Wednesday, January 03, 2018

Peirce: "Questions Concerning Certain Faculties Claimed For Man"

It took me years and many readings to come to appreciate what a great piece of philosophy this is.


Anonymous Critical Spirits said...

I concur. This is a wonderful piece of philosophy. I love ruffling my fellow grad students' feathers by claiming that we do not have a faculty of intuition.

I always say "appeals to intuition are just an attempt to codify assumptions we take for granted instead of giving arguments for them."

I do not know if this is correct, but I think that it's an interesting thought. Plus, philosophers don't know what they mean by 'intuition' anyway. This is why I think studying history of philosophy can serve to contextualize the contemporary philosophical bedrock. Smyth's book on Peirce really helped me to put the debate over intuitions in perspective. Peirce's move to reject intuitions to combat Mill, Bain, Bowen et al. is a brilliant move IMO.

11:51 AM  
Blogger The Mystic said...

Ok, what am I missing?

In short, if I read correctly what seems to me to be the most important part (Question 1), Pierce is arguing against Kant (and other, far less interesting arguments in favor of the faculty of intuition) by claiming to provide an alternative understanding of the synthetic process by which our universal and necessary propositions regarding time and space could be given. In his proposed alternative, these cognitions are given not through a priori intuition, but through a posteriori empirical induction. If this proposal is an equally suitable explanation for our cognitions, then it is not necessary, after all, that these cognitions are intuitions which are distinct from any other empirical and inductive reasoning we might carry out.

Against this, Kant has put forth that we have cognitions which are (1) characterized by absolute universality and necessity, and (2) it is by these qualities that we can distinguish a priori intuition from non-intuition, for no a posteriori empirical judgment can ever exhibit absolute universality or necessity. Kant then makes a series of arguments aimed at demonstrating the soundness of (1) in relation to time and space such that they qualify as modes of intuition.

So, to defeat Kant's position, Pierce will need to show either that:

1) We don't have legitimate universal and necessary propositions given to us in our cognitions.
2) Empirical induction can provide universal and necessary propositions.

Pierce seems to go for (2), and writes:

"In fact, it is the peculiar function of induction to produce universal and necessary propositions. Kant points out, indeed, that the universality and necessity of scientific inductions are but the analogues of philosophic universality and necessity; and this is true, in so far as it is never allowable to accept a scientific conclusion without a certain indefinite drawback. But this is owing to the insufficiency in the number of the instances; and whenever instances may be had in as large numbers as we please, ad infinitum, a truly universal and necessary proposition is inferable."

1:12 AM  
Blogger The Mystic said...

But are these not problems:

1) Pierce is obtaining universality for inductive reasoning by illicitly converting inductive reasoning into nothing less than a positively identified sound premise. I mean, if we reason by induction with the grab-bag example Pierce provides, we are, of necessity, not exhaustively examining all the balls in the bag. We are, instead, examining many of them and then making an assertion about all (that is, a universal assertion) of them without specifically observing the rest of them. If we, as Pierce suggests, take the number of instances to "as large numbers as we please," that does nothing other than increase statistical probability, leaving the original problem of induction intact, unless we increase the number of instances to exhaustion. But if we do that, it's not even induction anymore; now we've simply gained universality by actually knowing that we have examined every single ball.

2) It is entirely unclear how Pierce is arguing that induction produces a necessary proposition. Knowing the particulars in existence does not allow us to make any claims about necessity. For example, even if we examine all the balls which are presently in the grab bag and find that they are all red, we need not conclude that every possible ball will be red. Therefore, no amount of evidence gathering will ever give to us necessity.

If Pierce isn't on firm ground with his assertion about inductive reasoning's capacity to produce universal and necessary propositions (which seems so obviously wrong to me, I am left to beg you to tell me what's wrong with my brain), then I don't see anything else in this article which can touch anything Kant has argued. His only counter-argument given in question 1 which has any bearing on Kant's arguments seems to me to be his alternative proposal for an inductively-reasoned understanding of space and time, and if that dies here, then this article completely misses the mark on what it sets out to do, having failed to engage Kant at all.


1:12 AM  
Blogger Winston Smith said...

I don't think P is targeting Kant especially, nor the stuff in the Transcendental Aesthetic especially--though he's in the mix somewhere. The arguments of question 1 are usually taken to be mostly anti-Cartesian...though applicable to any view that holds that we have intuitions (direct, self-evident cognitions. Historically, he seems to have been thinking mainly of the "hundred years war" between the British empiricists and Scottish common-sensism, esp. the Mill-Hamilton disagreement.

The question, remember, isn't exactly "do we have intuitions?", but, rather, "do we have the power of intuitively distinguishing intuitions from non-intuitions?" He's arguing that, as between Mill and Hamilton, Mill is right about about how we must answer this question: via reasoning from evidence. The point is, basically: we can't accept the answer "I know intuitively that I have intuitions."

That's to lock ourselves up in an evidence-proof position. It's analogous to allowing a perjurer on trail for perjuring himself on the witness stand to testify on his own behalf.

Furthermore, the recognition that "I know x intuitively" and "I know intuitively than I know x intuitively" are different cognitions undermines the strongest argument for the intuition theory--Cartesianism, broadly construed. The strongest argument is that it's supposed to be the only way we know to stop the regress of reasons: I know A because of B and B because of C and so on...but without a regress-stopper known intuitively (i.e. not on the basis of further reasons), we never get from conditional evidence to unconditional evidence.

Anyway, Peirce's observation (Brentano makes the same point about the same time) is: x is an itself...does nothing for me epistemically. Unless I know that I know x intuitively, x appears to me to be unjustified. But now I'm off and running on a meta-regress. I need not only "x is intuitive," but " 'x is intuitive' is intuitive." And also " ('x is intuitive' is intuitive) is intuitive."

How Kantian intuitions fit into this is not as obvious...he says something about this in a footnote but I gotta get to work!

9:24 AM  

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