Peirce on “what pragamtism is”

Some gems from C. S. Peirce’s “What Pragmatism Is”.

First, probably the most famous bit from this essay, one of the funnier lines in the history of philosophy:

…the writer, finding his bantling “pragmatism” so promoted, feels that it is time to kiss his child good-by and relinquish it to its higher destiny; while to serve the precise purpose of expressing the original definition, he begs to announce the birth of the word “pragmaticism,” which is ugly enough to be safe from kidnappers.

Another, which I think is highly relevant to the Design Thinking debate, largely conducted by non-practitioners:

The writer of this article has been led by much experience to believe that every physicist, and every chemist, and, in short, every master in any department of experimental science, has had his mind molded by his life in the laboratory to a degree that is little suspected. The experimentalist himself can hardly be fully aware of it, for the reason that the men whose intellects he really knows about are much like himself in this respect. With intellects of widely different training from his own, whose education has largely been a thing learned out of books, he will never become inwardly intimate, be he on ever so familiar terms with them; for he and they are as oil and water, and though they be shaken up together, it is remarkable how quickly they will go their several mental ways, without having gained more than a faint flavor from the association. Were those other men only to take skillful soundings of the experimentalist’s mind — which is just what they are unqualified to do, for the most part — they would soon discover that, excepting perhaps upon topics where his mind is trammeled by personal feeling or by his bringing up, his disposition is to think of everything just as everything is thought of in the laboratory, that is, as a question of experimentation. … when you have found, or ideally constructed upon a basis of observation, the typical experimentalist, you will find that whatever assertion you may make to him, he will either understand as meaning that if a given prescription for an experiment ever can be and ever is carried out in act, an experience of a given description will result, or else he will see no sense at all in what you say.

And last, a restatement of a simple but profoundly consequential idea from “Four Incapacities” (“Let us not pretend to doubt in philosophy what we do not doubt in our hearts.”) which hit me from a pleasantly fresh angle:

Philosophers of very diverse stripes propose that philosophy shall take its start from one or another state of mind in which no man, least of all a beginner in philosophy, actually is. One proposes that you shall begin by doubting everything, and says that there is only one thing that you cannot doubt, as if doubting were “as easy as lying.” … Do you call it doubting to write down on a piece of paper that you doubt? If so, doubt has nothing to do with any serious business. But do not make believe; if pedantry has not eaten all the reality out of you, recognize, as you must, that there is much that you do not doubt, in the least. Now that which you do not at all doubt, you must and do regard as infallible, absolute truth. Here breaks in Mr. Make Believe: “What! Do you mean to say that one is to believe what is not true, or that what a man does not doubt is ipso facto true?” No, but unless he can make a thing white and black at once, he has to regard what he does not doubt as absolutely true. Now you, per hypothesiu, are that man, “But you tell me there are scores of things I do not doubt. I really cannot persuade myself that there is not some one of them about which I am mistaken.” You are adducing one of your make-believe facts, which, even if it were established, would only go to show that doubt has a limen, that is, is only called into being by a certain finite stimulus. You only puzzle yourself by talking of this metaphysical “truth” and metaphysical “falsity,” that you know nothing about. All you have any dealings with are your doubts and beliefs, with the course of life that forces new beliefs upon you and gives you power to doubt old beliefs. If your terms “truth” and “falsity” are taken in such senses as to be definable in terms of doubt and belief and the course of experience (as for example they would be, if you were to define the “truth” as that to a belief in which belief would tend if it were to tend indefinitely toward absolute fixity), well and good: in that case, you are only talking about doubt and belief. But if by truth and falsity you mean something not definable in terms of doubt and belief in any way, then you are talking of entities of whose existence you can know nothing, and which Ockham’s razor would clean shave off. Your problems would he greatly simplified, if, instead of saying that you want to know the “Truth,” you were simply to say that you want to attain a state of belief unassailable by doubt.

This entry was posted in Pragmatism. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply