SAAP Annual Meeting 2013

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Peirce’s Critique of the Cartesian Maxim

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David Agler
The Pennsylvania State University
United States

This paper defends Peirce’s claim that philosophy cannot begin by trying to doubt everything (i.e., the Cartesian maxim) from a set of criticisms that contend that Peirce distorts Cartesian philosophy by changing what Descartes meant by “doubt” (see Meyers 1967; Johanson 1972; Haack 1982, 1983; Murphey 1993:162). These criticisms treat Peirce as an uncharitably hostile interpreter of Descartes and contend his objection to the Cartesian maxim is merely a linguistic dispute. This paper responds to these criticisms by arguing that it does not take account of the fact that Peirce had two distinct criticisms of the Cartesian maxim. With these two criticisms appropriately clarified and contextualized, Peirce’s objection to Cartesian maxim turns out to be an instance of the principle of charity rather than a hostile argument built on equivocation.


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