William James on Truth


"Truth in our ideas means their power to work" (p. 34).

"A new opinion counts as "true" just in proportion as it gratifies the individual's desire to assimilate the novel in his experience to his beliefs in stock" (p. 36).

"The most ancient parts of truth . . . also once were plastic. They also were called true for human reasons. They also mediated between still earlier truths and what in those days were novel observations. Purely objective truth, truth in whose establishment the function of giving human satisfaction in marrying previous parts of experience with newer parts played no role whatsoever, is nowhere to be found. The reasons why we call things true is the reason why they are true, for "to be true" means only to perform this marriage-function. " (p. 37).

"I am well aware how odd it must seem to some of you to hear me say that an idea is "true" so long as to believe it is profitable to our lives" (p. 42).

"Truth is one species of good, and not, as is usually supposed, a category distinct from good, and co-ordinate with it" (p. 42).

"The true is the name of whatever proves itself to be good in the way of belief, and good, too, for definite, assignable reasons" (p. 42).

"'What would be better for us to believe!' This sounds very like a definition of truth" (p. 42).

"The greatest enemy of any one of our truths may be the rest of our truths" (p. 43).

"[Pragmatism's] only test of probable truth is what works best in the way of leading us, what fits every part of life best and combines with the collectivity of experience's demands, nothing being omitted" (p. 44).

"Truth, as any dictionary will tell you, is a property of certain of our ideas. It means their "agreement," as fasity means their disagreement, with "reality" (p. 96)

"Pragmatism asks its usual question. "Grant an idea or belief to be true," it says, "what concrete difference will its being true make in anyone's actual life? How will the truth be realized? What experiences will be different from those which would obtain if the belief were false? What, in short, is the truth's cash-val;ue in experiential terms" (p. 97)?

"True ideas are those that we can assimilate, validate, corroborate, and verify. False ideas are those that we cannot" (p. 97).

"Truth happens to an idea" (p. 97).

"True is the name for whatever idea starts the verification process, useful is the name for its completed function in experience" (p. 98).

"Woe to him whose beliefs play fast and loose with the order which realities follow in his experience; they will lead him nowhere or else make false connections" (p. 99).

"Truth lives, in fact, for the most part on a credit system" (p. 100).

"Our ideas must agree with realities, be such realities concrete or abstract" (p. 101).

"Theory must mediate between all previous truths and certain new experiences" (p. 104).

"Our theories are wedged and controlled as nothing else is. Yet sometimes alternative theoretic formulas are equally compatible with all the truths we know, and then we choose between them for subjective reasons. We choose the kind of theory to which we are already partial: we follow 'elegenace' or 'economy'" (p. 104).

"Truth for us is simply a collective name for verification processes" (p. 104)

"Truths emerge from facts, but they dip forward into facts again and add to them; which facts again create or reveal new truth (the word is indifferent) and so on indefinitely. The 'facts' themselves meanwhile are not true. They simply are. Truth is the function of the beliefs that start and terminate among them" (p. 108).


"In the last analysis, then, we believe that we all know and think about and talk about the same world because we believe our PERCEPTS are possessed by us in common" (p. 29).

"To know an object is to lead to it through a context which the world provides" (p. 35).

"The suspicion is in the air nowadays that the superiority of one of our formulas to another may not consist so much in its literal 'objectivity,' as in subjective qualities like its usefulness, its 'elegance,' or its congruity with our residual beliefs" (p. 41).

"To give the theory plenty of 'rope' and see if it hangs itself eventually is better tactics than to choke it off at the outset b abstract accusations of self-contradiction" (p. 41).

"To consider hypotheses is surely always better than to dogmatize ins blaue hinein" (p. 47)"

"Those thoughts are true which guide us to beneficial interaction with sensible particulars as they occur, whether they copy these in advance or not" (p 51).

"Owing to the fact that all experience is a process, no point of view can ever be the last one" (p. 55).

"An experience, perceptual or conceptual, must conform to reality in order to be true" (p 59).

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