Clarify, clarify

Every Opening Day every semester,  it seems, I follow my colleague Mary into James Union Building Room 304 and find this on the board:

That’s Charles Sanders Peirce, the “pragmaticist” (“ugly enough to be safe from kidnappers”). In case you find either Mary or CSP (or both) difficult to decipher, here’s what he said… followed by what I think of what he said:

Philosophy is that branch of positive science (i.e., an investigating theoretical science which inquires what is the fact, in contradistinction to pure mathematics which merely seeks to know what follows from certain hypotheses) which makes no observations but contents itself with so much of experience as pours in upon every man during every hour of his waking life.  CSP

I think Charles & Mary are on the right track, to call attention to everyday experience as the raw material of philosophy. Quotidian, commonplace, ordinary experiences and exceptional, rare, out-of-the-ordinary experiences happen to people. What has existence must have its reflective moment.

But, must philosophy aspire to the status of a science? I say no. (Think of Emerson, or for that matter Emily Dickinson.) This may just be a semantic hairsplitting, depending on how much of the vast range of possible-plus-actual experience the “scientific philosopher” is prepared to reflect on, and how much she is prepared to jettison in the name of positivity.

My view: there are many diverse and legitimate forms of philosophical reflection. Some look less like science than like poetry. They all have their place.

And maybe Peirce thought so too. He definitely had his poetic/metaphysical flights: agapism, cosmic love, firstness and secondness and thirdness, his metaphorical likening of philosophy to an impassioned marriage (“The genuis of a man’s logical method should be loved and reverenced as his bride”-Fixation of Belief 1877).

“It will be seen that pragmatism is not a Weltanschauung but is a method of reflexion having for its purpose to render ideas clear.” As James said: philosophy and metaphysics are just an “unusually obstinate attempt to think clearly.”

The consensus here is kind of Thoreauvian, isn’t it? “Simplify, simplify.” And how do you do that, in our discipline? Clarify, clarify. Science can help, and so can the poet.

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6 Responses to “Clarify, clarify”

  1. Arielle Roides Says:

    I enjoyed what James said about philosophy being an attempt to think clearly. Being able to reflect upon why we as humans are the way we are and why we do the things we do, allows us to rationalize and think logically. I believe that finding your philosophical ideas and values is important in becoming a more whole person and I think this knowledge can also give us confidence in who we are and what we believe to be true.

    I really enjoyed reading this post.

    Arielle Roides (1030-013)

  2. Edrell(13) Says:

    I agree that it takes both science and a poet to contribute to philosophical reflection because one persons experience and resolve sounds more logical when it’s compared to and holds up to the knowledge of others experiences.

  3. Rachel Grahek (1030-013) Says:

    I like your statement in there “My view: there are many diverse and legitimate forms of philosophical reflection. Some look less like science than like poetry. They all have their place.” St. Thomas Aquinas is a personal favorite of mine; though he didn’t consider himself a philosopher. He couples the belief that “for the knowledge of any truth whatsoever man needs divine help, that the intellect may be moved by God to its act” with the belief that human being have the inherent ability to deduce certain truths through logic. Going off the idea that things above the level of human understanding and comprehension require divine answers and insight

  4. osopher Says:

    Funny that Aquinas didn’t consider himself a philosopher, since he’s in most of the philosophy texts as a representative of religiously-committed philosophical thinking. On the other hand, some philosophers are at war with religion and are convinced they cannot coexist. I for one am an atheist who’s glad there are religious philosophers I can read and talk to. I don’t think there are any “divine answers,” or at least any that mortal humans have access to… but I try to understand why some think there are, and to grasp what such beliefs do for them in their lives.

    Religion is a kind of poetry, isn’t it? Not to everybody’s taste… but as Edrell said elsewhere: live and let live. There’s more than one way to try and be a “whole person.”

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