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Normative Science and the Pragmatic Maxim VINCENT G. POTTER, S.J. ALTHOUGH PEIRCE CAME TO RECOGNIZE the nature and role of the normative sciences only late in his career, he was nonetheless convinced that his account of the hierarchical dependence of logic on ethics and of ethics on esthetics was a discovery of fundamental importance for a correct understanding of his thought, and one which distinguished his "pragmaticism" from other, more familiar, interpretations of his own famous maxim. It would be a mistake to think that because this was a late development in Peirce's thought, it was an afterthought. It would also be a mistake to think that because Peirce's exposition of that role was short and unsatisfactory, it was not an integral part of what he conceived to be his "architectonic" system. More correctly, Peirce thought that his realization of the place of these sciences put in his hands the cap-stone which unified all that he had been trying to do for some forty years. In a letter to William James, dated November 25, 1902, Peirce remarks that many philosophers who call themselves pragmatists "miss the very point of it," and he tells us why: But I seem to myself to be the sole depositary at present of the completely developed system, which all hangs together and cannot receive any proper presentation in fragments. My own view in 1877was crude. Even when I gave my Cambridge lectures I had not really got to the bottom of it or seen the unity of the whole thing. It was not until after that that I obtained the proof that logic must be founded on ethics, of which it is a higher development. Even then, I was for some time so stupid as not to see that ethics rests in the same manner on a foundation of esthetics--by which, it is needless to say, I don't mean milk and water and sugar. (8255) Other pragmatic positions, then, are only fragmentary. 1 They lack the unity provided by a theory of the normative sciences, and this deficiency has led them into a serious error--the error of making action the be-all and the end-all of thought. ~ If other pragmatists had a correct view of the normative sciences, they would see how intimately they are connected with his categories. 1Cf. 5.494 (c. 1906) where Peirce sketches the differences between his own position and that of James, Schiller, and Papini in a less polemical way. It [calculations of probabilities] goes to show that the practical consequences are much, but not that they are all the meaning of a concept. A new argument must supplement the above. All the more active functions of animals are adaptive characters calculated to insure the continuance of the stock. Can there be the slightest hesitation in saying, then, that the human intellect is implanted in man, either by a creator or by a quasi-intentional effect of the struggle for existence, virtually in order, and solely ill order, to insure the continuance of mankind ? But how can it have such effect except by regulating human conduct? Shall we not conclude then that the conduct of men is the sole purpose and sense of thinking, and that if it be asked why should the human stock be continued, the only answer is that that is among the inscrutable purposes of God or the virtual purposes of nature which for the present remain secrets to us? So it would seem. But this conclusion is too vastly far-reaching to be admitted without further examination. Man seems to himself to have some glimmer of co-understanding with God, or with Nature. The fact that he has [41] 42 HISTORY OF PHILOSOPHY These three normative sciences correspond to my three categories, which in their psychological aspect, appear as Feeling, Reaction, Thought. I have advanced my understanding of these categories much since Cambridge days; and can now put them in a much clearer light and more convincingly. The true nature of pragmatism cannot be understood without them. It does not, as I seem to have thought at first, take Reaction as the be-all, but it takes...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1538-4586
Print ISSN
0022-5053
Pages
pp. 41-53
Launched on MUSE
2008-01-01
Open Access
No
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