- For Love of the Game:Pragmatism and the Right to Play with Heterodoxy
in peirce and religion: Knowledge, Transformation, and the Reality of God, Roger Ward argues that the founder of American pragmatism was a rather traditional Trinitarian Christian throughout his entire life. Such an argument is notable because scholarship on Peirce often underplays the philosopher’s comments about religion while emphasizing his work on logic, mathematics, and other non-religious philosophical topics. Those who take his views on religion seriously tend to interpret Peirce more radically than Ward, placing Peirce’s philosophy of religion and personal theological beliefs in line with modern trends that are critical of traditional forms of Christianity. The argument in Ward’s book stands out against both trends, but in doing so it also reveals a lack of pragmatic commitment. Convictions about traditional Christian beliefs drive the argument, not open pragmatic inquiry.
Neglected Arguments about Peirce
Before engaging the argument I find most important and problematic in Roger Ward’s Peirce and Religion, it is worth dwelling on the unique place this work occupies within the academy. With this publication, Ward joins a small but growing number of scholars who explicitly focus on the religious importance of Charles S. Peirce’s philosophy. Peirce and Religion joins Richard Kenneth Atkins’s Peirce and the Conduct of Life as notable recent works explicitly focusing on the importance of Peirce for religious thought. However, such projects are still outliers. The Charles S. Peirce Society is still largely composed of philosophers asking traditional non-religious philosophical questions, with Douglas Anderson and Vincent Colapietro being notable exceptions with strong interests in Peirce’s thoughts on religion. Within the Institute for American Religious and Philosophical Thought, there are a [End Page 118] handful of members applying Peirce to issues within philosophy of religion and philosophical theology, but process-oriented perspectives influenced by Whitehead are arguably more dominant. That is the same way Peirce has been received by the majority of theologians who know about him, as a halfway house to Whitehead and process theology. Robert Neville, whose work appears near the end of Ward’s book, is likely the most well-known theologian who deviates from this trend. However, while known as a pragmatic theologian, Neville’s use of Peirce is largely restricted to a creative re-interpretation of icons, indices, and symbols as applied to a theory of religious truth. Neville has no interest in or use for Peirce’s categories or musement about a vaguely personal God. Of course, the exception to this general neglect of Peirce by philosophers of religion and theologians is Michael Raposa, who has been or is currently president of the groups I mentioned, and who laid the groundwork for those who would focus on Peirce and religion by writing Peirce’s Philosophy of Religion. That groundwork recently received its coda in Theosemiotic: Religion, Reading, and the Gift of Meaning. I provide this brief overview because I want to welcome Ward to the small but growing number of scholars who seek to mine the entirety of Peirce’s thought for its religious importance, but also to note the importance of Peirce and Religion. Journal articles devoted entirely to Peirce and religion, much less entire books, are still rare, and for that reason alone, anyone interested in philosophy of religion or philosophical theology should be thankful for Ward’s work.
Christian Beliefs and Philosophical Inquiry
Confident that I have sufficiently indicated the importance of Ward’s work, I will also state my overriding problem with it up front. A confusion I was left with upon first reading has remained with me after returning to Peirce and Religion several times. That confusion has to do with the great deal of importance Ward places on demonstrating that Peirce was something of a traditional Trinitarian Christian, arguing that Peirce’s Christian beliefs played a direct role in developing some of his main philosophical ideas. Ward states this focus up front in chapter 1, and it is a focus maintained throughout the book. He locates the origin of these themes amid Peirce’s early Trinitarian days when he was baptized at age 23 and argues that they...