3 Jul 2016

Peirce (CP1.314-1.316) Collected Papers of Charles Sanders Peirce, Vol1/Bk3/Ch2/A/§9, "The Communicability of Feelings", summary


by Corry Shores


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[The following is summary. Boldface and bracketed commentary are mine. Proofreading is incomplete, so please forgive my typos.]



Summary of


Charles Sanders Peirce


Collected Papers of Charles Sanders Peirce


Volume 1: Principles of Philosophy


Book 3: Phenomenology


Chapter 2: The Categories in Detail


A: Firstness


§9: The Communicability of Feelings [1.314-1.316]



Brief summary:

If your and my inner experiences of the same things were drastically dissimilar, we would not be able to communicate with each other intelligibly about them. However, they are in fact similar between humans. We can see this because two feelings from different sense modalities that are similar for us will be similar for others. For example, for most people the experience of hearing the blare of a trumpet will be similar to that of seeing the color scarlet. We can state to one another that these feelings from different senses are similar, so we can then know that our experiences of each feeling must be analogous. Furthermore, we can know that our sense experiences are analogous to those of other animals. For example, we can see from their behavior that one of their senses is analogous to one of ours with respect to the roles they play in each of our lives. For instance, a dog’s sense of smell is analogous to a human’s sense of sight with regard to the primary roles they play in information gathering. We also by interacting with animals and by observing their behavior can see that even though we seem to react differently to certain sensible things, we do seem to sense the same things and to have similar sensory experiences of them. Although science has not been able to demonstrate this, certain artistic sorts of minds have come to understand it, and they are correct. Lastly, the fact that this is an anthropomorphic view of the world around us (and especially of animals) is not a problem, because indeed in some fundamental sense the world is like the human mind. Science has shown for example that the world must be like human reason, on account of the fact that our human knowledge of the physical world has been so successful in predicting its behavior and instrumentalizing it for human use.







[Our feelings are communicable, because they are sufficiently common between us. We might not be able to get inside another person’s mind to know how they are experiencing something, but we can know our experiences are similar. For, other people will report similarities between experiences of different senses that hold for us as well, like how many people will report that the sensation of hearing a trumpet’s blare is similar to seeing the scarlet red. Even many animals sense the world in a similar way, even if they react differently, and so we can communicate feelings with animals sympathetically in our interactions with them.]


[Peirce addresses the issue of whether or not feelings are similar enough between individuals to be communcable. He thinks that in fact they are, on account of the communicability of analogies of different sorts. One sort is the analogy between different sensory modalities. We saw in the prior sections 1.312 and 1.313 the example of the blind man wondering if a trumpet’s blare is like the color scarlet. Peirce says that he also recognizes this analogy between the two feelings. So while we might not know what it is like to be in another person’s head while they hear a trumpet blaring or seeing the color red, we can know that for them the two are similar, which indicates that our experiences of each are also similar. Peirce then goes further to say that even the feelings animals have are similar enough to ours to be communicable. Here the matter of analogy is not between the different sense modalities of an individual. Rather, it is somewhat more vague and a matter of observing animal behavior. For one thing, we can see that a dog’s sense of smell gives it important information, while for us our vision plays more of that role of primary information gatherer. Thus the dog’s sense of smell is in that way analogous to our vision. And normally, by again observing the dog’s behavior, we can tell that it is smelling something that we can smell too. It might be very faint for us but very easy to detect for them. And the dog might be very interested in the smell while it might disgust us. But even with these differences being apparent, we can see that the human’s and the animal’s experiences are analogous in that both are having some sort of a smell experience of something. To try to elaborate Peirce’s notion further, suppose that there is a particular smell that always disgusts us and that always interests the dog, and suppose there is another smell – Peirce gives the example of a rose’s perfume – that interests us but that does not interest the dog. Perhaps these consistencies in correspondence indicate to us that our smelling experiences are analogous even though we react differently to the common smell we are sensing].

Philosophers, who very properly call all things into question, have asked whether we have any reason to suppose that red looks to one eye as it does to another. I answer that slight differences there may be, but [consider the blind man imagining] red to resemble the blare of a trumpet. He had collected that notion from hearing ordinary people converse together about colors, and since I was not born to be one of those whom he had heard converse, the fact that I can see a certain analogy, shows me not only that my feeling of redness is something like the feelings of the persons whom he had heard talk, but also his feeling of a trumpet’s blare was very much like mine. I am confident that a bull and I feel much alike at the sight of a red rag. As for the senses of my dog, I must confess that they seem very unlike my own, but when I reflect to how small a degree he thinks of visual images, and of how smells | play a part in his thoughts and imaginations analogous to the part played by sights in mine, I cease to be surprised that the perfume of roses or of orange flowers does not attract his attention at all and that the effluvia that interest him so much, when at all perceptible to me, are simply unpleasant. He does not think of smells as sources of pleasure and disgust but as sources of information, just as I do not think of blue as a nauseating color, nor of red as a maddening one. I know very well that my dog’s musical feelings are quite similar to mine though they agitate him more than they do me. He has the same emotions of affection as I, though they are far more moving in his case. You would never persuade me that my horse and I do not sympathize, or that the canary bird that takes such delight in joking with me does not feel with me and I with him; and this instinctive confidence of mine that it is so, is to my mind evidence that it really is so. My metaphysical friend who asks whether we can ever enter into one another’s feelings – and one particular sceptic whom I have in mind is a most exceptionally sympathetic person, whose doubts are born of her intense interest in her friends – might just as well ask me whether I am sure that red looked to me yesterday as it does today and that memory is not playing me false. I know experimentally that sensations do vary slightly even from hour to hour; but in the main the evidence is ample that they are common to all beings whose senses are sufficiently developed.

(Peirce 157-158)




[Science may not have been able to make this discovery yet, but artists have, and they are correct.]


[I am not sure of this next idea, but it seems to be that although what Peirce is saying might not be scientific, it is in fact an insight that goes beyond what science has been capable of finding.]


I hear you say: “All that is not fact; it is poetry.” Nonsense! Bad poetry is false, I grant; but nothing is truer than true poetry. And let me tell the scientific men that the artists are much finer and more accurate observers than they are, except of the special minutiae that the scientific man is looking for.





[Science has demonstrated that the world is somehow analogous to human reason, as our way of understanding it seems to be accurate. This is an anthropomorphic view. Peirce’s idea that animals experience the world like we do is likewise an anthropomorphic view and likewise should not be seen as a flaw.]


[I am not sure of the next idea, but it seems to be the following. Peirce addresses the criticism that he is making too much of an anthropomorphic claim. I am not sure why the communicability of the senses between humans would be problematic in that way, so I think this must be referring to the idea that we can conclude animals experience the world like we do. But I am not sure if he is also making some claim about the world itself, like how in the prior sections he was attributing a psychic element to the physical things in the world. At any rate, he defends his anthropomorphism in the following way. He notes that it already exists in the sciences. For, they assume that the world is of such a structure that it lends itself to human understanding and is thus in some sense analogous to human reason. And the success of the sciences in aiding human life seems to attest to the accuracy of this assumption. Peirce therefore thinks that his own anthropomorphism which sees animals (and maybe inert things) as experiencing the world similarly to how we do is therefore justified.]

I hear you say: “This smacks too much of an anthropomorphic conception.” I reply that every scientific explanation of a natural phenomenon is a hypothesis that there is something in nature to which the human reason is analogous; and that it really is so all the successes of science in its applications to human convenience are witnesses. They proclaim that truth over the length and breadth of the modern world. In the light of the successes of science to my mind there is a degree of baseness in denying our birthright as children of God and in | shamefacedly slinking away from anthropomorphic conceptions of the universe.








Peirce, C.S. Collected Papers of Charles Sanders Peirce, Vol 1: Principles of Philosophy.  In Collected Papers of Charles Sanders Peirce [Two Volumes in One], Vols. 1 and 2. Edited by Charles Hartshorne and Paul Weiss. Cambridge, Massachusetts: 1965 [1931].



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