Toward an Ethics of Philosophy in a Digital Age

To honor the work of Richard Bernstein and specifically his influence as a teacher at the New School for Social Research, Marcia Morgan and Jonathan Pickle invited a group of his former students to write essays for a volume entitled Thinking the Plural: Richard J. Bernstein’s Contributions to American Philosophy.

My contribution has the working title: The Ethics of Philosophy in a Digital Age: Peirce, Dewey, Bernstein and the Cultivation of Creative Digital Democracies. Drawing on Bernstein’s account of the ethos of pragmatism in his 1988 Presidential Address to the American Philosophical Association, the essay advocates for practices of digital communicative transaction rooted in the habits of an “engaged fallibilistic pluralism.”

Because one of the hallmarks of this approach is that it not only advocate in word, but practice in deed the ethics of philosophy it seeks to embody, I am posting a draft of the essay here for public comment.

The slideshare of my presentation is available here:

The paper is made available as a Google document with open permissions for anyone to comment and embedded here to easy access and viewing. Of course, I welcome comments here on the blog as well, or via Twitter or Facebook as well.

Join the discussion 3 Comments

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  • Daniel Brunson says:

    Some initial thoughts:

    pp. 3-4, fn. 5:

    CP 2.89, characterizing Thirdness:

    Transuasion (suggesting translation, transaction, transfusion, transcendental, etc.) is mediation, or the modification of firstness and secondness by thirdness, taken apart from the secondness and firstness; or, is being in creating Obsistence.

    p. 6:

    p. 11: more precisely, we have no capacity to intuit or introspect that would provide certainty; at other places Peirce is happy to discuss intuition as evolved instinct or acritical habituated inference – see the material on sentimental conservatism from the 1898 lectures (CP 1.661 ff., EP 2 p. 27 ff.). This material could bring Peirce even closer to Gadamer than you argue here.

    pp. 14-15:

    CP 5.354:

    Upon our theory of reality and of logic, it can be shown that no inference
    of any individual can be thoroughly logical without certain determinations of his mind which do not concern any one inference immediately; for we have seen that that mode of inference which alone can teach us anything, or carry us at all beyond what was implied in our premisses — in fact, does not give us to know any more than we knew before; only, we know that, by faithfully adhering to that mode of inference, we shall, on the whole, approximate to the truth. Each of us is an insurance company, in short. But, now, suppose that an insurance company, among its risks, should take one exceeding in amount the sum of all the others. Plainly, it would then have no security
    whatever. Now, has not every single man such a risk? What shall it profit a man if he shall gain the whole world and lose his own soul? If a man has a transcendent personal interest infinitely outweighing all others, then, upon the theory of validity of inference just developed, he is devoid of all security, and can make no valid inference whatever. What follows? That logic rigidly requires, before all else, that no determinate fact, nothing which can happen to a man’s self, should be of more consequence to him than everything else. He who would not sacrifice his own soul to save the whole world, is illogical in all his inferences, collectively. So the social principle is rooted intrinsically in logic.

    p. 21:

    CP 2.655:
    It may seem strange that I should put forward three sentiments, namely,
    interest in an indefinite community, recognition of the possibility of this interest being made supreme, and hope in the unlimited continuance of intellectual activity, as indispensable requirements of logic. Yet, when we consider that logic depends on a mere struggle to escape doubt, which, as it terminates in action, must begin in emotion, and that, furthermore, the only cause of our planting ourselves on reason is that other methods of escaping doubt fail on account of the social impulse, why should we wonder to find social sentiment presupposed in reasoning? As for the other two sentiments which I find necessary, they are so only as supports and accessories of
    that. It interests me to notice that these three sentiments seem to be pretty much the same as that famous trio of Charity, Faith, and Hope, which, in the estimation of St. Paul, are the finest and greatest of spiritual gifts. Neither Old nor New Testament is a textbook of the logic of science, but the latter is certainly the highest existing authority in regard to the dispositions of heart which a man ought to have.

    p. 25: “If Peirce was able to identify these practices with a “community of philosophers” in 1868,…” However, Peirce was clear that many philosophers were ‘seminarians’ – lovers of system , not lovers of truth. This points to a general problem with expanding Peircean epistemology to democracy as such – the standards of those motivated by truth are inapplicable (ridiculous) to the majority who are motivated by pleasure or power. I think working through this is one of the problems in Royce’s The Problem of Christianity.

    p. 27: Regarding (ant)agonistic litigation as a mode of philosophy, this piece by Kelly Parker might be of interest –

    Josiah Royce on “The Spirit of the Community” and the Nature of Philosophy: An Interpretive Reconstruction
    Author(s): KELLY A. PARKER
    Source: The Journal of Speculative Philosophy, New Series, Vol. 14, No. 3 (2000), pp. 179-191
    Published by: Penn State University Press
    Stable URL: .
    I use, and expand upon, it in my article in The Pluralist 8.2 on insurance as a form of community.

  • […] text was itself the starting point of my own attempt to articulate an Ethics of Philosophy in a Digital Age. The virtues of engaged fallibilistic pluralism are learned through practice, so perhaps this site […]

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