Page:Educational Review Volume 23.djvu/39

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of the many and of the few; to consider the characteristics which give to certain beliefs and belief-attitudes their logical cogency, their ethical worth, and their social power, and deprive other classes of beliefs from any possible participation in these desiderata. Such an inquiry naturally includes an outlook upon the regions of unwarranted belief, of error and prejudice and credulity.

A most attractive approach to the problem thus suggested may be found in a remarkable essay by Mr. C. S. Peirce.[1] Belief is there presented as a mental trait possessing and developed by plain advantages of an evolutionary or adaptively useful kind. Such at least would be the case for all simple and practical matters upon which the incipient rationality of primitive man probably cut its teeth. Logicality, Mr. Peirce tells us—and by that is meant a habit of mind that leads to the detection of truth, to thinking about things as they are, to bringing our thoughts into agreement with reality—“logicality in regard to practical matters is the most useful quality an animal can possess, and might, therefore, result from the action of natural selection; but outside of these it is probably of more advantage to the animal to have his mind filled with pleasing and encouraging visions, independently of their truth; and thus, upon unpractical subjects, natural selection might occasion a fallacious tendency of thought.” Natural selection certainly has not interfered with the maintenance of untrue and illogical beliefs; and while we may admit some truthward tendency as part of the natural endowments of homo sapiens, that tendency by no means dominates his mental habits. Indeed, it is brought to its fruitage only after so much struggle and the learning of so many hard lessons of experience and the slow accumulations of ages of thinking, that it may be appropriately described as an artificial, weakly possessed, and imperfectly disseminated acquisition. We must also remember that practicality, like much else, is a matter of degree; groups of ideas and ways of thinking are more or less practical, and influence action more or less indirectly and by variously roundabout paths; and as the range of human thought widens and

  1. The fixation of belief,” Popular science monthly, November, 1877.