Charles Peirce's Theory of Scientific Method
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Charles Peirce's Theory of Scientific Method

Francis E. Reilly

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eBook - ePub

Charles Peirce's Theory of Scientific Method

Francis E. Reilly

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This book is an attempt to understand a significant part of the complex thought of Charles Sanders Peirce, especially in those areas which interested him most: scientific method and related philosophical questions. It is organized primarily from Peirce's own writings, taking chronological settings into account where appropriate, and pointing out the close connections of several major themes in Peirce's work which show the rich diversity of his thought and its systematic unity. Following an introductory sketch of Peirce the thinking and writer is a study of the spirit and phases of scientific inquiry, and a consideration of its relevance to certain outstanding philosophical views which Peirce held. This double approach is necessary because his views on scientific method are interlaces with a profound and elaborate philosophy of the cosmos. Peirce's thought is unusually close-knit, and his difficulty as a writer lies in his inability to achieve a partial focus without bringing into view numerous connections and relations with the whole picture of reality. Peirce received some of the esteem he deserves when the publication of his Collected Papers began more than thirty-five years ago. Some reviewers and critics, however, have attempted to fit Peirce into their own molds in justification of a particular position; others have disinterestedly sought to present him in completely detached fashion. Here, the author has attempted to understand Peirce as Peirce intended himself to be understood, and has presented what he believes Perice's philosophy of scientific method to be. He singles out for praise Peirce's Greek insistence on the primacy of theoretical knowledge and his almost Teilhardian synthesis of evolutionary themes. Primarily philosophical, this volume analyzes Peirce's thought using a theory of knowledge and metaphysics rather than formal logic.Charles Peirce's Theory of Scientific Method is available from the publisher on an open-access basis.

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1. Most of Peirce’s writings have been published in the Collected Papers of Charles Sanders Peirce, ed. Charles Hartshorne, Paul Weiss, and Arthur W. Burks (8 vols.; Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1931–1935 and 1958). The convention in citing from this edition is as follows: the number to the left of the decimal point designates the volume of the Collected Papers; the number to the right designates a numbered section in that volume. For example, the reference (1.3) refers to the first volume, section 3. These references will occasionally be inserted in the main text.
2. See 6.604 and 1.3. As Wiener notes, “Charles S. Peirce made it his life work to analyze, as thoroughly as any single mind could, the basic logic and structure of the sciences” (Values in a Universe of Chance, ed. Philip P. Wiener [Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1958], p. xiii). This is a short collection of Peirce’s writings including materials already published in the Collected Papers and elsewhere, as well as materials previously unpublished. In 1966 Dover Publications Inc. (New York) issued an unabridged republication of this collection, unaltered except for the title, Charles S. Peirce: Selected Writings, with the previous title as a subtitle. This book will hereafter be referred to as Wiener, Values.
3. For him logic embraced a study of the necessary and general conditions for the attainment of truth, and for its expression in thought-signs, as well as an inquiry into “laws of evolution of thought” and its communication from man to man (1.444).
4. Toward the end of his life, when considering the influence that ethics should have on logic, he wrote: “Life can have but one end. It is Ethics which defines that end. It is, therefore, impossible to be thoroughly and rationally logical except upon an ethical basis” (2.198).
5. W. B. Gallie, Peirce and Pragmatism (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1952), inside cover.
6. Wiener, Values, p. ix. Feibleman agrees that Peirce is America’s greatest philosopher, and Young indicates why. Peirce, the latter writes, was possessed of “an intellect masculine in its boldness and sweep, vast in its learning, austere in its self-discipline, and comparable to that of a Leibniz in its combination of mathematical, logical, scientific, and metaphysical power” (James K. Feibleman, An Introduction to Peirce’s Philosophy Interpreted as a System [New York: Harper, 1946], p. 4; Frederic H. Young, “Charles Sanders Peirce: 1839–1914,” in Studies in the Philosophy of Charles Sanders Peirce, ed. Philip P. Wiener and Frederic H. Young [Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1952], pp. 271f). Young notes that in letters written to him both F. S. C. Northrop and Charles Hartshorne compare Peirce to Leibniz. Alfred North Whitehead also wrote to Young that “Peirce was a very great man, with a variety of interests in each of which he made original contributions. The essence of his thought was originality in every subject that he taught. For this reason, none of the conventional labels apply to him. He conceived every topic in his own original way.”
7. Morris R. Cohen, American Thought: A Critical Sketch (Glencoe: Free Press, 1954), p. 268.
8. Much of the biographical information which follows comes from the article on Charles Sanders Peirce by Paul Weiss in the Dictionary of American Biography (New York: Scribner’s, 1934), XIV, 398–403.
9. Famous scientists and literary personalities were frequent visitors at Peirce’s home. Among them can be named Agassiz, Asa Gray, Longfellow, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Margaret Fuller. Charles Peirce wrote in The Monist in 1892: “I may mention for the benefit of those who are curious in studying mental biographies, that I was born and reared in the neighborhood of Concord—I mean in Cambridge—at the time when Emerson, Hedge, and their friends were disseminating the ideas that they had caught from Schelling, and Schelling from Plotinus, from Boehm, or from God knows what minds stricken with the monstrous mysticism of the East. But the atmosphere of Cambridge held many an antiseptic against Concord transcendentalism; and I am not conscious of having contracted any of the virus” (6.102). See also Charles S. Peirce’s Letters to Lady Welby, ed. Irwin C. Lieb (New Haven: Whitlock, 1953), p. 37.
About 1907 Peirce wrote of his father’s “remarkable aesthetical discrimination,” and of visitors to the family home in Cambridge during the years of his boyhood. See Charles S. Peirce Papers, Houghton Library, Harvard University, #296 (this number is from Richard S. Robin, Annotated Catalogue of the Papers of Charles S. Peirce [Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1967]).
10. Charles remained a theist throughout his life, though he became an Episcopalian in general religious orientation. Murray G. Murphey, The Development of Peirce’s Philosophy (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1961), p. 15.
11. Ibid., p. 17.
12. See Arthur W. Burks’s general bibliography, Collected Papers, Vol. VIII, 260ff.
13. An excellent and well-known study of the thought of some of the members of the Metaphysical Club on the question of evolution and related topics has been written by Philip P. Wiener, Evolution and the Founders of Pragmatism (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1949). In this work Wiener expresses certain doubts about the accuracy of Peirce’s claims and evidence for real existence of such a club in Cambridge, asking, for lack of evidence outside Peirce’s own writings, whether the club might have been primarily a symbol in Peirce’s imagination. Now, however, these doubts have been laid to rest by Max H. Fisch, who concludes from Peirce’s own testimony and from that of others that there really was such a club (Max H. Fisch, “Was there a Metaphysical Club in Cambridge?” in Studies in the Philosophy of Charles Sanders Peirce, ed. Edward C. Moore and Richard S. Robin [second series; Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1964], pp. 3–32. [In order to distinguish this collection of essays from the earlier collection with the same title, mentioned in note 6, the two will be referred to as Studies (first series) and Studies (second series).]).
Around 1907 Peirce wrote several accounts of the members of the Metaphysical Club. See Charles S. Peirce Papers, ##319–322 and 324.
14. Gallie, Peirce and Pragmatism, p. 13.
15. See Ralph Barton Perry, The Thought and Character of William James (Boston: Little, Brown, 1936), vol. I, pp. 363, 538.
16. Ibid., II, 117.
17. Peirce wrote in 1909 of his natural powers as being “rather below than above mediocrity,” but acknowledged his own habits of “self-criticism, persistence and logical analysis” (Charles S. Peirce Papers, ##631 and 632).
18. The first six volumes (bound as three) were published again in 1960.
19. Murphey in his detailed study of Peirce’s development shows that though Peirce was a system builder after the manner of Kant’s architectonic theory of philosophy, he continually worked over parts of the system, improving the whole, reviewing and reformulating it in keeping with new insights. But the reformulations, since they keep as much of the preceding system as possible, should be regarded as revisions and not as distinct systems. Development, pp. 1ff.
20. Manley Thompson, The Pragmatic Philosophy of C. S. Peirce (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1953), p. xii.
21. Cohen, American Thought, p. 269.
22. Ibid., p. 270.
23. Feibleman states it this way: “The reputation of a philosophy frequently owes as much to its random suggestiveness as to its complete and systematic form. Peirce’s writings are systematic by implication only; but they continue to be immensely suggestive in every line. If the occasional insights which have been gleaned from Peirce have had so much effect, how much more valuable would be the full force of his whole philosophy when viewed in the round” (An Introduction to Peirce’s Philosophy, p. 389).
1. Wiener, Values, p. 227. See also 1.8, composed around 1897, where science is described as a pursuit of men “devoured by a desire to find things out.”
2. That there is a spirit of inquiry is indicated by Peirce’s repeated use of “emotive” language: impulse, burn to learn, Eros, desire, being seized, possessed by a passion to learn, devotion, animated. Such language for Peirce points out the scientist’s aim (1.618; 7.605).
3. Wiener, Values, p. 228.
4. Ibid., p. 267. This article is taken from the Annual Report of the Smithsonian Institution for the Year ending June 30, 1900 (Washington, D.C., 1901), pp. 693–699, as Wiener notes.
5. Ibid., p. 268.
6. At the beginning of the projected “History of Science,” Peirce remarks that there are three classes of men. There are the men who create art, and for these nature is a picture. There are the men who regard nature as an opportunity for power and business. And finally there are the men of science who are “possessed by a passion to learn” (1.43).
7. See 5.589 for contrast of science with practice.
8. Peirce repeatedly emphasizes the dichotomy between scientific work and practical work, partially because of the widespread error of extolling the merit of doing things. In a brief work expressing his views on education, found in Science (April 20, 1900), pp. 620–622, as Wiener notes (Values, pp. 331f), Peirce reports the prevalent enthusiasm for activity, which has gained the ascendancy over knowledge, even in American colleges. He admits that in his youth even he made the mistake of subordinating the conception to the act in his understanding of pragmatism. However, “subsequent experience of life has taught me that the only thing that is really desirable without a reason for being so, is to render ideas and things reasonable.” In his emphasis on the theoretical, however, he does not want to deny that some of the sciences may, as a matter of fact, have sprung originally from practical arts, as geometry did from surveying (1.226). He also admits that historically science has made much progress as a result of the stimulus received from men of practice, looking for knowledge to guide their activities (7.52).
9. In his uncompleted “Minute Logic” Peirce describes how a man is transformed into a scientist. The transformation, he says, is usually sudden, and, when sudden, it consists in “their being seized with a great desire to learn the truth, and their going to work with all their might by a well-considered method to gratify that desire” (1.235). The primacy of motive and method is unmistakable here.
10. Thomas A. Goudge considers this contrast of theory and practice in Peirce characteristic of a transcendentalism, which Goudge opposes. (The presence of two main irreconcilable themes i...

Indice dei contenuti

  1. Cover
  2. Half Title
  3. Series Page
  4. Title Page
  5. Copyright
  6. Contents
  7. Dedication
  8. Preface
  9. I. Charles Sanders Peirce: Philosopher, Scientist, Writer
  10. II. The Scientist’s Concern: Knowledge for its Own Sake
  11. III. The Stages of the Method (i): Experience and Hypothesis
  12. IV. The Stages of the Method (ii): Deduction and Induction
  13. V. The Moderate Fallibilism of Science
  14. VI. Some Evaluations
  15. Appendix: The Beginning of Pragmatism and “Pragmaticism”
  16. Bibliography of More Important Works Referred to
  17. Notes
  18. Index
  19. Series List