Symposium Introduction

Robert Lane’s Peirce on Idealism and Realism is a synthetic book—in it, Lane argues that Peirce accepted a “dual-aspect” account of truths. Lane’s line is that there is, given Peirce’s views on meaning, inference, representation, and inquiry, room for both a form of “basic realism” and “basic idealism” in Peirce’s theory. Basic realism is simply that “there is a world that is the way it is regardless of whether you, or I, or anyone else believes that it is that way.” This basic thought about reality is what explains what other scholars have interpreted as an epistemic theory of truth behind Peirce’s convergence theory that truth is what is believed at the end of inquiry. This view, then, Lane holds, is consistent with a form of basic idealism, because “anything real can be represented in ideas, thoughts, cognitions, etc.” This view is certainly controversial among Peirce scholars, as it commits Peirce to a form of representationalism about truth, which many pragmatists aver. And it tracks a single line of development for Peirce on truth, which many also have taken to be a more broken path. Lane’s book is a rewarding challenge not only to Peirce scholars but to anyone working in the pragmatist idiom on knowledge, metaphysics, and truth.

Diana Heney

Response

Many Gaps, One Chasm:

Pragmatism, Reality, & Representationalism

Robert Lane’s Peirce on Realism and Idealism will without a doubt make a stir among Peirce scholars. Lane’s work is historically thorough and shows great care with the chronology of Peirce’s ideas; he resists treating any single piece or phase of work as the “secret decoder ring” for the entire Peircean oeuvre. He pairs this ecumenical attention to text with an uncommon insistence on metaphysical machinery.

Readers of Peirce will be familiar with his critique of nineteenth-century metaphysics, which he memorably described as “puny, rickety, and scrofulous” (CP 6.6). But those remarks are directed (we might even say, rightly applied) to the speculative metaphysics of the nineteenth century—not metaphysics simpliciter. On Lane’s view, what is neither puny nor rickety is basic realism, the view that “there is a world that is the way it is regardless of whether you, or I, or anyone else believes that it is that way” (Lane 20). While much changes in Peirce’s architectonic between the 1860s and 1910, Lane—to my mind—quite clearly shows that realism in this sense is a going concern. It is a familiar challenge to readers of Peirce to square this realism with his apparent avowals of some form of idealism, and one concern of Lane’s volume is to show the integration of basic realism with basic idealism: the view “that anything real can be represented in ideas, thoughts, cognitions, etc.” (Lane 59–60).

The themes on which Lane is focused—truth and reality, mind and world—are absolutely central to any systematic understanding of Peirce, but this treatment of them feels surprisingly fresh. As Lane demonstrates, Peirce’s basic realism and basic idealism spiral out from “basic” in rich ways. I will comment on two of these spirals, and in each case, raise a question and invite Lane’s response.

First: I am intrigued by Lane’s investigation of Peirce’s late development of the reality of vagues and the gappiness of reality. Those commitments integrate with and extend other features of Peirce’s philosophy, including his tychism and synechism. Tychism is the name Peirce gives to his view that real chance exists in the universe, which dovetails with the gappiness Lane develops in tracing the evolution of deficit indeterminacy in Peirce’s later thought. Synechism is Peirce’s doctrine of the continuity of nature, which intersects with the commitment to the reality of vagues—what would have been, or could yet be, an extension of nature is in some sense real.

Compared to Peirce’s pragmatism, tychism and synechism are a harder sell—precisely because one incurs significant metaphysical commitments in endorsing them. It seems to me that a focus on the pragmatic grade of clarity well qualifies us to be “sheep and goat separators” (NEM 3:851, quoted at Lane 191), and that this is about as much metaphysics as many pragmatists care to practice. But if Lane is right, we must take seriously Peirce’s interest in “limit” cases and the boundary of vagueness between binary options. This is helpful in seeing how Peirce responds to puzzles such as the problem of buried secrets and the liar paradox, but by the time of Peirce’s late scholastic realism, we have traveled a long way from “basic.”

Thus, the question: what everyday practice, or everyday pressure, should push us beyond sheep and goats, beyond basic realism and basic idealism? Is it our lived experience of choice revealing that reality has many gaps that could be filled one way rather than another? Is it a reliance on modal concepts? Is it something else entirely?

Second: the way that Lane unpacks basic realism and basic idealism shows that both involve a commitment to representation as an activity integrated into inquiry itself. This is the crux of the work that I think is of greatest import to readers beyond the Peirce community—for it calls us to consider carefully both the history of pragmatism and its future.

Some pragmatists and neo-pragmatists are dead set against representationalism. Richard Rorty1 and Huw Price2 are perhaps the most obvious examples, but they have plenty of company. Michael Williams goes so far as to say that “the heart of pragmatism is anti-representationalism.”3 This is in jarring contrast with Peirce’s view that we not only pursue truth as the end of inquiry, but we also regard a true proposition as “a representation of the real as it really is” (R655: 30; quoted at Lane 47).

Other pragmatists say a great deal about truth while saying somewhat less about reality. In this camp, Lane most notably picks out Christopher Hookway and Cheryl Misak. Both Hookway and Misak develop a pragmatic elucidation of truth meant, as I see it, to extend Peirce’s insights into contemporary conversations. This is no easy task, given what a beating truth itself takes in the long twentieth century.4

Lane’s focus on metaphysics gives us a different lens: in conceiving inquiry as having both investigative and representationalist aspects, he stresses that attempts to understand truth and to understand reality must march ever in step. He is not alone in this view. Andrew Howat, who we shall hear from later in the symposium, has recently argued that “analytic pragmatists have more work to do in explaining pragmatism’s complex relationship with metaphysics.”5

I myself am tempted to characterize Peirce as a “representationalisht.” He is like a representationalist is some ways, but in others, not so much. This is because reality, which impinges on us whether we like it or not, makes demands of us. While we might say what we like of the rules internal to our so-called language games, there is a world beyond the game.6 This thought is expressed in Peirce’s category of Secondness. While Firstness is the “pure” quality of experiences, Secondness is the way in which we find ourselves “bumping up” against it.7 One way in which we respond to that experiential friction is in representational activity, but representation might be one activity among many available to us.

On Lane’s account, it seems that we are called to represent to the extent that we are engaged in inquiry—while other activities may be available, representation is nonnegotiable. It is the route to the real. As he puts it, “The notion of representation—and in particular of how investigators represent the world in their beliefs—is part of the clearest idea of reality, or at least, it is part of the clearest idea of reality that is currently available to us” (Lane 58).

The question here: what should we make of the apparent chasm between contemporary pragmatism and neo-pragmatism on the one hand and Peirce’s way of being a realist on the other? Is this a chasm between pragmatists and neo-pragmatists on one side, pragmaticists on the other? How can we reconceive representation to preserve the most promising parts of the Peircean program, and to advance it?

I have learned a great deal from reading Lane’s excellent monograph, and look forward to hearing more about what he takes this account of Peirce’s views on truth and reality to offer the would-be Peircean, or would-be pragmatist, finding their way in contemporary philosophy.

 

Works Cited

Heney, Diana B. 2015. “Reality as Necessary Friction.” Journal of Philosophy 112.9: 504–14.

Howat, Andrew. 2018. “Misak’s Peirce and Pragmatism’s Metaphysical Commitments.” Transactions of the Charles S. Peirce Society 54.3 (Summer): 378–94.

Misak, Cheryl. 2011. “American Pragmatism and Indispensability Arguments.” Transactions of the Charles S. Peirce Society 47.3 (Summer): 261–73.

Peirce, Charles Sanders. 1931–58. The Collected Papers of Charles Sanders Peirce. Edited by C. Hartshorne et al. 8 vols. Harvard University Press. Cited as CP plus volume and paragraph number.

Peirce, Charles Sanders. 1976. New Elements of Mathematics. Edited by Carolyn Eisele. 4 vols. De Gruyter. Cited as NEM plus volume and paragraph number.

Price, Huw. 2011. Naturalism Without Mirrors. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

———. 2013. Expressivism, Pragmatism and Representationalism. Cambridge University Press.

Rorty, Richard. 1979. Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature. Princeton University Press.

Williams, Michael. 2013. “How Pragmatists Can Be Local Expressivists.” In Huw, Expressivism, Pragmatism and Representationalism. Cambridge University Press

Is NEM meant to be Naturalism Without Mirrors? (I don’t see a title with the initials NEM in the references section.)

 


  1. As for example in Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature (1979).

  2. As for example in Naturalism Without Mirrors (2011) and Expressivism, Pragmatism and Representationalism (2013).

  3. Michael Williams, “How Pragmatists Can Be Local Expressivists,” 129.

  4. At least in Misak’s case, though it is true that Truth and the End of Inquiry was less engaged with Peirce’s nominal (but vital) definition of truth than might seem merited on the basis of Peirce’s 1910 remarks about the importance of symmetrically developing grades of clarity, she has more recently taken quite seriously the role of indispensability arguments (as in Misak 2011). This relates to fitting reality into a Misakian view because one plausible reading of “How to Make Our Ideas Clear” is that Peirce is articulating a regulative assumption concerning the hypothesis of an external reality.

  5. Howat (2018).

  6. I offer a longer version of this argument in Heney (2015).

  7. CP 1.303, 1.324.

  • Robert Lane

    Robert Lane

    Reply

    Response to Heney

    Heney poses two questions—or really, two clusters of questions. The first cluster involves the pragmatic implications of some of Peirce’s metaphysical claims, while the second involves the divide separating his representationalist pragmatism from more recent, less representationalist forms of pragmatism.

    She states the first cluster as follows: “What everyday practice, or everyday pressure, should push us . . . beyond basic realism and basic idealism? Is it our lived experience of choice revealing that reality has many gaps that could be filled one way rather than another? Is it a reliance on modal concepts? Is it something else entirely?” What lie beyond Peirce’s basic realism and basic idealism are metaphysical doctrines that include: scholastic realism, which by the 1900s amounted to realism about both generals and vagues; synechism, which, as a metaphysical doctrine (and not simply a methodological principle), is the idea that “all that exists is continuous” (CP 1.172, 1893); and realism about what I have called deficit indeterminacy. I take Heney’s questions to boil down to this: how can we accept these views into our metaphysics in a way that is respectful to the Pragmatic Maxim?

    With regard to deficit indeterminacy, I think it would be an error to search for some positive difference that the reality of “gappiness” might make to our actions and their experiential outcomes. Since deficit indeterminacy amounts to an absence of something from reality, we should instead think in terms of a negative difference: our inability to answer certain questions about the past. Did the eldest cousin of Cleopatra enjoy the taste of sheep’s milk? The claim that there is no fact of the matter about this means, pragmatically, that prolonged investigation wouldn’t settle the question one way or the other.

    With regard to Peirce’s realism about generals, a couple of different pragmatic implications come to mind. The first is that Peirce’s own illustrations of the Pragmatic Maxim illustrate how we can pragmatically clarify claims involving specific generals. For example, what does it mean to say that the general lithium is real?

    If you search among minerals that are vitreous, translucent, grey or white, very hard, brittle, and insoluble, for one which imparts a crimson tinge to an unluminous flame, this mineral being triturated with lime or witherite rats-bane, and then fused, can be partly dissolved in muriatic acid; and if this solution be evaporated, and the residue be extracted with sulphuric acid, and duly purified, it can be converted by ordinary methods into a chloride, which being obtained in the solid state, fused, and electrolyzed with half a dozen powerful cells, will yield a globule of a pinkish silvery metal that will float on gasolene; and the material of that is a specimen of lithium. (CP 2.330, EP 2:286, 1903)

    A nominalist might respond that what that passage really clarifies is not the claim that the general lithium is real but only the claim that this particular instance of stuff is lithium. But on Peirce’s view, no such clarification is limited to one particular action and its own particular experiential consequences; it is general in the sense that it covers an inexhaustible range of possible actions and experiences. The real generality of lithium amounts to the truth of a general proposition about those actions and experiences. This connects the reality of generals to our ability to make justified predictions, as well as to formulate explanations and to reason inductively, both in the sciences and in our day-to-day lives. That there are real generals is the best explanation of the fact that we can sometimes accurately and justifiably predict future events, engage in inductive reasoning that is warranted, and explain particular things and events in general terms. (On this point see Haack 1992.) Peirce’s stone “experiment” in the fourth pragmatism lecture of 1903 nicely illustrates this (CP 5.93ff., EP 2:181ff.).

    The second thing that comes to mind—and this applies to generals, vagues, and continuity—is a phenomenological answer. Peirce held that we have direct access to these “reals” in our own experiences. He wrote in the 1903 Lowell Lectures that “there are three modes of being. I hold that we can directly observe them in elements of whatever is at anytime before the mind in any way. They are the being of positive qualitative possibility, the being of actual fact, and the being of law that will govern facts in the future” (R 460, quoted at Atkins 2018, p.167; on the perception of generals in particular, see Wilson 2012 and Short 2017). So with regard to vagues, which include real possibility, Heney’s suggestion is in line with Peirce’s own view: their reality makes a difference to our lived experience of possibility. But there’s also the fact that we have true beliefs about whether various things and events are possible or necessary, and those beliefs, to be true, must represent the world as it actually is. The pragmatic understanding of the claim that such a belief represents the world as it is, is simply this: we would continue to have those beliefs permanently no matter how much more investigation were to be conducted.

    Heney’s second cluster of questions is as follows: “What should we make of the apparent chasm between contemporary pragmatism and neo-pragmatism on the one hand and Peirce’s way of being a realist on the other? Is this a chasm between pragmatists and neo-pragmatists on one side, pragmaticists on the other? How can we reconceive representation to preserve the most promising parts of the Peircean program, and to advance it?” I’m not sure that I agree with Heney that we need to reconceive representation, at least, not if that means dramatically changing Peirce’s conception of it as a triadic relationship among sign, object and interpretant. To what end might such a change be made? The rhetorical end of convincing anti-representationalist neo-pragmatists to reconsider their own views? We might be better off just pressing this simple question: given that your beliefs are about something, how do you understand aboutness if not in terms of representation?

    Heney says that she is “tempted to characterize Peirce as a ‘representationalisht.’ He is like a representationalist is some ways, but in others, not so much.” I suppose that depends on what we mean by “representationalist.” In a project I’m currently working on, I distinguish between two kinds of pragmatist accounts of truth, which I call willful and representationalist. A willful pragmatist account of truth omits talk of correspondence or representation and instead understands truth in terms success, accomplishing a goal, bringing about some desired outcome. A representationalist pragmatist account of truth includes the view that a true belief (proposition, idea, etc.) is one that represents reality. Peirce definitely falls into the latter camp. He doesn’t share every relevant view with every other representationalist, but that doesn’t mean he’s merely representationalish, if that suffix is supposed to mean that he’s not a full-blown representationalist. As Susan Haack has said, “Peirce’s pioneering work in semiotics, and his conception of truth as concordance with the ultimate representation, puts him about as far from ‘anti-representationalism’ as it is possible to be” (1997, p. 64). So I suppose I don’t quite understand the point of the qualification. I have the modest hope that my own work on Peirce’s representationalism will at least nudge those Peirce scholars who have interpreted him as divorcing the concepts of truth and reality in his later work toward a more accurate reading on which he never gave up the idea that to understand one you must understand the other. (For more on what this understanding amounts to, see my response to Howat.)

     

    Works Cited

    Atkins, Richard Kenneth. 2018. Charles S. Peirce’s Phenomenology. New York: Oxford University Press.

    Haack, Susan. 1992. “Extreme Scholastic Realism: Its Relevance to Philosophy of Science Today.” Transactions of the Charles S. Peirce Society 28.1:19–50.

    Haack, Susan. 1997. “Confessions of an Old-Fashioned Prig.” In Manifesto of a Passionate Moderate, 7–30. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

    Peirce, Charles Sanders. 1931–58. Collected Papers of Charles Sanders Peirce. Vols. 1–6, edited by C. Hartshorne and P. Weiss. Vols. 7–8, edited by A. Burks. Cambridge: Belknap of Harvard University Press. Cited as CP, plus volume and paragraph number.

    ———. 1992–98. The Essential Peirce: Selected Philosophical Writings. Vol. 1, edited by N. Houser and C. Kloesel. Vol. 2 edited by the Peirce Edition Project. Bloomington: Indiana University Press. Cited as EP, plus volume and page number.

    Short, T. L. 2017. “The 1903 Maxim.” Transactions of the Charles S. Peirce Society 53.3: 345–73.

    Wilson, Aaron. 2012. “The Perception of Generals.” Transactions of the Charles S. Peirce Society 48.2: 169–90.

Andrew Howat

Response

Commentary on Robert Lane’s Peirce on Realism and Idealism

This commentary addresses the issue in Robert Lane’s excellent new book that is closest to my own heart and research, namely his novel interpretation of Peirce’s remarks on truth (chapter 1). In focusing on this single topic and chapter, I regret my inevitable failure to say more about the book’s overall argument and significance. These require and deserve a great deal of attention from Peirce scholars and metaphysicians in the years to come.

Chapter 1 sets out what Lane calls Peirce’s “dual-aspect” account of truth. The account emerges from two insights about how many scholars, myself included, may have misinterpreted what Peirce is doing in his two most influential and important early papers. The first insight is that Peirce’s novel approach to clarifying truth—by reference to its consequences for investigation—is already implicit in The Fixation of Belief (1877).1 It does not, as many often claim, only appear for the first time in the later How to Make Our Ideas Clear (1878). The second insight is that even in the latter paper, Peirce’s primary target in applying the pragmatic maxim is not the concept of truth at all, but rather the concept of reality. That is, when Peirce talks about what Lane calls the investigative aspect of truth, he is doing so with the explicit goal of clarifying the concept of reality. His goal in doing so is partly to establish what Lane calls his basic realism.2 In what follows, I explore the significance of these two insights for our understanding of Peircean Truth (PT).3 In particular, I examine Lane’s provocative claim that PT is, in some sense, a correspondence conception of truth. I then raise some questions and potential objections.

To appreciate the importance and distinctiveness of Lane’s “dual-aspect” interpretation, it will be useful to state briefly how scholars typically formulate Peircean Truth.4 This, in turn, will require a very brief introduction to the pragmatic maxim.5

Peirce’s pragmatic maxim is a rule for the clarification of concepts. The maxim says, roughly, that we achieve the highest grade of clarity about the content of a concept by identifying the practical consequences of its correct application. Claims identifying these consequences will be subjunctive conditionals with consequents in the imperative mood. Such conditionals specify the observable consequences we expect, for experience and action, when the target concept applies.6 I label such claims, following Misak, pragmatic elucidations, to distinguish them from various more familiar forms of reductive analysis.7 Lane believes there are two specific observable consequences that Peirce thinks we should expect from a true proposition—one for investigation and one for representation. Only the first of these is traditionally recognized by most Peirceans.

What Lane calls the “investigative aspect” of the concept of truth is the familiar Peircean claim that “a true belief is one that would be permanently settled in the minds of those who use the method of science” (13). This clearly fits the mold of a pragmatic elucidation—it is readily formulated as a subjunctive conditional: if a belief is true, then expect that it would become permanently settled in the minds of those who investigate it. To use Hookway’s terminology, someone who asserts that truth has an investigative aspect makes a clear experiential commitment—a commitment to experience taking a certain course under certain conditions. Peirceans typically recognize this elucidation as PT’s sole or at least primary aspect. As a result they tend to construe PT as an epistemic conception of truth and thus one that wholly eschews traditional metaphysics, particularly the notions of correspondence or representation.8 Lane, however, believes previous accounts have wrongly left out the representationalist aspect of PT and its connection to Peirce’s realism: the claim that “a true belief is one that represents the real world” (7).

This is where Lane’s view represents a striking and provocative departure from PT as traditionally understood, as well as from the broader pragmatist tradition. Misak, for example, has long argued that PT is in no way a metaphysical conception of truth. For Misak, as for many contemporary pragmatists, precisely what is distinctive about pragmatism and pragmatic elucidations is the way they abjure any employment of metaphysical notions—particularly notions like proposition, correspondence, representation, etc.9

There are two main reasons, I take it, why Misak and other Peirceans typically eschew metaphysics in their formulations of PT. First, they worry that a notion like “correspondence with reality” can, at best, offer us a merely verbal or “nominal” definition of truth (Peirce’s “second grade of clarity”), something all but useless to those of us already perfectly familiar and proficient with the concept.10 If we want the highest (third) grade of clarity about truth, then concepts such as representation and correspondence can only cause further confusion, on this line of thought. A metaphysical or correspondence conception of truth, Misak often says, looks liable to amount to one word being “defined by other words, and they by still others, without any real conception being reached (CP 5.423, 1905).”11 Second, most scholars take pragmatism to be, at least in part, a critique of metaphysical realism. To the extent that correspondence conceptions of truth seem associated with such realism, Lane’s view is bound to be a tough sell. For example, Misak often argues that Peirce (at least in his best moments)12 eschews the notions of correspondence and representation precisely because they come with metaphysical baggage at odds with his naturalism.

In the later part of his book, Lane makes an excellent case for the claim that PT can incorporate a correspondence element and with it a form of “basic realism,” without this either requiring or entailing an objectionable or non-naturalistic metaphysics of the sort Peirce might label “ontological gibberish.”13 However, the ultimate success of that case depends, I think, on whether Lane can show that the representationalist aspect of PT is genuinely a pragmatic elucidation of truth and not some kind of reductive or essentialist analysis. If the investigative aspect of truth and the metaphysical views associated with it are not clearly products of applying the pragmatic maxim (and thus of Peirce’s distinctive approach to philosophical analysis), then I suspect many Peirceans may remain reluctant to embrace them, regardless of their independent plausibility.14 Thus, in what follows, I expand and press upon the first reason.

The primary question facing Lane, I think, is this one—how can correspondence between a proposition and some portion of reality be understood as a practical consequence of a proposition’s being true? Chris Hookway writes that “pragmatic clarifications of concepts and propositions are best seen as accounts of the (experiential) commitments we incur when we assert or judge the proposition in question.”15 This provides a different way to frame my question: what sort of experiential commitment is a claim like “proposition p corresponds with reality”?

Lane’s answer to this question, if I understand him correctly, is that the practical dimension of correspondence takes the form of a specific semiotic relationship. Lane cites Peirce’s description of this relationship: “A proposition has a subject (or set of subjects) and a predicate. The subject is a sign; the predicate is a sign; and the proposition is a sign that the predicate is a sign of that of which the subject is a sign. If it be so, it is true” (CP 5.553, 1906, cited on p. 29). My concern about this answer is that it remains unclear how it amounts to a pragmatic elucidation of truth. My uncertainty has two main sources. I shall conclude by identifying them and inviting Prof. Lane to comment on them.

First, I take it that the semiotic relationship identified above sounds distinctly theoretical, rather than practical (it looks like part of Peirce’s elaborate theory of signs).16 How does a sign’s being such that its “predicate is a sign of that of which the subject is a sign” inherently involve experience and action, in the sense seemingly required by the pragmatic maxim? How can the representationalist aspect be framed as a subjunctive conditional with a consequent in the imperative mood? Or to put the question, again, in Hookway’s terms—to what specific observable or experiential consequences, beyond the investigative aspect, do I commit myself when I say p is true?

It could be, of course, that the right answers to these questions will depend on the content of the proposition in question, so that there is no need for Lane to offer us a way to spell out the practical dimension of correspondence in abstraction from the target proposition. Yet, if that is true, then what does the explanatory work here would not be the representationalist aspect, but rather the practical content of the proposition we are calling true (that is, we would derive the relevant experiential consequences from p’s pragmatic meaning, not from that of the concept of truth). Another way to frame the issue then, might be to ask—what, are we really adding to the pragmatic meaning of p when we say that it is true, other than the claim that p would be believed by those who investigated it? It is clear that we are adding that a certain semiotic relationship exists. But how are semiotic relationships observable or experiential, in the required sense?

Second, Lane holds that in How to Make Our Ideas Clear Peirce sets out to apply the maxim to the concept of reality. In doing so he finds he must first clarify the concept of truth, since, in the end, his verdict is that to be real is to be the object of a true opinion (this is the third grade of clarity about the concept of reality, on Lane’s interpretation). This suggests that the concept of truth is explanatorily prior to the concept of reality, in the following sense—grasping the pragmatic meaning of reality requires first grasping the pragmatic meaning of truth. Yet the dual-aspect theory of truth seems to suggest that the opposite is also true. That is, when we set out to clarify the concept of truth using the pragmatic maxim, we discover “dual-aspects” at the third grade of clarity. One aspect merely makes reference to investigation (belief, the method of science, etc.) and thus to familiar epistemic and practical phenomena. The other aspect, however, according to Lane, makes reference to representation (of reality). This suggests that the concept of reality is explanatorily prior to the concept of truth, in the following sense—grasping the pragmatic meaning of truth requires first grasping the pragmatic meaning of reality.

This suggests that there is a special sort of mutual- or inter-dependency that exists between the concepts of truth and reality. In one sense, this is good news for Lane. It speaks in favor of his view that concepts like reality and representation cannot be separated from the concept of truth and against Misak’s claim that the opposite is true. Yet it also raises an interesting and potentially problematic issue—what should we say when complete clarity about the content of one concept seemingly requires complete clarity about the concept of another and vice versa? Isn’t this circularity potentially vicious in the following sense—it seems to rule out the possibility of someone unfamiliar with both concepts ever being able to grasp either of them (because to master one, they must master the other, but mastering the other, requires mastering the first)?

In summary, while I find it eminently plausible that the dual-aspect version of PT would commit us to nothing more than Peirce’s pragmatist-friendly basic realism (and as Lane nicely argues later in the book, to his basic idealism as well), I have not yet fully grasped how both aspects are truly practical in the sense seemingly required by the pragmatic maxim. It is likely my confusion and hesitance is merely a symptom of my own incomplete understanding of both Lane and Peirce himself, so I look forward to learning from this discussion, and from Lane’s ongoing outstanding scholarship on the metaphysical aspects of Peirce’s pragmatism.

 

Works Cited

Note: Passages appearing in the Collected Papers are cited in the format “CP n.m; year,” where n is the volume number, m the paragraph number, and the year is that of the quoted text.

 

Aikin, Scott F., and Robert B. Talisse. Pragmatism, Pluralism, and the Nature of Philosophy. Routledge, 2017.

Almeder, Robert. “Peirce on Meaning.” Synthese 41.1 (1979) 1–24.

Hookway, Christopher. The Pragmatic Maxim: Essays on Peirce and Pragmatism. Oxford University Press, 2012.

Lane, Robert. Peirce on Realism and Idealism. Cambridge University Press, 2017.

Misak, Cheryl. Cambridge Pragmatism: From Peirce and James to Ramsey and Wittgenstein. Oxford University Press, 2016.

———. Truth and the End of Inquiry: A Peircean Account of Truth. Expanded paperback ed. Oxford Philosophical Monographs. Oxford University Press, 2004.

Peirce, Charles Sanders. Collected Papers of Charles Sanders Peirce. 8 vols. Ed. Charles Hartshorne et al. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1931–58.

Short, Thomas Lloyd. Peirce’s Theory of Signs. Cambridge University Press, 2007.


  1. I follow Lane’s usage of the term “investigation” here, in that I take it to mean “inquiry conducted in accordance with the method of science.”

  2. Basic Realism, according to Lane, is the view that “there are things that have the traits they do whether or not anyone thinks they have them or otherwise represents them as having them” (3).

  3. I use the label “Peircean Truth” here and elsewhere in my work, because the “pragmatist conception of truth” is a label that has, I suspect, been irredeemably corrupted by its historical association with certain ill-advised remarks by William James and F. C. S. Schiller (as well as Russell’s rather notorious and excoriating critique thereof).

  4. I focus here on the work of Cheryl Misak and Chris Hookway, since those are two of the most influential Peirceans and their views receive considerable attention in Lane’s book.

  5. This summary glosses over numerous vitally important subtleties, all of which receive vastly more careful and comprehensive treatment in works such as Hookway 2012 and Short 2007. The interpretation of Peirce that follows is most influenced by Cheryl Misak, Chris Hookway, Scott Aikin and Robert Talisse, Susan Haack, Catherine Legg, Diana Heney and Kenneth Boyd, and by Robert Lane himself. When I use the label “Peirceans,” hereafter, these are the primary figures I have in mind. These scholars represent a specific strand of Peirce scholarship, which I think of collectively as the Analytic Reassessment of Pragmatism (ARP). This is because their work tends to see Peirce and pragmatism more generally as historically- and philosophically-continuous with the Analytic tradition, rather than fundamentally at odds with it. Other Peirceans will no doubt take issue with my presentation of Peirce here and may therefore have quite different reactions to Lane’s book.

  6. I have in mind, here, the 1903 formulation (CP 5.18) of the maxim in particular. Peirce initially allowed only indicative conditionals (if concept C applies then it will be the case that . . .). This however, generates some troubling objections (most famously the problem of “buried secrets”), which is one reason Peirce switched to subjunctive (“would be”) and possibly counterfactual (“would-have-been”) claims, which reflects an underlying change in his metaphysical commitments. Most commentators, including Lane and Misak, agree that this change was an important and necessary one for Peirce and that PT is probably untenable without it.

  7. One crucial difference between reductive analysis and pragmatic elucidation, per Almeder 1979, is that a pragmatic elucidation does not purport to exhaust the meaning of the original statement. This is because while Peirce held that the “meaning of any sentence is exhausted by its sensory implications,” he also held that “the sensory implications are unlimited” (4).

  8. By “epistemic” here I simply mean PT relies centrally, if not exclusively, on epistemic notions to spell out the pragmatic meaning of truth—belief, doubt, and inquiry.

  9. See, e.g., Misak 2016, 11, where she claims that a certain “anti-metaphysical stance is partly constitutive of what it is to be a pragmatist.”

  10. Misak 2016, 207, traces a version of this worry back to Ramsey’s On Truth: “This talk of correspondence, though legitimate and convenient for some purposes, gives . . . not an analysis of truth but a cumbrous periphrasis, which it is misleading to take for an analysis (OT: 19).”

  11. See Misak 2004, 34. Misak makes frequent reference to this passage from What Pragmatism Is in support of her broadly anti-metaphysical interpretation of Peirce, particularly CP 5.416, 1905.

  12. Misak has always been clear that her goal in interpreting Peirce is to extract the best or most defensible version of pragmatism, not the one that most faithfully recreates his original vision. Misak frequently concedes that Peirce says things that are inconsistent with her interpretation of him. When this happens, her strategy is not to defer to Peirce, but rather to ask how we can extract from his work the most compelling and defensible position, even if doing so requires us to overlook or deny some of his other remarks. Consider, for example, Misak 2004, 73, where she considers, but ultimately abandons an early version of the pragmatic maxim based on Peirce’s semeiotic or theory of signs.

  13. I have in mind in particular forms of metaphysics that incorporate anything like the Kantian notion of a thing-in-itself.

  14. One reason I say this is that many Peirceans understand pragmatism as essentially methodological. Some even argued that it is, in fact, merely methodological and incorporates no substantive claims at all; see, e.g., Aikin and Talisse 2017.

  15. Hookway, 2012, 69.

  16. Pragmatists, of course, frequently decry any attempt to draw a principled theory/practice distinction, so it may be that the objection begs the question in some way. That said, this tendency is less acute in Peirce than in other pragmatists.

  • Robert Lane

    Robert Lane

    Reply

    Response to Howat

    Howat suggests that one of my arguments—viz., the argument that Peirce’s account of truth “can incorporate a correspondence element and with it a form of ‘basic realism,’ without this either requiring or entailing an objectionable or non-naturalistic metaphysics of the sort Peirce might label ‘ontological gibberish’”—depends on showing “that the representationalist aspect of PT [Peircean truth] is genuinely a pragmatic elucidation of truth.” He asks: “How can correspondence between a proposition and some portion of reality be understood as a practical consequence of a proposition’s being true?” But I think this question misunderstands how the distinction between the representative and the investigative aspects of Peirce’s account of truth intersects with the distinction between 2nd-grade and 3rd-grade clarifications of ideas. On Peirce’s eventual understanding, the representative aspect provides us with a 2nd-grade clarification of the idea of truth: it provides a verbal definition of “true.” The representative aspect does get pragmatically clarified (clarified to the 3rd-grade), but it’s the investigative aspect that provides that clarification. Or, better put, the investigative aspect provides a 3rd-grade clarification of the idea of which the representative aspect provides a 2nd-grade clarification. The practical consequence of a belief’s being true, i.e., of its representing reality, is that sufficient investigation would permanently establish that belief.

    Pragmatistic Adequacy no more supersedes the need of Analytic Distinctness and of adherence to precise Definitions, than this latter, or Second Grade of clearness supersedes the need of intuitive or unintellectual Clearness. . . . It is evident that no abstract definition can possibly render needless the power of directly recognizing whether a given concept does or does not apply to a given image; and . . . no recognition of the utility of a concept, however just, could in the least affect the need of precisely defining it. (Please observe, by the way, that I speak of three distinct Grades of clearness, which I also call Kinds but never Stages, as if one were done with before the next began; for the contrary will be found markedly their relation.) (R 649, 1910)

    It’s also important to recognize that each grade of clearness is itself a matter of degree, and we have not necessarily attained the maximum level of 2nd-grade clearness or of 3rd-grade clearness when it comes to our idea of truth. There is no reason why the different levels cannot be further developed simultaneously with regard to the same idea (CP 8.218, 1910), and it’s possible that increasing the 3rd-grade clarity of our idea of truth will eventually lead us to improve our verbal definition of the word “true” and thus the 2nd-grade clarity of that idea.

    Howat mentions two reasons that Peirceans want non-metaphysical accounts of truth. One is that “most scholars take pragmatism to be, at least in part, a critique of metaphysical realism. . . . For example, Misak often argues that Peirce . . . eschews the notions of correspondence and representation precisely because they come with metaphysical baggage at odds with his naturalism.” But why is it opposed to naturalism to say that human thought and communication essentially involve representation? This is too large a question to deal with adequately here, but a good start would be to note that “naturalism” is notoriously ambiguous. In one modest sense, it names an approach to metaphysical questions that “eschews wholly conceptual or a priori approaches, and posits no supernatural entities or explanations” (Haack 2010: 69). In this sense, Peirce’s account of truth is pretty clearly naturalistic.

    The other reason is that “a notion like ‘correspondence with reality’ can, at best, offer us a merely verbal or ‘nominal’ definition of truth (Peirce’s ‘second grade of clarity’), something all but useless to those of us already perfectly familiar and proficient with the concept. . . . A metaphysical or correspondence conception of truth, Misak often says, looks liable to amount to one word being ‘defined by other words, and they by still others, without any real conception being reached (CP 5.423, 1905).’” This might seem like an odd thing for Peirce to have said, since the Pragmatic Maxim translates a verbal expression of an idea into (not actions, or experiences, but) another verbal expression of that same idea. But in the quoted passage Peirce is talking specifically about bad metaphysics. His point was not that the merely verbal is deficient or bad in some way. It’s that the 3rd-grade of clarity is attained only when the words we’re using represent possible actions and experiences, which is what the investigative aspect of his account of truth does.

    So generally speaking, it’s important not to downplay the importance of verbal definitions—in doing so, we might be led to demand more of a given 2nd-grade clarification of an idea than that clarification should be expected to provide. As Howat says, “the semiotic relationship . . . sounds distinctly theoretical, rather than practical (it looks like part of Peirce’s elaborate theory of signs).” That’s exactly right. Perhaps we should think of (at least much of) Peirce’s work in semiotics as extending our 2nd-grade understandings of “true,” “sign,” and related terms.

    Howat notes that on my reading of “How to Make Our Ideas Clear,” “Peirce sets out to apply the [pragmatic] maxim to the concept of reality. In doing so he finds he must first clarify the concept of truth, since, in the end, his verdict is that to be real is to be the object of a true opinion (this is the third grade of clarity about the concept of reality, on Lane’s interpretation).” This is right, with the caveat that, although Peirce did eventually come to think of the investigative aspect as a pragmatic clarification of the idea of truth, that’s not how he presented it in the 1877–78 papers. There he presented the investigative and representative aspects in tandem, as constituting an account of truth that arises along with the method of science (i.e., investigation). Howat correctly notes that on my reading, “the concept of truth is explanatorily prior to the concept of reality, in the following sense—grasping the pragmatic meaning of reality requires first grasping the pragmatic meaning of truth.” But he continues: “The dual-aspect theory of truth seems to suggest that the opposite is also true. That is, when we set out to clarify the concept of truth using the pragmatic maxim, we discover ‘dual-aspects’ at the third grade of clarity. One aspect merely makes reference to investigation (belief, the method of science, etc.) and thus to familiar epistemic and practical phenomena. The other aspect, however, . . . makes reference to representation (of reality).” He is concerned that this threatens an objectionable circularity: “What should we say when complete clarity about the content of one concept seemingly requires complete clarity about the concept of another and vice versa?”

    But I don’t think it really is “vice versa.” To see this, we need to once again consider how the distinction between 2nd- and 3rd-grade clarifications intersects with the two aspects of Peirce’s account of truth. It’s only the investigative aspect, not the representative aspect, that (on Peirce’s eventual view) results from applying the Pragmatic Maxim to the idea of truth and thus clarifies that idea to the 3rd-grade. The representative aspect provides a 2nd-grade clarification. Here’s why this is important:

    The investigative aspect of Peirce’s account of truth (which, again, Peirce eventually thought of as a pragmatic clarification of the idea of truth: a true belief is one that would eventually be settled by investigation) is conceptually prior to the 3rd-grade clarification of reality. But the opposite is not the case: one need not have an idea of reality that’s clear to the 3rd-grade (or, for that matter, to the 1st- or 2nd-grade) to understand the investigative aspect, on which a true belief is one that would be permanently settled by investigation. (What one does need, though, is a prior understanding of the ideas of belief and investigation.)

    On the other hand, the 2nd-grade clarification of the idea of reality (the verbal definition of “real”—“independent of how it is represented to be”) is conceptually prior to the representative aspect of Peirce’s account of truth (which, again, Peirce eventually thought of as a verbal definition of “true,” a clarification of the idea of truth to the 2nd-grade: “that which represents the real”). But the opposite is not the case: one need not have an idea of truth that’s clear to the 2nd-grade (or to the 1st- or 3rd-grades, for that matter) to understand the verbal definition of “real.” What one does need, though, is a prior understanding of the idea of representation—and this indicates just how fundamental that idea is for Peirce: without understanding representation, we can’t understand reality, and thus we can’t understand truth!

     

    Works Cited

    Haack, Susan. 2010. “Belief in Naturalism: An Epistemologist’s Philosophy of Mind.” Logos & Episteme 1.1: 67–83.

    Peirce, Charles Sanders. 1931–58. Collected Papers of Charles Sanders Peirce. Vols. 1–6, edited by C. Hartshorne and P. Weiss. Vols. 7–8, edited by A. Burks. Cambridge: Belknap of Harvard University Press. Cited as CP, plus volume and paragraph number.

    ———. Manuscripts in the Houghton Library of Harvard University, as cataloged in Richard Robin, Annotated Catalogue of the Papers of Charles S. Peirce. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1967. Cited as R, plus Robin’s manuscript number and page number.

     

    • Jeff Kasser

      Jeff Kasser

      Reply

      Question about causation, experience, and truth

      On p. 30, Bob says something that sounds central to the Howat/
      Lane discussion above: “The representation relation required for truth is not established in ways having nothing to do with human activity or sensory experience….” I’d like to understand better how this plays out. In particular, I am puzzled by the sentence: “A true belief is not simply one that accurately represents reality; it is also one that will be brought about as a result of *experiential interaction with* reality” (emphasis in original). This makes it sound like we have two necessary conditions. The next sentence, though, says that “[o]ne might stumble upon a true belief while using some other method of fixation.” This suggests, quite plausibly, that the belief in question would still be true if the causal condition were not met. So beliefs can be true accidentally. But then how are we to deny that it is sufficient for truth if a belief accurately represents reality? I suspect that the distinction between the 2nd and 3rd grades of clearness is supposed to solve this, and I suppose it helps, especially if we read the “will” as the later realist “would.” But I’m still not as clear about the status of the causal/experiential requirement as I’d like to be. Thanks.

Jeff Kasser

Response

July 18, 2019, 1:00 am

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