What we're about

This is a group for people who create and consume philosophy. Members will have the opportunity to read and discuss each others' work, as well as texts from pre-established philosophers. Each meeting will be partially structured, with chosen topics/texts from a rotating member; and partially un-structured, with free-form discussion.

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Pragmatism and the Spirit of Science: On Charles Sanders Peirce

Science is one of the great reverenced practices and buzzwords of our time. We talk about whether we are teaching science correctly in schools, whether our children take enough interest in Science, whether our politics listens to or denies scientific consensus. Often experts lament the lack of understanding of Science by the public, and political commentators and social critics will even lament our lack of interest in fact and scientific evidence when it comes to important matters of collective decision making. Evidence and data are the buzzwords with which any documentary and many a politician attempts to convince us of their point of view. This very human fascination with science makes It is clear that however great and authentic Science is, our fascination undoubtedly rests upon imagery, beliefs, and values which are too deep and profound to be immediately understood or to be the product of purely reflective thought. And this, as always leads us, if we are philosophical, with a desire to understand what it is that we are doing and reverencing when we speak of and practice science. There are many ways to try to answer this question, but if we wish to understand the underlying values and norms and beliefs of a thing, we will do well to turn to philosophy and the philosophy of science, for philosophers, whatever else their limitations, are remarkably sensitive to values, norms and beliefs and their shifting patterns. If we turn to philosophers who have spoken on Science and it’s meaning, I think we would do well to start with Charles Sanders Peirce. A real scientist, both in the hard and soft senses (a founder of modern symbolic logic, a chemist who had done practical work, and a man who had employment at the US Geodetic Survey,) and the son of significant mathematician, Peirce identified with Science probably as much as any significant philosopher in history. Rhetorically he always took the position of the man of science as against the philosopher, and he stoutly held that philosophy was more or less one of the sciences. He therefore spoke about science with a fascinating idiosyncratic perspective and familiarity. He saw one of his main projects in philosophy explaining the logic (i.e the norms and principles) of scientific investigation. One of his early attempts to do so, a series of papers called Illustrations of the logic of Science, was also the birthplace of a new movement of philosophy, pragmatism. It is to Peirce’s Pragmatism and its expression in these two papers, that we wish to turn as we try to dialogue with Peirce on the meaning of Science. In these Papers Peirce evolved a conception of thought and inquiry which was aimed at directly supporting the primacy of science as a means of knowledge. It held that insofar as one can speak of any meaning to any thought, idea or line of questioning, this meaning has to be conceptualized in terms of practical experiential consequences and practical action. As Peirce would say, the sole purpose of thought is to establish a habit of action, and therefore, also a way of acting on a certain occasion, with the expectation that something will result. For this reason the only meaningful questions and the only meaningful ideas are those that have some bearing on practice. This image of thought arising for the sake of establishing how we should act, and the ensuing curiosity with which hypothetical questions of fact, and the details of experience are laid out, seems to lie near the heart of that transformation of thinking that has led to the spirit of modern science. It is this image which I was to investigate through the work of Peirce. To do so, we will study the first two papers in Pierce's series on the logic of science, in which he lays out his concept of inquiry and his principle of pragmatic clarity. Readings are linked here: https://sites.google.com/site/philosophymeetuptexts/charles-sanders-peirce-meetup

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