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THREE Peirce’s Later Versions of the Maxim James’s application of the pragmatic method to the notion of “truth” is in stark contrast with Peirce’s application of the maxim to the notions of “reality” and “truth” (1878a, section 4). Immediately after presenting the pragmatic maxim, Peirce (1878a, EP1:132–139) worked through several examples to show how that maxim may be employed to clarify various “conceptions.” He looked at various concepts from physics—namely, hard, weight, force—before tackling two notions related (as he put it) to “logic”—specifically, our concepts of reality and truth. Peirce’s discussions of the physics examples are not entirely easy to follow, and he later rejected what he thought were nominalistic aspects of his treatment of the first one (1905b; 1905d; 1911). Nevertheless, there is a common pattern throughout the discussions of these examples, namely: one must identify various distinctive “conceivable effects” that would serve as evidence of an instance of the given conception, where these effects are to be characterized as possible results of respective conceivable actions. For example, the surface of something that is hard would not show scratch marks (result) if scratched (action) by a good many other substances. That and similar conditional claims constitute what it means to say that something is hard. The degree of meaningfulness of such claims, then, is correlated with one’s ability to comprehend the respective actions and the expected results, for example, if one were capable of performing those actions. The concept of weight is just as easily operationalized in fairly common terms. Namely, something with weight is something that would drop (a sensible effect) as a result of letting it go (an action of removing a force opposing the force of gravity). Of course, this employs other concepts that also beg for clarification. Peirce’s way of handling the concept of force appeals to Newtonian mechanics and related bits of mathematics (like vector geometry). Newtonian mechanics, based on three elementary laws of motion, is made up of a system of relations among a number of vector and scalar quantities (position, distance, duration, velocity , acceleration, mass, momentum, force, energy, etc.), some that are directly measurable and any of which may be manipulated directly or indirectly. Variations in any one of these variables will induce corresponding variations in others as prescribed by that system of relations. For instance, a Newtonian conception of 22 PEIRCE’S LATER VERSIONS OF THE MAXIM / 23 a force acting on a body with constant mass can be characterized solely in terms of the acceleration of that body. If such acceleration is not directly sensible in itself (e.g., if one’s own body is not the body in question), it may be cast in terms of the sensible results of measurements of distances and durations. We should be able to generalize this method for defining concepts in terms of conceivable effects and respective actions that would bring them about, to a point that it should work across the board, from economics or sociology or cultural anthropology to physics or chemistry or any other area of concern, scientific or otherwise. To better appreciate this claim, it is useful to peruse some of Peirce’s later remarks on what pragmatism is, including other examples as well as various reformulations of the maxim itself. Peirce reformulates the maxim in later works, with various changes in content and emphasis that may not be obviously consistent from one formulation to the next. But the experimental, perceptual, sensible, operational gist of this account of meaning—that “there are no conceptions which are not given to us in perceptual judgments” (1903d, 223) and that “what we think is to be interpreted in terms of what we are prepared to do” (1903a, 142)—persists in all of these formulations. It is instructive to survey some of these formulations, presented below roughly in the chronological order in which they appeared in Peirce’s publications and unpublished notebooks. One perhaps must appreciate Peirce’s wry if not bitter sense of humor to comprehend the following formulation: Pragmatism is the principle that every theoretical judgment expressible in a sentence in the indicative mood is a confused form of thought whose only meaning, if it has any, lies in its tendency to enforce a corresponding practical maxim expressible as a conditional sentence having its apodosis in the imperative mood. (Peirce 1903a, EP2:134–135) These remarks are part of some opening remarks in the first of a series of lectures...


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