MS 596

C. S. Peirce (c.1902)

Transcripción de Miguel Ángel Fernández (2006)


The Discussion set in Motion.

The Reader loquitur: This author professes to have something to say. Before I listen to him, I want to know in a general way, what it is that he has to tell me, and why I should give him any credit.

The Author: Of course, I have something to say to you; yet I have nothing to tell you. I simply invite you to journey with me over a land of thought which is already more or less known to you. It is a land where I have sojourned long, -so long that I must be little removed from idiocy if I cannot be serviceable as a guide in it; and these who know the country well have found me to be so. Still, all I do is to recommend you to cast your own eyes toward this quarter or toward that, and see what you see. Some of the features that I shall point out to you will, I am pretty sure, have hitherto escaped your notice. I can promise you a journey interesting in itself, during which you shall learn things which concern interests in which you are already engaged, while your interests themselves shall be enlightened. It will be important that, as we go along, we should keep an itinerary record, and ascertain just where we find each object that excites our attention; for otherwise, we should bring back from our journey nothing but vague and confused impressions, such as, in fact, most tourists through this same country do bring back. We must keep something like a log-book of all the courses and distances of our travel. But in order that from them we may calculate the precise situations at which the different curious things shall be found, we want, first of all, to settle just where our starting-point is.

Reader: That metaphor conveys no definite idea.

Author: That is true; and how the vague idea that it does convey is to be made distinct in all its parts, short of reading the whole book is not apparent. This much, however, may be said: The design is to set forth the rules for distinguishing between reasonings that are bad and reasonings that are good, and among the latter, between weak reasons and strong reasons*, and to make the reasons of these rules evident. In doing this, the author can merely indicate processes of thought which the reader will have to perform for himself. Nevertheless, the author ventures to think that he can lead the reader to recognize some truths that will be new to him, and which will prove useful, some of which it may be doubtful whether the reader would otherwise soon or ever discover. Possibly, the reader may even be led to revise some of the opinions about reasoning which he has hitherto held. If the reader does not drop the book right here, he would seem to share these hopes of the author in some measure.

The reader, then, is to be persuaded to pass from one state of belief* about reasonings to another. How shall this be effected?

The author will not promise altogether to abstain from the use of the general method of Hegel’s dialectic; but he will not rely much upon that. That method consists in the critical examination of the initial state of belief of the reader, leading to a conviction that it is self-contradictory. If the reader then seems to be driven into a contrary belief, that also, by a similar development of it, is shown to involve contradictions; and thus the reader is finally led to a view which involves a recognition of continuity, which third opinion upon examination appears sufficiently satisfactory, although it may probably lead at once into a further difficulty concerning a nearly related matter. The author admits that it is very apt to happen that the conceptions elicited by this process are very apt to approximate to the truth. The reason is that it forces the reader to introduce the element of continuity into his conceptions, which, in the early stages of thinking is very apt to be wrongly excluded. The method thus happens very often to work pretty well. But there is no reason to expect that it will always do so; and when its true character is seen through, it becomes extremely unconvincing; and the more so because the reductions of the different opinions to absurdity are in almost all cases of the flimsiest texture, and permit a mind of any subtlety to escape by every mesh. It would be far better to begin by facing the question whether it would not be advantageous to introduce continuity into a given

conception. Truth is, in general, not to be ascertained by brain-spinning but by experiment and fact. Certain evolutions of thought are, no doubt, necessary; but they are not of the kind which the Hegelian dialectic employs; and their results have in the end to be tested by comparison with facts. Another objection to the Hegelian method is that if the reader puts any faith in it he is led to imagine that his initial opinions were entirely wrong. Now as far as his initial opinions about reasoning are concerned, this is not so. In the main, they are mostly well-founded. The principal fault of them is that

*Belief throughout this book is used to denote a state of mind in which a proposition is held for true, and/ or deemed satisfactory as a representation of fact. It is not used in any sense in which it is opposed to knowledge, nor at all limited to religious tenets. The original meaning of the Teutonic verb is supposed to have been to deem satisfactory. Belief, in all its uses, is a state of satisfaction; and in the sense to which it is confined in this book satisfaction with a proposition as free from error. But when the pragmatistic interpretation is introduced, the meaning will lean toward the more usual one.

they are vague, and incomplete, and erroneous in certain details. For these reasons, the means upon which the author will rely in endeavoring to persuade the reader to pass from one state of belief about reasonings to another will be to bring to his notice the relation of his opinions to certain neglected facts of experience whose force is perfectly irresistible.

But no method of reasoning is directly revealed by experience. For direct experience is merely that here and now something occurs; while a method of reasoning is not of the nature of an occurrence on a special occasion. The facts, therefore, will have to be reasoned about. In this reasoning, the reader will have to use such notions of reasoning as he has. If, therefore, his initial notions of reasoning were not true in the main, no facts could be trusted to render them so. If, however, being true in the main they contain such an admixture of error as in chemical language could be called an impurity, it may be expected or hoped that this will be diminished by the action of the sound part of reason upon the facts of experience. In our final judgment, it will appear that there is a comparatively small amount of positive error in the reader’s initial beliefs about reasoning, especially if these are such natural beliefs as prevail, for example, among women of good sense. The class of persons whose notions of reasoning on the average contain by far the largest proportion of error are teachers of logic and other persons who are imbued with theories of reasoning. I could fill a volume with examples of slips of reasoning committed by gentlemen who profess to know, and do know, far more logic than other people, albeit of fallacies such as theirs no ordinary man could be guilty. Those who have been under German influences are the worst.* After the logicians, the worst reasoning class is that which clusters about those professions whose lore is largely traditional, including most of the men who deal with lawyers or deal with men who deal with lawyers or Calvinists or ordinary Romanist priests. In fact, this class embraces the great majority of the male gender. There is a great deal of traditional logical doctrine, even technical terms, afloat in this class; and for the most part it is sound enough within its proper limits. At the same time it descends from an age when reasoning and the nature of science were utterly misunderstood; and it is partly erroneous, at best. It is further deteriorated by being very loosely and ignorantly applied. The consequence is that this class of men, though they reason much more like natural human beings than like logicians, are considerably affected by false notions of reasoning. As for women, they are much more guided by instinct than by reasoning, a habit of which we shall find that a rational logic fully

*The causes of this extraordinary state of things are not difficult to trace out (…. complex though…). I should like to stop to explain them, since I should thus make it plain that a body of scholars with whom I have a fraternal sympathy, ought not to be morally blamed for their fault. But it would be contrary to the reader’s interest so to wander, and I must keep to the subject.

approves; and when they do reason, though their reasons are often very feeble, and colored by passion, they are not often downright inadmissible to any consideration whatsoever, as those of the great majority of men not infrequently are. I regret to say this of my own sex and my own class; but I am bound to tell the reader the truth. The object of letting him into this secret is to endeavor to persuade him to consider doubtful, and for the time being, to put upon the shelf, all logical maxims that have come to him from tradition and from books, all notions of presumptions, burden of proof and other obligations of argumentation, probability, argumentum ad hominem, that we must not reason post hoc ergo propter hoc, Ockhams’s razor, begging the question, etc. until they have been thoroughly disinfected, and to fall back on native common sense about reasoning, so far as its dicta seem perfectly indisputable. If he can only succeed in doing this, he will find as the result of our critical examination that little in his original firm beliefs about reasoning was downright erroneous, although quite another face will he put upon most matters. But the bulk in importance of what he will learn from the study of this book will not be refutation, nor even remodeling, of his first opinions, but will be quite supplementary to them.

In view of what has been said, the Reader will, I trust, agree that it is highly desirable that he should begin by explicitly recognizing what his chief initial beliefs concerning reasoning are. He must draw up the list of them for himself; but the author may aid him by pointing out what seem to be the most important and inevitable. Especially the order in which they are arranged by the author, the more fundamental one's for present purposes first, may be suggestive. Besides, it will conduce to a mutual understanding between the Reader and the author, for the former to understand what the latter imagines the former’s present state of belief to be. The author will, therefore, begin by drawing up a list of brief statements of what he conceives the Reader’s principal present tenets concerning reasonings to be. He will then go over the list and make some preliminary comments upon the different articles, with a view of preparing the ground for a more systematic inquiry.

List of the Principal of the Reader’s Presumed Initial Beliefs concerning Reasonings.

1. That he is in a state of Doubt concerning some questions and in a state of Belief concerning others. The state of doubt is a state of indeterminacy between two propositions. It is unsatisfactory. It is a state of stimulation, accompanied by a peculiar feeling. A state of belief may be very unhappy in consequence of the character of the propositions believed. But it is a state in which the stimulus of doubt is allayed, and in so far is satisfactory. The two answers to the question no longer balance one another: upon one of them the believer is ready to shape his conduct; he approves of it: the other he disapproves.

2. Using the word ‘Inquiry’ to denote the kind of mental action which doubt stimulates, - whether this action be such as is properly called inquiry, or not, - the reader presumably holds that the only aim of inquiry is to produce a mental representation which shall be true, that is, which shall accord with the real state of things. This real state of things is something which is "so", that is, has a certain determination, or specialization, or being, whether it be opined to be so or otherwise. Therefore, the reader holds that for every question not nonsensical, and therefore not a genuine question, there is a certain determination of being which is completely independent of what you, or I, or any man or generations of men may opine about it.

3. The reader, considering his own beliefs collectively, holds that some of them are false. Since he is unable to say which those false beliefs are, a certain indefinite disposition to revert to a state of doubt arises, the strength and extent of which will vary considerably according to the Reader's temperament and mood. He begins to hold that all beliefs, or most of them, ought to be criticized.

4. But there are certain beliefs upon which such reflections have cast no shade of doubt in the Reader’s mind. One class of such extra firm beliefs is composed of beliefs in reference to each of certain questions that either 'Yes' or 'No' is the true answer to it, while both these answers are not true.

5. Another class of extra firm beliefs is composed of beliefs that arise directly upon perception. When the Reader looks at anything or touches, when he listens to anything, when he sniffs or attentively tastes anything, he often gets a belief that he saw or touched, or seemed to see or touch, that he heard or seemed to hear, that he smelled or tasted or seemed to smell or taste something, which belief is so strong, that when it is accompanied by a belief of the class last considered to the effect that any third belief of his conflicts with the perceptual belief, that third belief is either promptly reversed, or else the belief that there is such a conflict is rudely shaken and thrown into doubt.

6. Not only are the Reader's perceptual beliefs severally the strongest of his beliefs, but when he reflects upon them collectively, they seem to him infallible. He admits that his eyes may deceive him as to what is really before them; but that he should while looking be deceived as to what he seems to see, he cannot admit as a possibility. His theory of this infallibility is that in this case there is no reality independent of the belief about it. The seeming and the belief that something seems are in his opinion one and the same.

7. The Reader has an analogous opinion in regard to the infallibility of those beliefs to which the 4th opinion relates. He is quite willing to admit that to the question whether a certain newly found skeleton was the skeleton of a man rather than of an anthropoid ape, the reply 'Yes and No' might, in a certain sense, be justifiable. Namely, owing to our conception of what a man is having been formed without thinking of the possibility of such a creature as that to which this skeleton belongs, the question really has no definite meaning. Understanding it in one way, 'yes' would be the true answer; understanding it in another way, 'No'. But the Reader holds that supposing a definite question is asked concerning a matter of fact, of the two answers, 'Yes' and 'No', one must infallibly be true and the other false, for the reason that if there is no real fact corresponding to the one answer that mere absence of such real fact is itself a real fact corresponding to the other answer, and conversely, if there is a real fact corresponding to the one answer, that real fact itself constitutes the absence of any real fact corresponding to the other answer; and thus, in this case likewise, there is no reality independent of the opinion that one of the two answers is true and the other false.

8. No matter how completely free the Reader may be of the influence of logical systems and traditions, he nevertheless does hold certain logical tenets. There are certain general forms of reasoning which he approves as calculated to lead to the truth. There are certain others which he condemns as dangerous. This doctrine is his logica utens; and he actually applies it in every case in which he can properly be said to reason.

9. If the Reader has succeeded in really casting aside all acquired notions of logic, then he himself is of opinion that he is not in possession of any such logical theory as has been described, that he does not judge of the force of reasons by referring them to classes of reasoning he approves of, but simply judges each reason as it presents itself by his own sense of reasonableness.

10. The Reader, however, thinks that his own logical judgments, whether they are more or less systematic or not at all so, and although they are for the most part emphatic enough, are yet in some degree erroneous or, at least, imperfect. In this respect, he differs greatly from the mass of mankind who look upon their logical judgments as infallible.

Preliminary comments upon the above Opinions.

The above appear to the author to be the most important items of the reader's presumed initial logical creed. The author's opinion is that, taken as a whole, it is approximately correct, but that it is in some points distinctly in error, and is generally not very clear. Above all, it is insufficient, and would be so even if it were more fully set forth.

1. That doubt is a state of indeterminacy as to the acceptance or rejection of a proposition is plain. That men of the lowest intellectual culture have seen this is shown by the familiar expression, "I am of two minds about that matter". The very word 'doubt' is the passive participle of dubitare, evidently a frequentative form from dubitere, i.e. duo habere, to hold two opinions, to waver from one to the other.

One might ask why the mind should not have been so constituted as to take pleasure in this indeterminacy. It is not a very difficult question to answer. But if one pursues the game relentlessly sending one 'why' on the heels of another, one will soon find that the ultimate answer is that wherever twoness is genuine and prominent, the two not filling together to make a compound which would be a third, but retaining all their twoness, there is a struggle. The uneasiness of doubt is a case under this principle.

The uneasiness of doubt is conscious. Any very positive and prominent duality is commonly vivid. A strong contrast is an example. Doubt is always more or less conscious; and most usually, keenly so. With belief it is the other way. Belief is for the most part rather sleepy, the more so the more perfect it is. It is quite possible for a man to be quite unaware of his own great belief, and to take himself quite by surprise, when the emergency comes, by the decision of his action. Our Northern people, just before the War of the Rebellion, had no idea that they believed that the supremacy of the Union ought to be maintained at all hazards. Indeed, they opined that they hardly cared. Their response to the attack on Fort Sumter, - a response that indifference to the loss of the South was utter folly, - surprised themselves. They found in their hearts a deep conviction that they had not suspected.

Such a case becomes easily comprehensible if we consider what Belief is. (5 538) Let us begin by considering practical belief, such as that anthracite is a convenient fuel, leaving purely theoretical belief, such as that the pole of the earth describes in days an oval of a few rods' diameter, or that there is an imaginary circle which is twice cut by every real circle, for a supplementary study. Let us use the word ‘habit’, throughout this book, not in its narrower, and more proper sense, in which it is opposed to a natural disposition (for the term aquired habit will perfectly express that narrower sense,) but in its wider and perhaps still more usual sense, in which it denotes such a specialization, original or aquired, of the nature of a man, or an animal, or a vine, or a crystallizable chemical substance, or anything else, that he or it will behave, or always tend to behave, in a way describable in general terms upon every occasion (or upon a considerable proportion of the occasions) that may present itself of a generally describable character. Now to say that a man believes anthracite to be a convenient fuel is to say no more nor less than that if he needs fuel, and no other seems particularly preferable, then if he acts deliberately, bearing in mind his experiences, considering what he is doing, and exercizing self-control, he will often use anthracite. A practical belief may, therefore, be described as a habit of deliberate behaviour. The word 'deliberate' is hardly completely defined by saying that it implies attention to memories of past experience and to one's present purpose, together with self-control. The acquisition of habits of the nervous system and of the mind is governed by the principle that any special character of a reaction to a given kind of stimulus is (unless fatigue intervenes) more likely to belong to a subsequent reaction to a second stimulus of that kind than it would be if it had not happened to belong to the former reaction. But habits are sometimes acquired without any previous reactions that are externally manifest. A mere imagination of reacting in a particular way seems to be capable after numerous repetitions of causing the imagined kind of reaction really to take place upon subsequent occurrences of the stimulus. In the formation of habits of deliberate action, we may imagine the occurrence of the stimulus, and think out what the results of different actions will be. One of these will appear particularly satisfactory; and then an action of the soul takes place, which is well described by saying that that mode of reaction "receives a deliberate stamp of approval". The result will be that when a similar occasion actually arises for the first time, it will be found that the habit of really reacting in that way is already established. I remember that one day at my father's table, my mother spilled some burning spirits on her skirt. Instantly, before the rest of us had had time to think what to do, my brother Herbert, who was a small boy, had snatched up the rug and smothered the fire. We were astonished at his promptitude, which, as he grew up, proved to be characteristic. I asked him how he came to think of it so quick. He said, ‘I had considered on a previous day what I would do in case such an accident should occur’. This act of stamping with approval, "endorsing" as one's own an imaginary line of conduct so that it shall give a general shape to our actual future conduct is what we call a resolve. It is not at all essential to the practical belief, but only a somewhat frequent attachment.

Let us now pass to the consideration of purely theoretical belief. If an opinion can eventually go to the determination of a practical belief, it, in so far, becomes itself a practical belief; and every proposition that is not pure metaphysical jargon and chatter must have some possible bearing upon practice. The diagonal of a square is incommensurable with its side. It is difficult to see what experiential difference there can be between commensurable and incommensurable magnitudes; but there is this, that it is useless to try to find the exact expression of the diagonal as a rational fraction of the side. Still, it does not follow that because every theoretical belief is, at least indirectly, a practical belief, this is the whole meaning of the theoretical belief. Of theoretical beliefs, in so far as they are not practical, we may distinguish between those which are expectations, and those which are not even that. One of the simplest, and for that reason one of the most difficult, of the ideas which it is incumbent upon the author of this book to endeavor to cause the reader to conceive, is that a sense of effort and the experience of any sensation are phenomena of the same kind, equally involving direct experience of the duality of the Without and the Within. The psychology of the sense of effort is not yet satisfactorily made out. It seems to be a sensation which somehow arises when striped muscles are under tension. But though this is the only way of stimulating it, yet an imagination of it is by association called up, upon the occasion of other slight sensations, even when muscles are uncontracted; and this imagination may sometimes be interpreted as a sign of effort. But though the sense of effort is thus merely a sensation, like any other, it is one in which the duality which appears in every sensation is specially prominent. A sense of exertion is at the same time a sense of being resisted. Exertion cannot be experienced without resistance, nor resistance without exertion. It is all one sense, but a sense of duality. Every sensation involves the same sense of duality, though less prominently. This is the direct perception of the external world of Reid and Hamilton. This is the probatio ambulandi, which Diogenes Laertius perhaps gets mislocated. An idealist need not deny the reality of the external world, any more than Berkeley did. For the reality of the external world means nothing except that real experience of duality. Still, many of them do deny it, - or think they do. Very well; an idealist of that stamp is lounging down Regent Street, thinking of the utter nonsense of the opinion of Reid, and especially of the foolish probatio ambulandi, when some drunken fellow who is staggering up the street unexpectedly lets fly his fist and knocks him in the eye. What has become of his philosophical reflections now? Will he be so unable to free himself from prepossessions that no experience can show him the force of that argument? There may be some underlying unity beneath the sudden transition from meditation to astonishment. Grant that: does it follow that that transition did not take place. Is not the transition a direct experience of the duality of the inward past and outward present? A poor analyst is he who cannot see that the Unexpected is a direct experience of duality, that just as then can be no effort without resistance, so there can be no subjectivity of the unexpected without the objectivity of the unexpected, that they are merely two aspects of one experience given together and beyond all criticism. If the idealist should pick himself up and proceed to argue to the striker, saying 'You could not have struck me, because you have no independent existence, you know', the striker might answer, 'I dare say I have not separate existence enough for that; but I have separate existence enough to make you feel differently from what you were expecting to feel'. Whatever strikes the eye or the touch, whatever strikes upon the ear, whatever affects nose or palate, contains something unexpected. Experience of the unexpected forces upon us the idea of duality. Will you say, "Yes, the idea is forced upon us, but it is not directly experienced, because only what is within is directly experienced"? The reply is that experience means nothing but just that of a cognitive nature which the history of our lives has forced upon us. It is indirect, if the medium of some other experience or thought is required to bring it out. Duality, thought abstractly, no doubt requires the intervention of reflexion; but that upon which this reflexion is based, the concrete duality, is there in the very experience itself.

In the light of these remarks, we perceive that there is just this difference between a practical belief and an expectation so far as it involves no purpose of effort; namely that the former is expectant of muscular sensation, the latter of sensation not muscular. The expectancy consists in the stamp of approval, the act of recognition as one's own, being placed by a deed of the soul upon an imaginary anticipation of experience; so that, if it be fulfilled, though the actual experience will, at all events, contain enough of the unexpected to be recognized as external, yet the person who stands in expectancy will almost claim the event as his due, his triumphant 'I told you so' implying a right to expect as much from a justly-regulated world. A man who goes among a barbarous tribe and announces a total eclipse of the sun the next day, will expect, not only "his" eclipse from Nature, but due credit for it from that People. In all this, I am endeavoring so to shape what I have to say as to exhibit, besides, the close alliance, the family identity, of the ideas of externality and unexpectedness.

As to purely theoretical beliefs not expectations, if they are to mean anything, they must be somehow expectative. The word expect is now and then applied by careless and ignorant speakers, especially the English, to what is surmised in regard to the past. It is not illogical language: it is only elliptical. "I expect that Adam must have felt a little sore over the extraction of his rib", may be interpreted as meaning that the expectation is that so it will be found when the secrets of all hearts are laid bare. History would not have the character of a true science if it were not permissible to hope that further evidences maybe forthcoming in the future by which the hypotheses of the critics may be tested. A theory which should be capable of being absolutely demonstrated in its entirety by future events, would be no scientific theory but a mere piece of fortune-telling. On the other hand, a theory which goes beyond what may be verified to any degree of approximation by future discoveries, is in so far metaphysical gabble. To say that a quadratic equation which has no real root has two different imaginary roots does not sound as if it could have any relation to experience. Yet it is strictly expectative. It states what would be expectable if we had to deal with quantities expressing the relations between objects related to one another like the points of the plane of imaginary quantity. So a belief about the incommensurability of the diagonal relates to what is expectable for a person dealing with fractions; although it means nothing at all in regard to what could be expected in physical measurements, which are, of their very nature, approximate only. Let us examine a highly abstract belief; and see whether there is any expectancy in it. Riemann declared that infinity has nothing to do with the absence of a limit but relates solely to measure. This means that if a bounded surface be measured in a suitable way it will be found infinite, and that if an unbounded surface be measured in a suitable way, it will be found finite. It relates to what is expectable for a person dealing with different systems of measurement.* It now begins to look strongly as if perhaps all belief might involve expectation as its essence. That is as much as can justly be said. We have as yet no assurance that this is true of every kind of belief. One class of accepted truths which we have neglected is that of direct perceptual facts. I lay down a wafer, before me, I look at it, and say to myself, "That wafer looks red". What element of expectation is there in the belief that the wafer looks red at this moment?

In order to handle this question, it is necessary to draw a distinction. Every belief is belief in a proposition. Now every proposition has its predicate which expresses what is believed, and its subjects which express of what it is believed. The grammarians of today prefer to say that a sentence has but one subject, which is put in the nominative. But from a logical point of view the terminology of the older grammarians was better, who spoke of the subject nominative and the subject accusative. I do not know that they spoke of the subject dative; but in the proposition "Anthony gave a ring to Cleopatra", Cleopatra is as much a subject of what is meant and expressed as is the ring or Anthony. A proposition, then, has one predicate and any number of subjects. The subjects are either names of objects well-known to

*The Roman church requires the faithful to believe that the elements of the eucharist are really transformed into flesh and blood, although all their ‘sensible accidents’, that is, all that could be expected from physical experience, remain those of bread and wine. The protestant episcopal church requires its ministers to teach that the elements remain really bread and wine, although they have miraculous spiritual effects different from those of ordinary bread and wine. "No indeed", say the Romanists, "they not only have those spiritual effects but they really are transmuted". But the layman declares that he cannot understand the difference. "That is not necessary", says the priest, "you can believe it implicitly". What does that mean? It means that the layman is to trust that if he could understand the matter and know the truth, he would find that the priest was right. But trust, -and the word belief means trust primarily, -essentially refers to the future, or to a contingent future. The implication is that the layman may sometime know, presumably will, in another world; and that he may expect that if he ever does come to know, he will find the priest to be right. Thus, analysis shows that even in regard to so excessively metaphysical matter, the belief, if there can be any belief, has to involve expectation as its very essence.

the utterer and to the interpreter of the proposition (otherwise he could not interpret it) or they are virtually almost directions how to proceed to gain acquaintance with what is referred to. Thus, in the sentence "Every man dies", the "Every man" implies that the interpreter is at liberty to pick out a man and consider the proposition as applying to him. In the proposition "Anthony gave a ring to Cleopatra", if the interpreter asks, What ring, the

answer is that the indefinite article shows that it is a ring which might have been pointed out to the interpreter if he had been on the spot; and that the proposition is only asserted of the suitably chosen ring. The predicate on the other hand is a word or phrase which will call up in the memory or imagination of the interpreter images of things such as he has seen or imagined and may see again. Thus, 'gave' is the predicate of the last proposition, and it conveys its meaning because the interpreter has had many experiences in which gifts were made; and a sort of composite photograph of them appears in his imagination. I am told that 'Saccharin is 500 times as sweet as cane-sugar". But I never heard of saccharin. On inquiry, I find it is the sulphinide of orthosulphobenzoic acid; that is, it is phthalimide in which one CO group is replaced by SO2. I can see on paper that there might be such a body. That it is "500 times sweeter than sugar" produces a rather confused idea of a very familiar general kind. What I am to expect is expressed by the predicate, while the subjects inform me on what occasion I am to expect it. Diogenes Laertius, Suidas, Plutarch, and an anonymous biographer tell us that Aristotle was unable to pronounce the letter R, I place Aristotle perfectly, of course. He is the author of works I often read and profoundly admire and whose fame far surpasses that of any other logician, - the Prince of Philosophers. I have also met people who could not pronounce R; but in other respects they did not seem to be much like Aristotle, - not even Dundreary. Should I meet him in the Elysian Fields, I shall know what to expect. That is an impossible supposition; but should I ever meet a great logician, spindle-shanked and pig-eyed, who cannot pronounce R, I shall be interested to see whether he has other characteristics of Aristotle. This example has been selected as one in which there should seem to a superficial eye to involve no gleam of expectation; and if this testimony of four respectable witnesses, as independent as under the circumstances they could be, is destined never to receive confirmation nor contradiction nor in any other way to have its probable consequences confronted by future experience, then in truth no expectation does it carry. In that case, it is an idle tale that might for any practical purpose have been as well the creation of some ironical poet. In that case, it is, properly speaking, no contribution to knowledge, for at least it is only probability and probability cannot be reckoned as knowledge unless it is destined to be indefinitely heightened in the future. Knowledge which should have no possible bearing upon any future experience, -bring no expectation whatever, -would be information concerning a dream. But in truth no such thing can be presumed of any knowledge. We expect that in time it will produce, or reinforce, or weaken some definite expectation. Give science only a hundred more centuries of increase in geometrical progression, and she may be expected to find that the sound waves of Aristotle's voice have somehow recorded themselves. If not, it were better to hand the reports over to the poets to make something pretty of, and thus turn them to some human use. But the right thing to do is to expect the verification. It is the degenerate pronunciation that is to be expected; the occasion is when Aristotle's voice shall become virtually heard again or when we shall have some other information which shall confirm or refute these reports.

Now if the reader should say, "Talk as you please, the assertion that Aristotle was (in Greek) simply brings to the mental ear the voice of a man unable to pronounce the letter R, and labels that image with an indication of Aristotle, a man who lived 300 years before Christ", the author may surprise him and grieve any whom he may have convinced by declaring "I agree with you entirely"; only this assertion, which is identical with the previous one, though translated into other language, means nothing unless it be that that Aristotle having been brought, directly or indirectly, to our experience, will be found, if found at all, to be incapable of pronouncing the R. Let us distinguish between the proposition and the assertion of that proposition. We will grant, if you please, that the proposition itself merely represents an image with a label or pointer attached to it. But to assert that proposition is to make oneself responsible for it, without any definite forfeit, it is true, but with a forfeit no smaller for being unnamed. Now an ex post facto law is forbidden by the Constitution of the United States of America, but an ex post facto contract is forbidden by the constitution of things. A man cannot promise what the past shall have been, if he tries. It is evident that to guarantee that if a piece of work has not already been done right one will pay for it, and to guarantee that if it shall be found not to have already been done right, one will pay for it, have one and the same meaning. One or other of them therefore must be an elliptical or otherwise unilateral expression, or else both are so. But nobody will maintain that to promise to pay for the work if it shall be ascertained not to have been already done right really means to promise to so pay if it shall in fact not have been already done right, whether it be ascertained or not. It would be equally absurd to say that there was any third meaning which should have reference to an unascertained past. It follows, then, that to contract to pay money if something in the past has been done or not done can only mean that the money shall be paid if it is ascertained that the event has happened or has not happened. But there would be no reason why the literal sense should not be understood if it made any sense. Hence there can be no meaning in making oneself responsible for a past event independent of its future ascertainment. But to assert a proposition is to make oneself responsible for its truth. Consequently, the only meaning which an assertion of a past fact can have is that if in the future the truth be ascertained, so it shall be ascertained to be. There seems to be no rational escape from this.

Now let us take up the perceptual judgment "This wafer looks red". It takes some time to write this sentence, to utter it, or even to think it. It must refer to the state of the percept at the time that it, the judgment, began to be made. But the judgment does not exist until it is completely made. It thus only refers to a memory of the past: and all memory is possibly fallible and subject to criticism and control. The judgment, thus, can only mean that so far as the character of the percept can ever be ascertained, it will be ascertained that the wafer looked red.

Perhaps the matter may be stated less paradoxically. Everybody will agree that it would be perfectly meaningless to say that sulphur had the singular property of turning pink when nobody was looking at it, instantly returning to yellowness before the most rapid glance could catch its pink color, or to say that copper was subject to the law that as long as there was no pressure upon it, it was perfectly yielding, becoming hard in proportion as it was pressed; and generally a law which never should operate would be an empty formula. Indeed, something not very far from the assertion about copper is contained in all treatises on dynamics, although not limited to any particular substance. Namely, it is set down that no tangential force can be exerted upon a perfect fluid. But no writer puts it forth as a statement of fact: it is given as a definition merely. A law, then, which never will operate has no positive existence. Consequently, a law which has operated for the last time has ceased to exist as a law, except as a mere empty formula which it may be convenient to allow to remain. Hence to assert that a law positively exists is to assert that it will operate, and therefore to refer to the future, even though only conditionally. But to say that a body is hard, or red, or heavy, or of a given weight, or has nay other property, is to say that it is subject to law and therefore is a statement referring to the future. The same is true if we say that a body is rotating or that two bodies strike upon each other. Some regularity is always implied, and the assertion of that regularity involves a reference to the future. But it is possible that the Reader may protest that this remark ceases to be true when it is applied to facts of consciousness. He may, for example, argue as follows: Let a man, stone deaf, while walking alone on a dark night see a flash of lightning. Imagine that it is seen by nobody else, and that he himself utterly forgets it, and that it leaves no trace of effect of any kind. Still it is a fact that that flash of lightning occurred; for it was seen. It has been suggested that since persons under the influence of anesthetics say things which they utterly forget, it may be that the whole effect is simply to dissolve the connections of consciousness; so that the pain of an operation is felt just the same; only it is straightway forgotten. Can anybody pretend that this theory is devoid of all meaning, and that not to feel pain at all is absolutely the same fact as to feel it and forget it? If so, then the fact is that all men are all their lives feeling excruciating tortures, yet forgetting them so utterly, that they are not aware of their continual intense agony, and imagine they are free from the least inconvenience. Nothing would be more absurd.


*From the beginning to the first asterisk the text corresponds almost exactly to that of MS 598


Una de las ventajas de los textos en formato electrónico respecto de los textos impresos es que pueden corregirse con gran facilidad mediante la colaboración activa de los lectores que adviertan erratas o errores. En este sentido agradeceríamos que se enviaran todas las sugerencias y correcciones a

Fecha del documento: 28 de septiembre 2006
Ultima actualización: 28 de septiembre 2006

[Página Principal] [Sugerencias]

Universidad de Navarra