Can Pragmatists Believe in Qualia? The Founder of Pragmatism Certainly Did…

Cybernetics and Human Knowing 23 (2):39–49 (2016)
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C. S. Peirce is often credited as a forerunner of the verificationist theory of meaning. In his early pragmatist papers, Peirce did say that if we want to make our ideas clear(er), then we should look downstream to their actual and future effects. For many who work in philosophy of mind, this is enough to endorse functionalism and dismiss the whole topic of qualia. It complexifies matters, however, to consider that the term qualia was introduced by the founder of pragmatism himself. Peirce was adamant that only triadic relations can support language and cognition. Even so, he insisted on purely logical grounds that, when we analyze triadic signs all the way, we are left with a qualitative residue he called Firstness. Such an isolated relatum could never be studied experimentally. Yet, given that this primitive state can be confirmed by means of a formal or prescissive distinction, I believe the Peircean account can do justice to many of the intuitions that generate the so-called hard problem of consciousness. My goal, then, is to show that Peirce's semiotic commitment to qualia is compatible with his foundational statements about pragmatism.

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Marc Champagne
Kwantlen Polytechnic University


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