Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Occasional Peirce Quote

" is the idea which will create its defenders, and render them powerful."

(Collected Papers, 1.217)

1. For most of my life I would have thought that this claim was absurd. I'm not going to try to defend it here, but I will say this: after years of pounding my head against problems in epistemology, logic, moral theory, and metaphysics, I'm now very, very smitten by Peirce's position. The quote above probably makes him sound like a loon to someone who hasn't wallowed in his writings...but I'll be damned if the guy doesn't seem to be on to something really important.

Though really, it's what Plato thought, too.

More evidence for the footnote hypothesis...

2. Incidentally, if you think that pragmatism is what it sounds like, the quote above should clue you in to the error of your ways.

Well, actually 'pragmatism' eventually just came to mean what you probably think it means, as it was basically taken over by James, Dewey, Rorty et. al. Eventually Peirce, whose view bears little resemblance to the pragmatism of James, Dewey, Rorty et. al. just let the term go, rechristening his own view 'pragmaticism', a term which was, he said, "ugly enough to keep it safe from kidnappers"...

That crazy Chuck Peirce, he is a helluvan interesting fellow...


Blogger Tom Van Dyke said...

" is the idea which will create its defenders, and render them powerful."

In context, is this approval or opprobrium? Ideas have led to some very bad results, especially since that thing in France that started in 1789 or so, and they got worse thereafter.

Or by "idea" does he mean some interpretation of the natural law, which if it holds truth, tends to find its feet in the course of human events as well?

Just asking. Is the newness of an idea sufficient? Because people will believe anything, eh? Did I tell you about the time the aliens abducted me to meet Elvis? True story.

12:38 AM  
Blogger Winston Smith said...

Sorry. Insufficient context.

Roughly: true ideas have real power in the world. It is the ideas themselves that bring about the conditions of their...what? Expression?

We tend to think:
First you get minds, then minds have ideas, and then there are ideas.

Peirce, like Plato thinks:
Ideas have a kind of reality, and the kind of reality they have allows them to do things like be expressed in minds.

We think: the minds are primary, the ideas secondary...products of the minds. Peirce, like Plato, disagrees.

Lord help me, I'm starting to agree.

9:35 AM  
Blogger Winston Smith said...

Oh, as for the other part:
There are false ideas, too, of course, and many of them have their own kind of power.

But the idea is:
True ideas have a power of their own, distinct from the other kinds of power that ideas have.

9:38 AM  
Blogger The Mystic said...

I don't know if it's just my philosophical ignorance at what is most likely a very high level of thought, but..

I've always figured this was how it is:

You got the world, then evolved the mind, which creates ideas - some of which are inspired by and accurate depictions of the real world, and some are not accurate depictions of the real world.

Ideas that are true - that is, ideas that accurately reflect the real world (you know, like the thought of gravity - the theory isn't actually written in the cosmos, but the theory does seem to accurately reflect what's going on in human language terms) are going to be more powerful because they are going to be more potent when it comes to interacting with the world.

That seems pretty obvious to me - so maybe I'm just not seeing why it shouldn't be. I think ideas ARE products of the mind, but not just the mind alone - they're products of the mind's interaction with the environment surrounding it.

12:09 PM  
Blogger Tom Van Dyke said...

Which is why I brought up natural law, for lack of a better formulation. The classical thought is that truth is discovered, or derived by reason. The modern is that truth is created by reason, the belief in "progress."

True ideas have a power of their own, distinct from the other kinds of power that ideas have.

But how shall we tell the difference? True ideas are sometimes called perrenial, however there seem to be some perennially bad ideas, too.

Like democracy, for instance. ;-)

4:54 PM  
Blogger Winston Smith said...

Well, I can elaborate on the point, but that might be best left for a whole post instead of comments.

Again: to some extent this is just a rhetorical gesture at a point for which there are detailed arguments. Is it just about advantages one idea has over another when we interact with the world? No. That's too instrumentalist. Is it just about natural law? No. Too Aristotelian.

The idea is that ideas themselves, as possibilities, have real effects on the world. They...something like...bring themselves into expression. As such, they aren't just handy for our interactions, and it isn't just that the ideas are perennial. Though one might expect that true ideas will often be handy for doing things, and will crop up over and over again.

Until you dig into the details, the claim in the post just seems weird. Which is why I express some embarrassment at admitting in public that I'm drawn to it. To normal people, it should seem crazy.

6:43 AM  
Blogger Tom Van Dyke said...

I think I get it. It's a sort of "continuous creation" thing. New Agers like to say we're "co-creators" of reality with God.

The internet tells me that Pierce a lifelong student of Aristotle. If "God" is mind, Aristotle's God is congenial altho not identical with Peirce's. Mind is in all things, a sort of pantheism.

Natural law evolves, then, and the internet says Peirce believed that natural law exists, and through habituation becomes more so. Whether that means quantum physics exists before we thought of it, I dunno, but Peirce defended miracles on these grounds, contra the immovably reasonable Hume, and appears to have taken a greater interest in Plato near the end of his life, Plato favoring already extant "forms" of the ideal.

Interestingly enough (to nobody except me and perhaps you), Peirce was also a great admirer of John Duns Scotus, who is Thomas Aquinas' greatest opponent on metaphysics inside the Catholic Church. Thomas sees the natural law in terms of essence and being, Duns Scotus gives greater priority to the will.

2:33 PM  
Blogger Winston Smith said...

Well, beware of internet philosophy...

He didn't "defend miracles," but, rather, thought that Hume's anti-miracles argument didn't work, on account a mistake about probabilities. I actually don't see Peirce's point on that one, but he's the man to go with on that, not me.

A lifelong student of Aristotle, yes. Also Kant, the Medievals (esp. Scotus)...and almost everybody else, too. Hardcore.

Natural law? No, not really. Not in the sense that you are concerned to defend, the Catholic/Thomistic sense. Of course almost everyone believes that there are natural laws, but that's different. The stuff I was alluding to here points in the direction of a different view of teleology, one radically opposed to the Aristotelian version that spawned the Thomistic stuff.

One large point of contention here has to do with the problem of universals. Peirce calls himself a Scotistic realist...though Short argues that he thinks that universals can have a measure of reality independent of their actual instantiation in particulars. Anyway: that's Plato, not Aristotle.

Anyway, as for Scotus, in addition to adopting some version of his view of universals, Peirce seems to have been influenced by the ethics of freedom that comes out of Scotus and moves through Kant. That robust conception of the freedom of the will and its relationship to moral responsibility seems new with Scotus, absent from the ancients, Aquinas, etc., and it's what seems to give us our current conception of metaphysical freedom. (That conception is sometimes said to owe something essential to stuff that comes out of Islamic philosophy, but I don't know anything about that.)

Panpsychism...kinda sorta. New agey, no.

7:33 AM  
Blogger Tom Van Dyke said...

The question is whether the laws of nature are static or dynamic. The New Age reference was to a coinage favoring the dynamic.

Duns Scotus was mentioned as an acknowledgement that Peirce isn't a Thomist, Plato for the same reason.

Yes, will is the defining characteristic of modern philosophy, at least according to some observers. Whether will represents truth or can represent anything, good or bad, was at the heart of my original post.

3:03 PM  
Blogger Winston Smith said...

Uhhh...I'm not sure what it means to say that "will is the defining characteristic of modern philosophy," but, to the extent that I can understand that claim, it doesn't seem true. Questions about the freedom of the will are important in contemporary metaphysics, but that's a very different claim.

Peirce does think that the laws of the universe may be changing, but that doesn't have anything to do with "new age"y stuff. "New age" stuff isn't really philosophy; it's more like some kind of bourgeois mysticism or something. It has nothing to do with anything serious, and certainly nothing to do with Peirce.

I think we're failing to communicate again on this one...

4:30 PM  
Blogger Tom Van Dyke said...

If it rejects natural law, by what standard does the will ask, what is good? Only by its own standard, of course.

I'm not coming off the wall with this, WS: this question is posed by many thinkers of the moderns.

Since New Age is admittedly a pejorative, I'll drop it. However, a dynamic view of nature, that "how things are" is changeable, is certainly provocative. If truth is not "discovered," it must be continuously created, again back to my first question.

6:19 PM  
Blogger The Mystic said...

You make the most bizarre assertions, Tom.

I just have no idea wtf you're talking about. If you're going to bring weird claims to the conversation like (roughly) "If it rejects natural law, it asks 'what is good' only by its own standard" or "If truth is not 'discovered', it must be continuously created, again back to my first question", you gotta say more to back them up or at least describe what you mean.

Otherwise, it's just weird for the sake of weird.

7:54 AM  
Blogger Tom Van Dyke said...

I'd like to tell you what I'm talking about, Mystic, as I'm not just throwing stuff at the wall. However, a joint inquiry cannot take place in an environment of such hostility. Even Thrasymachus knew when to put a sock in it. (He's my hero, BTW; I don't fancy myself to be Socrates.)

I've given clues all along, which haven't been taken up, but in the spirit of Charlie Brown and the football, a reconnoiter of the neo-Thomist John Finnis will point the sincere inquirer somewhat in the right direction.

And from now on, if you want a response from me, you'll have to hold your own coat, OK?

2:53 PM  
Blogger Winston Smith said...

Tom wrote:

"If it rejects natural law, by what standard does the will ask, what is good? Only by its own standard, of course."

See, Tom, the thing is that this is so far wrong that it'd take hours of stage-setting just to get us up to the point at which I could explain why it's wrong.

You falsely presuppose that the only alternative to natural law theory is some view according to which "standards" can only be justified via circular reasoning ("of course"!). But NLT is only one view in the constellation of moral theories.

This is the way a lot of bad theories get perpetuated...that is, via the "it's this theory or [insert half-assed characterizationof kooky-sounding theory here]"

So, first problem: I can't tell what you think the alternative to NLT is, but it's no view I recognize.

Second problem: There are actually a lot of other views, no matter what alternative you're trying to identify.

Third problem: NLT itself doesn't work. Regardless of whether your disjunction is true, and regardless of what the "only" alternative allegedly is, NLT is a dead-end. You can look it up.

[Caveat: Kant is actually in the NL tradition, and his view seems like it might work; so if we have an expansive view of NLT, it's still got a chance...but not in any form you'd like]

Fer chrissake, Tom, you really, really don't know what you're talking about here. The very fact that you'd make a claim like the one quoted above shows that you've GOT to do more research on this. I'm absolutely not kidding here. I mean, I don't want to sound like a jackass...and I think there are interesting things to be said about NLT (suitably turbo-charged in some Kantian way), just can't go around saying stuff like "It's either NLT or [incoherent alternative]!!!"

4:14 PM  
Blogger Winston Smith said...


4:14 PM  
Blogger The Mystic said...

Thank you - apparently my pointing that out in a gentler way, inviting more clarification, qualifies as my "holding your coat", so he's not going to grace me with his intellectual gifts anymore.

I may have to sit down. I mean, without him, I'll have to pay for grad school, I guess.


5:20 PM  
Blogger Tom Van Dyke said...

The will is either autonomous or it isn't. It either necessarily asks, what is good?, or it doesn't.

There are alternatives to NLT, such as natural right. And Thomas isn't necessarily correct in his NLT formulation, which is why I mentioned Finnis, who is a contemporary philosopher.

And since the knee-jerk here is to tell me I'm WRONG, you don't want me to ask questions, or ask them of yourself. But there are critics of modernity which whom you yourself are apparently unacquainted, like Finnis, or else you wouldn't be charging me with being underinformed or irrelevant.

Hell, I think Peirce is interesting, and I can entertain his thoughts without accepting them. And BTW, Peirce himself wrote that he'd spent more time on Aristotle than any other thinker, a fact in your rush to once again delegitimize me you must have forgotten. There is much on the internet about his collected papers and unpublished works that the honest inquirer can turn up.

5:43 PM  
Blogger The Mystic said...

Tom, you said, again "If it rejects natural law, by what standard does the will ask, what is good? Only by its own standard, of course."

It has been pointed out that this is a false dichotomy, the alternative you propose (the vague reference to some sort of circular reasoning) is unclear at best, and your seeming endorsement of NLT is poorly placed, as NLT is a failure.

Your response to these points was:

"The will is either autonomous or it isn't. It either necessarily asks, what is good?, or it doesn't."

This makes no sense in any way as a response to any of the three points. Would you please spend some time and write something coherent? Could you try putting your argument in a well-organized manner so that it's easy to follow and the rules of logic are clearly applied in deducing a conclusion from your set of premises?

This is just a waste of time if you won't get organized and clarify.

Look at all the work being put into clearly enunciating positions by everyone but you. Quit being vague and weird and then getting all defensive when people complain that you're vague and weird.

Organize, clarify, and put something forth that has some substance if you're going to keep insisting that you have some point that we should all acknowledge.

12:02 PM  
Blogger Tom Van Dyke said...

You apparently didn't look at the Finnis. Discussion is useless if you don't do your homework. You can't explain a whole school of thought in a comments section or break it down to a few slogans. Even Thrasymachus didn't just fall off the turnip truck, and even Socrates couldn't proceed in an atmosphere of hostility. Socratic dialogue requires the other fellow play along with good cheer and not fight every step of the way.

2:28 PM  
Blogger Winston Smith said...

Among the many things I love--cracking my shin on tables in the dark, getting cut off in traffic, mosquitoes, paper cuts--here's one of the ones that really takes the cake:

It's when somebody who doesn't really know anything about philosophy wants to talk about it, and I go along--because, hey, I like people who like to think, and you don't have to have 'Ph.D.' after your name to talk about philosophy...

And then they start lecturing me.

Yeah, and it's especially good when they're REALLY clueless, and I try gently to explain, and they get snide and condescending, all the time oblivious to the fact that they haven't the foggiest idea what they're talking about.

Yeah, I really love that.

I'm not wasting any more of my time on this conversation, Tom. You talking a bunch of BS is one thing, but this is a whole new order of silliness.

Continue to tell yourself that you know a lot of philosophy if you like, continue to make vague, ignorant pronouncements if it makes you happy. But pretending like you know what you're talking about doesn't make it so. You won't listen to reason, and you're just throwing out disjointed bits of Catholic dogma as if you were making arguments. You won't really go learn philosophy, but you think I ought to sit here and converse with you as if you already knew it all, and as if you were making sense. I'm not going to conduct an entire intro to philosophy course in the comments section of my blog.

The end of it for me was when you cited "natural rights" theory as, in essence, the only realist alternative to NLT.

Thanks for that. It finally became abundantly clear to me that this is a complete waste of my time. Then, of course, there was your completely senseless and pronouncement on the will. For chrissake, do you really think you conduct philosophy by throwing out half-baked bumper-sticker slogans?

I've tried. I really, really have. But life is short, and there are more productive ways for me to spend my time.

4:04 PM  
Blogger Tom Van Dyke said...

Well, my last bit wasn't directed at you, WS. I don't presume to know more about philosophy than you, but you've also said now and then that you're fairly unfamiliar with some of modernity's critics.

I don't throw out dogma. I mention Aquinas now and then, and only untheologically. And people like Finnis specialize in his flaws.

And no, natural right isn't the only alternative to natural law, and probably neither have anything to do with Peirce. My question is how he asks, what is good, a question that may be asked by Ph.D and non-Ph.D. alike.

So I'm sorry if I came off condescending. I was just playing my role in the dialogue, O Socrates, that of Thrasymachus, whom you must admit made things interesting.

5:25 PM  
Blogger Winston Smith said...

My apologies. It didn't come off that way.

8:28 PM  

Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home