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钱锺书:Pragmatism and Potterism   

2008-01-26 13:08:16|  分类: 钱锺书英文文集 |  标签: |举报 |字号 订阅

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  Pragmatism has met with much hostile criticism. James himself has replied to some of the critics like Russell, Pratt and Bradley in "The Meaning of Truth" . The rest like Taylor, Lovejoy, Gardiner, Bakewell, Creighton, Hibben, Parodi, Salter, Carus, Laland, Mentre, McTaggart, G. E. Moore, Schintz, etc., he does not " pretend to consider." Since not only James, but almost all Pragmatists don't "pretend to consider" their critics, no doubt Pragmatism has profited little by criticism,1 e.g., as late as 1929, Professor Dewey, the most profound and logical of Pragmatists, in his Gifford Lectures "The Quest for Certainty", still uses the word "practice" as ambiguously as of yore to denote at one time activity in general and at other times blind in contradistinction to intelligent action. The purpose of this paper, however, is not to pass any serious criticism upon Pragmatism, which indeed is superfluous, but to point out the resemblance which has struck upon me between this popular philosophy and a sort of mentality satirised in a popular novel.
  
As a philosophy, Pragmatism bears the stamp of American nationality throughout. It is a philosophy par excellence of capitalism and democracy, two formative agencies of modern age in general and modern America in particular.2 There is as much " egotism" in Pragmatism as Santayana finds in German philosophy. But the relation between this " American philosophy" and "American politics" is not my concern here. What is noteworthy is the Pragmatist's emphasis on activity and utility. This is quite in the line of the Baconian tradition. Ever since Cowley, critics have regarded Bacon as the prophet of the coming of the modern age. But Bacon is no mere seer of the promised Land , nay, he discovers it. The problem of philosophy in the classical antiquity and the middle ages is whether man with his natural faculties can have a true (in the Non-pragmatic sense)knowledge of the reality (whatever it may mean ). Any attempt on those old philosophers' part to solve this problem is confronted with the same difficulties as the modern theory of correspondence. Thus Plato, with his NOUS to save knowledge from the Heraclitean flux, sees no way out as to the problem of error in "Thaetetus". Then Bacon comes with his dictum 'Scientia est potentia". The old knot is not untied, but simply cut. Hereafter we need not ask whether our natural faculties can truly grasp the reality, but whether we can make use of such knowledge as acquired through our natural faculties, no matter it is true ( in the Non-pragmatic sense) or not. Knowledge is instrumental, it is simply a means to an end. There is perhaps more insight in Macaulay's estimate of Bacon than has been generally admitted. No doubt Professor Dewey would trace pragmatism to Bacon in "Reconstruction in philosophy" rather than to Protagoras. The ethics of such a philosophy is of course naturalistic. Since every idea is a means to an end, there can be no autonomy of values. Dr. G. E. Moore, in a fashion of giving a dog bad name and then hanging him, has called this heteronomy a naturalistic fallacy in "Principia Ethica" .3
  
Anxious to do justice to the " alogical "4 element in consciousness, Pragmatists have a rooted antipathy towards logic; and by beautiful ironies of logic, they are often committed to self-contradiction. But then, what do Pragmatists care? They can "reform" logic to suit their book. James, Dr. Schiller tells us, "avowedly entertained too low an opinion of (intellectualist) logic5 to trouble to correct it"6 . It is therefore left to Professor Dewey and Dr. Schiller to carry out the " reformation". Of these two philosophers' works on logic, Dr. Schiller's "Formal Logic ' seems to me the most convincing and amusing. In that book, he has tried to beat, so to speak, formal logic with its own staff, and to show that formal logic is, if a little play on words after Dr. Schiller's fashion be allowed, formally logical without being logically formal. Dr. Schiller tells us that he is showing up the Aristotelian logic, ' the most profitable of Greek Speculations only next to Euclid". Curiously enough, those doctrines stated as Aristotelian and then furiously taken to task by Dr. Schiller can be found not in the Stagirite's "Organon", but in the works of Dr. Schiller's fellow countrymen who, like Dr. Schiller, are critics of Aristotle; e.g. Sir W. Hamilton's "Lectures". How far this confusion arises from Dr. Schiller's patriotic fallacy, I do not know. As we are not to "follow reason wherever it leads us", we are told to follow volition and interest wherever they lead us. Here the Pragmatist plays himself into his enemy's hands; for I think the will-to-believe theory does best to bring to light the latent ambiguity in the Pragmatist's use of the word "work". A belief is true because it "works"; but the "working" of a belief which is the outcome of our will-to-believe, does not mean its verification or verifiability, but means the satisfaction or the encouragement derived from that belief. Dr. Schiller in his "Humanism" illustrates the working of the will-to-believe in our choosing between the two following arguments:
  
1. The world is so bad that there must be a better.
  
2. The world is so bad that there can not be a better. According to Dr. Schiller, the second argument alone is strictly logical, yet we prefer the first because it is more desirable. Whether we actually choose like this, I doubt; some people would surely think with Bradley that "when all is bad it must be good to know the worst". But, you see, Pragmatists can not look brute facts fairly in the face!
  
Pragmatism is a philosophy soi-disant scientific. Like Science it lays stress upon experiment and utility. This affinity is but skin-deep . Science, though not strictly logical,7 is ethically neutral: it can be used as well as abused. Besides its necessary assumptions, science (as well as the law of Parcimony in logic) forbids us will to believe anything on trust.8 Even Professor Dewey admits that the " Character or personal equation is negligible in scientific judgments. Thus to believe an idea scientifically is not necessarily to believe it pragmatically; nor is scientific utility always equivalent to pragmatic desirability. For a truly scientific philosophy one must go to such "philosophical Puritanism"9 as advocated by Russell and not to the tender-hearted philosophy of James, Dewey, and Schiller.10 Perhaps James is aware of this fact; and Professor Schintz's discovery of the substitution of Bergson for Poincare in "The Pluralistic Universe" is as interesting as Butler's discovery of "the excised 'my' s'" in "The Origin of Species .
  
Now Pragmatism with its American stamp, its instrumentalism, its tender-heartedness and its unscientific character, bears a striking resemblance to what Miss Rose Macaulay describes as "Potterism". A few quotations from that brilliant satire will suffice to prove my point: "Potterism was mainly an Anglo-Saxon disease. Worst of all in America, the great home of commerce, success, and the booming of the second-rate. ... No good scientist can conceivably be a Potterite, because he is concerned with truth. Potterism is all for short and easy cuts and showy results. . . . The very essence of Potterism is going for things for what they'll bring you, what they lead to, instead of for the thing in itself. . . . Their attitude towards truth was typical: Clare wouldn't see it; Jane saw it perfectly clearly and would reject it without hesitation if it suited her book , etc. , etc. All these can be said with equal appropriateness of Pragmatism: and Pragmatism smells strongly of Potterism. Is the Pragmatic theory of knowledge au fond a philosophical expression and justification of the Potterite Mentality? Answer the question who list, I'll not venture to do it.
  
Far be it from me to disparage either Pragmatism or Potterism. After all, to call Pragmatism Potterite or Potterism Pragmatic is not criticism—it is mere description.
  NOTES

  1. with the exception of A. W. Moore, but Moore himself does not make any positive contribution to Pragmatism.
  
2. Cf. especially G. P. Adams' "Idealism and the Modern Age", and A. Schintz's "Anti-pragmatism", Vol II.
  
3. It must not be supposed that the naturalistic ethics deserves this bad name" . For a luminous criticism of the "hypostatic ethics" of Moore and Russel, see Santayana's "The Winds of Doctrine", IV. For recent discussions, see D. C. Williams' "The Definition of Yellow and of Good" (Journal of Philosophy, Vol. XXVII, pp. 515-527) and A. Edel's "Further on Good and Its Structure" (Ibid. pp. 701-708).
  
4. See E. B. Bax's "The real, the rational, and the alogical" Chap. VII. But the attempt to reduce logic of Psychologic can be found as early as in Mill's "Logic .
  
5. What Dr. Schiller means exactly by "intellectualist logic" is not quite clear. Dr. Schiller has "troubled" himself to "correct' the Aristotelian logic. And nowhere is the criticism of Aristotelian logic so sagacious as in the "intellectualist logic" of Bosanquet. Indeed Dr. Schiller owes a good deal of his criticism to Bosanquet, though he does not care to acknowledge it.
  
6. "Journal of Philosophical Studies", Vol. VI, No. 21, p.21.
  
7. See especially Earl Balfour's 'The defense of philosophic doubt" Chap. XII, and the first part of his essay on Bergson's Creative Evolution in
  
Essays Speculative and Political .
  
8. Cf. Laplace's famous retort to Napoleon in the formal presentation of his "Mechanique Celeste".
  
9. The term is Muirhead's. See "what is philosophy, anyway?" in "The Use of Philosophy".
  
10. For the sharp antithesis between the scientific philosophy of Russell and
  
the scientific philosophy of Dewey, see R. F. A. Hoernle's "The idol of
  Scientific Method in Philosophy " in " Studies in Contemporary Metaphysics".

 

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