The Essential Peirce: Selected Philosophical Writings, 1867-1893


Charles Sanders Peirce was born on 10 September 1839 in Cambridge, Massachusetts- when Darwin was only 30 years old- and he lived until 1914, the year World War I began.

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Charles Sanders Peirce was born on 10 September 1839 in Cambridge, Massachusetts- when Darwin was only 30 years old- and he lived until 1914, the year World War I began.

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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
Often considered the greatest American philosopher, Peirce produced no comprehensive treatise; until now, students and scholars had to read through widely scattered papers to gain an overall view of his thought. This anthology remedies that situation by offering a full representation of his work, including several hard-to-obtain items. The editors have arranged the material chronologically, so that the development of Peirce's ideas can be traced. Essays discuss such topics as the philosopher's new system of categories, pragmatism, signs, scientific progress, and evolutionary cosmology. The excellent introduction stresses Peirce's growing adherence to realism and his doctrine of signs. This volume ends in 1893; a second will cover the period from 1894 to his death in 1914. It is highly recommended for scholarly collections.-- David Gordon, Bowling Green State Univ., Ohio
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780253328496
  • Publisher: Indiana University Press
  • Publication date: 11/1/1992
  • Series: Essential Peirce Series
  • Pages: 446
  • Product dimensions: 6.41 (w) x 9.52 (h) x 1.16 (d)

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The Essential Peirce

Selected Philosophical Writings

By Nathan Houser, Christian Kloesel

Indiana University Press

Copyright © 1992 Nathan Houser and Christian Kloesel
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-253-32849-6


On a New List of Categories

P 32: Proceedings of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences 7 (1868)1283–98. [Also published in W2:49–59 (with the four other papers in the so-called PAAAS Series and with references to related manuscripts published in Wi) and in CPi.545–59. Peirce completely rewrote the paper to serve as the opening chapter of his 1894 "How to Reason" (MS 403).] Presented to the Academy on 14 May 1863, this paper is, according to Peirce, "perhaps the least unsatisfactory, from a logical point of view, that I ever succeeded in producing" and, with item 3 below, one of his two "strongest philosophical works." The culmination of a ten-year effort and the keystone of Peirce's system of philosophy, it argues for a new post-Kantian set of categories (or univeral conceptions) by demonstrating that they are required for the unification of experience. Peirce's argument is essentially a logical derivation, though it depends on a type of mental separation he called 'prescision,' which is also required for his later phenomenological derivation of the categories.

§1. This paper is based upon the theory already established, that the function of conceptions is to reduce the manifold of sensuous impressions to unity, and that the validity of a conception consists in the impossibility of reducing the content of consciousness to unity without the introduction of it.

§2. This theory gives rise to a conception of gradation among those conceptions which are universal. For one such conception may unite the manifold of sense and yet another may be required to unite the conception and the manifold to which it is applied; and so on.

§3. That universal conception which is nearest to sense is that of the present, in general. This is a conception, because it is universal. But as the act of attention has no connotation at all, but is the pure denotative power of the mind, that is to say, the power which directs the mind to an object, in contradistinction to the power of thinking any predicate of that object,—so the conception of what is present in general, which is nothing but the general recognition of what is contained in attention, has no connotation, and therefore no proper unity. This conception of the present in general, or IT in general, is rendered in philosophical language by the word "substance" in one of its meanings. Before any comparison or discrimination can be made between what is present, what is present must have been recognized as such, as it, and subsequently the metaphysical parts which are recognized by abstraction are attributed to this it, but the it cannot itself be made a predicate. This it is thus neither predicated of a subject, nor in a subject, and accordingly is identical with the conception of substance.

§4. The unity to which the understanding reduces impressions is the unity of a proposition. This unity consists in the connection of the predicate with the subject; and, therefore, that which is implied in the copula, or the conception of being, is that which completes the work of conceptions of reducing the manifold to unity. The copula (or rather the verb which is copula in one of its senses) means either actually is or would be, as in the two propositions, "There is no griffin," and "A griffin is a winged quadruped." The conception of being contains only that junction of predicate to subject wherein these two verbs agree. The conception of being, therefore, plainly has no content.

If we say "The stove is black," the stove is the substance, from which its blackness has not been differentiated, and the is, while it leaves the substance just as it was seen, explains its confusedness, by the application to it of blackness as a predicate.

Though being does not affect the subject, it implies an indefinite determinability of the predicate. For if one could know the copula and predicate of any proposition, as "... is a tailed-man," he would know the predicate to be applicable to something supposable, at least. Accordingly, we have propositions whose subjects are entirely indefinite, as "There is a beautiful ellipse," where the subject is merely something actual or potential; but we have no propositions whose predicate is entirely indeterminate, for it would be quite senseless to say, "A has the common characters of all things," inasmuch as there are no such common characters.

Thus substance and being are the beginning and end of all conception. Substance is inapplicable to a predicate, and being is equally so to a subject.

§5. The terms "prescision" and "abstraction," which were formerly applied to every kind of separation, are now limited, not merely to mental separation, but to that which arises from attention to one element and neglect of the other. Exclusive attention consists in a definite conception or supposition of one part of an object, without any supposition of the other. Abstraction or prescision ought to be carefully distinguished from two other modes of mental separation, which may be termed discrimination and dissociation. Discrimination has to do merely with the essences of terms, and only draws a distinction in meaning. Dissociation is that separation which, in the absence of a constant association, is permitted by the law of association of images. It is the consciousness of one thing, without the necessary simultaneous consciousness of the other. Abstraction or prescision, therefore, supposes a greater separation than discrimination, but a less separation than dissociation. Thus I can discriminate red from blue, space from color, and color from space, but not red from color. I can prescind red from blue, and space from color (as is manifest from the fact that I actually believe there is an uncolored space between my face and the wall); but I cannot prescind color from space, nor red from color. I can dissociate red from blue, but not space from color, color from space, nor red from color.

Prescision is not a reciprocal process. It is frequently the case, that, while A cannot be prescinded from B, B can be prescinded from A. This circumstance is accounted for as follows. Elementary conceptions only arise upon the occasion of experience; that is, they are produced for the first time according to a general law, the condition of which is the existence of certain impressions. Now if a conception does not reduce the impressions upon which it follows to unity, it is a mere arbitrary addition to these latter; and elementary conceptions do not arise thus arbitrarily. But if the impressions could be definitely comprehended without the conception, this latter would not reduce them to unity. Hence, the impressions (or more immediate conceptions) cannot be definitely conceived or attended to, to the neglect of an elementary conception which reduces them to unity. On the other hand, when such a conception has once been obtained, there is, in general, no reason why the premises which have occasioned it should not be neglected, and therefore the explaining conception may frequently be prescinded from the more immediate ones and from the impressions.

§6. The facts now collected afford the basis for a systematic method of searching out whatever universal elementary conceptions there may be intermediate between the manifold of substance and the unity of being. It has been shown that the occasion of the introduction of a universal elementary conception is either the reduction of the manifold of substance to unity, or else the conjunction to substance of another conception. And it has further been shown that the elements conjoined cannot be supposed without the conception, whereas the conception can generally be supposed without these elements. Now, empirical psychology discovers the occasion of the introduction of a conception, and we have only to ascertain what conception already lies in the data which is united to that of substance by the first conception, but which cannot be supposed without this first conception, to have the next conception in order in passing from being to substance.

It may be noticed that, throughout this process, introspection is not resorted to. Nothing is assumed respecting the subjective elements of consciousness which cannot be securely inferred from the objective elements.

§7. The conception of being arises upon the formation of a proposition. A proposition always has, besides a term to express the substance, another to express the quality of that substance; and the function of the conception of being is to unite the quality to the substance. Quality, therefore, in its very widest sense, is the first conception in order in passing from being to substance.

Quality seems at first sight to be given in the impression. Such results of introspection are untrustworthy. A proposition asserts the applicability of a mediate conception to a more immediate one. Since this is asserted, the more mediate conception is clearly regarded independently of this circumstance, for otherwise the two conceptions would not be distinguished, but one would be thought through the other, without this latter being an object of thought, at all. The mediate conception, then, in order to be asserted to be applicable to the other, must first be considered without regard to this circumstance, and taken immediately. But, taken immediately, it transcends what is given (the more immediate conception), and its applicability to the latter is hypothetical. Take, for example, the proposition, "This stove is black." Here the conception of this stove is the more immediate, that of black the more mediate, which latter, to be predicated of the former, must be discriminated from it and considered in itself, not as applied to an object, but simply as embodying a quality, blackness. Now this blackness is a pure species or abstraction, and its application to this stove is entirely hypothetical. The same thing is meant by "the stove is black," as by "there is blackness in the stove." Embodying blackness is the equivalent of black. The proof is this. These conceptions are applied indifferently to precisely the same facts. If, therefore, they were different, the one which was first applied would fulfil every function of the other; so that one of them would be superfluous. Now a superfluous conception is an arbitrary fiction, whereas elementary conceptions arise only upon the requirement of experience; so that a superfluous elementary conception is impossible. Moreover, the conception of a pure abstraction is indispensible, because we cannot comprehend an agreement of two things, except as an agreement in some respect, and this respect is such a pure abstraction as blackness. Such a pure abstraction, reference to which constitutes a quality or general attribute, may be termed a ground.

Reference to a ground cannot be prescinded from being, but being can be prescinded from it.

§8. Empirical psychology has established the fact that we can know a quality only by means of its contrast with or similarity to another. By contrast and agreement a thing is referred to a correlate, if this term may be used in a wider sense than usual. The occasion of the introduction of the conception of reference to a ground is the reference to a correlate, and this is, therefore, the next conception in order.

Reference to a correlate cannot be prescinded from reference to a ground; but reference to a ground may be prescinded from reference to a correlate.

§9. The occasion of reference to a correlate is obviously by comparison. This act has not been sufficiently studied by the psychologists, and it will, therefore, be necessary to adduce some examples to show in what it consists. Suppose we wish to compare the letters p and b. We may imagine one of them to be turned over on the line of writing as an axis, then laid upon the other, and finally to become transparent so that the other can be seen through it. In this way we shall form a new image which mediates between the images of the two letters, inasmuch as it represents one of them to be (when turned over) the likeness of the other. Again, suppose we think of a murderer as being in relation to a murdered person; in this case we conceive the act of the murder, and in this conception it is represented that corresponding to every murderer (as well as to every murder) there is a murdered person; and thus we resort again to a mediating representation which represents the relate as standing for a correlate with which the mediating representation is itself in relation. Again, suppose we look out the word homme in a French dictionary; we shall find opposite to it the word man, which, so placed, represents homme as representing the same two-legged creature which man itself represents. By a further accumulation of instances, it would be found that every comparison requires, besides the related thing, the ground, and the correlate, also a mediating representation which represents the relate to be a representation of the same correlate which this mediating representation itself represents. Such a mediating representation may be termed an interpretant, because it fulfils the office of an interpreter, who says that a foreigner says the same thing which he himself says. The term "representation" is here to be understood in a very extended sense, which can be explained by instances better than by a definition. In this sense, a word represents a thing to the conception in the mind of the hearer, a portrait represents the person for whom it is intended to the conception of recognition, a weathercock represents the direction of the wind to the conception of him who understands it, a barrister represents his client to the judge and jury whom he influences.

Every reference to a correlate, then, conjoins to the substance the conception of a reference to an interprétant; and this is, therefore, the next conception in order in passing from being to substance.

Reference to an interprétant cannot be prescinded from reference to a correlate; but the latter can be prescinded from the former.

§10. Reference to an interprétant is rendered possible and justified by that which renders possible and justifies comparison. But that is clearly the diversity of impressions. If we had but one impression, it would not require to be reduced to unity, and would therefore not need to be thought of as referred to an interpretant, and the conception of reference to an interpretant would not arise. But since there is a manifold of impressions, we have a feeling of complication or confusion, which leads us to differentiate this impression from that, and then, having been differentiated, they require to be brought to unity. Now they are not brought to unity until we conceive them together as being ours, that is, until we refer them to a conception as their interpretant. Thus, the reference to an interpretant arises upon the holding together of diverse impressions, and therefore it does not join a conception to the substance, as the other two references do, but unites directly the manifold of the substance itself. It is, therefore, the last conception in order in passing from being to substance.


Excerpted from The Essential Peirce by Nathan Houser, Christian Kloesel. Copyright © 1992 Nathan Houser and Christian Kloesel. Excerpted by permission of Indiana University Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents


Chronology, ix,
Foreword by Nathan Houser and Christian Kloesel, xi,
Introduction by Nathan Houser, xix,
1. On a New List of Categories (1867), 1,
The Journal of Speculative Philosophy Cognition Series,
2. Questions Concerning Certain Faculties Claimed for Man (1868), 11,
3. Some Consequences of Four Incapacities (1868), 28,
4. Grounds of Validity of the Laws of Logic (1869), 56,
5. Fraser's The Works of George Berkeley (1871), 83,
6. On a New Class of Observations, suggested by the principles of Logic (1877), 106,
Illustrations of the Logic of Science,
7. The Fixation of Belief (1877), 109,
8. How to Make Our Ideas Clear (1878), 124,
9. The Doctrine of Chances (1878), 142,
10. The Probability of Induction (1878), 155,
11. The Order of Nature (1878), 170,
12. Deduction, Induction, and Hypothesis (1878), 186,
13. [from] On the Algebra of Logic (1880), 200,
14. Introductory Lecture on the Study of Logic (1882), 210,
15. Design and Chance (1883–84), 215,
16. [from] On the Algebra of Logic: A Contribution to the Philosophy of Notation (1885), 225,
17. An American Plato: Review of Royce's Religious Aspect of Philosophy (1885), 229,
18. One, Two, Three: Kantian Categories (1886), 242,
19. A Guess at the Riddle (1887–88), 245,
20. Trichotomic (1888), 280,
The Monist Metaphysical Series,
21. The Architecture of Theories (1891), 285,
22. The Doctrine of Necessity Examined (1892), 298,
23. The Law of Mind (1892), 312,
24. Man's Glassy Essence (1892), 334,
25. Evolutionary Love (1893), 352,
Notes, 373,
Index, 389,

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