Essays in Radical Empiricism

Chapter 10: Mr. Pitkin's Refutation of 'Radical Empiricism'[1]

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ALTHOUGH Mr. Pitkin does not name me in his acute article on radical empiricism, [2] [ ... ] I fear that some readers, knowing me to have applied that name to my own doctrine, may possibly consider themselves to have been in at my death.

In point of fact my withers are entirely unwrung. I have, indeed, said [3] that 'to be radical, an empiricism must not admit into its constructions any element that is not directly experienced! But in my own radical empiricism this is only a methodological postulate, not a conclusion supposed to flow from the intrinsic absurdity of transempirical objects. I have never felt the slightest respect for the idealistic

(242) arguments which Mr. Pitkin attacks and of which Ferrier made such striking use; and I am perfectly willing to admit any number of noumenal beings or events into philosophy if only their pragmatic value can be shown.

Radical empiricism and pragmatism have so many misunderstandings to suffer from, that it seems my duty not to let this one go any farther, uncorrected.

Mr. Pitkin's 'reply' to me,[4] perplexes me by the obscurity of style which I find in almost all our younger philosophers. He asks me, however, two direct questions which I understand, so I take the liberty of answering.

First he asks: Do not experience and science show 'that countless things are [5] experienced as that which they are not or are only partially?' I reply: Yes, assuredly, as, for example, 'things' distorted by refractive media, 'molecules,' or whatever else is taken to be more

(243) ultimately real than the immediate content of the perceptive moment.

Secondly: "If experience is self-supporting [6] (in any intelligible sense) does this fact preclude the possibility of (a) something not experienced and (b) action of experience upon a noumenon?"

My reply is: Assuredly not the possibility of either -- how could it? Yet in my opinion we should be wise not to consider any thing or action of that nature, and to restrict our universe of philosophic discourse to what is experienced or, at least, experienceable.[7]


  1. [Reprinted from the Journal of Philosophy, Psychology and Scientific Methods, vol. III, No. 96, December 20, 1906; and ibid., vol. IV, No. 4, February 14, 1907, where the original is entitled "A Reply to Mr. Pitkin." Ed.]
  2. [W. B. Pitkin: "A Problem of Evidence in Radical Empiricism," ibid., vol. III, No. 24. November 22, 1906. ED.]
  3. [Above, p. 42. ED.]
  4. [" In Reply to Professor James." Journal of Philosophy, Psychology and Scientific Methods, vol. IV, No. 2, January 17,1907, ED.]
  5. Mr. Pitkin inserts the clause: 'by reason of the very nature of experience itself.' Not understanding just what reason is meant, I do not include this clause in my answer.
  6. [See above, p. 193. ED.]
  7. [Elsewhere, in speaking of 'reality' as "conceptual or perceptual experiences," the author says. "This is meant merely to exclude reality of an 'unknowable' sort, of which no account in either perceptual or conceptual terms can be given. It includes, of course, any amount of empirical reality independent of the knower." Meaning of Truth, P. 100, note. ED.]

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