Constitution of “who”

Peirce’s pragmatic maxim: “In order to ascertain the meaning of an intellectual conception one should consider what practical consequences might conceivably result by necessity from the truth of that conception; and the sum of these consequences will constitute the entire meaning of the conception.”

William James translated this maxim into American, asking of propositions: “What’s the ‘cash value’ of this belief?”


If the pragmatic maxim is applicable to human beings, the meaning of “who” is determined by all the practical consequences a person can have. Not all people have related to other people in all possible ways, so “who” has a profoundly different meaning, depending on who says the word.

For me, the decisive question is this: How many ways has one been taught?

To be informed of a fact us one kind of learning.

To be trained in a skill is another kind of learning.

But to experience a change in your worldview under the influence of another mind — to experience a deep transfiguration of reality itself — is a kind of learning which invests the word “who” with meaning, mystery and infinite potential.


A face is a gate.


It might be productive to re-ask these questions from a pragmatic angle:

  • What kind of being is specifically human being?
  • What is the basis of ethics? What is ‘ought’?
  • How ought a person relate to other people?
  • How ought a person being relate to things in the world, and how should it differ from relationships with people?
  • How ought a human being relate to realities which stand beyond the limits of his understanding?

Leave a Reply