSOPHY METHODS

PSYCHOLOGY AND SCIENTIFIC


THE ESSENCE

OF HUMANISM

fact that the Januarynumberof Mind containstwo articles that continue the humanistic (or pragmatistic) controversy, and one that deeply connectswith it, makes it more evident than ever that humanismis a ferment that has 'come to stay.' It is not or a single hypothesis theorem, and it dwells on no new facts. It is in rathera slow shifting the philosophicperspective, makingthings appear as froma new center of interestor point of sight. Some writersare stronglyconscious of the shifting,others half unconscious, even though their own vision may have undergone much change. The result is no small confusionin debate, the half-conscious humanistsoftentakingpart against the radical ones,as if they wishedto countupon the otherside.1 If humanismreally be the name for such a shiftingof perspective, it is obvious that the whole scene of the philosophicstage will change in some degree if humanism prevails. The emphasis of theirforeground and backgrounddistribution, theirsizes and things, will not keep just the same.2 If such pervasiveconsequences values, be involvedin humanism, is clear that no pains whichphilosophers it firstin defining and then in furthering, it, may take, checking,or its progress,will be thrownaway. steering It suffers definition. Its most badly at presentfromincomplete
Professor Baldwin, for example. His address 'Selective Thinking' (Psychological Review, January, 1898, reprinted in his volume, 'Development and Evolution') seems to me an unusually well written pragmatic manifesto. Nevertheless in 'The Limits of Pragmatism' (ibid., January, 1904), he (much less clearly) joins in the attack. 2 The ethical changes, it seems to me, are beautifully made evident in Professor Dewey's series of articles, which will never get the attention they deserve till they are printed in a book. I mean: 'The Significance of Emotions,' Psychological Review, Vol. II., 13; 'The Reflex Arc Concept in Psychology,' ibid., III., 357; 'Psychology and Social Practice,' ibid., VII., 105; 'Interpretation of Savage Mind,' ibid., IX., 217; 'Green's Theory of the Moral Motive,' Philosophical Review, Vol. I., 593; 'Self-realization as the Moral Ideal,' ibid., II., 652; 'The Psychology of Effort,' ibid., VI., 43; 'The Evolutionary Method as Applied to Morality,' ibid., XI., 107, 353; 'Evolution and Ethics,' Monist, Vol. VIII., 321; to mention only a few.

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advocates,Schiller and Dewey, have published fragmentsystematic ary programsonly; and its bearing on many vital philosophicproblemshas not been traced exceptby adversarieswho,scenting heresies in advance, have showered blows on doctrines-subjectivism and scepticism,for example-that no good humanist has entertained. the anti-humanists By their still greater reticences, have, in turn, has involved perplexed the humanists. Much of the controversy the word 'truth.' It is always good in debate to know your adversary's point of view authentically. But the critics of humanism neverdefineexactlywhat the word 'truth' signifies when theyuse it themselves. The humanistshave to construct meaning; and the its resulthas doubtlessbeen much beating of the air. Add to all this in great individual differences both camps,and it becomesclear that is nothing so urgently needed,at the stage whichthingshave reached at present,as a sharper definition each side of its centralpoint by of view. Whoever will contribute any touch of sharpnesswill help us to make sure of what's what and who is who. Any one can contribute such a definition, and, withoutit, no one knows exactly where he stands. If I offer of my own provisionaldefinition humanismnow and here,othersmay improveit, someadversarymay be led to define his own creed moresharplyby the contrast, and a certainquickening of the crystallization general opinionmay result. of I The essentialserviceof humanism, I conceivethe situation,is as to have seen that thoughone part of our experiencemay lean upon anotherpart to make it what it is in any one of several aspects in whichit may be considered, experienceas a whole is self-containing and leans on nothing. Such a formulaneeds abundant explicationto make it unambiguous. It seems,at first itselfto denyingtheismand sight,to confine would pantheism. But, in fact, it need not deny either; everything depend on the exegesis; and if the formulaever became canonical, it would certainly and developbothright-wing left-wing interpreters. I myselfread humanismtheisticallyand pluralistically. If there be a God, he is no absolute All-Experiencer, but simplythe experiencer of widest finiteconsciousspan. Read thus, humanismis for me a religion susceptible of reasoned defense, though I am well aware how many minds thereare to whomit can appeal religiously translated. Ethically the pluralonly when it has been monistically istic form of it takes for me a strongerhold on reality than any otherphilosophyI know of-it being essentiallya social philosophy,

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a philosophyof 'co,' in which conjunctionsdo the work. But my primary reason for advocating it in philosophical journals is its matchlessintellectualeconomy. It gets rid, not only of the standing 'problems' that monismengenders ('problem of evil,' 'problem of freedom,'and the like), but of othermetaphysicalmysteries and paradoxes as well. It gets rid, for example, of the whole agnostic controversy, by of refusingto entertainthe hypothesis trans-empirical realityat all. It gets rid of any need for an Absolute of the Bradleyan type (avowedly sterile for intellectual purposes) by insisting that the conjunctive relations found within experience are faultlesslyreal. It gets rid of the need of an Absolute of the Roycean type (similarly sterile) by its pragmatic treatmentof the problem of knowledge, a treatmentof which I have already given a version in two very for inadequate articlesin this JOURNAL last year.3 As the views of reality and truthimputedto humanismhave been those knowledge, so far most fiercelyattacked, it is in regard to these ideas that a sharpeningof focus seemsmosturgentlyrequired. I proceedthereforeto bringthe views whichI imputeto humanism theserespects in into focus as briefly I can. as II If the centralhumanisticinsight,which I have already printed in italics,be accepted,it will followthat,if therebe any such thing at all as knowing,the knower and the object known must both be portions of experience. One part of experience must, therefore, either (1) Know another part of experience-in other words, parts must,as ProfessorWoodbridgesays,4representone anotherinstead of representing realities outside of 'consciousness'-this case is that of conceptualknowledge;or else (2) They must simply exist as so many ultimate thats or facts of being,in the first instance; and then,as a secondarycomplication, and withoutdoubling up its entitativesingleness,any one and the same that must figureboth as a thing known and as a knowledge of the thing,by reason of two divergent kinds of contextinto which, in the generalcourseof experience, gets woven.5 it This second case is that of sense-perception. There is a stage of thoughtthat goes beyond commonsense,and of it I shall say more

8'Does Consciousness Exist?' and 'A World of Pure Experience,'Vol. I., 447, 533, 561. 4In Science,November 1904, 599. 4, p. 'This statement probablyexcessively is obscureto any one who has not read mytwo articlesabovereferred especially first the to, one,'Does Consciousness Exist?'

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stage is a perfectlydefinitehaltpresently; but the common-sense of thought, for purposes of action; and, so long ing-place primarily as we are on the common-sense stage of thought, object and subject fuse in the fact of 'presentation' or sense-perception-thepen and hand whichI now see writing, example,are the physicalrealities for which those words designate. In this case there is no self-transcendencyimpliedin the knowing. Humanism,here,is only a more comminuted Identitiitsphilosophie. In case (1), on the contrary, the representative experiencedoes transcenditself in knowingthe otherexperiencethat is its object. No one can talk of the knowledgeof the one by the otherwithout seeing them as numericallydistinctentities,of which the one lies beyond the otherand away fromit, along some directionand with some interval,that can be definitely named. But, if the talkerbe a concretelyand humanist, he must also see this distance-interval and confessit to consistof otherintervening experipragmatically, ences-of possible ones, at all events,if not of actual. To call my presentidea of my dog, for example,cognitiveof the real dog means the idea is that, as the actual tissue of experience is constituted, capable of leading into a chain of other experienceson my part that go from next to next and terminateat last in vivid senseperceptions of a jumping, barking, hairy body. Those are the real dog, the dog's full presence,for my common-sense.If the supposed talker is a profoundphilosopher,although they may not be the real dog for him,theymean the real dog, that real dog for him that being a lot of atoms,say, or of mind-stuff, lie where the senselie in his experienceas well as in my own. perceptions III The philosopherhere stands for the stage of thoughtthat goes is and the difference simplythat beyondthe stage of common-sense; does not, he 'interpolates' and 'extrapolates,' where common-sense two For common-sense, men see the same identicalreal dog. Philosin ophy, noting actual differences their perceptions,points out the betweenthem as of these latter,and interpolatessomething duality a more real terminus-first, organs,viscera, etc.; next, cells; then, ultimate atoms; lastly, mind-stuff perhaps. The original senseterminiof the two men, instead of coalescing with each other and as withthe real dog-object, at first supposed,are thus held by philosto be separated by invisible realities with which, at most, ophers theyare conterminous. and changes Abolish,now,one of thepercipients, the interpolation of into 'extrapolation.' The sense-terminus the remaining per-

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cipient is regardedby the philosopheras not quite reachingreality. He has only carried the processionof experiences,the philosopher because practical, halting-placesomewhereon thinks,to a definite, the way towards an absolute truth that lies beyond. that thereis none but a The humanistsees all the time,however, even about the more absolute realitiesthus pragmatictranscendency conjectured or believed in. They keep to the original commonsense schematismand simply carry it a little fartherout. They in transcendsense-perception no othersense than that in whichthis lattertransendsconception. The viscera and cells are only percepts followingin order upon the hairy body. The atoms again, though we may never attain to human means of perceivingthem,are still itself is conceived of as a definedperceptually. The mind-stuff kind of experience; and it is possible to framethe hypothesis(such hypothesescan by no logic be excluded from philosophy) of two and itselfbecoming knowersof a piece of mind-stuff the mind-stuff 'confluent' at the momentat which our imperfectknowing might pass into knowingof a completedtype. Even so do we habitually our two perceptionsand the real dog as confluent, though represent and for the common-sense stage of thought. If only provisionally, now thereis no confluence my pen be inwardlymade of mind-stuff, and betweenthat mind-stuff my visual perceptionof the pen. But conceivablytheremightcome to be; for,in the case of my hand, the visual sensationsand the inward feelingsof the hand, its mind-stuff, as so to speak, are even now as confluent any two thingscan be. There is, thus,no breach in humanisticepistemology. Whether or be true knowledge taken as ideally perfect, only as sufficiently for practice,it is hung on one continuousscheme. Reality, howsoever withinthe general possibiliremote,is always definedas a terminus ties of experience; and what knows it is definedas an experience for it in our that 'represents'it, in the sense of being substitutable thinkingbecause it leads to the same associates,or in the sense of 'pointing to it' through a chain of other experiencesthat either interveneor may intervene. Absolute reality here functionsfor philosophyjust as sensation for functions common-sense.Both are to be conceivedas experiental termini,actual or possible, sensation being only the terminus at which the practical man habitually stops. These termini,for the practical and the theoretical stages of thought respectively,are self-supporting. They are not 'true of anythingelse, they simply are, are real. They 'lean on nothing,' as my italicized formula said. Rather does the whole fabric of experience lean on them, just as the whole fabricof the solar system, includingmany relative for its absolute position in space, on any one of positions,leans,

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stars. Here, again, one gets a new Identititsphilosits constituent in pluralistic form. ophie IV If I have succeeded in making this at all clear (though I fear betweenthemmay have made me fail), that brevity and abstractness the reader will see that the 'truth' of our mental operationsmust is affair. A conception reckonedtrue always be an intra-experiential by commonsense when it can be made to lead to a sensation. The sensation is held to be provisionallytrue by the philosopherjust in so far as it covers (abuts at, or includes the place of) a still more absolutelyreal experience,in the possibilityof which to some remoterexperientthe philosopherfinds reason to believe. Meanwhile what actually does count for true to any individual whether be philosopher common he or trower, man, is always a result of his apperceptions. If a novel experience, conceptual or perceptual, contradict too emphatically our preexistent system of cases out of a hundred it is treated as false. beliefs,in ninety-nine when the older and the newer experiences are congruous Only enough to mutually apperceive and modify each other,does what we treat as an advance in truth result. ' Having writtenof this of point in an article in reply to Mr. Joseph's criticism my humanism in the January Mind, which article I hope may itself appear in Mind ere long, I will say no more about truthhere,but referthe reader to that review. In any case, it is certainthat truthconsistsin no relation between our experiences and somethingarchetypal or transexperiential. Should we ever reach absolutelyterminalexperiences,experiencesin whichwe all agreed,whichwere supersededby no revisedcontinuations, thesewould not be true,they would simply be indeed the angles, corners,and linchpins of all reality, be, and on which the truthof everything else would be stayed. Only such other things as led to these by satisfactoryconjunctionswould be true. Satisfactoryconnectionof some sort with such terminiis all that the word 'truth' means. On the common-sense stage of thought serve as such termini. Our ideas and concepts sense-presentations and scientific theories pass for true only so far as theyharmoniously lead back to the world of sense. I hope that many humanistswill endorse this attemptof mine to trace the more essential featuresof that way of viewing things. I feel almost certain that Messrs. Dewey and Schiller will do so. If the attackerswill also take some slight account of it, it may be that discussion will be a little less wide of the mark than it has hitherto been.
HARVARD UNIVERSITY.

WILLIAM JAMES.