Chapter IX: The Supremacy Of Method
Uncertainty is primarily a practical matter. It signifies uncertainty of the issue of present experiences; these are fraught with future peril as well as inherently objectionable. Action to get rid of the objectionable has no warrant of success and is itself perilous. The intrinsic troublesome and uncertain quality of situations lies in the fact that they hold outcomes in suspense; they move to evil or to good fortune. The natural tendency of man is to do something at once; there is impatience with suspense, and lust for immediate action. When action lacks means for control of external conditions, it takes the form of acts which are the prototypes of rite and cult. Intelligence signifies that direct action has become indirect. It continues to be overt, but it is directed into channels of examination of conditions, and doings that are tentative and preparatory. Instead of rushing to “do something about it,” action centers upon finding out something about obstacles and resources and upon projecting inchoate later modes of definite response. Thinking has been well called deferred action. But not all action is deferred; only that which is final and in so far productive of irretrievable consequences. Deferred action is present exploratory action.
The first and most obvious effect of this change in the quality of action is that the dubious or problematic situation becomes a problem. The risky character that pervades a situation as a whole is translated into an object of inquiry that locates what the trouble is, and hence facilitates projection of methods and means of dealing with it. Only after expertness has been gained in special fields of inquiry does the mind set out at once from problems: even then in novel cases, there is a preliminary period of groping through a situation which is characterized throughout by confusion, instead of presenting a clear-cut problem for investigation.
Many definitions of mind and thinking have been given. I know of but one that goes to the heart of the matter:—response to the doubtful as such. No inanimate thing reacts to things as problematic. Its behavior to other things is capable of description in terms of what is determinately there. Under given conditions, it just reacts or does not react. Its reactions merely enstate a new set of conditions, in which reactions continue without regard to the nature of their outcome. It makes no difference, so to say, to a stone what are the results of its interactions with other things. It enjoys the advantage that it makes no difference how it reacts, even if the effect is its own pulverization. It requires no argument to show that the case is different with a living organism. To live signifies that a connected continuity of acts is effected in which preceding ones prepare the conditions under which later ones occur. There is a chain of cause and effects, of course, in what happens with inanimate things. But for living creatures, the chain has a particular cumulative continuity, or else death ensues.
As organisms become more complex in structure and thus related to a more complex environment, the importance of a particular act in establishing conditions favorable to subsequent acts that sustain the continuity of the life process, becomes at once more difficult and more imperative. A juncture may be so critical that the right or wrong present move signifies life or death. Conditions of the environment become more ambivalent: it is more uncertain what sort of action they call for in the interests of living. Behavior is thus compelled to become more hesitant and wary, more expectant and preparatory. In the degree that responses take place to the doubtful as the doubtful, they acquire mental quality. If they are such as to have a directed tendency to change the precarious and problematic into the secure and resolved, they are intellectual as well as mental. Acts are then relatively more instrumental and less consummatory or final; even the latter are haunted by a sense of what may issue from them.
This conception of the mental brings to unity various modes of response; emotional, volitional and intellectual. It is usual to say that there is no fundamental difference among these activities—that they are all different phases or aspects of a common action of mind. But I know of but one way of making this assertion good: that in which they are seen to be distinctive modes of response to the uncertain. The emotional aspect of responsive behavior is its immediate quality. When we are confronted with the precarious, an ebb and flow of emotion marks a disturbance of the even tenor of existence. Emotions are conditioned by the indeterminateness of present situations with respect to their issue. Fear and hope, joy and sorrow, aversion and desire, as perturbations, are qualities of a divided response. They involve concern, solicitude, for what the present situation may become. “Care” signifies two quite different things: fret, worry and anxiety, and cherishing attention to that in whose potentialities we are interested. These two meanings represent different poles of reactive behavior to a present having a future which is ambiguous. Elation and depression, moreover, manifest themselves only under conditions wherein not everything from start to finish is completely determined and certain. They may occur at a final moment of triumph or defeat, but this moment is one of victory or frustration in connection with a previous course of affairs whose issue was in suspense. Love for a Being so perfect and complete that our regard for it can make no difference to it is not so much affection as (a fact which the scholastics saw) it is concern for the destiny of our own souls. Hate that is sheer antagonism without any element of uncertainty is not an emotion, but is an energy devoted to ruthless destruction. Aversion is a state of affectivity only in connection with an obstruction offered by the disliked object or person to an end made uncertain by it.
The volitional phase of mental life is notoriously connected with the emotional. The only difference is that the latter, is the immediate, the cross-sectional, aspect of response to the uncertain and precarious, while the volitional phase is the tendency of the reaction to modify indeterminate, ambiguous conditions in the direction of a preferred and favored outcome; to actualize one of its possibilities rather than another. Emotion is a hindrance or an aid to resolute will according as it is overwhelming in its immediacy or as it marks a gathering together of energy to deal with the situation whose issue is in doubt. Desire, purpose, planning, choice, have no meaning save in conditions where something is at stake, and where action in one direction rather than another may eventuate in bringing into existence a new situation which fulfills a need.
The intellectual phase of mental action is identical with an indirect mode of response, one whose purpose is to locate the nature of the trouble and form an idea of how it may be dealt with—so that operations may be directed in view of an intended solution. Take any incident of experience you choose, seeing a color, reading a book, listening to conversation, manipulating apparatus, studying a lesson, and it has or has not intellectual, cognitive, quality according as there is deliberate endeavor to deal with the indeterminate so as to dispose of it, to settle it. Anything that may be called knowledge, or a known object, marks a question answered, a difficulty disposed of, a confusion cleared up, an inconsistency reduced to coherence, a perplexity mastered. Without reference to this mediating element, what is called knowledge is but direct and unswerving action or else a possessive enjoyment. Similarly, thinking is the actual transition from the problematic to the secure, as far as that is intentionally guided. There is no separate “mind” gifted in and of itself with a faculty of thought; such a conception of thought ends in postulating the mystery of a power outside of nature and yet able to intervene within it. Thinking is objectively discoverable as that mode of serial responsive behavior to a problematic situation in which transition to the relatively settled and clear is effected.
The concrete pathologies of belief, its failures and perversions, whether of defect or excess, spring from failure to observe and adhere to the principle that knowledge is the completed resolution of the inherently indeterminate or doubtful. The commonest fallacy is to suppose that since the state of doubt is accompanied by a feeling of uncertainty, knowledge arises when this feeling gives way to one of assurance. Thinking then ceases to be an effort to effect change in the objective situation and is replaced by various devices which generate a change in feeling or “consciousness.” Tendency to premature judgment, jumping at conclusions, excessive love of simplicity, making over of evidence to suit desire, taking the familiar for the clear, etc., all spring from confusing the feeling of certitude with a certified situation. Thought hastens toward the settled and is only too likely to force the pace. The natural man dislikes the dis-ease which accompanies the doubtful and is ready to take almost any means to end it. Uncertainty is got rid of by fair means or foul. Long exposure to danger breeds an overpowering love of security. Love for security, translated into a desire not to be disturbed and unsettled, leads to dogmatism, to acceptance of beliefs upon authority, to intolerance and fanaticism on one side and to irresponsible dependence and sloth on the other.
Here is where ordinary thinking and thinking that is scrupulous diverge from each other. The natural man is impatient with doubt and suspense: he impatiently hurries to be shut of it. A disciplined mind takes delight in the problematic, and cherishes it until a way out is found that approves itself upon examination. The questionable becomes an active questioning, a search; desire for the emotion of certitude gives place to quest for the objects by which the obscure and unsettled may be developed into the stable and clear. The scientific attitude may almost be defined as that which is capable of enjoying the doubtful; scientific method is, in one aspect, a technique for making a productive use of doubt by converting it into operations of definite inquiry. No one gets far intellectually who does not “love to think,” and no one loves to think who does not have an interest in problems as such. Being on the alert for problems signifies that mere organic curiosity, the restless disposition to meddle and reach out, has become a truly intellectual curiosity, one that protects a person from hurrying to a conclusion and that induces him to undertake active search for new facts and ideas. Skepticism that is not such a search is as much a personal emotional indulgence as is dogmatism. Attainment of the relatively secure and settled takes place, however, only with respect to specified problematic situations; quest for certainty that is universal, applying to everything, is a compensatory perversion. One question is disposed of; another offers itself and thought is kept alive.
When we compare the theory of mind and its organs which develops from analysis of what takes place when precarious situations are translated into statement and resolution of problems, with other theories, the outstanding difference is that the first type of theory introduces no elements save such as are public, observable, and verifiable. In general, when there is discourse about the mental organs and processes of knowing we are told about sensations, mental images, consciousness and its various states, as if these were capable of identification in and of themselves. These mental organs having had meaning assigned to them in isolation from the operations of resolving a problematic situation, are then used to give an account of the actual operations of knowing. The more evident and observable is thus “explained” in terms of the obscure, the obscurity being hidden from view because of habits that have the weight of tradition behind them.
We do not need to repeat the results of the previous discussion. They are all connected with the theory that inquiry is a set of operations in which problematic situations are disposed of or settled. Theories which have been criticized all rest upon a different supposition; namely, that the properties of the states and acts of mind involved in knowing are capable of isolated determination—of description apart from overt acts that resolve indeterminate and ambiguous situations. The fundamental advantage of framing our account of the organs and processes of knowing on the pattern of what occurs in experimental inquiry is that nothing is introduced save what is objective and is accessible to examination and report. If it is objected that such an examination itself involves mind and its organs, the rejoinder is that the theory we have advanced is self-applying. Its only “assumption” is that something is done, done in the ordinary external sense of that word, and that this doing has consequences. We define mind and its organs in terms of this doing and its results, just as we define or frame ideas of stars, acids, and digestive tissues in terms of their behavior. If it be urged that we do not know whether the results of the directed operations are really knowledge or not, the answer is the objection assumes that we have some kind of advance intimation of what sort of a thing knowledge must be, and hence can use this conception as a standard for judging particular conclusions. The theory in question makes no such assumption. It asserts that by some operations conclusions emerge in which objects once uncertain and confused are rendered clear and stable. Alter names as much as you please; refuse to call one set of consequences knowledge and another error, or reverse the appellations, and these consequences remain just what they are. They present the difference between resolved and clarified situations and disordered and obscure ones. A rose by another name would smell as sweet; the gist of the theory advanced is to point to operations performed and to the consequences which issue from them.
Another point of difference is that traditional theories of mind and its organs of knowledge isolate them from continuity with the natural world. They are, in the literal sense of the word, super-natural or extra-natural. The problem of mind and body, of how it happens that bodily structures are involved in observing and thinking, is then unavoidable. When little was known about organic structures, one reason for looking down upon perception was that its connection with bodily organs, the eye and ear and hand, could not escape notice, while thought could be regarded as a purely spiritual act. But now we are aware that the exercise of thought bears the same relation to the brain that perception bears to sense organs, and that there is no separation, structural or functional, between the eye and ear and the central organs. Consequently it is impossible to think of sense as quasi-physical and thought as purely mental, as if the mental meant just the non-material. Yet we retain theories about the mental formed before we had this knowledge. Consequently, since those theories isolate knowing from doing, the dependence of knowing upon bodily organs becomes a mystery—a “problem.”
But if knowing is one mode of doing, then it, as well as other modes of doing, properly involves bodily instruments. The metaphysical problem of the relation of mind and body is converted into a question, to be solved by observation of facts, of a differentiation of actions into those on a strictly physiological level, and those which, because of directed quality and distinctive consequences, are mental.
While traditional theories regard mind as an intruder from without into the natural development, or evolution, of organic structures, or else in the interest of natural continuity feel compelled to deny that mental behavior has any differential features, the theory that organic responses have mental quality in the degree in which they deal with the uncertain recognizes both continuity and difference. It can, in principle if not as yet in detail, give a genetic account of the development of mental and intellectual processes. There is neither a sudden jump from the merely organic to the intellectual, nor is there complete assimilation of the latter to primitive modes of the former.
On the objective side, the great difference between the conception proposed and that of traditional theory consists in recognition of the objective character of indeterminateness: it is a real property of some natural existences. Greek thought at least acknowledged the presence of contingency in natural existence, although it used this property of uncertainty to assign to natural existence a lower status than that which belongs to necessary Being. Modern thought, largely under the influence of a Newtonian philosophy of nature, tended to treat all existence as wholly determinate. The inherently incomplete was eliminated from nature along with qualities and ends. In consequence, the mental was sharply marked off from the physically natural; for the mental was obviously characterized by doubt and uncertainty. Mind was placed outside of nature; its relation to nature in knowing the latter became a dark mystery; the uncertain and indeterminate were said to be merely subjective. The contrast between the doubtful and the determinate became one of the chief marks by which objective and subjective were demarcated from each other and placed in opposition.
According to this doctrine, we are doubtful, puzzled, confused, undecided; objects are complete, assured, fixed. It is not easy to reconcile this notion with the fact that in order to relieve our doubt, to “make up” our minds, we have to modify in some way, in imaginative or overt experimentation, the situation in which uncertainty is experienced. Moreover, the procedure of science is conclusive. If doubt and indeterminateness were wholly within the mind—whatever that may signify—purely mental processes ought to get rid of them. But experimental procedure signifies that actual alteration of an external situation is necessary to effect the conversion. A situation undergoes, through operations directed by thought, transition from problematic to settled, from internal discontinuity to coherency and organization.
If we define “mental” through exclusion of overt acts that terminate in a changed environment, nothing merely mental can actually resolve doubt or clarify confusion. At most it can produce only a feeling of certainty—something best obtained by withdrawing from the real world and cultivating fantasies. The idea that doubt and assurance are merely subjective is contradicted by the coincidence of the progress of physical inquiry with invention and use of physical instruments. In principle, the correspondence of what we do when a situation is practically unsatisfactory with what happens in the case of intellectual doubt is complete. If a man finds himself in a situation which is practically annoying and troublesome, he has just two courses open to him. He can make a change in himself either by running away from trouble or by steeling himself to Stoic endurance; or he can set to work to do something so as to change the conditions of which unsatisfactoriness is a quality. When the latter course is impossible, nothing remains but the former.
Some change of personal attitude is the part of wisdom in any case, for there are few if any cases of trouble into which a personal factor of desire or aversion does not enter as a productive cause. But the idea that this causal factor can be changed by purely direct means, by an exercise of “will” or “thought” is illusory. A change of desire and purpose can itself be effected only indirectly, by a change in one’s actual relation to environment. This change implies definite acts. The technological appliances and agencies that man has constructed to make these acts effective correspond to the development of instruments of scientific inquiry by which outer conditions are intentionally varied.
The relegation of the problematic to the “subjective” is a product of the habit of isolating man and experience from nature. Curiously enough, modern science has joined with traditional theology in perpetuating this isolation. If the physical terms by which natural science deals with the world are supposed to constitute that world, it follows as a matter of course that qualities we experience and which are the distinctive things in human life, fall outside of nature. Since some of these qualities are the traits that give life purpose and value, it is not surprising that many thinkers are dissatisfied with thinking of them as merely subjective; nor that they have found in traditional religious beliefs and in some elements of the classic philosophic tradition means by which these traits can be used to substantiate the being of a reality higher than nature, one qualified by the purpose and value that are extruded from natural existence. Modern idealism cannot be understood apart from the conditions that have generated it. Fundamentally, these conditions are the fusion of the positive results of the older metaphysics with the negative conclusions of modern science:—negative, that is to say, when, because of the persistence of earlier notions about mind and the office of knowledge, science is taken to disclose an antecedent natural world.
The organism is a part of the natural world; its interactions with it are genuine additive phenomena. When, with the development of symbols, also a natural occurrence, these interactions are directed towards anticipated consequences, they gain the quality of intelligence, and knowledge accrues. Problematic situations when they are resolved then gain the meaning of all the relations which the operations of thought have denned. Things that were casually effective in producing experienced results became means to consequences; these consequences incorporate in themselves all the meanings found in the causes which intentionally produce them. The supposed grounds for opposing human experience to the reality of nature disappear. Situations have problematic and resolved characters in and through the actual interactions of the organism and the environment. To refuse to treat these qualities as characteristic of nature itself is due to an arbitrary refusal to ascribe to some modes of interaction the existential character which is assigned as a matter of course to others.
We have seen that situations are precarious and perilous because the persistence of life-activity depends upon the influence which present acts have upon future acts. The continuity of a life-process is secured only as acts performed render the environment favorable to subsequent organic acts. The formal generalized statement of this fact is as follows: The occurrence of problematic and unsettled situations is due to the characteristic union of the discrete or individual and the continuous or relational. All perceived objects are individualized. They are, as such, wholes complete in themselves. Everything directly experienced is qualitatively unique; it has its own focus about which subject-matter is arranged, and this focus never exactly recurs. While every such situation shades off indefinitely, or is not sharply marked off from others, yet the pattern of arrangement of content is never exactly twice alike.
If the interactions involved in having such an individualized situation in experience were wholly final or consummatory, there would be no such thing as a situation which is problematic. In being individual and complete in itself, just what it is and nothing else, it would be discrete in the sense in which discreteness signifies complete isolation. Obscurity, for example, would be a final quality, like any other quality and as good as any other—just as the dusk of twilight is enjoyed instead of being troublesome until we need to see something the dusk interferes with seeing. Every situation has vagueness attending it, as it shades off from a sharper focus into what is indefinite; for vagueness is added quality and not something objectionable except as it obstructs gaining an eventual object.
There are situations in which self-enclosed, discrete, individualized characters dominate. They constitute the subject-matter of esthetic experience; and every experience is esthetic in as far as it is final or arouses no search for some other experience. When this complete quality is conspicuous the experience is denominated esthetic. The fine arts have as their purpose the construction of objects of just such experiences; and under some conditions the completeness of the object enjoyed gives the experience a quality so intense that it is justly termed religious. Peace and harmony suffuse the entire universe gathered up into the situation having a particular focus and pattern. These qualities mark any experience in as far as its final character dominates; in so far a mystic experience is simply an accentuated intensification of a quality of experience repeatedly had in the rhythm of experiences.
Interactions, however, are not isolated. No experienced situation can retain indefinitely its character of finality, for the interrelations that constitute it are, because they are interactions, themselves changing. They produce a change in what is experienced. The effort to maintain directly a consummatory experienced or to repeat it exactly is the source of unreal sentimentality and of insincerity. In the continuous ongoing of life, objects part with something of their final character and become conditions of subsequent experiences. There is regulation of the change in the degree in which a causal character is rendered preparatory and instrumental.
In other words, all experienced objects have a double status. They are individualized, consummatory, whether in the way of enjoyment or of suffering. They are also involved in a continuity of interactions and changes, and hence are causes and potential means of later experiences. Because of this dual capacity, they become problematic. Immediately and directly they are just what they are; but as transitions to and possibilities of later experiences they are uncertain. There is a divided response; part of the organic activity is directed to them for what they immediately are, and part to them as transitive means of other experienced objects. We react to them both as finalities and in preparatory ways, and the two reactions do not harmonize.
This two-fold character of experienced objects is the source of their problematic character. Each of us can recall many occasions when he has been perplexed by disagreement between things directly present and their potential value as signs and means; when he has been torn between absorption in what is now enjoyed and the need of altering it so as to prepare for something likely to come. If we state the point in a formal way, it is signified that there is an incompatibility between the traits of an object in its direct individual and unique nature and those traits that belong to it in its relations or continuities. This incompatibility can be removed only by actions which temporally reconstruct what is given and constitute a new object having both individuality and the internal coherence of continuity in a series.
Previous discussion has been a statement of the chief factors that operate in bringing about this reconstruction—of resolving a problematic situation: Acts of analytic reduction of the gross total situation to determine data—qualities that locate the nature of the problem; formation of ideas or hypotheses to direct further operations that reveal new material; deductions and calculations that organize the new and old subject-matter together; operations that finally determine the existence of a new integrated situation with added meaning, and in so doing test or prove the ideas that have been employed.
Without retraversing that discussion, I wish to add a few words on one point involved in it. Nothing is more familiar than the standardized objects of reference designated by common nouns. Their distinction from proper names shows that they are not singular or individual, not existing things. Yet “the table” is both more familiar and seemingly more substantial than this table, the individual. “This” undergoes change all the time. It is interacting with other things and with me, who are not exactly the same person as when I last wrote upon it. “This” is an indefinitely multiple and varied series of “thises.”
But save in extreme cases, these changes are indifferent, negligible, from the standpoint of means for consequences. The table is precisely the constancy among the serial “thises” of whatever serves as an instrument for a single end. Knowledge is concerned wholly with this constant, this standardized and averaged set of properties and relations:—just as esthetic perception is occupied with “this” in its individuality, irrespective of value in use. In the degree in which reactions are inchoate and unformed, “this” tends to be the buzzing, blooming confusion of which James wrote. As habits form, action is stereotyped into a fairly constant series of acts having a common end in view; the table serves a single use, in spite of individual variations. A group of properties is set aside, corresponding to the abiding end and single mode of use which form the object, in distinction from “this” of unique experiences. The object is an abstraction, but unless it is hypostatized it is not a vicious abstraction. It designates selected relations of things which, with respect to their mode of operation, are constant within the limits practically important. Moreover, the abstracted object has a consequence in the individualized experiences, one that is immediate and not merely instrumental to them. It marks an ordering and organizing of responses in a single focused way in virtue of which the original blur is definitized and rendered significant. Without habits dealing with recurrent and constant uses of things for abiding purposes, immediate esthetic perception would have neither rich nor clear meanings immanent within it.
The scientific or physical object marks an extension of the same sort of operation. The table, as not a table but as a swarm of molecules in motions of specified velocities and accelerations, corresponds to a liberated generalization of the purposes which the object may serve. “Table” signifies a definite but restricted set of uses; stated in the physical terms of science it is thought of in a wider environment and free from any specified set of uses; out of relation to any particular individualized experience. The abstraction is as legitimate as is that which gives rise to the idea of the table, for it consists of standardized relations or interactions. It is even more useful or more widely instrumental. For it has connection with an indefinite variety of unspecified but possible consummatory individual observations and enjoyments. It waits like a servant, idle for a time, but ready to be called upon as special occasion arises. When this standardized constant, the result of series of operations and expressing an indefinite multitude of possible relations among concrete things, is treated as the reality of nature, an instrument made for a purpose is hypostatized into a substance complete and self-sufficient in isolation. Then the fullness of qualities present in individual situations have to be treated as subjective impressions mysteriously produced in mind by the real object or else as products of a mysterious creative faculty of consciousness.
The bearing of the conclusion upon the qualitative values of experienced objects is evident. Interactions of things with the organism eventuate in objects perceived to be colored and sonorous. They also result in qualities that make the object hateful or delightful. All these qualities, taken as directly perceived or enjoyed, are terminal effects of natural interactions. They are individualized culminations that give static quality to a network of changes. Thus “tertiary” qualities (as they have been happily termed by Mr. Santayana), those which, in psychological analysis, we call affectional and emotional, are as much products of the doings of nature as are color, sound, pressure, perceived size and distance. But their very consummatory quality stands in the way of using the things they qualify as signs of other things. Intellectually they are even more in the way than are “secondary” qualities. With respect to preparatory acts they are useless; when they are treated as signs and means they work injury to thought and discovery. When not experienced, they are projected in thought as ends to be reached and in that dependence upon thought they are felt to be peculiarly mental. But only if the object, the physical object, instrumental in character, is supposed to define “the real” in an exhaustive way, do they cease to be for the philosopher what they are for the common man:—real qualities of natural objects. This view forms the only complete and unadulterated realism.
The problem which is supposed to exist between two tables, one that of direct perception and use and the other that of physics (to take the favorite illustration of recent discussion) is thus illusory. The perceived and used table is the only table, for it alone has both individuality of form—without which nothing can exist or be perceived, and also includes within itself a continuum of relations or interactions brought to a focus. We may perhaps employ more instructively an illustration derived from the supposed contrast between an object experienced in perception as it is rendered by a poet and the same object described by a physicist. There is the instance of a body of water where the movement of the wind over its surface is reflected in sunlight. As an object of science, it is reported as follows: “Etherial vibrations of various wave lengths, reflected at different angles from the disturbed interface between air and water, reached our eyes and by photoelectric action caused appropriate stimuli to travel along optic nerves to a brain center.” Such a statement, however, includes ordinary objects of individual perceptions; water, air, brain and nerves. Consequently, it must be reduced still further; when so reduced it consists of mathematical functions between certain physical constants having no counterpart in ordinary perception.1
It is worth while at this point to recur to the metric character of the physical object. Defining metric traits are reached by a series of operations of which they express the statistically constant outcome; they are not the result of a single act. Hence the physical object cannot be taken to be a single or individual thing in existence. Metric definitions are also, in large measure, reached by indirect measurements, by calculation. In other words, the conception of the physical object is, in considerable degree, the outcome of complex operations of comparison and translation. In consequence, while the physical object is not any one of the things compared, it enables things qualitatively unlike and individual to be treated as if they were members of a comprehensive, homogeneous, or non-qualitative system. The possibility of control of the occurrence of individualized objects is thereby increased. At the same time, the latter gain added meaning, for the import of the scheme of continuity of relationships with other things is incorporated within them. The procedure of physics itself, not any metaphysical or epistemological theory, discloses that physical objects cannot be individual existential objects. In consequence, it is absurd to put them in opposition to the qualitatively individual objects of concrete experience.
The vogue of the philosophy that identifies the object of knowledge as such with the reality of the subject-matter of experience makes it advisable to carry the discussion further. Physical science submits the things of ordinary experience to specifiable operations. The result are objects of thought stated in numbers, where the numbers in question permit inclusion within complex systems of equations and other mathematical functions. In the physical object everything is ignored but the relations expressed by these numbers. It is safe to assert that no physicist while at work ever thought of denying the full reality of the things of ordinary, coarse experience. He pays no attention to their qualities except as they are signs of operations to be performed and of inference to relations to be drawn. But in these capacities he has to admit their full reality on pain of having, logically, to deny reality to the conclusions of his operative inferences. He takes the instruments he employs, including his own sensory-motor organs and measuring instruments, to be real in the ordinary sense of the word. If he denied the reality of these things as they are had in ordinary non-cognitive perceptual experience, the conclusions reached by them would be equally discredited. Moreover, the numbers which define his metric object are themselves results of noting interactions or connections among perceived things. It would be the height of absurdity to assert the reality of these relations while denying the reality of the things between which they hold. If the latter are “subjective” what becomes of the former? Finally, observation is resorted to for verification. It is a strange world in which the conception of the real has to be corroborated by reference to that the reality of which is made dubious by the conception. To common sense these comments may seem wholly superfluous. But since common sense may also hold the doctrine from which flow the conclusions to which the critical comments are apposite, common sense should first ask whether it holds that knowledge is a disclosure of the antecedently real? If it entertains this belief, then the dismissal by science of the experienced object to a limbo of unreality, or subjectivity or the phenomenal—whatever terms be used—results logically from his own position.
Our discussion involves a summary as well as some repetition of points previously made. Its significance lies in the liberation which comes when knowing, in all its phases, conditions and organs, is understood after the pattern provided by experimental inquiry, instead of upon the groundwork of ideas framed before such knowing had a systematic career opened to it. For according to the pattern set by the practice of knowing, knowledge is the fruit of the undertakings that transform a problematic situation into a resolved one. Its procedure is public, a part and partner of the Nature in all which interactions exist. But experienced situations come about in two ways and are of two distinct types. Some take place with only a minimum of regulation, with little foresight, preparation and intent. Others occur because, in part, of the prior occurrence of intelligent action. Both kinds are had; they are undergone, enjoyed or suffered. The first are not known; they are not understood; they are dispensations of fortune or providence. The second have, as they are experienced, meanings that present the funded outcome of operations that substitute definite continuity for experienced discontinuity and for the fragmentary quality due to isolation. Dream, insanity and fantasy are natural products, as “real” as anything else in the world. The acts of intentional regulation which constitute thinking are also natural developments, and so are the experienced things in which they eventuate. But the latter are resolutions of the problems set by objects experienced without intent and purpose; hence they have a security and fullness of meaning the first lack. Nothing happens, as Aristotle and the scholastics said, without an end—without a terminal effectuation. Every experienced object is, in some sense, such a closing and consummatory closing episode: alike the doubtful and secure, the trivial and significant, the true and mistaken, the confused and ordered. Only when the ends are closing termini of intelligent operations of thinking are they ends in the honorific sense. We always experience individual objects, but only the individual things which are fruits of intelligent action have in them intrinsic order and fullness of qualities.
The conditions and processes of nature generate uncertainty and its risks as truly as nature affords security and means of insurance against perils. Nature is characterized by a constant mixture of the precarious and the stable. This mixture gives poignancy to existence. If existence were either completely necessary or completely contingent, there would be neither comedy nor tragedy in life, nor need of the will to live. The significance of morals and politics, of the arts both technical and fine, of religion and of science itself as inquiry and discovery, all have their source and meaning in the union in Nature of the settled and the unsettled, the stable and the hazardous. Apart from this union, there are no such things as “ends,” either as consummations or as those ends-in-view we call purposes. There is only a block universe, either something ended and admitting of no change, or else a predestined march of events. There is no such thing as fulfillment where there is no risk of failure, and no defeat where there is no promise of possible achievement.
Any philosophy that in its quest for certainty ignores the reality of the uncertain in the ongoing processes of nature denies the conditions out of which it arises. The attempt to include all that is doubtful within the fixed grasp of that which is theoretically certain is committed to insincerity and evasion, and in consequence will have the stigmata of internal contradiction. Every such philosophy is marked at some point by a division of its subject-matter into the truly real and the merely apparent, a subject and an object, a physical and a mental, an ideal and an actual, that have nothing to do with one another, save in some mode which is so mysterious as to create an insoluble problem.
Action is the means by which a problematic situation is resolved. Such is the net outcome of the method of science. There is nothing extraordinary about this conclusion. Interaction is a universal trait of natural existence. “Action” is the name given to one mode of this interaction, namely, that named from the standpoint of an organism. When interaction has for its consequence the settling of future conditions under which a life-process goes on, it is an “act.” If it be admitted that knowing is something which occurs within nature, then it follows as a truism that knowing is an existential overt act. Only if the one who engages in knowing be outside of nature and behold it from some external locus can it be denied that knowing is an act which modifies what previously existed, and that its worth consists in the consequences of the modification. The spectator theory of knowing may, humanly speaking, have been inevitable when thought was viewed as an exercise of a “reason” independent of the body, which by means of purely logical operations attained truth. It is an anachronism now that we have the model of experimental procedure before us and are aware of the rôle of organic acts in all mental processes.
Our discussion has for the most part turned upon an analysis of knowledge. The theme, however, is the relation of knowledge and action; the final import of the conclusions as to knowledge resides in the changed idea it enforces as to action. The distinction once made between theory and practice has meaning as a distinction between two kinds of action: blind and intelligent. Intelligence is a quality of some acts, those which are directed; and directed action is an achievement not an original endowment. The history of human progress is the story of the transformation of acts which, like the interactions of inanimate things, take place unknowingly to actions qualified by understanding of what they are about; from actions controlled by external conditions to actions having guidance through their intent:—their insight into their own consequences. Instruction, information, knowledge, is the only way in which this property of intelligence comes to qualify acts originally blind.
This conclusion is decisive for the significance of purpose and mechanism in nature. The doctrine that knowledge is ideally or in its office a disclosure of antecedent reality resulted, under the impact of the results of natural science, in relegating purpose to the purely subjective, to states of consciousness. An unsolved problem then developed out of the question as to how purposes could be efficacious in the world. Now intelligent action is purposive action; if it is a natural occurrence, coming into being under complex but specifiable conditions of organic and social interaction, then purpose like intelligence is within nature; it is a “category” having objective standing and validity. It has this status in a direct way through the place and operation of human art within the natural scene; for distinctively human conduct can be interpreted and understood only in terms of purpose. Purpose is the dominant category of anything truly denominated history, whether in its enacting or in the writing of it, since action which is distinctively human is marked by intent.
Indirectly, purpose is a legitimate and necessary idea in describing Nature itself in the large. For man is continuous with nature. As far as natural events culminate in the intelligent arts of mankind, nature itself has a history, a movement toward consequences. When for convenience of study, nature is broken up into disconnected bits the parts of which are taken to have a relation to one another in isolation from other parts, the concept of purpose has no application. It is excluded by the very method of intellectual approach. Science is full of abstractions of this sort. For example, water is a combination of hydrogen and oxygen in definite proportions. This is a statement about “water” in general, not about the occurrence of any particular portion which takes place under conditions in which more than hydrogen and oxygen exist. Any individualized water is a phase of an indefinitely varied and extensive course of things. Generically, however, “water” is treated in relation to its defining constituents as if it were a complete universe in itself. As a statement of a relation that is stable amid a multitude of varying changes, each having its own individualized history, it is an instrument of control. When it is treated as if it provided a model for framing a general theory of nature, the result converts an instrument of control into a view of the world in which there is neither history nor purpose.
Generalized facts, when they are taken to be individual events complete in themselves, lead to a picture of the universe in which occurrences are exactly like one another. There is repetition but no development; mechanical production but no cumulative movement toward an integrated consequence. We take out of our logical package what we have put into it, and then convert what we draw out to be a literal description of the actual world. Things lose their individuality and are “instances” of a general law. When, however, events are viewed in their connections, as it is surely the province of philosophy to view them, nature is seen to be marked by histories, some of which terminate in the existence of human beings and finally in their intelligent activities. This issue, as the consequence of a cumulative integration of complex interactions, is such as to give anterior processes a purposive meaning. Everything depends whether we take short-sections of the course of nature in isolation, or whether we take the course of events over a span of time sufficiently long to disclose the integration of a multitude of processes toward a single outcome.2
A machine is a striking instance of mechanism. It is an equally striking instance of something to be understood in terms of purpose, use or function. Nature has mechanism. This mechanism forms the content of the objects of physical science for it fulfills the instrumental office to be performed by knowledge. If the interactions and connections involved in natural occurrences were not sufficiently like one another, sufficiently constant and uniform, so that inference and prediction from one to another were possible, control and purpose would be non-existent. Since constant relations among changes are the subject-matter of scientific thought, that subject-matter is the mechanism of events. The net effect of modern inquiry makes it clear that these constancies, whether the larger ones termed laws or the lesser ones termed facts, are statistical in nature. They are the products of averaging large numbers of observed frequencies by means of a series of operations. They are not descriptions of the exact structure and behavior of any individual thing, any more than the actuarial “law” of the frequency of deaths of persons having a certain age is an account of the life of one of the persons included in the calculation. Nature has a mechanism sufficiently constant to permit of calculation, inference and foresight. But only a philosophy which hypostatizes isolated results and results obtained for a purpose, only a substantiation of the function of being a tool, concludes that nature is a mechanism and only a mechanism.
It has long been recognized that some physical laws are statistical, instead of being reports of behavior of individuals as such. Heisenberg’s principle, together with the discovery that mass varies with velocity, mark the generalized conclusion that all physical laws are of this character. They are, as we have noted, predictions of the probability
of an observable event. They mark the culmination of a qualified prediction of Maxwell’s so remarkable as to be worth quoting in full. “The theory of atoms and void leads us to attach more importance to the doctrines of integral numbers and definite proportions; but, in applying dynamic principles to the motion of immense numbers of atoms, the limitation of our faculties forces us to abandon the attempt to express the exact history of each atom and to be content with estimating the average condition of a group of atoms large enough to be visible. This method of dealing with groups of atoms, which I might call the statistical method, and which in the present state of our knowledge, is the only available method of studying the properties of real bodies, involves an abandonment of strict dynamical principles, and an adoption of the mathematical methods belonging to the theory of probability. It is probable that important results will be obtained by the application of this method, which is, as yet, little known and is not familiar to our minds. If the actual history of science had been different, and if the scientific doctrines most familiar to us had been those which must be expressed in this way, it is probable that we might have considered the existence of a certain kind of contingency as a self-evident truth and treated the doctrine of philosophical necessity as a mere sophism.”3
That which Maxwell felt that he must look upon as a trait due to the “limitation of our faculties” turns out to be a trait of natural events themselves. No mechanically exact science of an individual is possible. An individual is a history unique in character. But constituents of an individual are known when they are regarded not as qualitative, but as statistical constants derived from a series of operations.
This fact has an obvious bearing on freedom in action. Contingency is a necessary although not, in mathematical phrase, a sufficient condition of freedom. In a world which was completely tight and exact in all its constituents, there would be no room for freedom. Contingency while it gives room for freedom does not fill that room. Freedom is an actuality when the recognition of relations, the stable element, is combined with the uncertain element, in the knowledge which makes foresight possible and secures intentional preparation for probable consequences. We are free in the degree in which we act knowing what we are about. The identification of freedom with “freedom of will” locates contingency in the wrong place. Contingency of will would mean that uncertainty was uncertainly dealt with; it would be a resort to chance for a decision. The business of “will” is to be resolute; that is, to resolve, under the guidance of thought, the indeterminateness of uncertain situations. Choice wavers and is brought to a head arbitrarily only when circumstances compel action and yet we have no intelligent clew as to how to act.
The doctrine of “free-will” is a desperate attempt to escape from the consequences of the doctrine of fixed and immutable objective Being. With dissipation of that dogma, the need for such a measure of desperation vanishes. Preferential activities characterize every individual as individual or unique. In themselves these are differential in a de facto sense. They become true choices under the direction of insight. Knowledge, instead of revealing a world in which preference is an illusion and does not count or make a difference, puts in our possession the instrumentality by means of which preference may be an intelligent or intentional factor in constructing a future by wary and prepared action. Knowledge of special conditions and relations is instrumental to the action which is in turn an instrument of production of situations having qualities of added significance and order. To be capable of such action is to be free.
Physical inquiry has been taken as typical of the nature of knowing. The selection is justified because the operations of physical knowledge are so perfected and its scheme of symbols so well devised. But it would be misinterpreted if it were taken to mean that science is the only valid kind of knowledge; it is just an intensified form of knowing in which are written large the essential characters of any knowing. It is in addition the most powerful tool we possess for developing other modes of knowledge. But we know with respect to any subject-matter whatsoever in the degree in which we are able deliberately to transform doubtful situations into resolved ones. Physical knowledge has the advantage of its specialized character, its whole-hearted devotion to a single purpose. The attitude involved in it, its method, has not as yet gone far beyond its own precincts. Beliefs current in morals, politics and religion, are marked by dread of change and by the feeling that order and regulative authority can be had only through reference to fixed standards accepted as finalities, because referring to fixed antecedent realities. Outside of physical inquiry, we shy from problems; we dislike uncovering serious difficulties in their full depth and reach; we prefer to accept what is and muddle along. Hence our social and moral “sciences” consist largely in putting facts as they are into conceptual systems framed at large. Our logic in social and humane subjects is still largely that of definition and classification as until the seventeenth century it was in natural science. For the most part the lesson of experimental inquiry has still to be learned in the things of chief concern.
We are, socially, in a condition of division and confusion because our best authenticated knowledge is obtained by directed practice, while this method is still limited to things aloof from man or concerning him only in the technologies of industries. The rest of our practice in matters that come home to us most closely and deeply is regulated not by intelligent operations, but by tradition, self-interest and accidental circumstance. The most significant phase of physical science, that which concerns its method, is unapplied in social practice, while its technical results are utilized by those in positions of privileged advantage to serve their own private or class ends. Of the many consequences that result, the state of education is perhaps the most significant. As the means of the general institution of intelligent action, it holds the key to orderly social reconstruction. But inculcation of fixed conclusions rather than development of intelligence as a method of action still dominates its processes. Devotion to training in technical and mechanical skills on one hand and to laying in a store of abstract information on the other is to one who has the power to read the scene an almost perfect illustration of the significance of the historic separation of knowledge and action, theory and practice. As long as the isolation of knowledge and practice holds sway, this division of aims and dissipation of energy, of which the state of education is typical, will persist. The effective condition of the integration of all divided purposes and conflicts of belief is the realization that intelligent action is the sole ultimate resource of mankind in every field whatsoever.
It is not claimed, therefore, that there is no philosophical problem of the relation of physical science to the things of ordinary experience. It is asserted that the problem in the form in which it has chiefly occupied modern philosophy is an artificial one, due to the continued assumption of premises formed in an earlier period of history and now having no relevancy to the state of physical inquiry. Clearing the ground of this unreal problem, however, only imposes upon philosophy the consideration of a problem which is urgently practical, growing out of the conditions of contemporary life. What revisions and surrenders of current beliefs about authoritative ends and values are demanded by the method and conclusions of natural science? What possibilities of controlled transformation of the content of present belief and practice in human institutions and associations are indicated by the control of natural energies which natural science has effected? These questions are as genuine and imperative as the traditional problem is artificial and futile.