Karel Čapek’s interpretation of American Pragmatism

In the introduction to R.U.R., there is a quote from Čapek reflecting skepticism towards religious or idealogical great truths. He was apparently influenced by the pragmatist philosophers William James and John Dewey, through lectures by Edvard Beneš. From a commentary written July 23, 1923:

And now for my second idea, the comedy about truth. General director Domin tries to prove in the play that technical developments liberate man from heavy physical labor, and he is right. Alquist, the Tolstoyan architect, believes on the contrary that technical developments demoralize man, and I think that he is right, too. Busman thinks that only industrialism is capable of meeting modern needs; he is right….

We don’t need to look for names for all these various antithetical idealisms…. All of them have the most serious of motives, material or spiritual, for their beliefs, and according to their nature look for the greatest happiness for the greatest number of their fellows. I ask myself: isn’t it possible to see in the contemporary social conflicts taking place in the world an analogous struggle between two, three or five equally serious and noble idealisms?


One thought on “Karel Čapek’s interpretation of American Pragmatism”

  1. Ideas are what man is best capable of. His idealism pristine pure in its conception must be tested in real time and place with people. But can he hold it’s integrity for long pure? Communism as a theory when practised by Lenin and Stalin will be so different. Or take Christianity for example. Did not the approach by Peter and Paul differ? The simple reason for their difference was the existence of Orthodox Jewish practices which both were well familiar with. Paul as a naturalized Roman citizen was sure his approach was more pragmatic in taking Christianity to far corners of the Empire. Whereas Peter claiming to the mantle of Christ chose another. Ideals of any man must be tested against what has gone before. Thus even after Soviet bloc had come down with their idea of Worker’s Paradise Communism, in Latin countries it will morph into Liberation Theology.The Church were not members of the Party. Even so it was easy for the Church to latch onto the Scriptures and some words of Jesus to give Communism a new change of clothes.
    None of us is exempt from the slow contagion of ‘pragmatism’ somewhat a necessary compromise for anyone who wants to succeed. What success when by compromise soul of an idea has been killed? This is human condition. Why would Lenin work himself to death literally had he known Stalin would decimate the Party and set up a personality cult and change entire outlook of Communism within a decade?

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