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Abstract

The philosophy of Charles S. Peirce (1839–1914) enhances our understanding of educational processes. Peirce was the founder of American pragmatism, which today is a many-faceted branch of philosophy characterized by a critique of abstractions, traditional dichotomies such as mind and body, and metaphysical absolutes. At the turn of the last century, William James’ lectures on Pragmatism (1907) won an enthusiastic response and ‘pragmatism’ soon became a popular stance among American policy-makers and experts who celebrated its practical and result-oriented aspects. However, as a philosophical position, pragmatism differs from its widespread usage among politicians and pundits. To Peirce, pragmatism was a guiding principle and method of accurate thinking which helps us to “make our ideas clear”. Taking the mutual mediation of theory and praxis, knowledge and action, facts and values into account, Peirce embraced concrete experience as not only philosophically relevant but our concepts’ ultimate purport. A Peircean outlook on education thus helps us recognize ways in which the dynamics of knowledge and learning are inescapably rooted in, and a vital part of, situated experience. Moreover, while recognizing the social, experiential and provisional character of knowledge and beliefs, Peirce also promoted a broad, teleological scientific ethos that may help to clarify and rectify many mainstream educational beliefs, and much habitual thinking. However, Peirce’s most valuable contribution to education could turn out to be his semiotics – a study of the meaning and development of signs – which enables us to conceptualize and explore all communicative processes in terms of sign relations and sign-actions.
P
Peirce and Education, an
Overview
Torill Strand
1
and Catherine W. Legg
2
1
Department of Education,
University of Oslo, Oslo, Norway
2
Philosophy Program,
Deakin University,
Burwood, VIC, Australia
Synonyms
Edusemiotics;Phenomenology;Pragmatism;
Semiosis;Semiotics
Introduction
The philosophy of Charles S. Peirce (18391914)
enhances our understanding of educational pro-
cesses. Peirce was the founder of American
pragmatism, which today is a many-faceted
branch of philosophy characterized by a critique
of abstractions, traditional dichotomies such
as mind and body, and metaphysical absolutes.
At the turn of the last century, William James
lectures on pragmatism (1907) won an enthusias-
tic response, and pragmatismsoon became
a popular stance among American policy-makers
and experts who celebrated its practical and result-
oriented aspects. However, as a philosophical
position, pragmatism differs from its widespread
usage among politicians and pundits.
To Peirce, pragmatism was a guiding
principle and method of accurate thinking
which helps us to make our ideas clear.Taking
the mutual mediation of theory and praxis,
knowledge and action, and facts and values into
account, Peirce embraced concrete experience as
not only philosophically relevant but our con-
ceptsultimate purport. A Peircean outlook on
education thus helps us recognize ways in
which the dynamics of knowledge and learning
are inescapably rooted in, and a vital part of,
situated experience. Moreover, while recognizing
the social, experiential, and provisional character
of knowledge and beliefs, Peirce also promoted
a broad, teleological scientic ethos that may
help to clarify and rectify many mainstream edu-
cational beliefs and much habitual thinking.
However, Peirces most valuable contribution to
education could turn out to be his semiotics a
study of the meaning and development of signs
which enables us to conceptualize and explore
all communicative processes in terms of sign
relations and sign actions.
Experience and Education
Peirce places phenomenology as the primary and
initial branch of philosophy, since philosophy
does not busy itself with gathering facts, but
merely with learning what can be learned from
© Springer Nature Singapore Pte Ltd. 2019
M. A. Peters (ed.), Encyclopedia of Educational Philosophy and Theory,
https://doi.org/10.1007/978-981-287-532-7_571-1
that experience which presses in upon every one
of us daily and hourly(Peirce 1903, p. 196).
In claiming that experience is our only teacher,
Peirce demonstrated how learning is not only
an essential but also an inevitable and frequently
disarming aspect of experience:
In all the works on pedagogy that ever I read, - and
that have been many, big, and heavy, - I dont
remember that any one has advocated a system
of teaching by practical jokes, mostly cruel.
That, however, describes the method of our great
teacher, Experience. She says,
Open your mouth and shut your eyes
And Ill give you something to make you wise;
and thereupon she keeps her promise, and seems
to take her pay in the fun of tormenting us. (Peirce
1903, p. 154)
Experience takes us by surprise, bewilders
our categories of thought, and makes us learn.
In contrast to William James, who at times seemed
to limit experience to sensations only, Peirce
advocates a broad notion of experience whereby
a sensation is not the same thing as experience
precisely because experience includes learning.
So, Peirce holds a distinctive notion of experience
that should be read in light of his three most
basic phenomenological categories, Firstness,
Secondness,and Thirdness,which will now
be explained.
Firstness is pure presence; it is what is regard-
less of anything else. It is what stares one in
the face, just as it presents itself, unreplaced
by any interpretation, unsophisticated by any
allowance for this or for that(Peirce 1903,
p. 147). Consider the color red: it emerges as a
quality, a pure presence, or an attribute without
reference to anything else. Redness is thus an
illustrative example of rstness as the immediate
presence of qualities.
Secondness is reaction; it concurrently con-
tains some kind of pure presence and our percep-
tion of (or some other consequence of) this
presence. Immediate perception is always an
awareness of a relation: Secondness is a double
consciousness that is aware of, on the one hand,
the pure and vivid presence and, on the other
hand, the perception of it. This might be, for
instance, my amazement at the redness of a par-
ticular lipstick or my shock as an unseen person
taps me on the shoulder. Category the Second is
the Idea of that which is such as it is as being
Second to some First, regardless of anything
else [...] That is to say, it is Reaction as an
element of Phenomenon(Peirce 1903, p. 160).
But Secondness, as brute reaction, does not
involve any mediation, transaction, or learning
from experience.
Thirdness is transaction; it essentially
involves the production of [intelligible] effects in
the world of existence(Peirce 1903, p. 271).
Thirdness is triadic, in the sense that it involves
three relata. In the example cited above, these
could be (i) the pure presence of the particular
color red in the lipstick, (ii) the relation between
that quality and my compulsion to notice it, and
(iii) my offering some ongoing description
of the lipstick as, for instance, a striking color.
Only at level (iii) do we reach the conceptual
realm, or as it is sometimes called the space
of reasons.Thus it is important to note that
despite the fact that Thirdness contains or assim-
ilates Firstness and Secondness, it is by no way
reducible to them. It is this sophisticated
notion of Thirdness as a generating multiple
(i.e., the step in numeric relatedness which
brings into being all of logic there is no need
for a fourthness or higher) that supports Peirces
claim that experience is the effect that life has
produced upon habits(Peirce 1903, p. 203).
To put the same point another way, this third
category elucidates the ways in which experience
is a forcible modication of our ways of think-
ing[our emphasis] (Peirce 1906, p. 370). Or to
use Peirces own words we should at least hope
that this is so, since in that hope lies the only
possibility of any knowledge(Peirce 1903,
p. 212).
The Will to Learn
Peirce maintains that ... there is a Thirdness in
experience, an element of Reasonableness to
which we can train our own reason to conform
more and more(Peirce 1903, p. 212). He thus
eagerly promotes the rst rule of reason”–an
ethos of inquiry as a tool to guide and rectify
habitual thinking.
2 Peirce and Education, an Overview
This rst rule of reasonis an intellectual
interest, a curiosity, a dissatisfaction with what
one already inclines to think, a wish to nd
things out, an aspiration to learn, and a passionate
longing for understanding (Strand 2005).
In many ways this pure motive is the only require-
ment for genuine education:
Upon this rst, and in one sense this sole, rule
of reason, that in order to learn you must desire
to learn, and in so desiring not be satised with
what you already incline to think, there follows
one corollary which itself deserves to be written
upon every wall of the city of philosophy:
Do not block the way of inquiry. (Peirce 1898,
p. 178)
In a more or less subtle manner, Peirce here
contests William Jamesfamous paper The Will
to Believe(1897), which had been published
the year before. Since the will to believea
particular comforting proposition (such as that
God exists) may block the way to inquiry,
Peirce suggests we should rather encourage
the will to learn(1898, p. 171). In his
argument for this, Peirce appeals to fallibilism,
anti-dogmatism, and the fruitfulness of genuine
doubt.
Fallibilism is the thesis that any of our
beliefs may turn out to be false: That we can
be sure of nothing in science is an ancient
truth(1898, p. 179). But to Peirce, fallibilism is
not only an epistemological call inherent in the
self-amending procedure of the scientic method
but also a call to a communal commitment to the
true scientic Eros(1898, p. 107): a kind of hon-
est life. On the one hand, Peirce stresses the
necessity of each individuals dedicated commit-
ment toward a universal rst rule of reason.
On the other hand, he subordinates the individual
scholar to the community of inquirers which con-
stitutes each individuals best hope of moving
closer to the truth.
However, Peirce admits that the social justi-
cation of beliefs is a double-edged sword.
On the one hand while holding the nal consen-
sus amongst the community of inquiry as a
regulative ideal Peirce sees social rectication
and justication of beliefs at any given time as
inevitable. On the other hand, he clearly takes a
stance against the tendency of most people to
subordinate their thinking to what they view as
more authoritative ways of thought. To avoid the
emergence of such dogmatism, it is vital to stress
the fruitfulness of genuine doubt.
Genuine doubt is for Peirce the motive and
motor of productive inquiries. In his fourth
Cambridge lecture, he underlines that science
has been infected with overcondent assertion,
especially on the part of [...] men who have
been more concerned with teaching than with
learning(Peirce 1898, p. 179). As teachers
need to have some condence in the subject
matter they teach and trust the ways in which
they choose to teach it, they may overvalue
the security of their beliefs. Consequently, the
attitude of teachers is risky as they may not
allow for genuine doubt. In contrast, the humble
attitude of true learners is more fruitful: you must
be as a little child, with all the sincerity and
simple-mindedness of the childs vision, with
all the plasticity of the childs mental habits
(1898, p. 181).
In sum, the will to believebecomes less
productive than the will to learn(Peirce 1898,
p. 171) and thus is deprecated by Peircean
pragmatist lights. The will to learn arises from
doubt, which again should be conceived both as
a subjective feeling and a seemingly falsied posi-
tion. Thus, nurturing the rst rule of reason
is, rst, about recognizing the subjective feeling
of doubt and, next, about educating a community
of critical thinkers who are able to question
authoritative beliefs, know how to debunk them,
and how to turn away from obiter dictum.
Education
Peirce never explicitly addressed education as
an autonomous eld of theory and practice
(as did, for instance, Dewey). But he addressed
the topic of higher education in a few minor
publications. Peirce sums up a short text
published in Johns Hopkins University Circulars
this way:
In short, my view is the true one, a young
man wants a physical education and an aesthetic
education, an education in the ways of the world
and a moral education, and with all these logic has
Peirce and Education, an Overview 3
nothing in particular to do; but so far as he wants an
intellectual education, it is precisely logic that he
wants; and whether it be in one lecture room or
another, his ultimate purpose is to improve his log-
ical power and his knowledge of methods. To this
great end a young mans attention ought to
be directed when he rst comes to the university;
he ought to keep it steadily in view during the whole
period of his studies; and nally, he will do well to
review his whole work in the light which an educa-
tion in logic throws upon it. (Peirce 1882, p. 337)
Logichere denotes a broad study of general
methods of inquiry, associated neither with
formal logic nor with any specialized discipline.
Accordingly, the study of logic should make
students capable of keeping an overview, a supe-
rior perspective, and going beyond the strict
rules and narrow borders of the artes liberales
subject matters taught at the university: An
intellectual educationshould improve the stu-
dentslogical power and his knowledge of
methods,regardless of which lecture roomin
which it happens. The studentsdevotion to the
knowledge-producing culture of a university is
therefore both the aim and the means of education.
So, Peirce should not be read as providing
any narrow model of education or specic educa-
tional recipes. Rather, Peirces philosophy
should be interpreted as part of a long-lasting
philosophical discourse which stretches from the
ancient Paideia (rearing well-conducted citizens
of the polis) through the medieval notion of
Bildung (character formation) to modern concep-
tions of Emancipation. Consequently, Peirces
most signicant contribution to the philosophy
of education is not his explicit texts on higher
education interpreted as guiding principles
on what and how to educate. His most valuable
contribution is rather his general logic, or theory
of inquiry, and his semiotics.
It would seem that Peirce managed to bring
his vision of logic to life in the classroom, as
shortly after Peirces death the testimonial
Charles S. Peirce as Teacherwas written
by Joseph Jastrow, the noted experimental psy-
chologist, whom Peirce taught at Johns Hopkins
University in the mid-1880s. Despite 30 years
having passed, Jastrow describes vividly and pas-
sionately his teachers pedagogy and its effect
on him. He states, Mr Peirces courses in logic
gave me my rst real experience of intellectual
muscle, noting that Peirce did not merely lecture
to him but trusted him to perform research along-
side him by assigning tasks which excelled at
adding a moderate insight to a growing capacity
(Jastrow 1916, p. 724). This arguably places
Peirce as an early leader in the now popular move-
ment of active learning(Lizska 2013).
Semiotics
The point of departure of Peirces semiotics
which is the study of the action of signs and sign
systems is the axiom that cognition, thought,
and even the human being are semiotic in their
essence. All thoughts are in signs, and, like a sign,
a thought refers to other thoughts and to objects
in the world. The most central concepts of semi-
otics are signand semiosis.
Asign is simultaneously a medium and a
mediator, a representation which (as we saw) itself
is an element of the Phenomenon(Peirce 1903,
p. 160). Its most characteristic feature is its triadic
structure which, drawing on Peirces key notion
of Thirdness as transaction,identies every sign
as a medium of both communication and creation:
I will say that a sign is anything, of whatsoever
mode of being, which mediates between an object
and an interpretant; since it is both determined
by the object relatively to the interpretant, and
determines the interpretant in reference to the
object, in such wise as to cause the interpretant to
be determined by the object through the mediation
of this sign.(Peirce 1907, p. 410)
Here Peirce notes that the mediating
structure of the sign is the triadic relation which
holds between sign, object, and interpretant.
For instance, if I own a lipstick with a color
called brave red,these words inscribed on the
lipstick tube are the sign, the object is the lip-
sticks characteristic color, and the interpretant
consists of all the ways in which the community
continues to use these same words to describe
this same color. If this process of sign-use con-
tinues over time, the sign can be said to be living
not merely in a metaphorical sense.
4 Peirce and Education, an Overview
A further useful distinction in Peirces
semiotics holds between three kinds of sign:
(i) symbols, which pick out their objects by arbi-
trary convention or habit; (ii) indices, which pick
out their objects by unmediated pointing; and
(iii) icons, which pick out their objects by resem-
bling them (as Peirce put it: an icons parts are
related in the same way that the objects
represented by those parts are themselves related).
These three different kinds of signs may be
understood as having different educative strengths
insofar as icons excel at representing structure,
thereby providing learners with a navigable
road map of a subject matter and enabling them
to see further connections of their own in what is
taught, indices are what connect subject matters to
the learners own lived experience, and symbols
enable generalizations to be made through all
of the learners experience (Legg 2017).
Learning processes may thus at one analyti-
cal level be seen as processes of sign interpreta-
tion which spread among the sign-using
population insofar as they succeed at making the
world more intelligible. Such processes include
many different kinds of sign relations in which
each relation is part of a complicated network
of interpretations (or theories) and interactive
systems of actions. In other words, to Peirce,
the dynamics of knowledge and learning consist
in the ows of signs that press upon every one
of us daily and hourly.These actions of signs
are sem(e)iosis:
By semeiosis I mean, an action, or inuence, which
is, or involves, a cooperation of three subjects, such
as a sign, its object, and its interpretant, this thri-
relative inuence not being in any way resolvable
into actions between pairs. (Peirce 1907,p.411)
Peirces notion of semeiosis”–the action
of signs highlights the power of signs to move
agents at a given time and to change their habits
over time. This potency crucially involves
Thirdness (not just mechanical causation, i.e.,
Secondness), because no sign ever acts as such
without producing a physical replica or
interpretant(Peirce 1903, p. 271). Consequently,
semiosis is an intelligent, triadic action.
Acts of Signs
To philosophy of education, Peirce offers a
model of mind and cognition which challenges
much mainstream thinking, namely, semiosis
(Strand 2013; Semetsky 2005). Thoughts are in
the ows of signs, and, like a ow of signs, a
thought refers to other thoughts and to objects in
a world of change. We understand the world
through signs; signs are our means to think
about relations and objects. Signs give access to
the local/global semiosphere in which we live and
work, to the historically produced knowledge rep-
ertoire of our culture, and to the fast ows of
information and communication distributed
through social media and virtual networks (Legg
2013). Our understanding of the world is therefore
always mediated through historically based and
virtual signs and thus by the referential domain
they elicit. Moreover, signs have the power
to move agents and to change their habits.
Dynamics of knowledge and learning are there-
fore in signs. But for these dynamics to be pro-
ductive, sign processes have to be embodied
(Strand 2014). Next, the conscious effects of
such processes should be subject to self-control
and pragmatic examination.
In sum, Peirce invites a shift in perspective
from psychological processes of learning
(as inputting information) toward semiotic and
pragmatic processes of communication and
meaning-making. Needless to say, Peirce does
not offer a theory of experiential learning or a
didactics of experiential pedagogy. Rather, his
distinct semiotics invites a sophisticated frame-
work for further philosophical deliberations on
education as semiosis.
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6 Peirce and Education, an Overview
... I agree with Strand and Legg (2019) that "the philosophy of Charles S. Peirce… enhances our understanding of educational processes" (p. 1) despite the fact that Peirce "never explicitly addressed education as an autonomous field of theory and practice" (p. 3). ...
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Although John Dewey has had the most profound effect on education, less is known about the philosophy of education of the original founder of pragmatism, Charles Peirce Using Peirce’s theory of formal rhetoric, I try to show that Peirce’s philosophy of education, when fully understood, is aligned with Dewey’s pedagogy of experiential learning, and can provide a justification for the promotion of active learning in the classroom. Peirce’s rhetoric, as one part of his logical or semiotic theory, argues that reasoning alone is not sufficient to gain knowledge, but that it must be embedded within a community of inquiry, of a certain sort. Applying this to the classroom, I argue that we, as teachers, should endeavor to create the features of a proper community of inquiry in the classroom, one that emphasizes engagement of the students in doing research rather than passively receiving information about its results.
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The so-called ‘Semantic Web’ is phase II of Tim Berners-Lee’s original vision for the WWW, whereby resources would no longer be indexed merely ‘syntactically’, via opaque character-strings, but via their meanings. We argue that one roadblock to Semantic Web development has been researchers’ adherence to a Cartesian, ‘private’ account of meaning, which has been dominant for the last 400 years, and which understands the meanings of signs as what their producers intend them to mean. It thus strives to build ‘silos of meaning’ which explicitly and antecedently determine what signs on the Web will mean in all possible situations. By contrast, the field is moving forward insofar as it embraces Peirce’s ‘public’, evolutionary account of meaning, according to which the meaning of signs just is the way they are interpreted and used to produce further signs. Given the extreme interconnectivity of the Web, it is argued that silos of meaning are unnecessary as plentiful machine-understandable data about the meaning of Web resources exists already in the form of those resources themselves, for applications that are able to leverage it, and it is Peirce’s account of meaning which can best make sense of the recent explosion in ‘user-defined content’ on the Web, and its relevance to achieving Semantic Web goals.
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Pragmatism : A New Name for Some Old Ways of Thinking / William James Note: The University of Adelaide Library eBooks @ Adelaide.