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The Basic Writings of Josiah Royce, Volume ICulture, Philosophy, and Religion$

John J. McDermott

Print publication date: 2005

Print ISBN-13: 9780823224838

Published to Fordham Scholarship Online: May 2019

DOI: 10.5422/fordham/9780823224838.001.0001

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The Internal and External Meaning of Ideas

The Internal and External Meaning of Ideas

(p.491) 17 The Internal and External Meaning of Ideas
The Basic Writings of Josiah Royce, Volume I
John J. McDermott
Fordham University Press

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter, taken from Josiah Royce's Gifford Lectures of 1899, shows that “mere generality always means practical defect.” In a complex argument, it seeks to turn the tables on those who hold that absolute truth denies individuation. The fulfillment of our purpose and the realization of a determinate idea is achieved by wider access to other “cases” of our ideas. Should we have access to all the possible instances which could illustrate one present idea, our experience would be: first, the complete fulfillment of your internal meaning, the final satisfaction of the will embodied in the idea; but second, also, that absolute determination of the embodiment of your idea as this embodiment would then be present—that absolute determination of your purpose, which would constitute an individual realization of the idea.

Keywords:   ideas, generality, defect, truth, Josiah Royce

With the former lecture our inquiry into the conceptions of Being reached a crisis whose lesson we have now merely to record and to estimate. That task, to be sure, is itself no light matter.


Experience and Thought are upon our hands; and together they determine for us the problems regarding Being. Realism offered to us the first solution of this problem by attempting to define the Reality of the world as something wholly independent of our ideas. We rejected that solution on the ground that with an Independent Being our ideas could simply have nothing to do. Or, if you please so to interpret our discussion of Realism, we pointed out that our ideas, too, are realities; and that if Realism is true, they are therefore in their whole Being as independent of their supposed realistic objects as the latter are of the ideas. If, then, it makes no difference to the supposed external beings whether the ideas are or are not, it can make no difference to the ideas whether the independent external Beings are or are not. The supposed dependence of knowledge for its success upon its so-called independent object, proves, therefore, to be contradicted by the ontological independence inevitably possessed by the knowing idea, in case Realism is once accepted. For the realistic sort of independence is an (p.492) essentially mutual relation. The idea can then say to the independent object, in a realistic world: “What care I for you? You are independent of me, but so am I of you. No purpose of mine would be unfulfilled if you simply vanished, so long as I then still remained what I am. And I could, by definition, remain in my whole Being unaltered by your disappearance. Accordingly, since my truth means merely the fulfilment of my own purpose, I should lose no truth if you vanished. In short, I not only do not need you, but observe, upon second thought, that I never meant you at all, never referred to you, never conceived you, and, in truth, am even now not addressing you. In short, you are Nothing.”

With such reflections, we woke from the realistic dream, and knew that whatever Being is, it is not independent of the ideas that refer to it.

After our later experience with the fascinating paradoxes of Mysticism had equally shown us that Being cannot be defined as the ineffable immediate fact that quenches ideas, and that makes them all alike illusory, we passed, in the two foregoing lectures, to the realm of Validity, to the ontological conceptions of Critical Rationalism. What is, gives warrant to ideas, makes them true, and enables us to define determinate, or valid, possible experiences. That was the view that we illustrated as our Third Conception of Being. We dwelt upon it so lengthily because, if it is not the final truth, it is, unquestionably, as far as it goes, true.

What we found with regard to this definition of Reality may be summed up briefly thus: In the first place, the conception has an obvious foundation in the popular consciousness. Not only does the ontological vocabulary of ordinary speech illustrate this third conception in several ways; but, amongst the beings known to common sense, there are many that are regarded as real beings, but that are still explicitly defined only in terms of validity. Such beings are the prices and credits of the commercial world, the social standing of individuals, the constitutions of Empires, and the moral law.

In the second place, in science, mathematics deals exclusively with entities that are explicitly conceived by the science in question as of this third type, and of this type only. In the next place, as we found, the Being usually ascribed to the laws and to the objects of physical science, is capable, at least in very large part, of being interpreted in terms of this third conception. Such conceived (p.493) entities as Energy are typical instances of beings of this sort. And, finally, all the entities of even a metaphysical Realism proved to be such that when one tries not to leave them unintelligibly independent, but to tell what they are, there is no means to define their character which does not first of all declare that their reality involves the validity of certain of our ideas, and the truth of the assertion that, under definable conditions, particular experiences would be possible. What else the Being of such entities would mean, remained for us so far undefinable.

On the other hand, as we concluded our former discussion, considerations crowded upon us, which forced us to observe that in some way this Third Conception of Being, despite all the foregoing, is inadequate.

Valid in its own measure it is,—to say that is to utter the deep commonplace of St. Augustine’s form of the ontological proof of the existence of God. For it must indeed be true that there is a Veritas. Yet mere Veritas, mere validity, still remains to us a conception as unintelligible as it is insistently present to our thought. And our difficulty at the last time came thus to light: In mathematics, you define and prove valid assertions, and deal with entities, such as roots of equations, and properties of functions, whose Being seems to mean only their validity. But how do you prove these propositions about validity? How do you test the existence of your mathematical objects? Merely by experimenting upon your present ideas. What is there before you as you thus experiment? At each step of your procedure, one moment’s narrow contents extend to the very horizon of your present finite mathematical experience. Yet if your procedure is, indeed, as it pretends to be, valid, the truth that you define embraces eternity, and predetermines the structure and the valid existence of an infinity of objects that you regard as external to the thought which defines them. Your world of objects then is here boundless; your human grasp of these objects is even pitiably limited. Validity thus implies, in the world of the mathematical entities, a twofold character. As presented, as seen by you, as here realized, the observed validity is apparently given in experience, indeed, but as a mere internal meaning,—the creature of the instant. But as objective, as genuine, the validity is a part of the endless realm of mathematical truth, a realm that is, to use Aristotle’s term, the Unmoved Mover of all your finite struggle for insight in this region. How can the one (p.494) form of Being be thus ambiguous, unless, in constitution, it is also much wealthier in nature than the mere abstraction expressed in our Third Conception makes it seem. Or, to put the case otherwise, the Third Conception of Being, in defining possibilities of experience, tells you only of mere abstract universals. But a mere universal is so far a bare what. One wants to make more explicit the that, to find something individual.

And, if you pass from mathematics to the physical instances of the third conception, and to the world of moral and social validity, it is of course true that every Being in heaven or in earth exists for you as determining a valid possibility of experience. But countless of these valid possibilities exist for you precisely as possibilities not yet tested by you, and therefore never to be tested. Herein lies the very essence of prudence, of generalizing science, and of moral choice, viz., in the fact that you recognize much experience as possible only to avoid it, and to refrain from verifying in your own person the valid possibility. But what is a mere possibility when not tested? Is it a mere internal meaning? Then where is its Truth? Is it external? Then what is its Being?

These were, in sum, our difficulties in regard to the Third Conception of Being. Their solution, logically speaking, lies now very near. But for us the road must still prove long. Meanwhile, the formulation of all these difficulties may be condensed into the single question, the famous problem of Pontius Pilate, What is Truth? For the Third Conception of Being has reduced Being to Truth, or Validity. But now we need to make out what constitutes the very essence of Truth itself. It is this which at the last time we left still in obscurity. It is this which lies so near us, and which still, because of manifold misunderstandings, we must long seek as if it were far away.


Of course in approaching our final definition of Truth will divide itself into two stages. Truth is very frequently defined, in terms of external meaning, as that about which we judge. Now, so far, we have had much to say about Ideas, but we have avoided dwelling upon the nature and forms of Judgment. We must here, despite the technical dreariness of all topics of Formal Logic, say something concerning this so far neglected aspect of Truth, and of our (p.495) relation to Truth. In the second place, Truth has been defined as the Correspondence between our Ideas and their Objects. We shall have, also, to dwell upon this second definition of Truth. Only at the close of both stages of the journey shall we be able to see, and then, I hope, at one glance, whither through the wilderness of this world our steps have been guided. The result will reward the toil.

When we undertake to express the objective validity of any truth, we use Judgments. These judgments, if subjectively regarded,—that is, if viewed merely as processes of our own present thinking, whose objects are external to themselves,—involve, in all their more complex forms, combinations of ideas,—devices whereby we weave already present ideas into more manifold structures, thereby enriching our internal meanings. But the act of judgment has always its other—its objective aspect. The ideas, when we judge, are also to possess external meanings. If we try to sunder the external meaning from the internal, as we have so far done, we find then that weaving the ideas into new structures is a mere incident of the process whereby we regard them as standing for the valid Reality, as characterizing what their object is. It is true, as Mr. Bradley has well said, that the intended subject of every judgment is Reality itself. The ideas that we combine when we judge about external meanings are to have value for us as truth only in so far as they not only possess internal meaning, but also imitate, by their structure, what is at once Other than themselves, and, in significance, something above themselves. That, at least, is the natural view of our consciousness, just in so far as, in judging, we conceive our thought as essentially other than its external object, and as destined merely to correspond thereto. Now we have by this time come to feel how hard it is to define the Reality to which our ideas are thus to conform, and about which our judgments are said to be made, so long as we thus sunder external and internal meanings.

Yet, for the instant, we must still continue to do so. We must, so to speak, “absent us from felicity awhile,” and in this world of merely internal and disappointed meanings, whose true objects are still far beyond, and whose only overt law is so far the law of correspondence to those objects—in this “harsh world,” I say, we must “draw our breath in pain,” until the real truth shall become manifest, and take the place of these forms which now merely represent it. The Truth that we pursue is no longer, indeed, the (p.496) Independent Being of Realism; but it still remains something defined as not our ideas, and as that to which they ought to correspond, so that their internal meanings, interesting as these may seem, appear the mere by-play, so to speak, of the business of truth-seeking. And that business seems to be the task of submitting our thought to what is not our own mere thought. Well, for the time, we must still accept this situation. And, while we do so, let us examine briefly our processes of judgment, in so far as these consciously refer to external Objects; and let us endeavor to observe how our judgments, as they occur in actual thinking, or are confirmed or refuted by our ordinary experience, seem to view their own relation to Reality. To turn in this direction is to seek help, if you please, from Formal Logic. For Formal Logic is the doctrine that treats of our judgments and of their ordinary meanings as we make and combine them.

Ordinary judgments, all of them, as we have just said, make some sort of reference to Reality. Never do you judge at all, unless you suppose yourself to be asserting something about a real world. You can express doubt as to whether a certain ideal object has its place in Reality. You can deny that some class of ideal objects is real. You can affirm the Being of this or of that object. But never can you judge without some sort of conscious intention to be in significant relation to the Real. The what and the that are, indeed, easily distinguished, so long as you take the distinction abstractly enough. But never, when you seriously judge in actual thinking, do you avoid reference both to the what and to the that of the universe.

Now, this observation may itself seem questionable. You may object: “Can I not make judgments about fairies and centaurs without asserting whether they are or are not? And if I distinguish between ideas and facts at all, cannot I do so in my judgments also, and make judgments about ideal objects merely as ideal objects, without referring to the Reality in any way?” The answer to all these questions is simply, No. To judge is to judge about the Real. It is to consider internal meanings with reference to external meanings. It is to bring the what into relation with the that. And if you have sundered the external and internal meanings, every attempt to judge, even while it recognizes this sundering as sharpest, is an effort to link afresh what it all the time, also, seems to keep apart. To illustrate the truth of this principle, look over the list of forms (p.497) of judgment as they appear in the ordinary text-books of Logic. The list in question is, indeed, in many ways, imperfect; but it will serve for our present purpose.

Judgments may be, as the logical tradition says, “Categorical,” or “Hypothetical,” or “Disjunctive.” That is, they may assert, for example, that A is B; or they may affirm that If A is B, then C is D; or they may declare that Either A is B, or else C is D. This ancient classification is no very deep one; but it may aid us to survey how our various sorts of judgment view Reality.

Let us begin with the “hypothetical” judgment, the judgment of the bare “if.” This sort of judgment seems, of course, to be capable of becoming as remote as possible from any assertion about Being, and as completely as possible a judgment about “mere ideas.” “If wishes were horses, beggars might ride.” “If the bowl had been stronger, my tale had been longer.” “If a body were left undisturbed by any external cause, it would continue its state of rest, or of uniform motion, in a straight line unchanged.” Are not all these judgments about purely ideal objects, and not about Being, or about any real world? Where are wishes horses? When do beggars ride on their own steeds? When were the wise men of Gotham in the bowl? What real body moves undisturbed?

And yet, I answer, these are all of them judgments that, if they are true, do not indeed directly tell us what the world of valid Being actually and concretely contains, but do tell us what that real world does not contain, Indirectly, by limiting the range of valid possibilities, they thus throw light upon what the world does contain. Thus the First Law of Motion, as stated, tells us that there are no bodies which, although undisturbed by external causes, still move in lines not straight, and with velocities that vary. Hence, since the physical bodies observed by us turn out to be in motion, in various curves, and with varying velocities, we are directed to look for the causes hereof in the disturbances to which these bodies are subjected. So it is, also, in the other cases mentioned, in so far as these statements are true at all. In general, the judgment, “7f A is B, C is D,” can be interpreted as meaning that there are, in the world of valid objects, no real cases where, at once, A is B, while at the same time C is nevertheless not D. A good instance is furnished by any sincere promise, such as a promise to a child, in the form: “If you do that l will reward you.” The promise relates to the valid Being of the future. Its asserts that (p.498) this future, when it comes to be present, shall not contain the event of the child’s doing that work unrewarded by the giver of the promise. So, then, hypothetical judgments tell us that some ideally defined object, often of very complex structure, finds no place in Being. Even the fantastic examples of the wishes and the bowl involve the same sort of assertion, true or false, as to a real world.

The judgments of simple assertion, the categorical judgments, are of the two general classes, the “Universal” and the “Particular” judgments, namely those, respectively, that speak of all things of a class and those that only tell about some things. But here, again, it would seem, at first, as if an universal judgment might concern itself wholly with ideal objects. When a contract is made, universal judgments are, in general, used. “All the property” of a given sort, if ever it comes to exist, is by the terms of the contract “to be delivered,” perhaps, to such and such a person. “All payments” under the contract “are to be made,” thus and thus. But, perhaps, if ever the contract comes later to be adjudicated, it may be found that no property of the sort in question has ever come into existence, or has ever been delivered at all; and then it may be decided that, by the very terms of the contract, and just by virtue of its legal validity, no obligation exists to make any of the mentioned payments. So all contracts concerning future work, delivery, or compensation are, on their face, about ideal objects, which may never come to be in valid Being at all. In fact, genuinely universal judgments, as Herbart and a good many more recent Logicians have taught, are essentially hypothetical in their true nature. But for that very reason, like the hypothetical judgments, the universal judgments, taken in their strictest sense, apart from special provisos, are judgments that undertake to exclude from the valid Reality certain classes of objects. To say that All A is B, is, in fact, merely to assert that the real world contains no objects that are A’s, but that fail to be of the class B. To say that No A is B is to assert that the real world contains no objects that are at once A and B. Neither judgment, strictly interpreted, tells you that A exists, but only that if it exists, it is B. Now those mathematical judgments, of whose endless wealth and eternal validity we have heretofore spoken, are very frequently, although /by no means always, of the universal type. They refer to Being,—a Being of the third type,—and, when universal, they assert, about a realm of definite or relatively determinate, although still universal validity, (p.499) or possibility, something that proves to be primarily negative, so far as its relation to its external object is concerned. They accomplish their assertions by means of the very fact that they undertake to exclude from the realm of externally valid Being, certain ideal combinations that, in the first place, would have seemed abstractly possible, if one had not scrutinized one’s ideas more closely. Thus, to know that universally 2 + 2 = 4, is to know that there nowhere exists, in all the realm of external validity, a two and a two that, when added, fail to give, as the result, four. In advance of such knowledge, the opposite would seem abstractly possible. But it proves to be only verbally or apparently possible. Determinately viewed, only the “actual sum” is possible.

In general, when we judge in universal ways, we begin, before we attain an insight into the truth of our judgment, by stating, as abstractly possible, more ideal alternatives than in the end will prove to be determinately possible, or to be valid possibilities. In the exact sciences, or, again, in case of those practically important realms of Being which we view as subject to our choice,—whenever we win control over a system of ideas, and assert a truth, or decide upon a course of action, and whenever we do this upon the basis of general principles,—our insight is always destructive of merely abstract possibilities, and, where our knowledge takes the form of universal judgments, they are always primarily such destructive judgments, so far as they relate to external objects. They tell us, indirectly, what is, in the realm of external meanings, but only by first telling us what is not.

The consequence is that universal categorical judgments, being always primarily negative in force, enlighten us regarding that realm of the external meanings which is still for us, at this stage, the realm of Being, only by virtue of the junction, overt or implied, of the universal categorical judgments with disjunctive judgments, i.e. with judgments of the either, or type. One who inquires into a matter upon which he believes himself able to decide in universal terms, e.g. in mathematics, has present to his mind, at the outset, questions such as admit of alternative answers. “A,” he declares, “in case it exists at all, is either B or C.” Further research shows universally, perhaps, that No A is B. Hereupon the abstract possibilities are in so far reduced, and the world of Being, taken still as a realm of external meanings, is limited to a realm where “If A exists at all, it can only be C.” The purpose of our universal (p.500) judgments is thus that, by the aid of disjunctive judgments, they enable us to determine the world of Being by cutting off some apparent possibilities as really impossible, and by then taking the remaining alternatives, not in general, as any entirely determinate account of what is, but as a less indeterminate account of Reality than is the one with which we started. To think in universal terms is thus to attempt, as it were, to exhaust the abstractly possible alternatives, and to define what exists in yonder external world as what survives the various stages of ideal destruction through which one passes as one judges. So long as thus, separating ideas from their external meanings, you struggle through universal judgments towards the far-off truth, your principle is the one that Spinoza stated, Omnis Determinatio est Negatio. The universal truth is the slayer of what seemingly might have been, but also of what, as a fact, proves to be not possible.

As for your disjunctive judgments themselves, even they, too, affirm about external Being only by first denying. “A is either B or C; there is no third possibility open”—such must be one’s assertion when a disjunction is announced. The type of an ideally perfect and evident disjunction is the assertion, “A is either B or not-B,” where B and not-B are the alternative members of a “dichotomy,” i.e. of an exhaustive and twofold division of the Universe of your Discourse, as at any time you conceive its Reality to be opened to your ideal inspection.

This general situation of our thought in all those branches of inquiry where, as very often in mathematics, we deal with universal truth, and reason out results about Being, while still viewing Reality as Another than thought, is a situation that stimulates us to manifold inquiries. In the first place, as you at once see, the limitations of all our merely abstract and universal reasoning about the world, when taken as a world of external meanings, are, at a stroke, laid bare by virtue of these very considerations. For by mere reasoning, in these universal terms, we never directly and determinately characterize the Being of things as it finally is. We at best, and even if we are quite sure of our universal truths, tell what external Reality is not, and add that, of the remaining abstractly possible and definable alternatives, it is doubtless determinately some one, and no other. But, apart from any scepticism, justified or not, regarding the validity of our universal judgments themselves, they at best carry us a certain way only in an undertaking (p.501) that seems essentially endless, and, in fact, worse than endless. And that is the undertaking of exhausting all the possible alternatives, and so of making the finally valid possibility, that can alone remain, into something absolutely determinate. And where the sole principle is that Omnis Determinatio est Negatio, this task is indeed not only endless, but hopeless.

This, in fact, is why mathematical science, especially in so far as it deals merely with universal truths, can never hope, by any conceivable skill in construction, to replace the more empirical sciences, and merely to define the world in terms of its own sort of universal validity. For every step of the process is a cutting-off indeed of false possibilities, and an assertion of what therefore seems the more precisely and determinately limited range of the valid possibilities. But at every step, also, the range beyond is simply inexhaustible, so far as you take your object as merely external. Unless some other principle than that of mere negation determines the realm of valid Being, then it has no final determination at all. Looking beyond, to that realm of external meanings, we say: A is never B. Well then, comes the retort, What is it? So far, the answer is, Whatever else is still possible. Is it C then? A further reasoning process perhaps excludes this, or some other, possibility also. Have we found out the positive contents of Being? No, we have only again excluded. And so we continue indefinitely, not only with an infinite process upon our hands, but with no definite prospect as to positive consequences to be won by exhausting even this infinity. This is the essential defect of “merely reasoning,” in abstractly universal terms, about the external nature of things.

But all this has, indeed, another aspect. This negative character of the universal judgments holds true of them, as we have said, just in so far as you sunder the external and the internal meanings, and just in so far as you view the Real as the Beyond, and as merely the Beyond. If you turn your attention once more to the realm of the ideas viewed as internal meanings, you see, indeed, that they are constantly becoming enriched, in their inner life, by all this process. Take your thinking merely as that which is to correspond to an external Other, and then, indeed, your universal judgments tell you only what this Other is not, and leave, as what it is, merely some of the possibilities still undestroyed. But view the internal meaning of thought as a life for itself, and revel in the beautiful complexities of a mathematical, or other rationally constructed (p.502) realm of inner expressions of your thoughtful purposes; and then, indeed, you seem to have found a positive constitution of an universe that, alas! is, after all, as contrasted with those “external facts,” to be regarded only as a shadowland. “Is it really so yonder?” you say. Is namely the positive aspect of all this construction present in that world? Your universal judgments cannot tell. To take, again, the simplest case: To know, by inner demonstration, that 2 + 2 = 4, and that this is necessarily so, is not yet to know that the so-called “external world,” taken merely as the Beyond, contains any true or finally valid variety of objects at all,—any two or four objects that can be counted. That you must learn otherwise, namely, of course, by what is usually called “external experience” of that outer world. On the other hand, so far as your internal meaning goes, to have seen for yourself, to have experienced within, that which makes you call this judgment necessary, is, indeed, to have observed a character about your own ideas which rightly seems to you very positive. So, then, universal judgments and reasonings appear to be of positive interest in the realm of internal meanings, but only of negative worth as to the other objects.

All this, however, only brings afresh to light the paradoxical character of all this sundering of external and internal meanings. For at this point arises the ancient question, How can you know at all that your judgment is universally valid, even in this ideal and negative way, about that external realm of validity, in so far as it is external, and is merely your Other,—the Beyond? Must you not just dogmatically say that that world must agree with your negations? This judgment is indeed positive. But how do you prove it? The only answer has to be in terms which already suggest how vain is the very sundering in question. If you can predetermine, even if but thus negatively, what cannot exist in the object, the object then cannot be merely foreign to you. It must be somewhat predetermined by your Meaning. But of this matter we shall soon hear more in another connection. The result is so far baffling enough. Yet in this situation most of our ordinary thinking about the world is done.

Let us pass to the “particular affirmative” judgments. As has been repeatedly pointed out in the discussions on recent Logic,1 (p.503) the particular judgments,—whose form is Some A is B, or Some A is not-B—zre, the typical judgments that positively assert Being in the object viewed as external. This fact constitutes their essential contrast with the universal judgments. They undertake to cross the chasm that is said to sunder internal and external meanings; and the means by which they do so is always what is called “external experience.” No “pure thinking” can ever really prove a particular judgment about external objects. You have to appeal to outer experience. On the other hand, all empirical judgments about objects of external meaning, viewed merely as such, are, or should be, in this form of the particular judgments. It is a form at once positive and very unsatisfactorily indeterminate. It expresses the fact that there has been found some case where an A that is a B not only may exist, in yonder object with which we are to correspond, but does exist. The defect of these judgments is that they never tell us, by themselves, precisely what object this existent instance of an A that is B really is. In other words, they are particular, but are not individual judgments. Yet, as we shall hereafter more fully see7 and have already in a measure observed, what we want our knowledge to show us about the Being of things, is what Reality, taken as an individual whole, or, again, as this individual, finally is. Hence, the particular judgments,—those of external experience viewed as external,—are especially instructive as to the nature that our ordinary thinking attributes to Being, and as to what we demand of our Other.2

(p.504) Our situation, then, is, in substance, this: We have our internal meanings. We develop them in inner experience. There they get presented as something of universal value, but always in fragments. They, therefore, so far dissatisfy. We conceive of the Other wherein these meanings shall get some sort of final fulfilment. We view our ideas as shadows or imitations of this Other; and we make judgments as to how well they represent it. When we study the universally expressible aspects of Reality, we get the sense,—no matter at present how,—that, in such cases as those of the judgment 2 + 2 = 4, we can, in idea, predetermine the constitution of the external object. But if we look closer, we see that no such predeterminations involve more than the assertion that Being, as thus predetermined, excludes and forbids certain of the ideal constructions that, at first, seem possible. But what Being, in so far as it is merely Other and external, positively contains, we cannot thus discover.

How else shall we attempt to discover this desired fulfilment of our purpose? The ordinary answer is, By external experience. Now this so-called external experience is never what you might call “Pure Experience.” For only the mystic looks for Pure Experience wholly apart from ideas. And we already know what he finds. He is the only thoroughgoing Empiricist; and he has his reward. What is usually called “Experience,” by common sense or by science, is not purely immediate content, and it is not whatever happens to come to hand. It is carefully and attentively selected experience. It is experience lighted up by ideas. They, as our internal meanings, are incomplete, and they therefore take the form of asking questions. They formulate ideal schemes, and then they inquire, Have these schemes any correspondent facts, yonder, in that externally valid object? The very question is full of ideal presuppositions, which one in vain endeavors to renounce by calling himself a pure empiricist. Unless he is a mystic he is no (p.505) such pure empiricist. And if he is a mystic, he abhors ideas and frames no hypotheses, except for the sake of merely teaching his doctrine in exoteric fashion. But a scientific empiricist has hypotheses,—internal meanings, ideal constructions,—and he deliberately chooses to submit these to the control of what he views as external experience. If you ask why he does so, he answers, very rightly, that he has no other road open to the grasping of yonder “external object.” But this answer means more than an empiricist of this type usually observes. Wholly inconsistent with any abstract Realism (which is always metempirical in its actual assumptions), the wish of the ordinary empiricist, however highly trained his scientific judgment, and however steadfast his assurance that the idea and its valid object are somehow sundered aspects of Being, is always simply to enrich his internal meanings by giving them a selective control which, of their own moving, they cannot find. Or, in the ordinary phraseology, Man thinks in order to get control of his world, and thereby of himself. What the bare internal meanings, in their poverty, leave as an open question, the external experience shall decide. If you ask, again, What experience? the answer always is, Not any experience that you please, but a sort of experience determined by the question asked, viz., whatever experience is apt to decide between conflicting ideas, and to determine them to precise meaning.

It is customary to dwell upon the “crushing character,” the “overwhelming power” of “stubborn empirical facts.” The character in question is, of course, a valid one. Yet this crushing force of experience is never a barely immediate fact; it is something relative to the particular ideas in question. For, as I must repeat, our so-called external experience, that is, our experience taken as other than our meanings, and viewed as what confirms or refutes them here or there, never does more, in any question concerning the truth, than to decide our ideal issues, and to decide them in particular instances, whose character and meaning for us are determined solely by what ideas of our own are in question. Or, again, empirical judgments, as such, are always particular. Hence, they never by themselves absolutely confirm, or refute, all that our ideas mean. And what they confirm, or refute, depends upon what questions have been asked from the side of our internal meanings.

The empirical facts can, indeed, refute, and they very often do (p.506) refute, abstractly stated universal judgments, by showing particular cases that contradict these judgments. But they can never show, by themselves, that the ideas in question have no application, anywhere, in yonder externally valid world, but only that in some case just these ideas fail. Hence, unless I have ideally chosen to stake my all upon a single throw of the dice of “external experience,” I am not logically “crushed” by the particular experience that this time disappoints me. If my internal meaning takes, for instance, the form of a plan of external action, I can, if this time defeated, “try again”; and the human will has in all ages shown its power not to be crushed by any particular experience, unless its ideas determine that it ought to accept the defeat. Ideas can be quite as stubborn as any particular facts, can outlast them, and often, in the end, abolish them. Even if the internal meaning is a merely imitative conception, that, like a scientific hypothesis, was solely intended to portray the nature of the external fact, then the empirical failure of the hypothesis, in a given instance, shows, indeed, that it is not universally valid as regards yonder external world of finally valid fact, but does not show that it is universally invalid. Experience, taken as external and particular, can never prove any absolute negation.

On the other hand, but for the very same reason, our experience, when taken as in contrast to our internal meanings, can never, in any finite time, completely confirm or demonstrate any universal judgment, such as, upon the basis of our internal meanings, we may have asserted. Some A is B. That is all that your experience, when viewed as other than your ideas, and as that to which you appeal for the sake of defining your external object, can ever by itself reveal. Herein lies the well-known limitation of the merely “inductive” processes of science. That we all believe universal propositions about yonder external world of valid objects, is due to the fact that we are none of us mere empiricists, even in this modified sense. All of us view some of our ideas as predetermining the nature of things, so that we conceive the reality as the fulfilment of distinctly internal meanings,—with what right we have yet to see.

All of these considerations arise in a realm where internal and external meanings, without ever being viewed as abstractly independent of one another, are still taken as actually and rightly sundered. And this, as we have now seen, is the case throughout (p.507) the world of our Third Conception. All who use this conception, that is, all who once learn rationally to modify their Realism, while still regarding the antithesis of internal and of external as finally valid, employ the two main types of judgment which we have now examined. When the mathematicians use the existential judgments, of which we before have spoken, they, too, employ the particular judgments and appeal to what, for their current ideas, constitutes a relatively external realm of experience. When, believing that their own science, too, has become exact, the students of nature, in their turn, use universal judgments; they just as truly appeal, for their sole warrant, to internal meanings, as do the mathematicians when the latter think about universal truth.

As to these two types of judgment, the universal and the particular, they both, as we have seen, make use of experience. The one type, the universal judgments, arise in the realm where experience and idea have already fused into one whole; and this is precisely the realm of internal meanings. Here one constructs, and observes the consequences of one’s construction. But the construction is at once an experience of fact, and an idea; at once an expression of a purpose, and an observation of what happens. Upon the basis of such ideal constructions, one makes universal judgments. These, in a fashion still to us, at this stage, mysterious, undertake to be valid of that other world,—the world of external meanings, the realm that is said to be the Reality of which these ideas are the shadow and imitation. But every assertion of this sort implies that in verity the external and the internal meanings are not sundered, but have some deeper unity, which, in this realm of mere validity, you can never make manifest. Meanwhile, this control of idea over fact is, indeed, here viewed as limited. The ideal necessities only determine what the facts are not, and not what the facts are.

On the other hand, since this realm of internal meanings is, in us men, limited and fragmentary, one indeed seeks to enlarge its realm. And in doing so one appeals to what is called the external experience; and hereupon one makes those particular judgments which are the typical expression of our human sort of external experience. But this is experience so far as it has not yet fused with the internal meanings; but so far as, nevertheless, through selection and through patient effort, it can gradually be brought to the point where it decides ideal issues. As other than the ideas, this experience is said to be the evidence and the expression of the (p.508) external objects themselves. Yet these objects, for the awakened reason, are no longer “things in themselves.” Their contrast with the world of “mere ideas” is, indeed, here insisted upon; but we have plainly, so far, no final account of what the contrast is.


Yet there remains one further aspect of this whole situation of our judging thought,—an aspect upon which sufficient stress has not been laid. We have said, as against this Third Conception of Being, that at best it leaves Reality too much a bare abstract universal, and does not assert the individuality of Being. We have still to express this objection in a more formal way. As we have seen, all our universal and particular judgments leave Reality, in a measure, indeterminate. Can we tolerate this view of Reality as final?

Ideas, as such, take, we have said, the abstractly universal form. External experience, as such, in this realm where we find it sundered from the internal meanings, confirms or refutes ideas in particular cases. But do ideas, in so far as they merely imitate or seek their external Other, ever express what common sense often means by calling that external object an Individual? Or, on the other hand, does the external experience ever, as such, present to us individuals, and show them to us as individuals?3

If this question is put simply as an appeal to common sense, the answer will be unhesitating. Who does not know that our knowledge “begins with individual facts?” The child “knows its nurse or its mother or its own playthings first. Only later does it learn the universal characters of things.” The individual, then, is the well known, the familiar, the first in Knowledge and in Being.

This theory, as usually stated, is simply full of inconsequences and inaccuracies that I cannot here undertake to follow out. Of course, what a child first knows are objects that we, with our common-sense metaphysic, call individual things; but there is every evidence that he knows them by virtue of their characters, their qualities, their recognizable, and, for that very reason, abstractly universal features. All animals adjust themselves to the what of their world, and pursue or shun objects because of their odor, (p.509) taste, color, form, touch-qualities, fashion of movement,—in brief, because of features that are common to many objects and experiences and that, in so far as we can empirically make out, are not, except by accident, confined to an individual being or experience. A child’s early vagueness in applying names, his “calling of all men and women fathers and mothers,”4 as Aristotle already observed, shows that our primary consciousness is of the vaguely universal.

And now, not only is this true as to the genesis of our knowledge, but, to the end, it remains true of us mortals that, Neither do our internal meanings ever present to us, nor yet do our external experiences ever produce before us, for our inspection, an object whose individuality we ever really know as such. Neither internal meanings nor external meanings, in their isolation, are in the least adequate to embody individuality.

For an individual is unique. There is no other of its individual kind. If Socrates is an individual, then there is only one Socrates in the universe. If you are an individual, then in Reality there is no other precisely capable of taking your place. If God is an individual, then, as ethical monotheism began by saying, There is no Other.

Now, by taking note in thought of this supposed uniqueness, you can, of course, in general, define, as a sort of problem to be solved by real Beings, the ideal and abstract nature of individuality itself. But then, you do not, in that case, tell what constitutes any one individual such as he is. But now change the statement of the problem. Try to define, in idea, some one individual, real or fictitious, e.g. Achilles, or Socrates, or the universe. At once, when you define, your idea, as an internal meaning, presents to you a combination of characters such as, according to your definition, some Other, i.e. some object external to the idea, might embody. In consequence, however, the possibility of characterizing, or portraying, the features that are to make yonder external individual unique, has been surrendered in the very act of trying to define what constitutes him an individual. For your object is another, and you here, by hypothesis, know it merely through ideally imitating it and “corresponding” to it. But as individual, the unique Being is to be precisely something that has no likeness. Hence, just so far as you define it, you define of it everything but its individuality. Socrates defined, is no longer the unique external meaning,—the individual (p.510) Being as such. He has now become a mere conceived type of man. That this type has but one real expression, you may, from the side of your internal meanings, dogmatically assert or inevitably presuppose. But you can never tell what, about that kind of man called Socrates, forbids him to get repeated expression in the universe, unless you have expressed the secret of Being in terms different from those involved in this sundering of the external and the internal meanings. The same is true if you try thus abstractly to define what makes either God or the world One Individual, that has no likeness.

But if ideas, as internal meanings opposed to external objects, cannot express the nature of the individuality of the world or of any one Being in it, whence, then, do we ever get this belief that Being is, in fact, individual? Does perhaps our external experience present to us individuals? The answer is again simply, No. If, when you define Socrates in inner idea, you define a type of man, and not an unique Being without any likeness, it is equally true that, if ever you had an experience which made you say, Here is Socrates, you would have present to yourself but, once more, a type of empirically observed man,—a kind of experience. When you daily meet your family and friends, you constantly confirm your internal meanings by external experiences; but the confirmation, read accurately, is always a confirmation of ideal types by particular cases, never by really individual Beings directly known as present and yet as unique. You presuppose that your family and friends are individual Beings. The presupposition may be, yes, to my mind is, justifiable in the light of a genuine metaphysic. But it is an essentially metaphysical presupposition, never verifiable by your external experience. In this presupposition lies the very mystery of Being. The what is abstractly universal. The that is individual. You have an idea of your friend. You go to meet him; and lo, the idea is verified. Yes; but what is verified? I answer, this, that you have met a certain type of empirical object. “But my friend is unique. There is no other who has his voice, manner, behavior.” “Yes; but how should your personal experience verify that? Have you seen all beings in heaven and earth?” Perhaps you reply, “Yes; but human experience in general shows that every man is an individual, unique, and without any absolute likeness.” If such is your reply, you are appealing to general inductive methods. I admit their significance. But I deny that they rest solely upon external experience, as such, (p.511) for their warrant. They presuppose a metaphysic. They do not prove one. Besides, you are now talking of general principles, and not of any one verified individual.

In fact, how should any one individual Being present himself, in this external experience of yours, or of all men taken together, in such wise as to show not only that he is of this or this aspect, but that no other is like him in the whole realm of Being. It is this no-Other-character that persistently baffles both the merely internal meaning, and the merely external experience, so long as they are human and are sundered.

And, now, just this difficulty gives one further reason why our Third Conception of Being, in conflict with common sense, does, indeed, abandon the concept that Being is individual, and confines itself to forming internal meanings, and to confirming them by external experience. It tries to rest content with abstract universal, more or less determined by particular observations.

Yet, in doing thus, can this conception satisfy even the fragmentary internal meanings that we so far sunder from their external objects, and that we then seek to confirm or to refute by external experience? No; for if we can neither abstractly define within, nor yet empirically find without, the individuals that we seek, there can be no doubt that our whole interest in Being, is an interest in individuality. For the Other that we seek is that which, if found, would determine our ideas to their final truth. Now, only what is finally determinate can, in its turn, determine. As a fact, while we never abstractly define individuals as such, we certainly love individuals, believe in individuals, and regard the truth with which we are to correspond as determinate. So much is this the case, that whoever should try, as, in fact, our Third Conception of Being seems to try, to define the world of Being in terms exclusive of individuality, seems forced to say, “The final fact is that there is no individual fact, or, in other words, that there is no unique Being at all, but only a type; so that the Being with which our thoughts are to correspond does not determine the ‘mere ideas’ to any single and unique correspondence with itself, but leaves them finally indeterminate.” But is the Veritas that is thus left us any Veritas at all? Is not the very expression used self-contradictory? Can the absence of finality be the only final fact?

Our general survey of the world of judgments and of reasoning processes, as well as of the accompanying relations between (p.512) Thought and Experience, is on one side completed. What have we learned? Our survey has not yet solved the problem as to the whole nature of Truth, but has shown us very important features that must, indeed, belong to the inmost essence of the Other that we seek. For one thing, we have found that every step towards Truth is a step away from vague possibilities, and towards determinateness of idea and of experience. Our very ideas themselves, even when expressed as hypotheses, or as universal definitions, or as a priori mathematical constructions, or as judgments of hypothetical or of universal type, are from the outset destructive of vaque possibilities, and involve Determination by Negation. That is what every step of our survey has shown. Being, then, viewed as Truth, is to be in any case something determinate, that excludes as well as includes.

As to the vastly important relation of Thought to external Experience, we have seen that our thought, indeed, looks to this external experience to decide whether our hypotheses about fact can be confirmed. But, on the other hand, while external experience, in confirming ideas, furnishes a positive content which our human internal meanings never can construct for themselves, still the service of our external experience, in reavealing what is Real, has perfectly obvious limitations. It can confirm our hypotheses, but never adequately; for it shows us only particular instances that agree with such of our hypotheses as succeed. It can refute our hasty ideal generalizations, but only when they are stated as universal propositions. It can never by itself prove a determinate negative by excluding from Reality the whole of what our hypotheses have defined. Hence, our will has its limitlesss opportunity to “try again”; and external experience never finally disposes of ideas unless the ideas themselves make, for reasons defensible upon the ground of internal meaning only, their own “reasonable” surrender. And, finally, our experience, whether internal or external, never shows us what we, above all, regard as the Real, namely, the Individual fact. Hence, in consulting experience, we are simply seeking aid in the undertaking to give our ideas a certain positive determination, to this content and no other. But never, in our human process of experience, do we reach that determination. It is for us the object of love and of hope, of desire and of will, of faith and of work, but never of present finding.

This Individual Determination itself remains, so far, the principal (p.513) character of the Real; and is, as an ideal, the Limit towards which we endlessly aim. Now, a Limit, in mathematics, may have either one or both of two characters.5 It may be that which a given process so approaches that we ourselves are able to get and to remain near at will to,—that is, less than any predesignated distance from,— the limit, although the process in question, by itself, never reaches the limit. So we can get as near as we choose to 2, by adding terms of the series I+12+14, etc. Or, again, in the second place, the limit may be defined as that which, never attained by the process in question, is demonstrably a finality that occupies, in order, the first place immediately beyond the whole series of incomplete stages which the endless process in question defines. Thus, 2 is the least number that lies beyond, or that is greater them all possible fractions, of the form I+12,I+12+14,I+12+14+18, etc. Usually, in mathematics, both senses of limit are combined (as they are in the example just used). But not so in the case here before us. Being is not an object that we men come near at will to finally observing, so that while we never get it wholly present in our internal meanings, we can come as near as we like to telling all that it is. But the Real, as our judgments and empirical investigations seek it, is that determinate object which all our ideas and experiences try to decide upon, and to bring within the range of our internal meanings; while, by the very nature of our fragmentary hypotheses and of our particular experiences, it always lies Beyond.

Yet if we could reach that limit of determination which is all the while our goal, if our universal judgments were confirmed by an adequate experience, not of some object (still indeterminate), but of the individual object, or of all the individual objects, so that no other empirical expression of our ideas remained possible, then, indeed, we should stand in the immediate presence of the Real. The Real, then, is, from this point of view, that which is immediately beyond the whole of our series of possible efforts to bring, by any process of finite experience and of merely general conception, our own internal meaning to a complete determination.

Abstract as this result is, it is already of great significance. It shows us what the Third Conception lacks, namely, a view of the (p.514) Real as the finally determinate that permits no other. It also shows that the mere sundering of external and internal meanings is somehow faulty. Their linkage is the deepest fact about the universe.

And thus the first of the two closing stages of our journey is done. We have learned how the internal meaning is related to its own Limit, in so far as that is just a limit. But thus to view Being is still not to take account of what seems to common sense the most important of all our relations to the Real. And that is the relation of Correspondence,—several times heretofore mentioned, but not yet fathomed. “We must not only seek Being as our goal, but we must correspond to its real constitution if we are to get the truth. And somehow it has that constitution. We have to submit. The Real may not be wholly independent of our thinking, but it is at least authoritative.” So common sense states the case. But that aspect of the matter, as I repeat, we have not yet fathomed. To complete our definition of Reality, we must undertake to do so. And here, at last, the sundering of external from internal meaning receives its final test. Must not that to which our thought has to conform, whether it will or no, remain wholly external to thought itself? We shall see. And when we see this, our goal will at last be attained.


A time-honored definition of Truth declares it to mean the Correspondence between any Idea and its Object. The mystery that everybody feels to lie hidden behind this definition depends upon the fact that two relations, both of a very intangible sort, are implied by this definition, and that the combination of these two relations is required to constitute truth. If an idea is true, it must, in the first place, have an object. But what constitutes the relation called having an object? When is an object the object of a given idea? And, secondly, the idea must correspond with its object. But what is the relation called correspondence? Until recently, the whole theory of the nature of correspondence remained an extremely undeveloped, although an obviously fundamental conception of Logic. And still more neglected has been the conception of the relation that constitutes any supposed object the genuine object of an idea, whether the idea be true or false. As to the problem about correspondence, how much must an idea resemble its object in order to be true? A photograph resembles the (p.515) man whom it pictures. Must a true idea be even so a sort of photograph of its object? Or, perhaps, may an idea be very unlike an object, and still so correspond therewith as to be a true idea? Are not the items in a ledger very unlike the commercial transactions that they ideally depict? And yet may not the items in the ledger be true? The nature, then, and the degree of that correspondence between idea and object which is meant when one talks of the truth of an idea, is a doubtful matter, and we shall have to consider it more closely. As to the other one of these two problems about idea and object, it seems plain, and in fact seems to be implied in the very definition of truth, that an idea can have an object without rightly corresponding to its object. For how otherwise should falsity and error be possible? To have an object and to correspond to it are therefore different relations. What, then, is the nature of the relation that makes a given idea such as to have a given object, whether or no the idea truly represents the object? These two problems are, then, the two aspects of the general question, What is Truth? regarded now from the side of the correspondence between internal and external.

Let us next attack the first of these two questions. If an idea is to be correspondent to an object, our first impression is that the idea must always possess some one predestined sort or degree of likeness or similarity to its object. Is this necessary? Is it once for all predetermined that its object, as a finished fact, required the idea to be like it? The relation of correspondence, in general, apart from the special problem about ideas and objects, has been most elaborately studied in mathematics, where correspondence is, in the most various forms, a constant topic of exact inquiry. If you have before you two objects, say two curves, or two variable quantities, or two collections of objects,—one of them a collection of symbols, the other a collection of objects to be symbolized,— a relation of correspondence can be established, or assumed, between these two objects, or collections, in the most manifold and, in one sense, in the most arbitrary fashion. Necessary to the relations of correspondence is only this, that you shall be able to view the two corresponding objects together, in a one-to-one relation, or in some other definite way, and, with some single purpose in mind, shall then be able in some one perhaps very limited aspect to affirm of one of them the same that you, at the same time and in the same limited sense, affirm of the other. In consequence, with (p.516) reference to this one affirmation, you could in some specified wise substitute one of them for the other, whole for whole, part for part, element for element. Thus, if you have before you a collection of counters, and a collection of other objects, you can make these collections correspond, if you are able to arrange both sets of objects in a definite order, and then to say, that the first of your counters agrees with the first of your other objects precisely, and perhaps solely, in being the first of its series; while the second counter agrees with the second of the objects precisely in being the second of the series, and so on. The result will then be that by counting the counters, you can afterwards, perhaps more conveniently, enumerate the objects to be counted. Ordinary counting depends, in fact, upon making the members of a number series, one, two, three, four, etc., arbitrarily correspond to the distinguishable objects of the collection that you number. The result is, then, that by adding, subtracting, or otherwise operating upon the numbers, you can reach results that will be valid regarding the objects that were to be counted. Again, a given plane curve can be made to correspond, point for point, with its own shadow, or with some other systematic projection of the curve as made upon a given surface. In this case, a great number of relationships between the points of the curve will remain true of the corresponding points of the projected curve. In the very familiar case of a map, the parts of the map correspond to the parts of the object represented, in a manner determined by a particular system of projection or of transformation of object into map.

But in consequence of the very general nature of this relation of correspondence, two complicated objects, or two collections of objects, may be made to correspond to one another, part for part, member for member, in wholly different ways. When you count objects, for instance, it makes no difference in what order you count them, or, in other words, in what order you make them correspond, object for object, to your number series. When you draw maps, you may use either Mercator’s projection, or some other plan of map-making. In any case, you can still get a definite correspondence of map and object, part for part, although, by varying the plan of projection followed, you may vary the way in which the correspondence used in any one case will prove useful in measuring distances, or in plotting courses on the map once drawn. Any sort of correspondence thus always fulfils one definite (p.517) purpose, such as the purpose of counting, of map-drawing upon some special plan, or of constructing projections of curves, or of otherwise systematically transforming one set of relationships into another set. But if this special purpose is fulfilled, the correspondence in question is accomplished, and is said to hold true. But in any case, as you now see, correspondence does not necessarily imply, just as it does not exclude, any such common characters in the two corresponding objects, as makes you say that one of the two objects resembles the other in mere external appearance. A photograph looks like the man; a map may look, in outline, like the land mapped. But numbers and the symbols of an algebra no longer seem to our senses at all like the objects defined by these symbolic devices for establishing correspondence; and the accounts in the ledger, while very systematically corresponding, item for item, to the commercial transactions, are very unlike them in immediate interest and in sensible appearance. There is, then, no degree of unlikeness in appearance between two objects which excludes a correspondence—and even the most exact and instructive sort of correspondence—between one object and the other. What is involved in correspondence is the possession, on the part of the corresponding objects, of some system of ideally definable characters that is common to both of them, that is, for the purposes of our thought, the same in both of them, and that is such as to meet the systematic purpose for which the particular correspondence is established.

So much, then, for the relation of correspondence, viewed by itself. If we apply this consideration to the case of the definition of truth, we see that, for the first, a true idea, in corresponding to its object, need not in the least be confined to any particular sort or degree of general similarity to its object. The similarity may be as close or as remote, as sensuously interesting or as abstractly formal as you please. A scientific idea about colors need not be itself a color, nor yet an image involving colors. Or, to state the case in a very crude instance, a true idea of a dog need not itself bark in order to be true. On the contrary, photographs, and wax images, and toy dogs that bark, may correspond to the imitated objects in fashions that are of very little use in framing such ideas as are at once of scientific grade and of a given desired type of correspondence to their objects. The photographs, to be sure, help one to form scientifically valuable ideas far more frequently than (p.518) does a wax image. But you cannot photograph the solar system, nor yet the constitution of a molecule. Yet you may have symbolically expressed ideas that correspond much more exactly to certain special truths about the solar system and the molecule than any ordinary photographs ever correspond to even the most important visible features of certain of their objects. The modern X-ray photographs very crudely reveal the internal structure of certain solid objects; but a trained student of anatomy of the brain has largely symbolic ideas of its structure which far exceed, in value of their correspondence to their object, all that can ever be hoped for from the X-ray photographs of a brain. In general, the photograph gives us at its best very one-sided ideas of visible objects. It is the aim of science to win ideas that intimately correspond, in however symbolic a fashion, to certain desired aspects of the structure of their objects; and without systems of such more symbolic ideas to aid in our interpretation of what we at any time merely see, such sensible ideas as photographs suggest remain, in general, very imperfect beginnings of a scientific insight into objects.

But what, then, is the test of the truthful correspondence of an idea to its object, if object and idea can differ so widely? The only answer is in terms of Purpose. The idea is true if it possesses the sort of correspondence to its object that the idea itself wants to possess. Unless that kind of identity in inner structure between idea and object can be found which the specific purpose embodied in a given idea demands, the idea is false. On the other hand, if this particular sort of identity is to be found, the idea is just in so far true. The identity that suffices to establish a sufficient correspondence must, then, be, like the identity found in two correspondent curves (as, for instance, in a given curve and in its projection), or like the identity discoverable when you compare the map with the region to which the map corresponds,—it must be, I say, an identity serving some conscious end, fulfilling an intent, possessing a value for your will. Such identity is, in the more abstract sciences, often confined to an agreement in certain very general relationships. It is, then, usually the sort of identity that the scholastics often called analogy, i.e. equivalence merely as to the common possession of certain relationships which permit the idea, for a specific purpose, as in a computation, a calculus, or in any system of ideal constructive processes, to act as a substitute, to take the (p.519) place of its object. But the identity desired may, indeed, also be of a more sensuous type. If so, then, indeed, the idea must sensuously resemble its object. The desired identity may, as in a case of a photograph, involve visible similarities. So the visual image of your absent friend may, indeed, resemble him in seeming, and the desired identity may, as in the ideas that accompany the actions of people who sing or who play in concert, involve musically interesting agreements and harmonies. Or, again, your idea may be one that, like the sympathetic ideas with which two friends accompany each other’s sentiments, intends to involve an identity in emotional attitudes. But however the intention varies, always the test of truth is the same. Is the correspondence reached between idea and object the precise correspondence that the idea itself intended? If it is, the idea is true. If it is not, the idea is in so far false. Thus it is not mere agreement, but intended agreement, that constitutes truth.

Do you want the image to look like its object? If so, your mental image is a true idea when, like the photograph, it looks like its object; and it is a false representative of its object if, like a poor visual image, it is dim, blurred, and, for its representative purpose, consequently deceitful. But do you want your idea, like a series of numbers, or like a statistical diagram, or like a certain mathematical transformation of given curves and surfaces, not to look like its object, but to have a wholly different sort of correspondence, member for member, part for part, point for point, relation for relation, to its object? Then, not similarity of sensible seeming, but precisely the fulfilment of whatever intent was in mind, is the test of the truth of the idea. And, then, the idea would be false in case it did look too much like its object. Do you intend to sing in tune? Then your musical ideas are false if they lead you to strike what are, then, called false notes. But do you want to study acoustics? Then your ideas of sound are false unless they involve correct inner constructions of the physical relations of sound waves, and that, too, however fine your musical skill, and however vivid and accurate your musical imagination may be. In that case mere accurate images of tones would be false acoustical ideas.

In vain, then, does one stand apart from the internal meaning, from the conscious inner purpose embodied in a given idea, and still attempt to estimate whether or no that idea corresponds with its object. There is no purely external criterion of truth. You cannot merely look from without upon an ideal construction and say (p.520) whether or no it corresponds to its object. Every finite idea has to be judged by its own specific purpose. Ideas are like tools. They are there for an end. They are true, as the tools are good, precisely by reason of their adjustment to this end. To ask me which of two ideas is the more nearly true, is like asking me which of two tools is the better tool. The question is a sensible one if the purpose in mind is specific, but not otherwise. One razor can be superior to another. But let a man ask, Is a razor a better or worse tool than a hammer? Is a steam-engine a better mechanism than a loom? Such questions are obviously vain, just because they suggest that there is some one purely abstract test of the value of any and all tools, or some one ideal tool that, if you had it, would be good apart from any specific use. Yet there are philosophers who ask, and even suppose themselves to answer, questions about the truth of ideas that are just as vain as this.

When Mr. Spencer, according to the tradition of the long series of thinkers whom he in this respect follows, speaks, in a well-known passage, of “symbolic” ideas as essentially inferior in the conscious definiteness of their truth to ideas whose relation to their objects we can directly picture, he applies a criterion to the testing of ideas which is as crude as if one should argue that a razor is not as good a tool as a hammer, because, forsooth, the test of a tool shall be its weight, or the amount of noise that you can make when you use it. Many admirable ideas are, indeed, of the type of mental pictures. That is not only obvious, but worth remembering. There is no reason why such images should not be both valid and important. Sensuous experience may show you many sorts of truth that we cannot at present otherwise express. A man who sees a photograph sees truth, if he is intelligent enough to observe it. A man who sings a tune sings truth, if he is thoughtful enough to know what he is doing. And imageless abstractions, or algebraic symbols, are, indeed, not true by reason of their mere poverty of sensuous life. But, on the other hand, algebraic symbols are, for precisely the purposes of algebra, actually superior, as representations of objects, to any pictures of these objects. And this is not because by any chance we cannot picture the objects, but because, for this end, the symbols are truer than the pictures. The constructions of mathematics are oftener like razors, ideal tools that are all the better for their lack of bulk and grossness, and for the almost invisible fineness of their edge. When you count, it is symbols that (p.521) you want, not pictures. Hence, the numbers are for your purpose superior to photographs; and the entries in the ledger give a better record of their own aspect of the commercial transactions than a legion of phonographs and kinetoscopes, set up in a shop to record transactions, could, by any perfection of literal reproductions, retain. Symbols, then, are not in the least less definitely and, on occasion, less obviously, consciously, empirically true, or correspondent to their objects, than are, for their own purpose, the most vivid of mental pictures. An idea, again, is true, as a chess player is skilful, or as an artist is powerful, or as a practical man is effective. The question always is, Can the player win his chosen game, the artist succeed in his own selected art, the practical man accomplish his own task, and not the task of some other man? And precisely so the question is, Does the idea win in its own deliberately chosen game of correspondence to its object?

And so we conclude that the object does not, as a finished fact, predetermine the sort of likeness that the idea must possess in order to be true. It is the idea that so far decides its own meaning. And I may once more point out that in all this you may see afresh why, from the opening lecture of this course, I have laid such stress upon the essentially teleological inner structure of conscious ideas, and why I defined ideas as I did in our opening lecture, namely, as cases where conscious states more or less completely present the embodiment, the relative fulfilment of a present purpose. Whatever else our ideas are, and however much or little they may be, at any moment, expressed in rich, sensuous imagery, it is certain that they are ideas not because they are masses or series of images, but because they embody present conscious purposes. Every idea is as much a volitional process as it is an intellectual process. It may well or ill represent or correspond to something not itself, but it must, in any case, make more or less clearly articulate its own present purpose. The constructive character of all mathematical ideas, the sense of current control which accompanies all definite thinking processes, the momentary purposes more or less imperfectly fulfilled whenever we conceive anything,—these are evidences of what is essential to processes of ideation. Volition is as manifest in counting objects as in singing tunes, in conceiving physical laws as in directing the destinies of nations, in laboratory experiments as in artistic productions, in contemplating as in fighting. The embodied purpose, the internal meaning, of the instant’s act, is thus a conditiosine (p.522) qua non for all external meaning and for all truth. What we are now inquiring is simply how an internal meaning can be linked to an external meaning, how a volition can also possess truth, how the purpose of the instant can express the nature of an object other than the instant’s purpose.


So much, then, for the relation of correspondence between idea and object. But, now, when has an idea an object at all? This question, as I before observed, has been decidedly more neglected in fundamental discussions about truth than has the question as to the nature of the desired correspondence to the object. That which makes an object the object of a given idea has too frequently been considered from the side of an accepted and uncriticised ontological, or, possibly, psychological theory as to the causation and origin of ideas. The object of any idea is, for many of the older theories of knowledge, that which arouses, awakens, brings to pass, the idea in question. The old Aristotelian metaphor of the seal impressing its form upon the wax is here the familiar means of exemplifying how an object becomes such by impressing its nature upon the ideas that it arouses. The sun shines, a light enters a man’s eyes, and the man, looking up, sees the sun. Thereupon the sun becomes the object of his ideas. One touches and handles objects; they impress upon him their solidity and their tangible form. Thereupon they furnish the basis for further ideas. Or, again, a distant object is dimly seen. It comes nearer and nearer, and is found to be some particular object. When it was distant it was already the object of ideas, because, affecting one’s sense of sight, it roused curiosity. As it approaches, these ideas are confirmed or refuted by further observation, and, according to the sort of correspondence with their object that they undertook to have, they then turn out to be true or false.

In all such accounts of the relation of idea and object, the existence of the object is presupposed as something well understood. And not only is this presupposition made, but the whole existence of the so-called external world, the existence, too, of the relation called the relation of causality between the object and the perceiving subject, yes, the very Being of the subject itself, as an entity that is supposed to be by nature apt to perceive objects when it is awakened through their presence,—all these very important ontological (p.523) conceptions are assumed in order to define the special conditions under which a given object becomes the object of the ideas of a given person. Now, of course, we are not concerned here either to accept or to refute these presuppositions of so many theories of knowledge. We have only in passing to observe that these theories cannot help us in our present inquiry. We are now asking what is, by the Being of anything whatever, by the very Reality that one attributes to world or to soul, to causality or to sense organs. In pursuing this inquiry we have been led to a point where the reality of things means for us some condition or ground, whatever it be,—whether conscious or extraconscious we know not yet, —some genuine basis or guarantee which gives to our ideas their truth. We have thus been led to ask directly, What is Truth? Into this question our question, What is Being? has transformed itself. The word “Truth,” however, appears, in traditional language, as a name for something called the correspondence of an idea with an object. And thus it is that we have been brought to face the problem, When has an idea an object? Our effort at present is to see whether we cannot define the Being of things by first defining their relation, as objects, to ideas. We cannot, then, hope to define, for our present purpose, the character of our objects, viewed as objects of ideas, by first presupposing their Being, and the Being of the whole physical world. No doubt there is this world,—but in what sense it is, that is precisely our problem.

Moreover, the view that in order to be object of a given idea, the object must be cause of the idea, or that ideas have to look to their own causes as their objects, is refuted, as a general definition, by a glance at the nature of all those temporal objects of which we have ideas, but which are not now present in time. Is anything in the future, say my own death, or an eclipse due next year, or futurity in general, the cause of my present ideas, true or false, that refer to any such object. When I form a plan, or sign a contract, the hypothetical future event defined by the plan or contemplated in the contract is said, in the familiar Aristotelian phraseology, to be the final cause of the present act, but it certainly is not a cause impressing itself upon knowledge as the seal imprints its form upon the wax. Yet Aristotle, to whom final causation meant at bottom everything, also loves far too much the trivial seal and wax metaphor as his customary means for defining the general relations of object and idea; so much deeper was Aristotle’s thought than his phraseology! Even the Nous of (p.524) Aristotle knows through some sort of so-called touching of its intelligible objects.

But if one attempts to escape from these just-mentioned considerations about the future objects of present ideas, by declaring that the future has as yet no real Being at all, and that it therefore is no real, but only an imagined, object of present ideas, I should, indeed, not in the least accept the objection as valid, but I should for the moment only ask the objector what he thinks about the whole realm of past Being. The most noticeable feature of the past is that it is irrevocable. This character of the past, viz., that it is gone beyond recall, is regarded by us all as objectively valid; and so it is the object of present ideas. But now I ask, in all seriousness, what is the irrevocable past now doing to our ideas that the fact of its irrevocable absence should, as cause, now be viewed as moulding our ideas? By means of what stamping process is the seal of the past impressing its form upon the wax of the present ideas? The irrevocable character of the past is a fact that can become object of in idea only by not being any present cause of ideas at all, since to be irrevocable means to be temporally over and done with altogether. If one says, “But past events were the causes that have led to present events, and that is why we now have ideas of the past,” then I should reply: “You miss the point altogether; not in so far as they occurred, and were causes that led up to present events, not in so far as they were real causes at all, but in so far as they can never occur again, are those past events now viewed as irrevocable.” Yet to say, “Those past events can never occur again,” is to uter an objective truth, unless indeed all our human view of time is false. But how can the mere truth that an event can never occur again be a cause at all? Still more, how can it cause me to have ideas of itself? What, once more, does the irrevocableness of the past do to me when I think of it? Or do you say, “Our idea of the irrevocable character of the past is in truth only a sort of generalization from our many experiences of physically irrevocable happenings, such as the breaking of china, the spilling of milk, the flight of youth, and all the other proverbial instances of the past that return not”? Then I answer: If our idea that the past is wholly irrevocable were the result of such empirical instances,—if, I say, this explanation, which I hold to be false, were correct, all the more would it be plain that what causes an idea is not, as such, the object of the idea, for it is not of broken china, nor of spilled milk, nor even of lost youth that one thinks in announcing the view that the past is irrevocable,—but (p.525) of what one supposes to be an universal law of all time, which one applies as well to the repeated sequence of the monotonous beats of the pendulum, or to the waves that break over and over upon the beach, as to youth, or even to death. For even of the monotonously repeated series of events, one asserts that each individual case of the repetition is irrevocable when past. Even if one’s view as to this matter were false, one’s object would here be a character of the whole of time, and a character which is certainly no cause of present ideas.

It is hopeless, then, to persist in the hypothesis that the object of an idea is as such the cause of the idea. Were one to persist in such a view, what would he say about all the mathematical objects? Does the binomial theorem act as a seal, or any other sort of cause, impressing its image on the wax of a mathematician’s mind? Do the properties of equations do anything to the mathematician when he thinks of them? Is not all the fresh creative activity in this case his own?


Nearer to our desired definition we may come if we next observe the reason for the plausibility of the usual appeal to the objects of vision and touch as the typical cases of objects of ideas. For, in fact, nobody can doubt that the pen in my hand, or the sun in the heavens, or the sail on the horizon, may be genuine objects of ideas; and why do these instances seem so typical of the whole relation of idea and object? I answer, because, in case of these objects, a very typical feature of the relation of idea and object is indeed manifest enough. That an idea has an object depends at least in part upon this, that the idea selects its object. And selection is manifested in consciousness by what is usually called attention, while attention to objects of sense is something very obvious and easy to estimate. Into the intricacies of the psychological theory of attention, we have not here to go. Enough, one who attends, whatever the causal explanation of his process, is, as to the nature and trend of his meaning, selective. And the ideas of an attentive consciousness are the embodiments of such selection. Whatever type or correspondence is involved in the purpose of a given idea, it is then not enough, in case you wish to confirm or to refute the idea, that you should point out how the desired correspondence is to be found, or fails to be found, anywhere (p.526) that you please or anywhere at random in the world. For the idea must be confirmed or refuted by comparison with the object that the idea itself means, selects, views with attentive expectation, determines as its own object. And while this selection is not merely a subjective matter, left to the mere caprice of the idea itself, certain it is, that in order to find out what the truth of a man’s ideas is, you must take account not merely of the sort of correspondence that he intends to attain in the presence of his object, but of the selection that he himself has made of the object by which he wishes his idea to be judged. Now this selection involves what we have called the inner meaning of the idea. Just as truly as the sort of correspondence by which an idea is to be judged is predetermined by the internal meaning of the idea, just so truly is the internal meaning of the idea also to be consulted regarding the intended selection of the object. If I have meant to make an assertion about Cæsar, you must not call me to account because my statement does not correspond, in the intended way, with the object called Napoleon. If I have meant to say that space has three dimensions, you cannot refute me by pointing out that time has only one. And nowhere, without a due examination of the internal meaning of my ideas, can you learn whether it was the object Cæsar or the object Napoleon, whether it was space or time, that I meant.

Our preference, however, for the objects of sense, for the pen, and the sun, as typical instances of objects of ideas, arises from the fact that in case of just these objects, it is especially easy, by observing, from without, the acts of the person who has these ideas, to form confident and, for common-sense purposes, relatively exact notions of the selection to which the internal meaning of the ideas has bound the maker of any given judgment about objects. Moreover, it is easy for us ourselves to follow our sense-ideas and their objects with continuous scrutiny and to observe their relations. For sense-objects are vivid, and combine relative permanence with the sort of plasticity that enables us to get what we call nearer or, in general, novel views of them; so that in passing back and forth from idea to object, we seem assured of some definite relation between them. And our acts in dealing with the objects of sense are correspondingly definite, so that observers easily judge what object we mean.

Yet precisely what this relation of object and idea is, we are still called upon to explain, even in case of the most obvious object of (p.527) sense, and still more in case of objects of a more subtle character, such as past events, valid laws, and mathematical constructions.

Plain, so far, are two considerations: First, the object of an idea is in somewise predetermined, is selected from all other objects, through the sort of attentive interest in just that object which the internal meaning of the idea involves. Unless the idea is thus selective, it can never come to be either true or false. For if it means to be true, it intends a sort of correspondence with an object. What correspondence it intends is determined, as we saw, solely by the purpose which the idea embodies, i.e. by the internal meaning of the idea. Furthermore, the idea intends to attain this correspondence to some particular object,—not to any object you please, not to whatever happens to correspond to the ideal construction in question, but to a determined object. The determination of what object is meant, is, therefore, certainly again due, in one aspect, to the internal meaning of the idea. Nobody else can determine for me what object I mean by my idea.

But hereupon we seem to face, indeed, a fatal difficulty, for the second of the two considerations just mentioned remains. And this is that, if the idea predetermines what object it selects as the one it means, just as it predetermines what sort of correspondence it intends to have to this object, the idea, nevertheless, does not predetermine whether its object is such that the idea, if finite, shall succeed in attaining entire agreement with the object. Otherwise truth would be mere tautology, error would be excluded in advance, and it would be useless even to talk of an object external in any sense to the idea.


Here, then, is the central dilemma as to the nature of truth. I may state it once more, but now in the form of an antinomy; that is, in the familiar shape of the Kantian Antinomies, with thesis and antithesis. To be sure, the antinomy will be imperfect. On one side will stand a stubborn, but no doubt somehow incompletely stated, apparent truth. On the other side will stand an obvious and demonstrable certainty. We shall have to reconcile an opposition that can be but apparent.

The thesis of our antinomy is as follows: There seems to be, in the object of an idea, just in so far as it is the object of that specific idea, no essential character which is not predetermined by the purpose, (p.528) the internal meaning, the conscious intent, of that idea itself.

For consider: An object, as we have seen, has two relations to an idea. The one is the relation that constitutes it the object meant by that idea. The other is the sort of correspondence that is to obtain between object and idea. As to the first of these two: An object is not the object of a given idea merely because the object causes the idea, or impresses itself upon the idea as the seal impresses the wax. For there are objects of ideas that are not causes of the ideas which refer to these objects, just as there are countless cases where my ideas are supposed to have causes, say physiological or psychological causes, of which I myself never become conscious at all, as my objects. Nor is the object the object of a given idea merely because, from the point of view of an external observer, who looks from without upon idea and object, and compares them, the idea resembles the object. For the sort of correspondence to be demanded of the idea is determined by itself, and this correspondence cannot be judged merely from without. Again, my idea of my own past experiences may resemble your past experiences, in case you have felt as I have felt, or have acted m any way as I have acted. Yet when my ideas, in a moment of reminiscence, refer to my own past, and have that for their object, they do not refer to your past, nor to your deeds and sorrows, however like my own these experiences of yours may have been. One who, merely comparing my ideas and your experiences, said that because of the mere likeness I must be thinking of your past as my object, would, therefore, err, if it was my own past of which I was thinking. Neither such a relation as causal connection nor such a relation as mere similarity is, then, sufficient to identify an object as the object of a given idea.

Nor yet can any other relation, so far as it is merely supposed to be seen from without, by an external observer, suffice to identify any object as the object of a given idea. For suppose that any such relation, merely observed from without, were regarded as finally sufficient to constitute an object the object of a given idea. I care not what this relation may be. Call it what you will. As soon as you define such a relation from without, and declare that the idea has an object by virtue of that relation to this object, I shall merely ask: Did the idea itself intend and select that relation as the relation in which its purposed object was to stand to the idea? If you answer “No,” then I take my stand beside the idea, and shall persist in demanding by what right you thus impose the relation in question (p.529) upon the idea as the relation rightly characterizing its object. For the idea, in seeking for truth, does not seek for your aims, so far as you are a merely external observer. The idea is selective. It seeks its own. It attends as itself has chosen. It desires in its own way. If you, having somehow first finished and established your own definition of Being, choose to regard the idea and its object as entities in your own supposed world, then, indeed, you can talk, from your own point of view, of the various real relations of these entities, precisely as a psychologist does when he discusses the origin or the results of ideas. But just now we are not first presupposing that we know what the Being of the object is apart from the idea, and what the Being of the idea is apart from the object. We are trying, in advance of a finished conception of the Being of the object, to define the essential relation that makes an object the object of that particular idea. And as the idea, precisely so far as it intends truth at all, is through and through a selection, a choosing of an object, I ask what reason you can have to say that the object is the object of the idea, unless you observe somehow that the idea chooses for itself this object.

But now if you reply, “Yes, the relation of object to idea, here in question, is the one chosen by the idea,” then you admit the essential point. The relation to the object is so far predetermined by the idea. Hence, as we have now seen, the object of the idea is predetermined, both as to what object it is, and as to how it is to correspond to the idea, through the choice made by the idea itself. The object, precisely in so far as it is object of that idea, seems thus to be altogether predetermined. In brief, the object and the idea of that object appear to be related as Hamlet in the play is related to the intent of Shakespeare, or as creation and creative purpose in general are related. Hamlet is what Shakespeare’s idea intends him to be. The object is what it is because the idea means it to be the object of just this idea. And so much may suffice for our thesis.

But the antithesis runs: No finite idea predetermines, in its object, exactly the character which, when present in the object, gives the idea the desired truth. For observe, first, that the object of a true finite idea, such as our idea of the world or of space, is in any case something other than the mere idea itself. And the truth of the idea depends upon a confirmation of the idea through the presence and the characters of this other,—the object. Now error is certainly possible in finite ideas. For some finite ideas are false. And that this last (p.530) assertion itself is true, is not only a matter of common opinion, but can be proved by the very counterpart of the Augustinian argument about Veritas. For if there could be no error, then the customary assertion that ideas can err, i.e. our well-known common-sense conviction that error is possible, would be itself an error, and this result would involve a self-contradiction. Or again, were no error possible, there would be no truth, since then the assertion that there is no truth would itself be no error, or would itself be true. This, again, would be a contradiction. Or finally, if error were impossible, any and every account of Being or truth, of ideas and of objects, of the world or of nothing at all, would be equally true, or in other words, no truth would ever be defined. For truth we define by its contrast with the error that it excludes. So some ideas certainly can and do err in as far as they undertake to be ideas of objects. Ideas can then fail of their desired correspondence with their intended objects, just because these objects are indeed other than themselves. But the error of an idea is always a failure to win the intended aim of the idea, precisely in so far as the idea sought truth. Hence, as no purpose can simply and directly consist in willing or intending its own defeat, it is plain that an idea, precisely in so far as it can turn out to be an erroneous idea, can intend what its object forbids it to carry out, and can mean what its object excludes; while in so far as the object thus refutes the idea, the object contains what the idea did not purpose, and was unable to predetermine. In brief, the very Possibility of Error, the absolutely certain truth that some ideas give false accounts of their own objects, shows that some objects contain what is opposed to the intent of the very ideas that refer to these objects. And so the antithesis is proved.


In view of this apparent antinomy, how is the idea related to its object? How is error possible? What is truth? The answer to these questions,—the solution to all our previous difficulties, is in one respect so simple, that I almost fear, after this so elaborate preparation, to state it, lest by its very simplicity it may disappoint. Yet I must first state it, abstractly, and perhaps unconvincingly, and then illustrate it as I close the present discussion, leaving to a later lecture its fuller development. The idea, I have said, seeks its own. It can be judged by nothing but what it intends. Whether I think of God or (p.531) of yesterday’s events, of my own death, or of the destiny of mankind, of mathematical truth, or of physical facts, of affairs of business, or of Being itself, it is first of all what I mean, and not what somebody merely external to myself might desire me to mean, that both gives me an object, and determines for me the standard of correspondence to the object whereby I must be judged. Moreover, my idea is a cognitive process only in so far as it is, at the same time, a voluntary process, an act, the partial fulfilment, so far as the idea consciously extends, of a purpose. The object meant by the idea is the object because it is willed to be such, and the will in question is the will that the idea embodies. And that is why Realism proved to be impossible; that is why the Independent Beings were self-contradictory concepts; that, too, is why the resignation of all definite purpose which Mysticism required of our ideas was impossible without a failure to define Being as any but a mere Nothing. And every definition of truth or of Being must depend upon a prior recognition of precisely this aspect of the nature of ideas.

Whoever says, “I am passive; I merely accept the world as my object; I recognize the superior force of this object, and I have no part in willing that it is my object,” any such submissive observer is invited merely to state what object he means, and what idea he has of it. He will at once find his idea arising before him as a conscious construction, and he will regard this idea as intelligible because he follows its construction with his own unity of purpose. The vaster the world that he then defines as the overwhelming fate of his intelligence, the larger will be the part that his own consciously constructive will has taken in the definition of the idea. And by his will, I mean here not any abstract psychological power or principle so to be named. I speak here of will not as of any causally efficacious entity whatever. I refer only to the mere fact of any one’s consciousness, insisted upon in these discussions from the start, namely, the fact that the contents of an idea are present to mind as the actual embodiment and relative fulfilment of a present purpose, such as for instance you find embodied when you count or sing. Space, time, past, future, things, minds, laws,—all these constituents of the world, our supposed passive spectator of universe indeed recognizes as objects other than the ideal products of his will; but his ideas of these objects come to him precisely as constructive processes, present to his consciousness as his own act, and understood by him so far as they are his own meaning. Moreover, the objects, too, to which these (p.532) relate, can be understood as objects only when the ideas embody the will to mean them as such objects.

But now, in order that we may also take account of our former problem about the determinateness and individuality attributed to Being, let us add yet one further consideration: Whenever an idea of any grade aims at truth, it regards its object as other than itself, and that the object shall be thus other than itself is even a part of what the idea means and consciously intends. But as a will seeking its own fulfilment, the idea so selects the object, that, if the idea has a perfectly definite meaning and truth at all, this object is to be a precisely determinate object, such that no other object could take its place as the object of this idea. And in spite of the fact that the object is such solely by the will of the idea, the idea undertakes submissively to be either true or false when compared with that object.

Now the obvious way of stating the whole sense of these facts is to point out that what the idea always aims to find in its objects is nothing whatever but the idea's own conscious purpose or will, embodied in some more determinate form than the idea by itself alone at this instant consciously possesses. When I have an idea of the world, my idea is a will, and the world of my idea is simply my own will itself determinately embodied.

And what this way of stating our problem implies may first be illustrated by any case where, in doing what we often call “making up our minds,” we pass from a vague to a definite state of will and of resolution. In such cases we begin with perhaps a very indefinite sort of restlessness, which arouses the question, “What is it that I want? What do I desire? What is my real purpose?” To answer this question may take a long time and much care; and may involve many errors by the way, errors, namely, in understanding our own purpose. Such search for one’s own will often occupies, in the practical life of youth, some very anxious years. Idleness, defective modes of conduct, self-defeating struggles without number, fickle loves that soon die out, may long accompany what the youth himself all the while regards as the search for his own will, for the very soul of his own inner and conscious purposes. In such cases one may surely err as to one’s intent. The false or fickle love is a sort of transient dream of the coming true love itself. The transient choice is a shadow of the coming true choice. But how does one’s own real intent, the object at such times of one’s search, stand related to one’s present and ill-defined vague restlessness, or imperfectly conscious longing. I answer, (p.533) one’s true will, one’s genuine purpose, one’s object here sought for, can be nothing whatever but one’s present imperfect conscious will in some more determinate form. What one has, at such times, is the will of the passing moment,—an internal meaning, consciously present as far as it goes. And now it is this will and no other that one seeks to bring to clearer consciousness. But what other, what external meaning, what fact beyond, yes, what object, is the goal of this quest? I answer, nothing whatever in heaven or in earth but this present imperfect internal meaning rendered more determinate, less ambiguous in its form, less a general longing, more a precisely united and determinate life. And this, once rendered perfectly determinate, would be what the man in question calls “My life according to my conscious will.”

Well, this case of the vague purpose that one seeks, not to abandon, but to get present to the moment’s consciousness in another, that is a more explicit and precise, form, and if possible, in what would finally prove to be an absolutely determinate form,—this case, I insist, is typical of every case where an idea seeks its object. In seeking its object, any idea whatever seeks absolutely nothing but its own explicit, and, in the end, complete, determination as this conscious purpose, embodied in this one way. The complete content of the idea's own purpose is the only object of which the idea can ever take note. This alone is the Other that is sought. That such a search as this is a genuine search for an object, that while sought appears as another and as a beyond, the experience of the mathematical sciences will at once illustrate. As we saw, in a previous discussion, the mathematician deals with a world which his own present ideas, as far as they go, explicitly attempt to predetermine; yet what these ideas do not at present completely and consciously predetermine for the mathematician’s private judgment, in advance of proof, is precisely that further determination of their own meaning which they imply and seek. This further determination the mathematician wins through his process of inquiry. His result is, then, actually willed from the start, in so far as his definitions, which are themselves acts of will, determine in advance the outcome of the proofs and computations of which they are already the initial step. But at the instant when the definitions and considerations of his problem alone are present to the mathematician’s passing consciousness, the outcome, the fully developed meaning, is an Other, an Object, which the mathematician seeks. At any moment, in his further research, he may attempt to (p.534) define this Other by a conjectural or hypothetical construction, a tentative idea, which may to a large extent prove not to correspond with the fully developed purpose which the result of the inquiry, when reached, presents to consciousness in as determinate form as is humanly possible. So far as our narrow human consciousness does permit this result of mathematical inquiry ever to appear to us in its complete expression, it is finally observed, however, as a fact of experience, or complex of facts of experience, as a series of properties and relations, embodied in diagrams, symbols, and systems of symbols. This expression, as far as it goes, fulfils the purpose defined from the start, the very outset of the mathematical inquiry. In this case one says, “Yes, I see this to be true, and I see that this is what the initial definitions meant.” Such a result of mathematical inquiry, just in so far as it is satisfactory, is a result that sends us no farther, or that defines no object lying yet beyond itself. This then is the answer to the mathematician’s initial query.

In just as far as we pause satisfied, we observe that there “is no other” mathematical fact to be sought in the direction of the particular inquiry in hand. Satisfaction of purpose by means of presented fact, and such determinate satisfaction as sends us to no other experience for further light and fulfilment, precisely this outcome is itself the Other that is sought when we begin our inquiry. This Other, this outcome, is at once uniquely determined by the true meaning already imperfectly present at the outset, and it is also not consciously present in the narrow instant’s experience with which we begin. A vaguely indeterminate act of will thus begins a process; the object sought is simply the precise determination of this very will itself to unique and unambiguous expression. And in such a case the thesis and antithesis of our antinomy are reconciled. For the object is a true Other, and yet it is object only as the meaning of this idea.

But how is it when facts of experience are sought,—when the astronomer, having computed the planet’s place, looks to see whether the determination conforms to the apparently wholly “external empirical object,” when the chemist awaits the result of the experiment in the laboratory, when the speculator watches the waverings of the market, or when the vigilant friend by the bedside longs for the favorable turn of the beloved patient’s disease? I answer, in all these cases the apparently conflicting objects and ideas in question are indeed far more numerous and complex in their relations than the mathematician’s world. And we shall hereafter consider precisely (p.535) such complications more in detail. But here we are concerned with the most universal aspects of our problem as to idea and object; and so here I can only respond, Whatever the object, it is still the object for a given idea solely because that idea “wills it to be such. If it is experience, of a given type, and won under determinate conditions, that you seek, then in just that region of inquiry your inquiring interest, your imperfectly determined initial will, seeks its own more precise determination. But this self-determination is even here the only object that the idea seeks. No idea is confirmed or refuted by any experience except by that more determinate type, or instance, of experience which the less determinate and vaguer will of the inquiring idea has first sought as its ideal goal, as its chosen authority, as its accepted standard, and so as its own object. If I will to watch for stars, or to measure places of heavenly bodies, or to be guided in the determination of my will by the appearance of certain chemical precipitates in test-tubes, or to stake my fortune in the stock-market, or to be determined in my acts by the empirical outcome of this patient’s disease,—well, in all such cases, it is an experience that I first am to accept as the determination of my purpose. By that choice my development of my ideas is guided. But for that very reason the awaited experience is, in advance, my object precisely, because it is, just by virtue of my own purpose, the desired determiner of my purpose. The same rule holds here also as in the former cases. The idea is a will seeking its own determination. It is nothing else. And herein lies the explanation of the process which we studied, earlier in this lecture, in our account of the relations between judgment and experience. Judgments, taken as universal, already involve a negative determination of the world of internal meanings through an exclusion of bare possibilities. The judgments of experience, the particular judgments, express a positive, but still imperfect, determination of internal meaning through external experience. The limit or goal of this process would be an individual judgment, wherein the will expressed its own final determination.

But if one here retorts, “Ay, but in the empirical world I have no choice, since facts are facts, and the world is once for all there;” then I reply: I do not now question that the world is there. I am asking in what sense it is there. It is, but what Being has it? We have long since seen that the whole world is real as the object that gives validity to ideas. We have inquired as to the sense in which (p.536) anything can be called object. We have found the sense in which the idea chooses its object. We have found also that the object is nothing but the will of the idea itself in some determinate expression. But now one points out that in giving our ideas of empirical objects determinate expression, there is a sense in which, once having committed ourselves to given ideas, we have no more choice as to how the ideas shall turn out to be determined. Well, is not this an obvious enough result even of our own view? The idea in seeking for its object is seeking for the determination of its own just now consciously indeterminate will. This is, so to speak, the game that the idea undertakes to play. But consistently with itself the idea cannot choose to change capriciously its own choice, to alter the rules of its own game, even while it plays. If its will is to be determined only by experience that it awaits, then just this experience is the determiner of the will. In this sense the mathematician, too, has no choice. He, too, awaits the outcome of his own sort of experience as he computes, as he observes his diagrams and symbols. For his world also is in its own way an empirical world, and he experiments in that world, and wills to accept the result. In this same sense, too, the youth has no choice as to what he shall find his own will to be, since so long as he wills in his own way, his struggles for self-comprehension are in essence predetermined by his accepted, if not yet momentarily conscious selection, of a life plan. The idea having opened the game of its life, cannot withdraw its own moves without failing of its own determination.

Well, precisely so it is with all the facts of experience in their relation to specific ideas. All finite ideas, even the vaguest, are already in one aspect contents of experience, imperfectly fulfiling purpose. In all cases every idea, whether mathematical, practical, or scientific, seeks its own further determination. In every case it is true that such further determination is also to be given only in terms of experience. Sometimes it is a definite group of sense-experiences that we mean in advance; then we are said to be observant of the physical world; and then in physical nature only do we find the desired determination of our will. Sometimes, as in the mathematician’s world, we deal with objects that appear more directly under our control than do physical objects. But there are no ideas that have not an aspect in which they are masses of experience, and masses of experience are never objective facts except in so far as they present the answers to specific questions about fact. (p.537) And the answer to a question is merely the more precise determination of the will that asks the question.

Of course, my private will, when viewed as a mere force in nature, does not create the rest of nature. But my conscious will as expressed in my ideas does logically determine what objects are my objects.

But one may say: “How if the facts of experience altogether refuse to fulfil given ideas in any sense whatever? Have not such ideas an object that they seek and never find at all? Is not the object of a defeated purpose, or of an error, still an object, but a purely ideal one? Yet here the object remains precisely object of an unfulfiled idea.” I answer: An error is an error about a specific object, only in case the purpose imperfectly defined by the vague idea at the instant when the error is made, is better defined, is, in fact, better fulfilled, by an object whose determinate character in some wise, although never absolutely, opposes the fragmentary efforts first made to define them. As for failure, or practical defeat of our plans: The practical object that we have not yet won remains for us a Beyond, or Other than our search, precisely so long as we still seek it; and no merely external buffetting of so-called hard facts ever proves to the resolute will that its practical objects are unattainable, or have no existence, until we see an inner reason why just these objects are really excluded by a fuller understanding of our own ideal purposes themselves. I do not will just now to fly, because my purpose in conceiving nature is now relatively fulfilled in a system of ideas which excludes my possession of the power to fly. But were I an inventor trying to perfect flying-machines, I should continue the effort to find the determination of my will present in a flying-machine, until I became convinced that my purpose as defined stood somehow in conflict with itself, or with the whole idea of nature of which it is a portion.


And now as to what results from all this concerning the essential nature of the object of any idea, and as to that determinateness and individuality of Being which has so perplexed us.

Ideas as they come to us, in their finite imperfections, are at first indeterminate, and for that very reason vague, general, or, as technical language often expresses it, abstractly universal. That is (p.538) precisely why they at once seek and attempt to define another than themselves, and do so in the form of Universal Judgments. For an universal, in the abstract sense of the term, is, as we have fully illustrated, known to us merely as that of which there might be another instance. Whoever seeks his meaning in another complex of facts than the one present to him, thereby makes explicit that what he possesses in his idea is merely a kind of fulfilment of his purpose, and not a whole fulfilment. Whoever thinks merely of man, of triangle, of life, has a general idea. So far as he imperfectly defines a purpose that essentially seeks other expression than the present. Whoever longs, loves, hopes, struggles, aspires; whoever experiments, watches for facts, makes hypotheses,—whoever is finite, possesses in his passing idea a general type of relative fulfilment, but seeks precisely to specify, to render more determinate, precisely this general idea. He first looks for specification in further experience. Finding is a more determinate experience of the very contents of one’s ideas themselves than is seeking. As more determinate, it takes the form of Particular Judgments.

Well, if every idea is as such a general type of empirical and fragmentary fulfilment of purpose, if in seeking its object, its Other, the idea seeks only its own greater determination, then, at the desired limit of determination, the idea, as already pointed out, would face a present content which would imply, seek, and in fact permit, no other than itself to take for this ideal purpose its place. Now an object, such as Socrates, or this world, or as yourself, is called an individual, as we before said, when one conceives that for a particular and determinate purpose no other object could be substituted for this one. It follows that the finally determinate form of the object of any finite idea is that form which the idea itself would assume whenever it became individuated, or in other words, became a completely determined idea, an idea or will fulfilled by a wholly adequate empirical content, for which no other content need be substituted or, from the point of view of the satisfied idea, could be substituted.

Now, if this be the result of our analysis, we can at length define truth and Being at one stroke. You have an idea present at this moment. It is a general idea. Why? For no reason, I answer, except this, viz.: that this idea, being but a partial embodiment of your present purpose, could get and desires to get some other embodiment (p.539) than the present one. This possibility of other embodiment means for you just now simply the incompleteness, or partial non-fulfilment of your present purpose. Mere generality always means practical defect. You think of your own life. Your idea is general, just because your life could be and will be embodied in other moments than this one. The idea of your own life finds, then, just at this instant, an imperfect expression. Your idea of your own whole life is just now vague. This vagueness means for you the possibility of other embodiments. Or perhaps you think of numbers, and accordingly count one, two, three. Your idea of these numbers is abstract, a mere generality. Why? Because there could be other cases of counting, and other numbers counted than the present counting process shows you. And why so? Because your purpose in counting is not wholly fulfilled by the numbers now counted. Incompleteness here goes with universality. There could be other instances of the idea, just because what is needed to fulfil the purpose in question is not all here. And this you know in the form both of present imperfect satisfaction, and in the form of the idea of other numbers, and of other counting processes than are here present to you.

Well, if in all such cases of your present and imperfect passing ideas, other cases of your idea were also fully present to your consciousness just now, what would you experience? I answer, You would experience at once a greater fulfilment of your purpose, and a more determinate idea. But were not only some, but all possible, instances that could illustrate your idea, or that could give it embodiment, now present, even at this very instant, and to your clear consciousness, what would you experience? I answer, first, the complete fulfilment of your internal meaning, the final satisfaction of the will embodied in the idea; but secondly, also, that absolute determination of the embodiment of your idea as this embodiment would then be present,—that absolute determination of your purpose, which would constitute an individual realization of the idea, For an individual fact is one for which no other can be substituted without some loss of determination, or some vagueness. You seek another so long as your present purpose is unfulfilled. The fulfilment of the internal meaning of the present idea would leave no other object defined by this idea as an object yet to be sought. And where no other was to be sought, the individual life of the whole (p.540) idea, as a process at once of experience and of purpose, would be present fact.

Now this final embodiment is the ultimate object, and the only genuine object, that any present idea seeks as its Other. But if this be so, when is the idea true? It is true—this instant’s idea—if, in its own measure, and on its own plan, it corresponds, even in its vagueness, to its own final and completely individual expression. Its expression would be the very life of fulfilment of purpose which this present idea already fragmentarily begins, as it were, to express. It is with a finite idea as it is with any form of will. Any of its transient expressions may be at any instant more or less abortive. But no finite idea is wholly out of correspondence to its object, as no will is wholly false to itself.

We have thus defined the object and the truth of an idea. But observe that thus we stand upon the threshold of a new definition of Being. Being, as our Third Conception declared, is what gives true ideas their truth; or in other words, to be real is to be the object of a true idea. We are ready, now that we have defined both object and truth, to assert, as our Fourth and final Conception of Being, this, that What is, or what is real, is as such the complete embodiment, in individual form and in final fulfilment, of the internal meaning of finite ideas.

To later lectures must be left both the fuller development and the further defense of this conception of Being. But our argument in its favor is, in its foundation, already before you. Being is something Other than themselves which finite ideas seek. They seek Being as that which, if at present known, would end their doubts. Now Being is not something independent of finite ideas, nor yet a merely immediate fact that quenches them. These were our results when we abandoned Realism and Mysticism. Being involves the validity of ideas. That we learned from critical Rationalism. Yet mere validity, mere truth of ideas, cannot be conceived as a bare universal fact. We wanted to find its concreter content, its finally determinate form. We have carefully studied this form. No finite idea can have or conform to any object, save what its own meaning determines, or seek any meaning or truth but its own meaning and truth. Furthermore, a finite idea is as much an instance of will as it is a knowing process. In seeking its own meaning, it seeks then simply the fuller expression of its own will. Its only Other is an (p.541) Other that would more completely express it. Its object proves therefore to be, as proximate finite object, any fuller determination whatever of its own will and meaning. But as final object, the idea can have only its final embodiment in a complete and individual form. This final form of the idea, this final object sought when we seek Being, is (1) a complete expression of the internal meaning of the finite idea with which, in any case, we start our quest; (2) a complete fulfilment of the will or purpose partially embodied in this idea; (3) an individual life for which no other can be substituted.

Now in defining this complete life, in which alone the finite idea, as a passing thrill of conscious meaning, can find the genuine object that it means fully embodied, we have so far still used many expressions derived from the conception of mere validity. We have spoken of what this life would be if it were completely present. But, having used these forms of expression as mere scaffolding, at the close we must indeed observe afresh that all validity, as an incomplete universal conception, needs another, to give it final meaning. If there is validity, there is then an object more than merely valid which gives the very conception of validity its own meaning. All that we learned before. It was that very defect of the third conception which sent us looking for the sense in which there can be an object of any idea.

We have now defined what this object is. It is an individual life, present as a whole, totum simul, as the scholastics would have said. This life is at once a system of facts, and the fulfilment of whatever purpose any finite idea, in so far as it is true to its own meaning, already fragmentarily embodies. This life is the completed will, as well as the completed experience, corresponding to the will and experience of any one finite idea. In its wholeness the world of Being is the world of individually expressed meanings,—an individual life, consisting of the individual embodiments of the wills represented by all finite ideas. Now to be, in the final sense, means to be just such a life, complete, present to experience, and conclusive of the search for perfection which every finite idea in its own measure undertakes whenever it seeks for any object. We may therefore lay aside altogether our ifs and thens, our validity and our other such terms, when we speak of this final concept of Being. What is, is for us no longer a mere Form, but a Life; and in our (p.542) world of what was before mere truth the light of individuality and of will have finally begun to shine. The sun of true Being has arisen before our eyes.

In finding this world have we not been already led to the very definition of the divine Life? Yet must we leave to the later lectures some portrayal of what objects this world contains,—enough, the way is now open, and we shall enter at last the homeland.


[Reprinted from WI, 1:265-342.]

(1.) Amongst others by Mr. Charles Peirce, by Schroeder, by Mr. Venn, and, quite independently, by Brentano, in his Psychologie.

(2.) The assertion that purely ideal reasoning processes, viewed as mere internal meanings, never result in particular propositions about their external objects, is one extensively discussed by Schroeder and by many others. See Schroeder, Algebra der Logik, Bd. II, p. 86, sqq. The defence of the assertion in detail, as a matter of formal Logic, would here take us too far afield. Speaking briefly, one can remind the reader, by the use of a familiar example: (1) That unless wisdom is conceived necessarily to follow from the nature of man, you cannot, by “mere reasoning,” find out whether or no any man is wise, so long as man is taken to be an external object. You have to turn to “external experience.” If, in experience, you then find somebody say Socrates to be a wise man, the matter is empirically settled in favor of the judgment: Some man is wise. But, (2) on the other hand, even in case wisdom followed, as an ideally necessary result, from the mere nature of man, then you would know indeed, by mere reasoning, that if any man exists at all, that man is wise. But apart from the “external experience” itself, you would still fail to know, through the “pure ideas,” whether there exists indeed any man at all. And you still could not assert, despite your reasoning, the truth of the proposition that some man is wise, until you had first found that man exists in the realm of the external meanings. All this is an inevitable consequence of the sundering between the internal and the external meanings; and holds true so long as the sundering is insisted upon. The traditional Logic of the text-books, when it reasons from universals to their subalternate particulars, or derives particular conclusions from universal premises, does so by tacitly and, in general, by unjustifiably assuming the external existence of the objects reasoned about, while all the time still sundering external and internal. Reasoning itself is, to be sure, experience, but is, by hypothesis, experience of internal meanings, not of the external meanings which are taken, by this sort of thinking, to be the Reality.

(3.) I have discussed this point at length in the “Supplementary Essay” of the book called The Conception of God. See Part III of that Essay, pp. 217-271.

(4.) Aristode, PhysBk. I, 1.

(5.) See Georg Cantor, in the Zeitschrift f. Philosophie und Philosophische Kritik, Bd. 91, p. no. The finite limit of a “convergent series” has both characters. But the “determinate infinite,” viewed as the limit of the whole-number-series, has only the latter of the two characters.