Peirce’s Epistemology [Book Review]

Review of Metaphysics 27 (2):378-379 (1973)

The author states that his purpose in this work is not primarily Peirce scholarship but epistemology. But the concentration is on Peirce’s theory of knowledge, a concentration which centers around what the author thinks is Peirce’s most valuable contribution to the subject—a solution to the problem of skepticism. In contrast to Descartes’ assertion that knowledge must be based on primitive intuitions, Peirce contends that all thought is in process, an organically intertwined system of inferences, a continuous flow of signs. Because thinking is a process in time, it is always fallible. Rather than this being a hindrance to knowledge, Davis sees this as the key to Peirce’s escape from skepticism, for the knowledge so described is a continuous self-corrective process, a web which, if we but make the effort to untangle it, will continue to reward us with advance toward the truth. Of more revolutionary importance to the theory of knowledge, according to Davis, is Peirce’s theory of abduction, his answer to the problem of how synthetic knowledge is possible. Abduction is the act of making up explanatory hypotheses. It issues in insights which are the outgrowth of creativity and imagination. The test of these unifying ideas is their appropriateness or ability to satisfy our sensibilities. It is instinct, or that to which we are naturally bent, which guides the abductive process. Throughout this book great emphasis is placed on the importance of this to Peirce and to an adequate epistemology of instinct, feelings, the work of the heart, or sensibility. The scientist, as Davis sees it, is thus akin in method to the creative artist. While Davis intends also to show how this aspect of Peirce is consistent with his pragmatic maxim, their relationship is never quite clarified in this work. Nevertheless, the book is a well-written and very readable treatment of Peirce’s epistemology. It also includes a great many comparisons with similar and contrasting positions as found in a wide range of contemporary and classical philosophical treatises.—B.A.M.
Keywords Catholic Tradition  Contemporary Philosophy  General Interest
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ISBN(s) 0034-6632
DOI revmetaph1973272242
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