Habermas on Peirce
January 10, 2005

Habermasian Reflections has had several discussions on Habermas' views of Peirce. (here, here, and here) Now I don't know as much about Habermas as I really ought. I did read his critique of Derrida, Heidegger and so forth in The Philosophical Discourse of Modernity. It is an interesting book, although not because Habermas is correct. Indeed I think he engages in a lot of egregious readings. (The Derrida chapters are largely dependent upon Ellis' earlier critique of Derrida. To my eyes Habermas appears to criticize this caricature of Derrida rather than what Derrida actually wrote) I didn't know he viewed Peirce as such a kindred spirit and influence. Had I known that, I might have read more Habermas than just the critique of "postmodernism."

It does appear to me that he may be misreading Peirce in some ways. Or at least doing some serious picking and choosing of what Peirce wrote. He apparently views Peirce's epistemology as very influential, whereas from what I understand Peirce didn't really write much on epistemology as such. Indeed I think he avoided a lot of the ways one does philosophy that were already popular in the 19th century and remain popular in the anlytic tradition today. So I want to start up this thread to add comments over the next few days on this topic. That seems a little better than having a separate post for each comment.

Getting back to Habermas, the reason I bring up his writings on Heidegger and Derrida is that while they are "bad" readings, they are still very interesting readings. (And of course both Heidegger and Derrida have engaged in "bad" readings that still make good points - indeed I think few classicists would agree with how Heidegger reads the pre-Socratics) I notice from the posts over at Habermasian Reflections that Habermas appears to be doing to Peirce what he did with Derrida. Not only does he not seriously engage the ideas but he doesn't really engage with the texts. Contrast this with say Derrida's use of Peirce. Now one can argue that he misses some important aspects of Peirce's use of iconicity. (I posted on this here) But I do think that in On Grammatology Derrida does read Peirce carefully and argues from the text. I'm just not sure correct readings or arguments are necessarily requirements for good philosophy. (Obviously others might disagree - but that's a whole other topic)

Anyway, I'll have more comments on this over the next few days.


Posted By: Clark | January 10, 2005 08:36 PM

One of the things Habermas brings up is the influence of Peirce on epistemology. The relevant quotation, from Habermasian Reflections is

In epistemology – and the theory of truth – Peirce had the strongest influence, from my Frankfurt inaugural lecture on Knowledge and Human Interest (1965) onwards up to Wahrheit and Rechtfertigung (1999). Since Apel and I had remained in contact, it was his interpretation that at first guided my reception. Our early familiarity with, and leaning towards, philosophical anthropology and the analytic of Dasein in Being and Time (Heidegger’s analysis of “being in the world” in particular) had prepared us for a pragmatist epistemology. Peirce’s style of analysis was more up to date and hence more appropriate for a defense of the internal relations between forms of knowledge and types of action, as opposed to the limited view of logical empiricists and their focus on semantic dimension. For Peirce, reason and understanding were from the start embodied in the research activities of a community of investigators. We perceived Peirce’s pragmatist approach as a promise to save Kantian insights in a detranscendentalized yet analytical vein. The promise also pertained, for me more than Apel, to a reconciliation between Kant and Darwin, between a transcendental and an evolutionary perspective. My studies of Shcelling’s philosophy of nature, and the reception of Marx, had made me more open towards a “soft,” non-scientistic naturalism.” (Jürgen Habermas, Postscript to Habermas and Pragmatism, p. 227)

Certainly Peirce is most famous for his view that it is the community of inquirers that ends up counting, rather than the individual. There also isn't in Peirce the focus on sense-data that one finds among the British empiricists. Rather he adopts a general logic. As such, he is probably closer to Hegel or even Russell than many other figures. (Although he is incredibly critical of Hegel) It is also true that Peirce adopts many of Kant's insights, but avoids the notion of a thing-in-itself. Peirce, after all, started his philosophical studies with Kant and the Kantian problem of knowledge. From Kant he moves more towards the empiricists (especially Locke) and probably from there arrives at semiotics. However his conception of thought always is more Kantian than empiricist. Thought is always general in nature, rather than of a specific sense-data. Thought, while general, is also semiotical in nature. Basically thought is seen as an internal dialog with oneself.

The real issue is the difference between the empiricists and Kant over the nature of the object of thought. For Kant we have his famous thing-in-itself, or the thing as it is independent of how we think of it - the reality itself. Thus there is a divide between the phenomena and the noumenon. Peirce provides an alternative to this Kantian approach, talking about a dynamic object and the immediate or direct object. At the same time though he would say that we can't talk of an experience of the world free of interpretation. (Which was what Kant's noumenon is) We always start with presuppositions and then ideally refine them.

At any moment we are in possession of certain information, that is, of cognitions which have been logically derived by induction and hypothesis from previous cognitions which are less general ... and so back to an ideal first, which is quite singular and quite out of consciousness. This ideal first is the particular thing-in-itself. It does not exist 'as such'. (Peirce Writings 2:238)

That is, there is no thing which is in-itself in the sense of not being relative to the mind, though things which are relative to the mind doubtless are, apart from that relation. (Peirce Chrnological Edition 1:238-9)

This brings us to the rather interesting question of individuality which is inherent in the notion of the thing-in-itself. Peirce ends up adopting a view somewhat like Leibniz' approach to infinite divisions in matter (or discourse) but rejects the notion of an "end" which were for Leibniz the monads.

But such terms though conceivable in one sense -- that is intelligible in their conditions -- are yet impossible. You never can narrow down to an individual. Do you say Daniel Webster is an individual? He is so in common parlance, but in logical strictness he is not. We think of certain images in our memory -- a platform and a noble form uttering convincing and patriotic words -- a statue -- certain printed matter -- and we say that which that speaker and the man whom that statue was taken for and the writer of this speech -- that which these are in common is Daniel Webster. Thus, even the proper name of a man is a general term or the name of a class, for it names a class of sensations and thoughts. The true individual term the absolutely singular 'this' & 'that' cannot be reached. Whatever has comprehension must be general. (Peirce Chrnological Edition 1:461)

The conclusion of all this is, contra Kant, that the object of our thoughts is real to the degree it is represented. "There is nothing, then, to prevent our knowing outward things as they really are" (W 2:239). In other words to be is to be thinkable. (Quite in harmony with certain medieval views). Thus there is no thing-in-itself. Yet, at the same time, these objects of thought are, unlike the empiricists, infinite in terms of never being exhausted in semiotics. That is, we can never finish speaking of the object.

One can quickly see certain parallels not only to Heidegger's notion of being-in-the-world, but also Derrida's notion of deconstruction and "nothing outside the text."

Every sign that is sufficiently complete refers to sundry real objects. All these objects, even if we are talking of Hamlet’s madness, are parts of one and the same Universe of being, the “Truth.” But so far as the “Truth” is merely the object of a sign, it is merely the Aristotelian Matter of it that is so. In addition however to denoting objects every sign sufficiently complete signifies characters, or qualities. We have a direct knowledge of real objects in every experiential reaction, whether of Perception or of Exertion (the one theoretical, the other practical). These are directly hic et nunc. But we extend the category, and speak of numberless real objects with which we are not in direct reaction. We have also direct knowledge of qualities in feeling, peripheral and visceral. But we extend this category to numberless characters of which we have no immediate consciousness. All these characters are elements of the “Truth.” Every sign signifies the “Truth.” But it is only the Aristotelian Form of the universe that it signifies. The logician is not concerned with any metaphysical theory; still less, if possible, is the mathematician. But it is highly convenient to express ourselves in terms of a metaphysical theory; and we no more bind ourselves to an acceptance of it than we do when we use substantives such as “humanity,” “variety,” etc., and speak of them as if they were substances, in the metaphysical sense. But, in the third place, every sign is intended to determine a sign of the same object with the same signification or meaning. Any sign, B, which a sign, A, is fitted so to determine, without violation of its, A’s, purpose, that is, in accordance with the “Truth,” even though it, B, denotes but a part of the objects of the sign, A, and signifies but a part of its, A’s, characters, I call an interpretant of A. What we call a “fact” is something having the structure of a proposition, but supposed to be an element of the very universe itself. The purpose of every sign is to express “fact,” and by being joined with other signs, to approach as nearly as possible to determining an interpretant which would be the perfect Truth, the absolute Truth, and as such (at least, we may use this language) would be the very Universe. Aristotle gropes for a conception of perfection, or entelechy, which he never succeeds in making clear. We may adopt the word to mean the very fact, that is, the ideal sign which should be quite perfect, and so identical, in such identity as a sign may have,‹with the very matter denoted united with the very form signified by it. The entelechy of the Universe of being, then, the Universe qua fact, will be that Universe in its aspect as a sign, the “Truth” of being. The “Truth,” the fact that is not abstracted but complete, is the ultimate interpretant of every sign. (Essential Peirce 2:303-304)

This is the basic notion of "On A New List of Categories" is thus this modification of Kant and the recognition of an "infinite" in semiotics this points towards both prior and posterior signs. (Once again paralleling in certain ways Heidegger's notion of temporality as well as certain aspects of Derrida's view of semiotics)

Which all takes us back to Habermas and the comments up at Habermasian Reflections. But that conclusion will have to await an other day.

(Note: I was lazy and cribbed most of the Peirce quotes in the above from various discussion on Peirce from Peirce-L)

Posted By: Clark | January 12, 2005 01:57 AM

I still have a bunch of comments I want to make, but haven't had time to. I did, however, want to bring up one of the "anti-epistemological" quotes from Peirce.

Many logicians conceive that the inquiry trenches largely upon psychology, depends upon what has been observed about the human mind, and would not necessarily be true for other minds. Much of what they say is unquestionably false of many races of mankind. But I, for my part, take little stock in a logic that is not valid for all minds, inasmuch as the logicality of a given argument, as I have said, does not depend on how we think that argument but upon what the truth is. Other logicians endeavoring to steer clear of psychology, as far as possible, think that this first branch of logic must relate to the possibility of knowledge of the real world and upon the sense in which it is true that the real world can be known. this branch of philosophy, called epistemology, or erkennthislehre, is necessarily largely metaphysical. but i, for my part, cannot for an instant assent to the proposal to base logic upon metaphysics, inasmuch as I fully agree with Aristotle, Duns Scotus, Kant, and all the profoundest metaphysicians that metaphysics can, on the contrary, have no secure basis except that which the science of logic affords. ("What Makes Reasoning Sound")

While not purely anti-epistemological, I do think it orients his approach, which grounds logic in ethics rather than metaphysics as such. However, in connection with my earlier comments, the following comment by Peirce on realism is quite important. Peirce is here is primarily thinking of the medieval concern with realism as well as Berkeley's philosophy. However I think we might hear the echo of Reid in there as well.

The realist will hold that the very same objects which are immediately present in our minds in experience really exist just as they are experienced out of the mind, that is, he will maintain a doctrine of immediate perception. He will not, therefore, sunder existence out of the mind and being in the mind as two wholly improportionable modes. When a thing is in such relation to the individual mind that that mind cognizes it, it is in the mind; and its being so in the mind will not in the least diminish its external existence. For he does not think of the mind as a receptacle, which if a thing is in, it ceases to be out of. To make a distinction between the true coneption of a thing and the thing itself is, he will say, only to regard one and the same thing from two different points of view; for the immediate object of thought in a true judgment IS the reality. (Essential Peirce 1:91)

All of this is quite relevant to Habermas' conception. Peirce is, I think, coming from the point of view of medieval realism. A tendency I see in Derrida as well, although others disagree. (As I mentioned, I think Derrida and Peirce break over the issue of iconicity) I'll hopefully comment more on Habermas soon.

I do want to point out that Peirce rarely uses the word "knowledge" or its cognates. (Thanks to Joseph Ransdell for pointing that out to me) Allow me to quote Joseph Ransdell on this point. (From Peirce-L 11/24/04)

Peirce does not usually pose what we might think of as epistemological problems in such a way that the question of how to give an adequate definition of "knowledge" arises. I think that he should have addressed this topic in a way that he actually did not, though, namely, by pointing out that our use of "know", as in the verb conjugations, "I know", "we know", "he, she knows", etc., is actually always for the purpose of pointing out what has supposedly already been establiished in a research field which now functions or ought to function as something presupposed or premised or in some other way taken for granted. It might be said, for example, upon the occasion of somebody putting something into question which one thinks is illicit because the community of inquiry has supposedly settled the matter and it is impertinent in the present-day context to raise an objection that ignores that, which can also be signified by calling it a fact.

. . . it is taken for granted that if we know it it must be so, since it would be self-contradictory to say "we know it but it is not so." But Peirce will occasionally say something to the effect that fallibility applies to what we know and not simply to what we think we know. I don't have any passages I could readily cite in defense of this claim about his usage, but I can say, for what it's worth, that I have been concerned with that question in part because I have run across such usage in his work.

None of this is to neglect that Peirce has a theory of knowledge. However his theory of knowledge is conducted along lines of thought rather unlike those one typically encounters in analytic philosophy. For an excellent discussion of Peirce's theory of knowledge I'd suggest Smyth's Reading Peirce Reading. I'd outlined his main points way back in the early days of this blog. He argues for a very neoPlatonic conception of knowledge rather than we results from the track of Descartes, Hume, and Reid.

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