I recently read an excerpt from a C.S. Peirce essay titled “Evolutionary Love” –and I think he was on to something…
This blog begins, somewhat strangely, in the 19th century, inspired by the work of a scholar with too many ideas, an eccentric personal history, and an utterly failed career in the academy.
His writing lives at the historical intersection of Enlightenment philosophy, colonial practice, evolutionary theory, the wild burgeoning of American capitalism, and the American civil war. Pragmatism was a philosophical means of addressing what we mean by the true and the good within this particular confluence of forces–a set of intersections uncannily familiar to us now, dwelling in our own crises of capitalism, globalization, human difference, the use of military force, the very operability of US democracy, and what it means to tell the truth. I think these disparate dilemmas can all be related to one another through a particular thread–namely, the ambivalence of human interdependence. It seems to me that Peirce was thinking about it in a similar way.
I want to explore that possibility.
Other reasons to read Peirce: he called the English language “pirate-lingo,” and you have to respect that.
Finally, according to Louis Menand, Peirce’s ideas–especially those on pragmatist philosophy–were made widely available only through the intervention of a sympathetic friend, William James. Menand implies that James was being too kind in giving Peirce so much credit for the development of pragmatism–and that claim caught my attention regarding another way in which Peirce’s work demonstrates the ambivalence of human interdependence. Both Peirce and James struggled mightily at various points in their careers, and I think that their struggle to pursue ideas in the face of an institutional and social “ill-fit” informs pragmatism more generally.
So: I’m starting with Peirce, and reading around in the field of American pragmatist thought at the turn of the twentieth century as defined by Louis Menand: John Dewey, Jane Addams, Oliver Wendell Holmes, and William James. If my ambition in any way matches up with my work ethic, I will also move on to other accounts of relationality and writers interested in the possibility of a politics that can foreground something like love and simultaneously avow antagonism amongst members of a community, however the proximities of that community might be configured.
PS: A (poorly edited) version of C.S. Peirce’s essay “Evolutionary Love” can be found here.