Philosophy 3387 American Philosophy Unit Two
Overview of C.S. Peirce
- Peirce, 1839-1914; James, 1842-1910; Dewey, 1859-1952
- Peirce: summa degree from Harvard in chemistry 1863; mathematician, logician, astronomer; studied gravity and pendulums; worked for US coastal and geodetic survey; taught at Johns Hopkins; made important contributions in logic especially in the study of relational and quantificational logic.
- Dewey explains Peirce's Kantian origin of the term "pragmatism"
See Critique of Pure Reason A824/B852, distinction pragmatic and practical
See also Peirce's 1905 Monist article, "What Pragmatism Is"
- The "rational purport of a concept or expression lies exclusively in its conceivable bearing upon the conduct of life."
"The rational meaning of every proposition lies in the future."
- Dewey also explains: action is not the end of life; it is an intermediary; "the greatest good is the process of evolution whereby the existent comes more and more to embody generals.
III. "How to Make Our Ideas Clear"
- Logicians describe ideas or conceptions as clear (or obscure) and as distinct (or confused). But these descriptions themselves need clarification.
clear: so apprehended that it will be recognized wherever it is met with, and so that no other will be mistaken for it.
distinct: one which contains nothing which is not clear (nothing in its definition is obscure)
Later Peirce seems to refer to this as clearness "in the first grade," i.e., as familiarity.
- These definitions belong with "extinct" philosophies, and need a new formulation.
- "Clear" as defined here is both too strong and too weak. Too strong, because what prodigious intellect will never mistake one idea for another? Too weak, because it could refer only to a subjective feeling of mastery.
- Descartes substituted for intellectual authority of the Scholastics the supposed certitude of self-consciousness. The problem with Descartes is that he never noticed the distinction in an idea's being clear from its seeming clear.
- Leibniz's position was different from Descartes' but he wanted only first principles that were abstract definitions. The machinery of the mind cannot function without empirical input; or, "nothing new can ever be learned by analyzing definitions."
(Later Peirce seems to refer to this as clearness in the second grade, i.e., as giving an abstract definition.)
- In sum: logic should teach us how to make our ideas clear. For individuals, wallowing in a rich mud of conceptions is like having a block in the nutriment to the brain.
- We can follow principles to describe a method for reaching a higher grade of clearness of thought. The sole function of thought is the production of belief. Doubt and hesitancy prompt our intellectual activity; when we at last decide how we should act, we have attained belief.
- There are two sorts of elements of consciousness, on analogy with two aspects of music: the air (melody) or flow and orderliness, and the individual tones or notes. Similarly we have two sorts of objects of consciousness, those we are immediately conscious of (like the notes), and those mediately conscious of (like the melody).
- Belief is "the demi-cadence which closes the musical phrase in the symphony of our intellectual life." Belief has three properties: (i) it's something we're aware of; (ii) it appeases the irritation of doubt; and (iii) it establishes in our nature a rule of action, or a habit. Belief is a rule for action; the final upshot of thinking is a volition.
- The identity of a habit is how it might lead us to act under various circumstances. "Thus, we come down to what is tangible and practical..."
Example of transubstantiation (Catholics vs. Protestants)
- The rule for attaining the third grade of clearness of apprehension: "Consider what effects, which might conceivably have practical bearings, we conceive the object of our conception to have."
Illustration of rule by some examples:
- Defining the hardness of a diamond
Free will and fate; weight; force
Part 4. Reality
- What is the second grade of clearness, beyond the notion of familiarity or abstract definition? Reality is contrasted to fiction and to dreams. We define the real as that whose characters are independent of what anyone may think them to be. Apply our rule: "Reality... consists in the peculiar sensible effects which things partaking of it produce. The only effect which real things have is to cause belief..." So, how does true belief (belief in the real) differ from false belief (belief in fiction)?
- Many philosophers have a feeble hold upon truth, they are governed too much by argument, authority, and disputation; example of Scotus Erigena on Socrates being killed by hellebore. Contrast this to scientists; they too may differ in methods and results, but "the results will move steadily together toward a destined centre."
- Objection: this makes reality depend on what is thought about it. Well yes, but not on what you or I or any individual person thinks.
"The opinion which is fated to be ultimately agreed to by all who investigate, is what we mean by the truth, and the object represented in this opinion is the real. That is the way I would explain reality."
- Metaphysics is a subject like the knowledge of a sunken reef--it enables us to steer clear of it.
- Conclusion: our ideas may be ever so clear without being true; that is the next subject.
return to American Philosophy, Unit Two
September 9, 1996 - 11:15 AM