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  • Pragmatism as Transcendental Philosophy, Part 2:Peirce on God and Personality
  • Dan Arnold (bio)

I. Introduction: The lessons of Part 1, and a look ahead

This article is the second part of a two-part essay generally contending that pragmatism, as epitomized by Charles Peirce's 1905 essay "What Pragmatism Is" (henceforth WPI), is aptly characterized as transcendental philosophy, and that this reading is particularly illuminating with regard to Peirce's much-vexed 1908 essay "A Neglected Argument for the Reality of God" (henceforth NA).1 Part 1 introduced Peirce's metaphysical categories (firstness, secondness, thirdness), characterizing them as capturing, among other things, phenomenological considerations also central for William James's radical empiricism.2 To the extent that Peirce's own approach is thus informed by phenomenological considerations also central for James, Peirce's approach vindicates the idea that the significance of pragmatism depends greatly on what theory of experience is presupposed. In this regard, James and Peirce alike would have us begin by recognizing that the conception of "experience" bequeathed to us by the British empiricists is inadequate.3

Part 1 also introduced Peirce's case, in an 1871 essay on the philosophical works of Berkeley, for reconceiving realism; the significance of this must be acknowledged, I contended, if Peirce's challenge to philosophical business as usual is to be grasped.4 Peirce's transcendental orientation is evident in the [End Page 3] centrality of his concern with understanding what, in the first place, "real" can intelligibly mean. In this regard, he argues in the essay on Berkeley that modern Anglophone philosophers have long been misled by their unexamined presupposition of nominalist conceptions of reality—conceptions, that is, according to which the mind-independent character of the real consists in its lying altogether outside of mind. Mind, on such views, is excluded from reality just by so defining "real," which can for nominalists consist only in what is determinately locatable in space. Peirce argues that reality's independence of mind is not intelligibly conceivable that way; the real cannot be conceived as independent of mind, per se, although it must be acknowledged, he wrote in 1871, as independent of "how you or I, or any number of men think."5 This distinction—that between mind, per se, and any number of particular minds—is central to Peirce's case for reconceiving realism, and Peirce's guiding insight, I argued in part 1, is that the distinction is best explicated not in spatial but in temporal terms. The same insight will find expression as his basic answer to the title question of WPI: Pragmaticism (to adopt herewith Peirce's willfully ungainly term) is the view that "the rational meaning of every proposition lies in the future."6

That the rational meaning—for Peirce the real meaning—of any concept or claim is thus to be understood as constitutively implicating an indefinite future is evident, Peirce saw, in the very idea of purposeful activity. As he writes in WPI, "quite the most striking feature" of Pragmaticism is "its recognition of an inseparable connection between rational cognition and rational purpose."7 To act purposefully is to act with an eye towards realizing some envisaged aim, an aim not yet actual; to that extent, anything taken as significant is, ipso facto, taken as having some conceivable bearing on a partly indefinite future. Moreover, it is only as somehow "taken" that anything given to experience can show up as practically significant.8 This idea—that the phenomenologically given is epistemically or otherwise significant only as taken—is a transcendental idea. In this regard, part 1 elaborated my understanding of "transcendental philosophy," emphasizing what kinds of conclusions can reasonably be drawn [End Page 4] based on that approach.9 I particularly urged that transcendental philosophy is not to be understood as proposing alternative claims of the sort typical of philosophical business as usual; rather, its contribution consists only in its identifying constraints on theoretical reason—constraints, pragmatists can emphasize, imposed by the fact that theoretical understanding can in the first place result only from real exercises of practical reason. Epitomizing the contribution I thus take to be made by transcendental philosophy, Kant's Critique of...


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