Schiller on Pragmatism and Humanism: Selected Writings, 1891-1939
by F. C. S. Schiller and H. P. McDonald (Contemporary Studies in
Philosophy and the Human Sciences: Humanity Books) In his prolific seventy-three-year lifetime, F. C. S. Schiller
was a well-known philosopher of the highest repute, considered
synonymous with humanist philosophy. Up until his death in 1937, he
carried the torch of pragmatism and self-titled humanism into the
twentieth century, nearly single-handedly energizing European
debates over pragmatic approaches to logic, science, truth, and
reality. He retained humanism as the foundation for his entire
philosophy, stressing that the environment, knowledge, and values
must always be the creation of human choices and activities.
The study of Schiller's most important contributions to the philosophical traditions of humanism and pragmatism continues to be of great significance for contemporary scholars. The forty-two pieces that appear in this volume, carefully selected from his .books, journal articles, and essay contributions published between 1891 and 1939, represent Schiller's finest writings. They range across a broad spectrum of specific topics: logic and scientific method, meaning and truth, pluralism and monism, personalism and idealism, metaphysics and values, evolution and religion, and ethics and politics. The collection also includes an introduction to Schiller's life and career, introductory essays, and a bibliography of his momentous work, With reverential enthusiasm, Shook and McDonald have here awakened the intelligent and passionate voice of humanism's alltoo-neglected driving force.
Schiller's form of pragmatism was recognized as unique from the beginning. Peirce believed that Schiller had worked out his own position, between that of James and himself. However, Schiller had a somewhat detached view of pragmatism, and preferred, like Dewey, to distinguish his position from the mainline of pragmatism. Schiller incorporated pragmatism as a theory of truth with a special application to epistemological issues into his more idealistic philosophy of Humanism. Schiller refers to this as "ethical" Humanism. Thus ethics is the highest aspiration of humans, who by making reality have, as Peirce noted, a part in the creation.
Humanism consists in a threefold reform: a reform of ethics, of logic and of first philosophy as an Ethical Humanism. The reform of ethics is a reform of first philosophy and the relation of fields of philosophy, anticipating Levinas' similar project by over fifty years (see part two). Schiller would say that the values that form the basis of philosophy have a humanistic basis; it is human values, not natural or supernatural values, which are the basis for philosophy. His "ethical idealism" is a teleological first philosophy in which reality is subject to human good. Values have a humanistic sanction, not a divine one. Schiller pays tribute to the wide variety of human valuations—moral, economic, scientific, even religious—by putting them at the center of his philosophy. His philosophy involves the recognition that the good, the true and even the real are not pre-existent entities waiting for us to trip over them, but the result of human effort and thought. "It is the true for us, the true for us as practical beings, just as the good is the good for us."' Schiller evaluates his own philosophy as a "more hopeful and humaner view of metaphysics . . ." It is more hopeful as being anti-fatalistic, melioristic, and viewing man in a heroic way. Humanism "is content to take human value as the clue to the world of human experience, content to take Man on his own merits."
It is only with beings that aim at ends, conceive goods and frame ideals of better living, that there begins that funding of the power over life which renders possible the pursuit, not of mere life, but of good life, and transfigures the struggle for existence by the ethical ideal.
A practical result of Schiller's philosophy is to harmonize the experiences of man by attenuating the distinction of fact and value, "pure" and practical, natural and man-made. "[Humanism] demands that man's integral nature shall be used as the whole premise which philosophy must argue from wholeheartedly, that man's complete satisfaction shall be the conclusion that philosophy must aim at, that philosophy shall not cut itself loose from the real problems of life by making initial abstractions which are false. ..."3 Knowledge and logic are for human use.
While humanism is taken to mean Schiller's whole philosophy in the middle period (1900-1920), and a "final theory of life,"4 there is a seeming change in the late period. Concerned to distinguish his own views from what he called "religious humanism," presumably supernatural in orientation, he narrows the description of his own form. In the late work Must Philosophers Disagree, he distinguishes "religious humanism" from humanism in the "epistemological sense." Humanism in Schiller's sense recognizes "the central position of man ... in the theory of knowledge."5 He also denied that humanism has any direct bearing on religion, although he did not reject the idea of God; or that it is a metaphysic. This late view involves a reduction from the earlier view.
The earlier and later views are connected by a focus on the human agent as the condition of all knowledge. Schiller critically evaluates the standard of pure "objectivity," which he regards as involving a false dichotomy with subjectivity. Science serves human purposes and these purposes cannot be ignored in a full account of science. The attempt by intellectualists and others to eliminate the human aspects of knowing is artificial. Moreover, knowledge involves an active pursuit and making "demands" upon nature through experimentation. Even concepts used to explain natural phenomena do not arise simply from experience. Rather, they are "suggested" by actively inquiring minds as postulates, rooted in the demands of the human inquirers. Thus "our whole purposive nature" may generate conceptions as demands.' Although they may have a subjective origin, they can acquire the status of laws. Humanistic voluntarism, then, recognizes that knowledge is the result of interaction of the knower with the world, and is a joint product of humans working together. Schiller contrasts "humanist voluntarism" with narrow intellectualism, which only considers one side of human nature. However, like other idealists, he believes that knowledge is mediated by mind—that mind is essential to knowledge. What he adds is that the mind is larger than the intellect and that there are other human factors essential to knowledge, including desire, and will, the source of human purposes.
In terms of biology, Schiller viewed humans as the "culmination" of the process of evolutionary development from life to consciousness, to which their bigger brains are testimony. This biological outlook was to slowly replace the more idealistic view of his early period, in which his middle period may be viewed as a transition. While in the early and middle periods humanism is sharply separated from naturalistic philosophy, Schiller's later views reveal a steady erosion of his anti-naturalism. Although he never explicitly abandoned humanism in his late period, and still considered himself as a humanist, there is an interesting passage in the essay "Man's Future on Earth." In it he states that one goal of state planning should be "a selection of what is judged to be the best in order to grow a superman." Schiller's evolutionary and eugenical views seem here to have superceded his humanism, perhaps under the influence of Nietzsche and George Bernard Shaw. The evolution beyond humans to a superhuman means that the humanist perspective will ultimately be superceded. The perfecting of humans, the eugenical project, has its own elimination as an ultimate goal. Yet it is not clear from this passage whether he views the superman as a human with superlative endowments or, like Nietzsche, as the next step in evolution beyond humans.
Human nature is complex. Like the other pragmatists, Schiller acknowledged the truth of evolution, that humans evolved from primate ancestors; humanism does not mean a non-natural origin. However, like Peirce, he did not accept the naturalistic view that the lower could explain the higher.9 While human nature was originally biological, naturalistic processes alone cannot explain later developments in human history. Human nature has risen above mere nature. The rise of consciousness is a development distinct from the rise of life and its "culmination." Thus there are multiple layers or plural elements in human nature including chemical and organic processes, subconscious and conscious thought, and the active pursuit of ideals. There is also the possibility of design in the universe, that is, that there is a finite personal God working behind evolution and responsible for the rise of humans.
Schiller associated with the figures in the personalist movement in philosophy from its inception, and he noted his "favorable" evaluation of the "personal idealism" of McTaggart and others. He contrasted this personal idealism favorably with the absolute idealism of Bradley and Bosanquet. He also published numerous articles in the Personalist, a now defunct journal. Schiller argued in Humanism (1903) that all philosophical systems are "a unique and personal achievement." Philosophy is the personal statement of the individual thinker, and thus its diversity should not be a source of despair, but of wonder. This perspective was held to the end; in one of his last works he also argues that thought always issues from the personality of some thinker, and that "all truth seeking is personal." Indeed, Schiller tied humanism to personalism throughout his writings. "We may define Humanism as the systematic and methodical working out of the perception that every thought is a personal act of which some thinker is the author and for which he may be held responsible."
Schiller's personalist views were so tightly interconnected with his humanism that it is difficult to separate them. Humanism is personalist, since it is the man of "flesh and blood," the individual person who thinks, experiences, acts and lives. These views, as Abel has noted, connect Schiller to Existentialist forms of humanism. They were perhaps also the basis for the accusations of "subjectivism" leveled against Schiller by, among others, some figures in the "Chicago" school of pragmatism. However, while personal experience of living humans is central to his philosophy, Schiller was no Cartesian and attempted, like the other pragmatists, to advance beyond the Cartesian categories of subject and object. His personalism recognizes the individual and idiosyncratic quality of thought, but also that its value lies in its consequences, both for oneself and others, the larger community.
Schiller's arguments for personalism entailed a critique of the abstract model of human psychology developed both by Absolute idealists and naturalistic psychologists. He criticized both the "substance" view of the soul in Descartes and the view of mind as merely the "product of sensations." Neither of these, he thought, could account for the personal aspect of experience. Indeed, he argued for the irreducibly private element of experience that could not be encompassed by any view of "universal mind," and against any view of consciousness in general except as an abstraction. People's minds are private and cannot be part of some all-indusive absolute. Judging is a personal process, relative to a situation. Thought and logic depend on personal experience. However, he did believe in conscious persons and personal experience. His view was that the mind is active and thus any assimilation of the methods of psychology to that of physics, that is, representing introspection as contemplation, "rather than as the reflective return of an active being ... would be a mistake. A person included, among pluralistic capacities, a mind, with feelings, desires, volition and the capacity to reason. Schiller also recognized the subconscious, at that time a new idea in psychology, and the possibility of multiple personalities.
Ultimately it is humans who stand at the center of Schiller's philosophy. But it is not humans as a detached mental entity, a doubting subject or ego, as in Descartes, and his empiricist counterparts. It is not the existential human authentically confronting an absurd universe, as in Sartre, who rejected, along with the "philosophical anthropology" movement, any attempt to characterize humans based on ethics. It is neither the human of supernatural creation, nor the human who is a total product of natural determination, as in naturalism. Nor is human life like a machine, as in LaMettrie and behaviorism. Although all these models are elements of human nature, for Schiller humans stand in the world of concrete practice with needs and values.
Schiller wrote at the end of the nineteenth and the beginning of the twentieth century. The dominant philosophy in both Britain and America at that time was idealism in various forms. The British Hegelian movement was at its peak, but it was not alone. There were also idealists who were part of the "back to Kant" movement, the Neo-Kantians. The influence of Rudolf Hermann Lotze was at its zenith just as Schiller was completing his higher education. Finally, the personalist movement was beginning. All of these currents of thought had some influence on the young Schiller.
Schiller may be said to have reacted against the British Hegelian, especially F. H. Bradley, who was Schiller s particular bête noir. He was also largely critical of Kantianism (Humanism, 2). However, the influence of Lotze was very strong on Schiller, and he never entirely abandoned this form of idealism in his later, mature period. He also embraced the personalism movement as his own (see previous section). Lotzé s form of idealism was "teleological," involving two distinctive traits. One was the introduction of the question of meaning and purpose in a mechanical universe. The other Lotzean innovation is the priority of the good over being, that is, as Lotze put it, "that which should be [is] the ground of that which is." The normative "should" is the basis for reality since it provides meaning and direction for the otherwise meaningless mechanical forces in the world.
Schiller incorporated this view into his pragmatic Humanism, which gave it a flavor distinct from the other pragmatists. This normative standard is the goal of historical action in shaping the world. Schiller thought that philosophy should be concerned with the problems of life and life is basis of value. Thus philosophy in general concerns value issues at the root.
Specifically, Schiller makes ethics his "first philosophy," a place traditionally accorded to metaphysics. Thus he argued for "The Ethical Basis of Metaphysics."' "First philosophy" is the basis of a system of philosophy. The influence of Lotze is clear here: ethics, which since Kant has had the normative, the "should" as its domain, is the basis for metaphysics, or what "is" (reality as it is). This is a historical reversal of the roles of ethics and metaphysics. From the time of Aristotle, metaphysics has been viewed as the basis for other branches of philosophy, including ethics, as "first philosophy." Schiller reversed the relation, anticipating later thinkers like Levinas. Ethics, which Schiller, like the other pragmatists, views as teleological or consequential, provides the goals by which reality is "remade"2 and thereby given meaning.
Schiller also advanced metaphysical views, however. Although metaphysics is ultimately based in ethics, reality can be characterized in terms of change. In his view reality is in flux: like Dewey he was an acute critic of the ancient Greek view that "being" is the ultimate reality. For Schiller, change and process characterize reality, a view he retained throughout his life.3 In this respect, Schiller was in accord with James and Dewey. Indeed, in his early period, he thought that the reality of change was a challenge to formation of any principles of science. The connection with first philosophy is that humans can analyze these processes, copy them, and alter reality in accord with various human purposes. These purposes also color how reality is perceived or known: Schiller anticipated the "social constitution" or "social constructivism" view by decades. But he went beyond social constructivism, since he realized that reality is "incomplete" and that its complete determination required human making as part of the world. The world is changing in part because of practical human projects. Since reality thereby reflects value, the real and unreal can, like other normative antipodes—true-false, beautiful-ugly, and good-bad—be considered values.
Another influence was that of Darwinian evolution. Schiller named an early essay "The Metaphysics of Evolution. "4 Processes are historical, including the rise of life and the ascent of humans. Metaphysics, the study of reality, cannot, therefore, ignore time, the historical dimension. In this incorporation of history and biology was the beginning of the break with the modern philosophy of the subject, originating with Descartes. Moreover, Darwin's work seemed to give the notion of progress a scientific basis, since higher life forms evolved from lower. Schiller was a consistent evolutionist who believed that the perfection of the world included the perfection of humans, the basis for eugenics (see part four). Finally, Schiller thought that Darwinism was a decisive argument for nominalism, since species emerged from one another, were not permanent, and therefore undermined the reality of universals.
Schiller attempted to combine the two strains in his philosophy, that is, the teleological idealism of Lotze with evolution. Evolution is aiming at a perfect harmony, a perfection of all reality. Reality tends toward the realization of this ideal, the harmony of all spirits (Riddles of the Sphinx, "Conclusion"). Progress in history is moving toward this ideal of perfection and harmony, the purpose or meaning of the universe that is immanent in history. Thus despite his differences with the Absolutism of the British Hegelians, Schiller shares with some Hegelians the incorporation of history into his metaphysics.
Schiller shared certain other, broad principles with his fellow pragmatists, besides the metaphysics of process. One is the emphasis on consequences that connects the various strains of pragmatism. Peirce described pragmatism in terms of meaning: that the meaning of concepts or ideas consists in their total conceivable practical consequences. James defined truth in terms of consequences. Consequentialism ties in neatly to a teleological view of the world, since the consequences in practice are at the same time the end or goal. Schiller defended teleology as a principle from the beginning of his career to the end, despite the attacks on it by mechanists and materialists. For the world to have meaning requires that it have an end or ultimate goal. Humans have a part in reaching this goal, the making or creation of reality, and perhaps a favored place in it. Another principle he shares with the other pragmatists is pluralism, the idea that reality consists of irreducibly different kinds.5 Pluralism contrasts with both monism, that reality is uniformly spiritual or material—and dualism, that all of reality can be reduced to two kinds, generally mind and matter. He shared this anti-reductionist stance, which denies that the incredible variety of different kinds in the world can be reduced to one type, with the other pragmatists.
Peirce's position, "objective idealism" was that matter is "effete mind." Schiller is also in the idealist wing of pragmatism, since he would agree With Piece that the lower cannot explain the higher, that is, that matter cannot explain mind. Moreover, the ideal of Humanism is "to show how all things are of like nature with the mind." Dewey was a naturalist, but Schiller's humanism is the view that humans have largely risen above litnature, or emerged out of nature. However, Schiller's idealism is less transcendent and more nominalistic n that of Peirce. Schiller outlined an emergent spiritualism in his early period, as in Peirce, but ideals are immanent mainly as goals or teleological components by which reality is remade. Schiller's Humanism is also an attempt to go beyond the subjective-objective distinction implied within Peirce's view. The reality shaped by human purposes is the only reality, and cannot be detached from this humanistic element. Thus it is neither subjective nor objective, contrary to his critics. "Objective" reality is the reality reshaped by "subjective" activity as a goal. The result is objects shaped by subjects, which combine elements of both. Schiller argued, like Dewey, that the subject-object dichotomy had been superceded by pragmatism.
The connection of ethics with metaphysics is that reality is both "plastic" and "incomplete," or in other words that reality can be remade in interaction. Human goals alter reality with actions aiming at valued consequences. In this incorporation of human action and value into shaping reality, Schiller completed the pragmatic break with Cartesianism. Reality affects human history and development, but humans also shape reality, and by completing, give it meaning and purpose. Moreover, each person's philosophy has its own unique metaphysics,' and individuals put their personal imprint upon the making of an incomplete world. Schiller's view expresses the inner spirit of pragmatism, in ending the dualistic view of humans alienated from a mechanical universe. Rather, the universe has evolved creatures that can interact in practice and improve the world. The emphasis on consequences that unites the various strands of pragmatism serves as the basis for the goal of completing reality by axiological standards that give meaning to the whole.
Schiller in his later years distinguished his epistemological and logical form of humanism from religious humanism. However, he was still sympathetic to the heart of religion. Schiller was a vigorous critic of pantheism, the identification of God with nature; and also of the idea of an infinite God.' Schiller argued from his early period to some of his last essays that a personal God could not be an infinite other. Further, he accepted the arguments of Kant and others against the infinite God as the cause of the universe, the "cosmological argument." However, he also argued that Hume's and Kant's arguments for design were inconclusive, or at best argued against the "superlative" description of God originating in the middle ages. The alternative was not atheism, but a finite God, who did the best he could to create a good universe, but was limited in power and knowledge, however vast his powers might seem to mortal creatures. Schiller argued that a finite God was consistent with Kant's moral God. Moreover, he believed that only such a God was consistent with personality, a personal God, and a meaning for life.
Schiller went against the school of Darwin interpretation that believed that Darwin's work was the death knell of the design argument for God's existence. On the contrary, he tried to reconcile Darwin with design. He believed that the view contained in Darwin was reconcilable with a finite designer of the world, a God with personality. He also argued that the "other world" of supernaturalism is not necessarily out of time and space; that the universe we know is finite and therefore potentially there is room for another space.
Schiller argued that religion, which he sharply distinguished from theology, was a distinct but legitimate form of knowledge, though, given its many varieties, difficult to define. Religion in general is rooted in the human heart, and involved a "demand for something that will respond to our spiritual needs and cravings" and the hope for the possibility of a "higher and better order" to which we may rise. Since the religious impulse arises from the heart, the idea of a personal God, however vast, is loser to the common understanding than the abstract God of the philosophers.
Following William James in The Will to Believe, Schiller argued that the pragmatic method could be used to discriminate between valid and invalid uses of faith. He criticized the rational analysis of faith: religion could not be deduced "a priori" as it were, since it is revealed. However, the methods of science and those of religion are essentially alike. Religious experiences are themselves facts, although not identical to facts in other fields, and are in principle subject to scientific verification and investigation. The will to believe is not enough: like other sciences, religious knowledge should be judged by its consequences. Humanism can help make believers more critical of their will to believe.
Schiller also believed that free will was consistent with a finite God, if not an omniscient God. A God with limited power explains the existence of evil in the universe, a hard problem for advocates of an infinite God.
Schiller believed that the concept of a future life is still an open question but is non-contradictory. The idea of an immortal soul is also non-contradictory and possible. It is therefore "valid," although not yet conclusively confirmed. A scientific proof of the annihilation of the soul is impossible: science can neither confirm or deny it. If there is immortality, he argued, then there must be some sort of psychological continuity with our present identity. The afterlife, it such a conception is valid, shares the "general characteristics of mental life." Knowledge of a future life must be interpreted by knowledge of present life. If everything were utterly different, it would be meaningless to us.
Schiller examined the issue of death in this context. Is death ceasing to interact? Or a passage to a radically different "world" that shares nothing with ours? He compared death to going to sleep and reawaking, but of course in a different situation. It would be like entering a new world. He argued that many cultures have taken dreams as a form of contact with the spirit world. Dreams are not unreal, however little credence we give them. They leave open the possibility of insight into a future life. He also believed that the question of immortality makes a difference in human life, offering hope.
Since Schiller rejected Platonic metaphysics, the question arises whether he was departing from his humanist views in his philosophy of religion. Is the soul surviving the body compatible with his main views? Schiller uses the notion of possibility to deal with religious issues. He conceded that transcendent beliefs were speculative. However, he believes that religion must also survive pragmatic and scientific tests. "Like all other truths, they [religious truths] must fulfill a purpose, satisfy a need, and be verified experimentally." Religion can be evaluated in terms of consequences. And there is a link between the question of the future life and psychic research, which is more subject to scientific investigation.
Schiller was a keen proponent of scientific research on psychic human abilities, both for its insights into human potential and its possible link to a future life. Like James, he believed that psychical research might shed light on the afterlife. The motive is its relation to immortality, not merely curiosity, although the latter is also involved. He believed philosophy could act as a stimulus to scientific research. However, he took a surprisingly detached approach to such research and its prospects.
Schiller argued that psychic research, once dismissed as pseudo-science, is on the frontier of science. By this he meant that such research was in its infancy, and like all new sciences, its methods require refinement. New sciences go through a period of collecting facts before researchers come up with a unifying theory or model. However, a collection of facts is not enough: Schiller defined science as "a systematic interpretation of a number of facts. " Psychic research lacks such a unifying interpretation on which researchers agree.
While in some respects there are plenty of examples of psychic phenomenon on which to draw, Schiller believed that psychic research suffered a drawback, albeit one not unique to it. Experiments in other sciences can usually be repeated. However, those in psychic research cannot. Psychic research shares this problem with astronomy but above all with the historical sciences, such as cosmology, and some branches of anthropology. In this respect, he thought, psychic research, as Bergson suggested, resembles history which depends on the testimony of those present at the events. Such events cannot be repeated, and with each passing generation, the ability to check the facts of history fades. Witnesses die, and the scene of the events changes. Historians must reconstruct their accounts from sometimes contradictory statements, some of which may be secondhand. They must interpret the facts. Moreover, historical evidence does not accumulate, since its events are not repeatable, but occur only one time.
Similarly, psychic research involves questioning mediums and witnesses to a psychic occurrence. With the passage of time the memories of those Present at such an event fade; with their death only written documents remain as testimony. Thus the evidence loses freshness and value. But Schiller also believed, like R. Collingwood, that there are historical elements in all the sciences. Repeated observations over historical time reconfirm "laws of nature" or scientific laws, although there are biological species whose existence may depend on a single skeleton. Generally, he thought, the accumulation of evidence over time is more decisive than a single experiment.
However, psychic research differs from history in one sense since experiments could potentially be set up, researched and analyzed. There are also pragmatic tests of consequences, and of whether such knowledge proves itself "useful." Predictions that are verified would help to persuade many. Questions could be put to the "other side." Schiller believed that scientific investigation could proceed and this has actually come about, although perhaps not in the direction Schiller envisioned (telegnosis experiments).
Schiller also raises the question, why has there been so little communication with the "other side"? He argued that psychic communication may be difficult. "Souls" on the other side may find it difficult to establish lines of communication. Moreover, they may have little incentive to do so. He theorized that adjusting to conditions in a future life may take much of the energy of those who have passed on. Further, they may look down on the living or be relieved at having crossed to the other side. In this respect, psychic research faces a metaphysical problem that other sciences do not have to deal with, the actuality of souls, an afterlife and related possibilities. Such forces are beyond our control and thus there is a difference in kind between physical and psychic investigations. Another drawback to psychic research, then, is that there is less of a possibility of scientific control of conditions.
There is the further difficulty that he characterized as the inadequacy of operating conceptions for analyzing psychic phenomena, e.g. 'soul' and 'reality'. Psychology too is less than scientific, and its conceptions need refinement in order for psychic research to proceed profitably. Some of its terms are hopelessly vague or ambiguous. Schiller notes that science refines its conceptions over time, such that it may completely revise its initial notions. However, there is the possibility that in the end such seeming differences will prove fictitious. He is hopeful that the methods of science will vanquish the remaining difficulties.
In his early, idealistic period, Schiller's ethics followed the model of perfectionism (Riddles of the Sphinx, "Conclusion"). This position may have reflected the influence of T. H. Green, which was dominant in the British academic climate of the time. Green's influence can also be seen on Dewey. Green adapted Aristotle's ethics of perfection of character ("virtue ethics") to contemporaneous idealism, a position that has been characterized as "self-realizationism." Schiller also wrote in this early work of perfection of character and the moral ideal.
At some point, Schiller changed his views, although it is unclear whether his views on ethics changed at the same time as his views on first philosophy, epistemology and logic. More precisely, he modified his views, under the combined influence of William James, the Social Darwinists and the burgeoning movement of value philosophy. No doubt these changes were interconnected, since first philosophy is ethics for Schiller and the basis for the values of metaphysics and logic: respectively, the real and the true. His revaluation of ethics as a first philosophy was bound to affect his view of the theory and content of ethics. Nevertheless, it is an open question whether Schiller's later views were a change in kind or only in emphasis. The title of one of his last essays on ethics, "Eugenics as a Moral Ideal," incorporates the eugenical content into the framework of an ideal, a reaffirmation of ethical idealism.
The good life is bound up with ends as a goal to be achieved by practical activity and is called the "ethical ideal" by Schiller. This ethical ideal is a goal to be realized by practical activity of humans. Thus Schiller never completely abandoned his early idealism. Ethics always works from the standpoint of some ideal, whatever the content. Ethics reshapes reality to accord with this ideal, perfecting character and realizing the self. However, and also in accord with Lotzé's teleological idealism, the ideal is a project or goal of human action, an end. Pragmatic consideration of consequences is thereby requisite.
What Schiller retained from the early period into the late period was his conception of ethics as teleological, specifically as consequentialist. This view could easily be fit into the consequentialist views that united otherwise distinct forms of pragmatism, Peircé s theory of meaning, James's theory of truth and Dewey's instrumentalism. Both "self-realizationism" and pragmatic forms of consequentialism have a basically prospective, melioristic view of the human condition. The perspective of ethics is toward the future, towards consequences and improvement of the situation: it is oriented toward valued goals. Ethical consequentialism is teleological. Human nature consists of certain potentialities that can be refined. Ethics has as its task the creation of good habits, another Aristotelian term that all the pragmatists adopted as their own. Indeed, Peirce applied it to metaphysics. This model could be used equally for the ethics of perfection of character, self-realizationism, or pragmatic holism. Moreover, perfectionism implies the development of virtue in the wide sense of excellence in character, the development of intelligence and talents, and even physical fitness. Schiller believed that perfectionism implied eugenics, a view not foreign to ancient Greek thought, to which he explicitly appealed. Perfection of human character is consistent with eugenical improvement, indeed, required by it.
The other element that Schiller shared with Dewey, and that distinguished pragmatic from idealist ethics, was the vitalist view of values. Both grew up in an era in which the influence of Darwin was fresh, paramount and pervasive. Both read Herbert Spencer, although Dewey broke much more with Spencer's elitist conclusions than Schiller did. What both derived from their encounter with Darwin and incorporated into their thinking was the connection of values with life, that value means value for life. They shared this view with other important thinkers of the period, notably Nietzsche and Bergson. Their value theory, along with their holism, distinguished pragmatic consequentialism from other consequentialist ethical theories, notably hedonistic utilitarianism.
Schiller also defended free will against determinism' arguing that our experience of freedom is legitimate and that determinism is a methodological postulate of limited applicability in the sciences that we freely choose, albeit a productive one. Freedom does not mean lack of any motive for action but a choice between conflicting motives where agents choose the seemingly better course of action under the circumstances.
Schiller was a Social Darwinist and an eugenicist. Social Darwinism was a fairly common view in his time (William Graham Sumner, Oliver Wendell Holmes, in some respects Nietzsche). Most of the other pragmatists, Peirce excepted, were more democratic and equalitarian, especially Dewey. Schiller argued that eugenics is anti-egalitarian but not anti-democratic (Eugenics and Politics, p. 4). He also argued that eugenics would ultimately benefit society. Like other elitists of the period, he distinguished a "real" from a "sham" nobility, that is, one based on "intrinsic merits," not family background. Since the "aristocratic principle" is not tied to a special form of government, Schiller believes in the separation of politics and society, unlike the totalitarian regimes of the right.
Eugenics was considered a progressive and reformist view at the time, before the Nazis discredited it. Schiller judged the Nazi's racial views "pre- posterous"2 and did not consider eugenics a racial theory. Nor was it tied to classes; he argued that the class system often produced degenerate offspring. Rather, it was biological. The decay of civilization, much discussed at the time (Spengler, Toynbee) might be connected with the loss of more valuable traits. Spengler viewed civilization by analogy with organisms, perhaps reflecting the shadow of Darwin's century. Breeding of horses, dogs and other species to improve the stock for certain purposes, such as racing, hunting and tracking, was widely practiced. The argument of the eugenicists was that humans too are a biological species that could be improved by breeding. Schiller argued that the most talented individuals tend not to have children due to the way society is organized: their talent is recognized too late, and the compensations that come to them are thereby insufficient to induce them to have children. The upper classes lack the stimulation to advance, since they already have what they want. Thus the organization of society tends to work against perpetuation of the most talented.
Schiller also spoke of eugenics as an "ideal." For Schiller, eugenics was a realistic insight that some characteristics of individual humans are "superior" to those of their fellows and should be encouraged and preserved. Eugenics as a project was a perfectionist experiment, an outgrowth of the ethics of perfection of character, which was judged ameliorative. However, it involved a shift in emphasis from individual self-realization to the perfection of society. For Schiller, negative eugenics, the elimination of unhealthy genes or stock, is not enough, since it is not a progression or evolution. Schiller believed that "natural selection" had been eliminated in human society and so a substitute mechanism was needed. However, this principle seems to violate his original humanist position that naturalism is inadequate as a guide for human society and knowledge. Eugenics is now under discussion again, after a fifty-year moratorium, due to the possibility of genetic engineering, among other technical developments. Whether it is a wise idea is another story.
Schiller's other political views varied. There is no point in trying to cover up the fact that he had some sort of association with the British Fascists, despite his ridicule of the Nazi's racial theories. He believed that it was an open question, which sort of society would survive, fascist or democratic, and even thought that the era of democracy was at an end. However, he believed that Bolshevism would end in enslaving the species. He believed that eugenics, and thereby the improvement and evolution of society, might require some form of state planning. While he did not actually endorse Mussolini, he did think that Italian Fascism might provide a "harbinger" of a "more intelligent mode of planning." His eugenical outlook inclined him toward this view, since he believed that human society, through such planning, could select for the best as a substitute for natural selection. It should encourage the abler stock to reproduce. Schiller did not think progress was inevitable; progress had to be fought for. Putting such a program as eugenics into practice in a democratic society is not impossible but would be difficult. Ultimately, the advantage of a free society is that it might adopt such a eugenical program voluntarily. Schiller argued that adoption of a eugenical program does not require coercion, only persuasion.
Schiller's eugenical views mark him as an idiosyncratic combination of idealist reformer and pessimist, since he was not hopeful about the prospects for democracy and believed that progress is precarious. He thought that aristocracy was the "natural form of government" where, as in Greece and Rome, great families, which looked to the best marriage for their children, predominated. He was also dubious about the future of the British Empire. In this he failed to see the strengths and resilience of democracies, unlike his fellow pragmatist, John Dewey.
From his reformist impulses, his idealism, and his ethical views,
Schiller's views of education can be inferred. To some degree,
education was bound up with eugenics as a moral ideal. In Eugenics
and Politics he tied education to politics and society, in that one
function of education is to separate and train an elite that can
direct society. He viewed the reform of education as vital to the
regeneration of society in order to counteract its "decay." Ultimately, the success of any society is more dependent
quality of its citizens than institutions or material conditions. Education is
the key to cultivating and developing these qualities. Schiller was aware that a hereditary elite could decline by resting on its oars. He argued that incentives are needed to bring forth the talents of individuals in the middle and lower classes, in the form of scholarships to the best schools for those who show promise but are without the means.
However, Schiller seems not to have noticed the problem with this view: that if good genes are essential to talent, and therefore must be passed along, then the environment is superfluous, and education is not as important to society as genetic endowment. If, however, breeding is a matter of environment and education, then genetics is not as important, undermining the very premise of eugenics.
Schiller argued for both a liberal education and incorporation of athletics, since they produce "fit" adults. "Fitness" has eugenical value and should be extended to the education of the mind. The danger is that knowledge may be reduced to a competitive game. Schiller emphasized the "intrinsic usefulness" of all knowledge, like his fellow pragmatist Dewey, but also saw the educational value of seemingly useless knowledge. Some goals of education may not have immediate benefits. Schiller argued that a good education provided salutary lessons in the proper use of leisure. Schiller also warned of the danger of an overly ingrown educational system, in which experts develop ideals and standards independent of "social welfare." Although he was in favor of a liberal education he also emphasized the value to society of such education and the importance of new knowledge in the adaptation of life to new circumstances. In these concerns he was loser to Dewey.
Schiller thought that the issues and problems surrounding truth were unique to humans, and confined to humans (Studies in Humanism 5, included in this volume), a perspective that fit in well with his overall humanism. Like Dewey and the other pragmatists, he believed that truth was not just sitting waiting to be discovered, but requires an active search.' Since truth must be tested to be validated, truth depends upon consequences. In this view he was closer to James than Peirce.
Schiller played an important role in defending the new pragmatic theory of truth from its early critics, both idealist and realist. He devoted considerable efforts and a number of essays to refining his views on truth, which he considered a major problem for pragmatism. Schiller had a complex and nuanced view of truth, which he called a "central" concept in epistemology. Firstly, truth is connected with logic, science and above all practice. Secondly, as in James's theory, there is the notion of consequences. Thirdly, there is a psychological connection. Fourth, Schiller argued that truth is a value, and this was both his contribution to and expansion of the pragmatic theory. Indeed, he defined pragmatism as, among other things, "the doctrine that truths are logical values...." 2 Fifth, truth requires some meeting of minds as a social product. Finally, truth is historical and changes through the ages.
In one sense truth as a value is evident from logic, where the "truth value" is used in truth tables and the like. Truth-value attaches to correct judgments and propositions. Logic, then, already contains the notion of truth as a value. But a further element is that truth is a standard that we aim for in our research, investigations and experiments. We do not know the truth in advance, but must search for it. The search is formalized as an activity aiming at an end, a consequence. Thus truth is tied to consequences. This model holds for practical investigations as well, of how to accomplish some goal. Since we may not actually hit the truth, truth is a standard, an ideal value that we aim at as a consequence. In some cases we achieve the ideal and meet the standard. In other cases, we fail. Truth then is a standard that is regulative over experience.
Truth must be useful and relevant. "if ... your practical experience suggests to you that a certain conception would be useful, if it were true, you would reasonably give it a trial to see whether it is not 'true:... "3 Schiller was criticized for tying truth to usefulness, but he denied that this view implied its reverse, that the useful is always true. What is useful is important for practice. Since truth is a valued consequence of practice, Schiller has provided support for the pragmatic theory. However, he has added his own particular twist to the theory with the connection to value. Humans pursue truth as a valued result, whether in the lab or in practical life. He also discussed the "biological value" of truth, that is, its survival value. Since truth is a value, harmonizing it with other values is at least thinkable as an ultimate ideal. However, Schiller also notes that criteria of relevance will keep extraneous notions like virtue out of the sciences.
Since Schiller has argued for the useful character of truth, its instrumental value as it were, he can daim that "truth is a form of value, and for his reason related to and largely interchangeable with, our other modes of valuation."4 Truth is the value that is assigned to logically valid judgments, a distinct kind of good. "In the end we recognize that Truth, too, is Value, and decline to predicate the 'truth' of any 'fact' which seems discordant with our system. Indeed it is by such a reference to logical values that we discriminate among the 'facts' which claim reality and grant or refuse their application." ("The Place of Pessimism in Philosophy," this volume, p. 157).
In his idea of truth as a form of value, Schiller can explain why relevance is an important part of scientific discovery. Or its usefulness, i.e. its value, may lie within the science as shedding light upon it. He also believed that it was more in accord with scientific procedure. Truth claims must be tested for validation.
One of the more controversial claims made by Schiller is that truth must provide "emotional satisfaction," as well as logical validity. This is the element of truth that logicians are most inclined to resist, since they want to separate the "pure" truth from any emotional attachments. But Schiller insists that a proposition must be "felt" true. Logic cannot produce pure thought without other psychological motives, including "desire, feeling, interest, attention and will" (Riddles of the Sphinx, pp. 53 ff.). The articulation of truth involves complex psychological processes and Schiller denies that this process is irrelevant to the process. But more, the consequences should on some level be emotionally satisfying. However, what has been overlooked by critics is that he also recognizes that such feelings are not sufficient to make judgments of truth. The psychological connection is the recognition of the human origin of truth and the complex motives and goals of humans in separating truths. Truths must be achieved by a process of investigation beginning from such origins.
The limits upon subjective satisfaction are that there must be a meeting of minds. Like the other pragmatists, Schiller recognized the social aspect of truth, that is, the role of what Peirce called community. Agreement of competent observers is required for assent to truth. Thus he rejects the notion that subjective claims to truth, what he calls "truth claims," are objectively valid. The latter requires investigation and consensus; validity, as with James, is tested by consequences in the course of inquiry. Since investigation is active and experimental, Schiller argues that truth is made, as the product of such scientific work in the process of inquiry is the validation of truth.
Since truth is the consequence of the process of discovery, it also has a historical element: it develops historically. In this view, Schiller seems to confuse knowledge, which is fallible, with truth. What was considered true in the past may be false upon further investigation. But does not mean that truth as a standard changes, or that truths can be false. Our knowledge may be false although we think it is true. But truth cannot be false. Schiller would respond that our criteria of truth must also grow historically with its instances.
Truth is systematic for philosophy, that is, interconnected with other parts as a harmonic whole. Schiller's notion extends value to the definition of truth. Schiller's concept of truth as a logical value is consistent with his philosophy as systematically based on the good and compares in this respect to Aristotle's notion of the truth of being and of Descartes' of truth as a character of ideas. The notion of "truth," which Schiller analyses in terms of logical truth, is based on the good as much as the metaphysical notion of the real.
Schiller is opposed to the idea of any "pure" or ideal truths that occupy a privileged or value-free sphere, as his constant polemics against Absolute Idealism attest. Logic, metaphysics and epistemology are all given a foundation of values. Schiller rejects the coherence, correspondence and several other theories on both their internal inadequacies as theories of truth,' and also on grounds of value.
Truth, like knowledge is a valued end or consequence of the pursuit of truths. This is not to say that truth is always concerned with value questions and never questions of, for example, nature. Instead, human goods and ends are the framework upon which truths are sought, discovered, and put to use. In sum, Schiller wanted to "humanize" truth.
One of Schiller's main projects was the critique and reform of logic, particularly formal logic. The contemporaneous view of logic in the Universities was that logic was the science of "thought." Schiller believed that logic did not follow human thought and that it ignored the situation in which thought arose and the actual processes of problem solving by humans. He was opposed to the complete "abstraction of logic from psychology." He argued for consideration of the role of purposes, interests, feelings and other psychological factors in thought. Finally, he believed that logic was a normative science concerned with the "antithetical valuations" of truth and falsity.
Schiller's first philosophy describes and examines a system of values (see part two). He also claims values are the basis for logic: "it is the de facto existence of this habit of evaluation that gives rise to the normative sciences, and the function of logic as a normative science is to regulate and systematize our valuations of 'true' and 'false: " Values are analyzed as the end in view of logical rules whose outcome is truth-values. Truth evaluation is a major function of logic, which Schiller, like Peirce, argued was a "normative" science, along with ethics, grammar and esthetics. Logicians must evaluate claims to truth. Schiller accepts from the tradition the notion that philosophy includes evaluation of arguments and a critical approach to past thinkers.
Schiller was a critic of formal truth in logic. He argued that formal truth artificially abstracts from the content of thought. "It is not possible to abstract from the actual use of the logical material and to consider 'forms of thought' in themselves, without incurring thereby a total loss, not only of truth but also of meaning." (Formal Logic, "Preface")
The origin of the concepts and abstractions of logic begins with individuals in particular situations. While such origins do not entirely explain the "meaning" of concepts in present use, they cannot be ignored either. Thus there is a type of holism in Schillerian philosophy that involves consideration of a number of factors and elements involved in knowledge.
Particularly, Schiller traced the hidden psychological roots of logic and the human conditions of inference. He argued forcefully and polemically that if logicians define their study as the science of thought, they could not ignore psychology. There is a connection between psychology, the descriptive science of the mind, and logic, the normative science of thought. His critics have particularly taken him to task on this point, accusing him of confusing psychology and logic. An origin in psychology, they argue, does not make logic identical to psychology. But Schiller acknowledged this point. He did not believe that logic was identical with psychology, a point even some Schiller scholars have missed. Logic is concerned primarily with meaning and inference; psychology with purposes (motives). Schiller was aware of the distinction of psychology and logic, but also saw their connection. Their meeting ground was in "thought." The norms of science grow out of the facts of human psychology as axioms derived from thought. Thus he traced the psychological origin of the principles of identity and non-contradiction. Logic was abstracted out of the actual thought processes of humans.
Schiller divided the study of logic into three main areas: the meaning of terms, the theory of judgment, and the validity of inference. He attempted the monumental task of an extended critique of all three areas in Formal Logic. Schiller was a pioneer in his study of meaning which he argued had not been studied to any great degree by traditional logic.3 Logic is concerned with concepts, i.e. thinking defined narrowly as conceptual and thus including meaning. Schiller, anticipating the later Wittgenstein, argued against the separation of meaning from use.4 Meaning is largely contextual and differs in different situations. Thus meaning, like reality, is constantly changing. All meaning depends upon purposes which Schiller takes to be one of the four pragmatic principles and consistent with Peirce's theory of pragmatic meaning.
Schiller was a critic of contemporaneous treatments of formal judgment. Judgment is the act of thought that is an essential component of inference. Schiller wondered, if judgments are wrong how can inferences made from them be correct? Thus the connection of logic and psychology in thought, particularly in judgment, requires that logic pay some attention to psychological origins. He also noted that propositions are statements of judgments and so require the validity or truth of a judgment as well as the correct meaning of terms. But the truth of propositions is hypothetical, since they are subject to correction.
Schiller also included a critique of necessary inference. The dilemma of the logician is that if inference is abstracted from all meaning, in purely formal treatments, then it risks being inapplicable and impractical. If it makes reference to the meaning of the thinker, it must explore psychology and thus lose its purity. Also, inferences are supposed to give us new information, but if the conclusion is implicit in the premises, the former can only be new in the psychological sense and results in no true advance. As for the syllogism, Schiller argued that all syllogisms are subject to the fallacy of the ambiguity of middle terms.
He also criticized the notion common especially among the British Hegelians, who claimed inferences of thought are somehow identical with " reality. Statements about things should not be confused with things themselves; logical inference is not equivalent to causal relations in the world.
Schiller's positive contribution was a series of essays that outlined a "Voluntarist Logic" (Logic for Use). Schiller substituted "voluntarist" logic for "humanist" logic to sharpen the contrast with the formal logic of "intellectualism," which he accused of false abstractions. Indeed, Schiller's critique of the abstractions of philosophy was one of his main critical preoccupations. Hypostatization of abstractions leads ultimately to an arid intellectualism that utilizes logic chopping to deny change. Voluntarist logic emphasized the role of choice in logic, meaning and even inference. Choice is involved in the act of abstraction and thus precedes the use of abstractions by reason, e.g. in definition. Choice also means that the logic of necessity, formal logical inference, grows out of and thus is based on human thinking. The origin of logic lies in human thought and is voluntarily selected by individual human minds. The critical evaluation of knowing, the selection of subjects of inquiry, judgment, and selection of values involve choices. The logic of choice precedes and conditions the logic of necessity.
The reform of logic should proceed in the direction of the logic of inquiry. Schiller viewed scientific method as the paradigm of knowledge and thus thought that the logic of actual scientific procedure was the model for a practical logic. Like Peirce, he tried to demonstrate the logic of science. He argued for "the true logic of real reasoning which starts from the act of thought and so does not lose touch with science and practical life."6 Logic should be "use" centered not abstract, a means for human agents in coping with the problems of life.
Schiller also spoke of "personalist" logic in his late work, Must Philosophers Disagree. Personalist logic rests on the assumption that thinking is a mental process, that meanings occur in minds, that minds are personal, and that there are many different minds, which cannot be reduced to a standard pattern. Thought, hence logic, is originally dependent upon the experience of individual persons. Like Dewey, he believed that thinking starts in a problematic situation and is directed toward an end in view. Judgment is also personal. Since different minds may come to different conclusions from the same "data," logical pluralism seems requisite. However, there is a tension between this emphasis on the differences between individuals and the norms of inference valid for all. Schiller tried to emphasize how the latter grew out of the former.'
Formal logic was undergoing changes during Schiller's lifetime, particularly, the introduction of the new symbolic logic and the expansion of logical methods and modes. On the whole, Schiller did not see the value of these novelties, which he believed repeated the mistakes of the older Formal Logic. The critics of psychologism soon split into two camps, those who like Frege wanted a total divorce of logic from psychology; and those, like Schiller, who thought it should follow actual thinking more closely. Defenders of formal logic soon redefined it as the study of valid "inference," under the proddings of Frege, who criticized "psychologicm" in logic. Whether this change was a subtle acknowledgment of Schiller's critique is unclear, but in any case, it has taken much of the edge off his attack. However, the main thrust of Schiller's arguments remain, namely, that logicians are humans, reasoning takes place in the mind of individual persons and that validity must be evaluated. The "feeling" or "intuition" of certainty is psychological. Logic is a human product, however purified it becomes. Schiller refused to detach logic from the human thinker. There can be no logic without a logician.
Although his fame has faded, the topics Schiller addressed in his logical studies make him a pioneer in philosophy of logic. The relevance and role of subtle logical technicalities to life and science are issues as fresh as when Schiller first raised them. While the overwhelming consensus is that logic is distinct from psychology, and the efforts of logicians have been in the direction of an ever more "pure" logic, Schiller's issues remain at the basis of their endeavors.
Schiller regarded knowledge as future oriented, not past oriented as it was for many ancient and modem philosophers. Knowledge is less concerned with a priori causes and origins for Schiller and more with results, i.e. predictions of subsequent and future behavior of scientific entities. This perspective reflects his pragmatic outlook and its orientation toward science. Science has achieved highly accurate predictions through respect for the results of experimental evidence. This outlook ties in well with his model of values as first philosophy, i.e. the basis of knowledge in human values, for its emphasis is on predictive value and the useful results for humans of the scientific enterprise. The pursuit of such knowledge has as its purpose human goods and ends: it is ultimately regulated by ethical concerns in the sense of valued consequences. Scientific knowledge is an instrument and thereby a means to an end.
Reality, therefore, and the knowledge thereof, essentially presuppose a definitely directed effort to know. And, like other efforts, this effort is purposive; it is necessarily inspired by the conception of some good at which it aims. Neither the question of Fact, therefore, nor the question of Knowledge can be raised without also raising the question of Value. Our 'Facts' when analyzed turn out to be 'Values,' and the conception of 'Value' therefore becomes more ultimate than that of 'Fact.' Our valuations thus pervade our whole experience, and affect whatever 'fact; whatever 'knowledge' we consent to recognize.'
Humans would not pursue knowledge without some goal or good in view: "there is no knowing without valuing."
Schiller argues that humanism "must insist upon the permeation of all actual knowing by interests, purposes, desires, emotions, ends, goods, postulations, choices, etc...." 2 "Whatever is truly knowledge is useful, and whatever is not useful is not truly knowledge, while in proportion as any alleged knowledge is seen to be useless it is in danger of being declared false. "3 Of course, Schiller does not believe that all knowledge and science is concerned with investigation of values, and not particular subjects such as plants in botany. Schiller recognizes that subject matter must rule our inquiry to some degree. We cannot investigate mathematics through an inquiry into ethics. But he insists that such areas of human knowledge have human purposes as their foundation. So his intent is to say that knowledge has a ground or basis in human values and that it cannot be separated from our human organs of knowledge. Knowledge is regulated by its ground, human goals and values. Schiller argues that, "our knowing is not the mechanical operation of a passionless 'pure' intellect. ..."4 Anything entitled to be deemed knowledge must be useful for life and hence have as its fundamental principle a conception of its practical value as a criterion of the purpose of such knowledge. Even pure knowledge has one eye on practical benefits in this view. "If the pursuit of knowledge really aggravated instead of relieving, the burden of life, it would be irrational." Schiller also spoke of the "scientific value" of Darwin's evolutionary theory, and of "religious value" and "moral value," that is, distinct kinds of value differentiated by diverse subjects. If these sciences receive their purposes from human needs they payoff with benefits to life in various ways.
Like the other pragmatists, Schiller is critical of the complete separation of theory and practice, of knowledge from its value.5 He rejected the separation of theory and practice as a hangover from Greek philosophy no longer applicable in modern conditions. But he goes further in arguing for the inseparability of fact and value. Schiller proposed the radical view that facts and values are closely interrelated, since values are the foundation for facts, and even for the real, which he considers a value. Schiller is aware of the distinction of questions of existence and questions of worth, but attenuates the distinction. As the etymology of fact indicates, "fact" is from factum a doing or making. Facts are not "given" but "made," But such a doing or making is a teleological activity, directed toward some human good. Ultimately facts embody human good as accomplished ends or worthwhile results. However, a fact as a making is the making of a human good, so the process of "making reality" is the same as making "goods," although value is the ultimate ground of the making as a means to an end. "For our interests impose the conditions under which alone Reality can be revealed. Only such aspects of Reality can be revealed as are not merely knowable but as are objects of an actual desire, and consequent attempt, to know."
Schiller scored the absolute separation of facts and theories as a new dualism. He argued that facts can become theories and theories have an element of fact. Facts in the lab involve careful alteration of conditions to create new knowledge. Thus he pointed to the epistemological status of action in his emendation of empiricism, a further point in favor of the critique of theory and practice. Like the other pragmatists, he endorsed the experimental method as the only true method of knowledge, even including mathematics. Complete knowledge makes reference to purpose, i.e. teleology, of which mechanical explanations are supplemental. Knowledge requires realization of ideals and thus a goal or purpose, viz. achieving better and more accurate results. However, he regarded knowledge as knowledge of facts, and thus was not at total remove from scientism and positivism, despite his critique of them. Humanist metaphysics is to be derived from the sciences, including the evolutionary view. Facts, then, are the product of scientific investigation, but, unlike for some positivists, are not objects in the world. Epistemology should not be confused with metaphysics, although it has priority over it.
Schiller thought that all philosophers agree that human knowledge is built up out of experience, but that experience alone does not constitute reality. Schiller argued that experience is the experience of a self and that more "objective" facts had to be derived and constructed from such personal experience. This involves interaction with the world, which changes even in the process of being known. Thus Schiller rejects both foundationalism and any a priori in epistemology. Rather, some hypotheses are refuted by experience while others, as Nietzsche put it, are judged "provisionally valid." Knowledge is slowly built up and in the process some highly confirmed postulates may achieve the rank of axioms. Determinism ignores the selective process in research and the choice involved in interaction. Empiricism misses the active side of investigation.
It is clear that the influence of the idealists, especially Kant and his followers, left its mark on Schiller. Human good, not experience, has the last word. He notes that if humans are defective, so is our entire knowing' and thus there is a human element in all knowing. Indeed, he went so far as to deny a separate study of epistemology was needed, since its functions were covered by logic and psychology. But this speculative possibility is irrelevant if man's needs and purposes are fulfilled. In other words, our knowledge may be far from absolute and nevertheless useful. The study of values, then, stands as the basis or foundation of other sciences.8 Values mediate knowledge but the latter, in the form of truth, mediates the real, reality. Humanism results in a "beneficent simplification of the whole theory of knowledge," including a reform of philosophy, especially logic. It also serves as a stimulus to science and useful knowledge, and contributes to ethics and religion. The humanist theory of truth, he believes, answers the skeptic.
Schiller broke new ground in his treatment of scientific method. Several commentators have accused him of "relativism," but this view misses the forest for the trees. Some Schiller texts indeed mention the relational character of knowledge, but this should not be confused with relativism, despite his sometimes misleading language. On the contrary, taking an idea of James and combining it with his value philosophy, Schiller developed the position of epistemological meliorism. Meliorism in James is primarily metaphysical, and he contrasted it with cosmic optimism, as in Leibniz, and pessimism, as in Schopenhauer. Although the world is not perfect it can be improved, especially by human action. Schiller, noting the progressive character of our knowledge, argued that this model was especially appropriate for the development of human learning, particularly science. Science is a progressive affair in which new knowledge replaces or refines older. Thus human knowledge is improved, or ameliorated over historical time. The accuracy of knowledge is thus in a relation—which does not mean relative—to the conditions at the time.
There are many factors in the improvement of knowledge. These include the overall results of research, reigning theories, the refinement of instruments, which extend our senses, and particularly the humans organs of knowing and their limitations. Memory, language and imagination are also required in science, the latter in advancing new hypotheses and theories. Hence we cannot eliminate the personal element from knowledge. Personal biases of course have no place in science, but bias must be evaluated, a task for logic.
Anticipating Kuhn, Schiller noted that new scientific paradigms might make older knowledge irrelevant, dated, or even false. Choosing between competing theories and hypotheses necessarily involves (e)valuation of their relative merits with respect to such factors as prediction. The better more accurate prediction argues for one theory as better than another. Thus value enters into science in the form of improved theories and hypotheses. Abstraction is also a form of selection. Epistemological meliorism combines the notion of progress, development, and accumulation of facts with the value framework developed in "first philosophy." The notion of scientific progress is incompatible with relativism, and Schiller clearly believed in the former, that is, the possibility of meliorism in epistemology. Science is historical and progressive, since it can only advance by growing.
Schiller argued that there is basically only one method of knowing, the scientific method. Thus it is normative for the special methods of the different sciences. It is by examining the scientific method that our knowledge can advance. "Pragmatism would find an almost inexhaustible field of exploration in the sciences, by examining the multifarious ways in which their 'truths' have come to be established, and showing how the practical value of scientific conceptions has accelerated and determined their acceptance."
He also noted that some sciences can control their experiments more closely and carefully vary conditions, so that they can test for relevant variables. History cannot vary these conditions in the lab, marking it as a unique science. This activity is purposive, and involves aiming at ends in view. Facts are never "given" but must be derived from the mass of irrelevant material by selection. Scientific experimentalism may involve risk, since we can never know absolutely. However, it is the only possible method of knowing. Even mathematics has grown, and added alternative geometries by the experiment of varying the postulates or axioms from which it deduces consequences. Knowledge accumulates gradually, rather than by one decisive experiment (but compare Einstein's prediction of the "bending of light" and its confirmation in the 1919 eclipse). The laws of science grow from hypotheses to covering theories to highly confirmed laws with more and more observations and their increasing success in prediction. It is their predictive success that warrants acceptance as belief.
Schiller criticized a priori methods in favor of experience, but added the evaluative element, meliorism. Experience must be refined by science in a gradual improvement in our knowledge, which involves experiment, prediction, verification and dose study of consequences. Thus experience is only one element in the scientific method, since experiments involve action in view of an end, variation of conditions and other factors. Like Peirce, he argued that there is a fund of knowledge that is not in doubt that serves as a starting point for investigation. It is only if we have cause to doubt any of these that they in turn become an object of investigation. In principle, all facts and theories can be revised. Facts and hypotheses are provisional unless highly confirmed and even the most highly confirmed laws of science can be overturned (Ptolemy, Copernicus) or modified (Newton, Einstein).
Schiller also noted the use of ideal fictions such as a "frictionless surface" and Einstein's elevator in science, which he assigned to useful ideals and abstractions. Thus science sometimes achieves success by abstracting from real world conditions. Universals and concepts are species of such useful fictions. But abstractions can be misleading. "Knowing is essentially a rational, purposive activity, and to leave out the teleological and the activity factor, as intellectualism does, alike in its sensationalist and in its rationalist forms, is a false abstraction and a fatal mistake."
Schiller has an essentially empirical and humanistic epistemology, modified by pragmatism. However, of experience he remarks that "its surface-value will not enable us to meet our obligations: we are compelled therefore to discount our immediate experience, to treat it as an appearance of something ulterior which will supplement its deficiency." It can be seen from this passage that experience does not have the last word for Schiller; experience must be judged by something more basic. Again, he speaks of the "final evaluation of experience." This separates Schiller decisively from James, Dewey, and C. I. Lewis, for all of whom experience is basic, although each of them argues against the subjective turn in experience. Although Schiller speaks of Pragmatism as involved with theory of knowledge, he views Pragmatism as a subsidiary view to his own Humanist stance. His theory of knowledge then is based in turn upon values and any study of values as a field of knowledge requires valuations.
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