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Charles Peirce (1839 – 1914) was an American philosopher, mathematician and a father of pragmatism. Every man is fully satisfied that there is such a thing as truth, or he would not ask any questions.

Charles Peirce

Charles Peirce, philosopher of Pragmatism

Sources of quotes: WikiQuote, EGS, BrainyQuotes,


Quotations of Charles Peirce

In all the works on pedagogy that ever I read — and they have been many, big, and heavy — I don’t remember that any one has advocated a system of teaching by practical jokes, mostly cruel. That, however, describes the method of our great teacher, Experience. She says,

Open your mouth and shut your eyes
And I’ll give you something to make you wise;

and thereupon she keeps her promise, and seems to take her pay in the fun of tormenting us.

Real inquiry cannot begin until a state of real doubt arises and ends as soon as Belief is attained, that “a settlement of Belief,” or, in other words, a state of satisfaction, is all that Truth, or the aim of inquiry, consists in.

Speaking strictly, belief is out of place in pure theoretical science, which has nothing nearer to it than the establishment of doctrines, and only the provisional establishment of them, at that. Compared with living belief it is nothing but a ghost. If the captain of a vessel on a lee shore in a terrific storm finds himself in a critical position in which he must instantly either put his wheel to port acting on one hypothesis, or put his wheel to starboard acting on the contrary hypothesis, and his vessel will infallibly be dashed to pieces if he decides the question wrongly, Ockham’s razor is not worth the stout belief of any common seaman. For stout belief may happen to save the ship, while Entia non sunt multiplicanda praeter necessitatem would be only a stupid way of spelling Shipwreck. Now in matters of real practical concern we are all in something like the situation of that sea-captain.

Consider what effects that might conceivably have practical bearings you conceive the objects of your conception to have. Then, your conception of those effects is the whole of your conception of the object.

The hypothesis of God is a peculiar one, in that it supposes an infinitely incomprehensible object, although every hypothesis, as such, supposes its object to be truly conceived in the hypothesis. This leaves the hypothesis but one way of understanding itself; namely, as vague yet as true so far as it is definite, and as continually tending to define itself more and more, and without limit. The hypothesis, being thus itself inevitably subject to the law of growth, appears in its vagueness to represent God as so, albeit this is directly contradicted in the hypothesis from its very first phase. But this apparent attribution of growth to God, since it is ineradicable from the hypothesis, cannot, according to the hypothesis, be flatly false. Its implications concerning the Universes will be maintained in the hypothesis, while its implications concerning God will be partly disavowed, and yet held to be less false than their denial would be. Thus the hypothesis will lead to our thinking of features of each Universe as purposed; and this will stand or fall with the hypothesis. Yet a purpose essentially involves growth, and so cannot be attributed to God. Still it will, according to the hypothesis, be less false to speak so than to represent God as purposeless.

Let us not pretend to doubt in philosophy what we do not doubt in our hearts.

Every man is fully satisfied that there is such a thing as truth, or he would not ask any question.

Philosophy, as I understand the word, is a positive theoretical science, and a science in an early stage of development. As such it has no more to do with belief than any other science. Indeed, I am bound to confess that it is at present in so unsettled a condition, that if the ordinary theorems of molecular physics and of archaeology are but the ghosts of beliefs, then to my mind, the doctrines of the philosophers are little better than the ghosts of ghosts.

All nature abounds in proofs of other influences than merely mechanical action, even in the physical world. They crowd in upon us at the rate of several every minute. And my observation of men has led me to this little generalization. Speaking only of men who really think for themselves and not of mere reporters, I have not found that it is the men whose lives are mostly passed within the four walls of a physical laboratory who are most inclined to be satisfied with a purely mechanical metaphysics. On the contrary, the more clearly they understand how physical forces work the more incredible it seems to them that such action should explain what happens out of doors. A larger proportion of materialists and agnostics is to be found among the thinking physiologists and other naturalists, and the largest proportion of all among those who derive their ideas of physical science from reading popular books.

The ordinary logic has a great deal to say about genera and species, or in our nineteenth century dialect, about classes. Now a class is a set of objects compromising all that stand to one another in a special relation of similarity. But where ordinary logic talks of classes the logic of relatives talks of systems. A system is a set of objects compromising all that stands to one another in a group of connected relations. Induction according to ordinary logic rises from the contemplation of a sample of a class to that of a whole class; but according to the logic of relatives it rises from the contemplation of a fragment of a system to the envisagement of the complete system.

Do not block the way of inquiry.

The idea does not belong to the soul; it is the soul that belongs to the idea.

Be it understood, then, that what we have to do, as students of phenomenology, is simply to open our mental eyes and look well at the phenomenon and say what are the characteristics that are never wanting in it, whether that phenomenon be something that outward experience forces upon our attention, or whether it be the wildest of dreams, or whether it be the most abstract and general of the conclusions of science.
The faculties which we must endeavor to gather for this work are three. The first and foremost is that rare faculty, the faculty of seeing what stares one in the face, just as it presents itself, unreplaced by any interpretation, unsophisticated by any allowance for this or for that supposed modifying circumstance. This is the faculty of the artist who sees for example the apparent colors of nature as they appear. When the ground is covered by snow on which the sun shines brightly except where shadows fall, if you ask any ordinary man what its color appears to be, he will tell you white, pure white, whiter in the sunlight, a little greyish in the shadow. But that is not what is before his eyes that he is describing; it is his theory of what ought to be seen. The artist will tell him that the shadows are not grey but a dull blue and that the snow in the sunshine is of a rich yellow. That artist’s observational power is what is most wanted in the study of phenomenology.


COMMENTS on the quotations of Charles Peirce

Every man is fully satisfied that there is such a thing as truth, or he would not ask any question. Pontius Pilate asked what is truth, but, it is written, did not stay for an answer. Charles Peirce then goes on to present a method for finding truth.

The faculties which we must endeavor to gather for this work are three. The first and foremost is that rare faculty, the faculty of seeing what stares one in the face. …  The second faculty we must strive to arm ourselves with is a resolute discrimination which fastens itself like a bulldog upon the particular feature that we are studying, follows it wherever it may lurk, and detects it beneath all its disguises. The third faculty we shall need is the generalizing power of the mathematician who produces the abstract formula that comprehends the very essence of the feature under examination purified from all admixture of extraneous and irrelevant accompaniments. The first ability, to see what is staring us in the face, is about self-deception, and it is rare in humans because we are forced by circumstance to constantly limit our thoughts and perceptions to a microscopic portion of what is available to us, our potential perception, and our potential thoughts and potential responses, and their potential interactions. We live in a constant blizzard  of reality to which we must be blind. The second is to persevere in a quest for truth when there are few or no indicators that we are on a path of discovery; when everyone who sees what we are doing believes us to be ardent fools. And, third, the ability to see and create abstractions which fit the observations, and not listed the fourth, to possess the thick-skinned self-confidence to present the abstractions to the public and be ridiculed. I have been pondering a fifth faculty for discovering truth, that of a generalizing faculty for perceiving parallel development of ideas in apparently unrelated fields which have underlying undiscovered forcing factors driving the real behavior of things, and of ideas, in parallel paths onto similar trajectories. It is like an alternate way of searching for a new idea — similarity, relation, comparison, parallel, correspondence, resemblance, correlation, likeness, equivalence, homology, similitude, but a real underlying forcing factor and not just a verbal comparison of ideas.


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