PHIL 3120: American Philosophy
Dr. Robert Lane
Lecture Notes: Monday February 2, 2015

 

 

[2.3.4.] The “First and Second Grades” of Clarity Regarding the Real.

 

Having used the pragmatic maxim (PM) to clarify a number of scientific concepts, Peirce now turns toward a more philosophical concept: reality/real.

 

 

He begins by considering the concept real in its “first grade” of clearness:

 

Let us now approach the subject of logic, and consider a conception which particularly concerns it, that of reality. Taking clearness in the sense of familiarity, no idea could be clearer than this. Every child uses it with perfect confidence, never dreaming that he does not understand it. (144)

 

Even a five-year-old can understand the difference between something being real and something being imaginary. But this sort of understanding does not require the infallible ability to tell the difference between real and imaginary things… it is a mere “subjective feeling of mastery which may be entirely mistaken” (128). So a child whose idea of reality is clear to the first degree might still mistakenly believe that Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy are real.

 

 

Someone whose idea of the real is clear to the “second grade” of clearness can state the dictionary definition of “reality.” To illustrate this, Peirce reiterates the definition of “real” that we’ve seen him use before… and he also defines “external” (that which does not depend on what anyone thinks) and “fictional” (that which depends on what someone thinks about it—this is the opposite of the real). [See previous notes.]

 

As for clearness in its second grade, however, it would probably puzzle most men, even among those of a reflective turn of mind, to give an abstract definition of the real. Yet such a definition may perhaps be reached by considering the points of difference between reality and its opposite, fiction. A figment is a product of somebody's imagination; it has such characters as his thought impresses upon it. That whose characters are independent of how you or I think is an external reality. There are, however, phenomena within our own minds, dependent upon our thought, which are at the same time real in the sense that we really think them. But though their characters depend on how we think [which makes them internal], they do not depend on what we think those characters to be. Thus, a dream has a real existence as a mental phenomenon, if somebody has really dreamt it; that he dreamt so and so, does not depend on what anybody thinks was dreamt, but is completely independent of all opinion on the subject. On the other hand, considering, not the fact of dreaming, but the thing dreamt, it retains its peculiarities by virtue of no other fact than that it was dreamt to possess them. Thus we may define the real as that whose characters are independent of what anybody may think them to be (144, emphases added).

 

 

But Peirce wanted to go beyond this “second grade” of clarity to a higher grade, one that ties the concept of reality directly to action and its sensible effects. In other words, he wanted the application of the PM to the concept real to provide an answer to the question: What “effects that might conceivably have practical bearings” do real things have?

 

Here, then, let us apply our rules. According to them, reality, like every other quality, consists in the peculiar sensible effects which things partaking of it produce. The only effect which real things have is to cause belief, for all the sensations which they excite emerge into consciousness in the form of beliefs. The question therefore is, how is true belief (or belief in the real) distinguished from false belief (or belief in fiction) (145).

 

So the pragmatic account of reality will need to be put in terms of true belief. The object of a true belief is real, and the only difference that the real makes in our experience is that it causes beliefs that are true. So in order to have a pragmatic understanding of reality, we must first have a pragmatic understanding of what it is to have a true belief.

 

 

[2.3.5.] Science’s Conception of Truth.

 

At this point in “How to Make Our Ideas Clear,” he refers back to the account of the four methods of inquiry he gave in “The Fixation of Belief”. [Here it becomes explicit what he was doing in describing those four methods: he was giving a genealogy of the concept of truth.]

 

It was in the advent of the fourth and final method, the method of science, that the concept truth (and its opposite, falsehood), were fully developed:

 

Now, as we have seen in the former paper, the ideas of truth and falsehood, in their full development, appertain exclusively to the experiential method of settling opinion [i.e., the method of science] (145).

 

He reprises the first three methods of fixing belief and describes the concept of truth that accompanied each:

 

method of inquiry

concept of truth

tenacity

“A person who arbitrarily chooses the propositions which he will adopt can use the word truth only to emphasize the expression of his determination to hold on to his choice. . . . For him, the truth is simply his particular stronghold” (145).

authority

“When the method of authority prevailed, the truth meant little more than the Catholic faith. . . . [T]he idea of loyalty replaced that of truth-seeking” (146).

a priori

“[P]hilosophers have been less intent on finding out what the facts are than on inquiring what belief is most in harmony with their system. It is hard to convince a follower of the a priori method by adducing [presenting] facts; but show him that an opinion that he is defending is inconsistent with what he has laid down elsewhere and he will be very apt to retract it” (146).

 

Unlike the followers of the other methods,

 

all the followers of science are fully persuaded that the processes of investigation, if only pushed far enough, will give one certain solution to every question to which they can be applied. . . . Different minds may set out with the most antagonistic views, but the progress of investigation carries them by a force outside of themselves to one and the same conclusion. This activity of thought by which we are carried, not where we wish, but to a foreordained goal, is like the operation of destiny. No modification of the point of view taken, no selection of other facts for study, no natural bent of mind even, can enable a man to escape the predestinate opinion. This great law is embodied in the conception of truth and reality. The opinion which is fated to be ultimately agreed to by all who investigate, is what we mean by the truth . . .

 

This reveals that the concept of truth associated with the Method of Science is the idea of truth clarified to the third grade of clearness—the result of applying the Pragmatic Maxim to the concept of truth:

 

A true belief is one that will be the result of using the Method of Science (experiencing the external world and reasoning about that experience) and thus one that “coincides with the fact[s]”.

 

And now Peirce uses that result of state the “third grade” clarification of the idea of reality:

 

… and the object represented in this opinion is the real. That is the way I would explain reality. (146-47, emphasis added)[1]

 

In other words:

 

            The real is that which is represented in a true belief.

 

 

[2.3.6.] Unpacking the Pragmatic Accounts of Truth and Reality.

 

According to Peirce, if we apply the PM to the claim “it is true that p,” we get a conditional sentence that looks something like this:

 

·         If we apply the Method of Science to the claim that p as far as we can apply it, then we will believe that p.”

 

A true belief is one that we will agree upon after inquiry using the Method of Science has been pushed as far as it can go.[2]

 

That which is real is the object represented by the opinion that will be agreed upon if inquiry is pushed as far as it can go; in other words, the real is what is represented by a true belief.  Consider the claim: “x is real.” According to Peirce, applying the PM to this claim yields a conditional sentence like this:

 

·         If we push the Method of Science as far as it can go, then some of the beliefs that result will be about x.”

 

 

 

Stopping point for Monday February 2. For next time, read all of James, “The Present Dilemma in Philosophy.”

 

 



[1] As mentioned in a previous note, Peirce revised “How to Make Our Ideas Clear” in 1894. In this revision, the quoted passage read as follows:

 

all the followers of [the method of] science are fully persuaded animated by a cheerful hope that the processes of investigation, if only pushed far enough, will give one certain solution to every each question to which they can be applied apply it. ... Different minds may set out with the most antagonistic views, but the progress of investigation carries them by a force outside of themselves to one and the same conclusion. This activity of thought by which we are carried, not where we wish, but to a foreordained goal, is like the operation of destiny. No modification of the point of view taken, no selection of other facts for study, no natural bent of mind even, can enable a man to escape the predestinate opinion. This great law hope is embodied in the conception of truth and reality. The opinion which is fated to be ultimately agreed to by all who investigate, is what we mean by the truth, and the object represented in this opinion is the real. That is the way I would explain reality. (EP 1:138-9, CP 5.407)

 

[2] This analysis of truth is one of Peirce’s most famous doctrines. Different versions of this pragmatic account of truth appear in the works of other philosophers, including William James and John Dewey. But the “pragmatic theory of truth” has changed so much since Peirce first articulated it, e.g. in the work of contemporary pragmatist Richard Rorty, that it is no longer recognizable as the same theory that Peirce articulated.

 




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