Jeff and I have been going back and forth on various epistemology and ethical issues related to religion. He agrees that his own position is not a position many hold, although he thinks it a correct religious one. More or less he thinks that religious authority acts as a trump on any belief. I think it can at best act to create a demand of burden of proof. My own position is a fallibilist one. I fully admit this fallibilism arises out of my study of the pragmatists like C. S. Peirce. I think, however, that Peirce’s fallibilism has gone from a minor position to the dominant position among philosophers. My latest discussion with Jeff at BCC started getting tangental there so I’ve brought it here.
I mentioned earlier in the discussion on James and Peirce the pragmatic maxim which is a type of verification principle. I mentioned Cheyrl Misak’s book Verificationism: Its History and Prospects as a good book that discusses the distinction between the pragmatic maxim and later verification theories such as the infamous ones of the positivists. Here’s a brief overview, largely told via quotes.
From the introduction.
Central to pragmatism is a concern with the meaning and nature of truth. Now as regular readers know I’m extremely influenced by the work of C. S. Peirce, much of which really has only come to be investigated and appreciated in recent decades. Peirce’s focus was on logic but logic for Peirce was much broader than most usually conceive of it as. Typically what Peirce called logic we’d today call semiotics. His logic thus expanded into many questions of philosophy of language, epistemology and to a degree even metaphysics. With his logic he sought to describe the way humans in practice reason and the standards we follow. He then tried to understand which of these were rational and how good reasoning would lead us to truth. It’s easy to see from this fragmentary overview that logic for Peirce ended up being quite subtle and complex.
Epistemic modality at Philosophical Percolations. Relevant to Peirce’s mature pragmatic maxim for verificationalism. It’s the distinction between what could be vs. what could have been. i.e. counterfactuals or ones own situation. Peirce shifts his verificationalism to the counterfactual form in his mature period.
Peirce tied together closely the pragmatic maxim and abduction. The pragmatic maxim was Peirce’s verificationalist principle of meaning (not truth, as was the case for many others). I find the following quote from Peirce extremely helpful both in terms of thinking through science but also religion. In particular I like a lot his distinction between aesthetical goodness and cognitive goodness (or rationality). Many critique Mormons for focusing in on good feelings in terms of revelation. But those alone aren’t enough. I think many misunderstand Mormon conceptions of epistemology because they focus on these emotional trappings rather than the core.
The reigning attitude in physics has been “shut up and calculate”: solve the equations, and do not ask questions about what they mean. But putting computation ahead of conceptual clarity can lead to confusion.
This idea of clarifying concepts has long been seen by many as what philosophy can offer science. Even those who might be skeptical of some of the philosophical approaches to this do recognize the problem of “just calculate.” The idea of instrumentalism, perhaps popularized in physics due to Richard Feynman’s embrace of the idea, is a bit problematic. For one I don’t think all or even most physicists see their goals as merely instrumentalist. Too many physicists are interested in Truth in my experience. Maybe physicists can’t get absolutely at truth but they certainly are aiming at it.
There have been a few discussions on doubt that made me think of Peirce. I wanted to post this here since it’s getting a bit tangental and abstract relative to the original discussion which was more about religious doubt. Still I think Peirce offers quite a lot here to think about and consider. This is from Peirce’s famous essay, “What Pragmatism Is.” This version is taken from The Essential Peirce volume 2, p. 335-7 although there’s an online version up.
The entire run of The Monist is now free online from Oxford. Probably not a big deal if you work at or go to college. But for everyone else a huge deal. This includes their two volume The Relevance of Charles Peirce. (Vol 1, Vol 2) I have the book all the articles were collected into. Well worth reading although as with any collection the quality is somewhat mixed.
Peirce frequently published in The Monist during his life. While many of these articles can be found elsewhere on the web it’s nice having them here. If you’ve been curious about Peirce check some of these out.
While I did not start philosophically with Peirce, he has come to dominate my thought the past 20 years. Certainly figures like Heidegger are also a major force in how I think about things. Yet it’s Peirce I keep coming back to. I think that Heidegger and many who continued (more or less) in his tradition after him thought through issues Peirce didn’t. It is Peircean approaches though that I think end up clarifying many more obscure aspects of a broad Heideggarian approach. The older I get the less patient I am with the near word-mysticism that many Heideggarians adopt. It’s not that I don’t find Heidegger (or even Levinas, Derrida, or Ricouer) helpful or insightful. I do. I just find myself increasingly frustrated with the way they get discussed. (Especially those aping a Derridean style)
I’ve been very pleased at pushback within the Heideggarian tradition. Thomas Sheehan in particular has done a fantastic job pushing back at a near word mysticism where the rather straightforward meanings are obscured in layers upon layer of metaphor.
Metaphor is useful and important. I think the literal is always dependent upon the metaphoric. But to recognize that does not entail obliqueness to the point of confusion.