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 {synech├ęs}, 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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