ARISBE - Peirce's "How to Make Our Ideas Clear" (main page)


Charles S. Peirce

How to Make Our Ideas Clear
Popular ScienceMonthly 12 (January 1878), pp. 286-302
Public domain version, available at the website "Arisbe: Home of the Peirce Telecommunity" http://members.door.net/arisbe/arisbe.htm Transcription and markup:Joseph Ransdell and Brian Kariger

I (CP5.388, W3.257) Whoever has looked into a modern treatise on logic of the common sort, will doubtless remember the two distinctions between clear and obscureconceptions, and between distinct and confused (W3.258) conceptions. They have lain in the books now for nigh two centuries, unimproved and unmodified, and are generally reckoned by logicians as amongthe gems of their doctrine. (CP5.389) A clear idea is defined as one which is so apprehended that it will be recognized wherever it is met with, and so that no other will be mistaken for it. If itfails of this clearness, it is said to be obscure. This is rather a neat bit of philosophical terminology; yet, since it is clearness that they were defining, I wish the logicians had made theirdefinition a little more plain. Never to fail to recognize an idea, and under no circumstances to mistake another for it, let it come in how recondite a form it may, would indeed imply such prodigious forceand clearness of intellect as is seldom met with in this world. On the other hand, merely to have such an acquaintance with the idea as to have become familiar with it, and to have lost all hesitancyin recognizing it in ordinary cases, hardly seems to deserve the name of clearness of apprehension, since after all it only amounts to a subjective feeling of mastery which may be entirely mistaken. Itake it, however, that when the logicians speak of "clearness," they mean nothing more than such a familiarity with an idea, since they regard the quality as but a small merit, which needs to be...
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