The Ways of Knowing: Or, the Methods of Philosophy

By Wm. Pepperell Montague | Go to book overview
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Introductory and Historical.

IN the Popular Science Monthly of January 1878 there appeared a paper by Mr. Charles Peirce entitled "How to Make Our Ideas Clear." Mr. Peirce, distinguished for the originality of his contributions to symbolic logic and to general philosophy, in this paper set forth a new method for ascertaining the meaning of concepts and judgments which he later named "Pragmatism," and still later "Pragmaticism," to distinguish it from the newer forms of pragmatic philosophy. According to Mr. Peirce, the real meaning of an idea is to be found in its concrete results, and especially in its practical consequences for human action. In the article just mentioned Peirce expresses his principle as follows: "consider what effects which might conceivably have practical bearings we conceive the object of our conception to have. Then our conception of these effects is the whole of our conception of the object."

It is interesting to note that Mr. Peirce offers his pragmatic principle as a criterion for ascertaining, not the truth of an idea or proposition, but its meaning. He opposes his conception to the Leibnitzian conceptions of what constitutes clearness and distinctness of ideas. According to Peirce, in order to understand the meaning of a thought, it is not sufficient to mark it off from other ideas, nor is it necessary to analyse its logical essence. What is both necessary and sufficient is to discover all its consequences both actual and possible. One might question whether this identification of the meaning of a proposition with its effects did not leave the proposition itself rather devoid of meaning. But it is more relevant to our present purpose to point out the great


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