[FOM] A few more thoughts on the expression 'only in a Pickwickian sense'

Margaret MacDougall Margaret.MacDougall at ed.ac.uk
Mon Mar 26 04:04:29 EDT 2012

Dear Jon

Thanks for your interest in highlighing the reference below.  I managed 
to find some time over recent days to read the entire article by Pierce, 
as was my intention before replying.  I think, in the final analysis, 
Pierce's usage of the term arises from his comments on human beings as 
consisting at least in part of a self who is evolving through 
instruction. While he acknowledges that this instruction is derived from 
a) a sort of external self  and b) a circle of society which can be 
referred to as a "sort of loosely compacted person", he does not regard 
the beings under either a) or b), above as genuinely real under his own 
notion of human existence. In an analogous sense *some* writers who 
favour nominalism do away with mathematical objects through use of the 
expression 'only in a Pickwickian sense'.

However, when the expression 'only in a Pickwickian sense' is used there 
is an associated need to be very clear about what is required for an 
entity to exist; otherwise, it is very difficult to see why the usage of 
such an expression is justified or whether the intended argument for a 
particular philosophy of mathematics is genuinely substantiated.

Best wishes


On 16/03/2012 03:36, Jon Awbrey wrote:
> Re: Margaret MacDougall
> At: http://www.cs.nyu.edu/pipermail/fom/2012-March/016271.html
> Margaret,
> There is this rather famous paragraph from Charles S. Peirce --
> | Two things here are all-important to assure oneself of and to remember.
> | The first is that a person is not absolutely an individual.  His 
> thoughts
> | are what he is "saying to himself", that is, is saying to that other 
> self
> | that is just coming into life in the flow of time.  When one 
> reasons, it is
> | that critical self that one is trying to persuade;  and all thought 
> whatsoever
> | is a sign, and is mostly of the nature of language.  The second 
> thing to remember
> | is that the man's circle of society (however widely or narrowly this 
> phrase may be
> | understood), is a sort of loosely compacted person, in some respects 
> of higher rank
> | than the person of an individual organism.  It is these two things 
> alone that render
> | it possible for you -- but only in the abstract, and in a 
> Pickwickian sense -- to
> | distinguish between absolute truth and what you do not doubt.
> |
> | C.S. Peirce, 'Collected Papers', CP 5.421.
> |
> | Charles Sanders Peirce, "What Pragmatism Is",
> |'The Monist', Volume 15, 1905, pages 161-181,
> | Also in the 'Collected Papers', CP 5.411-437.
> |
> | http://stderr.org/pipermail/inquiry/2003-October/000905.html
> Regards,
> Jon

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