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The Meaning of Truth


The Meaning of Truth
William James
The Meaning of Truth, by William James
#3 in our series by William James
THE MEANING OF TRUTH
A SEQUEL TO 'PRAGMATISM'
BY
WILLIAM JAMES
PREFACE
THE pivotal part of my book named Pragmatism is its account of the
relation called 'truth' which may obtain between an idea
(opinion, belief, statement, or what not) and its object. 'Truth,' I
there say, 'is a property of certain of our ideas. It means their
agreement, as falsity means their disagreement, with
reality. Pragmatists and intellectualists both accept this
definition as a matter of course.
'Where our ideas [do] not copy definitely their object, what does
agreement with that object mean? ... Pragmatism asks its
usual question. "Grant an idea or belief to be true," it says, "what
concrete difference will its being true make in any one's actual
life? What experiences [may] be different from those which would
obtain if the belief were false? How will the truth be realized?
What, in short, is the truth's cash-value in experiential
terms?" The moment pragmatism asks this question, it sees the
answer: TRUE IDEAS ARE THOSE THAT WE CAN ASSIMILATE, VALIDATE,
CORROBORATE, AND VERIFY. FALSE IDEAS ARE THOSE THAT WE CANNOT.
That
is the practical difference it makes to us to have true ideas; that
therefore is the meaning of truth, for it is all that truth is known
as.
'The truth of an idea is not a stagnant property inherent in it.
Truth HAPPENS to an idea. It BECOMES true, is MADE true by events.
Its verity IS in fact an event, a process, the process namely of its
verifying itself, its veriFICATION. Its validity is the process of
its validATION. [Footnote: But 'VERIFIABILITY,' I add, 'is as good
as verification. For one truth-process completed, there are a
million in our lives that function in [the] state of nascency. They
lead us towards direct verification; lead us into the surroundings
of the object they envisage; and then, if everything, runs on
harmoniously, we are so sure that verification is possible that we
omit it, and are usually justified by all that happens.']
'To agree in the widest sense with a reality can only mean to be
guided either straight up to it or into its surroundings, or to be
put into such working touch with it as to handle either it or
something connected with it better than if we disagreed. Better
either intellectually or practically .... Any idea that helps us
to deal, whether practically or intellectually, with either the
reality or its belongings, that doesn't entangle our progress in
frustrations, that FITS, in fact, and adapts our life to the
reality's whole setting, will agree sufficiently to meet
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