The Politics of Survival: Peirce, Affectivity, and Social Criticism

The Politics of Survival: Peirce, Affectivity, and Social Criticism

Douglas R. Anderson
Jude Jones
Copyright Date: 2010
Published by: Fordham University Press
Pages: 304
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  • Book Info
    The Politics of Survival: Peirce, Affectivity, and Social Criticism
    Book Description:

    How can sincere, well-meaning people unintentionally perpetuate discrimination based on race, sex, sexuality, or other socio-political factors? To address this question, Lara Trout engages a neglected dimension of Charles S. Peirce's philosophy - human embodiment - in order to highlight the compatibility between Peirce's ideas and contemporary work in social criticism. This compatibility, which has been neglected in both Peircean and social criticism scholarship, emerges when the body is fore-grounded among the affective dimensions of Peirce's philosophy (including feeling, emotion, belief, doubt, instinct, and habit). Trout explains unintentional discrimination by situating Peircean affectivity within a post-Darwinian context, using the work of contemporary neuroscientist Antonio Damasio to facilitate this contextual move. Since children are vulnerable, naive, and dependent upon their caretakers for survival, they must trust their caretaker's testimony about reality. This dependency, coupled with societal norms that reinforce historically dominant perspectives (such as being heterosexual, male, middle-class, and/or white), fosters the internalization of discriminatory habits that function non-consciously in adulthood. The Politics of Survival brings Peirce and social criticism into conversation. On the one hand, Peircean cognition, epistemology, phenomenology, and metaphysics dovetail with social critical insights into the inter-relationships among body and mind, emotion and reason, self and society. Moreover, Peirce's epistemological ideal of an infinitely inclusive community of inquiry into knowledge and reality implies a repudiation of exclusionary prejudice. On the other hand, work in feminism and race theory illustrates how the application of Peirce's infinitely inclusive communal ideal can be undermined by non-conscious habits of exclusion internalized in childhood by members belonging to historically dominant groups, such as the economically privileged, heterosexuals, men, and whites. Trout offers a Peircean response to this application problem that both acknowledges the "blind spots" of non-conscious discrimination and recommends a communally situated network of remedies including agapic love, critical common-sensism, scientific method, and self-control.

    eISBN: 978-0-8232-4919-0
    Subjects: Education

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Abbreviations
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xvi)
    (pp. 1-24)

    I use the philosophy of classical American pragmatist Charles Sanders Peirce to teach my students about unintentional racism. Many of these students, almost all of whom are Euro-American white,¹ report a transformation—from not believing in the possibility of unintentional racism to fully acknowledging this phenomenon.² The type of racism I focus on in class—and in this book—is white racism against people of color, which includes denying or restricting, based on race,³ a person or group’s access to societal recognition, respect, resources, and protection. Racism in this sense can take on both everyday forms (such as rudeness) and...

    (pp. 25-68)

    Peirce viewed the individual human organism as a body-minded, social animal who interacts semiotically with the world outside of her. He had little patience for the Cartesian portrayal of the individual as a disembodied, solipsistic knower with immediate epistemic access to truth. I use the term “naive individual” to convey a Cartesian knower who ignores her situatedness as an embodied, socially shaped organism in constant communication with the external environment. I reserve the term “individual” to convey a Peircean knower who is inescapably situated (and who may or may not be aware of this situatedness). For emphasis, I occasionally refer...

  7. TWO THE AFFECTIVITY OF COGNITION: Journal of Speculative Philosophy Cognition Series, 1868–69
    (pp. 69-127)

    Peirce’sJournal of Speculative PhilosophyCognition Series, published in the late 1860s,¹ portrays synechistic individuals whose ongoing processes of cognition and habit-formation are inescapably shaped by personalized and socialized interests. Because of the inescapable bias of human cognition, humans do well to realize the value ofcommunalinquiry into knowledge and to accept the limitations of their individual points of view. At the same time, humans are vulnerable in relation to the communities of which they are members. In particular, humans are vulnerable to internalizing growth-inhibiting habits because of their dependency—especially as children—on the testimony of others in...

  8. THREE THE AFFECTIVITY OF INQUIRY: Popular Science Monthly Illustrations of the Logic of Science Series, 1877–78
    (pp. 128-173)

    In his Illustrations of the Logic of Science series, published inPopular Science Monthlyin the late 1870s,¹ Peirce presents a robust synechistic individual, one who stands up to her hegemonic community whose belief-habits need to be challenged. He also presents the scientific method as the preferred method of communal belief-habit formation. The scientific method—unlike the hegemonic authority method—encourages input from individual community members, since such input fosters growth in knowledge about the external world. Scientific inquiry synthesizes many individual perspectives on the world, in order to solicit insight, compensate for bias, and elucidate common elements. This way,...

  9. FOUR THE LAW OF MIND, ASSOCIATION, AND SYMPATHY: Monist “Cosmology Series” and Association Writings, 1890s
    (pp. 174-228)

    For Peirce, agapic love is the ideal that communities should embrace in relationship to their individual members, especially when these members are at odds with the community itself.¹ Peirce’s views on agape occur in the rich context of his 1890sMonist“Cosmology Series” and writings on association,² where the synechistic individual emerges as a potential source of novelty, as a result of her unique experience and creativity. This novelty is an important source of communal growth. In what follows, I give an affectivity- and social criticism–focused interpretation and application of these key insights, drawing on work done in previous...

    (pp. 229-272)

    Critical Common-sensism (CCS) is an epistemological doctrine that calls for a critical examination of the common-sense beliefs that underwrite human cognition.¹ It is thus uniquely suited to address social critical concerns about discriminatory beliefs that can become ingrained within one’s background beliefs without her or his awareness.² The self-controlled scrutiny of background/commonsense beliefs called for by Critical Common-sensism provides the missing piece in terms of the application problem faced by both the scientific method and the agapic ideal. I foreground Critical Common-sensism’s social critical potential by examining CCS in conjunction with the work done in previous chapters, as well as...

    (pp. 273-284)

    These words from bell hooks and Audre Lorde underscore a problematic lack of social critical sensitivity that informs Peirce’s philosophy, as he largely failed to address the oppressive dynamics that can undermine, in actual communities, the ideal of infinite inclusion.¹ Whileinfiniteinclusion itself cannot be literally achieved in flesh-and-blood communities, I would argue that the fallibilism and openness represented by this idealcanbe achieved. This achievement requires work on the part of community members in hegemonic groups to unearth nonconscious exclusionary beliefs that can tempt them to inappropriately reject feedback that represents non-hegemonic perspectives. Resisting this rejection, through...

  12. Notes
    (pp. 285-338)
  13. Works Cited
    (pp. 339-350)
  14. Index
    (pp. 351-362)
  15. Back Matter
    (pp. 363-364)