PHIL 3120: American Philosophy
Dr. Robert Lane
Lecture Notes: Monday January 26, 2015




[2.2.4.] The Method of Science and Realism.


Peirce describes the following as the “fundamental hypothesis” of the method of science (122):


1.      There are real things, whose characters are entirely independent of our opinions about them”—this is an explicit statement of Peirce’s realism.


realism (df.): the view that there is a real world.


Peirce defined “real” as follows…


real (Peirce’s df.): something is real if it is the way it is independently of anyone’s thoughts about it.


So his realism amounts to this: there are things that are the way they are independent of whether anyone believes them to be that way.


2.      those realities affect our senses according to regular laws”;


3.      “though our sensations are as different as our relations to the objects, yet by taking advantage of the laws of perception, we can ascertain by reasoning how things really are”;


4.      any man, if he have sufficient experience and reason enough about it, will be led to the one true conclusion” (122).



[2.2.5.] The Real, the Fictional, the External, and the Internal.


Again, Peirce defined “real” as that which is the way it is independently of what anyone thinks about it—i.e., independent of how anyone thinks it to be.


The opposite of real is fictional:


fictional (Peirce’s df.): something is fictional (of a figment) if its characteristics do depend on what someone thinks about them.

·         For example, that Harry Potter is a boy magician depends on what someone (J. K. Rowling) thinks (or thought) about Harry Potter. She (Rowling) made him up and bestowed him with the traits that he has.

Some real things are external:


external (Peirce’s df.): something is external if it is the way it is independently of anyone’s thoughts, period (thoughts about it or about anything else).

·         I.e., the external is that which is outside anyone’s mind.

·         For example: everything physical; perhaps other things as well.


And some real things are internal:


internal (Peirce’s df.): something is internal the way it is depends on someone’s thoughts.

·         I.e., the internal is that which is inside someone’s mind: the mental.


Example: If I step on a tack and then feel pain, the tack is real and external, as is the event of the sharp end of the tack entering my toe; but the pain that I feel is real and internal.


Example: If you dream that you win the lottery, the fact that you had that dream is real and internal. But the content of the dream (that you won the lottery) is not real—it’s a figment.


So we have two different distinctions:

·         real vs. fictional

·         external vs. internal


What is the relation between the real and the external?

·         Everything that is external (not within someone’s mind and therefore not dependent on what anyone thinks) must be real (not dependent on what anyone thinks about it).

·         But not everything real is external. There are real things (that are independent of what people think about them) that are internal (that are dependent of what someone thinks).


On Peirce’s view, the method of science depends on there being real things (“things, whose characters are entirely independent of our opinions about them”) at least some of which are external (“an external permanency . . . something upon which our thinking has no effect”).




Stopping point for Monday January 26. For next time, begin reading “How to Make Our Ideas Clear” (pp.127-38).



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