That Caesar is dead, that virtue is its own reward, are propositions.
I do not say that for certain logical purposes it may not be useful to treat propositions as absolute entities, with truth or falsehood inside of them respectively, or to make of a complex like ’that— Caesar—is—dead’ a single term and call it a ‘truth.’ But the ‘that’ here has the extremely convenient ambiguity for those who wish to make trouble for us pragmatists, that sometimes it means the fact that, and sometimes the belief that, Caesar is no longer living. When I then call the belief true, I am told that the truth means the fact; when I claim the fact also, I am told that my definition has excluded the fact, being a definition only of a certain peculiarity in the belief—so that in the end I have no truth to talk about left in my possession.
The only remedy for this intolerable ambiguity is, it seems to me, to stick to terms consistently. ‘Reality,’ ‘idea’ or ‘belief,’ and the ‘truth of the idea or belief,’ which are the terms I have consistently held to, seem to be free from all objection.
Whoever takes terms abstracted from all their natural settings, identifies them with definitions, and treats the latter more algebraico, not only risks mixing universes, but risks fallacies which the man in the street easily detects. To prove ‘by definition’ that the statement ‘Caesar exists’ is identical with a statement about ‘expediency’ because the one statement is ‘true’ and the other is about ‘true statements,’ is like proving that an omnibus is a boat because both are vehicles. A horse may be defined as a beast that walks on the nails of his middle digits. Whenever we see a horse we see such a beast, just as whenever we believe a ‘truth’ we believe something expedient. Messrs. Russell and Hawtrey, if they followed their antipragmatist logic, would have to say here that we see that it is such a beast, a fact which notoriously no one sees who is not a comparative anatomist.
It almost reconciles one to being no logician that one thereby escapes so much abstractionism. Abstractionism of the worst sort dogs Mr. Russell in his own trials to tell positively what the word ‘truth’ means. In the third of his articles on Meinong, in Mind, vol. xiii, p. 509 (1904), he attempts this feat by limiting the discussion to three terms only, a proposition, its content, and an object, abstracting from the whole context of associated realities in which such terms are found in every case of actual knowing. He puts the terms, thus taken in a vacuum, and made into bare logical entities, through every possible permutation and combination, tortures them on the rack until nothing is left of them, and after all this logical gymnastic, comes out with the following portentous conclusion as what he believes to be the correct view: that there is no problem at all in truth and falsehood, that some propositions are true and some false, just as some roses are red and some white, that belief is a certain attitude towards propositions, which is called knowledge when they are true, error when they are false’—and he seems to think that when once this insight is reached the question may be considered closed forever!