To Chap's "too much information" response to Don's sharing of Peirce's "How to Make Our Ideas Clear," I suggested that A Little History of Philosophy has everything you need to know about him. That was an overstatement. But you can glean plenty of helpful info from it, and from the online Philosophy Pages. For instance:
Charles Sanders Peirce
Life and Works
. . Belief
. . Reality
. . Pragmatism
- Charles Sanders Peirce studied philosophy and chemistry at Harvard, where his father, Benjamin Peirce, was professor of mathematics and astronomy. Although he showed early signs of great genius, an unstable personal life prevented Peirce from fulfilling his early promise. He wrote widely and delivered several series of significant lectures, but never completed the most ambitious of his philosophical projects. After a respectable scientific career studying the effects of gravitation with the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey, Peirce taught logic and philosophy for five years at Johns Hopkins University. In 1887, however, he retired to a life of isolation, poverty, and illness in Milford, Pennsylvania.Peirce's early philosophical development relied on a Kantian theory of judgment, but careful study of the logic of relations led him to abandon syllogistic methods in favor of the study of language and belief. His place as the founder of American pragmatism was secured by a pair of highly original essays that apply logical and scientific principles to philosophical method. In The Fixation of Belief (1877) Peirce described how human beings converge upon a true opinion, each of us removing the irritation of doubt by forming beliefs from which successful habits of action may be derived. This theory was extended in How to Make Our Ideas Clear (1878) to the very meaning of concepts, which Peirce identified with the practical effects that would follow from our adoption of them.In his extensive logical studies, Peirce developed a theory of signification that anticipated many features of modern semiotics, emphasizing the role of the interpreting subject. To the traditional logic of deduction and induction, Peirce added explicit acknowledgement of abduction as a preliminary stage in productive human inquiry. Continuing to defend a Kantian system of categories, Peirce proposed a descriptive metaphysics that presumed the reality of external referents for our sensations.
Additional on-line information about Peirce includes:
Philosophy is that branch of positive science (i.e., an investigating theoretical science which inquires what is the fact, in contradistinction to pure mathematics which merely seeks to know what follows from certain hypotheses) which makes no observations but contents itself with so much of experience as pours in upon every man during every hour of his waking life. CSP
1. The consequences for the believer’s life of believing should be considered as part of the evidence for the truth of the belief (just as the effectiveness of a scientific theory in its practical applications is considered evidence for the truth of the theory). Call this the pragmatic evidence for the belief.2. Certain beliefs effect a change for the better in the believer’s life — the necessary condition being that they are believed.3. The belief in God is a belief that effects a change for the better in a person’s life.4. If one tries to decide whether or not to believe in God based on the evidence available, one will never get the chance to evaluate the pragmatic evidence for the beneficial consequences of believing in God (from 2 and 3).5. One ought to make ‘the leap of faith’ (the term is James’s) and believe in God, and only then evaluate the evidence (from 1 and 4).
We should say a word more here about the term salvation, which may mislead with its freighted implications of supernatural or eternal life. James is certainly aware that many or even most religious persons in our Western religious traditions are deeply wedded to belief in the persistence of their own personalities or "souls" in incorporeal form. He is himself not hostile to such a belief and sometimes seems to entertain the possibility as what he would call a "live option," a candidate for his own belief. Yet, the record seems fairly clear that he remained neutral, publicly, about the extent or the supernatural status of his own personal faith. James's frank responses to a questionnaire on religion in 1904 provide real insight: Do you believe in personal immortality? "Never keenly; but more strongly as I grow older."
Do you pray? "I cannot possibly prayóI feel foolish and artificial." What do you mean by 'spirituality'? "Susceptibility to ideals, but with a certain freedom to indulge in imagination about them. A certain amount of 'other worldly' fancy. Otherwise you have mere morality, or 'taste.'" What do you mean by a 'religious experience'? "Any moment of life that brings the reality of spiritual things more 'home' to one."4 I know that many will read in these responses a Jamesian tilt toward supernaturalism, but I am more inclined to view them as a nod of sympathetic recognition and moral support, an instance of neutral distancing and what Perry has called his belief in (others') believing. In any case, his use of the term salvation in the present context is neutral with respect to any supernatural implications. It means something like "deliverance from evil," where 'evil' is not taken necessarily to imply a malevolent supernatural agency at work in the world, and where it is hoped and supposed that natural human powers are equal to the task of resisting it successfully, not always but often, at least in the long run.
==Finally (for now) here's a notice about a new lecture series on James:
Title: The Notion of Consciousness According to William James (La Notion de Conscience. A Partir de William James)There will be four lectures, all held at École Normale Supérieure in Paris. Each will be in English, though questions can be in either French or English. Entrance is free, though please email Mathias Girel at firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like to attend.OVERVIEW of lectures:The American philosopher and scientist William James (1842 – 1910) is sometimes thought to have been a forerunner of behaviorist psychology. As early as 1904, he notoriously argued that consciousness does not exist. Behaviorists would later contend that psychology ought to study the relationship between sensory stimulii and behavioral reaction, with no reference to any intervening conscious state, and some leading advocates of this movement were apparently influenced by James’s earlier, unorthodox view.Today, behaviorism has been firmly rejected, and researchers with a newfound interest in consciousness are looking again at the so-called introspectionist (i.e., pre-behaviorist) era of psychology for clues about how we might use controlled introspection in a genuinely scientific study of subjective mental states. What is surprising is that like some behaviorists, these self-styled consciousness-scientists also cite James as an exemplar of how to do psychology. How can one and the same figure have inspired both the rejection and the embrace of consciousness in psychology ?We can give a superficial answer by pointing out that consciousness scientists are typically inspired not by James’s 1904 argument against consciousness, but by his earlier masterpiece, The Principles of Psychology (1890). But this leaves an obvious problem—it is hard to understand why the psychologist who made such ingenious use of introspection in the Principles might later have come to reject the existence of consciousness altogether.My lectures explore James’s evolving views on consciousness. I critically evaluate an evolutionary account he had offered in his early career, paying special attention to the physiological research from which he drew that initial account. Then I contend that James’s later, apparent rejection of consciousness was a corollary of his earlier work on the nature of sense perception, which I explore in detail as well. It turns out that both early and late in his career, James accepted that to be conscious is to appraise or evaluate what is in one’s environment. In 1904, what he rejected was one specific, prevailing way of thinking about consciousness, a view according to which consciousness is like a container that holds or envelops its contents. I show that by the end of his career, James both rejected a container/content view, and yet still embraced a view of consciousness as an act of environmental evaluation. What is more, I argue that this position is both consistent and compelling.ABSTRACTS for each lecture:Lecture 1: The Curious Case of the Decapitated FrogPhysiologists have long known that some vertebrates can survive for months without a brain. This phenomenon attracted limited attention until the 19th century when a series of experiments on living, decapitated frogs ignited a controversy about consciousness. Pflüger demonstrated that such creatures do not just exhibit reflexes; they also perform purposive behaviors. Suppose one thinks, along with Pflüger’s ally Lewes, that purposive behavior is a mark of consciousness. Then one must count a decapitated frog as conscious. If one rejects this mark, one can avoid saying peculiar things about decapitated animals. But as Huxley showed, this position leads quickly to epiphenomenalism. The dispute long remained stalemated because it rested on conflicting sets of intuitions that were each compatible with the growing body of experiments. Understanding this controversy in physiology is a necessary background to grasping James’s evolutionary account of consciousness.Lecture 2: Consciousness as Caring: James’s Evolutionary HypothesisBetween 1872 and 1890, William James developed a neglected form of interactionist dualism. He contended that to be phenomenally conscious is actively to evaluate what is in (or might be in) one’s environment, attending to what one decides is important, and ignoring much else. To be conscious is to care about one’s own actual or potential circumstances, in short; and James hypothesized that this caring capacity was selected (in the Darwinian sense) because it regulated the behavior of vertebrates with highly-articulated brains. He did not argue directly for this hypothesis, however. Instead, James recommended the hypothesis as a way to explain some of the surprising physiological results we will have discussed in lecture 1—in particular, experiments purporting to demonstrate purposive behavior in decapitated frogs. I reconstruct and evaluate James’s evolutionary hypothesis, showing how it would explain those surprising experiments.Lecture 3: The Death of Consciousness?Like heartburn, a pronounced discomfort with the very idea of consciousness followed the early days of experimental psychology. Received wisdom has it that psychologists (and allied philosophers) came to mistrust consciousness for largely behaviorist reasons. But by the time John Watson had published his behaviorist manifesto in 1913, a wider revolt against consciousness was already underway. I begin by canvassing some of the lesser-known, pre-behaviorist angst about consciousness. Then I delve into James’s case against consciousness, which was particularly influential. I argue that his rejection of consciousness grew out of his critique of perceptual elementarism in psychology. Elementarism is the view that most mental states are complex, and that psychology’s goal is in some sense to analyze these states into their atomic “elements.” Elementarism came in for intense criticism in James’s Principles of Psychology, and I argue that his later rejection of consciousness is an extension of the earlier critique. Just as we cannot (according to James) isolate any atomic, sensory elements in our occurrent mental states, so we cannot distinguish any elemental consciousness from any separate contents.Lecture 4: The Road not TakenIn my final lecture, I argue that James’s early, evolutionary account of consciousness is compatible with his later rejection of the container/content view. The upshot is that James offered a sophisticated treatment of consciousness over the span of a lifetime, a treatment that represents a road not taken. Behaviorists who were impressed by the negative part of his argument unwittingly discarded a panoply of interesting, positive results that are worth excavating and taking seriously again, today.