26 de març de 2010 0

(On Peirce’s Categories and the Community of Inquirers)


-Science as a social process-

One of the main characteristics of Peirce’s philosophy of science is its social dimension. Against Cartesian solipsism, Peirce raises a series of counter-arguments that challenge both the intellectual process of attaining a truth–or, at least, a trustworthy conclusion-, grounded in all a priori principles for conception-formation, including principles such as intuition and introspection; and the lonely work of the inquirer, conceived as a genius who reaches definitive certainty through his own mental powers, including the empiricist scope based on sensual experience and the idealist scope based on the strength of reason or on some sort of innate revelation.

Peirce’s theory of cognition involves a kind of realism that, among other things, takes the external world as the only genuine source of knowledge. The negation of interiority as a source of knowledge implies that even the delimitation of the concept of self comes from external forces. These external forces don’t merely comprise facts and objects, but also other subjects and other subjects’ discourses. Consistent with this, Peirce develops the role played by others as testimonies. The role played by testimony is essential in configuring both the idea of the self as well as a dynamic understanding of science.

Let’s start with the idea of the oneself. In one of his early articles (Questions Concerning Certain Faculties Claimed for Man, 1868), Peirce asks and answers several questions concerning the nature of interiority, especially certian of its features such as Intuition, Introspection and Self-consciousness. As he summarizes it in another article : “1. We have no power of Introspection, but all knowledge of the internal world is derived by hypothetical reasoning from our knowledge of external facts. 2. We have no power of Intuition, but every cognition is determined logically by previous cognitions”.

Furthermore, in order to answer the question “whether we have an intuitive self-consciousness” he looks for the origin of self-consciousness in the early stages of life and reason, that is early childhood, and he concludes that self-consciousness does not come from innate intuition of the self, but from a contrast between an individual’s apperceptions of the external world -or the absence of them- and the testimonies that others give about their experiences of the world. This contrast produces a consciousness of a difference between Oneself and the Other.

“Thus, he (the child) becomes aware of ignorance, and it is necessary to suppose a self in which this ignorance can inhere. So testimony gives the first dawning of self-consciousness. (…) But, further, although usually appearances are either only confirmed or merely supplemented by testimony, yet there is a certain remarkable class of appearances which are continually contradicted  by testimony. These are those predicates which we  know to be emotional, but which he distinguishes by their connection with the movements of that central person, himself (…). These judgements are generally denied by others. Moreover, he has reason to think that others, also, have such judgements which are quite denied by all the rest. Thus, he adds to the conception of appearance as the actualization of fact, the conception of it as something private and valid only by supposing a self which is fallible”.

This awareness of ignorance and error not only leads the child to infer the existence of himself and the privacy of his emotions, but, as it is implicit, it also corrects his understanding of the external world. A simple transposition of this idea to the level of science gives us a clear image of one of the pillars of Peirce’s thought: the development of science–and thus the attaining of truth–must be confirmed or corrected by others. This self-correcting character of science implies a dynamic conception, in the sense that it is susceptible to change and, also, that its own development fuels that susceptibility. Every movement feeds future movements, as in a dynamo. Moreover, even at a invidual’s level, the process of reasoning, understanding or obtaining conceptions is essentially dynamic. The process of unifying multiple sensorial data in one’s mind does not have a clear origin or a final end either. I’ll try to show a glimpse of this dynamic in what concerns to the scientist process of understanding Science througout Peirce’s categories.


-The three categories and the social process of Science-

The three universal categories (Firstness, Secondness and Thirdness) at the basis of Peirce’s Philosophy can be discovered in almost all of his writtings. The extent of the meaning of these terms is great and thus they are difficult to define–at least, in the space of a mini-paper. However, we can safely state, for the sake of our present reflection, some characteristics of them.

Firstness is the quality itself, independent of anything else, the sheer apparence of phenomena, before they are understood or mediated; what is given to the senses before the delimitation of the object they come from. It is absolute freshness, we might call it adamicity. Secondness is the appearence of the fact, its delimitation by its contrast with everything else. Secondness is the emergence of the brute fact, before it becomes intelligible, but also after it has been differentiated from other facts or objects: it is what makes possible awareness of their existence. The existence of a concrete fact in the milieu of other facts means presence in the universe of experiences. It implies a dynamic reaction before all other things in the universe, and therefore fundamentally implies relation. The existence of something has a dyadic character because this existence becomes explicit only through opposition to other: this is its  proper kind of relation. In secondness a thing becomes distinguished from other things through emerging in its real determinacy in relation to all other things and thereby negating all other events, facts or objects as not being part of itself. It can be said, therefore, that there is a sense of violence in Peirce’s secondness.

If firstness offers the possibility of the presence of fact, and secondness its effective presence, thirdness refers to the intelligible aspect of facts. Thirdness pertains to the realm of law, beyond the sensory manifold. It is the “habit” of becoming a habit that a universe in continous development has and manifests in an ever growing magnitude. Thirdness is, then, “that which is as it is as mediate between two others”.

If all conceptions can be fundamentally reduced to these three, then the way in which science evolves can also be reduced to these three categories. An inquirer, a scientist, that tries to advance towards truth will face firstness, secondness and thirdness not only in her approach to facts in the world of nature or the realm of experiments, but also in her relation to science itself.

In Peirce’s opinion, there is no fundamental origin of truth that we can intuitively discover, nor is there a final stage: “there is no absolutely first cognition of any object, but cognition arises by a continuous process. We must begin then, with a process of cognition, and with that process whose laws are best understood and most closely follow external facts”.

Science is an ongoing process of correction and self-correction, and the openness of scientific theories lies in the possibility for them to be negated, in the possibility of demonstrating that a theory or simple proposition is false. Truth is as dynamic as science is.

Faced with a prevalent scientific theory an inquirer is the other in relation to the theory. She must serve as an affirmative or negative testimony of it. In this scenario a temporarily valid truth–namely, the corpus of a tradition at any given time- is a phenomenon that every inquirer faces.

Notwithstanding the fact that a scientific theory or a scientific law belongs to the sphere of thirdness, because they are precisely the hypothetically understood reality, the corpus of a scientific tradition at any given time–before every branch of science or every theorem are even differenciated–can be understood as playing the role of firstness in the inquirer’s mind. Scientific tradition is the quality of truth independent of anything else, a sheer apparence of a phenomena that is faced when a human being decides to devote herself to the search for truth.

Consecutively, a theory becomes present in relation to all other knowledge. It becomes different, distinct, in opposition not only to other theories but also in opposition to oneself. It is a form of testimony that reciprocally delimitates the knowledge that occupies the space within the community of inquirers and the consciousness of oneself as an inquirer. This is the secondness of science. One becomes aware at the same time of the fact of a theory as opposed to other theories, and the radical opposition between the inquirer that onelself is, and the theory she is examining. It is just after this moment of awareness that logic acts. In the process of making a theory intelligible, (that is, between the secondness and the thirdness of the understanding of a theory), logic plays the role of making sense of the internal consistency of its truth claims.

We are not yet at the stage of testing the truth of a theory through testing its content in a lab experiment, but only at the stage of testing its formal validity. This moment of logical examination could be called “second-and-a-halfness”. A moment in which doubt can arise or remain silent. If doubt arises, it is not to be understood as a subjective insecurity but as an objective problem in the theory qua fact. And, hence, in the mind of the author of such a theory: “if disciplined and candid minds carefully examine a theory and refuse to accept it, this ought to create doubts in the mind of the author”. Second-and-a-halfness is not a new category, it is just a midle stage that shares something with secondness, namely, the apparence of distinctiveness, and something with thirdness, namely the outcropping intelligibility of the object. It expresses the dunamikos of the inquiry. Its is the form of a scientific, reasonable, doubt. Finally, thirdness appears. Either as conception of the internal error of the theory or as a conception of the consistency of that theory.

Beyond this point, multiple paths are open, but all of them lead to one of the following two directions: correction or affirmation of the theory. If the thirdness of this process is equal to the formulation of the theory examined, then there only remains the possibility of testing its content. If they are not equal, then, first it is necessary to find which is the reason for doubting the logic of a theory, and then to correct it. After that correction, the examination of the matter of the theory is necessary because a logical correction would be a mere disagreement that could not explain anything about the matter that the theory addresses: this would leave the relation between the inquirer and the theory incomplete.  And, also, obviously, the content must be examined in order to see whether the inquirer is in front of a minor addition or, on the contrary, the whole theory must be considered untrue, and a new hypothesis is to arise from the process.


-The explicitness of logic as loyalty to a community and commitment to polemos-

Logic, however, is not a natural way of thinking. The existence of it as a science is proof  of its artificiality, but, even more, the existence and description of fallacies mean that human beings naturally tend to reason illogically without being aware of it. Therefore, logic serves as an explicit law of reasoning. The key word here is “explicit”, because in the process of examining a theory it is necessary to overcome the mere opinion one has about it, or the feeling of agreement or disagreement, and logic must be employed deliberately. Hence, logic serves also as an objective set of rules that makes it possible to leave opinion aside. Logic lives in the space created between the community of inquirers and its effective channel of comunication. It is, as it were, the constitution of the community of inquirers, a community that aims at the real.

“And what do we mean by the real? It is a conception which we must first have had when we discovered that here was an unreal, an illusion; that is, when we first corrected ourselves. Now the distinction for which alone this fact logically called, was between an ens relative to private inward determinations, to the negations belonging to idiosyncrasy, and an ens such as would stand in the long run. The real is that which, sonner or later, information and reasoning would finally result in, and which is therefore independent of the vagaries of me and you. Thus, the very origin of the conception of reality shows that this conception essentially involves the notion of a COMMUNITY, without definite limits, and capable of an indefinite increase of knowledge. And so those two series of cognitions -the real and the unreal- consist of those which, at a time sufficiently future, the community will always continue to reaffirm; and of those which, under the same conditions, will ever after be denied”.

Therefore, logic is the rule to which a member of such a community must obey in order to be loyal to the community, in order to be a patriot, a committed citizen, to turn the personal, private, intransferible subjective experiences into commune, public and transferible objective knowledge.

Nevertheless, the stage of second-and-a-halfness, this state of doubt, asks for the explicitation of logic to be able to critique the scientific tradition, that is, the assumed truth. In this explicitation there is a will to challenge every sign, every proposition, and every argument that configure a theory and, more in general, to challenge the conception of truth at a given time. Aware of herself and her role thanks to ignorance and error, an inquirer must assume that her nature is equal to other inquirers’ nature. “The individual man, since his separate existence is manifested only by ignorance and error, so far as he is anything apart from his fellows, and from what he and they are to be, is only a negation”.

Her own being as negation must become negation of other’s being as negation. She must be testimony for others. He must compete against others. The need for explicit logic thus implies a commitment to polemos. True patriots to this COMMUNITY are those who, within the rules of the method of science, make their experiences compete, make their errors challenge each other’s reciprocally. Those who assume imperfection as the only vehicle to go along the path towards truth are the only true members of the community of inquirers. Those who always return to the stage of second-and-a-halfness are the ones who lead in such a path:

“This is a man,

proud man,

Most ignorant of what he’s most assured,

His glassy essence”.

1 Peirce, Charles S Some Consequences of Four Incapacities, In: The Essential Peirce Volume I (1867-1893), Edited by Nathan Houser and Christian Kloesel. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1992. pp 30

2 Peirce, Charles S. Questions Conerning Certain Faculties Claimed for Man , In: The Essential Peirce Volume I (1867-1893). Edited by Nathan Houser and Christian Kloesel. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1992. pp 20.

3 Houser, Nathan, Introduction to The Essential Peirce Volume I (1867-1893), Edited by Nathan Houser and Christian Kloesel. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1992. pp XXX

4 Peirce, Charles S Some Consequences of Four Incapacities, In: The Essential Peirce Volume I (1867-1893), Edited by Nathan Houser and Christian Kloesel. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1992.. pp 30

5 Peirce, Charles S., Some Consequences of Four Incapacities In: The Essential Peirce Volume I (1867-1893), Edited by Nathan Houser and Christian Kloesel. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1992. pp 29

6”…mere desagreement (unrecognized) does not constitue relation, and therefore of the second kind are only brought into relation by correspondence in fact”. On a new list of categories, In: The Essential Peirce Volume I (1867-1893), Edited by Nathan Houser and Christian Kloesel. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1992. pp 7.

7 Peirce, Charles S., Some Consequences of Four Incapacities, In: The Essential Peirce Volume I (1867-1893), Edited by Nathan Houser and Christian Kloesel. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1992. pp 52

8 Peirce, Charles S., Some Consequences of Four Incapacities, In: The Essential Peirce Volume I (1867-1893), Edited by Nathan Houser and Christian Kloesel. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1992. pp 55

9 To challenge the method itself would open up a new set of questions and problems. Essentially, it would raise the question of radically different paradigms and the possibilities of their comparison or communication. Would it polemos even possible?

10 Peirce, Charles S., Some Consequences of Four Incapacities, In: The Essential Peirce Volume I (1867-1893), Edited by Nathan Houser and Christian Kloesel. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1992. pp 55.


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