C. S. Peirce's "A Neglected Argument for the Reality of God": a critical and constructive interpretation
Rohr, David Anthony
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This dissertation provides a critical and constructive interpretation of “A Neglected Argument for the Reality of God” [NA], the sole primarily theological essay written by the logician, scientist, and philosopher C. S. Peirce (1839-1914). Despite recent scholarly attention, NA has confused its readers from its publication in 1908 until today. This dissertation interprets NA in light of: (a) Peirce’s philosophy of science and his theory of signs (semeiotic); and (b) a close reading of the published essays and unpublished manuscripts Peirce composed during the decade before NA’s publication and the six years he lived post-publication. These primary materials suggest that the key to understanding the so-called humble argument at the heart of NA is Peirce’s conviction that the universe is a divine sign. The humble argument is a recommendation that one make musement, or the playful contemplation of the universe, a daily habit. Since Peirce believed that the universe is a divine sign, he predicted that anyone who mused for forty to fifty minutes daily would eventually come to believe in God’s reality. Peirce describes the humble argument as the innermost of three nested arguments, the latter two defending the reasonableness of the humble argument. The second argument, which Peirce accuses theologians of neglecting, appeals to the instinctiveness of the idea that God is real as evidence of the truth of that idea. As stated, that argument is flawed, but it can be reformulated as an empirical prediction that intelligent extraterrestrial lifeforms will tend to develop conceptions of God or Ultimate Reality. The third argument defends the reasonableness of the humble argument by construing the idea of God as arising, like scientific hypotheses, through abductive inference. Contra Peirce, this dissertation argues that, although analogous to certain abstractions that play important roles in science, the idea of God is not a valid scientific hypothesis because it entails no testable predictions. Given this lack of testable consequences, Peirce’s pragmatic defense of the meaningfulness of the idea of God is inconsistent with his pragmaticism, having more in common with William James’s individualistic interpretation of pragmatism, which Peirce had previously opposed.
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