The Seven Systems of Metaphysics

Peirce's table of 7 systems of metaphysics

Peirce's table of 7 systems of metaphysics

Peirce’s lecture “The Seven Systems of Metaphysics,” 1903, was the fourth in a series which elaborated on his categories and his view of philosophy as a system, distancing it from other systems of his time. In previous lectures Peirce has defined and defended the three fundamental categories (firstness/quality, secondness/reaction, thirdness/representation), and here he endeavors to show the possible systems of metaphysics understood through the categories. The table, which appears in the text, shows what kind of metaphysical system results from admitting the reality of the different categories. The system that admits all 3 categories as Real and irreducible is the one Peirce is advancing, which he labels as a kind of Kantianism.

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Peirce on Pragmaticism, 1

In “The Maxim of Pragmatism” Peirce works to distinguish his view of pragmatism from the new pragmatists that take the pragmatic maxim as the “sublime principle of speculative philosophy.” Peirce thinks the new pragmatists are too “lively,” which is to say uncritically exuberant in assigning the maxim too much power and work in their thinking. For Peirce, the pragmatic maxim is only a maxim of logic – it does not extend to metaphysical speculation.

Here is Peirce’s formulation:

Consider the effects that might conceivably have practical bearings we conceive the object of our conception to have: then, our conception of those effects is the whole of our conceptions of the object.

Peirce is at pains to show in a subsequent example about betting that high probability and practical efficacy, usefulness in effects, efficiency of explanation, etc. do not amount to full philosophical rigor. This must be criticized and checked against experiences, usually of others, and over a long period of time. The result of his train of reasoning in this lecture is to mark the chain of dependency which must be observed in pragmaticism as inquiry: logic–>ethics–>esthetics. Thus, it is not enough to make pragmatism about an individual’s immediate conceptions of objects and their consequences for practical action (logic and ethics) – they must be tempered by what actually happens in experience (esthetics). The upshot of this is that pragmatism cannot be a matter of psychology and action – it must deal with and be reconciled with the reality of objects in the world.

As you may recall, this is what Kant discovers analytically in his Critiques: your metaphysics depends on your logic (CPR); your logic depends on your ethics (CPrR); and it all depends on your aesthetics (CPJ). Peirce ends by talking about Phenomenology, which will be defined specifically to evade the Hegelian idea of it, and renamed “phaneroscopy.”

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Inquiry, Teaching, Learning

In the “First Rule of Logic” Peirce makes an important point about learning which may seem commonsense, but is almost never observed in the design of teaching, or education in the United States generally. The point is that in order to learn you must sincerely desire to learn. The sincerity of this desire is more important than your initial methods, according to Peirce, because eventually sincere inquiry will force you to correct them. Peirce links this with the “Will to Learn,” which is meant to contrast with the more subject-centered, practically oriented “Will to Believe” found in the pragmatism of William James (a contrast to Peirce’s “pragmaticism”).

How to cultivate this desire is difficult, and how to make it sincere is even more troublesome a task. But it seems obvious that current pedagogy and policy is much more obsessed with moral methods and an assumed goal of learning – whether it is teaching to the test, to cultural values (critical, religious, or common-sensical), or teaching to creativity – than it is cultivating the capacity and desire for inquiry.

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Continuity, Heraclitean Error

In his lecture “Philosophy and the Conduct of Life,” 1898, Peirce identifies an interesting aspect of Plato’s education. Before studying with Socrates, Plato was apparently a student of Cratylus, who was a Heraclitean. This, according to Peirce, is probably the source of what he calls Plato’s Heraclitean error, which was to assume “Continuity implies Transitoriness” (my boldface).

Peirce argues the opposite in his notion of synechism, which holds things like space, time, law, and even mind are continuous and eternal. It is important to recall, in the case of “mind,” that Peirce does NOT identify mind with consciousness, ego, individual personality, etc. Mind is transitive, spanning all thinking individuals. “The Law of Mind” elaborates on this latter point.

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Peirce on Synechism, 1

from “Immortality in the Light of Synechism,” 1893

Peirce defines the doctrine of synechism as follows:

The word synechism is the English form of the Greek {synechismos}, from {synechés}, 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. [---] I carry the doctrine so far as to maintain that continuity governs the whole domain of experience in every element of it.

He also asserts the relation between synechism and purposiveness:

the synechist will not admit that physical and psychical phenomena are entirely distinct,–whether as belonging to different categories of substance, or as entirely separate sides of one shield,–but will insist that all phenomena are of one character, thought some are more mental and spontaneous, others more material and regular. Sill all alike present that mixture of freedom and constraint, which allows them to be, nay, makes them to be teleological, or purposive.

Peirce also comments on the vanity “personal identity” and of asserting a metaphysics of identity in general, in which we conceptualize ourselves as radically unique and absolutely distinct from other beings.

synechism recognizes that the carnal consciousness is but a small part of the man. There is … the social consciousness, by which a man’s spirit is embodied in others, and which continues to live and breathe and have its being very much longer than superficial observers think.

Peirce comments at the end of the piece that while the doctrine of synechism is a scientific philosophy, it is the basis of showing the continuity of science and religion. Although Peirce wouldn’t schematize his position in exactly this way, with these terms, the following table shows roughly how synechism stands in relations to other positions on Reality:

Doctrines of Reality
1) materialism (empirical)
2) idealism (rational)
3) dualism (dialectical)
4) synechism (modal)

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Sanford Budick’s _Kant and Milton_ (2010)

I have been working my way through a very interesting recent book on Kant, Sanford Budick’s Kant and Milton, and I thought of the discussions we had in the seminar about Kant’s trajectory from reflecting judgment, the judgment of taste (aesthetic judgment of reflection on the beautiful), on to the teleological judgment of reflection. Budick’s book traces the development of Kant’s ideas about the sublime through his deep appreciation of Milton’s poetics. I’ve not finished it, but what I am already realizing is that I was wrong in interpreting the analytic of the sublime as ancillary to the main trajectory in CPJ regarding the reflecting judgment. Whereas I read Kant’s comments about Taste being the “discipline of Genius” as a clear indication of the higher stakes and importance of the arguments in the Analytic of the Beautiful (in which communicability and community is emphasized over the individual experience of the subject), Budick’s work suggests that there is nothing ancillary at all and that the sublime adds something essential to the understanding of reflective teleology.

My hunch is that the analytic of the sublime is the pathway to the generation of new Ideas, which in the finale will support the positing of new conceptions and the cognitive experience of purposiveness in the Teleological Judgment of Reflection.  I will try to add insights to the blog as I work my way through the text, but it is clear that instead of subordinating the sublime (and the misreadings and overemphasis of it in German Idealism on through Critical Theory), we need to look to its role as part of a development of hypotheses from perception to new cognitions of novel experiences.

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Reading Notes to Kant’s Critique of Judgment

Introduction (2nd):

Analytic of the Beautiful:
chid495_cpj-analytic of the beautiful

Analytic of the Sublime:

Deduction, Dialectic of Aesthetic Judgment:

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Reading Notes to Kant’s Critique of Practical Reason

Analytic, Ch.1 (exposition by terms):
chid495_cpr2-notes1 (p.17-30)

Analytic, Ch.2-3:
chid495_cpr2-notes3 (p.59-70 – incomplete)

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Reading Notes to Kant’s Transcendental Logic: Dialectic

Transitional: Analytic of Principles:

Dialectic (raw notes):

Dialectic (walk-through notes):

Both of the note sets are incomplete but should give a firm grounding for working through the remaining few pages.

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Reading Notes to Kant’s Transcendental Logic: Analytic

Get them here:
chid495_transcendental-logicA1-R (201-218, summary)
chid495_transcendental-logicA2 (219-226, 245-254, notes)

chid495_transcendental-logicA1 (201-226, notes)

255-266 forthcoming

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