2014 Peirce Centennial: Common-Sensism, Fallibilism, Pragmatism Abstract
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Common Sensism, Fallibilism, Pragmatism – Some historical notes on a continuing debate
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Abstract: (75100 words) Keywords: Common Sensism, Fallibilism, Reid, Peirce Word Count: (1800 max)
Paper Text: This paper follows from the contention that bringing Peirce into the 21st century includes respecting his own deep attention to the history of thought. In particular, Peirce's engagement with the history of philosophy provides an opportunity to bring Peircean ideas into dialogue with contemporary reexaminations of historical figures. As the theme of this panel is Peirce's Critical CommonSensism (CCS), this paper offers the possibility of a Peircean intervention into the current resurgence of interest in Common Sense philosophy. §1 will briefly review some contemporary debates concerning the relationship between Reid and pragmatism, while §2 will use Peirce's characterization of CCS to show that the real issue between Peirce and Reid is the extent of the latter's fallibilism. Then, §3 will present a neglected text by Reid that argues for a strong form of fallibilism, and furthermore that fallibilism is the key difference between Reid and Hume. Finally, the conclusion will relate Peirce's dissatisfaction with Reid and the strength of the latter's fallibilism to show the radicality of Peirce's fallibilist CCS. §1: This past decade has seen a resurgence of interest in Thomas Reid, in part as an effort to explore options outside of current impasses in epistemology, such as externalism vs. internalism. In particular, several authors see that the appeal of Reid's Common Sense philosophy must be understood in the context of pragmatism. This means either that Reid needs the addition of pragmatism to supplant his failed attempt to overcome the dilemma of scepticism (cp. Erik Lundestad), or that Reid already has insufficiently articulated pragmatist resources (cp. Peter Baumann and P.D. Magnus). The latter explore Reid's argument from practical commitment against scepticism as a form of pragmatism, but with the consequence that the difference between Hume and Reid is occluded. This occurs in part because of a failure to distinguish what is meant by pragmatism – a theory of meaning, a theory of truth, or something else. §2: Peirce originally held Reid in quite low regard, probably as a consequence of Kant's claim that Reid had wholly missed the strength of Hume's arguments. However, by the period of CCS Peirce had come to deeply appreciate Reid, while not agreeing with him completely. Intriguingly, in contrasting CCS to the philosophy of Reid, Peirce does not talk about pragmatism per se, but rather focuses on issues of dubitability, vagueness, and the lack of a critical methodology. This final criticism suggests that Peirce sees Reid as insufficiently fallibilist, rather than insufficiently 'pragmatist'. §3: However, Reid explicitly identifies himself as a fallibilist, and uses this conception to articulate the prime difference between his philosophy and that of Hume. That is, Reid sees Hume as being an infallibilist concerning knowledge, which sets a standard that can only lead to scepticism when combined with Hume's arguments concerning demonstration and probability. In particular, Reid argues that Hume uses an idiosyncratic conception of proof, and thereby confuses the fallibility of our judgments concerning demonstrations with the status of demonstrations as probable or certain. Thus, understanding the extent of Reid's fallibilist CommonSensism will help to clarify what is critical about Peirce's CCS.