3
Truth Happens:
An Age of
Publicity Begins

IN 1907 THE EMINENT American philosopher, William James, published a book entitled Pragmatism: A New Name for Old Ways of Thinking. In its pages he summed up a lifetime of tortuous speculation on the foundations of human belief, on the volatile mental processes through which people come to know and comprehend their world.

Though sixty-five years of age and approaching the end of his life, James continued to propose ideas about truth that dismissed the notion that there are any such things as timeless verities. At an age when many find refuge in unbending conservatism, James held to the conviction that there are no absolute truths; there is no consummate gospel by which people--regardless of their circumstances--may live.

Truth, insisted James, exists in a perpetual state of flux. It is nothing more than a by-product of human history, an intrinsic outcome of people interacting with their world and elaborating--or disputing--shared assumptions about its terms. "The truth of an idea," James declared, "is not a stagnant property inherent in it. Truth happens to an idea. It becomes true, is made true by events."1

Then--appropriating a fitting analogy in a society in which a market economy and large-scale finance capital were increasingly shaping the terms of national life--James likened the substantiality of truth to that of paper money.

-39-

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