MS 598

Charles S. Peirce (c.1902)

Transcripción de Miguel Ángel Fernández (2005)

"This author", the reader will very properly remark, "professes to have something to say. Before I listen to him, I want to know, in a general way, what it is that he has to tell me".

The author replies: Of course, I have something to say to you; but I have nothing to tell you. I invite you to journey with me over a land of thought which is already more or less known to you. It is a land where I have sojourned long; and I wish to point out objects for you yourself to see, some of which, I am pretty sure, have hitherto escaped your attention. I promise you they shall be interesting in themselves, and also that they shall be such as shall concern the interests in which you are already engaged to know better than you do. It will be important that we should keep an itinerary, as we go along, and be aware of just where we find each object that concerns us. Otherwise, we should bring back from our journey nothing but vague and confused impressions. We must keep something like a log-book of all the courses and distances of our travel; and in order that from them we should calculate the precise situations at which the different objects of interest shall be found, we want, in the first place to settle just where our starting-point is. The reader will remark that this is a metaphor that conveys no precise idea. That is true; but it conveys some idea, and as definite an idea as the author knows how to convey at the outset. As we go on, its meaning will come out more and more clearly.

Dropping the metaphor, then, and with it a good deal of meaning, the author proposes to set forth rules for distinguishing between reasonings that are bad and reasonings that are good, and among the latter between weak reasons and strong reasons1. The first thing to be asked is why we should suppose that there are any such rules, and in what sense they can have any authority.

The word criticism has been employed by philosophers since 1782, the date of Kant’s Critic of the Pure Reason (Critik der reinen Vernunft) in a peculiar sense. It is more properly a literary word, and applies to any sort of careful examination of a writing, as to its matter or as to its form or even as to its dress. But from the very first the purpose of separating excellencies from faults attached to such examination. The very root of the word ‘criticism’, whether it be SKAR or KER, KRI, expresses the idea of separation. This element of praise and blame, which tends to sink into comparative insignificance in the literary use of the word, becomes the essential factor of the philosophical term. Kant borrowed the noun critic, meaning the science of criticism2, from English writers, namely from Hobbes and Locke. His spelling the word with a C perhaps betrays from whence he borrowed it. With Kant, “critic” acquires the more special meaning of an inquiry into the Quid juris, as he expresses it, the justification of any element of cognition. The question is therefore not exactly between blame and positive praise, but between the downright exclusion of an item and allowing it to stand. In like manner, the fundamental rules of reasoning simply exclude some reasonings as absolutely bad. It is a secondary question whether, a reason having been admitted to be a reason, it is to be rated as strong or weak.

Whether anything at all but oneself is subject to human blame is a question that has been asked. The Don’t judge (µή κρίνετε) of Jesus favors the negative side; and verily philosophical criticism does grate upon the religious spirit. At any rate, some things there are, such as a stone’s free fall to earth, that are acknowledged to be beyond every critic’s scope. Under these circumstances, if there be anything concerning which the question Quid juris calls for an answer, it is the asking of this question in each case; and if any criticism is beyond criticism, (which may be doubted), it is the criticism of criticism itself.

Let us, then, begin with the general question, What things are we called upon to disapprove? The alternatives are the uneasy state of mind of disallowance and the equanimity of allowance. To begin the inquiry, when it seems to be in our power, voluntarily, to bring about a future event, we are, in some cases at least, morally bound either to disallow such conduct or to allow it. For to say that we are morally bound to act in a certain way is to say that so we should act if we exercised sufficient deliberation and energy. But nobody can doubt that if we can control the future in any degree, sufficient deliberation and energy would sometimes cause us to act very decidedly. Now what we do not doubt is beyond dispute. Next let us ask whether we are called upon to disapprove of anything, in case our disapproval could not concern anything over which we can exercise any control. Here we have to distinguish. Every decent man must hold Cain, Nero, Judas Iscariot, Robespierre, etc. in reprobation. He cannot contain his disgust. But if he could restrain his feelings, his own morals remaining untouched, there seems to be no obligation upon him to pass judgment upon these personages of history. He is only responsible for what he can control.

Everybody nowadays agrees that all our knowledge rests upon experience. But why, I ask, should we admit experience? Prof. Royce talks of "present experience". That phrase seems to me to involve a contradiction. However, no doubt, I have at this moment a perception of a fire in my fire-place. But why should I trust to this, -trust I mean to the fact that I seem to perceive a fire in the fire-place,- so implicitly? I do not hear of any philosopher who would wish me to subject that to criticism. Why not? Why should I not reject it, and entertain a doubt as to whether I do or not seem to see a fire in the fire-place? Why this unanimity that such criticism would be senseless except that it is, in this case, tacitly admitted, that it is idle to criticize, what is absolutely beyond my control.

Let us adopt this principle: What is beyond control is beyond criticism. Otherwise stated: Let us not doubt what we cannot doubt.

This admitted, the first fact which confronts us is that cognitions are of all degrees of inst(e)nce. Some can be dismissed at will: we call them fancies. Others are only shaken after the labor of an hour, a year, or a thousand years. Are there any at all that will resist all attacks? Under these circumstances, in what sense shall we adhere to our maxim? What shall we hold as beyond control, that we cannot doubt? The answer should be that having accepted the principle we should adhere to it. We may labor in such a way that we shall (find) some way of doubting much that we cannot at present doubt; but as long as we cannot doubt it, we had best not pretend to do so. We may discover some way of controlling what we cannot at present control. But as long as a fact remains uncontrollable, it is idle to blame it.

All this will sound to many readers flat truism. They will be surprised to learn that the acceptance of this principle at once cancels a great deal of the most modern philosophy, and saves us the trouble of further examination of it.

Let us see roughly, how much this maxim will3 protect from all attempt at criticism. In the first place, I cannot doubt that what seems to be before my eyes does so seem. In the second place, I cannot doubt that it offers some resistance to my efforts to dismiss it as I would a fancy. It is true that I can dismiss it, by the device of shutting my eyes; but I can dismiss a fancy without this device. As to my memory, I know (or think I know) that it often has deceived me: it so reports, itself. Yet, on the whole, I cannot doubt that to a considerable extent it is trust-worthy. Possibly, a doubt of this sort has at some time flittered though my mind; but as soon as I take the means, by which doubts are usually strengthened, this doubt, instead of gaining strength, dies away and I cannot really resuscitate it.

Pretty much the same thing may be said concerning the existence of other persons than oneself. One can conceive the idea that one is alone in the universe; but there are so many evidences to the contrary that it is quite impossible to resist them. A person who should seriously doubt the existence of anybody but himself would unquestionably be adjudged insane by laymen and by psychiaters. So overwhelming are the proofs of this that there is no sane man who cannot be convinced by the testimony of others that his own senses deceive him and that he is the victim of a hallucination.


1. (1) (…) weak reasons and strong reasons. The author, having been a devoted student of this subject for near half a century, expects to persuade the reader of some things that will be new to him and even perhaps to induce him to change his mind upon some points. The reader, too, appears to share this expectation more or less; else why should he waste time over these pages. It will be well, then, to begin by noting some items of the reader’s present state of mind.

1. The reader has feelings, embracing under this head colors, whether seen or imagined, sounds, smells, sensations of pressure, touch, warmth, health, emotions, and in short, whatever is immediately present.

2. The reader can perceive that he is striving (not very hard) to understand what he is reading. The sense of endeavor is two-sided. It involves a sense of exertion and an equal sense of resistance. It is* only in cases where there are contractions of muscles (as seems to be the case where attention is exerted) that there is that specific feeling of endeavor; but there is a two-sided sense, of an ego and a non-ego, whenever on the outer and inner world (...)

*(It is) only in cases there are muscular contractions (as there seem to be whenever attention is fixed) that the specific feeling of endeavor appears; but there is a two-sided sense of an ego and a non-ego at every occurrence of an event of reaction between the outer and inner worlds.

(2) (...)weak reasons and strong reasons. In doing so, he expects to persuade the reader of things that will be new to the latter, and to induce him to change his mind about some opinions he now holds. That is more or less the expectation of the reader, too; else he would not waste time over the book. Since the author has been a diligent student of this subject for near half a century, he must either have something useful to suggest or else he must be an exceptionally dull mind. It will be well to begin by setting down some notes of the reader’s present state of mind.

In the first place, the reader has a fund of experience which he cannot help believing is true.

In the second place, there are questions concerning which he is in doubt. Different alternatives suggest themselves, but none forces itself on the reader’s mind.

2. (...) from English writers, Hobbes and Locke. His spelling it with a C betrays that borrowing. But with Kant “critic” acquires the more special meaning of an inquiry into the Quid juris, or justification, of any mental product. In order then to develope rules by which reasoning shall be judged justifiable or not, we have to enter upon a philosophical critic of reasonings.

Whether anything at all is subject to human praise or blame is a question which has been started. The injunction of Jesus was Do not judge (µή κρίνετε); and verily philosophical criticism grates upon the religious heart. It is certain that some things, such as a stone’s falling to the ground, are not subject to praise or blame. Under these circumstances, if there be anything of which the question Quid juris needs to be answered, it is the asking of this question itself in each case; and if any criticism is beyond criticism (which may be doubted), it is the criticism of criticism itself.

3. (1) (...) (pro)tect from all attempt at criticism. Assuming, my reader, that you are a person not adjudged in insane by all who approach you, you cannot doubt that what seems to be before your eyes does so seem. Nor, in the second place, can you doubt that it resists your efforts to dismiss it as an ordinary fancy does not resist.

(2) (...) (pro)tect from all attempt at criticism. Assuming, then, my reader, that you are not one of those unfortunates whom the courts and all the world adjudges insane, I can say with perfect confidence that you cannot doubt that you do feel what you seem to feel. I do not mean to emphasize your existence here.

(3) (...) (pro)tect from all attempt at criticism. Assuming, then, my reader, that you are not one of those unfortunates whom the courts and all the world adjudges insane, I can confidently affirm that you cannot doubt that that feeling which seems to you to be present is present for you. It is so inconceivable that it should be otherwise that you will hardly see any meaning in my affirmation. And what I have affirmed of your present feeling is true of whatever percept is before you.

Fin de: "Reason's Rules", Charles S. Peirce (c.1902). Fuente textual en MS 598.

Una de las ventajas de los textos en formato electrónico respecto de los textos impresos es que pueden corregirse con gran facilidad mediante la colaboración activa de los lectores que adviertan erratas, errores o simplemente mejores traducciones. En este sentido agradeceríamos que se enviaran todas las sugerencias y correcciones a

Fecha del documento: 9 febrero 2006
Ultima actualización: 9 febrero 2006

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