Curt Ducasse, Philosophy as a Science, 1941


Philosophy, Wisdom, and the Application of Wisdom

ETYMOLOGICALLY, "philosophy" means the love of wisdom, but the term has always been used to designate an activity rather than an emotion -- the activity, then, of searching for wisdom. The love of wisdom is thus not philosophy itself; rather, the love of wisdom, or perhaps more accurately the felt need for wisdom, is what originally drives man to philosophize. What exactly, however, is this "wisdom" that philosophy seeks? Is it a species of knowledge? If so, what distinguishes it from knowledge in general? I submit that wisdom is knowledge of norms and that philosophy therefore, conceived in terms of the sort of need that originates it, is the search for knowledge of norms.

1. Wisdom as Knowledge of Norms. -- Norms are truths concerning the value -- positive or negative of given kinds of things. They are expressed by statements of the form (or of any form equivalent to) "anything of kind K has value V," where "having value V" stands, as the case may be, for being good, or wrong, or valid, or erroneous, or sublime, or inexpedient, or holy, or wise, or incorrect, etc. An example of a manner of stating norms equivalent to that just given, and frequently used, would be: "Things of kind K ought (or ought not) to be" or, as the case may be, "ought (or ought not) to be done," or "asserted," or "believed," or "felt," etc.

In the preceding chapter, "stealing is wrong," "killing is wrong," and "adultery is wrong," were given as examples of statements of norms of social conduct. These statements would also commonly be described as statements purporting to embody bits of wisdom. This supports the contention that wisdom is knowledge of norms, which is further supported by the fact that the maxims, proverbs, aphorisms, or rules which are generally regarded as the sorts of statements by means of which wisdom (whether genuine or spurious) is expressed, all essentially purport to formulate guides to the obtaining of positive value or to the avoiding of negative value. Among other examples may be mentioned the maxims attnbuted to one or another of the seven wise men of Greece, such as "Know thyself" or "Do nothing in excess"; or bits of homespun wisdom current today, such as "A penny saved is a penny earned" or "One stitch in time saves nine"; or proverbs given by William Blake as embodying the wisdom of hell, such as "If the fool would persist in his folly, he would become wise," etc.

But beside norms for conduct in everyday life -- which like those above often are expressed in aphoristic manner -- there are others of a more technical nature. Examples would be the rules of scientific method, of artistic creation in this or that medium, of valid and invalid reasoning; the conditions upon which beauty or ugliness in given sorts of objects depends for given persons; the statements of the various religions as to what wins or loses for man heaven, nirvana, or salvation; also legal statutes and the rules of successful (or unsuccessful) procedure in medicine, advertising, building, manufacturing, or other practical arts. The statements of any of these may be described indifferently as statements of claimed norms; or as statements of characters of things or of manners of procedure upon which the presence or the eventuation of value or disvalue is claimed to depend; or, lastly, as statements of pieces of claimed wisdom. The three descriptions are synonymous, and this confirms that, as contended, wisdom is knowledge of norms.

From the examples given, it is evident that there are positive and negative norms -- "ought's" and "ought not's"; and also that the statement of a norm may be a statement of some thing sufficient for the attainment of the given sort of value, or of something necessary to it, or of something both sufficient for and necessary to it. In the great majority of cases, however, it is the statement of a character sufficient for negative value, or of a character necessary to positive value. In target shooting, for instance, pulling the trigger jerkily is sufficient but not necessary to make the manner of shooting bad; and pulling it smoothly is necessary but not sufficient to make it good.

2. Norms Distinguished from Aims and Desiderata. -- Before inquiring further into the relation of philosophy to wisdom, it is important to guard against the tempting confusion between a norm and a desideratum or an aim. In target shooting, for instance, the aim is to hit the bull's-eye, but the norms are truths as to the manner of holding the gun, pulling the trigger, etc. -- that is, as to manners of target shooting, which tend to result in, or to prevent hitting the bull's-eye. Thus, "to pull the trigger sharply is wrong," "to hold the gun steady is right," would be statements of some norms of target shooting. In the activity called chess playing, the aim is to checkmate the opponent's king, but the norms consist of general truths concerning ways of playing one's pieces that tend to bring about, or to defeat, this aim. The aim of the sort of activity called research is to attain knowledge, but the norms of it are truths as to ways of performing it which generally result in, or thwart, the attainment of knowledge, as, "the sample on which an induction is based ought to be large and taken at random"; "a syllogistic inference in which the middle term is undistributed is fallacious," etc. Or again, to consider cases not of telic activities directly, but of things which are implements of or desiderata in telic activities, the function of a razor blade -- the desiderated operation which it implements -- is to shave, but norms for razor blades would be truths as to attributes of blades on which adequate performance of this function depends, as, "unless a razor blade is sharp, it is not good"; or, otherwise expressed, "a razor blade ought to be sharp."

3. Knowledge of Norms Used to Define Specific Aims for Censorial Activity. -- Although strictly speaking a norm is not and cannot be an aim, knowledge of norms defines specific aims for purposive activity of a certain sort, namely, for emendatory or, more inclusively, censorial activirv. Knowledge of the norms for a given sort of activity or object sometimes makes evident that the activity or the object is actually defective in form, i.e., does not conform to its norms. One can then attempt to alter its form so as to "normalize it."{1} Activity which thus aims to improve the form either of some other activity or of some object is emendatory activity, and knowledge of the norms of that other activity or object is knowledge of the specific form which emendatory activity aims to impose on the other activity or object.

Knowledge of the norms for this other activity or object, however, may reveal that actually its form is not defective but on the contrary normal. In such a case, there is no call to emend it, but only to preserve it. But the activity which consists in either bringing about or preserving conformity of something to the norms for that thing is censorial activity. We may therefore say that the utility -- the value as means, the practical value -- of knowledge of norms consists in its capacity to dictate what censorial activity is specifically to aim at in given kinds of cases.

4. Censorial Activity Not Philosophy but Philosophical Engineering. -- To criticize is to judge as to the conformity or nonconformity of something to its norms. To censor is to bring about or to maintain such conformity. Censoring may thus be described as philosophical engineering, that is, as the sort of activity which constitutes practical application of philosophical knowledge. At least, it is philosophical engineering when the censoring is carried on in the light of (more or less probable and approximate) knowledge of norms, as distingtushed from merely imitative acceptance of alleged norms, and from faith in the sense of belief in certain norms which exceeds in degree what the available evidence for them rationally justifies.

The task of the philosophical engineer is then to apply knowledge of norms to the control of the form of the activities or objects for which they are the norms. These activities or objects may be his own, or those of another person such as a child or a student whom he is called upon to supervise, or those of an institution or of a portion of society, etc. And they may be of any sort -- scientific, artistic, recreational, economic, political, educational, or other.

But the fact that philosophical knowledge does have practicability of a specific sort, and that the task of applying it is of great importance, leaves untouched the difference between the task of the philosophical investigator and that of the philosophical engineer, and therefore does not justify the identification of philosophy with philosophical engineering to which some eminent pragmatists are prone, nor the disparagement of the theoretical part of philosophy to which this mistake leads them.

5. Censorables Possibly Qualities, Telic Activities, or Instruments. -- There is no such thing as a norm for an entity considered out of relation to any appraising being, since a norm is a proposition concerning the sort of appraisal some person or persons make of a given sort of entity. But endlessly various as are the entities we appraise, they automatically fall, in respect to appraisal, into one or another of three categories. We may call these the three kinds of censorables. Appraisal may be, namely, of some quality, or of the form of some telic activity, or of some instrument (positive or negative) to a given end. It might be thought that the use to which a given instrument is put, and the end of a given telic activity, would be two additional categories of censorables; but any appraisal we make of a use or of an end either is of this as itself an instrument to some ulterior end, or is an appraisal of the intrinsic nature of this use or end. If for example we condemn a use made by a man of his money, for instance a use consisting of bribery of some official, what we condemn is either bribery itself, considered qualitatively (i.e., we dislike it) or bribery considered as instrument -- in this case negative instrument, i.e., obstacle -- to some end we value positively. Or if we condemn the end of some telic activity, e.g., the end consisting of being very rich, we are either considering the possession of great riches itself, qualitatively, and find that we simply dislike the sort of thing it is; or we are considering it as instrument to some end -- perhaps social or spiritual -- that we value positively, and find that it is a negative instrument, i.e., an obstacle, to it.

We need now to clarify further the difference assumed above between a telic activity and a means or instrument, and to consider with some care the general nature of telism and its kinds. This will enable us to discern what exactly is the relation between wisdom, i.e., knowledge of norms, which philosophy seeks, and knowledge of the laws of nature or other nonaxiological laws.

6. The Nature of Telism. -- Telism is a special case of causation; but it emphatically does nor consist, as sometimes alleged, in causation of an earlier event by a later. If one observes carefully some undoubted cases of telism, one finds them to be cases where not the later occurrence of an event E, but the earlier occurrence of desire for the later occurrence of E, causes performance of an act A, which itself then causes E (either directly or through an instrument). That is, performance of act A at time 2 by person P is not caused by occurrence of E at time 3; it is caused by P's desire at time 1 that E shall occur at time 3. What is true, however, is that, for a spectator, occurrence of E at time 3 explains performance of A by P at time 2. But it explains that performance not by exhibiting itself as cause of it, but by exhibiting itself as something occurring indeed at time 3, desire for which by P at time 1 would have been sufficient to cause, and probably did cause, performance of A by P at time 2.

7. Telism vs. Automatic Mechanical Regulation.{2} -- The claim is sometimes made that in biology one finds cases where the supposition of antecedent desire as cause is not plausible, which are nevertheless cases of telism; for example, maintenance of the proportion of blood salts to blood volume, or maintenance of the temperature of the blood. What leads to description of them as cases of telism is doubtless that in them one finds, in spite of variations in earlier circumstances, the same constancy in a later event that antecedent desire for that event would explain; and that, since no antecedent desire is discoverable in these cases, the only possible remaining explanation seems to be causation of the earlier events by the later. But there is a third possible explanation which does not require this absurdity, namely, explanation of these cases as cases of automatic mechanical regulation.

In automatic mechanical regulation, disturbance of an equilibrium happens to be the very thing that mechanically causes restoration of the equilibrium, so that the latter remains constant within more or less close limits.{3} Cases of maintenance of equilibrium which everybody would grant as being of this kind would be that of a tank equipped with a ball float so connected with an intake valve that the valve admits water when the level falls, thus maintaining the level within certain limits; or the case of an oil-burning heating system equipped with a thermostat, which maintains the temperature within certain limits.

It may be said, of course, that these mechanisms are not, like the bodies of animals, also self-repairing or self-feeding. But this is a matter of degree. Machines exist in which the wear that occurs at least at certain points is automatically taken up, perhaps by a spring that keeps a movable bearing in contact with a shaft until nothing is left of the bearing. This automatic compensation for wear, of course, has its limits, but so has that of animal bodies. In the latter, the variety of contingencies for which mechanisms for automatic maintenance exist is enormously greater, but even then we know only too well that they have limits, and that when these are exceeded, death or permanent crippling results. As regards self-feeding, an oil burner has a mechanism by which it automatically "feeds" itself oil when it needs some, under certain circumstances, viz., when there is oil in the tank. The body, similarly, feeds itself when it needs food, provided there is food within the reach of the food-getting equipment it possesses. If that equipment is not adequate or if there is no food, the body, like the heating system, ceases to function.

It may be said that a water tank with a ball float, a heating system, etc., are after all constructed by activity which is purposive. But although this is trues the question as to how they came to exist, and the question whether they effect maintenance of an equilibrium in a purely mechanical manner, are distinct questions. The latter must of course be answered in the affirmative. As regards the former, it is worth noting that examples can be found where an equilibrium is automatically maintained by purely mechanical means, and where purpose has nevertheless had no part. The flow of the water of a river towards the sea, for example, maintains itself automatically. If a rock slide obstructs the flow, it automatically raises the water level, and this either builds up an increase of water pressure sufficientt to clear the chammel, or it causes the water to find a new outlet.

We cannot say that in the presence of an obstruction the water rises in order to, i.e., because it purposes to, continue towards the sea, but only that unless it does rise, it does not so continue. Similarly, we cannot say that in the water tank with float-connected valve, the valve opens proportionately to the fall of the level in order that, i.e., because it desires that, the loss be compensated by the intake, but only that unless it opens proportionately, the loss is not compensated. And in the body, likewise, we cannot say that, e.g., it perspires in the presence of a rise in the temperature of the air in order to, i.e., because it desires to, maintain constant the temperature of the blood, but only that unless the body perspires the temperature of the blood goes up. In all these cases alike, what we have are physical regulatory mechanisms which automatically maintain a phenomenon in the face of disturbing causes, so long as the disturbing causes are of certain kinds and do not exceed certain quantitative limits. The regulation is, so far as we can see, suscepuble of being eventually explained in these biological cases in the same kind of terms as in the nonbiological, i.e., in physicochemical terms and without the supposition of purpose.

Haldane, it is true, shows that organisms differ from machines in certain respects.{4} In organisms, for instance, there is reciprocal regulation of the parts, even including their structure, by one another, so that they cannot be separated from one another without being thereby altered. Again, there is reciprocal regulation of the organism and its environment (both internal and external) by each other, so that the organism cannot be separated from its environment without being thereby altered. Again, in organisms the maintenance of certain functions goes far beyond any point reached in machines, even being effected in ways that are new on occasions when the ordinary ways of maintenance are impeded.

To say that they are new, however, does not imply rhat they are not purely physical. It may quite well mean only that they represent the coming into play of physical mechanisms present in the organisms all along, but which, like the safety valve of a boiler, come into play only on kinds of occasions that are rare, or possibly unique, in the history of a given organism. Haldane, moreover, does not show that regulation of the reciprocal kind, which we find in connection with organisms, cannot be explained in physicochemical terms; he shows only that if the explanation is physicochemical, it is exceedingly complex and very far from completely known to us as yet. He does not show, in short, that even the kinds of difference he points out between organisms and machines are not ultimately analyzable into differences of degree.

8. Categories of Telic Activity. -- Telic activities may be classified on the basis of the general nature of what is purposed; and labels for the resulting species could if needed be coined to fit. What is purposed may be, for instance, the acquisition of some power, or of knowledge of certain facts, or the experience of some feeling, emotion, or other affective state -- in each case either by one's self (egocentric) or by someone else (altrocentric). Further, the end desired may be more or less determinate. A boy shaking a tree may be moved by desire for one particular apple, or for an apple, or for some fruit -- or, still more indeterminately, for something exciting to happen.

Telic activities, however, may be classified also on the basis of the relation of the end desired to the activity itself. In play acriviries, which have been described as autotelic, the ostensible end is pursued essentially because the pursuing activity is itself enjoyed, so that enjoyment of it is the real end. Compare for instance fishing for fun with fishing for food. The latter would be heterotelic, in that the activity, even if it happens to be enjoyed, is not performed for the sake of the enjoyment as end. It would be, further, "practical," in the sense that what is desired, viz., food, is an instrument to an ulterior end (viz., cessation or prevention of hunger), and not itself a terminal desideratum. It is in this respect that the activities classed as work, or labor, i.e., as practical, differ from those classed as artistic, or more inclusively, self-expressive. For in the latter the object one attempts to create is a terminal, not an intermediary, desideratum. It is created because one desires it to exist, not because of what one might desire to use it for after it has been created.

Further, telic activity -- and only activity which is telic -- is skilled or (relatively) unskilled. It is skilled -- wise of its kind -- in so far as the specific form of it is controlled by knowledge of the norms for its kind, that is, by knowledge of the specific form of it that insures attainment of its end. But even striving for a given end by "trial and error" is not usually completely unskilled striving. If for example one purposes to open a locked door, one may not know which key in the bunch is the "normal" key, but one would usually know that to say "Open sesame, " or to twiddle one's thumbs in front of the door, are abnormal -- wrong -- ways of attempting to open it, and that although "to insert some key in the lock and turn" is a not sufficiently determinate description of the form of activity appropriate to the end, it nevertheless describes a form of activity which is normal -- right -- so far as it goes. Knowledge of this restricts the variety of forms of activity one tries at random. Telic activity, thus, is hardly ever absolutely but rather only relatively unskilled.

9. Relation of Knowledge of the Laws of Naturc to Wisdom. -- A given manner of striving for a given end cannot be described as normal or abnormal without reference to the circumstances under which it is performed. Simply turning the knob of a door is the normal way of attenpting to open the door when it is not locked, but not when it is. The normal form of a telic activity (aiming at end E) must therefore be described as the form of it which, under circumstances of kind K, regularly results in E. Wisdom, therefore, necessanly takes circumstances into account: what is wisdom here is foolishness there, and wise is he only who knows where is where!

Attention to this fact enables us now to discern exactly how knowledge of the laws of nature, or in general of non-axiological laws, is related to knowledge of norms, that is, to wisdom. Our analysis of telic activity distinguished therein (1) desire at time 1 that an event of kind E occurs at time 3; (2) causation by this desire of a certain form of activity A at time 2; and (3) causation by this activity of event E at time 3. But A may cause E either directly or indirectly. If event E is, for instance, cessation of an itchy feeling at the tip of one's, nose, and activity A is scratching the tip of one's nose, then A causes E directly, that is, without the use of an instrument. But if E is the opening of the door of a house other than one's own, and activity A is pressing upon the bell button, A causes E indirectly, viz., by causing the button to move, which causes the bell to ring, which causes some one to come and open the door. That is, A then causes E only by means of an instrument. An instrument is an object I which, when acted upon in a manner A by man, behaves in a certain manner M, this behavior being either the desiderated event E itself, or an event which in turn causes another object J to behave in a manner N, this behavior of J then being either the desired event E itself or, etc. This means that when A does not cause E directly, its causing E at all is dependent upon the properties of certain objects in the environment (which constitute the circumstances under which A is performed).

We can therefore say that knowledge of the properties of things in nature is knowledge of the sorts of external circumstances under which a given form of an activity A (telic to a given sort of end E) is normal, i.e., successful. This knowledge is applicable to the task of implementing the activities we are already capable of performing -- the skills or powers we already possess. It is not applicable to the task of self-improvement -- of acquisition of new powers or of perfecting those we already have in some degree. Throwing a life preserver to a sinking person implements the power to grasp, which he already possesses, in such manner as to make it indirectly adequate -- normal -- to his end of staying afloat; but it does not confer upon him a new power, such as swimming skill, or normalize the thrashing motions by which he strives to stay afloat.

The sort of knowledge philosophy seeks, on the other hand, is knowledge of the specific form which, under circumstances of a given kind, i.e., with given instruments, or without any instruments, is the normal form of an activity A telic to a sort of end E. Knowledge of this sorr is applicable to the task of self-perfection -- to the normalizing of activities we are already capable of but the specific form of which is inadequate to our ends under the existing circumstances, or to the development of new powers normal to our ends under the circumstances we have to face.

The problem constituted by incapacity to obtain a desired end is susceptible of being solved in three ways. They are the practical way, "implement the powers you have"; the philosophical way, "develop the powers you need"; and the religious way, which is that of resignation, "give up the ends you desire -- learn to say, 'Not my will, but Thine.' "

10. Wisdom and Technical Philosophy. -- To illuminate further the relation between wisdom, which is knowledge of norms, and philosophy, conceived as the search for this knowledge, let us consider next how this search may proceed. Here we recall what was said earlier concerning the relation of theory to laws in general, and therefore also to axiological laws, that is, to laws that are norms. They may be discovered in two ways.

One way is directly by inductive generalization from particular experiences, which in philosophy consist of spontaneous appraisals of particular things. Philosophical generalizations so obtained are empirical norms and known edge of them is empirical wisdom. The thought-processes by which it is obtained from the spontaneous particular appraisals that are the philosophical raw material are the same as those through which empirical generalizations about any thing else are obtained: comparisons of the given things with one another, discrimination of their kinds through discernment of likenesses and differences, the tracing of kinds of effects to kinds of causes, generalization from the observed cases of given kinds to all cases of these kinds.

These thought-processes, when they have spontaneous particular appraisals as their raw material, constitute empirical philosophizing. Empirical philosophizing is ordinarily motivated directly by a felt need for wisdom. It is carried on, although only sporadically and without scientific precautions, by many persons who know nothing of technical philosophy, indeed, at least in small degree and at a few times, by almost every person. Such wisdom as it yields is embodied in the common maxims, proverbs, and counsels of which examples have already been cited and, for conduct in situations of more specialized sorts, in vanous "rules of thumb."

But the wisdom which empirical philosophizing brings is as precarious as are the products of purely empirical generalization in any other field. This wisdom, that is to say, will concern only situations more or less stereotyped and of relatively simple kinds. It will tend to be wisdom for the relatively short run rather than the long. It will be valid for the average man but perhaps not for the man who is exceptional in certain respects. Its maxims, moreover, will seldom be very precise. Certain cases will clearly fall within the scope of any given one of them, and certain other cases clearly outside it; but many others will be left neither definitely in nor definitely out. Empirical wisdom tells us, for example, that stealing is wrong, but it does not tell exactly where "stealing" begins and "finding" ends. Some instances are clearly cases of the one and some clearly of the other; but others are doubtful. For example, A sees B, who is walking a quarter of a mile or so ahead, drop his purse. It is a hot day, and the purse is worthless and contains only one penny; A has a weak heart, and he does not attempt to catch B but keeps the penny. Is this stealing and therefore wrong, or is it finding and blameless? The maxim that stealing is wrong does not answer this question.

The loose and unsystematic way in which the scope of the maxims of empirical wisdom is defined results not only in examples like this, where a given case seems not to fit exactly into either one of two rival categories, but also in examples where a given case seems definitely to fit into two of them. The often-mentioned possible alternative between saving a life through lying, and telling the truth at the cost of loss of that life, would be an example. Empirical wisdom seldom if ever has maxims to cover cases of clash between its own common maxims, or cases of other unusual or complicated kinds. But wisdom -- knowledge of the values of kinds of things -- is poor indeed unless it includes knowledge also of their relative values; and little of this knowledge is to be obtained by purely empirical generalization from spontaneous appraisals.

Accordingly, for wisdom of the firmer and more discriminating and resourceful sort, which is applicable not only to stereotyped situations but also to novel or otherwise puzzling ones, we have to turn so the other way of discovering norms, namely, to deduction from theory. As we have seen, theory which has proved adequate to explain and predict empirical norms is also adequate to define more sharply the rational scope of their validity, to settle rationally convicts between them, and to discover rationally defensible norms for novel situations

The conceptual apparatus of which a philosophical theory consists, and the processes by which it is constructed, have already been described. They include tentative definition of the particular philosophical predicate with which the theory is concerned, tentative specification of a method for identifying cases of what has thus been defined, testing the validity of those constructs empirically by reference to particular philosophical facts already known (primitive or derivative, as the case may be), and making systematically explicit whatever is implicit in the theory so constructed, once its validity has been sufficiently tested. Some of the things implicit in it are axiological laws, i.e., norms, which are then describable as rational norms or theoretically grounded norms, in contrasr to the purely and directly empirical ones mentioned above. These processes together constitute philosophical theorizing or, if we prefer, theoretical philosophizing as distinguished from the purely empirical philosophizing already described.

This theoretical part of the search for knowledge of norms is -- like search for knowledge of anything else through theory construction -- much more abstract and technical and indirect than the immediately empirical part. To it belongs the bulk of what is found in most philosophical treatises. Written or otherwise explicit philosophizing -- whether in a given instance valid or fallacious -- consists in searching for wisdom in that way, viz., through theory construction. The philosophizing which consists in induction directly from spontaneous particular appraisals, and the results of which are formulated in maxims of empirical wisdom, is usually not itself formulated at all; or when it is, it is formulated not in treatises but in fables, myths, or other stories with a moral.

Because the theoretical part of the search for knowledge of norms is, as stated above, far more technical, indirect, and abstract than the immediately empirical part, it is ordinarily motivated chiefly by the interest that the processes of theory construction and theory testing themselves directly have for the persons who perform them, and only remotely, or in some of these persons perhaps not at all, by any felt need for wisdom wherewith to normalize practice. This, moreover, is in no way improper, for the task they perform is an indispensable one, and the right motivation for it is any motivation that does get it performed.

The fruitfulness of theories, furthermore -- whether in philosophy or in natural or formal science -- does not depend on the motive that leads to their construction, but on their technical perfection and on the rigor with which their validity is empirically tested. Pragmatists have urged that the most fruitful way of acquiring knowledge is through doing, and that for philosophy this means seeking specifically for the wisdom that will enable us to solve the social or moral problems of our epoch. But if this injunction warns philosophers away from anything, it is from seeking wisdom through theory construction rather than through direct observation and experiment; and -- since technically defective theory construction is not advocated by anybody -- this is to condemn theory construction in general as a method of seeking knowledge.

But that theorizing is in fact a far more powerful method than is direct experimentation unguided by theory is overwhelmingly proved by the history of the natural sciences. When this is pointed out, however, pragmatists are wont to retort that they do not condemn theory construction, but contend that attainment of any knowledge -- even of the most abstract and technical theoretical knowledge -- consists in solution of some problem; and that this -- the solving of some problem or, as they may put it, the successful dealing with some "problem situation" -- is what "learning by doing" essentially consists in. But then, if this is the only way in which knowledge can be obtained, it is automatically the way that always has been used, whether consciously or unconsciously, by anybody who has gained any knowledge, whether natural, philosophical, or other, and whether he was "empiricist" or "rationalist," naive observer, experimenter, or theorist. To advocate its use is thus as idle as it would be to advocate the use of breathing by men who seek to remain alive. We may well ask, then, what exactly the pragmatist's counsel, reduces to, if not to a counsel of perfection -- the counsel, namely, to succeed in one's attempt to solve the problems, whether theoretical or directly empirical, to which one addresses one's self!

[Table of Contents] [Chapter 14]


{1} To normalize is to render (or maintain) normal; and "normal" is used here throughout in the sense of "as ought to be," i.e., "conforming to the norm or ideal" for the given kind of entity or of purposive activity. That is, normal is not used here in the looser sense of "as generally is," or "as habitually." The habitual, or the most frequest, or the average, may or may not happen to be also the normal in the stricter sense of conforming to the norm, i.e., of "having the form which is best" for the kind of entity or of purposive activity concerned. [Back]

{2} I shall use "mechanical" to describe cases where the cause of an event (under the circumstances prevailing at the time) is not a desire for the event. [Back]

{3} This sort of explanation would be excluded only if the equilibrium remained absolutely and not only approximately constant; for, if minute variations from the equilibrium did not occur, they could not be ccauses of its restoration or its constancy. [Back]

{4} Organism and Environment (1917). [Back]

[Table of Contents] [Chapter 14]