The Quotable Morse Peckham
On Literature, Life, and Beyond


"It may be thought that the logical conundrums of philosophers have no impact on the general culture, but history tells us that this is not so. Sooner or later, ideas that devastate philosophy devastate everything else. For philosophy is and always has been devoted to one and only one question: 'What are we talking about, if, indeed, we are talking about anything?' This question ultimately means, 'What aspect of human experience does a particular word locate and inform us about?'"
[Man's Rage for Chaos: Biology, Behavior, and the Arts (Philadelphia: Chilton Books, 1965), 3.]

"[T]hat after all is the task of philosophy, to demonstrate the unsatisfactoriness of philosophical propositions. At least that seems to be what philosophers principally do."
["Literary Interpretation as Conventionalized Verbal Behavior" (1967), in The Triumph of Romanticism (Columbia, SC: University of South Carolina Press, 1970), 349.]

"Philosophy and the formal aspect of art are related modes of behavior only in their opposition or negation of each other, the first having as its function the channelling of behavior, the second as its function the increase of the probability of generating unchannelled or random behavior. Philosophy and the semantic aspect of art, on the other hand, are related modes of behavior in that the primary task of art is to exemplify philosophy, whether it be the philosophy of the street or of our most abstract philosophers. Yet even so, because of the highly exemplificatory character of the semantic rhetoric of art, it can be and historically has been subversive not only of philosophical explanations but of explanation itself. It can generate unchannelled or random behavior and occasionally does so."
["Philosophy and Art as Related and Unrelated Modes of Behavior" (1973), in Romanticism and Ideology (Greenwood, FL: The Penkevill Publishing Company, 1985), 201.]

"The professionalization of philosophy, only about two hundred years old, has enormously increased that instability [of philosophical speculation], principally because it has become increasingly possible to earn a living by being a philosopher. What Derrida has done with his notion of deconstruction is simply to respond to the history of philosophy, as has Rorty more or less independently. To me Derrida erred in using the term 'deconstruction,' because it implies that there is a construction to be deconstructed, when in fact there is none. Every philosopher proceeds by pointing out the non-construction of the work of his predecessors. Derrida would have done better, I think, to use the term 'destabilizing,' a term which locates the problem in the realm of behavioral interaction instead of implying as 'deconstruction' does, a construction immanent in the text. But perhaps he was using the term 'deconstruction' ironically. In any event it is not philosophy that is unstable but the interpretation of philosophical texts."
["Valuing," Pre/Text 10/3-4 (1989): 210-11.]