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FOUR A Composite Sketch of the Maxim With Peirce’s and James’s explanatory remarks and interpretive differences in front of us, it is not exactly easy to determine what the pragmatic maxim actually says or, consequently, what pragmatism is. Nevertheless this chapter will present what is meant to be a constructive, inclusive synthesis of the two kinds of pragmatism represented respectively by Peirce and James. A composite portrait of pragmatism begins to emerge as we bring together various results from preceding chapters. Namely, pragmatism would appear to be a philosophical stance or attitude with essentially two defining characteristics. These are (1) a certain normative conception of belief and (2) a methodological principle (the so-called pragmatic maxim) regarding meaning that itself has two aspects, operational and inferential. Together these various features of pragmatism suggest that we distinguish not just a third but also a fourth grade of clarity beyond Descartes’ two grades of “clear and distinct” ideas. BELIEF A pragmatist conception of belief was spelled out (roughly) by Peirce in “The Fixation of Belief” (1877). It was extended by James in Pragmatism (1907h) as a theory of truth that, as argued in earlier chapters, would have been better cast as a treatment of rational and/or justified and/or warranted belief. Peirce, of course, did not exactly acknowledge (though he should have) that the background conception of belief from which he derived his “principle of pragmatism” is itself an aspect of pragmatism. He tended rather to characterize pragmatism solely in terms of the pragmatic maxim—so that pragmatism, as a corollary of that conception of belief (1907b, EP2:399), was cast solely as “a method of ascertaining the meanings” of abstract concepts (1907b, EP2:401). In this regard, with hindsight that neither of them had, we could say that neither Peirce nor James quite got this first aspect of pragmatism right: James mislabeled it and Peirce did not give it its due. Yet some minor adjustments of each of their positions yields a composite conception of belief that comports with both of their respective views in every substantively important way. It was noted earlier that Peirce was working with a certain conception of belief adapted from Alexander Bain (1855; 1859) and James Fitzjames Stephens 36 A COMPOSITE SKETCH OF THE MAXIM / 37 (1863) by way of his friend Nicholas St. John Green (see Peirce 1906b; 1907b, EP2:399; Menand 2001, 225, 354; Wiener 1946, 220, 223). Officially, Peirce originally presented the pragmatic maxim as a principle pertaining to how our thinking may best be concretely grounded by way of experimental methods (1907b, EP2:400–401)—a principle that could thus be easily interpreted in terms of activities and their sensible results. But also recall the statement by Peirce (quoted on page 6 above) that “[i]n 1871, in a Metaphysical Club in Cambridge, Mass., I used to preach this principle as a sort of logical gospel, representing the unformulated method followed by Berkeley, and in conversation about it I called it ‘Pragmatism’” (1908, EP2:448). Whatever it was that Peirce was calling by the name ‘pragmatism’ in 1871 surely had as much or more to do with his discussions with Green, James, Chauncey Wright, and others concerning the nature of belief. This claim is supported by the fact that much of the content of “The Fixation of Belief” (1877) and “How to Make Our Ideas Clear” (1878a) appeared in some earlier drafts of chapters for a book on logic (1872, WP3:14–61). The material there is focused on the nature of belief (versus doubt, etc.) and reality (as the object of the one final opinion that all would come to who carry out their research far enough—an objective and decidedly Darwinian conception of the “fixation” of opinion, according to Wiener 1946) with at best only faint hints of the kinds of concerns targeted by the pragmatic maxim, for instance, in some inconclusive remarks about meaning (1872, WP3:38–39). It is arguably the case—in light of Fisch’s careful but tentative study (EP2:546n7; Fisch 1964; 1981)—that these drafts, in whole or in part, were what Peirce was referring to in 1907b (EP2:400) when he mentioned that, as a “souvenir” of the Metaphysical Club discussions, he had drawn up “a little paper expressing some of the opinions that I had been urging all along under the name of pragmatism.” Assuming this is an accurate portrayal of actual events, it would clearly show that Peirce...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9780253009623
Related ISBN
9780253009548
MARC Record
OCLC
1080549827
Pages
256
Launched on MUSE
2019-01-02
Language
English
Open Access
No
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