Peirce on Intuition, Instinct, and Common Sense

European Journal of Pragmatism and American Philosophy (2) (2017)
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Abstract

In addition to being a founder of American pragmatism, Charles Sanders Peirce was a scientist and an empiricist. A core aspect of his thoroughgoing empiricism was a mindset that treats all attitudes as revisable. His fallibilism seems to require us to constantly seek out new information, and to not be content holding any beliefs uncritically. At the same time, Peirce often states that common sense has an important role to play in both scientific and vital inquiry, and that there cannot be any “direct profit in going behind common sense.” Our question is the following: alongside a scientific mindset and a commitment to the method of inquiry, where does common sense fit in? Peirce does at times directly address common sense; however, those explicit engagements are relatively infrequent. In this paper, we argue that getting a firm grip on the role of common sense in Peirce’s philosophy requires a three-pronged investigation, targeting his treatment of common sense alongside his more numerous remarks on intuition and instinct. By excavating and developing Peirce’s concepts of instinct and intuition, we show that his respect for common sense coheres with his insistence on the methodological superiority of inquiry. We conclude that Peirce shows us the way to a distinctive epistemic position balancing fallibilism and anti-scepticism, a pragmatist common sense position of considerable interest for contemporary epistemology given current interest in the relation of intuition and reason.

Author Profiles

Kenneth Boyd
University of Toronto, St. George Campus (PhD)
Diana Heney
Vanderbilt University

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