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The American Journal of Semiotics


published on August 28, 2020

Nathan Houser

Peirce on Practical Reasoning

It is generally agreed that what distinguishes practical reasoning from more thoughtful reasoning is that practical reasoning properly results in action rather than in conceptual conclusions. There is much disagreement, however, about how appropriate actions follow from practical reasoning and it is commonly supposed that the connection between reasoning and action can neither be truly inferential nor strictly causal. Peirce appears to challenge this common assumption. Although he would agree that conscious and deliberate argumentation results in conceptual conclusions (mental states) rather than directly in practical action, his extended semiotic account of mental activity allows for unconscious (instinctive or habitual) cognitive processing which, though inferential, genuinely concludes in action rather than in conceptual states (logical interpretants). Peirce acknowledges that for practical reasoning to properly conclude in action it is necessary for final (semiotic) causation to operate in conjunction with efficient causation, although how this can be explained remains problematic. Still, his account is rich and promising and has much to contribute to contemporary research on practical reasoning.

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