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Pragmaticism is a term used by Charles Sanders Peirce for his pragmatic philosophy after 1905, in order to distance himself and it from pragmatism, the original name, which had been used in a manner he did not approve of in the "literary journals". He said that he coined it because it was "ugly enough to be safe from kidnappers" (Collected Papers (CP) 5.414).While it is sometimes stated that James' and other philosophers' use of the word pragmatism so dismayed Peirce that he renamed his own variant pragmaticism, this may well have been not the main reason (Haack, Susan, 1998, Manifesto of a Passionate Moderate, Chicago IL: University of Chicago Press, p. 55). This is revealed by the context in which Peirce introduced the latter term:

But at present, the word [pragmatism] begins to be met with occasionally in the literary journals, where it gets abused in the merciless way that words have to expect when they fall into literary clutches. … So then, the writer, finding his bantling "pragmatism" so promoted, feels that it is time to kiss his child good-by and relinquish it to its higher destiny; while to serve the precise purpose of expressing the original definition, he begs to announce the birth of the word "pragmaticism", which is ugly enough to be safe from kidnappers. (C. S. Peirce, CP 5.414.)

However, in his letter to Calderoni (CP 8.205), Peirce said that he proposed that the word "pragmaticism" should be used narrowly for his own doctrine and "that the word 'pragmatism' should hereafter be used somewhat loosely to signify affiliation with Schiller, James, Dewey, Royce, and the rest of us." Of course this does not mean that he regarded his fellow pragmatist philosophers as word-kidnappers. But in the final paragraph of his 1908 Monist article A Neglected Argument for the Reality of God, he expressed both deep satisfaction and deep dismay with his fellow pragmatists.

The clarification of ideas in inquiry

Whether one chooses to call it "pragmatism" or "pragmaticism", and Peirce himself was not always consistent about it even after the notorious renaming, his conception of pragmatic philosophy is based on one or another version of the so-called "pragmatic maxim". Here is one of his more emphatic statements of it:

Pragmaticism was originally enounced in the form of a maxim, as follows: 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 (CP 5.438).

William James, among others, regarded two of Peirce's papers, "The Fixation of Belief" (1877) and "How to Make Our Ideas Clear" (1878) as pragmatism's origin. Peirce differed from James and the early John Dewey, in some of their tangential enthusiasms, in being decidedly more rationalistic and realistic, in several senses of those terms, throughout the preponderance of his own philosophical moods.

Peirce's pragmatism is based on the idea that belief is cognition on which one is prepared to act. But his pragmatism is about conceptions of objects. It equates any conception's meaning with conceptions of its object's conceivable effects on practice. It is a method of sorting out conceptual confusions caused, for example, by distinctions that make formal yet not practical differences. Peirce (CP 5.11-12), like James saw pragmatism as embodying familiar attitudes, in philosophy and elsewhere, elaborated into a new deliberate method of thinking and resolving dilemmas.

In "How to Make Our Ideas Clear", Peirce discusses three grades of clearness of conception:

1. Clearness of a conception familiar even if unanalyzed and undeveloped.
2. Clearness as of a definition's parts, in virtue of which logicians called a term or idea "distinct", that is, clarified by analysis of just what makes it applicable. Elsewhere, echoing Kant, Peirce calls such a definition "nominal" (CP 5.553).
3. Clearness in virtue of clearness of conceivable practical consequences of the object as conceived of, such as can lead to fruitful reasoning, especially on difficult problems. Here he introduces that which he later called the Pragmatic Maxim.

By way of example of how to clarify conceptions, he addresses conceptions about truth and the real as questions of the presuppositions of reasoning in general. In clearness's second grade (the "nominal" grade), he defines truth as a sign's correspondence to its object, and the real as the object of such correspondence, such that truth and the real are independent of that which you or I or any actual, definite community of inquirers think. After that needful but confined step, next in clearness's third grade (the pragmatic, practice-oriented grade) he defines truth as that which would be reached, sooner or later but still inevitably, by research adequately prolonged, such that the real does depend on that ideal final opinion—a dependence to which he appeals in theoretical arguments elsewhere, for instance for the long-term validity of the rule of induction. Peirce argues that even to argue against the independence and discoverability of truth and the real is to presuppose that there is, about that very question under argument, a truth with just such independence and discoverability. (For more on Peirce's theory of truth, see the Peirce section in Pragmatic theory of truth. Peirce's discussions and definitions of truth have influenced several epistemic truth theorists and been used as foil for deflationary and correspondence theories of truth.)

Peirce also said more specifically, for example, that a conception's meaning consists in "all general modes of rational conduct" implied by "acceptance" of the conception—that is, if one were to accept, first of all, the conception as true, then what could one conceive to be consequent general modes of rational conduct by all who accept the conception as true?—the whole of such consequent general modes is the whole meaning. His pragmatism does not equate a conception's meaning, its intellectual purport, with the conceived benefit or cost of the conception itself, like a meme (or, say, propaganda), outside the perspective of its being true, nor, since a conception is general, is its meaning equated with any definite set of actual consequences or upshots corroborating or undermining the conception or its worth. His pragmatism also bears no resemblance to "vulgar" pragmatism, which misleadingly connotes a ruthless and Machiavellian search for mercenary or political advantage. Rather, Peirce's pragmatic maxim is the heart of his pragmatism as a method of experimentational mental reflection arriving at conceptions in terms of conceivable confirmatory and disconfirmatory circumstances—a method hospitable to the generation of explanatory hypotheses, and conducive to the employment and improvement of verification to test the truth of putative knowledge.

Peirce's pragmatism, as method and theory of definitions and the clearness of ideas, is a department within his theory of inquiry, which he variously called "Methodeutic" and "Philosophical or Speculative Rhetoric". He applied his pragmatism as a method throughout his work.

Peirce called his pragmatism "the logic of abduction", that is, the logic of inference to explantory hypotheses. As a method conducive to hypotheses as well as predictions and testing, pragmatism leads beyond the usual duo of foundational alternatives, namely:

* Deduction from self-evident truths, or rationalism;

* Induction from experiential phenomena, or empiricism.

His approach is distinct from foundationalism, empiricist or otherwise, as well as from coherentism, by the following three dimensions:

* Active process of theory generation, with no prior assurance of truth;

* Subsequent application of the contingent theory, aimed toward developing its logical and practical consequences;

* Evaluation of the provisional theory's utility for the anticipation of future experience, and that in dual senses of the word: prediction and control. Peirce's appreciation of these three dimensions serves to flesh out a physiognomy of inquiry far more solid than the flatter image of inductive generalization simpliciter, which is merely the relabeling of phenomenological patterns. Peirce's pragmatism was the first time the scientific method was proposed as an epistemology for philosophical questions.

A theory that proves itself more successful in predicting and controlling our world than its rivals is said to be nearer the truth. This is an operational notion of truth employed by scientists.

In " The Fixation of Belief", Peirce characterizes inquiry not as the pursuit of truth but as the struggle to settle doubts. Peirce admits that such is not the aptest description of inquiry, but it helps him in characterizing scientific method as a species in a larger genus. He outlines four methods graded by their success in achieving a sound fixation of belief:
  1. The method of tenacity (sticking with that which one is inclined to think), which leads to irreconcilable disagreements.
  2. The method of authority, which overcomes disagreements but sometimes brutally.
  3. The method of congruity or the a priori or the dilettante or "what is agreeable to reason", which promotes conformity less brutally but leads to sterile argumentation and, like the others, gets finally nowhere.
  4. The method of science, the only one whereby inquiry can, by its own lights, go wrong, and hence actually tests itself and criticizes, corrects, and improves itself.

Peirce held that, in practical affairs, slow and stumbling ratiocination is often dangerously inferior to instinct, sentiment, and tradition, and that the scientific method is best suited to theoretical research, which in turn should not be bound to the other methods and to practical ends. What recommends the scientific method of inquiry above all others is that it is deliberately designed to arrive, eventually, at the ultimately most secure beliefs, upon which the most successful actions can eventually be based. Starting from the idea that one seeks not truth per se but instead to settle irritating doubts one way or another, Peirce shows how this can lead one toward the truth.

Pragmatism is regarded as a distinctively Americanmarker philosophy. As advocated by James, John Dewey, Ferdinand Canning Scott Schiller, George Herbert Mead, and others, it has proved durable and popular. But Peirce did not seize on this fact to enhance his reputation, and even coined the word "pragmaticism" to distinguish his philosophical position. Peirce wrote in particular of disliking a growing literary use of the word "pragmatism" in unfortunate senses. In his 1908 article "A Neglected Argument for the Reality of God", he expressed areas of agreement and disagreement with his fellow pragmatists (he singles F.C.S. Schiller out by name and is vague about which among the others he most particularly refers to). Peirce wrote "It seems to me a pity they should allow a philosophy so instinct with life to become infected with seeds of death...."
Peirce remained joined with them about:
  • the reality of generals and habits, to be understood, as are hypostatic abstractions, in terms of potential concrete effects even if unactualized;
  • the falsity of necessitarianism;
  • the character of consciousness as only "visceral or other external sensation".
but was dismayed with their "angry hatred of strict logic" and saw seeds of philosophical death in:
  • their view that "truth is mutable";
  • their view that infinity is unreal; and
  • "such confusions of thought as of active willing (willing to control thought, to doubt, and to weigh reasons) with willing not to exert the will (willing to believe)".

See also


  • Peirce, C. S. (1877-1878), "Illustrations of the Logic of Science" (series), Popular Science Monthly vols. 12-13. (Includes "The Fixation of Belief" and "How to Make Our Ideas Clear".)
  • Peirce, C. S.; James, William; Baldwin, James Mark; and Seth, James (1902), "Pragmatic and Pragmatism" in Dictionary of Philosophy and Psychology, v. 2, James Mark Baldwin, ed., MacMillan, New York and London, pp. 321-323.
  • Peirce, C. S. (1905), "What Pragmatism Is", The Monist, vol. XV, no. 2, pp. 161-181, The Open Court Publishing Co., Chicago, IL, April 1905, for the Hegeler Institute. Reprinted CP 5.411-437, Charles S. Peirce: Selected Writings 180-202. Arisbe Eprint.
  • Peirce, C. S. (1905), "Issues of Pragmaticism", The Monist, vol. XV, no. 4, pp. 481-499, The Open Court Publishing Co., Chicago, IL, October 1905, for the Hegeler Institute. Reprinted CP 5.438-463, Charles S. Peirce: Selected Writings 203-226. Google Books Eprint. Internet Archive The Monist 15.
  • Peirce, C. S. (1906), "Prolegomena To an Apology For Pragmaticism", The Monist, vol. XVI, no. 4, pp. 492-546, The Open Court Publishing Co., Chicago, IL, October 1906, for the Hegeler Institute. Reprinted CP 4.530-572, Peirce on Signs: Writings on Semiotic 249-252). Eprint.
  • Peirce, C. S. (1908), "A Neglected Argument for the Reality of God", published in part, Hibbert Journal vol. 7, pp. 90–112. Reprinted including one or another unpublished part in CP 6.452-485, Charles S. Peirce: Selected Writings 358-379, EP 2:434-450, Peirce on Signs: Writings on Semiotic 260-278. Eprint.



  1. See p. 481 in Peirce, C. S. (1905), "Issues of Pragmaticism", The Monist, vol. 15, pp. 481-499, Google Book Search Beta Eprint, Internet Archive Eprint. Reprinted (CP 5.438-463, see 438), (Charles S. Peirce: Selected Writings, pp. 203-226)
  2. James, William (1910) Pragmatism: A New Name for Some Old Ways of Thinking.
  3. See also "The Logic of Relatives," The Monist, Vol. 7, 1897, p p. 161-217 (via Google Books). Reprinted in the Collected Papers, v. 3, paragraphs 456-552.
  4. "That the rule of induction will hold good in the long run may be deduced from the principle that reality is only the object of the final opinion to which sufficient investigation would lead", in Peirce, C. S. (1878 April), "The Probability of Induction", p. 718 (Internet Archive Eprint) in Popular Science Monthly, v. 12, pp. 705-18. Reprinted (Chance, Love, and Logic, pp. 82-105), (CP 2.669-93), (Philosophical Writings of Peirce, pp. 174-89), (W 3:290-305), (EP 1:155-69).
  5. Peirce (1902), CP 5.13 note 1
  6. See CP 1.34 Eprint (in "The Spirit of Scholasticism"), where Peirce attributes the success of modern science not so much to a novel interest in verification as to the improvement of verification.
  7. See Joseph Ransdell's comments and his tabular list of titles of Peirce's proposed list of memoirs in 1902 for his Carnegie application, Eprint
  8. Peirce, C.S. (1903), "Pragmatism — The Logic of Abduction", Collected Papers v. 5, paragraphs 195-205, especially paragraph 196. Eprint.
  9. "Philosophy and the Conduct of Life", 1898, Lecture 1 of the Cambridge (MA) Conferences Lectures, published CP 1.616-48 in part and in Reasoning and the Logic of Things, Ketner (ed., intro.) and Putnam (intro., comm.), 105-22, reprinted in EP 2:27-41.

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