The Quotable Morse Peckham
On Literature, Life, and Beyond

Topic

"We discover nothing. We take care of a phenomenon which we cannot categorize by restructuring the system of categorization in the field of investigation. This is the experience accompanying scientific revolutions, as Kuhn defines them. It is equally true of humanistic revolutions and especially true in the study of philosophy, in which progress is not made by the accumulation of knowledge within existing categories but by leaps into new categorial systems."
[Man's Rage for Chaos: Biology, Behavior, and the Arts (Philadelphia: Chilton Books, 1965), 124.]

"Our thinking is always ultimately circular; all we can hope to do is to include as much in the circle as possible."
[Man's Rage for Chaos: Biology, Behavior, and the Arts (Philadelphia: Chilton Books, 1965), 213.]

"Ultimately, I believe, the only mental instrument we have is analogy, and all we can do with it is to predict, although I am quite aware of what a scandalous position this is. ... At the gateway between the phenomenal and the physiological still stands a flaming sword. A resolution of each into the other is, I suspect, a paradise we shall never enter."
[Art and Pornography: An Experiment in Explanation (New York: Basic Books, 1969), 133.]

"To turn the full glare of analysis onto the self is, of course, to discover that the self's perceptions and cognitions are dictated by its interests, its adaptational interests, if we are using an organism-environment mode of explanation. But, equally, it is to discover that the full glare of analysis is also dictated by interests, and so on, into an infinite regress. And the regress continues until it is realized that one can only erect a towering superstructure of interest upon interest, of explanation upon explanation, until the whole thing topples over into the awareness that interests are in fact inaccessible, and that even if one achieves a cultural transcendence, cultural interests are still at work, and the strategy of the transcendence and the interests at work in that strategy are also inaccessible. Turning the full glare of analysis on the self is but an exercise in rationality, and ultimately rationality, traced to its sources, disappears into a mist whence can come only paralysis or an action without justification."
[Victorian Revolutionaries: Speculations on Some Heroes of a Culture Crisis (New York: George Braziller, 1970), 189-90.]

"The brain is so constructed that it is virtually impossible to learn correctly anything more elaborate than very simple patterns of behavior."
["The Arts and the Centers of Power" (1971), in Romanticism and Behavior: Collected Essays II (Columbia, SC: University of South Carolina Press, 1976), 335.]

"On the one hand situational thinking seeks to interpret and explain a phenomenon, natural object or document, in terms of the factors associated with it and, perhaps, responsible for it. On the other hand, since the situation is by definition theoretically unlimited, the selection of those factors must be accomplished by the imposition of a construct not derived from the situation, a construct that must be the product of what we call, too carelessly and too optimistically, the reason."
["Cultural Transcendence: The Task of the Romantics" (1981), in Romanticism and Ideology (Greenwood, FL: The Penkevill Publishing Company, 1985), 20-21.]

"I believe in the inherent instability of theory constructions, and I have endeavored to practice it."
["Cultural Transcendence: The Task of the Romantics" (1981), in Romanticism and Ideology (Greenwood, FL: The Penkevill Publishing Company, 1985), 33.]