Walker Percy, philosopher (3)

Forthcoming: Walker Percy, Philosopher.

Percy, Peirce, and Parsifal: Intuition’s Farther Shore

by Stephen Utz

Walker Percy’s unusual aspirations set his novels apart from most literary attempts to understand profound human problems. He gave meaning to the category of art as inquiry. In the novels, his characters’ eccentric quests treat everyday things as evidence for abstract and ultimately theological hypotheses. Outside the novels Percy shared their conviction, inspired by philosophical traditions that include Leibniz, Descartes, the British phenomenalists, C. S. Peirce, and Noam Chomsky. This article shows how well in tune he was with these traditions, and especially with Chomsky’s and Peirce’s variants on the thesis that built-in biases picked up from our environment are relevant to everyday and scientific learning. In this respect, Percy too anticipated the significance of more recent developments in cognitive science and robotic learning. Like Peirce, he also believed that these empirical learning patterns have theological resonance.

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