Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Evolution of Law, Part 2

When we last left off in this discussion of C. S. Peirce's essay "Architecture of Theories" here, we were noting that Peirce claims that "the only possible way of accounting for the laws of nature and for the uniformity in general is to suppose them results of evolution." The consequence of this view is that the laws of nature cannot be absolute (true in every instance of reality) or deterministic (based on mechanical principles). The reasons for this are: 1. purely mechanical laws presuppose an extraneous cause beyond the process; 2. law results from evolution, not the other way around; 3. mechanical laws can only explain homogeneity, not heterogeneity; and 4. mechanical laws are reversible, but growth is not.

Moving on to the next section of the essay, Peirce takes up the notion of "the law of habit" in which he deals with the laws of mental rather than physical phenomena. Whenever we find ourselves applying a rule in order to establish a connection between feelings, we are witnessing the way in which thought is governed by the law of habit. Mental action is par excellence the recognition of patterns among mental states. Peirce then claims that the tendency to generalization is the one primary and fundamental law of mental action, and it is thus the supreme law of habit. This law cannot be deterministic because "it would instantly crystallize thought and prevent all further formation of habit." A mental action can only make a feeling or mental state more likely to arise, but it cannot determine it. It is a stochastic law, i.e., it involves some measure of randomness or chance.

In discussing this point, Peirce issues an apparently odd statement given what he said earlier about physical law:
The law of habit exhibits a striking contrast to all physical laws in the character of its commands. A physical law is absolute. What it requires is an exact relation.
By contrast to this sort of absolute law, "no exact conformity is required by the mental law." How could Peirce be arguing this after just showing that physical laws are not "absolute" or deterministic (i.e., "requiring an exact relation") but products of evolution?

The solution to this question is Peirce's solution to the mind-body problem. He rejects what he calls "neutralism," which sounds like a version of parallelism: the doctrine that physical law and psychical law are independent. He also rejects materialism: the doctrine that psychical law is derivative and physical law alone is primordial. This leaves the third option of idealism: the doctrine that physical law is derivative and psychical law alone is primordial. By opting for idealism, we can reinterpret his claim above about the absolute nature of physical law to be a counterfactual claim: if physical law were primordial, it would be absolute; since it is not, it is not.

His reason for rejecting dualism is standard: two "primordials" with no logical relation. His reason for rejecting materialism is also standard: repugnance at the requirement that a mechanism could feel--"a hypothesis absolutely irreducible to reason." Thus, matter is "effete mind, inveterate habits becoming physical laws."

Peirce concludes the essay with some observations about his notions of First, Second, and Third. To summarize, First is the conception of being or existing independent of anything else. Second is the conception of being relative to something else. Third is the conception of mediation of the first and second. He then lists some examples without explanation:

1. Psychology: First--feeling; Second--sense of reaction; Third--general conception.
2. Biology: First--arbitrary reproduction; Second--heredity; Third--selection.
3. Epistemology: First--chance; Second--law; Third--habit.
4. Metaphysics: First--mind; Second--matter; Third--evolution.

This structure, however it should be construed, provides the architectonic for knowledge.


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