F. C. S. Schiller, fully Ferdinand Canning Scott Schiller

F. C. S.
Schiller, fully Ferdinand Canning Scott Schiller

German-British Philosopher

Author Quotes

A mind unwilling to believe or even undesirous to be instructed, our weightiest evidence must ever fail to impress. It will insist on taking that evidence in bits and rejecting item by item. As all the facts come singly, anyone who dismisses them one by one is destroying the condition under which the conviction of a new truth could ever arise in the mind.

The impossibility of answering truly the question whether the 100th (or 10,000th) decimal in the evaluation of Pi is or is not a 9, splendidly illustrates how impossible it is to predicate truth in abstraction from actual knowing and actual purpose. For the question cannot be answered until the decimal is calculated. Until then no one knows what it is, or rather will turn out to be. And no one will calculate it, until it serves some purpose to do so, and someone therefore interests himself in the calculation. And so until then the truth remains uncertain: there is no 'true' answer, because there is no actual context in which the question has really been raised. We have merely a number of conflicting possibilities, not even claims to truth, and there is no decision. Yet a decision is possible if an experiment is performed. But his experiment presupposes a desire to know. It will only be made if the point becomes one which it is practically important to decide. Normally no doubt it does not become such, because for the actual purposes of the sciences it makes no difference whether we suppose the figure to be 9 or something else. I.e. the truth to, say, the 99th decimal, is ' true enough ' for our purposes, and the 100th is a matter of indifference. But let that indifference cease, and the question become important, and the ' truth ' will at once become ' useful '. Prof. Taylor's illustration therefore conclusively proves that in an actual context and as an actual question there is no true answer to be got until the truth has become useful. This point is illustrated also by the context Prof. Taylor has himself suggested. For he has made the question about the 100th decimal important by making the refutation of the whole pragmatist theory of knowledge depend on it. And what nobler use could the 100th decimal have in his eyes? If in consequence of this interest he will set himself to work it out, he will discover this once useless, but now most useful, truth, and?triumphantly refute his own contention!

Actually every philosophy was the offspring, the legitimate offspring, of an idiosyncracy, and the history and psychology of its author had far more to do with its development than der Gang der Sache selbst?. The naive student insists on viewing the system from the outside, as a logical structure, and not as a psychological process extending over a lifetime. And he thereby throws away, or loses, the key to understanding.

The new teleology would not be capricious or random in its application, but firmly rooted in the conclusions of the sciences? The process which the theory of Evolution divined the history of the world to be, must have content and meaning determined from the basis of the scientific data; it is only by a careful study of the history of a thing that we can determine the direction of its development, [and only then] that we can be said to have made the first approximation to the knowledge of the End of the world process.

And in action especially we are often forced to act upon slight possibilities. Hence, if it can be shown that our solution is a possible answer, and the only possible alternative to pessimism, to a complete despair of life, it would deserve acceptance, even though it were but a bare possibility.

The objects of the physical sciences form the lower orders in the hierarchy of existence, more extensive but less significant. Thus the atoms of the physicist may indeed be found in the organization of conscious beings, but they are subordinate: a living organism exhibits actions which cannot be formulated by the laws of physics alone; man is material, but he is also a great deal more.

And thus, so far from dispensing with the need for a Divine First Cause, the theory of evolution, if only we have the faith in science to carry it to its conclusion, and the courage to interpret it, proves irrefragably that no evolution was possible without a pre-existent Deity, and a Deity, moreover, transcendent, non-material and non-phenomenal? The world process is the working out of an anterior purpose or idea in the divine consciousness.

The plain man's 'things,' the physicist's 'atoms,' and Mr. Ritchie's 'Absolute,' are all of them more or less preserving and well-considered schemes to interpret the primary reality of phenomena, and in this sense Mr. Ritchie is entitled to call the 'sunrise' a theory. But the chaos of presentations, out of which we have (by criteria ultimately practical) isolated the phenomena we subsequently call sunrise, is not a theory, but the fact which has called all theories into being.

But now, we may ask, how are these 'consequences' to test the 'truth' claimed by the assertion? Only by satisfying or thwarting that purpose, by forwarding or baffling that interest. If they do the one, the assertion is 'good' and pro tanto 'true' ; if they do the other, 'bad' and 'false'. Its 'consequences,' therefore, when investigated, always turn out to involve the 'practical' predicates 'good ' or 'bad,' and to contain a reference to ' practice' in the sense in which we have used that term. So soon as therefore we go beyond an abstract statement of the narrower pragmatism, and ask what in the concrete, and in actual knowing, 'having consequences ' may mean, we develop inevitably the full-blown pragmatism in the wider sense.

The pseudo-metaphysical method puts forward the method of science as the method of philosophy. But it is doomed to perpetual failure? The data supplied by the physical sciences are intractable, because they are data of a lower sort than the facts they are to explain.

For the most part the living organism adapts itself to it conditions of life by earlier, easier, and quicker expedients. Its actions or reactions are mostly 'reflex actions' determined by inherited habits which largely function automatically... It follows from this elaborate and admirable organization of adaptive responses to stimulation that organic life might proceed without thinking altogether...This is, in fact, the way in which most living being carry on their life, and the plane on which man also lives most of the time.

Thinking, however, is not so much a substitute for the earlier processes as a subsidiary addition to them. It only pays in certain cases, and intelligence may be shown also by discerning what they are and when it is wiser to act without thinking...Philosophers, however, have very mistaken ideas about rational action. They tend to think that men ought to think all the time, and about all things. But if they did this they would get nothing done, and shorten their lives without enhancing their merriment. Also they utterly misconceive the nature of rational action. They represent it as consisting in the perpetual use of universal rules, whereas it consists rather in perceiving when a general rule must be set aside in order that conduct may be adapted to a particular case.

For to say that a [statement] has consequences and that what has none is meaningless, must surely mean that it has a bearing upon some human interest; they must be consequences to someone for some purpose.

This is teleology of a totally different kind to that which is so vehemently, and on the whole so justly dreaded by the modern exponents of natural science. It does not attempt to explain things anthropocentrically, or regard all creation as existing for the use and benefit of man; it is as far as the scientist from supposing that cork-trees grow to supply us with champagne corks. The end to which it supposes all things to subserve is? the universal End of the world-process, to which all things tend.

If our speculations have not entirely missed their mark, the world-process will come to an end when all the spirits whom it is designed to harmonize [by its Divine Creator] have been united in a perfect society.

Thought, therefore, is an abnormality which springs from a disturbance. Its genesis is connected with a peculiar deficiency in the life of habit...Whenever... it becomes biologically important to notice differences in roughly similar situations, and to adjust action more closely to the peculiarities of a particular case, the guidance of life by habit, instinct, and impulse breaks down. A new expedient has somehow to be devised for effecting such exact and delicate adjustments. This is the raison d'etre of what is variously denominated 'thought,' ?reason,' ?reflection,' ?reasoning,' and 'judgment.

In addition to generating hypothetical objects to explain phenomena, the interpretation of reality by our thought also bestows a derivative reality on the abstractions with which thought works. If they are the instruments wherewith thought accomplishes such effects upon reality, they must surely be themselves real.

To assert this methodological character of eternal truths is not, of course, to deny their validity? To say that we assume the truth of abstraction because we wish to attain certain ends, is to subordinate theoretic 'truth' to a teleological implication; to say that, the assumption once made, its truth is 'proved' by its practical working? For the question of the 'practical' working of a truth will always ultimately be found to resolve itself into the question whether we can live by it.

It is not too much to say that the more deference men of science have paid to logic, the worse it has been for the scientific value of their reasoning? Fortunately for the world, however, the great men of science have usually been kept in salutary ignorance of the logical tradition.

We require, then, a method which combines the excellencies of both the pseudo-metaphysical and the abstract metaphysical, if philosophy is to be possible at all.

It will not be possible to rule out the supposition that the process of evolution may be guided by an intelligent design.

One curious result of this inertia, which deserves to rank among the fundamental 'laws' of nature, is that when a discovery has finally won tardy recognition it is usually found to have been anticipated, often with cogent reasons and in great detail.

Our account of the function of Judgment in our mental life will, however, have to start a long way back. For there is much thinking before there is any judging, and much living before there is any thinking. Even in highly developed minds judging is a relatively rare incident in thinking, and thinking in living, an exception rather than the rule, and a relatively recent acquisition.

Out of the hurly-burly of events in time and space [we] extract[ ] changeless formulas whose chaste abstraction soars above all reference to any 'where' or 'when,' and thereby renders them blank cheques to be filled up at our pleasure with any figures of the sort. The only question is?Will Nature honor the cheque? Audentes Natura juvat?let us take our life in our hands and try! If we fail, our blood will be on our own hands (or, more probably, in someone else's stomach), but though we fail, we are in no worse case than those who dared not postulate? Our assumption, therefore, is at least a methodological necessity; it may turn out to be (or be near) a fundamental fact in nature [an axiom].

Philosophy, then, will have the duty of tracing out the consequences of personality in all our knowing [because science will not do so]. Now as regards the philosophies, this task is easy enough: they all testify aloud to the often highly romantic personality of their makers, and the more original they are, the plainer it is that this is what has determined their every detail.

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F. C. S.
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Schiller, fully Ferdinand Canning Scott Schiller
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German-British Philosopher