Chapter 30. A Peirce-ing Insight

This is something I came across just a few days back reading John Finnis’ “Natural Law and the Ethics of Discourse” published in the American Journal of Jurisprudence, Vol 43, 53-73 (1998), which also appears in Ratio Juris, Vol 12 (4), 354-373 (2002).  There’s an exciting footnote in that paper, which talks about C S Peirce and abductive thinking, and insight.   Now, in several earlier chapters I’ve been making the case that the logic which allows us to grasp the precepts of natural law is what C S Peirce calls abduction.  Photography, particularly rangefinder photography, puts us in touch with phenomena that affords the abductive grasp of the natural law. I argued that the semiosic structure is as such: phenomena (representamen)–>synderisis (interpretant)–>principles of natural law (significate).  You will find all this in Chapter 3: Signs of Good and Evil.

I did not think Finnis had said this; in fact I only recall him insisting that natural law was self-evident.  Now that’s not a very informative claim except to say that it is not derived from factual claims.  One would ask, as Joseph Raz recently has in his “A Menu of Questions”, what else can be said positively about the grasp of the natural law.  My own intended contribution is to suggest that the process can be explained as an abduction, and abduction in turn by the triad of semiosis.  Perhaps one could even call it a kind of zoo-semiosis.  Anyhow, I’ve just discovered that Finnis has intimated something of this line of thought, even though he nowhere develops the idea in terms of the triad of semiosis: representamen-interpretant-significate.  In this selection that I will lift from his paper, he is adamant that the abductive grasp of natural law needs to be checked against the results of dialectical examination.  The example he has in mind is the one which checks and confirms that the knowledge of truth is a good, when the serious and reasoned denial of the good of knowledge involves one in a kind of retorsive, performative self-contradiction.  But the point nevertheless is that he has thought about Peirce’s ideas and the grasp of the natural law.  Any way here it is, from his “Natural Law and the Ethics of Discourse”, AJJ, :

“…[p. 57]…Considered as a benefit to be gained or missed in a discussion (or in a course of reflection), truth is a property of the judgments to be made by those (or the one) engaged in the common (or solitary) inquiry.  Its intelligible goodness, its character as not merely a possibility but also an opportunity, is grasped, in practice, by anyone capable of grasping that the connectedness of answers with questions, and with further questions and further answers, is that general and inexhaustible possibility we call knowledge.  This grasp of a field of possibility is a field of opportunity originates in an act of that undeduced (though not datafree!) understanding which C S Peirce, in common with the tradition originated by Plato, calls insight.

That para ends with a footnote 20, also on p. 57:

“See e.g. Justus Buchler, The Philosophy of C S Peirce (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1940), 304, a passage in which Peirce, italicizing the word “insight,” speaks of “the abductive suggestion [which] comes to us like a flash” as “an act of insight.“…

Well, there you go.  A Peirce-ing “insight”, with abduction and all…