Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Quote of the Day: Peirce Contra Descartes

American philosopher Charles Sanders Peirce (1839—1914) goes at the central move in the philosophy of the robot-lover Descartes, in this fabulous passage from his 1868 essay "Some Consequences of Four Incapacities":
We cannot begin with complete doubt. We must begin with all the prejudices which we actually have when we enter upon the study of philosophy. These prejudices are not to be dispelled by a maxim, for they are things which it does not occur to us can be questioned. Hence this initial skepticism will be a mere self-deception, and not real doubt; and no one who follows the Cartesian method will ever be satisfied until he has formally recovered all those beliefs which in form he has given up.... A person may, it is true, in the course of his studies, find reason to doubt what he began by believing; but in that case he doubts because he has a positive reason for it, and not on account of the Cartesian maxim. Let us not pretend to doubt in philosophy what we do not doubt in our hearts.
I have removed what I took to be a rather unhelpful metaphor. If you, understandably, would rather take Peirce's words over mine in this case -- or if you're interested in the other three principles of Descartes's (besides universal doubt) that Peirce takes on in his essay -- I recommend you read the whole thing.

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