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The Essential Peirce, Volume 2: Selected Philosophical Writings (1893-1913)

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"... a first-rate edition, which supersedes all other portable Peirces.... all the Peirce most people will ever need." —Louis Menand, The New York Review of Books

Volume 2 of this convenient two-volume chronological reader’s edition provides the first comprehensive anthology of the brilliant American thinker Charles Sanders Peirce’s mature philosophy. A central focus of Volume 2 is Peirce’s evolving theory of signs and its appplication to his pragmatism.

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1. Immortality in the Light of Synechism (1893)

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MS 886. [First published in CP 7.565–78. This article, submitted on 4 May 1893, was written for the weekly magazine The Open Court and was favorably considered for The Monist, but was not published because of a misunderstanding between Peirce and their editor, Paul Carus.] In this short and provoking paper, Peirce considers synechism, his doctrine that everything is continuous, and characterizes the stance of the synechist toward various philosophical questions. He applies his doctrine to the question of immortality and finds that it is rash to assume that we only have carnal life. Peirce maintains that synechism is a purely scientific philosophy and predicts that it will help reconcile science and religion.

The word synechism is the English form of the Greek from continuous. For two centuries we have been affixing -ist and -ism to words, in order to note sects which exalt the importance of those elements which the stem-words signify. Thus, materialism is the doctrine that matter is everything, idealism the doctrine that ideas are everything, dualism the philosophy which splits everything in two. In like manner, I have proposed to make synechism mean the tendency to regard everything as continuous.*

 

2. What Is a Sign? (1894)

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MS 404. [Published in part in CP 2.281, 285, and 297–302. This work, probably composed early in 1894, was originally the first chapter of a book entitled “The Art of Reasoning,” but was then turned into the second chapter of Peirce’s multi-volume “How to Reason: A Critick of Arguments” (also known as “Grand Logic”).] In this selection Peirce gives an account of signs based on an analysis of conscious experience from the standpoint of his three universal categories. He discusses the three principal kinds of signs—icons, indices, and symbols—and provides many examples. He maintains, as he had earlier, that reasoning must involve all three kinds of signs, and he claims that the art of reasoning is the art of marshalling signs, thus emphasizing the relationship between logic and semiotics.

§1. This is a most necessary question, since all reasoning is an interpretation of signs of some kind. But it is also a very difficult question, calling for deep reflection.1

 

3. Of Reasoning in General (1895)

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MS 595. [Published in part in CP 2.282, 286–91, 295–96, 435–44, and 7.555–58. This is the first part of a work entitled “Short Logic” that Peirce began in 1895 for Ginn & Co. (who had rejected his lengthy “How to Reason”). This is the only chapter Peirce wrote.] The relationship between logic and semiotics is more deeply examined in this selection. Peirce considers reasoning in a broad context that includes both the process of belief change and the expression of thoughts in language, but he stresses the centrality of signs for reasoning. Here, as in the second selection, he focuses on icons, indices, and symbols, again giving many helpful examples, and applies this classification in his analysis of propositions and inferences. He divides the study of signs into three branches, which he calls the philosophical trivium: speculative grammar, logic, and speculative rhetoric. Peirce then explains our success in discovering natural laws by our affinity with nature.

 

4. Philosophy and the Conduct of Life (1898)

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MS 437. [Published in CP 1.616–48, in part, and in RLT 105–22. Delivered on 10 February, this was the first of eight Cambridge Conferences Lectures Peirce gave in February and March 1898.] Peirce objects here to “the Hellenic tendency to mingle philosophy with practice” and argues that true scientific investigation must not be conducted with the question of utility in mind. The purpose of philosophy is not to win adherents and to improve their lives. Peirce makes a telling distinction between matters of vital importance and the selfless advancement of knowledge, and argues that, for the former, reason is a poor substitute for sentiment and instinct while, for the latter, reason is key. The upshot is that belief has no place in science but is what must guide action in practical affairs.

The early Greek philosopher, such as we read about in Diogenes Laertius, is certainly one of the most amusing curiosities of the whole human menagerie. It seems to have been demanded of him that his conduct should be in marked contrast with the dictates of ordinary common sense. Had he behaved as other men are supposed to do, his fellow-citizens would have thought his philosophy had not taught him much. I know that historians possessed of “higher criticism” deny all the ridiculous anecdotes about the Hellenic sages.1 These scholars seem to think that logic is a question of literary taste, and their refined perceptions refuse to accept those narratives. But in truth even were taste carried to a point of delicacy exceeding that of the German professor,—which he would think was pushing it quite into that realm of imaginary quantities which lies on the other side of infinity,—it still would not weigh as logic, which is a matter of strict mathematical demonstration wherein opinion is of no weight at all. Now scientific logic cannot approve that historical method which leads to the absolute and confident denial of all the positive testimony that is extant, the moment that testimony deviates from the preconceived ideas of the historian.2 The story about Thales falling into the ditch while pointing out the different stars to the old woman is told by Plato about two centuries later.3 But Dr. Edouard Zeller says he knows better, and pronounces the occurrence quite impossible.4 Were you to point out that the anecdote only attributes to Thales a character common to almost all mathematicians, this would afford him a new opportunity of applying his favorite argument of objection, that the story is “too probable.” So the assertion of half a dozen classical writers that Democritus was always laughing and Heraclitus always weeping “proclaims itself,” says Zeller, “an idle fabrication,”5 notwithstanding the support it receives from the fragments. Even Zeller admits that Diogenes of Sinope was a trifle eccentric.6 Being a contemporary of Aristotle and one of the best known men of Greece, his history cannot well be denied even by Zeller, who has to content himself with averring that the stories are “grossly exaggerated.”7 There was no other philosopher whose conduct according to all testimony was quite so extravagant as that of Pyrrho.8 The accounts of him seem to come direct from a writing of his devoted pupil, Timon of Phlius,9 and some of our authorities, of whom there are a dozen, profess to use this book. Yet Zeller and the critics do not believe them; and Brandis10 objects that the citizens of Elis would not have chosen a half insane man high priest,—as if symptoms of that kind would not have particularly recommended him for a divine office. That fashion of writing history is I hope now at last passing away. However, disbelieve the stories if you will; you cannot refuse to admit that they show what kind of a man the narrators expected a philosopher to be,—if they were imaginary legends, all the more so. Now those narrators are a cloud of the sanest and soberest minds of Antiquity,—Plato, Aristotle, Cicero, Seneca, Pliny, Plutarch, Lucian, Elian, and so forth. The Greeks expected philosophy to affect life,—not by any slow process of percolation of forms, as we may expect that researches into differential equations, stellar photometry, the taxonomy of echinoderms, and the like, will ultimately affect the conduct of life,—but forthwith in the person and soul of the philosopher himself rendering him different from ordinary men in his views of right conduct. So little did they separate philosophy from esthetic and moral culture that the docti furor arduus Lucreti11 could clothe an elaborate cosmogony in noble verse, for the express purpose of influencing men’s lives; and Plato tells us in many places how inextricably he considers the study of Dialectic to be bound up with virtuous living.12 Aristotle, on the other hand, set this matter right. Aristotle was not much of a Greek. That he was of full Greek blood is not likely. That he was not altogether a Greek-minded man is manifest. Though he belonged to the school of Plato, yet when he went there he was already a student, perhaps a personal pupil, of Democritus, himself another Thracian; and during his first years in Athens he cannot have had much intercourse with Plato, who was away at Syracuse a large part of the time. Above all, Aristotle was an Asclepiades,13 that is to say, he belonged to a line every man of whom since the heroic age had, as a child, received a finished training in the dissecting-room. Aristotle was a thorough-paced scientific man such as we see nowadays, except for this, that he ranged over all knowledge. As a man of scientific instinct, he classed metaphysics, in which I doubt not he included logic, as a matter of course, among the sciences,—sciences in our sense, I mean, what he called theoretical sciences,—along with mathematics and natural science,—natural science embracing what we call the physical sciences and the psychical sciences, generally. This theoretical science was for him one thing, animated by one spirit and having knowledge of theory as its ultimate end and aim. Aesthetic studies were of a radically different kind; while morals, and all that relates to the conduct of life, formed a third department of intellectual activity, radically foreign in its nature and idea from both the other two. Now, Gentlemen, it behooves me, at the outset of this course, to confess to you that in this respect I stand before you an Aristotelian and a scientific man, condemning with the whole strength of conviction the Hellenic tendency to mingle Philosophy and Practice.

 

5. The First Rule of Logic (1898)

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MSS 442, 825. [Published in CP 5.574–89 and 7.135–40 (in part), and in RLT 165–80. Delivered on 21 February 1898, this is the fourth Cambridge Conferences Lecture. William James, who had read it a month earlier, told Peirce it was “a model of what a popular lecture ought to be” and implored him “on bended knees to give it first,” but Peirce rewrote his first lecture instead and kept this one, much revised, as his fourth.] Peirce considers the role of observation in deduction, induction, and retroduction, and compares the three kinds of reasoning with respect to their self-correcting properties and their usefulness for supporting belief. He puts forward the rule that “in order to learn you must desire to learn,” and contrasts, if only implicitly, his “Will to Learn” with the “Will to Believe” that had been expounded the previous year by William James. Peirce claims that American universities have been “miserably insignificant” because they have been institutions for teaching, not for learning. In this lecture, Peirce returns to the distinction between matters of vital importance, which James extolled, and matters of importance for science.

 

6. Pearson’s Grammar of Science (1901)

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P 802: Popular Science Monthly 58 (January 1901):296–06. [Published in CP 8.132–52. The complete title includes the subtitle: “Annotations on the First Three Chapters” (but some remarks are made on the fourth chapter as well). Peirce first wrote this piece for The Psychological Review.] In this review, Peirce objects to Pearson’s claim that human conduct should be regulated by Darwinian theory, and to the related view that social stability is the sole justification of scientific research. Peirce holds that these doctrines lead to bad ethics and bad science. “I must confess that I belong to that class of scallawags who propose, with God’s help, to look the truth in the face, whether doing so be conducive to the interests of society or not.” The man of science should be motivated by the majesty of truth, “as that to which, sooner or later, every knee must bow.” Against Pearson’s nominalistic claim that the rationality inherent in nature owes its origin to the human intellect, Peirce argues that it is the human mind that is determined by the rationality in nature. Peirce also rejects Pearson’s claim that there are first impressions of sense that serve as the starting point of reasoning, and argues that reasoning begins in percepts, which are products of psychical operations involving three kinds of elements: qualities of feelings, reactions, and generalizing elements.

 

7. Laws of Nature (1901)

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MS and TS from the Smithsonian Institution Library (doc. 3804.10). [Published in Philip P. Wiener’s Charles S. Peirce: Selected Writings, pp. 289–321. From a longer paper, “Hume on Miracles and Laws of Nature” and eventually retitled “The Laws of Nature and Hume’s Argument against Miracles,” written at the end of May 1901 at the invitation of Samuel P. Langley, Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution. After many revisions, Langley declined to publish it.] Peirce aims here to explain to non-specialists what laws of nature are and how they have been conceived—his foil being the nominalist conception typical of Hume’s thought and of modern empiricism. Every genuine law of nature is an objective generalization from observations and must support verifiable predictions about future observations. Subjective generalizations put forward as laws of nature cannot pass the test of predictability. In explaining how predictability is possible, Peirce introduces a theme that will come to dominate his later thought: “Must we not say that . . . there is an energizing reasonableness that shapes phenomena in some sense, and that this same working reasonableness has molded the reason of man into something like its own image?” Peirce points out that his evolutionary conception of law is that of the scientific man, claiming that the reliability of laws of nature leads scientists to accept them as facts, “almost to be called [things] of power,” although with the caveat that any such law might be falsified.

 

8. On the Logic of Drawing History from Ancient Documents, Especially from Testimonies (1901)

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MS 690. [Published in CP 7.164–231 and HP 2:705–62. Only the first half of the document is printed here. It was written in October and November 1901, with the financial support of Francis Lathrop, whose secretary had the manuscript typed. Peirce made a number of revisions in the typescript, and the present text, transcribed from the manuscript, incorporates those revisions.] In this monograph, Peirce argues that even though Hume’s method of balancing the veracity of a witness against the improbability of his narrative may be defended in certain cases, it is not generally applicable and is rarely used by historians. The probabilities generally relied on by historians are subjective—“mere expressions of their preconceived notions”—and are completely unreliable. Peirce claims that what is needed for scientific history is a method that does not turn on either estimates of probability or degrees of belief. He recommends the general method of experimental science. Peirce gives a sustained discussion of the logic of science, outlining many nuances of the different kinds of reasoning, including two types of deduction (corollarial and theorematic) and three types of induction. Peirce gives a detailed account of the economic and other factors that must be brought to bear on the selection of historical hypotheses.

 

9. On Science and Natural Classes (1902)

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MS 427. [Published in CP 1.203-37. Written in February 1902, this selection comes from Chapter II of Peirce’s projected book, “Minute Logic.”] In this selection, excerpted from a broader discussion on logic and the classification of sciences, Peirce discusses his theory of natural classes and classification, and presents his conception of science. The problem of natural classes had been of interest to Peirce from early in his career, when he was concerned with distinguishing his views from those of J. S. Mill, but here he refines his views by giving final causation a prominent role in his theory. Natural classes are defined by final causes, though not necessarily by purposes. peirce then characterizes science as “a living thing,” not the collection of “systematized knowledge on the shelves.” Science is what scientists do; it “consists in actually drawing the bow upon truth with intentness in the eye, with energy in the arm.” Peirce argues that the divisions of science that have grown out of its practice are natural classes.

 

10. The Maxim of Pragmatism (Lecture I)

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MS 301. [Published in CP 5.14–40 and in HL 104–21. This lecture, delivered on 26 March 1903, was left untitled.] This is the first in a series of seven lectures, delivered at Harvard from March through May, 1903, in which Peirce sought to build a case for pragmatism by examining its pros and cons. He also wanted to distinguish his pragmatism from other, more popular, versions. These are the lectures that William James characterized as “flashes of brilliant light relieved against Cimmerian darkness!” In Lecture I, Peirce considers the utility of the pragmatic maxim and claims that its usefulness does not constitute a proof of its truth — it must pass “through the fire of drastic analysis.Peirce outlines the steps he will take to support his version of pragmatism. He rejects his earlier appeal to facts of psychology and points out that if pragmatism teaches that what we think is to be understood in terms of what we are prepared to do, then the doctrine of how we ought to think (logic) must be a branch of the doctrine of what we deliberately choose to do (ethics). But what we choose to do depends on what we are prepared to admire, which brings us to esthetics. An examination of pragmatism, therefore, involves all three of the normative sciences: logic, ethics, and esthetics. But first we must consider phenomenology, the science that deals with phenomena objectively and isolates the universal categories that pervade all our experience.

 

11. On Phenomenology (Lecture II)

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MSS 305, 306. [Published in CP 5.41–56, 59–65 (in part) and in HL 150–65. These two manuscripts together form the version of the text that Perice most likely used to deliver his second Harvard lecture on 2 April 1903.] Peirce remarks near the beginning of this lecture that “my purpose this evening is to call your attention to certain questions of phenomenology upon the answers to which, whatever they may be, our final conclusion concerning pragmatism must repose at last.” He goes on to clarify the nature of phenomenology (later called phaneroscopy), whose goal is to isolate the universal categories of experience. Peirce has found these to be, first, the quality of feeling, second, the element of struggle or reaction in experience or consciousness, and third, an intellectual element that seems much like representation or a sense of learning. He believes that this third element is necessary to explain a mode of influence on external facts that cannot be explained by mechanical action alone and he thinks that the idea of evolution requires this element. Near the end of this lecture Peirce remarks that “what the true definition of Pragmatism may be, I find it very hard to say; but in my nature it is a sort of instinctive attraction for living facts.”

 

12. The Categories Defended (Lecture III)

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MS 308. [Published in CP 5.66–81, 88–92 (in part) and in HL 167–88. This is the third Harvard lecture, delivered on 9 April 1903.] In this lecture Peirce goes into more detail concerning the nature of his categories and uses them to distinguish three kinds of signs: icons, indices, and symbols. He analyzes in particular one type of symbol, the proposition, which always refers to its object in two ways: indexically, by means of its subject, and iconically, by means of its predicate. Peirce defends his categories against the view he attributes to A. B. Kempe that Thirdness is not required to express the relations of mathematics, and he argues for the independence of Firstness, Secondness, and Thirdness.

Ladies and Gentlemen:

Category the First is the Idea of that which is such as it is regardless of anything else. That is to say, it is a Quality of Feeling.

Category the Second is the Idea of that which is such as it is as being Second to some First, regardless of anything else and in particular regardless of any law, although it may conform to a law. That is to say, it is Reaction as an element of the Phenomenon.

 

13. The Seven Systems of Metaphysics (Lecture IV)

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MS 309. [Published in CP 5.77n 93–111, 114–18, 1.314–16, 5.119, 111–13, 57–58; also in HL 189–203. This is the fourth Harvard lecture, delivered on 16 April 1903.] Here Peirce uses his doctrine of categories to characterize seven systems of metaphysics: Nihilism, Individualism, Hegelianism, Cartesianism, Berkeleyanism, Nominalism, and Kantianism. The systems are distinguished by which categories are admitted “as important metaphysico-cosmical elements.” Peirce regards these seven systems, and variants of them, as exemplifying the full scope of metaphysics. Peirce aligns himself with the seventh system, arguing for the reality of all three categories and claiming that each is really operative in nature. He argues that perceptual judgements are the first premisses of all our reasonings, that symbols influence events in the way natural laws do, and that the universe is a great symbol “working out its conclusions in living realities.” He strongly recommends a version of the fundamental “ethical” maxim: never say die.

 

14. The Three Normative Sciences (Lecture V)

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MS 312. [Published in CP 5.120–50 and in HL 205–20. Untitled by Peirce, this fifth Harvard lecture was delivered on 30 April 1903.] Peirce reviews his classification of the sciences, especially the normative sciences: esthetics, ethics, and logic. He argues that reasoning is a form of action and is thus subject to ethical considerations; in particular, it is subject to the need for self-control. The logically good, Peirce says, is a species of the morally good, and the morally good is itself a species of the esthetically good. Now the esthetically good involves the choice of aims, or purposes. Pragmatism comes back in at this point, for pragmatism involves the conception of actions relative to aims. Peirce continues his lecture by considering different types of reasoning or argumentation with respect to their logical goodness, and concludes by claiming that although we have neither immediate consciousness nor direct experience of generality, nevertheless we perceive generality: it “pours in” with our perceptual judgments.

 

15. The Nature of Meaning (Lecture VI)

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MSS 314, 316. [Published in CP 5.151–79 (in part), and in HL, 221–39. This is the sixth Harvard lecture, delivered on 7 May 1903.] Peirce sets out from his concluding claim in Lecture V, that perceptual judgments involve generality. He gives a sustained discussion of the different kinds of reasoning—deduction, induction, and abduction—and discusses other logical conceptions relevant to the question of the nature of meaning. He will use “meaning” technically, he says, to “denote the intended interpretant of a symbol.” He then considers the role of perception in the acquisition of knowledge and the relation of perception to reasoning. Peirce claims that “every single item” of established scientific theory is the result of abduction but that the human faculty of “divining the ways of nature” is not subject to self-control. He argues that perception and abduction shade into one another and claims that pragmatism is the logic of abduction.

Ladies and Gentlemen:

 

16. Pragmatism as the Logic of Abduction (Lecture VII)

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MS 315. [Published in CP 5.180–212 (in part) and in HL 241–56). Untitled by Peirce, this is the last of the seven Harvard lectures, delivered on 14 May 1903.] This lecture was added so that Peirce could extend his remarks about the relation of pragmatism to abduction. He elaborates in particular on three key points raised in the sixth lecture: (1) that nothing is in the intellect that is not first in the senses, (2) that perceptual judgments contain general elements, and (3) that abductive inference shades into perceptual judgment without any sharp line of demarcation between them. Pragmatism follows from these propositions. Peirce reiterates that the function of pragmatism is to help us identify unclear ideas and comprehend difficult ones. It is in this lecture that Peirce delivers his famous dictum: “The elements of every concept enter into logical thought at the gate of perception and make their exit at the gate of purposive action; and whatever cannot show its passports at both those two gates is to be arrested as unauthorized by reason.” In developing these ideas, Peirce emphasizes that in making every conception equivalent to a conception of “conceivable practical effects,” the maxim of pragmatism reaches far beyond the merely practical and allows for any “flight of imagination,” provided only that this imagination “ultimately alights upon a possible practical effect.”

 

17. What Makes a Reasoning Sound? (1903)

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MSS 448–449. [Partly published in CP 1.591–610 (MS 448), 1.611–15 and 8. 176 (MS 449). Composed at the end of the summer 1903 and delivered on 23 November 1903, this is the first of eight lectures Peirce gave at the Lowell Institute in Boston under the general title “Some Topics of Logic bearing on Questions now Vexed.”] In this lecture, Peirce refutes “a malady” that “has broken out in science,” namely the idea then in vogue that rationality rests on a feeling of logicality, and that it is futile to try to find an objective distinction between good and bad reasoning. On the contrary, Peirce claims, that distinction is not at all a matter of what we approve of, but is a question of fact. Good reasoning is based on a method that “tends to carry us toward the truth more speedily than we could otherwise progress.Peirce discusses the significance of even a slight tendency to guess correctly, arguing that, given the right method, that is all that is required to assure progress toward the truth. He continues the argument, first made in the Harvard Lectures, that reasoning is a form of controlled conduct, and thus has an ethical dimension. Peirce concludes with a discussion of the scope of logic, which he now equates with semiotics as a whole.

 

18. An Outline Classification of the Sciences

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MS 478. [Found in CP 1.180–202, this text is the first section of “A Syllabus of Certain Topics of Logic,” a large document composed mostly in October 1903 to supplement the Lowell Lectures. The original syllabus contains six sections, of which four are printed here (selections 18–21). Omitted are “Nomenclature and Divisions of Dyadic Relations” (MS 539; CP 3.571–608) and “Existential Graphs: The Conventions” (MS 508; CP 4.394–417). The first two sections and part of the sixth were printed for the audience by the Lowell Institute (Boston: Alfred Mudge & Son, 1903); the selection below is found there pp. 5–9.] This first part of the “Syllabus” is literally, as proclaimed in its title, an outline. In its summary form, it provides an easy guide to Peirce’s mature classification of the sciences, with the normative sciences—esthetics, ethics, and logic—constituting the central branch of philosophy. Peirce defines logic as “the science of the general laws of signs,” and divides it, as he had in his first 1903 Lowell Lecture (previous selection) into three departments: speculative grammar, critic, and methodeutic. Peirce’s subsequent development of semiotics will be built on this classification.

 

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