Spurts of Instinctive Pragmatising

“Mankind moves by spurts of instinctive pragmatising; spoiled by rigid concept-work and weak imagination; usually it is fulfilling in haste a need too long felt and denied. True progress would consist in a change that did not leave behind as many advantages as it offers new ones. But that would call for a pragmatic calculus alien to our notions of principle and our habits of revolution. Why does disillusionment follow the revolutionary victory? Simply because of the prior illusion that the overthrow of the existing regime will not affect present benefits; it will add to them the new ones desired. But once the change has been fought and bled for, it turns out that no addition but only an exchange has taken place, at great cost.

“Law and history as the record of human action provide endless examples of the difficulty that pragmatic thought has to grapple with. While others cry ‘Be realistic!’ the pragmatist knows that reality is elusive. In the abstract, reality is a legitimate standard to appeal to; it is the general goal that all truths aim at; but concretely, the real is not there ready to shake hands with the adventurer. He must expect disappointment and bad surprises.” (Jacques Barzun, A Stroll With William James, p. 96)


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