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[Reason and Instinct] MS 832, undated

By Charles S. Peirce

Manuscript consists of three unnumbered pages on three sheets. The third page's bottom half is blank.

MS 832 images online at Harvard:

Robin Catalogue description:

832. [Reason and Instinct]
A. MS., n.p., n.d., 3 pp.
Reason as inferior to instinct. Comments on the work of Zeller and other German logicians and historical philosophers.

Transcribed by Ben Udell. Bracketed text inserted by Udell.

[sheet 1]

    Reason is inferior to Instinct in several respects. It is less subtle, less ready, less unerring. The one respect in which it is superior is in being controlled, checked, criticized. This supposes, or constitutes, the existence of bad reasoning. There is no such thing as bad instinct, unless it be bad in the eyes of something else. But there is reasoning that reason itself condemns; and were it not so, reason would be without its solitary advantage. It follows that the excellence of reasoning cannot consist in the intensity of the feeling of conviction that it produces; for if it did it would be above criticism. Besides, in that case, a conviction acquired without reasoning would be just as good as one reached by reason; so that reasoning would have no merit per se. Notwithstanding these obvious considerations, however, Sigwart and the German logicians now in vogue refer reasoning to the feeling of conviction as its ultimate criterion.

    It is their theoretical principle that the question of whether a given argument is sound or not is a question of feeling; and when one's principles require him to be wayward, we may be sure that his practice will most inflexibly agree with his principles. Accordingly, it is not surprising that the very same argument which in one year will be accepted as conclusive by the general body of German university professors will in another year be deemed as extremely [sheet 2] insecure and in a third year will be derided as absurd. The arguments for Hegelianism are the most striking example of this; but there are many others. In particular, in regard to the historical facts of ancient philosophy, concerning which no new premises have for ages been brought to light, or at any rate, have been noticed by the "higher critics," German opinion has by its shiftings afforded us the amusement of a kaleidoscope. The testimony, which forms substantially the only facts there are to go on, has precious little relation to the conclusions reached. Take as a slight instance among those which are more favorable than most instances to the "higher critics," the story about Thales falling into a ditch, as he was showing an old woman the stars. This is reported by the very best ancient authorities we have, including Plato and Aristotle. No ancient authority denies or questions it. It is such a thing as might happen to any astronomer. Nevertheless, it is peremptorily denied by such historians as Zeller. Now, it may be granted that Plato and Aristotle can only have repeated traditions in this matter, and further such tales are so common about all mathematicians, and are so telling, that this one is not at all unlikely to be an invention. This weakens the force of the testimony. Still, to deny an allegation merely because the testimony in favor of it is weak is to throw away all the premises in our possession and enthrone our inclinations to believe one way or another in the seat of ratiocination. Another case, more important and perhaps more favorable to the "higher criticism." Almost all we hear concerning the life of Pythagoras comes to us from credulous writers who lived five centuries later than he and who were separated by more than two centuries from any indubitable survival of the Pythagorean brotherhood. Part of what they report is inconsistent with [sheet 3] established history. Part of it, such as that about his golden thigh, even our psychical research friends will hardly protest against our calling impossible. The whole is written in a strain of preaching that Pythagoras was a being superior to all humanity. In short, worse testimony from learned and serious men can hardly be imagined. Zeller, therefore, wipes out very nearly the whole biography. He admits that Pythagoras was born Samos (the testimony is that Samos was his home but not his birthplace) and went to Crotona, but he refuses to place any faith in his having been in Crete or Sparta, and for his journey to Egypt, and still more to the East, he prefers to assume that they were hypotheses to account for the singularity of his diagrams.

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