Charles Sanders Peirce - Philosophy

Philosophy

It is not sufficiently recognized that Peirce's career was that of a scientist, not a philosopher; and that during his lifetime he was known and valued chiefly as a scientist, only secondarily as a logician, and scarcely at all as a philosopher. Even his work in philosophy and logic will not be understood until this fact becomes a standing premise of Peircean studies. —Max Fisch 1964, p. 486.

Peirce was a working scientist for 30 years, and arguably was a professional philosopher only during the five years he lectured at Johns Hopkins. He learned philosophy mainly by reading, each day, a few pages of Kant's Critique of Pure Reason, in the original German, while a Harvard undergraduate. His writings bear on a wide array of disciplines, including mathematics, logic, philosophy, statistics, astronomy, metrology, geodesy, experimental psychology, economics, linguistics, and the history and philosophy of science. This work has enjoyed renewed interest and approval, a revival inspired not only by his anticipations of recent scientific developments but also by his demonstration of how philosophy can be applied effectively to human problems.

Peirce's philosophy includes (see below in related sections) a pervasive three-category system, belief that truth is immutable and is both independent from actual opinion (fallibilism) and discoverable (no radical skepticism), logic as formal semiotic on signs, on arguments, and on inquiry's ways—including philosophical pragmatism (which he founded), critical common-sensism, and scientific method—and, in metaphysics: Scholastic realism, belief in God, freedom, and at least an attenuated immortality, objective idealism, and belief in the reality of continuity and of absolute chance, mechanical necessity, and creative love. In his work, fallibilism and pragmatism may seem to work somewhat like skepticism and positivism, respectively, in others' work. However, for Peirce, fallibilism is balanced by an anti-skepticism and is a basis for belief in the reality of absolute chance and of continuity, and pragmatism commits one to anti-nominalist belief in the reality of the general (CP 5.453–7).

For Peirce, First Philosophy, which he also called cenoscopy, is less basic than mathematics and more basic than the special sciences (of nature and mind). It studies positive phenomena in general, phenomena available to any person at any waking moment, and does not settle questions by resorting to special experiences. He divided such philosophy into (1) phenomenology (which he also called phaneroscopy or categorics), (2) normative sciences (esthetics, ethics, and logic), and (3) metaphysics; his views on them are discussed in order below.

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