Peirce MSs (SPIN) Arisbe Peirce pages on this site

Charles S. Peirce: Lowell Lectures of 1903

  1. What Makes a Reasoning Sound?
  2. Existential Graphs, Alpha and Beta
  3. General Explanations, Phenomenology and Speculative Grammar
  4. Existential graphs, Gamma Part
  5. Multitude
  6. Chance
  7. Induction
  8. Abduction

Lowell Lecture 1: What Makes a Reasoning Sound?

MSS 448– 449, The Essential Peirce Volume 2 pp. 242-57. [Partly published in CP 1.591– 610 (MS 448), 1.611– 15 and 8. 176 (MS 449). Composed at the end of the summer 1903 and delivered on 23 November 1903, this is the first of eight lectures Peirce gave at the Lowell Institute in Boston under the general title “Some Topics of Logic bearing on Questions now Vexed.”]

A malady, ladies and gentlemen, has broken out in science. Science is today in splendid vigor, having thrown off its earlier infirmity of dogmatism, and being in most respects in superlative trim. Its new disease is in its very first stage and is confined as yet almost exclusively to certain members that always have been weakly. The symptoms are local. The disorder, however, is, in its nature, not local, but constitutional; and there is a distinct danger of its appearing in parts that are now untouched. There is a certain craze in the universities; by which I mean that certain ideas have become rife in the universities by the force of vogue, and not by the force of reasoning, whether good or bad. Such a phenomenon may be likened to fever. Science has, at different times, passed through several such ailments,— some of them pretty serious. They ran their course and health came back. The present visitation is more serious, for the reason that it is no mere feverish attack, not a mere fashion, but is in great measure the outcome of a principle. Now every principle, once entertained, possesses vitality, until it is notoriously refuted; and even after they have received their death-blows, we have all had occasion to remark how long life may linger in principles whose formulation has been sonorous.

The principle in this case is a false notion about reasoning arising from a confusion of thought; and unfortunately science, at this moment, is ill-fortified against such an invasion, since scientific men of today are, on the average, less armed than their forerunners were with that logical acumen which is necessary to detect a somewhat subtle sophistry. I have kept watch upon the progress of the symptoms for years; and my observations go to show that they are becoming aggravated. I am unable to resist the belief that the canker is bound to spread and to eat deeper. What renders it particularly malignant is a peculiarity of this particular false notion of reasoning which will prevent any refutation of it from receiving any attention. Let this conception of ratiocination once get control, and science must perforce become exceedingly enfeebled; and the only apparent road to recovery will be through its gradually outgrowing the vicious diathesis. Now this gradual resolution, after the vitality of science has been depressed by its morbid condition, must drag through centuries. A very young and ingenuous person might expect that, in a matter of supreme importance, men would give ear to the refutation that only waits to be heard against the false notion of reasoning that is the living bacillus in the infection of science, that they would pay this refutation sufficient attention to see the point of it, which is plain enough. If men only would do that, the situation would be saved. But one must indeed be both sanguine and inexperienced to harbor any such hope.

This false notion of reasoning may be weaved into several varieties of fallacies. In outward guise, they differ considerably; nor are they quite identical in texture. I shall only have time to consider one. One tangle of ideas is common to all. I select for examination an argument as little illogical as any of those weaved from this same tangle; and of those as nearly logical I take the simplest. I had intended to present to you a thorough and formal refutation of the fallacy. But after I had written it out, although it seemed clear and convincing, yet I found it too lengthy and dry; and I felt that it would abuse your patience to ask you to follow the minute examination of all possible ways in which the conclusion and the premisses might be emended in hopes of finding a loophole of escape from the refutation. I have, therefore, decided simply to describe the phenomena presented in reasoning and then to point out to you how the argument under examination must falsify these facts however it be interpreted. This ought to satisfy you as far as this argument is concerned, and when you meet with other forms of the same tangle you will see for yourselves that they falsify the facts of reasoning in the same way. I had better mention that the argument I shall criticize is open to quite another objection than that which I notice,— and a more obvious one. You may wonder why I pass over it. It is simply because some forms in which the same confusion of thought occurs are not open to this same objection. I only notice the radical objection that is common to all forms.

But you will think it high time I told you what this tangle of ideas of which I have said so much consists in. First let me state the fallacious argument which embodies it. The particular argument which I have chosen to exemplify it leads to a more extreme conclusion than some of the others. It does so because it is less illogical than those others. Its conclusion is that there is no distinction of good and bad reasoning. Although, thus nakedly exhibited, this conclusion might find few to embrace it, yet it is substantially what I might almost say that all Germany believes in today. For example, few nineteenth-century treatises on logic in the German language have a word to say about fallacies. Why not? Because they hold the law of logic to be, like a law of nature, inviolable. Or to state the matter more exactly, enough of them hold to this opinion to set the fashion for the others. Fashion is everything among German philosophers, for the simple reason that the professor’s livelihood depends on his lectures being in the favored vogue.

The fallacious argument itself runs thus: Every reasoning takes place in some mind. It would not be that mind’s reasoning unless it satisfied that mind’s feeling of logicality (logisches Gefühl). But as long as it does that, nothing can be gained by criticizing the reasoning any further, since there is no other possible sign by which we could know that it was good than that feeling of logicality in the reasoner’s mind. For if the reasoning be criticized, that criticism must be conducted by reasoning; and that reasoning, in its turn, must either be accepted because it satisfies the reasoner’s feeling of logicality, or else be criticized by further reasoning. He cannot carry through an endless series of reasonings. Therefore, some final reasoning there must be that is adopted on the assumption that a reasoning which satisfies the feeling of logicality is as good as any reasoning can be; and if this be not true, all reasoning is worthless. Consequently, since every reasoning satisfies the reasoner’s feeling of logicality, every reasoning is as good as any reasoning can be. That is, there is no distinction of good and bad reasoning.

That is the argument which I pronounce a miserable fallacy. If we extend to arguments a just maxim of our law, every argument must be presumed to be sound until it is proved fallacious. Accordingly, I will refer to this argument as the “defendant argument,” and to the writers who adhere to it as the “defendants.”

In order to emphasize that confusion which I think so pestilent, and to prevent your minds from being distracted from it to another fault in the defendant argument, I put it into parallel with another argument that involves a quite analogous confusion.

Namely, we find in some of the old writers a fallacious argument to prove that there is no distinction of moral right and wrong. The argument runs as follows:

The distinction between a good act and a bad one, if there be any such distinction, lies in the motive. But the only motive a man can have is his own pleasure. No other is thinkable. For if a man desires to act in any way, it is because he takes pleasure in so acting. Otherwise, his action would not be voluntary and deliberate. Thus, there is but one possible motive for action that has any motive; and consequently, the distinction of right and wrong, which would be a distinction between motives, does not exist.

You see the parallelism between the two arguments. Each undertakes to refute a distinction between good and bad; the one in reasoning, the other in endeavor. Each does this by pronouncing something unthinkable; the one, that a man should adopt a conclusion for any other reason than a feeling of logicality, the other that a man should adopt any line of conduct from any other motive than a feeling of pleasure.

My position, in opposition to these arguments, is that it is so far from being true that every desire necessarily desires its own gratification, that, on the contrary, it is impossible that a desire should desire its own gratification; and it is so far from being true that every inference must necessarily be based upon its seeming satisfactory, that it is, on the contrary, impossible that any inference should be based in any degree upon its seeming satisfactory.

I want to lead you to see clearly that the defendants confound two disparate categories, and, having identified objects belonging to these categories, attribute to them a nature belonging to a third category. They confound an efficient agency, whose very existence consists in its acting when and where it is, with a general mental formulation; and as if this were not blunder enough, they call the identified two a feeling. The first blunder is as if a man, being asked what made the Campanile fall in Venice, were to reply that it was the regularity of nature. That is a confusion tolerably common,— the confusion of a decree of a court with the sheriff’s strong right arm. But, after having identified these, to call them a feeling is, I believe, a mistake peculiar to philosophers. It is something like confusing a living man with the general idea of a man and, having done so, saying that he was constructed of two nasal consonants and a vowel.

Taking up, first, the argument about morals, let us confront it with the facts of the case. The necessitarians tell us that when we act, we act under a necessity that we cannot control. I am inclined to think that this is substantially so. We certainly cannot control our past actions, and I fancy it is too late to control what is happening at the very instant present. You cannot prevent what already is. If this be true, it is true that when we act, we do act under a necessity that we cannot control. But our future actions we can determine in a great measure; can we not? To deny that were mere gabble and word-twisting. No matter how bad the argument may be that we can only control future actions by a present action which is itself necessitated, still it would be idle to find fault with it, since it is quite irrelevant. The point is that our future actions will be controlled by present endeavors. That is sufficient. But let us describe the all-familiar phenomena of self-control.

In the first place, then,

[note: CP 1.591 begins here (EP2:245), and the CP edition differs slightly in punctuation and paragraphing from the EP2 edition. EP2 sticks more closely to Peirce's manuscript, but from this point on i'll post the CP text, because it generally makes both reading and specific reference to the text more convenient. The wording will not differ from EP2.]

591. Every man has certain ideals of the general description of conduct that befits a rational animal in his particular station in life, what most accords with his total nature and relations. If you think this statement too vague, I will say, more specifically, that there are three ways in which these ideals usually recommend themselves and justly do so. In the first place certain kinds of conduct, when the man contemplates them, have an esthetic quality. He thinks that conduct fine; and though his notion may be coarse or sentimental, yet if so, it will alter in time and must tend to be brought into harmony with his nature. At any rate, his taste is his taste for the time being; that is all. In the second place, the man endeavors to shape his ideals into consistency with each other, for inconsistency is odious to him. In the third place, he imagines what the consequences of fully carrying out his ideals would be, and asks himself what the esthetic quality of those consequences would be.

592. These ideals, however, have in the main been imbibed in childhood. Still, they have gradually been shaped to his personal nature and to the ideas of his circle of society rather by a continuous process of growth than by any distinct acts of thought. Reflecting upon these ideals, he is led to intend to make his own conduct conform at least to a part of them— to that part in which he thoroughly believes. Next, he usually formulates, however vaguely, certain rules of conduct. He can hardly help doing so. Besides, such rules are convenient and serve to minimize the effects of future inadvertence, and what are well named the wiles of the devil within him. Reflection upon these rules, as well as upon the general ideals behind them, has a certain effect upon his disposition, so that what he naturally inclines to do becomes modified. Such being his condition, he often foresees that a special occasion is going to arise; thereupon, a certain gathering of his forces will begin to work and this working of his being will cause him to consider how he will act, and in accordance with his disposition, such as it now is, he is led to form a resolution as to how he will act upon that occasion. This resolution is of the nature of a plan; or, as one might almost say, a diagram. It is a mental formula always more or less general. Being nothing more than an idea, this resolution does not necessarily influence his conduct. But now he sits down and goes through a process similar to that of impressing a lesson upon his memory, the result of which is that the resolution, or mental formula, is converted into a determination, by which I mean a really efficient agency, such that if one knows what its special character is, one can forecast the man's conduct on the special occasion. One cannot make forecasts that will come true in the majority of trials of them by means of any figment. It must be by means of something true and real.

593. We do not know by what machinery the conversion of a resolution into a determination is brought about. Several hypotheses have been proposed; but they do not much concern us just now. Suffice it to say that the determination, or efficient agency, is something hidden in the depths of our nature. A peculiar quality of feeling accompanies the first steps of the process of forming this impression; but later we have no direct consciousness of it. We may become aware of the disposition, especially if it is pent up. In that case, we shall recognize it by a feeling of need, of desire. I must notice that a man does not always have an opportunity to form a definite resolution beforehand. But in such cases there are less definite but still well-marked determinations of his nature growing out of the general rules of conduct that he has formulated; or in case no such appropriate rule has been formulated, his ideal of fitting conduct will have produced some disposition. At length, the anticipated occasion actually arises.

594. In order to fix our ideas, let us suppose a case. In the course of my reflexions, I am led to think that it would be well for me to talk to a certain person in a certain way. I resolve that I will do so when we meet. But considering how, in the heat of conversation, I might be led to take a different tone, I proceed to impress the resolution upon my soul; with the result that when the interview takes place, although my thoughts are then occupied with the matter of the talk, and may never revert to my resolution, nevertheless the determination of my being does influence my conduct. All action in accordance with a determination is accompanied by a feeling that is pleasurable; but, whether the feeling at any instant is felt as pleasurable in that very instant or whether the recognition of it as pleasurable comes a little later is a question of fact difficult to make sure about.

595. The argument turns on the feeling of pleasure, and therefore it is necessary, in order to judge of it, to get at the facts about that feeling as accurately as we can. In beginning to perform any series of acts which had been determined upon beforehand, there is a certain sense of joy, an anticipation and commencement of a relaxation of the tension of need, which we now become more conscious of than we had been before. In the act itself taking place at any instant, it may be that we are conscious of pleasure; although that is doubtful. Before the series of acts are done, we already begin to review them, and in that review we recognize the pleasurable character of the feelings that accompanied those acts.

596. To return to my interview, as soon as it is over I begin to review it more carefully and I then ask myself whether my conduct accorded with my resolution. That resolution, as we agreed, was a mental formula. The memory of my action may be roughly described as an image. I contemplate that image and put the question to myself. Shall I say that that image satisfies the stipulations of my resolution, or not? The answer to this question, like the answer to any inward question, is necessarily of the nature of a mental formula. It is accompanied, however, by a certain quality of feeling which is related to the formula itself very much as the color of the ink in which anything is printed is related to the sense of what is printed. And just as we first become aware of the peculiar color of the ink and afterward ask ourselves whether it is agreeable or not, so in formulating the judgment that the image of our conduct does satisfy our previous resolution we are, in the very act of formulation, aware of a certain quality of feeling,— the feeling of satisfaction,— and directly afterward recognize that that feeling was pleasurable.

597. But now I may probe deeper into my conduct, and may ask myself whether it accorded with my general intentions. Here again there will be a judgment and a feeling accompanying it, and directly afterward a recognition that that feeling was pleasurable or painful. This judgment, if favorable, will probably afford less intense pleasure than the other; but the feeling of satisfaction which is pleasurable will be different and, as we say, a deeper feeling.

598. I may now go still further and ask how the image of my conduct accords with my ideals of conduct fitting to a man like me. Here will follow a new judgment with its accompanying feeling followed by a recognition of the pleasurable or painful character of that feeling. In any or all of these ways a man may criticize his own conduct; and it is essential to remark that it is not mere idle praise or blame such as writers who are not of the wisest often distribute among the personages of history. No indeed! It is approval or disapproval of the only respectable kind, that which will bear fruit in the future. Whether the man is satisfied with himself or dissatisfied, his nature will absorb the lesson like a sponge; and the next time he will tend to do better than he did before.

599. In addition to these three self-criticisms of single series of actions, a man will from time to time review his ideals. This process is not a job that a man sits down to do and has done with. The experience of life is continually contributing instances more or less illuminative. These are digested first, not in the man's consciousness, but in the depths of his reasonable being. The results come to consciousness later. But meditation seems to agitate a mass of tendencies and allow them more quickly to settle down so as to be really more conformed to what is fit for the man.

600. Finally, in addition to this personal meditation on the fitness of one's own ideals, which is of a practical nature, there are the purely theoretical studies of the student of ethics who seeks to ascertain, as a matter of curiosity, what the fitness of an ideal of conduct consists in, and to deduce from such definition of fitness what conduct ought to be. Opinions differ as to the wholesomeness of this study. It only concerns our present purpose to remark that it is in itself a purely theoretical inquiry, entirely distinct from the business of shaping one's own conduct. Provided that feature of it be not lost sight of, I myself have no doubt that the study is more or less favorable to right living.

601. I have thus endeavored to describe fully the typical phenomena of controlled action. They are not every one present in every case. Thus, as I have already mentioned, there is not always an opportunity to form a resolution. I have specially emphasized the fact that conduct is determined by what precedes it in time, while the recognition of the pleasure it brings follows after the action. Some may opine that this is not true of what is called the pursuit of pleasure; and I admit that there is room for their opinion while I myself incline to think, for example, that the satisfaction of eating a good dinner is never a satisfaction in the present instantaneous state, but always follows after it. I insist, at any rate, that a feeling, as a mere appearance, can have no real power in itself to produce any effect whatever, however indirectly.

602. My account of the facts, you will observe, leaves a man at full liberty, no matter if we grant all that the necessitarians ask. That is, the man can, or if you please is compelled, to make his life more reasonable. What other distinct idea than that, I should be glad to know, can be attached to the word liberty?

603. Now let us compare the facts I have stated with the argument I am opposing. That argument rests on two main premisses; first, that it is unthinkable that a man should act from any other motive than pleasure, if his act be deliberate; and second, that action with reference to pleasure leaves no room for any distinction of right and wrong.

604. Let us consider whether this second premiss is really true. What would be requisite in order to destroy the difference between innocent and guilty conduct? The one thing that would do it would be to destroy the faculty of effective self-criticism. As long as that remained, as long as a man compared his conduct with a preconceived standard and that effectively, it need not make much difference if his only real motive were pleasure; for it would become disagreeable to him to incur the sting of conscience. But those who deluded themselves with that fallacy were so inattentive to the phenomena that they confused the judgment, after the act, that that act satisfied or did not satisfy the requirements of a standard, with a pleasure or pain accompanying the act itself.

605. Let us now consider whether the other premiss is true, that it is unthinkable that a man should act deliberately except for the sake of pleasure. What is the element which it is in truth unthinkable that deliberate action should lack? It is simply and solely the determination. Let his determination remain, as it is certainly conceivable that it should remain, although the very nerve of pleasure were cut so that the man were perfectly insensible to pleasure and pain, and he will certainly pursue the line of conduct upon which he is intent. The only effect would be to render the man's intentions more inflexible,— an effect, by the way, which we often have occasion to observe in men whose feelings are almost deadened by age or by some derangement of the brain. But those who have reasoned in this fallacious way have confounded together the determination of the man's nature, which is an efficient agency prepared previously to the act, with the comparison of conduct with a standard, which comparison is a general mental formula subsequent to the act, and, having identified these two utterly different things, placed them in the act itself as a mere quality of feeling.

606. Now if we recur to the defendant argument about reasoning, we shall find that it involves the same sort of tangle of ideas. The phenomena of reasoning are, in their general features, parallel to those of moral conduct. For reasoning is essentially thought that is under self-control, just as moral conduct is conduct under self-control. Indeed reasoning is a species of controlled conduct and as such necessarily partakes of the essential features of controlled conduct. If you attend to the phenomena of reasoning, although they are not quite so familiar to you as those of morals because there are no clergymen whose business it is to keep them before your minds, you will nevertheless remark, without difficulty, that a person who draws a rational conclusion, not only thinks it to be true, but thinks that similar reasoning would be just in every analogous case. If he fails to think this, the inference is not to be called reasoning. It is merely an idea suggested to his mind and which he cannot resist thinking is true. But not having been subjected to any check or control, it is not deliberately approved and is not to be called reasoning. To call it so would be to ignore a distinction which it ill becomes a rational being to overlook. To be sure, every inference forces itself upon us irresistibly. That is to say, it is irresistible at the instant it first suggests itself. Nevertheless, we all have in our minds certain norms, or general patterns of right reasoning, and we can compare the inference with one of those and ask ourselves whether it satisfies that rule. I call it a rule, although the formulation may be somewhat vague; because it has the essential character of a rule of being a general formula applicable to particular cases. If we judge our norm of right reason to be satisfied, we get a feeling of approval, and the inference now not only appears as irresistible as it did before, but it will prove far more unshakable by any doubt.

607. You see at once that we have here all the main elements of moral conduct; the general standard mentally conceived beforehand, the efficient agency in the inward nature, the act, the subsequent comparison of the act with the standard. Examining the phenomena more closely we shall find that not a single element of moral conduct is unrepresented in reasoning. At the same time, the special case naturally has its peculiarities.

608. Thus, we have a general ideal of sound logic. But we should not naturally describe it as our idea of the kind of reasoning that befits men in our situation. How should we describe it? How,— if we were to say that sound reasoning is such reasoning that in every conceivable state of the universe in which the facts stated in the premisses are true, the fact stated in the conclusion will thereby and therein be true? The objection to this statement is that it only covers necessary reasoning, including reasoning about chances. There is other reasoning which is defensible as probable, in the sense that while the conclusion may be more or less erroneous, yet the same procedure diligently persisted in must, in every conceivable universe in which it leads to any result at all, lead to a result indefinitely approximating to the truth. When that is the case, we shall do right to pursue that method, provided we recognize its true character, since our relation to the universe does not permit us to have any necessary knowledge of positive facts. You will observe that in such a case our ideal is shaped by the consideration of our situation relatively to the universe of existences. There are still other operations of the mind to which the name “reasoning” is especially appropriate, although it is not the prevailing habit of speech to call them so. They are conjectures, but rational conjectures; and the justification of them is that unless a man had a tendency to guess right, unless his guesses are better than tossing up a copper, no truth that he does not already virtually possess could ever be disclosed to him, so that he might as well give up all attempt to reason; while if he has any decided tendency to guess right, as he may have, then no matter how often he guesses wrong, he will get at the truth at last. These considerations certainly do take into account the man's inward nature as well as his outward relations; so that the ideals of good logic are truly of the same general nature as ideals of fine conduct. We saw that three kinds of considerations go to support ideals of conduct. They were, first, that certain conduct seems fine in itself. Just so, certain conjectures seem likely and easy in themselves. Secondly, we wish our conduct to be consistent. Just so the ideal [of] necessary reasoning is consistency simply. Third, we consider what the general effect would be of thoroughly carrying out our ideals. Just so certain ways of reasoning recommend themselves because if persistently carried out they must lead to the truth. The parallelism, you perceive, is almost exact.

609. There is also such a thing as a general logical intention. But it is not emphasized for the reason that the will does not enter so violently into reasoning as it does into moral conduct. I have already mentioned the logical norms, which correspond to moral laws. In taking up any difficult problem of reasoning we formulate to ourselves a logical resolution; but here again, because the will is not at such high tension in reasoning as it often is in self-controlled conduct, these resolutions are not very prominent phenomena. Owing to this circumstance, the efficient determination of our nature, which causes us to reason in each case as we do, has less relation to resolutions than to logical norms. The act itself is, at the instant, irresistible in both cases. But immediately after, it is subjected to self-criticism by comparison with a previous standard which is always the norm, or rule, in the case of reasoning, although in the case of outward conduct we are too often content to compare the act with the resolution. In the case of general conduct, the lesson of satisfaction or dissatisfaction is frequently not much taken to heart and little influences future conduct. But in the case of reasoning an inference which self-criticism disapproves is always instantly annulled, because there is no difficulty in doing this. Finally, all the different feelings which, as we noticed, accompanied the different operations of self-controlled conduct equally accompany those of reasoning, although they are not quite so vivid.

610. The parallelism is thus perfect. Nor, I repeat, could it fail to be so, if our description of the phenomena of controlled conduct was true, since reasoning is only a special kind of controlled conduct.

The next section, omitted in CP 1, is from EP2:251-2.

Let us now consider the defendant argument. It rests on two premisses, to wit: first, that it is unthinkable that a conclusion should be drawn for any other reason than that it will be accompanied by a feeling of logicality; second, that if all reasoning is determined by our feeling of logicality, there can be no distinction of good and bad reasoning.

But both these premisses are false. Even if our reasonings were all determined by a feeling of logicality, still so long as we were able to compare them with norms based on the consideration of the relation of our thoughts to facts, in case the norms were not satisfied, our feeling of logicality would instantly be reversed. In no way could the distinction of good and bad reasoning be destroyed short of destroying the power of comparing it, after it was made, with such norms. The truth is that the defendants confound the judgment of satisfaction or dissatisfaction of the norms which is made subsequent to the act of inference with a feeling accompanying that act.

The first premiss is still more manifestly false. Nothing can be more monstrous than to say that it is unthinkable that a reasoning should be based on anything but a feeling of logicality which is a part of it. How can an act be caused by a feeling which does not exist until the act exists? Or who ever reasons, “This seems to me true and therefore it must be true”? Yet even this is not adopting the reasoning because that very reasoning seems sound. That is a thing too absurd to be formulated in words. The only thing without which it is unthinkable that reasoning should take place is a determination of one’s nature causing it. But the defendants confound this with that feeling in the act which they also confound with the judgment of satisfaction of the norm.

Besides this principal fault of the defendant argument, there is another that I cannot pass over. When it is said that all inference “assumes that what seems to be good reasoning is so,” there is an inaccuracy of expression. For an inference assumes nothing but its premisses. But if we understand this to mean that no reasoning would be sound unless what seemed to be good reasoning were good reasoning, I reply that according to my description of the phenomena of reasoning, the only fact which the soundness of all reasoning and the truth of all human thought really depends [on] is that a man’s conjectures are somewhat better than purely random propositions. The idea that the criticism of the criticism of reasoning involves some new reasoning overlooks the fact that the criticism is sustained by the original inference. “Reasoning,” says Hobbes, “is computation,” and although this is extravagant, yet it is quite true that the criticism of the criticism of reasoning simply repeats the process, like adding up a column of figures a second time. It is conceivable that a blunder should be repeated, but after the column has been added, say ten times, and always with the same result, the arithmetician has no longer any discernible doubt to be quieted; and to add the column an eleventh time would be quite purposeless. In a strict theoretical sense, it is not certain that twice two are four, since it is conceivable that a blunder that might occur once has occurred every time the addition has been performed.

Now, ladies and gentlemen, I think you will agree that the defendant argument is a thoroughly bad one, and in particular that the question of what is good reasoning and what bad is not a question of whether the mind approves it or not, but is a question of fact. A method that tends to carry us toward the truth more speedily than we could otherwise progress is good; a method that has a tendency to carry us away from the truth is utterly bad, whether we naturally approve of it or not. This great fallacy once overthrown which governs more or less the German logics,

CP 1.611 begins here (EP2:252).

611. what does right reasoning consist in? It consists in such reasoning as shall be conducive to our ultimate aim. What, then, is our ultimate aim? Perhaps it is not necessary that the logician should answer this question. Perhaps it might be possible to deduce the correct rules of reasoning from the mere assumption that we have some ultimate aim. But I cannot see how this could be done. If we had, for example, no other aim than the pleasure of the moment, we should fall back into the same absence of any logic that the fallacious argument would lead to. We should have no ideal of reasoning, and consequently no norm. It seems to me that the logician ought to recognize what our ultimate aim is. It would seem to be the business of the moralist to find this out, and that the logician has to accept the teaching of ethics in this regard. But the moralist, as far as I can make it out, merely tells us that we have a power of self-control, that no narrow or selfish aim can ever prove satisfactory, that the only satisfactory aim is the broadest, highest, and most general possible aim; and for any more definite information, as I conceive the matter, he has to refer us to the esthetician, whose business it is to say what is the state of things which is most admirable in itself regardless of any ulterior reason.

612. So, then, we appeal to the esthete to tell us what it is that is admirable without any reason for being admirable beyond its inherent character. Why, that, he replies, is the beautiful. Yes, we urge, such is the name that you give to it, but what is it? What is this character? If he replies that it consists in a certain quality of feeling, a certain bliss, I for one decline altogether to accept the answer as sufficient. I should say to him, My dear Sir, if you can prove to me that this quality of feeling that you speak of does, as a fact, attach to what you call the beautiful, or that which would be admirable without any reason for being so, I am willing enough to believe you; but I cannot without strenuous proof admit that any particular quality of feeling is admirable without a reason. For it is too revolting to be believed unless one is forced to believe it.

613. A fundamental question like this, however practical the issues of it may be, differs entirely from any ordinary practical question, in that whatever is accepted as good in itself must be accepted without compromise. In deciding any special question of conduct it is often quite right to allow weight to different conflicting considerations and calculate their resultant. But it is quite different in regard to that which is to be the aim of all endeavor. The object admirable that is admirable per se must, no doubt, be general. Every ideal is more or less general. It may be a complicated state of things. But it must be a single ideal; it must have unity, because it is an idea, and unity is essential to every idea and every ideal. Objects of utterly disparate kinds may, no doubt, be admirable, because some special reason may make each one of them so. But when it comes to the ideal of the admirable, in itself, the very nature of its being is to be a precise idea; and if somebody tells me it is either this, or that, or that other, I say to him, It is clear you have no idea of what precisely it is. But an ideal must be capable of being embraced in a unitary idea, or it is no ideal at all. Therefore, there can be no compromises between different considerations here. The admirable ideal cannot be too extremely admirable. The more thoroughly it has whatever character is essential to it, the more admirable it must be.

614. Now what would the doctrine that that which is admirable in itself is a quality of feeling come to if taken in all its purity and carried to its furthest extreme,— which should be the extreme of admirableness? It would amount to saying that the one ultimately admirable object is the unrestrained gratification of a desire, regardless of what the nature of that desire may be. Now that is too shocking. It would be the doctrine that all the higher modes of consciousness with which we are acquainted in ourselves, such as love and reason, are good only so far as they subserve the lowest of all modes of consciousness. It would be the doctrine that this vast universe of Nature which we contemplate with such awe is good only to produce a certain quality of feeling. Certainly, I must be excused for not admitting that doctrine unless it be proved with the utmost evidence. So, then, what proof is there that it is true? The only reason for it that I have been able to learn is that gratification, pleasure, is the only conceivable result that is satisfied with itself; and therefore, since we are seeking for that which is fine and admirable without any reason beyond itself, pleasure, bliss, is the only object which can satisfy the conditions. This is a respectable argument. It deserves consideration. Its premiss, that pleasure is the only conceivable result that is perfectly self-satisfied, must be granted. Only, in these days of evolutionary ideas which are traceable to the French Revolution as their instigator, and still further back to Galileo's experiment at the leaning tower of Pisa, and still further back to all the stands that have been made by Luther and even by Robert of Lincoln against attempts to bind down human reason to any prescriptions fixed in advance,— in these days, I say, when these ideas of progress and growth have themselves grown up so as to occupy our minds as they now do, how can we be expected to allow the assumption to pass that the admirable in itself is any stationary result? The explanation of the circumstance that the only result that is satisfied with itself is a quality of feeling is that reason always looks forward to an endless future and expects endlessly to improve its results.

615. Consider, for a moment, what Reason, as well as we can today conceive it, really is. I do not mean man's faculty which is so called from its embodying in some measure Reason, or Νοῦς, as a something manifesting itself in the mind, in the history of mind's development, and in nature. What is this Reason? In the first place, it is something that never can have been completely embodied. The most insignificant of general ideas always involves conditional predictions or requires for its fulfillment that events should come to pass, and all that ever can have come to pass must fall short of completely fulfilling its requirements. A little example will serve to illustrate what I am saying. Take any general term whatever. I say of a stone that it is hard. That means that so long as the stone remains hard, every essay to scratch it by the moderate pressure of a knife will surely fail. To call the stone hard is to predict that no matter how often you try the experiment, it will fail every time. That innumerable series of conditional predictions is involved in the meaning of this lowly adjective. Whatever may have been done will not begin to exhaust its meaning. At the same time, the very being of the General, of Reason, is of such a mode that this being consists in the Reason's actually governing events. Suppose a piece of carborundum has been made and has subsequently been dissolved in aqua regia without anybody at any time, so far as I know, ever having tried to scratch it with a knife. Undoubtedly, I may have good reason, nevertheless, to call it hard; because some actual fact has occurred such that Reason compels me to call it so, and a general idea of all the facts of the case can only be formed if I do call it so. In this case, my calling it hard is an actual event which is governed by that law of hardness of the piece of carborundum. But if there were no actual fact whatsoever which was meant by saying that the piece of carborundum was hard, there would be not the slightest meaning in the word hard as applied to it. The very being of the General, of Reason, consists in its governing individual events. So, then, the essence of Reason is such that its being never can have been completely perfected. It always must be in a state of incipiency, of growth. It is like the character of a man which consists in the ideas that he will conceive and in the efforts that he will make, and which only develops as the occasions actually arise. Yet in all his life long no son of Adam has ever fully manifested what there was in him. So, then, the development of Reason requires as a part of it the occurrence of more individual events than ever can occur. It requires, too, all the coloring of all qualities of feeling, including pleasure in its proper place among the rest. This development of Reason consists, you will observe, in embodiment, that is, in manifestation. The creation of the universe, which did not take place during a certain busy week, in the year 4004 B.C., but is going on today and never will be done, is this very development of Reason. I do not see how one can have a more satisfying ideal of the admirable than the development of Reason so understood. The one thing whose admirableness is not due to an ulterior reason is Reason itself comprehended in all its fullness, so far as we can comprehend it. Under this conception, the ideal of conduct will be to execute our little function in the operation of the creation by giving a hand toward rendering the world more reasonable whenever, as the slang is, it is “up to us” to do so. In logic, it will be observed that knowledge is reasonableness; and the ideal of reasoning will be to follow such methods as must develop knowledge the most speedily.

[CP 1.615 ends here; the rest of this selection is from EP2:255-7.]

The logicality of the judgment that a stone cannot be at once hard and not hard does not consist, as Sigwart and other German logicians say it does, in its satisfying our feeling of logicality, but consists in its being true; for everything that is true is logical, whether we know it or not. But this we know to be true, not at all by means of any peculiar feeling it excites in us,— we might argue from that feeling, it is true, but any feeling may be deranged,— and we know it much more certainly from this, that when we say that it is true that “a stone cannot be at once hard and not hard,” what we are talking of is not what interpretation somebody might put upon that assertion, but what we mean by it. Now what we mean by “not” is “every proposition would be true if it were.” By “not hard” we mean “every proposition would be true if it were hard.” So to say that “a stone is at once hard and not hard” is to say that if it is hard every proposition is true, and it is hard. Accordingly this would be to assert that every proposition is true,— a super­Hegelian position that directly denies the distinction of truth and falsity, which, we are fully satisfied, exists.

A little book by Victoria Lady Welby has lately appeared entitled What is Meaning? The book has sundry merits, among them that of showing that there are three modes of meaning. But the best feature of it is that it presses home the question “What is meaning?” A word has meaning for us in so far as we are able to make use of it in communicating our knowledge to others and in getting at the knowledge that those others seek to communicate to us. That is the lowest grade of meaning. The meaning of a word is more fully the sum total of all the conditional predictions which the person who uses it intends to make himself responsible for or intends to deny. That conscious or quasi­conscious intention in using the word is the second grade of meaning. But besides the consequences to which the person who accepts a word knowingly commits himself, there is a vast ocean of unforeseen consequences which the acceptance of the word is destined to bring about, not merely consequences of knowing but perhaps revolutions of society. One cannot tell what power there may be in a word or a phrase to change the face of the world; and the sum of those consequences makes up the third grade of meaning.

Let us now consider what the science of logic ought to embrace. Although whatever is true is logical whether we know it to be so or not, yet it is plain that logic cannot embrace all human knowledge. The logician endeavors to assume an attitude as if, as logician, he had no information at all except what everybody must have to reason at all. This, however, is not exactly possible. There is no exactly defined sphere of knowledge such that everybody who reasons must possess the whole of it and need know nothing else. But the logician assumes that the meaning of language is well known between himself and the person to whom he is imparting his doctrine, although that meaning may not be analyzed and all its elements distinctly recognized, but that no other facts are known. Of course, some others must be known; but they are left out of account.

The ultimate purpose of the logician is to make out the theory of how knowledge is advanced. Just as there is a chemical theory of dyeing which is not exactly the art of dyeing, and there is a theory of thermodynamics which is quite different from the art of constructing heat-engines; so Methodeutic, which is the last goal of logical study, is the theory of the advancement of knowledge of all kinds. But this theory is not possible until the logician has first examined all the different elementary modes of getting at truth and especially all the different classes of arguments, and has studied their properties so far as these properties concern [the] power of the arguments as leading to the truth. This part of logic is called Critic. But before it is possible to enter upon this business in any rational way, the first thing that is necessary is to examine thoroughly all the ways in which thought can be expressed. For since thought has no being except in so far as it will be embodied, and since the embodiment of thought is a sign, the business of logical critic cannot be undertaken until the whole structure of signs, especially of general signs, has been thoroughly investigated. This is substantially acknowledged by logicians of all schools. But the different schools conceive of the business quite differently. Many logicians conceive that the inquiry trenches largely upon psychology, depends upon what has been observed about the human mind, and would not necessarily be true for other minds. Much of what they say is unquestionably false of many races of mankind. But I, for my part, take little stock in a logic that is not valid for all minds, inasmuch as the logicality of a given argument, as I have said, does not depend on how we think that argument, but upon what the truth is. Other logicians endeavoring to steer clear of psychology, as far as possible, think that this first branch of logic must relate to the possibility of knowledge of the real world and upon the sense in which it is true that the real world can be known. This branch of philosophy, called epistemology, or Erkenntnislehre, is necessarily largely metaphysical. But I, for my part, cannot for an instant assent to the proposal to base logic upon metaphysics, inasmuch as I fully agree with Aristotle, Duns Scotus, Kant, and all the profoundest metaphysicians that metaphysics can, on the contrary, have no secure basis except that which the science of logic affords. I, therefore, take a position quite similar to that of the English logicians, beginning with Scotus himself, in regarding this introductory part of logic as nothing but an analysis of what kinds of signs are absolutely essential to the embodiment of thought. I call it, after Scotus, Speculative Grammar. I fully agree, however, with a portion of the English school,— a school I may observe which now has a large and most influential and scientific following in Germany,— I agree, I say, with a portion of this school without thereby coming into positive conflict with the others, in thinking that this Speculative Grammar ought not to confine its studies to those conventional signs of which language is composed, but that it will do well to widen its field of view so as to take into consideration also kinds of signs which, not being conventional, are not of the nature of language. In fact, as a point of theory, I am of opinion that we ought not to limit ourselves to signs but ought to take account of certain objects more or less analogous to signs. In practice, however, I have paid little attention to these quasi-signs.

Thus there are, in my view of the subject, three branches of logic: Speculative Grammar, Critic, and Methodeutic.

Appendix (EP2:534)

Four days after this lecture, an anonymous listener sent Peirce the following question: “If not inconvenient for you, will you be kind enough to give tonight a summary— however brief— of your answer to the question ‘What makes a Reasoning Sound?’” Peirce prepared a response that he read at the beginning of the third lecture. This response, found in MS 465, is as follows:

My first duty this evening is to reply to a note which asks me to give an explanation at my last lecture. The letter did not come to hand until the following morning. The question asked is what my answer in the first lecture was to the question “What makes a Reasoning to be sound?” I had no intention of answering that question in my first lecture, because I dislike to put forth opinions until I am ready to prove them; and I had enough to do in the first lecture to show what does not make reasoning to be sound. Besides in this short course it seems better to skip such purely theoretical questions. Yet since I am asked, I have no objection to saying that in my opinion what makes a reasoning sound is the real law that the general method which that reasoning more or less consciously pursues does tend toward the truth. The very essence of an argument,— that which distinguishes it from all other kinds of signs,— is that it professes to be the representative of a general method of procedure tending toward the truth. To say that this method tends toward the true is to say that it is a real law that existences will follow. Now if that profession is true, and the conclusions of that method really will be true, to the extent and in the manner in which the argument pretends that they will, the argument is sound; if not, it is a false pretension and is unsound. I thus make the soundness of argument to consist in the facts of the case and not at all in whether the reasoner feels confidence in the argument or not. I may further say that there are three great classes of argument, Deductions, Inductions, and Abductions; and these profess to tend toward the truth in very different senses, as we shall see. I suppose this answers the question intended. However, it is possible that my correspondent did not intend to ask in what I think the soundness of reasoning consists, but by the question “What makes reasoning sound?” he may mean “What causes men to reason right?” That question I did substantially answer in my first lecture. Namely, to begin with, when a boy or girl first begins to criticize his inferences, and until he does that he does not reason, he finds that he has already strong prejudices in favor of certain ways of arguing. Those prejudices, whether they be inherited or acquired, were first formed under the influence of the environing world, so that it is not surprising that they are largely right or nearly right. He, thus, has a basis to go upon. But if he has the habit of calling himself to account for his reasonings, as all of us do more or less, he will gradually come to reason much better; and this comes about through his criticism, in the light of experience, of all the factors that have entered into reasonings that were performed shortly before the criticism. Occasionally, he goes back to the criticism of habits of reasoning which have governed him for many years. That is my answer to the second question.

Lowell Lecture 2