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The Politics of Survival

Peirce, Affectivity, and Social Criticism

Lara Trout

Publication Year: 2010

How can sincere, well-meaning people unintentionally perpetuate discrimination based on race, sex, sexuality, or other socio-political factors? To address this question, Lara Trout engages a neglected dimension of Charles S. Peirce's philosophy - human embodiment - in order to highlight the compatibility between Peirce's ideas and contemporary work in social criticism. This compatibility, which has been neglected in both Peircean and social criticism scholarship, emerges when the body is fore-grounded among the affective dimensions of Peirce's philosophy (including feeling, emotion, belief, doubt, instinct, and habit). Trout explains unintentional discrimination by situating Peircean affectivity within a post-Darwinian context, using the work of contemporary neuroscientist Antonio Damasio to facilitate this contextual move. Since children are vulnerable, nave, and dependent upon their caretakers for survival, they must trust their caretaker's testimony about reality. This dependency, coupled with societal norms that reinforce historically dominant perspectives (such as being heterosexual, male, middle-class, and/or white), fosters the internalization of discriminatory habits that function non-consciously in adulthood. The Politics of Survival brings Peirce and social criticism into conversation. On the one hand, Peircean cognition, epistemology, phenomenology, and metaphysics dovetail with social critical insights into the inter-relationships among body and mind, emotion and reason, self and society. Moreover, Peirce's epistemological ideal of an infinitely inclusive community of inquiry into knowledge and reality implies a repudiation of exclusionary prejudice. On the other hand, work in feminism and race theory illustrates how the application of Peirce's infinitely inclusive communal ideal can be undermined by non-conscious habits of exclusion internalized in childhood by members belonging to historically dominant groups, such as the economically privileged, heterosexuals, men, and whites. Trout offers a Peircean response to this application problem that both acknowledges the blind spotsof non-conscious discrimination and recommends a communally situated network of remedies including agapic love, critical common-sensism, scientific method, and self-control.

Published by: Fordham University Press

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. vii-viii


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pp. ix-x


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pp. xi-xvi

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pp. 1-24

I use the philosophy of classical American pragmatist Charles Sanders Peirce to teach my students about unintentional racism. Many of these students, almost all of whom are Euro-American white,1 report a transformation—from not believing in the possibility of unintentional racism to fully acknowledging this phenomenon.2 The type of racism I focus on in class—and in this book—is white...

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One: Peircean Affectivity

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pp. 25-68

Peirce viewed the individual human organism as a body-minded, social animal who interacts semiotically with the world outside of her. He had little patience for the Cartesian portrayal of the individual as a disembodied, solipsistic knower with immediate epistemic access to truth. I use the term ‘‘naive individual’’ to convey a Cartesian...

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Two: The Affectivity of Cognition: Journal of Speculative Philosophy Cognition Series, 1868–69

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pp. 69-127

Peirce’s Journal of Speculative Philosophy Cognition Series, published in the late 1860s,1 portrays synechistic individuals whose ongoing processes of cognition and habit-formation are inescapably shaped by personalized and socialized interests. Because of the inescapable bias of human cognition, humans do well to realize the value...

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Three: The Affectivity of Inquiry: Popular Science Monthly Illustrations of the Logic of Science Series, 1877–78

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pp. 128-173

In his Illustrations of the Logic of Science series, published in Popular Science Monthly in the late 1870s,1 Peirce presents a robust synechistic individual, one who stands up to her hegemonic community whose belief-habits need to be challenged. He also presents the scientific method as the preferred method of communal belief- habit formation. The scientific method—unlike the hegemonic...

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Four: The Law of Mind, Association, and Sympathy: Monist ‘‘Cosmology Series’’ and Association Writings, 1890s

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pp. 174-228

For Peirce, agapic love is the ideal that communities should embrace in relationship to their individual members, especially when these members are at odds with the community itself.1 Peirce’s views on agape occur in the rich context of his 1890s Monist ‘‘Cosmology Series’’ and writings on association,2 where the synechistic individual emerges as a potential source of novelty, as a result of her...

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Five: Critical Common-Sensism, 1900s

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pp. 229-272

Critical Common-sensism (CCS) is an epistemological doctrine that calls for a critical examination of the common-sense beliefs that underwrite human cognition.1 It is thus uniquely suited to address social critical concerns about discriminatory beliefs that can become ingrained within one’s background beliefs without her or his...

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pp. 273-284

These words from bell hooks and Audre Lorde underscore a problematic lack of social critical sensitivity that informs Peirce’s philosophy, as he largely failed to address the oppressive dynamics that can undermine, in actual communities, the ideal of infinite inclusion.1 While infinite inclusion itself cannot be literally...


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pp. 285-338

Works Cited

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pp. 339-350


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pp. 351-362

E-ISBN-13: 9780823249190
Print-ISBN-13: 9780823232956
Print-ISBN-10: 0823232956

Page Count: 304
Publication Year: 2010