Peirce’s Philosophy

c.s. peirce

Charles S. Peirce is regarded as the greatest American philosopher of all time. It was not the case in his lifetime, since Peirce led a life of exclusion and never obtained a teaching position at a university. First logician, philosopher, of course, but also a chemist and geologist, Peirce is considered as the the founder of semiotics (the study of communication by signs). He is the creator of the philosophy of pragmatism and a recognized innovator in logic when he invented the logic of relations and quantification (independently of Frege).

Peirce and Pragmatism

Enter the heart of the matter. The pragmatic maxim is formulated as follows: “Consider what effects the practices we expect to be produced by the object of our conception. The design of all these effects is the complete design of the object.” (“How to make our ideas clear”, # 15) pragmatism is primarily a philosophy of service. Any design is defined by all of its practical effects. If two concepts with different names have the same practical effect, then they form only a single design. By cons, if two concepts share the same name, but involve different effects, we have two different designs.

Design stems from a belief. A belief is a mental habit that guides the action. He expressed this view in his text “What is fixed belief”. We elaborate on this in another article.

If I believe something is hard, I think in a certain arrangement of facts, this thing will behave in such and such way. A design is a belief that tells about a certain subject, what is its behavior in all possible circumstances. The same rule applies to define the abstract or metaphysical. All meanings are reduced to practical effect in such and such circumstances. He considers this maxim as an essential part of his philosophical methodology.

We clearly see the influence of scientific training on Peirce’s philosophy. It is still imbued with the spirit of the laboratory. He refuses Byzantine distinctions of traditional metaphysics and believes he can show that many philosophical problems are in fact false problems, analyzing them in terms of practical consequences. We also note the influence of the philosophy of common sense. Peirce’s philosophical position is sometimes called a “critical common sense.”

Furthermore, the pragmatic maxim can be used to define the truth of a proposition. For Peirce, truth is a matter of long-term convergence of scientific research. The view that survives the tests and joined the agreement in the research community after being widely discussed and vetted by the critics, this view can be regarded as true and real.

When William James popularized his own philosophy of pragmatism, Peirce distinguished for many it will rename its design the “pragmatic”.

Peirce and Metaphysics

Peirce refuses, of course, metaphysics “ontology” of the past, claiming to describe the world independently of experience and intelligence of any empirical. Yet it retains a place for a scientific metaphysics, mainly descriptive and generalizing. This discipline is used to describe the three aspects of any daily reality: the mere possibility (or firstness, firstness) its effective realization (or Secondness, secondness), and the rule that governs (or thirdness, thirdness). All existence is dual, because it implies action and reaction. But it presupposes the formal possibility: firstness is inaccessible in itself, it can be grasped only through existing. However, there does not fully explain something, because any object that is based on a series to which it belongs: this shows is that the principle of measuring the length, embodied in all watches. A law, rule, an abstract principle, a symbol, or a general idea, in short, a thirdness must always be considered when describing or explaining what an object.

Peirce also defends an evolutionary cosmology, generalizing the lesson of Darwin, where his realism is compatible with a certain idealism. In fact, for him, any process is the joint result of a thought and a regulatory matter. The material is there, but the thought of “quasi-mind” of the world is the purpose and significance of the process. Thus the universe is a vast continuum, where the separations are only temporary abstractions. But the laws governing the universe are not deterministic. The chance is real and is reflected in the use of probability in science. The universe is a process unknown, although governed by laws. The universe is evolutionary. He calls this design, tychisme.

Peirce and Semiotics (theory of meaning)

All thought is done using signs. A sign is a triad: a representamen (sign material) denotes an object (an object of thought) through an interpreter (a mental representation of the relationship between representamen and object). The first is representamen (a pure opportunity to serve), the second object (which exists and we’re talking about), but this process takes place under an interpretation (the third one that energizes the relationship of meaning). The interpretant is a sign capable of being re-interpreted, and indefinitely. I speak of a dog. The word “dog” is the representamen, the object is what is referred to by that word, and the first interpretation is that we share the definition of that word: the concept of dog. This first report, Peirce calls it the foundation (ground) of the sign. But the semiotic process continues, because from the sign it is possible that mentally I picture a dog, I’m talking about then, raising your mind to other interpretations, until the real exhaustion of the process exchange (or thought, a dialogue with oneself). Think and mean are the same process seen from two different angles. This process is called semiosis.


The signs are distinguished by first qualisign (the mere possibility of the sign), sinsign (this sign there) and legisign (the law governing the grammar of sign). Then, in terms of significance it will have an icon (a sign of resemblance with the object), the index (a sign as a symptom related to its object) and symbol (a sign with an abstract meaning) . Finally, in practical terms, we will have the rheme (a noun, a verb, an adjective), the dicisign (a proposal verbal or visual, for example) and argument (an inference rule). Any thought or meaning thus leads to an inference, an elementary reasoning.

Returning to the logical theory, Peirce distinguishes abduction (abduction: inference that leads to the discovery of a plausible assumption), the inductions (induction: statistical reasoning) and deductions (net: perfectly logical argument where one draws a true premises certain conclusion). The three forms of inference plays an important role in the discovery and scientific justification. This is the inference that the symbol acquires its full strength leading to a trial.

His formalism suggests a multitude of phenomena of thought and meaning of artistic expression in the demonstration of a theorem, analysis of a computer circuit to everyday communication, the establishment of a diagnosis medical aesthetic experience or ethics. Its logical formalism is the guarantor of its generality. The position of Ombudsman of the interpretation overcomes the static and dualistic conceptions of empiricism, but instead of being anchored firmly in the concept of practical experience in the habit of thinking and especially in the process change of beliefs, which are nothing more than habits of thought.

Peirce’s philosophy is his greatest fulfillment in his semiotics as “the man is a sign,” he writes at the end of his life. To the extent that there is no thought without a sign, to the extent that “intelligence is an action completed ‘, semiotic theory can answer the big question Kantian, or at least to indicate a direction for the answer to this question: “What is man?” For Peirce, before many others, the human being is a symbolic animal. Its characteristic is intelligence, that is to say, reflective action, where he works himself into a signifier. By giving meaning to life through different symbolic universe, the human being fulfills and exceeds its shape, becoming the subject of creative and performing signs and signs that he discovered the world. He can not do that to the extent that it is congenitally a social and historical. For thought as the meaning of community processes are not processes that accomplish only so-called thinker “in his head.”

Peirce’s Influences and critics

Karl Popper has been greatly influenced by C.S. Peirce. He was directly inspired by the works of William James and John Dewey. Closer to home, his influence is significant on Quine and especially Hilary Putnam. In semiotics, his influence is enormous, including thinkers like Umberto Eco and John Deely. For cons, the pragmatic relativist, Richard Rorty, rejects his metaphysics and scientism.

He is sometimes called the “American Aristotle ” because of his analytical approach and his encyclopaedic spirit. Some manuscripts long ignored now allow us to better understand its innovative philosophy, which will remain the first major contribution to the history of philosophy rooted in its letter and spirit, in the Americas.

Cite this article as: Tim, "Peirce’s Philosophy, March 20, 2012, " in Philosophy & Philosophers, March 20, 2012,

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