Saturday, November 04, 2006

Emerson and Peirce

When Emerson writes about circles, he is writing about reality and our perspectives of reality. Each of our individual circles represents how we see the world. When our perspectives grow, our circles expand and become larger, and our hope is that we will come to understand the infinite circle which is reality. However, because reality is an infinite circle, it is not something that is fixed, and therefore, not something that we can ever come to know by expanding our circles. When we try to understand reality by expanding our circles, we find that it is a futile endeavor and that ultimately our circles bind us and keep us from grasping any ultimate truth. Our circles are not infinite, and can never expand so fully as to enable us to have a perspective that embraces the entirety of the infinite reality circle.

Emerson’s solution to this problem is seeking truth through introspection. If we see ourselves as a point in the center of the circle, we are no longer bound by the circle because a point has no dimensions or constraints. It is only by looking inward that we can find truth. If we look inward, we see that we are truth because we are god, and consequently, we are everyone and everywhere because all is god. This means that we are boundless and not constrained by circles.

If the irritation of doubt is what causes one to seek out truth, then in order for one to adopt an Emersonian pursuit of inward truth seeking, one must have genuine practical doubt about their ability to find truth in external reality. This doubt is most likely not one that is commonly found amongst people. Most people seem to believe that truth can be found through one’s perspective of the world. According to pragmatists like Peirce, if one were to hypothetically suppose that their external perspective will not lead to truth, they would not be experiencing genuine practical doubt, but only hypothetical doubt. In order for one to have genuine doubt, they must truly doubt their ability to grasp truth externally, and not merely hypothesize about it. Although a person with this type of genuine doubt is most likely rare, I believe it is possible for them to exist. The rarity of this type of genuine doubt has to do with people’s strength. There is a certain amount of comfort in believing that our perspectives will lead us to truth. When Emerson describes the type of person who can escape boundaries, he describes a type of person who is strong. It is perhaps this strength that enables one to abandon the comfort of believing truth can be found externally, and pursue truth inwardly instead.

On a side note, I think that there’s something interesting about viewing Emerson from a pragmatist’s perspective because Emerson’s methods do in fact lead us to fixation of belief, just as Peirce wanted. If coming into contact with differing opinions causes us to doubt our beliefs, then seeking truth inwardly avoids all future doubts because it disregards the disagreement that comes with varying perspectives in the external world. While Peirce would more than likely reject Emerson’s disposal of external reality as a source of truth, I believe he would admire the ability of Emerson’s methods to fixate a belief.


Anonymous Roman Edirisinghe said...

You're too smart for me.

November 15, 2006 4:48 PM  

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