Idealism & Pragmatism:
Convergence or Contestation?


Peirce, Spinoza and Absolute Idealism

Shannon Dea (University of Waterloo)

As early as 1915, John Thomas Driscoll described two competing strains in pragmatism - the Absolute Idealism of Royce and the (“Empiric”) Phenomenal Idealism of James and Dewey. While Driscoll does not name him, Peirce was very clearly on the side of the Absolute. He signaled this in his positive attempts to formulate his own doctrine, in his remarks to and about his fellow pragmatists, and more obliquely via his identification with various philosophical progenitors. Among these “proto-pragmatists,” Spinoza is perhaps the most surprising. I briefly outline the schism between the anti-metaphysical “empiric” pragmatists - James among them - and those pragmatists like Peirce and Royce who retained a place for the Absolute in their systems. Within this dialectic, Peirce’s invocation of Spinoza as a kindred spirit signals both Peirce’s own commitment to metaphysics and, more strongly, his view that pragmatism, properly understood, must not tout court reject metaphysics. The story is a rich one, of which my brief account is merely suggestive. What should be clear, however, is that Peirce’s praise of Spinoza is neither careless nor inconsistent with his thought or, indeed, with the early twentieth-century development of pragmatism.

New Monadologies: Neo-Leibnizian Idealism in Nineteenth-Century France and its importance for American Pragmatism

Jeremy Dunham (University of Edinburgh)

Although nineteenth-century French philosophy has received very little attention in Anglo-American histories of philosophy, I shall argue in this paper, first of all, that there was a rich tradition of nineteenth-century French idealist philosophy, and, secondly, for its importance for the American pragmatists (particularly James and Peirce). I shall focus on two French idealist philosophers, Félix Ravaisson and Charles Renouvier, and show how they represent two very different strands of idealist thought. In the first part of this paper, I shall show that both of these philosophers developed original idealist systems of philosophy influenced most significantly by their readings of Leibniz’s Monadology. Nevertheless, their idealisms diverge, insofar as Renouvier and Ravaisson stand at opposite poles of the concept of the idea. Both are realists concerning the nature of the idea, but while Renouvier emphasised the importance of regarding the idea qua phenomenon as real, Ravaisson argues for the reality of the (Platonic) Idea as the very cause itself of phenomena. Ravaisson’s reading, on the one hand, encouraged him to develop an idealist metaphysics inline with the contemporary ‘Christian Platonist’ readings of Leibniz’s work (Such as those of Christia Mercer and Justin Smith). Renouvier’s reading, on the other, encouraged him to develop what he called a ‘phenomenist’ nouvelle monadologie, much more in line with Berkeley, another philosopher whom he greatly admired and promoted.

In the second part of the paper, I shall argue that both idealists were important for aspects of the development of the epistemological and metaphysical thought of James and Peirce. Renouvier’s direct influence on James was explicitly expressed by James himself and has been acknowledged, yet this relationship still has not received the detailed philosophical analysis that it deserves. Importantly, the dialogue between Renouvier and James shows that despite James’ harshly critical verdict on Leibniz’s own monadology, nevertheless, a form of idealist monadology, as transmitted through Renouvier, still had a marked influence on the development of his own pluralist views. Ravaisson’s influence was indirect, but still crucial, and his Leibnizian reading of ‘habit’, is essential for understanding both James’ and Peirce’s extension of this concept from the psychological to the physical and even cosmological domains. My aims, therefore, are to show that the paucity of references to Ravaisson and Renouvier in contemporary histories of philosophy is not an indication of their lack of their significance, and that a study of their divergent idealisms will shed significant light on the convergence between idealism and pragmatism. In addition, I shall show that the nature of their divergent idealisms introduces the significant problem of the very character of the ‘idea’ under investigation when the question of the convergence or contestation between idealism and pragmatism is raised.

Hegel as a Pragmatist

Dina Emundts (Universität Konstanz)

Hegel’s Philosophy can be seen as anticipating some ideas of Pragmatism. This seems to become especially obvious in Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit. The conception of Erfahrung can be seen in this light. However, since Hegel has also strong metaphysical convictions that are developed in his Logic, it might nevertheless be shortsighted to call him a pragmatist. Therefore in this paper I examine whether we can also find pragmatistic themes in Hegel’s Logic. I will especially focus on the chapter on Reality.

The “Schelling-fashioned idealism” of C. S. Peirce

Paul Franks (Yale University)

Peirce repeatedly characterized his philosophical views in relation to those of Schelling, and he regarded himself as having more in common with Schelling than with Hegel. What did he have in mind?

What is Wrong with Intuitions? An Assessment of a Peircean Criticism of Kant

Gabriele Gava (University of Frankfurt)

Abstract: In his 1868 papers ‘Questions Concerning Certain Faculties Claimed for Man’ and ‘Some Consequences of Four Incapacities’ Peirce famously rejected the possibility to have intuitions. He defined an intuition as ‘a cognition not determined by a previous cognition of the same object’ or as a ‘premiss not itself a conclusion’. The rejection of intuitive knowledge can thus be seen as an expression of Peirce’s enduring conviction that our knowledge is by nature inferential. Even though the main polemical target of these papers is surely Descartes, Peirce specifies in a footnote to the first paper that he nearly uses the word intuitive ‘as the opposite of discursive cognition’, and that this ‘is also nearly the sense in which Kant uses it’. Peirce’s position seems thus to be quite radical in his rejection of the Kantian distinction between intuitive and discursive cognition. In my paper I will show that Peirce, despite this apparent opposition to the Kantian distinction, retained and developed in a totally new way some of its essential features. In fact, Peirce’s famous distinction between icons, indexes and symbols, can be read as having functions similar to those reserved by Kant to the distinction between intuitions and concepts. In this framework, the tasks that Kant attributed to intuitions are performed by both indexes and icons.

An Idealist Solution to a Pragmatist Problem

Paul Redding (University of Sydney)

In his ambitious project of an “analytic pragmatism” Robert Brandom has attempted to integrate ideas not only from the traditions of analytic philosophy and pragmatism but also Hegel’s form of idealism. One particular aspect of his approach that has attracted criticism concerns his treatment of perceptual knowledge, a treatment that is broadly based, like that of his approach to pragmatism as a whole, on the work of Wilfrid Sellars. In this paper I suggest that a key to finding a way around these problems may lie in aspects of Hegel’s approach to perception and action that are not reflected in Brandom’s work but that do find a resonance in the work of Sellars himself.

‘Of the Transcendental Power of Judgment as such’ (KdrV B171–5): Hegel’s Pragmatic Critique and Transformation of Kant’s System of Principles.

Kenneth R. Westphal (University of East Anglia)

Hegel’s Science of Logic is an exercise in ‘transcendental logic’, the study of the legitimate cognitive role(s) and use of our basic conceptual categories. Kant’s transcendental method centrally requires identifying sufficient grounds to justify a priori certain synthetic propositions (KdrV A216–8/B263–5). Central to Hegel’s transformation of Kant’s Critical philosophy are two key points: Hegel recognised that sufficient necessary conditions for the legitimate use of our a priori categories must include the legitimate use of empirical concepts of spatio-temporal phenomena. He also recognised that determining the legitimate use of concepts (whether a priori or empirical) requires the critical assessment of their content in order to determine whether, in what regards or to what extent they can be true (WdL, GW 12:27, 28). Accordingly, Hegel’s Science of Logic is concerned, not only to articulate, explicate, order, integrate and inter-define traditional metaphysical categories, but also to specify their scope of legitimate cognitive use in specific cognitive claims, even though the Science of Logic prescinds from those specific claims (WdL, GW 12:20) to focus upon the content of our categories. For example, Hegel contends not only that ‘becoming’ is distinct from and yet integrates ‘being’ and ‘nothing’, he contends that a truthful quantitative infinity (das wahrhafte Unendliche) is found in infinitesimal analysis, in which a constant quantitative relation holds between vanishing quantities which tend towards zero (WdL, GW 21:254–5). To have real sense, infinitesimal calculus, too, requires corresponding concrete objects (WdL, GW 21:271, 282, 296, 299, cf. 300). Hegel’s critical assessment of Cauchy’s ‘first reform’ of mathematical analysis (Wolff 1987) is central, not incidental, to Hegel’s Science of Logic, which is Hegel’s successor to Kant’s ‘Systematic Presentation of all Synthetic Principles of Pure Understanding’ (Book 2 of Kant’s ‘Transcendental Analytic’).1

In brief: Hegel’s ‘Doctrine of Being’ (Book 1) is his counterpart to Kant’s ‘mathematical principles’, namely to Kant’s ‘Axioms of Intuition’ and ‘Anticipations of Perception’; Hegel’s ‘Doctrine of Essence’ (Book 2) is his counterpart to Kant’s ‘Analogies of Experience’; Hegel’s ‘Doctrine of the Concept’ (Book 3) – together with its preceding two Books – is his counterpart to Kant’s ‘Postulates of Empirical Thought as Such’. The result of Hegel’s reanalysis of Kant’s Critical philosophy is the first and still one of the most sophisticated and adequate pragmatic accounts of the a priori.

1. I am encouraged in this interpretive hypothesis – which the present 1 paper aims to substantiate – by the findings
especially of Ferrini (1988, 1991–92, 2002), Morreto (2000, 2002, 2004) and Wolff (1987), though none of them
is responsible for my assertions here. Hegel’s counterpart to Kant’s Transcendental Deduction is the 1807
Phenomenology; see Westphal (2009a).