The recognition of this fact of coalescence of next with next in concrete experience, so that all the insulating cuts we make there are artificial products of the conceptualizing faculty, is what distinguishes the empiricism which I call radical,’ from the bugaboo empiricism of the traditional rationalist critics, which (rightly or wrongly) is accused of chopping up experience into atomistic sensations, incapable of union with one another until a purely intellectual principle has swooped down upon them from on high and folded them in its own conjunctive categories.
Here, then, you have the plain alternative, and the full mystery of the difference between pluralism and monism, as clearly as I can set it forth on this occasion. It packs up into a nutshell :֊Is the manyness in oneness that indubitably characterizes the world we inhabit, a property only of the absolute whole of things, so that you must postulate that one-enormous-whole indivisibly as the prius of there being any many at all—in other words, start with the rationalistic block-universe, entire, unmitigated, and complete?—or can the finite elements have their own aboriginal forms of manyness in oneness, and where they have no immediate oneness still be continued into one another by intermediary terms—each one of these terms being one with its next neighbors, and yet the total ‘oneness’ never getting absolutely complete?
The alternative is definite. It seems to me, moreover, that the two horns of it make pragmatically different ethical appeals—at least they may do so, to certain individuals. But if you consider the pluralistic horn to be intrinsically irrational, self-contradictory, and absurd, I can now say no more in its defense.... Whatever I may say, each of you will be sure to take pluralism or leave it, just as your own sense of rationality moves and inclines. The only thing I emphatically insist upon is that it is a fully coordinate hypothesis with monism. This world may, in the last resort, be a block-universe; but on the other hand it may be a universe only strung-along, not rounded in and closed. Reality may exist distributively just as it sensibly seems to, after all. On that possibility I do insist.
One’s general vision of the probable usually decides such alternatives. They illustrate what I once wrote of as the will to believe.’ In some of my lectures at Harvard I have spoken of what I call the ‘faith-ladder,’ as something quite different from the sorites of the logic-books, yet seeming to have an analogous form. I think you will quickly recognize in yourselves, as I describe it, the mental process to which I give this name.
A conception of the world arises in you somehow, no matter how. Is it true or not? you ask.
It might be true somewhere, you say, for it is not self-contradictory.
It may be true, you continue, even here and now.
It is fit to be true, it would be well if it were true, it ought to be true, you presently feel.
It must be true, something persuasive in you whispers next; and then—as a final result—
It shall be held for true, you decide; it shall be as if true, for you.
And your acting thus may in certain special cases be a means of making it securely true in the end.
Not one step in this process is logical, yet it is the way in which monists and pluralists alike espouse and hold fast to their visions. It is life exceeding logic, it is the practical reason for which the theoretic reason finds arguments after the conclusion is once there. In just this way do some of us hold to the unfinished pluralistic universe; in just this way do others hold to the timeless universe eternally complete.
Meanwhile the incompleteness of the pluralistic universe, thus assumed and held to as the most probable hypothesis, is also represented by the pluralistic philosophy as being self-reparative through us, as getting its disconnections remedied in part by our behavior. [As Maurice Blondel said: ] ‘We use what we are and have, to know; and what we know, to be and have still more.’ Thus do philosophy and reality, theory and action, work in the same circle indefinitely.
* Title assigned by the author of this book; from the “Conclusions,” A Pluralistic Universe (New York and London: Longmans, Green, 1909), Lecture VII, pp. 326-30.