American Philosophy

Charles Sanders Peirce

What was Charles Peirce’s pragmaticism?

Peirce’s starting point in his pragmaticism was his activity and self-identification as a scientist. Peirce thought that philosophy was philosophy of science and that logic was the logic of science. As a pragmaticist, Peirce is best known for two articles: “The Fixation of Belief” and “How to Make Our Ideas Clear,” published in Popular Science Monthly (under different titles) in 1877 and 1878, respectively. In these works, he defended science as the best way to overcome doubt and presented the pragmaticist idea of clear concepts. He claimed that concepts, or the meanings of scientific terms, must have “cash value.” The “cash value” of a concept is the difference it makes in experience to have the concept, compared with not having it. The entire meaning of a clear concept lay in its consequences. The consequences—meaning—of a scientific concept were possible observations under conditions that could be specified. That is, the concept had to generate predictions and it doesn’t matter if the predictions were accurate or not, just so long as it could predict something that would happen.


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