go home Pragmatism

American Sociological Review Vol 35, No 2 (Apr., 1970)


* This paper is a revision of a paper read at the Sociology of Knowledge session chaired by Albert Cousins at the joint meeting of the Ohio Valley and Midwest Sociological Societies, May 1, 1969. The paper benefited from the criticism of Irwin Deutscher and William H. Form. If there are errors of fact and interpretation, they are our own.

Marx's epistemology is based on a type of materialism melded to the Hegelian dialectic. To avoid the use of metaphysics, which he considered unscientific, Marx asserted that reality was directly perceived by the observer without an intervening conceptual apparatus. But to interpret his data, he used the dialectic, a metaphysical system which he thought to be empirically true. The Marxist dialectic considers theory and practice to be a single entity and that what men actually do demonstrates the truth. Dewey's "logic," also influenced by Hegel, is derived from the experimental situation rather thanz from an externally validated formal system, so that theory and practice are one entity. Thus both dialectical materialism and pragmatism involve an activist criterion of truth because both fail to postulate a logical system which is independent of social action. The criterion of truth is inextricably intertwined with social power. Both dialectical materialism and pragmatism encourage a situation where the production of knowledge may be influenced by mechanisms of social control.


MOST sociologists are aware of the fact that scientific knowledge may be influenced by mechanisms of social control. Both Merton and Myrdal have warned that biases must be made explicit so that critics can more easily identify hidden assumptions. Recognition of the importance of this warning appears to be widespread in the discipline. But while laying out biases for public inspection is a helpful corrective, it does not dispose of the problem. The only biases a man can expose are those of which he is consciously aware. The taken-for-granted assumption peculiar to a particular place and time are not easy to see, and there is no easy prescription for finding them. Investigation of the epistemological foundation used as a basis for determining the validity of sociological propositions raises a host of complex issues which require unrestricted attention. Many working sociologists, faced with other demands on their time, might prefer to relegate such issues to another discipline, such as philosophy, or philosophy of science. But some of these issues need to be faced. Were the findings of sociologists nothing but esoteric trivia, of no conceivable political or social use, then the question of their validity would have little consequence. Increasingly, however, sociological findings are used to shape and justify particular social policies. In this situation, ignoring the question of the possible influence of social control on scientific findings seems ill-advised.

Our position is that all sociological propositions implicitly assume an epistemological foundation, and that both sociological and epistemological propositions can be influenced by social power. But we shall not defend that position in this paper. Rather, we shall examine two systems of scientific validation, dialectical materialism and pragmatism, in an attempt to show that both are especially susceptible to the influence of social control. Both systems have much that is of purely intellectual interest, but we focus on these two because of their political importance. Owing to a series of historical accidents, dialectical materialism provides an official epistemological foundation for Soviet science, while pragmatism is dominant in the United States. One ought not underestimate the importance of scientific findings that can ultimately be backed by atomic power.

Marxists believe that dialectical materialism constitutes an appropriate foundation for science and condemn American sociology as bourgeois ideology which supports the status quo in the United States. American sociologists believe that their own scientific knowledge is provisionally true and criticize Marxist social science because it is ideologically biased and lends support to the status quo in the Soviet Union. Both beliefs are logically parallel and both may be ethnocentrically biased.

There has been a recent resurgence of interest in Marxism in American sociology. In fact, some American sociologists are occasionally described as "Marxist" or even "neo-Hegelian," but these labels usually refer only to the fact that they emphasize economic interests or hold that change and conflict are fundamental to human existence. Both of these notions have historical origins antedating Marx, and Marxists have no preeminent claim upon them. So far as we know, no American sociologist has tried to show that the dialectic, in a form that Marx would have recognized, is a useful approach to social science.' Even the new radicals have ignored the epistemological basis of Marxism.

Although social scientists in the Soviet Union generally adhere to the approach called "dialectical materialism," can we identify any such entity as an "American approach"? American sociologists typically are not much concerned with philosophy and epistemology. To the extent that an American model exists, it is probably the pragmatic model developed by John Dewey, as Mills observed almost 30 years ago (Mills, 1940:323). Mills had been a student of philosophy and understood quite well what the model involved, but many who give lipservice to pragmatism apparently think it involves only the idea that it is important to see how things work out in practice.

That pragmatism and dialectical materialism should show points of convergence is not surprising because Marx and Dewey both reacted to the static conception of truth that they thought prevalent in contemporary philosophy. They disliked the metaphysical hair-splitting which seemed to have little relationship to observable human troubles. Dewey pointed out that Bacon (who asserted that knowledge is power) had criticized the body of knowledge extant at his time because it did not give power; that is, it was useless (Dewey, 1920:29). Dewey and Marx felt that the only purpose in amassing a body of knowledge was to serve human needs; knowledge ought to be useful. But useful for what? In an attempt to deal with this question Marx and Dewey both extended the analysis of what is to the analysis of what ought to be.

Knowledge which would give the power to bring about a desired future state of affairs would be derived by the methods they carefully prescribed. But the methods they prescribed suffer from an important defect: both methods permit (although they do not require) those with sufficient power to define scientific truth. Although other similarities between pragmatism and dialectical materialism will be noted, the major focus of this paper is upon this defect. The charge we have made against Dewey and Marx is strong, and we shall examine their work in some detail in an attempt to substantiate it.


The description of Marxist epistemology is based on statements by both Marx and Engels, who collaborated over a long period of time, and no attempt is made to differentiate their views in this brief paper. Marx felt that the question of whether men were capable of objective thought was practical, not theoretical. The truth could be proved only in practice (Marx and Engels, 1964:645): "The question whether objective truth can be attributed to human thinking is not a question of theory but is a practical question. Man must prove the truth, i.e., the reality and power, the this[sidedness of his thinking in practice. The dispute over the reality or non-reality of thinking that is isolated from practice is a purely scholastic question."

Marx held that thought and action cannot be separated because the purpose of knowing is to act, and one can know the truth only by observing action. The first assertion is a value judgment, and the second is an epistemological proposition. The mixture of these two ideas constitutes the basis of Marxist thought. Marx's method is called "historical materialism" or "dialectical materialism," although Bottomore and Rubel (1961:35) note that Marx never used either of these terms. We shall first discuss the meaning to be attributed to the word "materialism."

Marxist Materialism

Marxist materialism stresses three things: the material quality of the mind itself; the metaphysical tenet that the outside world is real; and the primacy of human interaction in the productive process over other aspects of culture and society. The emphasis on human conditions of life is probably most important with reference to substantive aspects of Marxist thought.

For the Marxist, mind itself is material. Matter is not created by the mind; mind itself is the highest product of matter. All the products of men's minds, ideologies, religions, philosophies rest upon a material basis (Engels, 1941:373, 393). Even the infinitesimal calculus had a material basis (Engels, 1964:276), although Engels did not explain how one manages to observe an imaginary magnitude.

Marx and Engels wanted to eliminate supernatural and superstitious elements from their work, a reasonable goal for any scientist. To assert that the human mind is material appears to accomplish this goal, for it denies the validity of the mind-matter dichotomy. Those who had accepted the validity of this type of dualism had generally been disposed to attribute to mind all that was noble and to matter all that was base, and the division was based on assumptions that appear to be metaphysical twaddle by current standards. By making mind material, Marx and Engels at one stroke disposed of the primacy of spiritual or supernatural forces in human affairs.

But to define mind as material raises a problem which was not confronted: if all knowledge is a consequence of the encounter of a purely material mind with a purely material world, the existence of nonempirical information cannot be accounted for. How can we explain the existence of ideas which are clearly not derived from sensory perception? Hume, carrying Locke's work to a logical conclusion, pointed out the consequences of assuming that a sensate theory could account for all forms of knowledge. Kant, observing that Hume's conclusion implied that one could account neither for God nor mathematics, took pains to construct a system that could account for both.

Although recent philosophers appear to be more concerned with mathematics than God, they generally recognize the importance of accounting for nonempirical knowledge. Scientists today generally believe that between the observer and the observed, some sort of conceptual apparatus in the head of the observer intervenes to order the material. The notion that the observer immediately apprehends empirical truth is inadequate. In spite of what they said about the direct perception of empirical reality, Marx and Engels actually used a metaphysical system with a "new" logic, which we shall soon discuss.

The second aspect of Marxist materialism is the assumption that the outside world exists objectively. Philosophic realism, a common name for this assumption, implies the belief that something exists "out there" whether men are aware of it or not. The"something" might be eternal universals, as Plato thought; Spirit, as Hegel thought; or men working to sustain themselves, as Marx thought. This metaphysical view is opposed to that of the English empiricists who thought that nothing was real unless it was perceived; that reality was in men's heads, not in the world "out there." The tree in the forest did not exist unless someone perceived it. At a common sense level, the English view appears to be absurd, yet Hume, who carried it to a conclusion, raised problems for philosophy and science that are yet unsolved. The difficulty raised by the assumption of philosophic realism is this: how can empirical demonstration prove that what one man sees is precisely what another man sees? The difficulty is exasperating because at a common sense level it does not appear to exist.

It is said that Lenin, like Dr. Samuel Johnson before him, attempted to sustain common sense: he struck a stone wall and bloodied his fist to demonstrate inter-subjective consensus in an argument with a neo-Kantian. A bloody fist would strike most men as an objective datum; but without resorting to a metaphysical principle, there is no way of demonstrating empirically that the injured fist perceived by Lenin was precisely the injured fist perceived by the neo-Kantian. Intersubjective consensus about sensory data must be assumed. There is no empirical proof for the assumption. Because this assumption cannot be demonstrated empirically, it must be accepted on metaphysical grounds. But if one metaphysical principle is admitted into a scientific model, then on what grounds can others be excluded? Marx and Engels paid no attention to this problem but others who did met with no success. As Ayer (1959:18) pointed out, Carnap and others tried to find an empirical solution, but failed. Russell (1945:674) suggests that unless one assumes intersubjectivity of perception, science is not possible; therefore, one must assume it. Thus far, no one has presented a better solution.2

The third aspect of Marxist materialism is the stress on human interaction in the productive process as the basis for all ideas. Many ambiguities qualify a position which is often thought to be simple technological determinism. Marx's pioneering work in recognizing the importance of the social milieu in the production of knowledge and ideas makes him a giant among sociologists. To think of individuals producing outside a social context is absurd (Marx, 1919: xviii-xix). Men are not only social but also rational, and for this reason they follow their interests as defined by the situation in which they are placed (Marx, 1935:13). It is in this sense that the economic order is compulsive. Men do not develop a social system by randomly selecting elements from a theoretical pool of all possible systems; they develop their societies and ideas about them from the preexisting elements that must be taken as social givens. Probably this third aspect of Marxist materialism can best be summarized by (1) saying that it involves looking first and hardest at the processes by which men sustain themselves, and (2) attempting to discover which strata in society exert the most control.

In Marx's idea of materialism, the notion of a purely material human mind, directly perceiving men working to sustain themselves, was joined to a metaphysic called the dialectic. It was the use of the dialetic that enabled Marx to interpret his data, and we shall now examine the contribution of the dialectic to Marxist thought.

Marxist Dialectic

The Marxist dialectic has a certain plausibility to common sense. It is best known in its simple triadic form: thesis, antithesis, synthesis. A given situation with all its faults (thesis) is acted upon by ideas, actors, or forces in an opposing situation (antithesis), and out of the interaction a new situation emerges (synthesis). The consequent synthesis has elements of both thesis and antithesis, as well as an additional component, the essence of the new whole. Stated this way, the dialectic appears to be another version of the notion that the change is ubiquitous, but in fact it is a more complicated formulation borrowed from Hegel.

The dialectic presents two major problems.

First, because reality is thought to be in a continuous flux, Aristotelian logic is rejected. An entity can be both A and non-A at the same time. Reality is holistic because dichotomizing the world into that which exists and that which does not is metaphysical (Engels, 1962:130). Marxists therefore condemn as nondialectic and, hence, nonscientific the widely used null hypothesis because it requires that some data be identified as A and some as non-A (Meyer, 1963:34). Hegel's whole, or reality in all its complexity, was spiritual; the absolute was pure thought thinking about itself-truly a professor's God, as Russell noted (1945:735). Marx rejected Hegel's absolute and substituted men's relationship to production as the moving force of reality. But he retained the holistic assumption, although there is no reason to suppose that the universe is a unified whole in which no entities such as A and non-A may be identified. As Cole (1964:12) said, Marx "only substituted a new form of metaphysics, masquerading as science."

The second problem is similar to the first. The dialectic not only considers A and non-A to -be inseparable in the empirical world, it also considers logic and empirical reality to be one entity. It is sometimes claimed that the dialectic is a form of logic (Marcuse, 1960:42), but this claim is untenable. Logic, like mathematics, is analytically separable from the empirical world and has no necessary relationship with it. The Marxists, by maintaining that the dialectic is reality, unite logic and empirical observation and thus fail to distinguish between what Braithwaite (1963) calls the logically necessary and the logically contingent. Mathematics, like logic, is a network of tautological truths devised in men's heads; because there is no necessary relationship between these truths and empirical reality, the problem of devising rules of correspondence for them is difficult. On what basis may one decide, for example, that a series of differential equations corresponds to Durkheim's ideas about social cohesion?

Marx solved this kind of problem by assuming that it did not exist. He postulated that the dialectic and empirical reality were the same entity. Although Marx was familiar with the work of the English empiricists (Mehring, 1962:75), he managed not to let the implications of their work disturb him.3 Society, nature, and the dialectic were simply assumed to be a single system.4 The fusion of materialism with the dialectic is thus the basis of the Marxist model of science. The advantage of fusing a system of metaphysics with empirical reality directly perceived is that if, on a common sense basis, one assumes that there can be no dispute concerning facts, then the ensuing interpretation of what is observed can be defined as scientific knowledge. If things are conceived as they really are and happened, every philosophical problem is resolved into an empirical fact (Marx and Engels, 1964:57).

Thus the premises of Marxist theory (unlike the conceptual premises of other theories) were said to be men (Marx and Engels, 1964:38). Stalin (1950:35) put the idea in much the same way when he said that "theory is the experience of the working-class movement in all countries, taken in its general aspect." But the idea that theory and the actions of men are the same entity does not constitute a satisfactory basis for science. There is no reason whatsoever to believe that a thesis conceived in the imagination automatically becomes an empirical thesis. Nor do facts speak for themselves. The dialectic consists of a set of metaphysical assumptions that are not nullifiable empirically. If the truth of the dialectic cannot be demonstrated empirically, then on what grounds can it be accepted? Like all metaphysical systems, it may be accepted because it is consonant with the attitudes and values prevalent in a society, or it may be accepted because it appears to serve the interests of those in power in a society. Its acceptance in the Soviet Union, for example, appears to be based on social control, because other metaphysical systems are apparently not permitted.

When human action fitted to the dialectic defines scientific knowledge, the criterion of truth is inextricably intertwined with social power, because human action is subject to social control. That social control appears to have some relationship to the definition of truth in countries where science is based upon dialectical materialism is hardly a surprising observation to Westerners. Mao observed that political power grows out of the barrel of a gun, and that to fight, fail, and fight again till victory, is the logic of the people, another Marxist law (Mao, 1967:62, 68). The canons of science are not always made so explicit.

The example of Lysenko, in the Soviet Union, is more subtle. Lysenko, in a study of plant genetics, declared that environmental adaptions were genetically transmissible. Western scientists scoffed. But Lysenko's theory had a preeminent advantage in the Stalin era: it fitted the current interpretation of the dialectic. The grain of wheat was the thesis; the matured plant was the antithesis, and the seed (with an allegedly new set of transmissible characteristics) was the synthesis. At a high level of abstraction, this situation supposedly demonstrated that the environment (or technological conditions) produced permanent changes. Lysenko's ideas prevailed in the Soviet Union until the death of Stalin. That Lysenkoism in Soviet Union is no longer popular is the consequence of a political accident, not the consequence of scientific experimentation.

Similarly, the troubles of the Communist Party in India illustrate the difficulties of applying the dialectic to reality. To summarize a complex situation very briefly, Indian Communists before independence had to decide whether to define the bourgeoisie as revolutionaries who sought to overthrow British rule, hence as allies, or as reactionaries slated for liquidation (Loomis and Rytina, forthcoming). But the problem was not solved by Indian Marxists. The solution depended upon the needs of Soviet security.

When the Soviet Union wished to placate the British, the bourgeoisie were defined as reactionary, and the Indian Communists were obliged to oppose people such as Nehru. In short, what should have been an interesting task for political analysis was simply settled by Soviet power. Pragmatism, like Marxism, also involves an activist criterion of truth, and, because of its epistemological assumptions, the knowledge it produces may also be influenced by social control. We shall now examine these assumptions.


The best known expositor of pragmatism is probably John Dewey who (1938:iii-iv) stated that "pragmatic" refers to ". . . the function of consequences as necessary tests of the validity of propositions, provided these consequences are operationally instituted and are such as to resolve the specific problem evoking the operations. . . ."4 A sensitive social critic, Dewey opposed justifying the social order by an appeal to tradition; he placed philosophy in a social context (Frankel, 1968: 157). Only experimentation carried on by intelligent men could, in his view, provide a moral basis for social arrangements. Those who disliked innovation attacked Dewey, but we are not concerned here with that sort of opposition. By the mid-forties, pragmatism had been criticized on epistemological grounds by such persons as Bertrand Russell, F.S.C. Northrop, and C.W. Mills who did not appear to be motivated by a conservative bias.6 Mills' criticism appeared mainly in his dissertation which was not published until 1966, and his remarks appear to have attracted little attention from sociologists. In fact, Petras (1968:18) says that although pragmatism links the works of James, Dewey, Mead, and Cooley, Dewey tends to be ignored as a major influence on American sociology.

As a young man Dewey, like Marx, was strongly influenced by Hegel who was the chief source of Dewey's logic (Mills, 1966: 357). Also like Marx, Dewey shifted from Hegelian idealism, in this instance to instrumentalism, but the early attachment to Hegel affected his subsequent views of logic (White, 1943:xiii). "The organic unity of idea and fact gave way to the unity of theory and practice; the contradictions between theses and antitheses became conflicting elements in a problematic situation; the Absolute Reason fell before inquiry" Dewey felt that much misunderstanding and relatively futile controversy had gathered about the name "pragmatism" (Dewey, 1938:iv). For our purposes here, the three names are interchangeable..

The unity of theory and practice became Dewey's central intellectual enterprise (Frankel, 1968:156). Three aspects of Dewey's work are important for comparison with the Marxist dialectic: the distrust of formal logic in scientific inquiry, the assumption that human life evolves toward the good, and the use of a method as a criterion for both moral choice and scientific judgment. The idea that an experimental method, rather than authority, can be the basis for moral choice is probably most important for the appeal of pragmatism to Americans.

The Place of Formal Logic

Dewey disliked formal logic because he felt that it had a constricting effect on inquiry. He felt that if knowing were conceived of as active and operative, the first effect would be to emancipate philosophy from all perplexing epistemological puzzles (Dewey, 1920:123). White (1943:148) notes that Dewey hated Aristotelian logic and knew almost nothing of mathematical logic. Later in his career he viewed logic as an instrument (White, 1943:152) and hence of some use to science and philosophy, but, like Marx, he confused logic and empiricism. Dewey (1920:137) thought that logic was both empirical and normative, and that mathematics was as empirical as metallurgy. He also felt that the belief that the qualities of mathematics and formal logic removed them from connection with existence expresses a religious mood rather than a scientific discovery; the formal development of logic is an offshoot of material thinking and is ultimately derived from acts performed (Dewey, 1929: 161).

To clarify his own definition of formal logic, Dewey gives the example of a machine. Its structure can be understood by thought about the relations of the parts in connection with the work the machine performs. The better the machine is understood in the abstract, the better the engineer can understand its defects. Thought about the machine operates as a model (Dewey, 1929: 163). Dewey was thus aware that the observer needed some sort of conceptual apparatus, but he thought that it was derived from experience rather than from a nonempirical logical system. As with Marx and Engels, logic and empiricism are united.

The Evolutionary Trend

Dewey assumed that the universe is an organic whole; his love for the organic derives partly from Hegel and partly from biology (Russell, 1945:823). Indeed, Mills (1966:374) thought that perhaps no other philosopher has been more influenced by biology than Dewey. Because the uses of intelligence or reflective thought were situated within the compass of the evolutionary hypothesis, instrumentalism is basically a biologistic doctrine. Men use their intelligence to adjust to their environment. Certain kinds of activity have natural goals, and it is to these goals that men adjust. But Dewey does not explain how one can identify a natural goal; he simply takes it for granted as demonstrated in evolutionary biology (White, 1943:145). The concept of adaptation was left equally vague. Growth is a moral end (Dewey, 1920:177), but Dewey does not explain how to distinguish good growth from bad growth. Mills (1966:380) was sharply critical of Dewey's biological assumptions:

The simple fact of the matter is that the statement on every other page of Dewey to the effect that men adjust by means of reflection is never tentatively handled in a genuinely empirical manner. What empirical support is adduced is squeezed into the biological framework. The biological model of action, "adaptation,"by its formality enables one to avoid value-decisions.... By its usage, value-decisions as value-decisions are assimilated into the biological and hidden by formality.

Dewey simply assumes that intelligent men, if they only look at the evidence, will come up with appropriate solutions to problems. An instance of this assumption occurs in a discussion on education. Dewey stresses the importance of habit, but says that some experiences may set up bad habits. To avoid giving the young the wrong experiences, the educator must see in what direction an experience is heading. He can do this by taking conditions of the local community into account, utilizing the surroundings, physical and social, that exist so as to extract from them all that they have to contribute to building up experiences that are worthwhile (Dewey, 1939a:666). Dewey does not say what the educator is supposed to do if his evaluation of the situation differs from that of the school board or the local community. Consensus is simply assumed.7

The advantages of a biologic-evolutionary model were succinctly summarized by Mills (1966:382): (1) It minimizes power divisions in society and locates problems between man and nature rather than man and man; (2) it assimilates all value, power, and human problems to the function of intelligence. "It jibes with the drive for more education as a solution to social problems: all that is needed is the diffusion of intelligence"; (3) the concept of adaptation implements a politics of reform of situation. Adaptation is not revolutionary but a one-step-at-a-time procedure. Dewey's method will appear to "work" when intelligent men agree on basic values. To the extent that sociologists tend to be academic liberals, the difficulties raised by Dewey's model may not be very noticeable.

Method as a Criterion of Truth

Dewey's criterion of truth is a method to be used by intelligent men; it will produce provisional answers to questions of fact and value, and is an alternative to a dogmatic theory of morals. The experimental method is claimed to be the method of democracy, involving sympathetic regard for persons of contrary views (Dewey, 1939b:775). The intellectual procedures to be used are circumscribed by what Dewey calls the limits of thinking, which are a confused situation at the beginning and a unified situation at the close of inquiry (Dewey, 1939c:855). Why research should produce a unified situation is not explained. The intermediate stages of thinking include (1) suggestions, in which the mind thinks of a possible solution; (2) intellectualization of the difficulty into a problem to be solved; (3) the use of one suggestion after another as a hypothesis; (4) reasoning, in the sense in which reason is a part, not the whole of inference; (5) testing the hypothesis by overt or imaginative action. The way these five phases are managed depends upon the intellectual tact of the individual. If things come out wrong, it is wise to review the methods by which unwise decisions were made (Dewey, 1939c:857).

The nature of the problem determines the selection of operations to be performed. The first step is to reduce objects directly experienced to data, and these data evoke a thought which will resolve the trouble that inspired the inquiry. In principle, the construction of suitable operations in science is not different from that in industry (Dewey, 1929:124). There is no rule for the determination of the operations because they are developed in the course of actual inquiries. "They originated in what men naturally do and are tested and improved in the course of doing." This is as far as the question of selection of operations can be carried formally; for content, one would have to see what kinds of concepts and operations had actually been used in the best developed branches of inquiry (Dewey, 1929:124).

The purpose of inquiry is not to acquire useless knowledge; the experiment alters a situation in order to do away with some evil (Dewey, 1916:31). Pragmatism ensures that the problem of evil ceases to be theological and metaphysical and becomes a practical problem of reducing the evils of life (Dewey, 1920:177). "The popular impression that pragmatic philosophy means that philosophy shall develop ideas relevant to the actual crises of life, ideas influential in dealing with them and tested by the assistance they afford, is correct" (Dewey et al., 1917:61).

In summary, Dewey's distrust of formal logic led him to derive logic from the experimental situation. Because he was optimistic about basic evolutionary trends, he assumed that intelligent men, deriving both logic and findings in the process of experimentation, would agree on the evaluation of the outcome. Since both questions of fact and questions of value were thought to be testable, the method would indicate not only what is but also what ought to be. Knowledge would provide the power to make the world better. But Dewey never confronted the political problem of power. Pragmatism offers no formula for deciding between the conflicting findings of two intelligent men, each of whom claims to have followed the appropriate procedures. The fact is that the pragmatic criterion of truth is prospective, how things work out in the future (Kaplan, 1964:42).

Among those who are empirically minded, this seems to make sense, particularly for the physical sciences. The inadequacy is more easily observed in the social sciences, especially in action and evaluation research. The word "social" serves as an immediate reminder that the actions of human beings affect the future. Knowledge can be defined by those who have most power to control present actions; the knowledge emerging from the pragmatic process is particularly susceptible to manipulation. Russell has heavily criticized Dewey for this reason (Russell, 1945:820-828). Dewey judges a belief by its effects while Russell judges it by its causes and considers it to be true only if it has a certain kind of complicated relation to its causes. If a belief is judged by what has happened, it is independent of future volitions because the past cannot be affected by future action. Because Dewey derives his logic from the experimental procedure rather than postulating a conceptual apparatus that is independent of what men actually do, the complex causal relation that Russell believes necessary for validation exerts no influence on the outcome.

Northrop has discussed a situation where pragmatism was used to derive norms. He specifically discusses the notions of the Yale "legal realists," active at the time Robert Hutchins was dean of Law School at that University. He (1960:255) states that "according to this philosophy the norms which legislation defines are to be found by applying empirical methods of natural science to the facts of existing social practices." But when the legal realists reached a conclusion significant for the law, they introduced value judgments in the name of science. On this, Northrop comments as follows:

Instead of being the empirical, scientific, hard-boiled realists which they thought themselves to be, the legal realists were merely fooling themselves and their followers by allowing value judgments--smuggled surreptitiously into empirical evidence--to determine their legal opinions and prescriptions all of which they were quick to urge on officials in Washington. Never had the application of the empirical method of science of facts, with the crudest of controls, and in the briefest space of time, given such remarkable results.

The errors of the legal realists are harder for Americans to recognize than logically similar errors which, instead of serving the interests of American liberals, serve the interests of Soviet foreign policy. It is perhaps emotionally more palatable to derive what ought to be from what is when that derivation is consistent with the notions of democratic liberalism; but the intellectual assumptions involved are dangerous.

Dewey's procedures appear to "work" in a benign political climate, but to assume the permanence of such a climate is a mistake. Dewey (1920:147) admitted that the only guarantee of impartial inquiry was the social sensitivity of the inquirer to the needs of those with whom he associated, and he assumed that such sensitivity was a sufficient condition for the production of scientific and moral knowledge. Unfortunately, the world is not filled with kindly, tolerant, rational, and democratically-minded men such as Dewey, nor is the scientific establishment composed only of persons who are appropriately sensitive to the needs of others.


Marx and Dewey joined theory and practice in an attempt to rid science and philosophy of static metaphysical conceptions. But metaphysical notions, although explictly abhorred, crept back in. Marx assumed that reality would automatically fit the stages of the dialectic so that reality could be interpreted in those terms. Dewey assumed that reality was evolving toward the good and that the operations performed by intelligent men would yield propositions with warranted assertibility. The criterion for truth in both the Marxist dialectic and pragmatism is what men do; when theory and practice are one, theory cannot act as an external check on practice. Men do indeed make their own history, but some of them make more of it than others.

1Van den Berghe (1963) attempted a theoretical synthesis of the dialectic and functionalism. He stripped the dialectic of what he thought to be untenable and stated that, although not much was left, the remainder was useful and valid: (1) change is ubiquitous and is generated within a system, and (2) change often arises from conflict between two opposing factors. For the sake of clarity, we oppose the practice of calling a part by the same name as the whole. If one is not using the word with the meanings Marx and Engels gave it, then a different word is required.
2 The argument about "sociological realism" and "sociological nominalism" tends to obscure this point in American sociology because the contrast between realism and nominalism involves a different issue. The "reality" of groups has been disputed. The position that "groups are real" is called sociological realism; that groups are an abstraction and only individuals are "real" is called sociological nominalism. Both positions are forms of philosophic realism because both assert that "something out there" is real. The argument hinges on what that something is, not on whether something outside men's heads can be real. Probably most American sociologists are philosophical realists.
3 Marx was not, of course, primarily interested in epistemological problems (Bottomore and Rubel, 1961:35-36).
4 Many Marxists still believe that the dialectic has universal application to all science (Vigier, 1966:244). Mills (1962:130) rejected this claim: "The essential error of 'the dialectician' is the know-it-all confusion of logic with metaphysics; if the rules of dialectics were 'the most general laws of motion' all physical scientists would use them every day."
5 In this paper we refer to Dewey's philosophy as "pragmatism," but he preferred to call it "instrumentalism" or "experimentalism" (Faust, 1964: 347).
6 Herman (1944) thought that such criticism was a consequence of the fact that political events in the 1930's made the evolutionary optimism of pragmatism appear to be somewhat fatuous. She suggested that pragmatism needed a redefinition that would correspond to middle class experience and provide the middle class with an effective means for reaching its goals.(White, 1943:152) This does not have any reference point in the article.
7 Mills (1966:405) notes that underlying Dewey's metaphysical endeavor is the assumption of a relatively homogeneous community which has no divisions of power not ameliorable by discussion. White (1943:98) says that Dewey's organic theory implies a common will in a democracy, for it is the common will which makes it an organism.


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