Welcome to the slow read, emceed by Mara Woods and Ben Udell, of Chapter
8, "Truth and reality" in Peirce: A Guide for the Perplexed by Cornelis de

Let's get started with this introduction provided by Ben Udell:

Kees begins the chapter with an excellent summary of Peirce's views on the
scope of metaphysics, its place in philosophy, its status as a science, and
its being the first science for which (philosophical) logic supplies
principles outside of logic itself.

As Kees points out, much of his metaphysics consists in drawing
implications of logic and pragmatism for reality and the universe. In the
course of this book, metaphysics' coming after logic and, in that sense,
after epistemology, seems so natural that one needs to stop and note that
this comes as a surprise to many readers these days, any number of whom may
think that metaphysics, or at least ontology, is more basic than logic and
mathematics too, or at least is not in some common structure with those
subjects and is not in some ordering involving them. We may want to keep an
eye on these aspects of Peirce that many of his readers take for granted
but which many others do not, especially as we come to the discussion of
nominalism versus realism.


Below I address some of the questions that arose from my reading of the
first sections of the chapter.

Kees characterizes Peirce's view of metaphysics as the work that
generalizes the experiences of or engagement with the universe.  Human
intuitions and instincts about the universe developed from our species'
practical dealings with that universe in our environment. Getting a general
sense of the universe that extends beyond our species' habitual niche into
the continually-being-discovered realms by the special sciences involves
inducing generals in that universe that explain the variety perceived in
particulars. Is this introduction of logic into our conceptions of the
universe really justified here by the assumption that the universe can be
explained? Is the assumption that the universe is regular enough to afford
explanation? Or is it simply an affirmation of the power of the combination
of instinct, intuition, logic, mathematics, and phaneroscopy to create
explanatory patterns out of randomness?

These two assumptions -- that the universe can be subject to general
explanation and that the universe consists in great variety -- seem to
foreshadow Peirce's dynamic cosmology of change and habit-taking as basic
components of the universe.

Kees points out that the purpose of metaphysics, according to Peirce,  is
to develop a general account that can form the basis of the special
sciences. Indeed, without this step, scientists rely on their own crude
metaphysics, presumably based on instinctive or intuitive notions. He
divides metaphysics into three categories: general metaphysics, or
questions regarding reality; physical metaphysics, or questions regarding
time, space, natural laws, etc.; and psychical metaphysics, or questions
regarding God and mind. Chapter 8 is devoted to the first category, also
called ontology, and addresses first the issues of truth and reality.

According to Kees, the concept of truth is derived from the concept of
reality: a statement is true when its immediate object is real. Reality
consists in anything that is independent of what we might call interim
thoughts about it. That is, it is not what a particular person or group of
people think about it now that matters, but what the indefinite community
of inquirers would finally think about it. The real's independence from
individual thought is what enables the inquirers to eventually have a
shared opinion about it.

If we apply the related concepts of reality and truth to the original
metaphysical assumptions, then the regularities the indefinite community of
inquirers would find to be general to our experiences with the universe are
to be considered real and statements that express those regularities would
be true. According to this view, the real is that which persists and
therefore that which affords induction.  However, couldn't another
interpretation be that explanation is a type of regularity-making about the
dynamic, ever-changing qualities of the universe? After all, the concept of
a final belief can imply a static or discrete sign attempting to represent
a dynamic or continuous process. (I'd like to discuss the nature of the
sign and its final interpretant in a later post).

Kees, and Peirce, gets to the connection of reality to being the object of
final beliefs (final interpretant)  by applying the pragmatic maxim to get
"reality" to the 3rd grade of clarity (129). Since Peirce limited the
pragmatic maxim to intellectual concepts only (115) and "the only
intellectual effect such objects can have upon us, Peirce claims, is to
produce belief" (de Waal 130), only the (immediate) objects of final
beliefs are real. It seems that the import of the intellectual effect of
intellectual concepts comes from the pragmatic maxim itself, by which only
the consequences for rational conduct is considered (116). Is that because
only the habits of which a person is conscious of, agrees with the
consequences of, and intentionally maintains are rightly considered
beliefs? Or is it because the pragmatic maxim can only be practically
applied to those consequences of the acceptance of the maxim to rational
conduct that can be foreseen (and therefore are based on known habits)?

Kees seems to jump a few steps in the reasoning here, but presumably
because the whole conception of all practical consequences of a belief must
include what the indefinite community settles on, that aspect of the belief
must be included in its definition. Also presumably, just as the object has
to be independent, the community of inquirers must have empirical and/or
logical access to the object, otherwise no shared belief can come out of
it. Can rational conduct simply mean the opinion or definition about the
isolated concept? Or does it require that the concept fit into a more
general theory of how the concept is related to other concepts?

Mara Woods

M.A., Semiotics -- University of Tartu
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