Sunday, December 10, 2017

Good Summary of Peirce's "Detached Thoughts On Vitally Important Topics"


Anonymous Critical Spirits said...

How ironic do you suppose this lecture to be? Peirce's sentimental conservatism seems to be consistent with other facets of his philosophy-- namely his synechism and/or the law of mind-- but it also appears to contradict his prescriptive method for performing inquiry. In the fixation of belief Peirce notes his preference of the method of science to other methods such as tenacity, authority, rationalism, etc. It seems like Peirce sets up sentiment as an authority on moral matters.

Is the idea that humans are generally creature incapable of careful, logical inference, and as such any engagement in that activity will lead one who is deficient in such matters astray? Thus, the prescription is to follow sentiments that have been fastened over a long period of time as a guide to action.

The irony strikes me when I read that Peirce was peeved by James's suggestion that the former should not produce a lecture on technical material, like his logic of relatives, and alpha graphs, and so on. The implication seems to me to be that the audience make claims to exercising their higher faculties of cognition, but unabashedly denounce the type of material best suited to treating such matters.

tl;dr how serious was Peirce in "Detached Thoughts...?" And just how consistent is his thesis with the greater stock of concepts indispensable to Peircean thought?

8:57 AM  
Blogger Winston Smith said...

It's a good question and I'm glad to be able to answer promptly: I don't know.

I'm pretty tone-deaf about such things, and I didn't get that essay at all the first time I read it. (I *hated* Peirce thorough just about the whole first course I had on him.) Though I've read it subsequently, never with that question in mind.

He himself may not know how serious he is. Seems to me that he is often kind of following ideas around because he sees something interesting in them, not because he's convinced of them.

This is basically what you said, but I take it that he thinks that human reason is pretty weak, and that, plus the nature of abduction and induction, means that we only do well over long periods of time. Add to that that philosophical reasoning is so abstract and otherwise difficult and confusing that we only have a chance of doing it well when we don't have a vital dog in the fight. When we do, we are just *gonna* cheat.

Does he really think that we're better off sticking to what our grandmas taught us? I just dunno. *He* didn't do that, and it brought him abject misery... So...

tl;dr: I don't know.

10:42 AM  
Anonymous Critical Spirits said...

I think your observation that Peirce follows ideas based on how fruitful they may end up being is wholly consistent with other things he had written. "Musement" from "A Neglected Argument..." and his tychism seem to be ideas of this sort. He even gave notifications to his reader not to hastily accept any of his conclusions.

It seems to me that abductive/hypothetical inference is largely operant in these cases. Peirce is on record stating that philosophy is a kind of science (cenoscopic, I believe) and that various methods used in science should not be precluded from philosophy. Qualifying a philosophical problem as "something for a whole era to work out" seems to give Peirce a pass for entertaining seemingly strange ideas.

I don't know how many times I have irked my cohorts by stating "I am not irrational for teasing out this idea because I am only treating it as a hypothesis." Makes me seem like I have no principles, I suppose.

Man, I wish more people read Peirce. I am of the particular stripe that thinks he had such an interesting solution for fixing philosophical problems to their appropriate scopes. Not as radical as (later) Wittgenstein, but not as dogmatical as, say, Descartes or Leibniz.

1:03 PM  

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