J. Nubiola: "Review of Chiasson's: Peirce's Pragmatism: The Design for Thinking",
Transactions of the Charles S. Peirce Society 38/4 (2002), pp. 681-685

Phyllis Chiasson: Peirce's Pragmatism: The Design for Thinking. Value Inquiry Book Series: Studies in Pragmatism and Values, Amsterdam - Atlanta, GA: Rodopi, 2001xiv + 243 pp.

In the vast collection of the Value Inquiry Book Series, this volume opens a new special series under the editorship of John R. Shook—"Studies in Pragmatism and Values." This is already good news for all the scholars working in the field of American pragmatism and it could be considered as another sign of the resurgence of pragmatism in recent years. However, for Peirce's scholars, the book under review is much more than that because it deals with Peirce's philosophy of education—a topic which until now has received very little attention. As Shook notes in the "Editorial Foreword," pragmatism is fundamentally a theory of learning. Its main hypothesis is that there is only one methodology of human learning throughout all of the very different levels of intelligent inquiry. For this reason, as Shook says, the sophisticated logic of scientific inquiry developed by Peirce "is highly relevant to learning at every level and thus could revolutionize educational philosophy. Peirce himself was interested in pedagogy and composed (but never published) basic logic texts that sketchily illustrate this continuity of learning. Phyllis Chiasson has undertaken the rarely accepted challenge of explaining in detail Peirce's great relevance to pedagogy" (p. ix).

As enumerated in the concluding page "About the author" (p. 235) and highlighted in the foreword, Phyllis Chiasson has impressive pedagogical expertise and she has been able to translate it into theoretical models, which she has successfully applied in both business and educational settings. Shook asserts that "few educators or philosophers possessing her high level of expertise could so proficiently teach us the lessons of Peirce's thought for the classroom." He concludes that, "by bridging together philosophy and pedagogy, Chiasson has performed a much needed pragmatic service for which both fields shall be indebted" (p. x).

The author describes in the "Preface" (p. xi) that the book is an explanation, in dialogue format, of Charles Peirce's essay "What Pragmatism Is," which appeared originally in The Monist in 1905 and is reprinted as an appendix to her book (pp. 217-234). In the "Prologue," she introduces us to the history of her book. She describes how her discovery of Peirce connected and provided sense to her background and her previous work with Albert Upton's Creative Analysis, with Jung's typology of temperament, with the Relational Thinking Styles model, and the Engaged Intelligence training program. Let me copy some vibrant lines of that lively prologue:

Peirce's concepts are important for all of us, especially in these times. Complaints about the failure of American schools to produce workers able to meet the demands of the information age are really complaints about the lack of an effective "design for thinking" to serve as the foundation of educational programs. Few people realize that Peirce's pragmatism underlies the logic of computer program design; even fewer realize that his is much more than a system of dry symbolic processes. Peirce's pragmatism is a rich and vibrant philosophy for which logic must be informed by both aesthetics and ethics if it is to produce right reasoning. I wanted to talk (...) about Peirce's concepts since, embedded within his theory, are keys to solving problems we are facing today. I envision Peirce's "design for thinking" as the keystone for building a world population of citizens able to reason rightly (p. 2).

Something striking to the reader, or at least unconventional in present books of philosophy, is the dialogue format of this book. It presents a long series of conversations in eighteen chapters between the author and her husband. In these discussions she tries to "bring him to an understanding of how Davis's non-verbal model [a diagnostic tool that identifies the specific reasoning pattern that an individual habitually uses for making day-to-day decisions] and the Engaged Intelligence training program connect to Peirce's pragmatism" (p. 8). The whole dialogue follows almost line-by-line Peirce's essay "What Pragmatism Is," which is considered as "a mature culmination of his philosophy (...) based on his sixty-old years of intensive philosophical development" (p. 9). The book may be understood as a detailed work resulting from jointly reading that paper and bringing to it the educational interests of the author. It throws light on almost all of the obscure passages in the essay and provides a suitable framework for elaborating a philosophy of education in a Peircean vein.

The joint reading project of the author and her husband begins in the first chapter, "Setting the Stage," which pays attention to most of the more difficult terms appearing in the first long paragraph of "What Pragmatism Is." The three following chapters are labeled with the same title "The Name Game," and correspond to the three days of discussion dedicated to clarifying the meaning of the term "pragmaticism." The description of Peirce's usage of that term paves the way to explain to the listener how "philosophy can be made scientific by using language as a tool for discovering and proving concepts" (p. 28). Along this line, the author says:

…we can use Peirce's methods to improve education. With Peirce's language-based system, we can provide educators with a common language and a common understanding of the skills that underlie the development of good reasoning abilities. Without these underlying skills, you cannot do much of anything with knowledge, except store it up and regurgitate it. Peirce's theory of pragmatism can be used to revolutionize education (p. 28).

Chapters five and six deal with belief and doubt, understood by Peirce as a habit of mind essentially enduring for some time, and mostly, at least, unconscious, and as the lack of that habit, respectively. Special attention is paid to the classical distinction between logica utens, "the everyday reasoning habits that we use automatically," and logica docens, "a specific and deliberate method to use for inquiring into a topic" (p. 56). In addition, a brief presentation of Peirce's theory of signs is provided. It is highlighted that Peirce counts reasoning as an aspect of ethical behavior and that he was "the first philosopher to propose that rational thought is a species of conduct and therefore subject to praise or blame, like all other conduct" (pp. 59-60). Chapters seven and eight provide an explanation of pragmaticism and the pragmatic maxim, following line by line the heart of Peirce's exposition in his 1905 essay "What Pragmatism Is." The differences between Peirce's and Russell's positivism are stressed and Peirce's notion of experiment is explained.

Chapters nine and ten are centered on propositions and experimental phenomena; chapters eleven and twelve on generality and regularity respectively; chapters thirteen and fourteen on evolution and thought, and the Peircean concept of a conditional purpose. Throughout all these chapters, the dialogue continues to follow Peirce's 1905 essay and places Peirce's main insights in relationship to the author’s background in psychology and education.

— "Regardless of intelligence, culture, or educational levels, people need to learn to be reasonable, how to be 'reason' 'able'. We know from raising Tonya and Andrea [two disabled children of the author] that a person does not have to be either intelligent or highly educated to be reason-able. We also know countless examples of people who are both highly intelligent and well-educated who cannot reason well. This world needs a population made up of rational minds if we are to promote good consequences for our planet and effectively retard negative ones. We can only effect change by changing our conduct. We can only effectively change our conduct by understanding what needs changing and how to change it."
— "Figuring that out is a tough order. I wonder which is harder, knowing what to change or knowing how?"
—"Peirce thoroughly covered both of those issues in his theory of right reasoning. He believed that an ideal reality is available to us by which we can check out our choice-making. By means of abductive reasoning, we can come ever closer to discovering what that ideal reality is." (p. 146).

This long quotation reflects well the general atmosphere of the dialogue, but also points to the great discovery that abductive reasoning is for an educator or a psychologist. Although Peirce never attended elementary school and never raised any children, "Peirce's theory provides us with the ideal, with what we should be aiming for, but he does not provide much of a roadmap for getting there" (p. 151). Abduction is a topic of growing importance in the ending chapters of the book, "Continuing into Continuity", "Cosmology", "Hegel" and "Engaged Intelligence." In the last chapter, the Peircean concepts described in the previous chapters are connected with the Engaged Intelligence training program and other topics of interest to educators. "Engaged Intelligence training teaches people how to think rationally using Peirce's verbal method of logica docens so that they can become conscious of their mental habits. Once conscious, we can learn to deliberately adapt our mental habits, our logica utens, as a situation requires" (p. 202). The book closes with a two-page epilogue, a single page of notes, three pages of bibliography, and a useful index.

In spite of the obscurity of some passages of Peirce's 1905 essay, Chiasson is successful most of the time in making the essay accessible for a general reader. In particular she is successful in convincing the reader that, although Peirce did not formulate any specific doctrine concerning educational theory, Peirce's philosophy as a whole theory of learning is the general framework required by contemporary educational theories like the Engaged Intelligence training program:

Peirce's theory could revolutionize education and, as a result, society as a whole. If we were to use his theory of right reasoning to develop a populace capable of making good decisions, we would go a long way toward solving our social and environmental problems. The key is providing education that results in real learning and provides people with the capability to make reasoned judgments and to continue learning throughout their lifetimes. Peirce's pragmaticism gives us insights into those core basics of reasoning necessary for real learning to take place (p. 46).

In the book, very few secondary sources are quoted ("I avoided secondary sources," p. 8), but the author acknowledges her debt to well-known scholars, as well as to the Peirce-List and the Dewey-List in which she has been active in recent years. For a philosopher, Chiasson's comments may sometimes produce an impression of amateurism, but at the same time, they provide a delightful sense of freshness—as if reading real philosophy done anew from scratch. This freshness is not rare in Peirce's texts, but it is very uncommon in most of the secondary bibliography. My experience is that the reader of this long and well-written dialogue will experience a lot of fun and a renewal of his or her interest around the real philosophical problems often hidden below mountains of heavy scholarly books.


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[Jaime Nubiola] [Sugerencias]

Universidad de Navarra