Pragmatism – Meaning RelationJune 26, 2021
Peirce is a thinker with views on metaphysics. However, he does not see pragmatism as a kind of metaphysics:
(…) pragmatism is not in itself a metaphysical doctrine, an attempt to determine the truth of things. It is just a way of clarifying the meaning of difficult words and abstract concepts (“Survey of Pragmatism”, 317).
We have seen on other pages of our site how Peirce uses this method while dealing with concepts such as truth, belief, and doubt in their interrelationships. On the other hand, it cannot be said that Peirce used this method for all mental content. Peirce’s aim, in his own words, is to clarify intellectual concepts. Intellectual concepts provide the basis for proofs about objective facts (“Survey of Pragmatism”, 318). What does Peirce mean by this definition? One way to understand this is to understand what mental contents “do not provide grounds for proof of objective facts”. Peirce posits only subjective affects as opposed to intellectual concepts.
In order to reveal the difference between intellectual concepts and only subjective affects, Peirce talks about a thought experiment in which the colors in the color spectrum are displaced symmetrically with respect to a fixed point. The color spectrum is formed by arranging the colors on a line according to their frequencies. Colors that are equidistant from the midpoint of this spectrum (differentiating in equal frequency magnitude) are symmetrical colors with respect to each other. Now suppose that my physiological/mental structure and someone else’s are differentiated in such a way that the color I experience when I encounter an object of a certain color and the color experienced by the other person are symmetrical with respect to each other. In a way, let the other person have an inversion of the spectrum that I have. On the other hand, we both learned to use the same word when asked about the color of objects, even though the colors seem systematically different to both of us. In other words, this inversion of the color spectrum makes no difference in the behavior (from speaking to doing scientific research) of both of us. We have no behavioral criteria to detect such a difference. Peirce refers to colors only as subjective affects, as they allow an inversion that does not lead to any behavioral difference in this way. However, this is not the case for intellectual concepts.
For example, when we talk about the length, hardness, volume of an object or when we say that we believe or defend an idea, the concepts such as “length”, “hardness”, “volume”, “believe”, “defend” directly affect our behavior, the language we use, our reasoning. effects. For example, whether or not we understand the concept of “length” determines our behavior. When someone asks us for the longest of several sticks, how to choose which one depends on our understanding of the concept. The elements included in the concept of “length” determine certain properties that a long object will provide. We can distinguish some tasks that can be done with a long object but not with a short object. In a way, these elements determine the dispositions of the object in question.
Following this line of thought, let’s now look at how we can determine the meaning of an intellectual concept. In other words, let’s ask how we can clarify an intellectual concept.
Peirce distinguishes three levels when it comes to clarifying ideas. At the first level, we become familiar with an idea. At this level, we recognize the idea in question (or its specialization in an object (Eng. instantiation) in ordinary situations when we encounter the idea in question. The second level is the level where we can express the definition of the idea in question. The third level requires us to be aware of the practical consequences/effects of our grasping the idea The sum of these effects, according to Peirce, gives us the idea we are trying to clarify. Obtaining a third level of clarity involves performing an operation on the object identified by that idea and observing the consequences. The definition we get by this method is often referred to as the operational definition. is named.
Let us consider these three levels with an example. Let the idea we are trying to clarify is “brightness”. The first level of clarification is where we distinguish bright objects from other objects. When someone says, “Go pick up the glitters” or trying to pick ourselves a sparkly gemstone necklace at a jewelry store, we need to have a first-level clarity about brilliance to get a good result. Second-level clarification involves being able to give some sort of dictionary definition of brightness. For example, bright can be defined as “scattering or reflecting light in a way that catches the eye or attracts attention”. The third level of clarity requires us to consider some operations with bright objects and observe the results.