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  • To the Editor:A Response to Rory Misiewicz's Review of Brandon Daniel-Hughes's Pragmatic Inquiry and Religious Communities: Charles Peirce, Signs, and Inhabited Experience
  • Robert Cummings Neville

In the January 2020 issue of this journal (41, no. 1:98–102), Rory Misiewicz penned an excellent review of Brandon Daniel-Hughes's book. His one complaint is that Daniel-Hughes appeals to my theory that the Ultimate is "entirely indeterminate and absolute nothingness that contextualizes all things." This he claims to be inconsistent with Peirce. I do not want to defend Daniel-Hughes's use of my idea, although I surely congratulate him. I do want to correct Misiewicz's understanding of it, however.

My idea is that all thought is determinate, at least in part, and is therefore consequent to its creation. I give long, convoluted, but utterly persuasive arguments that the existence of any determinate things is the result of an ontological creative act, which is nontemporal, nonspatial, and wholly devoid of any determinate features save those involved in its actual creation. My argument is created, and all "necessity" involved in it is thus consequent to the creation or involved in actual creation. There is no ontological created act by itself, only with some determinate creation. Without creating, there is nothing, not even the thoughts of it. But with creation, we have our own Peircean speculations, which include those about the ontological creative act. That act is the mutual creative resonance of all the separate determinate things that are partially related to each other, including those diverse in time. It can be called their "existence" together, so long as that is given an eternalistic interpretation. Without the ontological creative act, the plurality of determinate things would either be a wholly unified thing, which would be impossible, or a sheer plurality whereby the things are not determinate at all with regard to one another, equally impossible.

Misiewicz has four basic objections to my view (and to its work within Daniel-Hughes).

The first is that the absolute indeterminacy of the Ultimate is the negation of all being, giving rise to "a respect-less nothing that differs from everything." Nevertheless, the Ultimate has all the respects that come from its creating; it is never conceived in itself, only as the creative act. If the ontological creative [End Page 207] act were antecedent to the creation, Misiewicz would be right. But it is never antecedent, always "with" in some sense of "with."

The second objection is that the indeterminate ontological act "produces a hypothetical incognizable." Well, it would if it were wholly indeterminate. But it is determinate with respect to creation and can be analyzed according to its function as the context of mutual relevance. The concept of the ontological creative act is perfectly, if largely indeterminately, cognizable, and I refer the reader to my various arguments about this (e.g., God the Creator or Ultimates).

Misiewicz's third argument is that any sign just has to be a little bit determinate, even if vague in many respects, if it is to say anything at all. Of course, I agree. But the sense in which the ontological act of creation is indeterminate apart from creation is very clear. Given creation, we can think it, and it would have helped Peirce to have done so to a greater degree. I agree with Peirce's "guess" at the beginning of his Musement paper to the effect that any complexity must be created by God, although I go on to analyze this a different way from his.

Fourth, Misiewicz worries that my emphasis on the outcome of thinking as the flourishing of the community of thinkers detracts attention from "external permanency." Not so. The goal of human thought is always to get closer to the truth of the matter, and this involves perhaps indefinite interpretation of interpretations. I thoroughly hope my own interpretations of ultimacy are vetted long after my passing. Nevertheless, the object of these thoughts is not more thoughts but the "creation of the cosmos," which is far beyond anything we can think; besides, the created order is likely to last long after all thinking has stopped. It's not clear...


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