Dissertation Abstract

Modes of Being:
A Comparison of the Realism Question in Charles Peirce and Contemporary Analytic Philosophy
Legg, Catherine

Year: 1999
Institution:Australian National University

This thesis explores Charles Peirce’s “modes of being”, or categories, with particular reference to the way in which commitment to them structures his realism. Peirce’s realism, it is shown, does not constitute a commitment to particular, existent entities so much as a commitment to a posteriori precisification of meanings. In this, it is noted it bears some resemblance to a recent trend within analytic philosophy towards a meaning-externalism which rides on rigid designation, thereby giving birth to “a posteriori necessities” (though it differs insofar as Peirce understands such meaning-clarification as precisification rather than identification).

  Peirce’s account of meaning, it is shown, may be distinguished into an explication of the meaning a concept has for us, which consists in the expectations which hypotheses containing that concept would lead us to form, and the meaning it has simpliciter, which consists in the development the concept undergoes over time and across the community of inquiry and which (his realism teaches) often surprises our expectations. Both dimensions of meaning are shown to depend crucially on Peirce’s concept of continuity, which emerges in the categories Peirce called “Thirdness” and “Firstness” (as opposed to the “Secondness”, exclusive commitment to which Peirce saw as constitutive of the nominalism he was very concerned to combat). Interesting parallels are drawn between Peirce’s discussion of Thirdness and Firstness and Wittgenstein’s discussion of rule-following, which has been interpreted as a radical new form of scepticism (wrongly, it is suggested) by Kripke. Peirce’s communitarian explication of meaning, truth and reality is distinguished from Kripke’s “sceptical” solution to the rule-following problem, and various ‘neo-pragmatisms’, including the now-popular “response-dependence”.

  In its use of categories, Peirce’s realism is shown to swim against the tide of analytic philosophy, where the commitment to a univocal concept of being, most notably by Quine, has been influential. Such an approach, it is argued, encourages an tendency to reify to solve philosophical problems, which elides certain crucial features of logic. It is argued that, by contrast, Peirce’s three categories make possible a triadic, processual analysis of signification which, unlike the more usual dyadic framework of “word and object”, builds the interpretation (and development) of signs into the understanding of representation and thereby into realism itself, in provocative and fruitful ways.

Descriptor: PHILOSOPHY
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