William James: Pragmatism: A New Name for Some Old Ways of Thinking, 1907, Harvard University Press 1978 paperback edition
Truth, as any dictionary will tell you, is a property of certain of our ideas. It means their ‘agreement’, as falsity means their disagreement, with ‘reality’. …Where our ideas cannot copy definitely their object, what does agreement with that object mean?
Pragmatism…asks its usual question. ‘Grant an idea or belief to be true,’ it says, ‘what concrete difference will its being true make in anyone’s actual life? How will truth be realized? What experiences will be different from those which would obtain if the belief were false? What, in short, is the truth’s cash value in experiential terms?
The moment pragmatism asks this question, it sees the answer: True ideas are those that we can assimilate, validate, corroborate and verify. False ideas are those that we cannot. This is the practical difference it makes to us to have true ideas; that, therefore, is the meaning of truth, for it is all that truth is known as.
This thesis is what I have to defend. The truth of an idea is not a stagnant property inherent in it. Truth happens to an idea. It becomes true, is made true by events. Its verity is in fact an event, a process: the process namely of its verifying itself, its veri-fication. Its validity is the process of its valid-ation.
But what do the words verification and validation themselves pragmatically mean? They again signify certain practical consequences of the verified and validated idea.
Between the coercions of the sensible order and those of the ideal order, our minds is thus wedged tightly. Our ideas must agree with realities, be such realities concrete or abstract, be they facts or be they principles, under penalty of endless inconsistency and frustration.
True ideas leads us into useful verbal and conceptual quarters as well as directly up to sensible termini. They lead to consistency, stability and flowing human intercourse. …all processes must lead to the face of directly verifying sensible experiences somewhere, which somebody’s ideas have copied.
So, James is stating that there is a communal eternal reality that is available to us to experience via our bodily senses. What is true is events, objects and interactions, processes that occur that someone, somewhere can experience with their sense or had done so. Then there are ideas that describe those experiences, those events and to explain them. Those ideas can themselves be verified. Then finally there are ideas that can make a difference in our lives that we cannot verify but they make a difference in how we live our lives. These are ideas of faith, religious ideas and ideals. They make a difference to us and they thus have a sense of truth in their utility to assist us to lead meaningful lives.
From William James, Essays in Radical Empiricism, 1912, pp22-25, from the essay: Does ‘Consciousness Exist?’
“The two collections, first of its cohesive, and, second, of its loose associative, inevitably come to be contrasted. We call the first collection the system of external realities, in the midst of which the room, as ‘real’, exists; the other we call the stream of our internal thinking, in which, as a ‘mental image’, it for a moment floats. The room thus again gets counted twice over. It plays two different roles, being Gedanke and Gedachtes, the thought-of-an-object, and the object-thought-of, both in one; and all this without paradox or mystery, just as the same material thing may be both low and high, or small and great, or bad and good, because of its relations to opposite parts on an environing world.
As ‘subjective’ we say the experience represents; as ‘objective’ it is represented. What represents and what is represented is here numerically the same; but we must remember that no dualism of being represented and representing resides in the experience per se. In its pure state, or when isolated, there is no self-splitting of it into consciousness and what the consciousness is ‘of’. Its subjectivity and objectivity are functional attributes solely, realized only when the experience is ‘taken’ i.e., talked-of, twice, considered along with its two differing contexts respectively, by a new retrospective experience, of which that whole past complication now forms the fresh content.
The instant field of the present is at all times what I call the ‘pure experience’. It is only virtually or potentially either object or subject as yet. For the time being, it is plain, unqualified actuality, or existence, a simple that. In this naïf immediacy it is of course valid; it is there, we act upon it, and the doubling of it in retrospection into a state of mind and a reality intended thereby, is just one of the acts. The ‘state of mind’, first treated explicitly, as such in retrospection, will stand corrected or confirmed, and the retrospective experience in its turn will get a similar treatment; but the immediate experience in its passing is always ‘truth’, practical truth, something to act on, at is own movement.
…Consciousness connotes a kind of external relation, and does not denote a special stuff or way of being. The peculiarity of our experiences, that they not only are, but are known, which their ‘conscious’ quality is invoked to explain, is better explained by their relations—these relations themselves being experiences—to one another.
Were I now to go on to treat of the knowing of perceptual by conceptual experiences, it would again prove to be an affair of external relations. One experience would be the knower, the other the reality known; and I could perfectly well define, without the notion of ‘consciousness’, what the knowing actually and practically amounts to—leaning towards, namely, and terminating-in percepts, through a series of transitional experiences which the world supplies.