Charles Sanders Peirce - Philosophy: Logic, or Semiotic - Pragmatism

Pragmatism

  • Illustrations of the Logic of Science (1877–78):
    inquiry, pragmatism, statistics, inference
  1. The Fixation of Belief (1877)
  2. How to Make Our Ideas Clear (1878)
  3. The Doctrine of Chances (1878)
  4. The Probability of Induction (1878)
  5. The Order of Nature (1878)
  6. Deduction, Induction, and Hypothesis (1878)
  • The Harvard lectures on pragmatism (1903)
  • What Pragmatism Is (1905)
  • Issues of Pragmaticism (1905)
  • Pragmatism (1907 MS in EP 2)

Peirce's recipe for pragmatic thinking, which he called pragmatism and, later, pragmaticism, is recapitulated in several versions of the so-called pragmatic maxim. Here is one of his more emphatic reiterations of it:

Consider what effects that might conceivably have practical bearings you conceive the objects of your conception to have. Then, your conception of those effects is the whole of your conception of the object.

As a movement, pragmatism began in the early 1870s in discussions among Peirce, William James, and others in the Metaphysical Club. James among others regarded some articles by Peirce such as "The Fixation of Belief" (1877) and especially "How to Make Our Ideas Clear" (1878) as foundational to pragmatism. Peirce (CP 5.11–12), like James (Pragmatism: A New Name for Some Old Ways of Thinking, 1907), saw pragmatism as embodying familiar attitudes, in philosophy and elsewhere, elaborated into a new deliberate method for fruitful thinking about problems. Peirce differed from James and the early John Dewey, in some of their tangential enthusiasms, in being decidedly more rationalistic and realistic, in several senses of those terms, throughout the preponderance of his own philosophical moods. In 1905 Peirce coined the new name pragmaticism "for the precise purpose of expressing the original definition", saying that "all went happily" with James's and F.C.S. Schiller's variant uses of the old name "pragmatism" and that he coined the new name because of the old name's growing use in "literary journals, where it gets abused". Yet he cited as causes, in a 1906 manuscript, his differences with James and Schiller and, in a 1908 publication, his differences with James as well as literary author Giovanni Papini's declaration of pragmatism's indefinability. Peirce in any case regarded his views that truth is immutable and infinity is real, as being opposed by the other pragmatists, but he remained allied with them on other issues.

Pragmatism begins with the idea that belief is that on which one is prepared to act. Peirce's pragmatism is a method of clarification of conceptions of objects. It equates any conception of an object to a conception of that object's effects to a general extent of the effects' conceivable implications for informed practice. It is a method of sorting out conceptual confusions occasioned, for example, by distinctions that make (sometimes needed) formal yet not practical differences. He formulated both pragmatism and statistical principles as aspects of scientific logic, in his "Illustrations of the Logic of Science" series of articles. In the second one, "How to Make Our Ideas Clear", Peirce discussed three grades of clearness of conception:

  1. Clearness of a conception familiar and readily used, even if unanalyzed and undeveloped.
  2. Clearness of a conception in virtue of clearness of its parts, in virtue of which logicians called an idea "distinct", that is, clarified by analysis of just what makes it applicable. Elsewhere, echoing Kant, Peirce called a likewise distinct definition "nominal" (CP 5.553).
  3. Clearness in virtue of clearness of conceivable practical implications of the object's conceived effects, such as fosters fruitful reasoning, especially on difficult problems. Here he introduced that which he later called the pragmatic maxim.

By way of example of how to clarify conceptions, he addressed conceptions about truth and the real as questions of the presuppositions of reasoning in general. In clearness's second grade (the "nominal" grade), he defined truth as a sign's correspondence to its object, and the real as the object of such correspondence, such that truth and the real are independent of that which you or I or any actual, definite community of inquirers think. After that needful but confined step, next in clearness's third grade (the pragmatic, practice-oriented grade) he defined truth as that opinion which would be reached, sooner or later but still inevitably, by research taken far enough, such that the real does depend on that ideal final opinion—a dependence to which he appeals in theoretical arguments elsewhere, for instance for the long-run validity of the rule of induction. Peirce argued that even to argue against the independence and discoverability of truth and the real is to presuppose that there is, about that very question under argument, a truth with just such independence and discoverability.

Peirce said that a conception's meaning consists in "all general modes of rational conduct" implied by "acceptance" of the conception—that is, if one were to accept, first of all, the conception as true, then what could one conceive to be consequent general modes of rational conduct by all who accept the conception as true?—the whole of such consequent general modes is the whole meaning. His pragmatism does not equate a conception's meaning, its intellectual purport, with the conceived benefit or cost of the conception itself, like a meme (or, say, propaganda), outside the perspective of its being true, nor, since a conception is general, is its meaning equated with any definite set of actual consequences or upshots corroborating or undermining the conception or its worth. His pragmatism also bears no resemblance to "vulgar" pragmatism, which misleadingly connotes a ruthless and Machiavellian search for mercenary or political advantage. Instead the pragmatic maxim is the heart of his pragmatism as a method of experimentational mental reflection arriving at conceptions in terms of conceivable confirmatory and disconfirmatory circumstances—a method hospitable to the formation of explanatory hypotheses, and conducive to the use and improvement of verification.

Peirce's pragmatism, as method and theory of definitions and conceptual clearness, is part of his theory of inquiry, which he variously called speculative, general, formal or universal rhetoric or simply methodeutic. He applied his pragmatism as a method throughout his work.

Read more about this topic:  Charles Sanders Peirce, Philosophy: Logic, or Semiotic

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