Tuesday, June 19, 2012

From the Archives: Peirce on Certain Faculties Claimed for Man

I was preparing a critical thinking lecture that included some C.S. Peirce and thought that I would present a variant of it to a wider audience.  Since many of the SR and OOO crowd is more familiar with Whitehead than his predecessor Peirce, I hope that this is helpful and informative.  Note that I have simplified it as befits an undergraduate course, and thus I have significantly rephrased some of the questions.  That said, the re-phrasing might be more obviously informative. The noted implications are my own.

"Questions Concerning Certain Faculties Claimed for Man"
Peirce asks seven questions in this article concerning thought and its ability to know.

Question 1.
Without previous knowledge or reasoning, can we immediately distinguish between introspection and perception?

We feel that we have this power or faculty, but there is no evidence that we do.
There is lots of evidence that we do not.
"Every lawyer knows how difficult it is for witnesses to distinguish between what they have seen and what they have inferred" (CP 5.216).

Two of the four sources of knowledge, introspection and perception, are not distinct.

Question 2.
Do we have an intuitive knowledge of ourselves, i.e., have self-consciousness?

"I" or self-reference has to be taught to children.
So does ascribing what others says to ourselves.

Question 3.
Do we have a power to distinguish subjective from objective elements of thought?

We have no intuitive power, but we have methods of verification.
Much of this follows from question 1.

Question 4.
Do we have a power of introspection, or is our knowledge of the internal world derived from observation of external facts?

No evidence.
Per question 3, we cannot know immediately.
The only way to investigate it is through psychology, but that is not based on introspection.
We cannot use non-introspective methods to prove the power of introspection.

Question 5.
Can thought reference nothing?

Thought is always about something.

Thought is intentional, although for Peirce we should understand this as possibly originating from the thing, not just mind.

Question 6.
Is anything unthinkable?

To be is synonymous with to be thinkable.

To be is to be related, which is to be thinkable.

Question 7.
Can we think things other than thought itself?


*The last few questions concern his semiotic.  As for question 7, I suspect that it has significance for the OOO crowd and others worried about anthropocentrism.


  1. Just a quick comment on whether we have the power of introspection, or in other words deciphering the meaning of our own thoughts and actions. A true purpose if you will. I think introspection is primarily a learned process and not something that can be taught by any one individual to another. It is a journey, not just of self-discovery, but discovering the self over and over again dependent on situation, circumstance, the other. To say it is dependent on the other does not mean it is perception. The other and the individual are inseparable from each other. The other would be as different without you as you would be without it, though it may no actually be that symmetrical. Therefore, introspection must necessarily take into account perception eventually. I do not think perception comes before introspection. Many would say that we need perception in order to come into introspection because we would have nothing to think about otherwise. I think, since emotions are as important to memories as thoughts and we do a vast amount of our learning as very young children, our emotions and feelings as babies are tantamount to introspection. Finding who we are and asking for out needs.

    In terms of question 7 I believe we can think things other than though itself. Not even necessarily outside thought but unconsciously tapping into a greater thought process and turning that into a subjective experience. I think that it is all a physical process, fractal in form, based off of organic processes beyond our temporal and spatial understanding.

  2. In this article, Peirce has a very clear definition of what he means. He means that we cannot prove an absolute distinction between inner and outer perception. Introspection and its methods are an example of inner perception. It's not a matter of "eventuality;" the distinction cannot be justified. Oh, there might be one, but we cannot know because any argument trying to prove it would be circular. Aside from this logical point, not proof for the power has been given, and this might still be true today.


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