Philo
Sophos
·org

philosophy is for everyone
and not just philosophers

philosophers should know lots
of things besides philosophy



PhiloSophos knowledge base

Philosophical Connections

Pathways to Philosophy programs

University of London BA

Pathways web sites

Philosophy lovers gallery

GVKlempner: complete videos

PhiloSophos home

Pathways to Philosophy

Philosophical Connections

Compiled by Anthony Harrison-Barbet


PEIRCE

(1839 — 1914)

 

PRAGMATISM

Charles Sanders Peirce was brought up in an academic atmosphere in Cambridge (Massachusetts), where his father was a professor of mathematics and astronomy at Harvard. He himself studied science at the university, gaining a degree in chemistry in 1863. He subsequently worked as an astronomer in the Observatory and as a physicist for the United States Coast and Geodetic Survey (1861-91), devoting his spare time to study and research in philosophy. He also lectured briefly at Harvard on the history of science and then logic, and taught logic at John Hopkins University (1879-84). But he held no other university posts. He settled in Pennsylvania in 1887 and devoted the rest of his life to writing.

 

[Sources: References are to individual books and articles, or to the volumes and paragraphs in the Collected Papers of Charles Sanders Peirce, vols I-VI (ed. Hartshorne and Weiss), and vols VII-VIII (ed. Burks).]

 

LOGIC/ METHODOLOGY

[1] While Peirce agreed that logic is a formal enquiry he also stressed that it has a psychological aspect and is concerned with inferences, which he came to regard as fundamental, in so far as they govern the role played by propositions. (This eventually led him to reject synthetic a priori propositions.) More generally he thought of logic as a 'semiotic', that is, a theory of signs. But he was critical of conceptualist and 'inner privacy' approaches. He regarded all propositions as exemplifying a single sign relation — grounded in the copula. He also tended to see terms as rudimentary propositions [a] in that noun terms connote characteristics. He accepted the traditional distinction between deductive and inductive inference, but also introduced a third type, namely, 'abduction'. By this he understood a process which involves inference from what he called a 'surprising fact' to an explanation which 'if true' would render the fact no longer surprising. Abduction thus has a methodological function — to give rise to explanatory hypotheses. 'Induction' refers to the statistical testing of hypotheses to determine the probability of their truth [b].

Having identified difficulties in Kant's logic, he divided 'logical sciences' into three kinds, each dealing with a different mode of reference of signs in subject-predicate logic of propositions:

(1) Speculative grammar. This studies the relationships of signs as 'abstractions'. The mind as interpreter (we might think of it in terms of a 'unifier') relates a predicate, as sign ('representamen'), to the subject by virtue of the predicate's reference to abstract attributes (as 'ground'); and this gives rise in the interpreter to a more developed sign (the 'interpretant'). This division of logic is concerned with formal conditions of meaningfulness.

(2) Critical logic, is concerned with the formal conditions of the truth of symbols and the relationship of signs to their objects. It deals with various kinds of argument.

(3) Speculative rhetoric. This sets out the formal conditions of the 'force' of symbols. It examines the reference of signs to other signs in human or other minds. It is these latter signs that are called the interpretants) [c]. The total intended interpretant of a symbol (as a term, or in a proposition or an argument) is the meaning, exhibited in conditional propositions and ultimately verifiable empirically. This in turn presupposes the existence of a 'reality' or general 'essence' as a possibility which can be actualized; and Peirce accordingly rejects nominalist theories of meaning. Nevertheless he also seems to suggest that any such 'transcendent' is ultimately inacessible in that reference is indefinite [d]:

Anything which determines something else (its interpretant) to refer to which itself refers (its object) in the same way, this interpretant becoming in turn a sign, and so on ad infinitum. [Elements of Logic]

Symbols come into being by development from other signs. It is "only out of symbols that a new symbol can grow" [Omne symbolum de symbolo]. "If the series of successive interpretants comes to an end, the sign is thereby rendered imperfect." [Elements].

Logic is fundamental to Peirce's general philosophy, that is, his theory of knowledge and metaphysics, in so far as he supposed that fundamental categories and principles can be derived from it. (And indeed in his final period [from the 1890s until his death] he presented his pragmatism and his metaphysics in terms of abductive inference and heuristic hypotheses [see 'Pragmatism as the Logic of Abduction', Harvard lecture VII].) These fundamental categories originated in the Kantian triad of ontological categories, cosmology (matter), psychology (mind), and theology (God). And in the light of his new classification of logic he sought to show that they are derived by a process of abstraction from the three referential aspects of signs, and thereby grounded in the basic logical relation of 'signhood' [see 'On a New List of Categories'] [e].

.The discovery of the logic of relations, to the development of which he himself made a major contribution, led Peirce to reject the subject-predicate form in favour of the 'illative relation' (that is, a relation expressed by the conditional 'if... then...' or 'therefore', and which he supposed to be the fundamental notion of logic), and thus to revise his account of the meaning of a term. He also rejected any reduction of propositional relations to class relations. 'Illative relations' (which later logicians called 'material implications') comprehended formal relations; and he regarded logic in general as 'psychological', having to consider inferences, rather than just formal relationships characterized by implication. A proposition, he said, is a 'rudimentary' inference. Logic for Peirce therefore was a kind of 'logic of inquiry'. This gave rise to his central theory of pragmatism [see 'The Fixation of Belief', 'How to Make Our Ideas Clear']. He regarded pragmatism — he was later (1905) (in response to James's transformation of pragmatism into a theory of truth) to call it pragmaticism — as a method of reflection ('methodeutic') for "rendering ideas clear" [5.13, note]. It is essentially a theory of meaning. He defined this thus:

In order to ascertain the meaning of an intellectual conception one should consider what practical consequences might conceivably result by necessity from the truth of that conception; and the sum of these consequences will constitute the entire meaning of the conception [Collected Papers, 5.9].

What the conception (of an object) means is a set of 'habits' involving the object, or laws describing behaviour. Peirce thought of these laws as conditional propositions which link the testing of them to the sum of practical consequences analysable in phenomenal terms. Thus I can say I know what, for example, 'wet' means if I can relate it to how a certain liquid feels, what it does when I put my hand into it, and so on. Peirce's position is thus initially basically 'realist' in the sense that for a concept to be meaningful requires that the conditional propositions should be verifiable, and that therefore the meaning relates to something actual — a real and permanent possibility. 'Hypotheses' are themselves meaningful if the practical consequences can be conceived as possible [f]. However, further developments in logic concerning counterfactual conditionals tended to undermine his commitment to realism; it became difficult to distinguish pragmatically between real and possible sensations. In the light of this problem and advances in the logic of relations and quantification, Peirce further revised his account of the categories. He now [1885] referred to them as Firstness, Secondness, and Thirdness — respectively irreducible monadic, dyadic, and triadic formal relations.But each category also has a material aspect in ideas — respectively, quality, 'thisness' (haecceity) or 'existence' (he sometimes also referred to it as reaction), and mediation (or representation) [g]. By quality he means a 'suchness', an immediate phenomenal datum given in sensation [h] (for example, that in an object which causes us to say it is red). The second is an experience of an interaction of one thing opposing another. Only individual things possess 'thisness' [i]. The third refers to relations between things (usually sign relations), and is an experience of thought or rationality. This third kind of idea is the intellectual concept which can be clarified by the pragmatic method. This can be understood as follows. While in its formal (logical) aspect Thirdness mediates between signs and their interpretants, in its material (ontological) aspect it mediates between Firstness and Secondness, that is, between quality and 'thisness', and is manifested in laws of various kinds. It is in this respect that Thirdness as mediational is pragmatic: it involves consideration of the real interrelatedness of all things in terms of means to ends [j].

 

KNOWLEDGE

[2] In Peirce's early theory it is experience (representations, that is, phenomena and thoughts) which is primary. The object is a supposition, grounded in hypothetical or inductive reasoning, that experience can be organized, and it exists as a cognition. However, he supposed that representations are material instantiations of divine archetypes and qua concepts are cognised by means of abstraction from intuited objects. He later [articles in Journal of Speculative Philosophy] argued that we identify relations in our sensations and refer them to a common cause — the object. But knowledge is, as it were, asymptotic and never complete. Objects are real only in the sense that they exist at the unachievable limit of converging series of cognitions and as 'universals' in the collective experience, thought, and descriptions of observers. (There are no individuals as such) [a]. Peirce said that the initial stimuli are not known; the emphasis is on the build-up of relations. It is on the basis of such coherent experience that an organism can develop habits or rules of behaviour the consequences of which will satisfy its needs. He calls these habits beliefs. The search for such rules of behaviour and for the best methods of enquiry constitutes and justifies science (Peirce rejects the Cartesian method of universal doubt) [b]. He was committed to the view that all human knowledge is fallible. He talked of propositions as being true in that (a) they may express someone's belief (this is ethical truth); or (b) they conform (and thus correspond) to reality (logical truth). By the latter he meant a proposition of science and metaphysics is factually true so long as it can be empirically tested as part of the process of scientific enquiry. Thus far a belief can be said to command a consensus. He defines the process of enquiry in terms of the 'concordance' of an abstract statement to the ideal limit "towards which endless investigation would tend to bring scientific belief". Truth is "absolute fixity of belief". We do not of course always know beliefs to be true, but they remain probable until they are refuted and thereby shown to be false. Mathematical propositions can never be refuted because they have no reference. We therefore always know their truth [c].

The subsequent development of Peirce's theory of knowledge [1885-1902] followed his revised view of the categories and involved his attempt (1) to account for the perception of quality or 'thisness'; (2) to reconcile the view of logic as a method for seeking belief with the view of logic as the source of the universal categories and thus as the foundation of knowledge. He offered a phenomenological analysis of perception. He argued that although we are conscious of percepts we cannot be said to know them. They are given to us in intuition which is the result of unconscious inferences from stimuli and the processes of synthesis. But we can make and know 'explanatory' judgements about our percepts; and it is these judgements, from which we can draw conscious inferences, that form the basis of our knowledge. Peirce argued further that that we empirically observe the three categories in their material aspect [d], namely, 'quality', 'thisness', and 'mediation'.

 

METAPHYSICS

[3] [gen 3] Peirce's epistemological concept of an ideal limit and his notion of logical truth as the conformity of a proposition with reality suggest that the reality of an object might be defined in terms of ultimate convergence of an enquiry. Moreover, in so far as predicates of a judgement are of abstract and general attributes objects would seem to have an ideal existence. Following his general revision of category theory Peirce, although critical of traditional metaphysics, developed an evolutionary cosmology grounded in the three fundamental categories [see the Monist metaphysical articles]. He first derived three metaphysical modes of being: real possibility, actuality, and 'destiny' (relating to future facts), which correspond to the three forms of experience, quality, fact, and mediation (involving regularity and continuity). He identified further three modes of existence: chance, evolutionary interactions, and tendencies to acquire habits (manifested in laws). (At the level of mind there are also three aspects of the cosmic organism: feeling, volition, and belief — which the individual experiences as Firstness, Secondness, and Thirdness). The activity of the universe as a whole is explained by Peirce with reference to three corresponding principles [a]: (1) 'Tychism': the universe is supposed to, have been initially in a state of pure undetermined or undifferentiated "chaos of unpersonalized being" — with only the bare possibility of spontaneous or 'chance' realization of 'suchness'. (2) In the course of evolution qualities interact, and actualities progress towards a final end of concrete rationality. This second stage of the universe's activity is called 'agapism' (appertaining to 'law' of attraction, love). (3) As chance is deficit of habit, so the third stage is one of complete regularity and absence of chance. Feeling and action are subordinated to belief-knowledge. Underlying this final stage ('synechism') is the concept of continuity. And Peirce utilizes the arguments of Zeno to prove that space and time are continuous as referred to unactualized possibilities [b]. Indeed, he says the notion of discontinuous atoms is one which is not scientifically testable. The system Peirce has developed is thus an objective idealism and monistic in that matter is mind crystallized, as it were, by habits [c]. To the extent that Peirce believed in a God, It is regarded both as a personal creator (the 'Absolute First') and as the end ('Absolute Second') of the cosmos, fully revealed to the mind as a philosophical concept through reason [d].

 

ETHICS

[4] It is in assisting the cosmic process to realize rationality, and thereby to recognise and express in universal love his common interests with the "unlimited community of mankind", that man finds the objective basis for ethical action [a]. But Peirce distinguishes between pure and practical ethics. The role of the former is to examine the nature of the end of ethical conduct — the summum bonum. The job of practical ethics is to determine how the end might be achieved — how practical consequences of inquiry (for which the social context of the "community of inquirers" is required) might be realized. Theory and practice, however, are inseparable: thought is translated into action through application of the pragmaticist method involving the logical categories [b].

 

CRITICAL SUMMARY

Peirce was a philosopher of great range and versatility, who combined detailed and careful analysis with considerable speculative power. He is significant particularly for the contributions he made to the development of modern logic and for his pragmatic theory of meaning. His thought passed through a number of stages of development, and although he continued throughout his life to address himself to the same problems he did not really produce any final 'system'. It might also be argued that his unswerving commitment to a specific triadic 'architectonic' is suggestive of a certain rigidity or formalism in his thinking. There are several particular difficulties with his philosophy that should be noted here.

(1) (a) His account of meaning and truth seems to commit him to the view that different words which would appear in ordinary discourse to have different meanings must mean the same if they have the same 'consequences'. (b) This raises the question whether we can be sure what the 'practical consequences' of a particular word will be. Moreover (c), if such consequences are to result 'by necessity' from the truth of such a conception, what kind of necessity is this? If it is de dicto necessity, does this not beg the question? If it is de re, we must ask how this is to be known.

(2) As for the concept of truth itself, Peirce's view is supposedly 'realist', in that it depends on a consensus of scientific opinion. The notion of a 'convergence' is, however, an assumption. His implicit commitment to a correspondence theory also exposes him to the difficulties of that theory — though of course he is not alone in this respect. It can also be argued that there is a tension between this 'realism' and his espousal of a 'linguistic idealist' world-view, in that, given indefiniteness of reference of signs, any supposedly transcendent signified cannot be accessed.

(3) What practical (scientific) consequences could be supposed to be relevant to the meaningful use of the concept of a personal God as the end of an evolutionary cosmic process?

 

READING

Peirce: Of his many lectures and articles through which he developed his philosophy see in particular 'On a New List of Categories' (1867), the three 1868 articles in The Journal of Speculative Philosophy, 'The Fixation of Belief' (1877), 'How to Make Our Ideas Clear' (1878), the Monist metaphysical articles (1891-1893), the Harvard lectures of 1903, and 'What Pragmatism Is' (1905). Most of his work is accessible through the two volume The Essential Peirce, edited by N. Houser and C. Kloeser. Peirce Edition Project. See also Essential Writings ed. H. Moore.

Studies:

Introductory

W. B. Gallie, Peirce and Pragmatism.

More advanced

C. Hookway, Peirce.

M. G. Murphey, The Development of Peirce's Philosophy.

M. Thompson, The Pragmatic Philosophy of C. S. Peirce.

Collections of essays

C. Misak (ed.), The Cambridge Companion to Peirce.

P. P. Wiener and F. H. Young (eds), Studies in the Philosophy of Charles Sanders Peirce.

 

 

CONNECTIONS

Peirce

 

Note: An influence of Duns Scotus's logic on Peirce has been acknowledged (in relation to the primacy of inference over constituent propositions), but there is still some debate about the authenticity of the relevant writings that Peirce studied. Wth regard to other topics the Connections listed below are assumed here to be valid. Copleston (History, vol. 8, ch. 14) has drawn attention to similarities between some of Peirce's ideas and Whitehead's. [See especially sec. 3].

 

[1a; cf. 1c d f] Logic formal but has psychological aspect in inference (which is fundamental); rejection of synthetic a priori; logic as theory of signs but critical of 'inner privacy approaches; terms as rudimentary propositions

   Locke

   Kant

   Mill

Derrida

[1a]

[1b]

[1a b]

[1b]

 

[1b; also 1f] Arguments as deductive, inductive, abductive — abduction provides explanatory hypotheses; induction as the testing procedure whereby probability of hypotheses is established

   Mill

Dewey

   Ayer

Habermas

[1g j]

[2a]

[4e]

[2a]

 

[1c; cf. 1a e f] Three kinds of logic: speculative grammar, critical logic, speculative rhetoric (concerned respectively with relations of signs to abstractions [meaningfulness] ('unifying' function of interpreting mind), arguments [truth], and interpretants [force] )

   Locke

   Kant

[1a]

[3b]

 

[1d; cf. 1f i j] Meaning as intended interpretent of symbol; pragmatic theory — verifiability of 'real' actualizable possibilities ('essences'); rejection of nominalist & conceptualist theories; however, suggestion of indefinite reference — no transcending of signs

   Plato

   Duns Scotus

   Ockham

   Locke

   Santayana

   Mill

   Husserl

Ricoeur

Derrida

[2a b]

[2c]

[1e]

[1a]

[4a]

[1c]

[sec. 1 2a]

[2b c]

[1a 1b]

 

[1e; cf. 1g 3a] Three ontological categories (matter, mind, God) derived from logic (grounded in and necessary for signhood)

   Kant

   Hegel

Santayana

[3a]

[2b]

[4a]

 

[1f; cf. 1d j 2 a-c] Rejection of primacy of subject-predicate; 'illative' relation fundamental, not reducible to class relation; primacy of inference — logic of enquiry; revised view of meaning of concepts: conditional propositions as laws of behaviour (objects as 'habits'); meaning in terms of verifiable practical consequences (as real and permanent possibilities); hypotheses meaningful if conceived as possible; pragmatism as method for clarifying ideas

   Kant

   Comte

   Mill

James

Dewey

Russell

[1a]

[1b]

[1c]

[1a b]

[1c]

[1f 1f]

 

[1g; cf. 1e h-j 3a] New account of categories: formal and material aspects (firstness — quality, secondness — 'thisness', thirdness — mediation)

   Kant

   Hegel

[3a]

[2b]

 

[1h] Quality (of 'suchness): phenomenal datum in sensation    Mill [2a]

 

[1i] 'Thisness' — experience of interaction of opposing individual things    Duns Scotus [2c]

 

[1j] Mediation — real relations between all things (experienced through rationality, accessed pragmatically) James [1b 1g]

 

[2a; cf. 1f 2c] (1) 'Representations' as material instantiations of divine archetypes; concepts via abstraction from intuited objects

   Plato

   Duns Scotus

   Kant

[2a b]

[2g 5d]

[2a c]

  (2) Relations referred to objects as common causes; reality of objects as 'universals' in community's collective experiences/ descriptions; knowledge not achieved — asymptotic; no individuals as such

   Hegel

James

   Husserl

Popper

[5c]

[1f]

[3a]

[1b]

 

[2b; cf. 1f 3b] Construction of relations: habits/ rules (= beliefs) to satisfy needs; rejection of Cartesian method of universal doubt    Descartes [1b]

 

[2c; cf. 1b 2a] Truth: expresses belief, conformity to reality; scientific belief to ideal limit through investigation; consensual acceptance; propositions probable until refuted; fallibilism; mathematical proposiitions always true because not refutable (no reference); ethical truth [see 4a]

   Kant

   Hegel

   Comte

James

Dewey

Popper

Habermas

Rorty

[1b]

[1c]

[1b]

[1f]

[1c 2a b]

[1a b]

[3b]

[1b]

 

[2d; cf. 1g] Phenomenal analysis of perception: perceptual judgements 'explain' uncognised percepts given in intuition and are basis of inferred knowledge; empirical knowledge of categories (in their material aspect)

   Duns Scotus

   Mill

[5d]

[2a]

 

[sec. 3] General    Whitehead [secs. 4 & 5]

 

[3a] Evolutionary cosmology grounded in fundamental categories: modes of being existence,aspects of cosmic organism, principles of the universe (tychism, agapism, synechism)

   Hegel

   Spencer

James

[2b 4a]

[1g]

[1k]

 

[3b; cf. 2a] Spatial and temporal continuity referred to unactualized possibilites underlies the synechism stage

   Zeno

James

[2a]

[1k]

 

[3c] Monistic objective idealism — matter as mind 'crystallized by habits'

   Schelling

James

[1e]

[2b]

 

[3d] God as personal creator ('Absolute First') and end; ('Absolute Second') revealed through reason    Hegel

[8d]

 

[4a; cf. 2c] Ethics: objective basis for action in helping cosmic process to realize rationality; love for human community (expression of common interest); ethical truth as con formity to belief

   Chrysippus

   [representative Stoic]

   Hegel

James

Dewey

[6a f]

    

[6c d f]

[3c]

[3b]

 

[4b] Pure ethics (apprehension of the cosmic process as summum bonum) and practical ethics (means for achieving end through application of pragmatic method and categories) are inseparable; community (social context) required for enquiry

   Hegel

Dewey

[sec. 6]

[1b 5b 3b]