PEIRCE AND THE POST-ACADEMIC « TRADITION »

Jeff Bell in a very interesting post defends C.S.Peirce from Ernest Nagel’s critique of the very style of his thinking, regretting the impossibility of undoing « the damage which both Peirce and philosophy have suffered when he was not permitted, except for a brief period, to receive the intellectual and literary discipline which regular university teaching would have given him.” Bell’s response relativises this notion of academic disciplnie that Nagel naïvely assumes to represent some sort of absolute.

Bell shows that Nagel moves at the level of the doxa, using vague notions and sociological stereotypes instead of concepts. Bell himself goes further and constructs the rudiments of a concept, « indiscipline », hidden by the notion of « lack of discipline ». Nagel’s idea of discipline in relation to Peirce, beyond the notion of that « which regular university teaching would have given him », is one of order and identity. Deleuze calls this the point of view of reflexion. Deleuze himself had the experience of long years of regular university teaching, as did Feyerabend, yet they belong clearly to the side of indiscipline. Academia or not is not a useful criterion, as we have seen previously on this blog (for example here, and passim.). I have often discussed Feyerabend’s critique of « school philosophies », and adduced as a contemporary example of such a school philosophy Graham Harman’s OOO. I have tried to give a Lyotardian take on Mikhail Emelianov’s idea of the « post-academic ». (It will be remembered that Lyotard warned that « post-modern » was not to be taken in the chronological sense of that which comes after the modern, but as that which problematises all universal systems of legitimation, whether they be traditional or modern).

Feyerabend showed (in « Explanation, Reduction, and Empiricism ») that Nagel’s idea of order and identity would have paralysed the sciences and was unreasonable as an account of meaning or as a philosophy of life. Peirce, even if he had had the experience of regular university teaching, would not have abandonned his concept of « primal chaos » nor his triads (that Nagel finds so distasteful). Deleuze, who loved Peirce triads and all, emphasized that the problem was not binaries or triads, but whether they open onto multiplicities and becomings or onto unities and stable orders.

One can see Bell’s concept of « indiscipline » is deliberately outside the dualism of disciplined/undisciplined. This has similarities with the ideas of Deleuze in DIALOGUES where he says that the point of view of reflexion misses the becomings, wherever you are. And also of Feyerabend in his last interview. He is bed-ridden, paralysed on one side, close to dying (he dies two weeks later), yet he accepts an interview with Joachim Jung where he says that school philosophy is not all that important. So the situation is so serious that I don’t think he is just being « undisciplined », nor was Deleuze when he threw himself from his window. These last moments of two philosophers are, amongst other things, a comment on the notions of discipline (of minds and of bodies), of school philosophy, and of the point of view of reflexion insofar as these do not remain inside the bounds of the academy but disseminate into our lives. Feyerabend’s objection to Nagel is that his arguments are fallacious, but also that they do not take into consideration the necessary indiscipline of human lives. Deleuze could have lived on, « survived » for several years if he had accepted the mechanical disciplining of his body by the artificial lung. Such a life was not an option in that this debilitating survival did not permit the continuation of his activity of conceptual creation. Nagel seems to think that « regular university teaching » would have not only improved Peirce’s arguments (we all need feedback and the experience of multiple audiences)but also have corrected and improved his conceptual creation. He is not absolutely wrong, he just confuses a rule of thumb with a universal law. I am very wary of counterfactual criticism, which claims that if, for example, Peirce had benefitted from the same régime as Nagel he would have been a better philosopher. Régimes, as Deleuze says, are singular practices of subjectivation, or what Simondon calls individuation. Nagel sees the lack of discipline, but he does not see the individuation « despite » (and we know that Nietzsche called for a philosophy of the « despite ») the different conditions of Peirce’s creation.

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