Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Evening Note for Tuesday, October 20

 Thought for the Evening: Peirce's Neglected Argument

In "A Neglected Argument for God's Existence", C. S. Peirce attempts to argue for the importance, value, and reasonableness of a nonformal kind of reasoning. That is the 'Argument' of the title -- Peirce is clear that by 'Argument' he doesn't mean what we would usually mean by an argument (premises resulting in a conclusion), which he calls 'Argumentation', but a "process of thought reasonably tending to produce a definite belief" (p. 435). It's a process of thought that can be had by anyone, regardless of their level of formal training or their ability to articulate premises in sequential steps. The paper is an explicit attempt to show that there are reasonable Arguments that are not Argumentations; that, in fact, philosophers have overlooked a kind of reasoning that is reasonable, simply because it did not fit the tools they often use.

The key concept in the Neglected Argument is Musement, which Peirce opposes to "vacancy and dreaminess" on the one hand and reasoning in attempt to get a particular conclusion on the other (p. 436). It is a free play of mind (one of several), a kind of reflective thought about the world in which you consider the interplay of possibility, actuality, and representation in your experience, with an interest in asking why they have the interplay they do. If you've ever tried to figure out something, and in doing so improvised diagrams or new kinds of description or simple experimental tests, played around with looking at something from different perspectives, wondering about things this way and that, you've been engaging in something like what Peirce calls 'Musement'. If we muse about how possibility, actuality, and signification interrelate as a whole, Peirce holds that this naturally raises the hypothesis of God's real existence, not because there aren't other possible hypotheses, but because it's a hypothesis that does not end up trying to 'explain away' obvious parts of experience. This hypothesis will necessarily be vague, but if you continue on to consider different things in light of this hypothesis, in light of the Idea of God, you eventually begin considering things like its beauty, its sublimity, its potential value for ethical life, and -- despite not having gone beyond hypothesis yet, you can start responding to the loveableness and adorability of this hypothetical God. This stage of the Argument is 'humble'; it makes no pretensions, anyone can do it, it's reasonable because it's a natural flowering of a healthy part of the life of thought.

In the second stage, we get the 'Neglected Argument' in a strict sense: the mind reflects on this line of thought itself and develops a "vindicatory description" (p. 446) of the reasonableness of the humble stage of the argument, showing that it is not artificial but natural and closely tied to the experiences that start the whole process, as well as to practical life in general. This is 'neglected', because Peirce says that while theologians and philosophers can't present the humble stage -- that everyone has to go through themselves -- they should have done more to try to describe, delineate, and defend it as a reasonable and natural line of thought.

The third stage is a logical 'methodeutic', in which we recognize that the stages so far are in fact the same kind of stages that underlie scientific and other kinds of discovery: we start with pondering the facts of experience, reflectively and freely, and we develop hypotheses out of this through which we view the world in order to see what we find, and come out with beliefs that are capable of blossoming into action.

[C. S. Peirce, The Essential Peirce, Volume 2, ed. by the Peirce Edition Project, Indiana University Press (Indianapolis: 1998).]

Various Links of Interest

* An interesting discussion about a highly cited paper that turns out not to exist: The phantom reference and the propagation of error.

* Samuel H. Baker, Aristotle on the Nature and Politics of Medicine

* Juan Miguel Suay and David Teira, Kites: The Rise and Fall of a Scientific Object

* Samuel Hughes, In praise of pastiche

* C. C. Pecknold, False notions of the common good

Currently Reading

Ahmet Midhat Efendi, Felâtun Bey and Râkım Efendi
Rex Stout, The Second Confession
Declan Finn, Deus Vult

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