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Small planet with Eiffel Tower

Free-flowing meditation.

I believe that we acquire knowledge pragmatically, through living in the world and experiencing successes and failures. But I also believe that there is something not-this-worldly about us, and this Otherness, this transcendental character in ourselves, is none the less real despite the inability of anything akin to our pragmatic intellect to understand it.

In ethics, I believe again that we form ideas of right and wrong based upon the long experience of the human race, butting heads on a small planet and working toward co-existence, and more than that, coincident prosperity. These ideas have at their root unquestionable intuitions, which are very simple: that it is good to enjoy beautiful things, for example, or that it is good to create beauty that others can enjoy.

I also believe that nothing comes from nothing, so that in some manner or other the world has always existed, and will always exist, and that as science continues in its own progression it will come back to some view akin to the old steady-state cosmology.

Those are a few of the planks of my particular philosophy. But if you've been following along at all, you probably know all that.


  1. What does "something not-this worldly" mean? Even if you don't understand the phrase, if you use it, you ought to be able to define what it is that you don't understand. I am implying, of course, that I consider the phrase meaningless, but I ask the question non-rhetorically and will consider your answer with an open mind.

  2. Perhaps "something not-this-wordly" means something that does not "react with the other like things in the environment" (Peirce).

  3. Thanks to Henry and Leo for their thoughts. And Peirce's. Here's a link to a discussion of Peirce's definition of "existence" in contrast to a broader notion of "reality."

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  5. Well, that isn't working as a link. This one probably won't either, but it'll be a LOT easier to copy and paste:

  6. Does Christopher accept Peirce's definition? Does Henry?

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  8. I don't understand Peirce's definition, because it is so poorly written. What is "the other"? Is it different from "other things"? Does "react with the other like things in the environment" mean "react with 'the other' (whatever that is) as things in the environment do"? Or does it mean "react with the other (which other?) like-things (similar things) in the environment"?

    "[R]eact with the other like things in the environment" is Peirce's definition of "exist." I do not believe that one can define "exist" except by Wittgenstein's concept of meaning as use. We use "exist" in numerous ways that have merely a family resemblance. Do my current thoughts or my past thoughts exist in the same sense that the words that appear on my computer screen exist, and do my current or past thoughts, or the words on my computer screen, exist in the same sense that my computer exists? In what sense will the words on my computer screen exist during the few seconds after I click "Publish," before they reappear as a posted comment on this blog?

    Also, at the top of page 172, Peirce assumes that an environment exists apart from the spatio-temporal one. At least at this point, he offers no reason to believe not only that such an environment exists, but that the concept of such an environment is other than nonsensical. Therefore, I am back to my original question of what does "something-not-this-worldly" mean.

    Perhaps I should not be participating in this conversation, because I do not accept its underlying premises. I mean this in the sense that I should not participate in a discussion of whether God is good when I do not believe that God exists.

  9. Leo and Henry,

    It is my understanding that Peirce was mediating between Platonism and nominalism over universals when he wrote that definition.

    That is, a universal has reality (the more inclusive word for him), but it does not have existence (the narrower word). To answer Henry's questions by example then, the universal "cat" doesn't exist in that it doesn't interact with the universal "mouse." The latter is in no danger from the teeth of the former! Particular cats interact with particular mice. Despite the non-interaction of universals, there are (Peirce thought as a logician) good reasons to acknowledge the REALITY of universals, and we can accept the value of those reasons without making the EXISTING world a place crowded by myths if we make the distinction.

    That was his point, not really mine. So my answer to Leo's question is "no," that isn't really what I meant about something-not-this-worldly. I will formulate more of my thoughts on that point here soon.

  10. Christopher,

    Thank you for that admirably clear explanation. In my ignorance of the debate that you understand Peirce to have been mediating, here is my reaction to your explanation:

    Peirce was saying that universals do not exist in the sense that particular cats and mice do. I believe that that is correct, because universals are concepts, not things, and the respective existences of concepts and things have only a family resemblance. But I see nothing to be gained by asserting that a universal has reality. Of course it does. All concepts are real; a concept that was not real would not be a concept. A concept is a concept is a concept. Why say more than that? What does it add to say that it is real?

  11. Henry,

    Thank you for the praise of my clarity. I'll add only that Peirce rejected the view that universals are concepts. He thought this was a failed effort at doing the mediation he was trying to do more successfully. His notion of reality was not subjective or psychological, it was a notion of something on which different independent investigators will over time converge. Realities don't have to be the sort of thing that interacts with other things to be the sort of thing on which distinct lines of investigation can converge. Thus, reality (trans-conceptual reality if you will) doesn't require existence.

    Consider a complicated mathematical reality, like the proof of Fermat's last theorem. A proof now seems to have been widely accepted among mathematicians. It came from the mind of Andrew Wiles but has been checked and re-checked by countless mathematicians in the field. Great minds have thus converged upon a new discovery, which they all seem to regard as a DISCOVERY in the proper sense, of something outside themselves singularly or even collectively.

    My understanding is that a sort of race is now underway to come up with some simpler more elegant proof than the mathematical Rube Goldberg contraption that Wiles put together. Like inventing a steam engine to get across the Atlantic because sail takes too long.

    Anyway, this idea of the convergence of different minds on a common fact is what we capture -- in Peirce's understanding -- when we call something real. Saying it's a real "concept" doesn't capture that.

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