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  • Peirce's Theory of Inquiry and Beyond
  • Torjus Midtgarden
Thora Margareta Bertilsson. Peirce's Theory of Inquiry and Beyond. Frankfurt am M.: Peter Lang, 2009. 236 pp. Index.

Thora Margareta Bertilsson's book is an extended edition of her doctoral dissertation originally written in 1978, with a new foreword and preface and one new chapter. The thematic link between her original text and the new texts in the book is Charles Peirce's Theory of Inquiry. [End Page 528] Yet, whereas the original text focuses on the relevance of Peirce's theory for the social study of science, the new contribution also focuses on Peirce's relevance for sociology and social theory more generally. This shift of focus may partly be seen in the light of recent developments in the fields to which Bertilsson applies Peirce, but it is also due to recognition on her part that Peirce's relevance may extend to new areas of sociological interest.

In the original text of the late 70s the author applies Peirce's Theory of Inquiry to "a social reconstruction of science theory" (p. 29). Peirce's relevance is seen as that of a mediator between two then prominent positions: Popper's critical rationalism and the psychology/sociology of research of Kuhn (p. 31). Such mediation, however, is enabled by a further qualification of Kuhn's position in terms of his "turning to the pragmatics of speech and everyday vocabulary underlying also the production of scientific knowledge" (p. 51), whereas Popper emphasises "the critical and argumentative dimension of speech" (p. 52). Framed in such hermeneutic-pragmatic terms the scene is set for a Peircean mediation supported by Karl-Otto Apel's interpretation of Peirce (p. 55).

What makes Peirce suited to mediate between Kuhn and Popper is that he stresses the social nature and origin of scientific knowledge as well as its normative structure. Within Peirce's categorial and semiotic framework the category thirdness "stands for norms governing conduct without which a society is impossible" (p. 78), but it also stands for "the network of norms characteristic of scientific conduct" (id). Peirce thus provides "a normative theory" which sees "science as the conduct of inquiry", and which is distinct from the sociology of knowledge of the 70s (p. 82). Through the inspiration found in Apel's interpretation, however, the mediation tilts more towards a strong normative and Kantian account of scientific inquiry than towards a hermeneutical approach as initiated by Kuhn. Hence, Peirce's thirdness is specified in terms of counterfactuals the meaning of which involves a future, ideal community of inquirers and which affect "in the long run the emergence of a unitary community interpretation" (p. 120). Further, even if Bertilsson's Peirce does construe the individual inquirer as guided by and accountable to norms insofar as he "makes himself socially and morally responsible to a larger community of science . . . by asserting an event to have happened or its 'would-be-ness'" (p. 121), she finds a serious conceptual deficit in Peirce's account of moral and epistemic agency. In her words, "Peirce lacks the notion of an individual with a possible implication that individuals are but interchangeable links in a self-compelled community-game" (p. 150). Moving now to the new parts of her book, however, Bertilsson provides interpretations in terms of which such alleged deficit, as well as the alleged drift away from a hermeneutic orientation, is given a second thought. [End Page 529]

In drawing upon more recent interpretations focussing on the late Peirce's outlines of a speculative grammar Bertilsson now correctly takes Peirce to have anticipated and "struggled with the basics of speech act theory" (p. 197). She thus finds reason not only to correct the Peirce-interpretations of Habermas and Apel (resting as they do on limited and selective textual material), but to highlight Peirce's semiotic account of linguistic agency and make it relevant for contemporary philosophy of science as well as for social theory. As Bertilsson makes clear, Peirce's later works provide reflections on prescientific and practical conditions not only for natural science (as Habermas would have it in Erkenntnis und Interesse) but for the human and social sciences as...


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