- Pragmatism as Transcendental Philosophy, Part 1: Peirce in Light of James’s Radical Empiricism
I. By Way of an Introduction: This Buddhologist’s Angle on James and Peirce
I’m grateful for the opportunity to give the 2019 AJTP Lecture and for the leeway since then allowed me in developing ideas first presented there; it is indulgent of this journal to publish the overlong result in two parts, of which this is the first.1 The philosophical tradition epitomized by William James and Charles S. Peirce figured importantly in my early philosophical formation, but I am not a scholar of their work; nevertheless, Mike Hogue—at the time the editor of AJTP and once a doctoral student at the University of Chicago Divinity School at the same time as me—approached me about the AJTP Lecture after learning that I had taught a class in the University of Chicago Divinity School called “American Religious Naturalism Following James.” I doubt Mike was aware, when he thought to invite me, that giving the AJTP Lecture would represent rather a return for me; my first scholarly publication appeared in volume 19 of this journal, in 1998.2
That early philosophical foray emerged from time as a graduate student at the Iliff School of Theology, a Methodist seminary associated with the University of Denver. Pursuing a master’s degree as a part-time student while working at the Tattered Cover bookstore (also central for my education), I studied not only with José Cabezón—my ādiguru in Buddhist studies and the person whose presence on the faculty had first drawn me there—but also with Sheila Davaney, William Dean, Schubert Ogden, and Delwin Brown. My real introduction to James and Peirce came courtesy of Del, who led me through process philosophy [End Page 50] one beautiful spring, a course of study that yielded my first AJTP article. On Del’s way of presenting the tradition, process philosophy begins with William James’s late-career writings on radical empiricism; my appreciation of those writings has informed my sense of pragmatism ever since.
My years as a Denver bookseller ended in 1997, when I began doctoral studies at the University of Chicago Divinity School; I have been there pretty much ever since. Appointed to the faculty in 2004, I have since then had ample opportunity to teach James and Peirce. My scholarship, though, has focused on works by Indian philosophers from a span of centuries around 500 CE. As epitomized by the two books I have hitherto written, my work has centered on three interrelated philosophical traditions of the time: the ideologically conservative Mīmāṃsā school of Brahmanical thought and two divergent streams of Indian Buddhist thought.3 In conversation with thinkers from these Indian traditions, both my books develop three themes central to the present article. This article, as outlined in section I.a, will focus these themes in reading James and Peirce, but it may be helpful if I first sketch these themes as they commonly figure in my work on Indian philosophy.
Of the two Buddhist schools I have engaged, one is associated with the towering figures of Dignāga (ca. 480–540 CE) and Dharmakīrti (ca. 600–660 CE), often together called the Buddhist epistemologists. In both my books, their philosophy—epitomized by epistemological arguments for the reductionism typical of mainstream Buddhist philosophy—is salient for its empiricist intuitions. Dignāga and Dharmakīrti skillfully leveraged the intuitive plausibility of basically empiricist premises—the notion, especially, that perceptual awareness is privileged just because it is causally describable—to steer epistemological debates toward the idealism these Buddhists finally upheld. Had Peirce been able to encounter their works, he would have seen at once that Dignāga and Dharmakīrti must be nominalists; indeed, it was they who first developed the elusive apoha (exclusion) theory of meaning, the sophisticated angle on nominalism that was the Buddhist tradition’s signal contribution to India’s brilliant history in philosophy of language.4
Proceeding according to the dialectical order in which the positions of my Indian interlocutors are presented in both my books, the Brahmanical Mīmāṃsā school of thought represents...