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BOOK REVIEWS 375 The Origins of Pragmatism: Studies in the Philosophy of Charles Sanders Peirce and William James. By A. J. Ayer. (San Francisco: Freeman, Cooper & Co., 1968. $8.00) A. J. Ayer's treatment of the philosophies of Peirce and James is both complex and puzzling. The complexity of the book is due largely to the detailed criticisms which Ayer brings to bear against many of the views of these men. The reader is asked not only to digest their ideas but also to grapple with Ayer's own in-depth analyses. Thus, The Origins of Pragmatism is not for those who are primarily interested in an easily readable introduction to Peirce and James. It is suited rather for an audience which is experienced in and has a love for careful argumentation and critical testing of epistemological hypotheses. The reader quickly notices Ayer's skill at critical analysis, and one result is that, in a philosophical drama with a cast of three, Ayer himself emerges in the leading role. This result is a factor in the puzzling quality of the book, which revolves around the fact that no clear answers are presented for the following question: What are the main positive theses that Ayer is trying to develop and defend in his study of Peirce and James? Ayer provides expositions of the views of Peirce and James, but no point of great significance is made concerning the place of these men in the history of philosophy. There is also relatively little in the way of comparison and contrast with respect to Peirce and James. In fact, their views are dealt with in two separate sections of the book. Moreover, although many arguments are analyzed and some positive suggestions are made by Ayer on a variety of points (e.g., the nature of belief, pp. 29 ft. and the problem of personal identity, pp. 254 ft.), it is difficult to detect any substantial unifying themes in the work. The book often has the quality of being a collection of statements on diverse problems, and, in addition, when one is through, it is not entirely clear why Ayer chose to write about Peirce and James at all. On what issues does Ayer concentrate in his treatment of Peirce, and what is the overall assessment of Peirce's philosophical contributions? Ayer begins with a discussion of Peirce's theory of truth and meaening and proceeds to an analysis of his philosophy of science and his views concerning categories and signs. The rationale for this progression is that Peirce's theory of truth and meaning ultimately "resolves itself into a defence of scientific method" (p. 62), and this defense, in turn, leads to even more fundamental epistemological concerns which are reflected in his ideas concerning categories and signs. With respect to his overall assessment of Peirce, it is difficult to get a clear reading of Ayer's position. In general, Peirce's views are explained carefully and correctly. In addition, Ayer criticizes Peirce's theories in detail and produces some valuable insights along the way (e.g., see Ayer's analysis of Peirce's attempts to justify induction, pp. 80 frO. As far as Peirce is concerned, however, the results seem to be mainly negative, and the reader is left wondering just why he should be concerned about Peirce. There is little indication of why this man is a figure of genuine philosophical importance. Perhaps the fact that Ayer has chosen to write about him is sufficient evidence of this truth, but beyond that implication, Ayer does little to help the reader to see that Peirce is a philosopher of lasting significance. Ayer's account of James's philosophy moves from a discussion of his doctrine of "the will to believe" and his pragmatic theory of truth to an extended analysis of the 376 HISTORY OF PHILOSOPHY theory of "radical empiricism" as it is developed in the work Essays in Radical Empiricism. Ayer's chapter on radical empiricism is by far the longest in the book, and it contains lengthy treatments of problems concerning personal identity and the Jamesian doctrine of "pure experience." As an expositor, Ayer seems to do better with Peirce than...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1538-4586
Print ISSN
0022-5053
Pages
pp. 375-376
Launched on MUSE
2008-01-01
Open Access
No
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