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Friday, April 18, 2008

Some Consequences of Four Incapacities

I read C.S. Peirce's "Some Consequences of Four Incapacities" sometime when I was first studying epistemology as an undergrad. I remember thinking, finally, someone I can actually get on board with. What was most telling was that as I moved forward in time the people I was reading became more and more agreeable. I came across it again today, thought it was worth another read. Some of my favorite quotes...
Let us not pretend to doubt in philosophy what we do not doubt in our hearts.
...
Philosophy ought to imitate the successful sciences in its methods, so far as to proceed only from tangible premisses which can be subjected to careful scrutiny, and to trust rather to the multitude and variety of its arguments than to the conclusiveness of any one. Its reasoning should not form a chain which is no stronger than its weakest link, but a cable whose fibers may be ever so slender, provided they are sufficiently numerous and intimately connected.
Compare that with Montaigne...
Variety of treatment is as good as consistency. Better in fact: it means being more copious and more useful.
Some agreement over variety of treatment, less over consistency and the nature of man.
Thus my language is the sum total of myself; for the man is the thought.

It is hard for man to understand this, because he persists in identifying himself with his will, his power over the animal organism, with brute force. Now the organism is only an instrument of thought. But the identity of a man consists in the consistency of what he does and thinks, and consistency is the intellectual character of a thing; that is, is its expressing something.

A poke from Emerson's Self Reliance...
A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines.
Peirce finishes off with reiterating the need for the community of philosophers and the extent to which reality depends upon agreement.
Finally, as what anything really is, is what it may finally come to be known to be in the ideal state of complete information, so that reality depends on the ultimate decision of the community; so thought is what it is, only by virtue of its addressing a future thought which is in its value as thought identical with it, though more developed. In this way, the existence of thought now depends on what is to be hereafter; so that it has only a potential existence, dependent on the future thought of the community.

The individual man, since his separate existence is manifested only by ignorance and error, so far as he is anything apart from his fellows, and from what he and they are to be, is only a negation.
While I can agree that to an extent reality depends upon agreement I disagree strongly with his last statement and would say instead: The individual man's uniqueness, that which sets him apart from his fellows, is his primary addition. To fail to explore that uniqueness is nihilism.

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