Common sensing

In Peircean terminology, Turning Signs could be described as a hybrid of cenoscopy and synthetic philosophy. Cenoscopy, as opposed to the idioscopic or specialized sciences such as physics and psychology, investigates

phenomena that are perfectly familiar to all mankind. Because these are founded on common observation, Bentham gave them the collective designation Cenoscopy, which I adopt as expressive of my own opinion of the basis on which these sciences, which are otherwise called Philosophy, rest.
— Peirce, MS 601 (c. 1906)

Cenoscopy then ‘embraces all that positive science which rests upon familiar experience and does not search out occult or rare phenomena’; for Peirce this, rather than metaphysics, is the real “first philosophy,” or at least ‘is better entitled (except by usage) to being distinguished as philosophia prima than ontology’ (EP2:372). Synthetic philosophy, on the other hand, ‘has been called philosophia ultima’ because it ‘embraces all that truth which is derivable by collating the results of different special sciences, but which is too broad to be established by any one of them’ (EP2:372).

In other words, the philosophical inquiry reflected in Turning Signs aims at both the primary (or primal?) and the ultimate – the alpha and the omega. This makes it doubly useful in these apocalyptic or transitional times. Actually only the cenoscopic part should be called “inquiry,” or heuretic science as Peirce called it. He placed synthetic philosophy ‘at the head of the Retrospective Sciences’ (EP2:373), i.e. those which find new connections among observations previously made rather than making new observations of their own. But the reliance of cenoscopic inquiry on ‘familiar experience’ does not make it easier to practice, because it requires critical common sense.

The method of cenoscopic research presents a certain difficulty. In commencing it we are confronted with the fact that we already believe a great many things. These beliefs, or at least the more general of them, ought to be reconsidered with deliberation. This implies that it should be conducted according to a deliberate plan adopted only after the severest criticism. Indeed, nothing in cenoscopy should be embraced without criticism. Each criticism should wait to be planned, and each plan should wait for criticism. Clearly, if we are to get on at all, we must put up with imperfect procedure.
— Peirce, EP2:373

This is roughly equivalent to Merleau-Ponty’s observation about phenomenology: ‘The most important lesson of the reduction is the impossibility of a complete reduction.’

3 thoughts on “Common sensing”

  1. You remark that “[Peirce] placed synthetic philosophy ‘at the head of the Retrospective Sciences’ (EP2:373). I have taken “Retrospective Sciences” to be equivalent to what Peirce elsewhere refers to as ‘Sciences of Review’. In 1903 he described these sciences as “. . . arranging the results of discovery, beginning with digests, and going on to endeavor to form a philosophy of science. . . The classification of the sciences belongs to this department” (CP 1.181). But you also remarked that Peirce places Synthetic Philosophy ‘at the head of the Retrospective Sciences’ (EP2:373).

    Since Synthetic Philosophy ‘has been called philosophia ultima’ because it ‘embraces all that truth which is derivable by collating the results of different special sciences’ then, in agreement with Peirce that synthetic philosophy is, as it were, the Omega of the sciences, I would think that since he describes Science of Review as “beginning with digests, and going on to endeavor to form a philosophy of science,” that those scientific digests of all the sciences ought to stand at the head of Retrospective Science (Science of Review) while Synthetic Philosophy (philosophy of science including, perhaps, classifications of the sciences) ought to rest at the foot — *not* the head — of the review sciences. There it would truly be the Omega of the sciences.

    In a sense this would reverse the order of the Sciences of Discovery which place the most *abstract* science, mathematics, first. That is, for review science, the most *general* of the sciences, philosophy of science, ought to be placed last.

    Or, perhaps, is Peirce’s comment that synthetic philosophy ought stand at the ‘head’ of the review sciences just ‘a manner of speaking’, ‘head’ meaning ‘the most important’?

    Still, to my way of thinking, ‘philosophia ultima’ (philosophy of science) ought to *conclude* the classification of sciences and not be followed by anything else, say, a number of scientific digests.’

    1. Gary, yes, i see what you mean. I think this brings out an ambiguity in the Alpha/Omega metaphor (which is mine, not Peirce’s). I agree that “synthetic philosophy” and “sciences of review” mean pretty much the same thing. And since the “review” gleans from work done by others, i think of it as coming after cenoscopy (and phenomenology), which is based on direct experience. I don’t identify the classification of sciences with the philosophy of science, though … another ambiguity.

      1. GF: I think this brings out an ambiguity in the Alpha/Omega metaphor (which is mine, not Peirce’s).
        GR: OK. But philosophia prima and philosophia ultima aren’t far from your Alpha/Omega metaphor.

        GF: I agree that “synthetic philosophy” and “sciences of review” mean pretty much the same thing. And since the “review” gleans from work done by others, i think of it as coming after cenoscopy (and phenomenology), which is based on direct experience.
        GR: I see it somewhat differently. For one thing, I would add, “and coming after Special Sciences” which, although not based on direct experience, still most certainly *do* lend to producing digests and the like, i.e., material for synthetic science to review.

        GF: I don’t identify the classification of sciences with the philosophy of science, though … another ambiguity.
        GR: I don’t either. As Peirce wrote, *both* the classification of sciences and the philosophy of science are, along with digests, etc., facets of the science of review (synthetic philosophy).

        GR: I distinguish three Grand Sciences (I recall Peirce in one place referring to them as such, but I’ll have to locate it again–I think it was in one of his autobiographical sketches), these being:

        Science of Discovery: Mathematics, Cenoscopy (phenomenology, cenoscopic philosophy, metaphysics), Idioscopy (as does metaphysics, its having both a physical and a psychical branch).

        Practical Sciences (a vast number of these).

        Science of Review: Including, but not limited to, scientific digests of the various sciences, classifications of sciences, philosophy of science).

        I consider these three Grand Sciences quasi-independent while, of course Science of Review reflects on the Sciences of Discovery and, perhaps, in a separate branch (or branches) it also reflects on the results of the Practical Sciences as well. For example, Jon Alan Schmidt distinguishes theory of *inquiry* (for sciences of discovery) and theory of *ingenuity* (for, esp., engineering but, perhaps, for other practical sciences as well, for example, applied ethics). The expression “theory of ingenuity” was coined by him and will be briefly explicated in a book chapter I’m working on with him and Joseph Dauben.

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