- Logic is Rooted in the Social Principle:Peirce, Pansemioticism, and the Possibility of Transpersonal Knowledge
The purpose of this article is to explore the question of the “location” of knowledge relative to knowers and things known in the work of Charles Sanders Peirce. This is an aspect Peirce’s work that is rarely addressed directly, and still more rarely addressed with any clarity. Peirce seems to have been aware of this, often demurring that he “is not yet quite free from the mist” on the issue.1 Similarly, Peirce’s interpreters have expressed little interest in this question (with Vincent Colapietro and Robert Corrington standing as notable exceptions),2 preferring to focus on the more familiar operation of semeiotic within the individual mind, highlighting the community only insofar as the individuals within it can provide correctives for the hypotheses of such individual minds.3 Under the circumstances—including the broader challenge of having Peirce’s work taken seriously by a broader philosophic audience—one can hardly blame them, but I contend [End Page 70] that something important is being lost in the process: something that not only showcases Peirce’s creativity but also demonstrates its relevance to contemporary epistemology.
This article proceeds in three steps, each of which considers a distinct but interrelated aspect of Peirce’s thought. I will begin by examining Peirce’s account of the self insofar as it concerns personal identity, demonstrating that the concept of self is, like all other supposed knowledge, merely an inference made from experience, and not an unmediated intuition. I will follow this by an examination of his notion of synechism, or the idea of an underlying continuity to all things, to highlight the continuity between the “self ” and all other things. Finally, I will explore the ways in which this continuity plays out in his account of community, thus providing a basis for understanding how knowledge may be located outside of the bounds of the constructed self.
Before proceeding, however, it is important to acknowledge that, like Peirce, I am also “not yet quite free from the mist” on this issue, despite the generous head start provided by Peirce. The denseness and disparateness of Peirce’s writing has made of it as much an opponent as a guide, and this has only been compounded by Peirce’s own uncertainty on the issue. What I have to offer is as follows: first, a clear indication that Peirce harbored within his broader semeiotic something like a transpersonal account of knowledge; second, that this is not only consistent with his broader semeiotic but a logical extension of it; and third, that there are sufficient grounds within his broader corpus to say that, even if Peirce did not ultimately embrace a transpersonal account of knowledge, the very criteria that he laid out for inquiry suggest that he should have. At the very least, then, this article should provide a springboard for further discussion on the issue within Peirce’s work as well as beyond it.
I. The Self
If Peirce’s alternative to the traditional location of knowledge is to be made clear, it will be most effective to begin with his critique of that location: namely, the self. This critique can be found in early work from the late 1860’s, couched in a broader critique of Descartes and his influence on Western philosophy.4 In his essay “Questions Concerning Certain Faculties Claimed for Man” (1868), Peirce undermines the belief that it is possible to distinguish between immediate cognitions (i.e., intuitions) and mediate cognitions (i.e., those mediated [End Page 71] by previous cognitions).5 He does this by arguing that it would be logically impossible to verify an intuition as such; one can only take something as intuitive by insisting—intuitively—that it is so, and thus running oneself circular. Moreover, as he demonstrates with multiple examples, the history of human cognition has been a matter of finding over and over again that what we once considered intuition is itself mediated by previous cognition.6
This being the case, he then argues that—contra Descartes—we cannot have an unmediated intuition of self. That is, the self cannot...