Daniel Herbert reports on the papers presented at the third day of the Frankfurt conference, ‘Bridging Traditions: Idealism and Pragmatism’. These papers constituted the second workshop in the Idealism and Pragmatism Network’s workshop series, the third of which will will be held in Paris.
The workshop began with Scott Aikin’s “Modest Transcendental Arguments and Pragmatic Realism”. For Aikin, transcendental arguments are ways of mAiking explicit the common intuition that various kinds of ‘pessimistic’ position (whether nihilistic, sceptical or relativistic) are in fact self-defeating. While accepting that so-called ‘ambitious’ transcendental arguments may be vulnerable to criticisms of a kind made well-known by Stroud and others, Aikin maintains that more modest forms of transcendental argument nonetheless merit attention as ways of challenging different forms of ‘pessimism’. In reply to the commonplace objection tat modest forms of transcendental argument offer ‘exculpation’ in place of ‘justification’, Aikin offers an extended argument strategy to which modest transcendental arguments may appeal in showing their conclusions to be epistemically preferable to a pessimistic alternative. According to Aikin, this position on modest transcendental arguments is compatible with a ‘pragmatic realism’.
Aikin’s paper was followed by Sebastian Rödl’s “Absolute Idealism and the Pragmatist Principle”. According to Rödl, Peirce’s pragmatist principle is in fact an expression of idealism in that it advocates an understanding of the concept as self-consciousness of activity which is valid in itself, where this treatment is common to Kant, Fichte and Hegel. As Rödl remarks, Peirce’s pragmatist principle entreats us to elucidate the rational purport of any expression in terms of its general implications for deliberate, self-controlled conduct. For Rödl, pragmatism shares with German idealism a central focus upon the self-determining agency of the rational subject in relation to whose acts of reflective thought the world and its contents take on conceptual significance.
In her paper, the third of the workshop, Catherine Legg gave an account of Peirce’s philosophy of perception, which she contrasted with Hume’s treatment of the perceptual. According to Legg’s “Idealism Operationalized: How Pragmatism Can Help Explicate and Motivate the Possibly Surprising Idea of Reality as Representational”, Hume and Peirce differ greatly in terms of their understanding of perception, but nowhere more so than in their respective positions on the individuality or generality of perceptual content. Whereas according to Hume perception is an unmediated awareness of discrete and fully determinate particular sensible qualities, Peirce recognises a distinction between the percept, which is a qualitative individual, and the perceptual judgement, which contains elements of generality and possesses a logical structure. Percepts forcefully compel fallible perceptual judgements, but both are related in the ‘percipuum’, a continuous and temporally extended stretch of cognitive experience within which acquired habits of mind mediate the causal relation of percept and perceptual judgement. For Legg, the percipuum is like a ‘moving window’, a temporal duration of infinitesimally small magnitude, through which percepts must pass from being anticipated to remembered, although there is no instantaneity in perception and it is artificial to distinguish very sharply between the anticipation of a perceptual experience and its recent memory. Indeed, according to Legg, there is a sense in which future experience can influence previous experience on Peirce’s account.
The last talk of the workshop was delivered by David Macarthur. In “Pragmatism and Kant’s Critical Project”, Macarthur discussed the ways in which pragmatist philosophers, particularly Peirce and Dewey, may be understood as being involved in the continuation of Kant’s pursuit of a philosophy which is neither sceptical nor dogmatic, and which may contribute to our rational understanding of the possibility of scientific knowledge and inquiry. According to Macarthur, Peirce, Dewey and other pragmatists seek to revise Kant’s critical project in an intersubjective or communal direction, whereby the study of universal elements of individual cognition is replaced by the understanding of consensus-building activities.