Peirce on plural/collective selfhood/personality

From: Tony Whitson (
Date: Thu Dec 16 2004 - 20:34:14 PST

WHAT PRAGMATISM IS, The Monist, vol. 15, pp. 161-181 (1905)


CP 5.421. Two things here are all-important to assure oneself of and to
remember. The first is that a person is not absolutely an individual. His
thoughts are what he is "saying to himself," that is, is saying to that
other self that is just coming into life in the flow of time. When one
reasons, it is that critical self that one is trying to persuade; and all
thought whatsoever is a sign, and is mostly of the nature of language. The
second thing to remember is that the man's circle of society (however widely
or narrowly this phrase may be understood), is a sort of loosely compacted
person, in some respects of higher rank than the person of an individual
organism. It is these two things alone that render it possible for you --
but only in the abstract, and in a Pickwickian sense -- to distinguish
between absolute truth and what you do not doubt.



MAN'S GLASSY ESSENCE, The Monist, vol. 3, pp. 1-22 (1892)


CP 6.271. All that is necessary, upon this theory, to the existence of a
person is that the feelings out of which he is constructed should be in
close enough connection to influence one another. Here we can draw a
consequence which it may be possible to submit to experimental test. Namely,
if this be the case, there should be something like personal consciousness
in bodies of men who are in intimate and intensely sympathetic communion. It
is true that when the generalization of feeling has been carried so far as
to include all within a person, a stopping-place, in a certain sense, has
been attained; and further generalization will have a less lively character.
But we must not think it will cease. Esprit de corps, national sentiment,
sympathy, are no mere metaphors. None of us can fully realize what the minds
of corporations are, any more than one of my brain cells can know what the
whole brain is thinking. But the law of mind clearly points to the existence
of such personalities, and there are many ordinary observations which, if
they were critically examined and supplemented by special experiments,
might, as first appearances promise, give evidence of the influence of such
greater persons upon individuals. ...


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