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American Philosophy


Review Essays of Academic, Professional & Technical Books in the Humanities & Sciences


Charles S. Peirce

Signs, Solidarities & Sociology: Charles S. Peirce and Pragmatics of Globalization by Basco Jose Sobrinho (Rowman & Littlefield) (PAPERBACK) addresses the formation and fragmentation of identity in today's postmodern world. Informed by the conceptual convergence in the theories of Durkheim, Peirce, Mead, and Lacan, Signs, Solidarities & Sociology surveys the range of twentieth-century sociology to deconstruct those favored nostrums of subjective meaning, personal power and autonomous self-hood that comprise its semantics of agency. Revealed beneath this semantic screen is the triad of pragmatic codes-premodern affiliation, modern calibration, and postmodern globalization-that govern the social construction of the self. While the ill-comprehended confluence of these three signification codes in the present world situation can indeed fragment personal identity, their formal structural linkages, as shown in this book, may inform a truly postmodern, globally applicable, science of culture.


Let me briefly sum up, then, the threefold advantage of my Peircean comprehension-for an emerging global social arena-of that academic project of sociology begun by Emile Durkheim: First, it ends the current fragmentation of social science into "multiple paradigms." Peircean Pragmaticism would be in full agreement with Luhmann's assertion that "social systems ... consist of communications and nothing but communications." As the differing responses by Roosevelt's New Deal in America and Hitler's Nazi program of rearmament in the 1930s showed, the same economic factor-the Great Depression-occasioned very different responses in the two nations. Those differing responses cannot be explained by "economic factors" nor by a hazy concept of "multidimensionality," but can be effectively studied by a Pragmaticist focus on the semantic content-and the pragmatic structuring of that semantic content by such Gricean "cooperative principles" as underlie the U.S. Constitution.

That "synergistics of cognition and socialization" which Arwood defines in pragmatics underlies all the possible cohesion and value-consensus that sociology's current "functionalist paradigm" looks for, all the cleavages and conflicts between groups and coalitions that the "conflict paradigm" hopes to study, and, of course, the processes of cognition and socialization which the microsociological "paradigm of symbolic interactionism" takes for its domain. Further, in a deductively rigorous "ironing out" of the "multidimensional" wrinkles left by Alexander's "theoretical logic in sociology," this Pragmaticist sociology is truly "postempiricist" in that it takes us beyond the empiricist logic of David Hume, for whom, as the logician and philosopher Anthony Kenny shows, an empirical "actuality" could only have as its "cause" another empirical "actuality."

In contrast to the empiricist confusions of current sociological theory, Peirce's Pragmati(ci)sm-as Kenny demonstrates-followed Aristotle in arguing that behind every empirically observed actus (action or actuality) lay an unob served potentia (potentiality, potency, or power). In the Formal-Pragmatic social theory outlined in detail in the subsequent chapters of this book, where observed individual action inevitably implies a form of collective power, Kenny's "twoway" modal logic rigorously applies: whereas observed agency logically implies a corresponding social power, and conversely the absence of any social poweras, for example, the power (capacity) of literacy in any society-necessarily implies the corresponding absence of certain possibilities of agency, the presence of that social power-as, for example again, the literacy that comes from legally compulsory universal schooling-does not automatically imply the presence of its corresponding agency, but only its possibility.

Thus, such. Aristotelian-Pragmaticist theory enables what Kenny calls the "two way" modal logic, which the Humean empiricism of sociology's current statistical correlations of empirical actualities is unable to comprehend. For example, in the situation where (1) the observed phenomenon of agency-of John "writing" to Man-necessarily implies the existence of some form of that social power called "elementary education" in John and Mary's culture, and (2) the known absence of all literacy and elementary education in !Kung hunter-gatherer society would also necessarily imply the impossibility of the !Kung equivalent of "John" writing to the! Kung equivalent of "Mary," Aristotelian-Pragmaticist "theoretical logic" emphasizes the third logical path: that the existence of the social institutional power of literacy and education does not necessarily imply-as is indeed the case in contemporary America's cases of "functional illiteracy"-that the agency, the act, of John writing to Mary actually takes place. Such a modal logic-the logic of possibility-is beyond what Jeffrey Alexander would consider "theoretical logic" in sociology. But in an age of global interactions, when computerization enables a far more complex modeling of human agency involving "many-valued" and "fuzzy" logics, Pragmaticism would carry social science safely to that global shore.

Second, my Peircean comprehension restores the unity of the history of the human species across time and space. Mestrovic has recently accused the structuration theory of Giddens of conceptually sundering the connection of modern society from its premodern ancestor(s). As both Durkheim and the "New Institutionalism in Sociology" school of thought insist, the elements of modern contractual obligations-the cognitive calibration code of modernity-are "embedded" in the "precontractual elements of contract," the relations of mutual trust between contractual exchangers, whether in economic deals or the contract of marriage, established through the centuries of tradition and custom: the filiation code(s) of premodernity.

Not only does Pragmaticism enable the global comparisons of how hitherto separate and different societies, ranging from Anglo-America to Japan to Islamic Iran, all build their modern contractual expectations (in their calibration codes) upon their prior (premodern) cultural identities (their filiation codes), but-as is clear from the writings of both Charles S. Peirce and George Herbert Mead, such pan-human unity is premised upon a common evolutionary heritage, a nature-culture continuum. In a recent commentary on the concept of "effervescence" in Durkheim's Elementary Forms of the Religious Life, a social anthropologist, N. J. Allen, has compared that state of "emotional effervescence" first discussed by Durkheim in the "primitive" societies at the hunter-gatherer stage of social organization to the "chimp carnivals" observed by the primatologist V Reynolds, in that both human and chimpanzee populations display great "social excitement" in such group meetings and "vocalize loudly and sometimes rhythmically or in chorus."

While the science of primatology is still (even more than sociology) in a state of infancy, its studies of nonhuman patterns of socialization have, since at least 1959-when Harry Harlow first published his studies of maternal deprivation among rhesus monkeys-helped suggest the possible human areas of attachment to significant others and emotional bonding that the modernizing ideology of the European Enlightenment in the eighteenth century had ignored in its rush to create a model of the "rational" human individual. Such suggestions concerning the possibilities of the "hard wiring" of human emotionality could enhance intercultural understanding in our emerging global arena of human interaction.'

Finally, in being strictly based on the phenomenology of human experience, Peirce's Pragmaticism eliminates the "reification" of theoretical constructs. I have, throughout this introduction, emphasized how Peirce's phenomenology cuts through the polemics between subjective "hermeneutics" and objective science that needlessly dogs current debate in the social sciences. In my critique of existing sociology's master concepts of agency (rationality), domination (power), and the knowledgeable, individual self in chapters 1-3, the reader will have a chance to comprehend, in the detail that such a sweeping deconstruction of sociology's received hubris deserves, the unnecessary baggage which contemporary social theory still carries-in this post-Wittgensteinian era of the awareness of the impossibility of a "private language"-from those nineteenth-century formulations about "subjective meaning."

In what seems to me to be a last gasp of such nineteenth-century visions of the individual as "captain of his fate and master of his soul," Anthony Giddens has recently rushed in to defend the last bastions of the individualist personality by declaring himself "concerned to criticize the idea of society-personality homology as an analytical postulate of social theory." What Giddens seemingly fails to realize is that for the "shared meanings" necessary for the occurrence of all human communication to exist, there must, at some basic or minimal level, exist a continuity between what individuals qua individuals cognize and what the social group qua group socially cognizes. It is in this basic sense of individual-social continuity of cognition that Levi-Strauss had declared in The Savage Mind that "ethnology is first of all psychology" and further, in his Introduction to the Work of Marcel Mauss, that "the unconscious is thus the mediating term between self and others ... because, without requiring us to move outside ourselves, it enables us to coincide with forms of activity which are both at once ours and other: which are the condition of all men at all times. It is in this quest for the elimination of such artificial barriers between psychology and sociology-between the phenomenology of individual and of intersubjective experience-that I recently became aware of the reason for that seemingly intense need felt by contemporary "modem" individuals for that collective "effervescence" of religious ritual.

In an attempt to theoretically comprehend the epidemic of "Dissociative Identity Disorder" (or at the very least, states of amnesic dissociation)-the fragmentation of identity-currently being experienced in all the economically devel oped societies of the West, psychologists John and Helen Watkins reach out (in their 1997 book) to the deviant "Freudian" theory put forward by Freud's disciple, Paul Federn (in 1952), that the individual personality consists of not one, unified ego but a multiplicity of mostly dormant "ego states." While this does seem a belated recognition by Freudian psychoanalysis of that "un-Cartesian pluralism" of "various ... possible selves" which Talcott Parsons had recognized as a "particular important" contribution of the American philosophical tradition of Pragmatism, it does cement a crucial insight that is currently in danger of being completely ignored by both sociology and psychology. If, as Durkheim's Rules of Sociological Method had implied and Peirce had explicitly stated in the first of his four denials of 1868, "we have no power of introspection, but all knowledge of the internal world is derived . . . from external facts," then it is only in the experience of "collective effervescence" that the individual can ever hope to know-in experiencing the movements of the multiplicity of other bodies-all those possible "ego states" lying dormant within herself. Collective effervescence thus provides not only social but personal integration as well. A fragmented society without the unifying power of collective ritual is necessarily a "society" of fragmented personalities, and a global society that remains under-theorized can only further such disintegration at the personal level.

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