The article “How to make our ideas clear” by Charles Peirce is taken from Popular Science Monthly journal. It clarifies the difference between such notions as “clear” and “obscure”, and comments upon several phenomena as “belief”, “truth”, “force”, and “reality”. In this work, the author also compares his own views to the ones of other philosophers.
The article begins with a critique of the classical theory of clarity and distinctness of ideas. Criticism of one of the provisions of rationalistic epistemology is explained not only by Peirce’s desire to opposing the scientific method, but also to emphasize the fundamental novelty of his methodological approach (286). According to the scheme of Descartes, who with the help of methodical doubt rejected the dogmas of the scholastics and began to search for true principles in thinking itself, made an important transition from the method of authority to the a priori method.
However, the French philosopher trusted self-observation and did not show the difference between a clear idea and an idea which only seems to be clear. Although another scholar Leibniz subsequently clarified the concept of distinctiveness, he reduced everything to formal definitions (272). Therefore, Peirce argues that we need genuine clarity of ideas.
He encourages the use of the concept of “doubt’ and ‘belief’ in the widest sense, recording the emergence and resolution of a problem in thinking. Thinking he treats as a certain way the structured sequence of sensations, passing in consciousness. The value of our thoughts lies in the habits of action that they form. The goal of any action is embodied in the production of perceived results.
In this context, Peirce formulates his rule for achieving the highest level of clarity: If we consider the practical consequences that we believe can be produced by the object of our concept, then the concept of these consequences will be our complete concept of the object. Peirce gives examples of clarifying the meaning of individual concepts, starting with the most simple cases and ending with the philosophical concept of ‘reality’; for example, how to clarify the concept of ‘weight’ (291). To say that it means the weight of the body means to say that in the absence of an oppositely directed force it will fall. The concept of ‘force’ has an operational meaning, for it helps us to explain changes in the movement of bodies.
The American philosopher clarifies the concept of ‘reality’ as follows. He recognizes that in ordinary use, the meaning of this concept seems most clear. Thus, it is recognized as real whose characteristics are independent of what anyone might think of them. But this is not enough, and the perceived effects of things should be considered. The main action of things for us is the production of beliefs, recalls Peirce. The opinion, in respect of which everyone involved in some research agrees, will be what is called “truth”, and the object represented in this opinion has “reality.”
A philosopher who associates the scientific method with the thesis of the independence of the object of perception from the very sensory perception, at the same time makes the object dependent on our opinions and beliefs regarding it (295). At the same time, Peirce’s underlining of the social nature of truth (where truth, such as belief, could be reached by the community of scientists) objectively took Peirce beyond the framework of phenomenal epistemology.
To conclude, Peirce’s work is based on particular ideas of other philosophers. However, at the same time, it is aimed at better clarification of core notions, as the author intends to explicate methodology of thinking in total due to the importance of this process.