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Symposia. Pragmatism and the Writing of History

“I Have To Confess I Cannot Read History So,”

On the Origins and Development of Peirce’s Philosophy of History
Alessandro Topa


This study aims at a better understanding of Peirce’s conception of a philosophy of history. Peirce has a well defined place for historiography in his classification of the sciences, but what he has to say about history as a philosopher is not primarily referring to it as a form of historiographic knowledge, but to history as a process and a medium. As a process, history is, fundamentally, a cooperative activity of man resulting in civilization and capable of varying categoriological degrees of directionality that reflect the ‘agents’ knowledge’ of history incorporated in the communicative practices of their community. As a medium, history – in the light of the cosmogonic narrative of Peirce’s evolutionary metaphysics and of his mature conception of the summum bonum – is one of two forms of expression of the Absolute. Our paper studies the development of these conceptions from the Schellingian influences on “The Place of Our Age in the History of Civilization” (1863), to “Fixation of Belief” (1877) and “Evolutionary Love” (1892). Throughout this development, Peirce remains primordially interested in the philosophy of history as a mode of normatively conceiving of history (as a medium) in a way that enables us to pragmatically project our cultural development as a process in which an increasing control over our own history is actualized.

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Author's notes

I am indebted to the two anonymous referees, the editors and Emily Smith for suggestions that improved this paper.

Full text

“The science of knowledge is to be a pragmatic history of the human mind.”
Fichte, 1794

“Nature’s highest goal, to become wholly an object to herself, is achieved only through the last and highest order of reflection, which is none other than man; or, more generally, it is what we call reason, whereby nature first completely returns into herself, and by which it becomes apparent that nature is identical from the first with what we recognize in ourselves as the intelligent and the conscious.”
Schelling, 1800

“Our physical science, whatever extravagant historicists may say, seems to have sprung up uncaused except by man’s intelligence and nature’s intelligibility, which never could before be operative because it was not studied minutely. But modern philosophy had no such divine birth. On the contrary, it pays the usual tax upon inheritances from revolutions. It was the product of a double and triple revolution – the Renaissance, the Reformation, the Copernican revolution.”
Peirce, 1902

I. Introduction

  • 1 Peirce, however, admits to being better acquainted with the “history of philosophy” than with “poli (...)

1The task of speaking about the origins and development of Peirce’s philosophy of history is confronted with difficulties, the articulation of which will prefigure our understanding of the question and determine the direction in which an answer shall be sought. Let us, therefore, first establish some common ground: Readers of Peirce will certainly agree that his écriture is pervaded by an encyclopaedic1 and intensely curious historical consciousness that neither shies away from the consideration of minute details (see below) nor from the responsibility to understand the causes of large scale historical processes (see third epigraph above) and is nourished by the modern ideal of our deliverance from idola: “one of the main purposes of studying history ought to be to free us from the tyranny of our preconceived notions,” writes Peirce in 1901. Thus when he reflects on an explanation of certain habits of mind that govern Aristotle’s inquiries by conceiving of him as the “scion of a family whose every member, from the further prehistoric times had been trained in medicine” and did, therefore, not share “the Hellenic repugnance to dissection” (CP 2.12), we see him jotting a memo:

Before this goes to press, I have to go over three books: Barthélemy St. Hilaire’s Ed. of Arist. Historia Animal 2. Littré’s Hippocrates 3. The best German history of medicine. (MS 425: 14, lower left margin)

2To return to the sources and, at the same time, identify and read the best available account of the historical development in any field of knowledge, touches upon what would become a routine in the intellectual metabolism of Peirce the historian of science, logic and philosophy.

  • 2 Esposito (1983: 164) refers to CP 3.425, erroneously assuming that “The Regenerated Logic” (1896) b (...)
  • 3 See Taylor (1985: 80): Agent’s knowledge, according to Taylor, originates with Vico’s verum ipsum f (...)
  • 4 This is also clearly brought out and emphasized by Hampe (2006: 40-1, 141-52).

3Here, however, a first problem arises: the objectivistic outlook animating the routines of Peirce the historian reflects stances taken by Peirce the philosopher of history. There thus seems to be, as Esposito (1983) points out, a strong “narrativist” strand in Peirce’s philosophical conception of history: “the view of the past as an objective actuality” (Esposito 1983: 160) resulting from an application of the pragmatic understanding of inquiry and reality to the realm of the past. If the real is the object of that ultimate opinion we would ultimately agree upon, then our knowledge of the past must lead to testable consequences that would eventually confirm a theory of what the past, as an objective sequence of events, was truly like (cf. CP 2.642, 5.461). In contrast to this, however, Esposito finds a less prominent “transcendentalist” (Esposito 1983: 156) conception, in which “the term ‘history’ seems to refer to a particular theoretical construction of human temporal activity” (Esposito 1983: 164). Indeed Peirce can speak of a “logic of history”2 in the sense of a logic of its processuality, which is capable of being guided by human intentionality; but Esposito is, nonetheless, mistaken in diagnosing a “dearth of arguments from Peirce that clearly assume the transcendentalist perspective” (Esposito 1983: 164) because he fails to realize how prominent texts such as “Fixation of Belief” assume such a perspective, which, however, is not in contrast to the objectivistic stance but rather complementary to it, as the approach to the historical in these texts is geared towards disclosing and enabling the growth of a normative component in our understanding of history. Thus for Peirce, objectivism notwithstanding, if history were to be tackled in a dégagé third-person perspective, it would mean to refuse to see what history really is (cf. EP 1: 364, 369; CP 2.111-8). As a particular object of philosophy, history thus is a subject that transcends Esposito’s dichotomies because our first-person conception of it – our ‘agent’s knowledge’3 – determines the mode in which we will actualize (or disrupt) historical continua in our actions.4

  • 5 Hampe (2006: 124-52).
  • 6 EP 1:309, emphases mine.

4This leads to the next problem: Peirce was not only interested in development as an historian, but also as a metaphysician. Where literally everything developmental seems to become historical, however, traditional distinctions could seem to have been abandoned without offering any substitute. As Hampe (2006) has aptly characterized this aspect of Peirce’s philosophy of history, his evolutionary metaphysics – in which processes of habit-taking propel the emergence of regularities in the development of nature and civilization – ultimately interlaces the historicization of nature with a naturalization of history5 so that the difference between historia naturalis and historia rerum gestarum seems to become obsolete, unless the subtlety of Peirce’s conception of the normativity and self-referentiality of our own conception of history is properly acknowledged. It is no coincidence that his cosmogonic philosophy of the early 1890s culminates in the vision of a creative “agapastic” form of the historical development of human thought, but instead indicates an essential element of Peirce’s “realistic idealism” (MS 400) with its aim to “gain room to insert mind into our scheme, and to put it into the place where it is needed, into the position which, as the sole self-intelligible thing, it is entitled to occupy.”6 It is, thus, only in the acknowledgment of the agapic processual-semeiotic causes and conditions that have led to the emergence of such a “sole self-intelligible thing” that we commit ourselves to a normative conception of history as the developmental form of an “endless perfectibility” (W 1: 114).

5The term “philosophy of history,” however, is nowhere used in the Monist series. Thus, a third problem emerges: If we look into Peirce’s mature classifications of the heuretic sciences (a hierarchy of interdependent research activities that, being “the pursuit of living men,” exist in an “incessant state of metabolism and growth,” EP2: 129), we see that Peirce reserves a place for a family of historiographic sciences he refers to as “[descriptive] Psychognosy” (CP 1.272) or “Descriptive Psychics, or history” (CP 1.189), but nowhere in this classification can we detect anything that reflects the necessity to philosophically come to terms with history as a dimension and vector of that experience all men have in common and in which our relatedness to the world, ourselves and others is rooted (cf. EP 2: 372-3), whether in its meaning as res gestae, or ‘that which factually happened,’ or in its meaning as a historia rerum gestarum, i.e. as a ‘knowledge of what has happened.’ What we can derive from Peirce’s architectonic enframing of historiography is nonetheless important: Inasmuch as “Descriptive Psychics, or history” is classified as belonging to the descriptive order of the psychical subclass of the “idioscopic” or “special sciences,” it does not attempt to nomologically establish general laws (cf. EP 2: 261), nor does it taxonomically study “kinds of mental manifestation” (CP 1.271), but rather aspires “to describe individual manifestations of mind, whether they be permanent works or actions” and “to explain them on the principles of psychology and ethnology” (CP 1.189, emphases mine). We can thus say that history qua “Descriptive Psychics” is a form of scientific activity that focuses on the description of individual events in which mind becomes manifest as a productive power, incarnating itself in the materiality of “permanent works” and “actions.” What such a mind is, however, and how we can account for its poietical and practical purposiveness in bringing about artifacts and practices, are questions another science has to answer: “to philosophy must fall the task of comparing the two stems of causation and of exhuming their common root” (CP 1.273). Thus, although there is no explicitly marked slot for the philosophy of history on Peirce’s “ladder” of principle-dependent sciences “descending into the well of truth” (CP 2.119), it is clear that there can be such a slot, if not a connection of several slots contributing to the philosophical clarification of what history is.

6In the connection of such architectonic stances, however, a third ‘ontotheological’ aspect of Peirce’s philosophical interest in history must be taken into account, as it constitutes a constant horizon in which history is conceived of as something that is not only grounded in the sequentiality of events and, moreover, acquires degrees of directionality through the categories of evolution operative in their connection, but also constitutes a medium of the expression of rationality (cf. EP 2: 245-5): A passage from How To Reason (1894) stratifies these three central aspects of Peirce’s philosophical interest in history and provides us with its pre-conception as a [a] cooperative product of individuals bringing about civilization with [b] a directionality depending on the degree of historical awareness in their actions, [c] functioning as the medium of the self-revelation of the Absolute.

[a] To say that man accomplishes nothing but that to which his endeavors are directed would be a cruel condemnation of the great bulk of mankind, who never have leisure to labor for anything but the necessities of life for themselves and their families. [b] But, without directly striving for it, far less comprehending it, they perform all that civilization requires, and bring forth another generation to advance history another step. Their fruit is, therefore, collective; it is the achievement of the whole people. [c] What is it, then, that the whole people is about, what is this civilization that is the outcome of history, but is never completed? […]. We may say that it is the process whereby man, with all his miserable littlenesses, becomes gradually more and more imbued with the Spirit of God, in which Nature and History are rife. (CP 5.402 n2)

7In the light of these aspects and interpretive problems, we will first identify the origins of central leitmotifs of Peirce’s philosophy of history in the early key text “The Place of Our Age in the History of Civilization” (1863). This piece is deeply influenced by Schelling’s notion of history as a “self-disclosing revelation of the absolute” (SW III: 603) and presents us with a matrix of ideas outlining the metaphysical horizon and systematic interest in and with which Peirce will concretize his philosophy of history in subsequent years (Section II).

8As will be sketched in the next section, this concretization takes place within the framework of two complementary argumentative movements connecting “Fixation of Belief” and “Evolutionary Love” in accordance with a scheme for the proof of objective idealism which Schelling, in his System of Transcendental Idealism (1800) – designed to complement the Ideen zu einer Philosophie der Natur (1797) – describes as follows:

In knowing as such – in the fact of my knowing – objective and subjective are so united that one cannot say which of the two has priority. […] Hence there are only two possibilities: A. Either the object is made primary, and the question is: how a subject is annexed thereto, which coincides with it? […] B. Alternatively, the subjective is made primary, and the problem is: how an objective supervenes, which coincides with it? If all knowledge rests upon the coincidence [Übereinstimmung] of these two, then the problem of explaining this coincidence is undoubtedly the supreme problem for all knowledge. (SW III: 339-41)

9Accordingly, we will explore an interpretation that argues for a complementaristic reading: Whereas “Evolutionary Love” is the culmination of a cosmogonic account of the phenomenon of scientific knowledge which moves from the analysis of the objective cosmological conditions to the “historical development of human thought” (EP 1: 363), resulting in the progress of scientific rationality (cf. EP 1: 369-71), “Fixation of Belief,” on the other hand, analyzes an inverse movement that leads us from the subjective representational conditions of embodied intelligences to the emergence of the idea of an “external permanency” (EP 1: 120). The ensuing coincidence of the structure and results of these two movements of analysis does not only confirm the objective idealist hypothesis of a processual identity of the evolution of nature and thought, but also justifies our hope that both processes are expressions of one and the same grammar of their intelligibility – “Chance is First, Law is Second, the tendency to take habits is Third” (EP 1: 297) – and, therefore, grounded in a categoriological form of reality thus receiving architectonic confirmation of its universality. It is only in the horizon of the coincidence between the objective and subjective conditions of scientific knowledge revealed in this circular movement that history can be pragmatically conceived of as a normative developmental form of the expression of rationality, which enables our ‘agent’s knowledge’ to project empirical history as a progress towards an increasing self-control over our future historical development (Section III).

II. Early Leitmotifs of Peirce’s Philosophy of History

10As we shall see in this section, a main perspective of Peirce’s philosophy of history, namely (i.) the conception of history as a medium of the absolute, originates in his first public speech “The Place of Our Age in the History of Civilization” (1863). “POA” anticipates other leitmotifs of Peirce’s philosophy of history, to wit (ii.) the conception of a universalist understanding of history, (iii.) the theme of history as a development of reason progressing in accordance with universal categories as its developmental structure, and finally (iv.) the necessity of a normative conception of history as a cooperative process that is to be reflected from the first-person stance of ‘agent’s knowledge.’

II.1 “The Place of Our Age in the History of Civilization”

  • 7 See Barnouw 1988, and Lefevbre 2007.
  • 8 See De Tienne (1996: 55ff.), Topa (2007: 113-56).
  • 9 Cf. e.g. Esposito 1977 and 1980; Reynolds (2002: 5-25); and Franks 2015.

11Among the philosophies of history developed by German Idealists from 1780 to 1830, most of which were inspired by Herder’s Ideas for the Philosophy of the History of Humanity (1784-1791) and Kants’s “Idea for a Universal History with a Cosmopolitan Aim” (1784), the works of Schiller and Schelling seem to have had a bigger impact on Peirce’s conception of history than Hegel’s Lectures on the Philosophy of World History (1837) or Fichte’s Fundamental Traits of the Present Age (1804-5). Whereas On the Æsthetic Education of Man (1796) is known to be a major source for Peirce’s understanding of aesthetics7 and of his early theory of categories,8 both the general nature and specification of the categoriological status of Schiller’s three drives – the formal, the sensuous and the play-drive – as categorial moments of historical processes in the Letters XXIV to XXVII have gained little attention in their relevance to Peirce; something similar might be said of Schelling, inasmuch as the influence of his Naturphilosophie on Peirce’s metaphysics has been adumbrated repeatedly,9 while the importance of his conception of the philosophy of history, as articulated in his System of Transcendental Idealism (1800) and the lecture “The Historical Construction of Christianity” (1803), is a subject yet to be tackled.

  • 10 CPR, A 80/B 106.
  • 11 Cf. the analogous distinction between a “repetitive order” and a universal “greater life-history th (...)

12From a sketch Peirce gives of his juvenilia (1859-1864), we can infer quite safely that “POA” is rooted in the soil of his earliest speculations on the categories, which goes far beyond what Kant conceives of as the objective validity of his “pure concepts of synthesis”10 and represents the undertaking of an ‘historical deduction of the categories’ that thus aims “to solve the puzzle [of the categories] in a […] historical […] manner” (CP 1.563). As the Peircean scheme of categories does, by that time, already comprise two “distinct orders of categories,” namely “the particular and the universal” (EP 2: 148), we are confronted with a scheme in which the latter are conceptualized as universal developmental stages that are connected by the former as their particular disjunctive “phases of evolution” (EP 2: 143, 148). This categoriological scheme will reappear in all texts we are studying.11

  • 12 In a letter to James from 1895, Peirce acknowledges that “my views were probably influenced by Sche (...)
  • 13 I will be quoting Heath’s translation of the “System of Transcendental Idealism” (Schelling 1997), (...)

13“POA” could be read as originating in and resulting from the combination of two central ideas of Schelling’s philosophy of history:12 The notion of a “historical construction of Christianity,” which is intimately connected with a representational conception of the Absolute, and his reflections on the possibility to conceive of history as a play (Schauspiel, SWIII: 602) of the “gradually self-disclosing revelation of the absolute” (SWIII: 603).13

II.1.1 History as Drama and Revelation of the Absolute

14In the chapter of the System of Transcendental Idealism devoted to the “Deduction of the Concept of History,” Schelling presents us with a drama in which everyone performs their role according to their preferences. A reasonable development in such a play would become conceivable only under the assumption that the mind of the playwright – the author of history – would have coordinated the roles beforehand, thus guaranteeing a harmony between the free play of the actors and the necessity constituting the intelligibility of a narrative (SW III: 602).

15In agreement with this train of thought, “POA” sets out to solve its central question – is it possible to conceive of the “spirit of Scepticism and Irreverence” of the “Age or Reason” as an integral element and “work of Christianity” (W 1: 101-7)? – by introducing the dramatic stages of plot-development (cf. W 1:108) as temporal schemata of the historical synthesis of the absolute. Having differentiated six stages of dramatic development, Peirce thus immediately invites us to “see if Christianity, the plot of History, does not follow determinate laws in its development, so that from a consideration of them we can gather where we are and whither we are tending” (W 1: 108, emphasis mine). It will be the categories that, functioning as “determinate laws” of development, constitute the historicity of our ‘agent’s knowledge.’

16Schelling’s use of drama as an analogy for history does, however, not stop where we have left it. It is only through careful observation of the next stage of Schelling’s analogy that his conception of a radically historical absolute comes to light and reveals its affinity to the Taylorian conception of ‘agent’s knowledge’ as an “achievement” (cf. fn. 4), inasmuch as “the very play of our own freedom” (SW III: 602) as agents in the drama of history would certainly require more creativity and sense of responsibility if we were to assume that the author had no independent existence apart from the play. Thus, Schelling argues, the author would be “only successively revealing himself through the very play of our own freedom,” so that, “without this freedom even he himself would not be,” whereas “we,” on the other hand, were to be “coauthors [Mitdichter] of the whole, and self-inventors [Selbsterfinder] of the peculiar role we play” (SW III: 602, translation mine).

17Thus, we see how, in Schelling’s conception of history, human freedom is conceived as the medium of a successive revelation of the absolute. This revelation takes place in the three historical periods of “Destiny,” “Nature” and “Providence” (SW III: 603-4; cf. SW V: 209ff.); but only when, in an indefinite future, the last period will have begun, so Schelling concludes his “Deduction of the Concept of History,” “God also will then exist” (SW III: 604).

  • 14 Cf. AHE: 116: “One can regard the history of the human species in the large as the completion of a (...)

18The aim of “POA” – to offer an historical outlook within which our “Age of Reason” can be grasped as a necessary stage toward the revelation of its true religious essence in the apotheosis of scientific rationality on the subsequent historical stage – is obtained by presenting the outlines of an “æsthetic view of science” (W 1: 114) and the conception of creation enshrined in it. With this vision of history and its goal, Peirce obviously does not appear to be primordially committed to the ideas of the progress of moral agency, political institutions and their constitutional framework, which are at the heart of the metaphysics of freedom in the tradition of Kant’s “Idea for a universal History”;14 rather it seems that Peirce conceives of the “æsthetic view of science” as a Weltanschauung, in which the scientific understanding of creation as an agapic process will collaterally also yield “the lever of love to move the world” and thus unleash more “surplus energy in the business of philanthropy” as has so far been used on “our triumphant road to wooing things” (W 1: 112-3).

19Connecting the concerto grosso scientiarum Peirce stages at the end of his speech to the Schellingian notion of human freedom as the medium of a historical “revelation of the Absolute” (SW III: 603), we can see the denouement of Peirce’s “æsthetic view of science” to consist of the notion of a co-authorship of man – who “may impress nature with his own intellect, converse and not merely listen” (W 1: 113) – with the creator: This co-authorship is a reflection of the original harmony of creation manifesting itself in the “majestic symphony” resulting from the cooperation of the sciences, in which “one as viol, another as flute, another as trump” translates the modulations of the divine agápe into the scientific knowledge of an object envisaged as a “cosmos”:

When the conclusion of our age comes, and scepticism and materialism have done their perfect work, we shall have a far greater faith than ever before. For then man will see God’s wisdom and mercy, not only in every event of his own life, but in that of the gorilla, the lion, the fish, the polyp, the tree, the crystal, the grain of dust, the atom. He will see that each one of these has an inward existence of its own, for which God loves it, and that He has given to it a nature of endless perfectibility. He will see the folly of saying that nature was created for his use […]. Physics will have made us familiar with the body of all things, and the unity of the body of all; natural history will have shown us the soul of all things in their infinite and amiable idiosyncracies. Philosophy will have taught us that it is this all which constitutes the church. (W 1: 114)

20Let us summarize and then put this last quotation into perspective: Following Schelling, as soon as 1863, Peirce conceives of history as an ongoing “revelation of the Absolute.” This revelation proceeds in three stages, in which the Schellingian Absolute – being the ground of the identity of subject and object, mind and matter, freedom and necessity (cf. SW III: 600) – appears first as “destiny, i.e. as a wholly blind force” (SW III: 604), which, for Peirce, corresponds to the “arbitrarily imagined perfection” of the “egotistical stage” (W 1: 113). –, then, as “nature,” i.e. as the idea of a law-governed mechanical order – which, in “POA,” corresponds to the “idistical stage” on which perfection is “observed” (W 1: 113). Finally, the Schellingian Absolute will eventually appear as “providence,” i.e. as a process of revelation in which man conceives of nature and history as the expressions of an Absolute that has the formal condition of its manifestation in the processuality of its revelation and is thus radically historical and of the nature of a representation (SW III: 604, and cf. 601-2).

  • 15 See MS 1334: 21 where Peirce defines ‘God’ as “the highest flight toward an understanding of the or (...)

21But the very moment this Absolute were to have completed its revelation so that the objective world would then be (and nolonger become) “a complete manifestation of God” (eine vollkommene Darstellung Gottes, SW III: 603), a state of absolute determination would be reached – corresponding to the “absolutely perfect, rational, and symmetrical system in which mind is at last crystallized” in Peirce’s “Cosmogonic Philosophy” (EP 1: 297). In this state, Schelling argues, “nothing could be other than the way it is” (SW III: 603) and the spontaneous and the necessary, freedom and necessity, would have become identical (cf. SW III: 340-1). Finally, Peirce’s æstheic view of science, which is conceived as the last stage preceding the tuistical stage of revelation, presents us with a vision of the Absolute rooted in the idea of mankind’s cooperative and sympathetic co-authorship in the historical process of its revelation. The manifestation of the Absolute as a “cosmos” in the synergy of scientific work, however, is not independent of the semeiotic process of its representation. It only reveals itself in our semeiosis, thus acting as the horizon in which a maximal degree of ‘agent’s knowledge’ becomes attainable for us.15

II.1.2 History as Absolute Synthesis

22For both Schelling and Peirce, the historicity and semeioticity of the Absolute are a consequence of its deep dialogical structure, reflected in the very notion of revelation. Peirce’s basic Schellingian assumption – that the history of our freedom is the medium of revelation of the Absolute and can be compared to a play, the author of which has no other manifestation besides – leads him to a proto-semeiotic notion of history as a process of representation that develops in accordance to “determinate laws” (W 1: 109), specified as categoriological “laws of […] objective presentation” (W 1: 109) expressing general conditions of intelligibility: “Every object is obliged to appear under a certain set of forms” (W 1: 109), Peirce writes at the beginning of his ‘categoriological construction of Christianity.’

23In this construction, Peirce lays down the “formula of Christianity” (W 1: 113) – the proposition “The Church is the Kingdom of Heaven” (W 1: 110) – as the starting-point of a gradual revelation of the total semantic contents of the idea of Christianity. Accordingly, the deductive plan contained in those central sections of the text that are lost (they were not published in the Cambridge Chronicle, which instead notifies its readers that “the orator here proceeded to analyze the formula ‘The Church is the Kingdom of Heaven’ and endeavored to show what part each had played in its enunciation” (W 1: 110)) becomes clear:

[a] First there was the egotistical stage when man arbitrarily imagined perfection, now is the idistical stage when he observes it. Hereafter must be the more glorious tuistical stage when he shall be in communion with her. And this is exactly what, step by step, we are coming to. [b] For if you will recur a moment to my draw analysis of the formula of Christianity, you will perceive that the conclusions of the preceding ages have answered three kinds of questions concerning that proposition. [ba] Two were metaphysical, what is its predicate and what is its subject? [bb] two were dynamical; is it hypothetical or actual, and is it categorical or conditional? [bc] two were mathematical; what is its quality, and what is its quantity? [bd] And now there are questions of but one kind more that remain to be asked, and they are physical. And they are two. The first is, is christianity a fact of consciousness merely, or one of the external world? And this shall be answered by the conclusion of our own age. The second is, is the predicate true to the understanding merely, or also to the sense? And this, if we may look forward so far, will be answered by Christ’s coming to rule his kingdom in person. And when that occurs, religion will no longer be presented objectively, but we shall receive it by direct communication with him. (W 1: 113ff., additions in brackets and all italics mine)

24In this passage, Peirce answers the question raised in the title of his speech by connecting the three stages of revelation with a categoriological movement reminiscent of Kant’s four types of principles of the understanding(CPR, B 201n.f). He thus relates (1) eight ages with (2) the three stages of revelation of the Absolute, which are connected by (5) eight categories that (4) answer four types of categoriological questions, and are (3) schematized as moments of dramatic development. We may put these correlations in the following table:

  • 16 Cf. W 1:108.

1. Age

2. Stage

3. Dramatic

4. Question

5. Category

Heathens & Jews





Rise of Christianity

plot is actualized


Migrations of Barbarians

causes, means, conditions


hypothetical –

Modern Nations

passion in full operation

categorical –






idea in material effects






internal –

Future age



ens rationis –
ens realis

25Now, we might be willing to accept the idea that history is “the gradually self-disclosing revelation of the absolute” as a postulate that aims to ascribe maximal solidarity, cooperativity, circumspection and responsibility to rational agents for the use of their freedom in the historical development of rational purposes that are embodied within nature and culture (cf. CP 1.615). Still, a question needs to be addressed: In which sense can history be seen as developing by ‘answering categoriological questions’? The answer, I think, lies in the difficulties connected to a normative component ingrained in our conception of history, according to which, as Schelling puts it, “history ought to represent freedom and necessity in unification” (SW III: 593): Neither a strictly predetermined anancastic sequence of events representing a “system of fatalism” (SW III: 601), nor a tychastic progression resulting from mere chance – “a system of irreligiosity and atheism(ibid.), as Schelling calls it – can be considered to be historical. Only a view that allows us to conceive of an absolute ground of the harmony between freedom and necessity, so Schelling argues, will allow us to conceive of history in the first place. Such a history is “a system of providence, or religion in the only proper sense of the word” (ibid.) and – as we might anticipate: agapastic (cf. III.3) – the product of an “absolute synthesis” (SW III: 602), which, as such, can never be completed without negating the appearance of freedom in the world (cf. SW III: 270).

  • 17 All translations from “The Historical Construction of Christianity” are mine, unless otherwise stat (...)

26The view of the Absolute as historical, so Schelling argues in “The Historical Construction of Christianity” (1805), emerges with Christianity as the worldview in which “the world is looked upon as History, as a moral kingdom” (SW V: 287).17 With Christianity, thus, the Absolute as the ground of unity of the finite and infinite, the divine and the natural, necessity and freedom, represents itself in the new symbolism of historical action:

Where the infinite itself can become finite, there it can also become plurality; there polytheism is possible. Where the infinite is only signified by the finite, it remains necessarily one, and no polytheism as a co-existence of divine forms is possible. […] Consequently, Christianity can be taken only from that which falls in time, that is, from History; and, hence, Christianity is, in the highest sense and in its innermost spirit, historical. Every particular moment of time is a revelation of a particular side of God, in each of which He is absolute: that which the Greek religion had as co-existent, Christianity has as a succession. (SW III: 288)

  • 18 See Kant’s Religion within the Boundaries of Mere Reason, Part III: “Concerning the victory of the (...)

27The Christian God here appears as the totality of historical time; but as the “endlessness and immensity” of history render it incapable of providing us with a representation of God, it becomes necessary “to represent history in a both infinite and limited appearance, which itself is not real, as the political state is, but ideal, and represents the unity of all [human beings] in spirit, their individual segregation notwithstanding, as an immediate presence” (SW V: 293). This representation is “the church,” which Schelling conceives of as a “living work of art” (ibid.), adding strong æsthetic connotations to the Kantian origins of this concept.18

28In the central section of the argumentatio of “POA” (cf. W 1: 108-10), we see Peirce embarking on an attempt to deliver that detailed construction of Christianity, of which Schelling had only demonstrated “the possibility in general” (SW V: 295). That the subject of Peirce’s formula of Christianity is the Church and has its predicate in the notion of a “heavenly kingdom,” which consummated the condition of being “perfection in human form” with the life of Christ (cf. W 1: 110), thus becomes intelligible after having considered the Schellingian backgrounds of the speech: The church is a growing cooperative community attracted by a goal it is destined to in its predicate, which it gradually makes clearer to itself in its history. The categories of the revelation of its predicate, therefore, are moments of a synthesis of the Absolute in the medium of history, directing us from the first stage of revelation to an eschatological end we can only approach in history (cf. W 1: 114).

III. Developments: “The Fixation of Belief” and “Evolutionary Love”

29In this section we will trace the further development of Peirce’s philosophy of history by focusing on two quite remote networks of ideas: Whereas “Fixation of Belief” (1877) and its twin “How to Make Our Ideas Clear” were written to introduce the readers of the Popular Science Monthly to a series of articles entitled Illustrations of the Logic of Science (1877-8), in which Peirce, for the first time, developed his theory of inquiry within the broader horizon of a set of themes and tenets that, two decades later, became canonical for the pragmatistic movement, “Evolutionary Love” (1893) is part of a speculative “Cosmogonic Philosophy” (EP 1: 297) Peirce outlined in his socalled ‘Monist Metaphysical Series’ (1891-3).

30In this cosmogony, Peirce develops a categoriologically founded account of the whole of reality, including minds sharing an interest in cosmogony, as having evolved in the process of a “natural history of the laws of nature” (EP 1: 246, 288) that originates from a state of absolute chaotic potentiality and – by mere chance – actualizes possible developmental paths through a “generalizing tendency” (EP 1: 297) of habit-taking, in which regularities and uniformities like laws of nature or the directionality of cultural processes begin to emerge. Unless, that is, in an infinitely remote future, a final state of complete rationalization of the cosmic system is reached and mind – being the habit-taking agency of the universe – becomes “crystallised” as “effete mind” (EP 1: 297, 293). The origins of this narrative in Schelling’s philosophy become obvious when they are couched in a theological language that reveals a significant continuity with the metaphysical narrative of “POA”:

The starting-point of the universe, God the Creator, is the Absolute First; the terminus of the universe, God completely revealed, is the Absolute Second; every state of the universe at a measurable point of time is the third. (EP 1:251)

  • 19 See e.g. Gallie (1952: 221-9); and Hookway 1997.
  • 20 This embarrassment stems from the fact that the position Peirce develops in his metaphysics – and w (...)
  • 21 CP 4.2 (1898): “I came to the study of philosophy intensely curious about Cosmology and Psychology. (...)

31Still, as it is far from trivial to identify a point of convergence between the philosophical interests and methodological approaches that characterize the writings of two series – which have even been deemed to be incompatible19 – it comes as no surprise that “for some early commentators the whole idea of a Peircean system of metaphysics was a puzzling embarrassment,” as Hookway (1997: 2) succinctly puts it.20 Upon closer inspection, however, the distant phases to which “FOB” and “ELO” belong turn out to be consecutive in the mental biography of someone who, moreover, cultivated cosmological interests from the start.21 Thus, as soon as 1885, Peirce writes to W. James to “have something very vast now,” namely “an attempt to explain the laws of nature, to show their general characteristics and to trace them to their origin & predict new laws by the law of the laws of nature” (W 6: 595; emphasis mine). Consequently, as a close reading of the opening sections of the Monist Series confirms, the interest in the explanation of the possibility of hypothesis-framing reflects a central heuristic aspect that Peirce’s “Cosmogonic Philosophy” shares with his logic of science. Consequently, after having sketched his theory of a rational instinct, according to which the success of early scientists to select hypotheses in accordance with the criterium of simplicity can be explained by considering that and how embodied minds have been shaped by the very laws they have become able to divinate (EP 1: 287-8, cf. EP 1: 181), Peirce writes:

[a] To find out much more about molecules and atoms we must search out a natural history of laws of nature which may fulfill that function which the presumption in favor of simple laws fulfilled in the early days of dynamics, [aa] by showing us what kind of laws we have to expect and [ab] by answering such questions as this: Can we, with reasonable prospect of not wasting time, try the supposition that atoms attract one another inversely as the seventh power of their distances, or can we not? [b] To suppose universal laws of nature capable of being apprehended by the mind and yet having no reason for their special forms, but standing inexplicable and irrational, is hardly a justifiable position. [c] Uniformities are precisely the sort of facts that need to be accounted for […]. Law is par excellence the thing that wants a reason. Now the only possible way of accounting for the laws of to suppose them results of evolution.(EP 1: 288, additions in squared brackets and italics mine)

  • 22 Note that this is the same problem that Kant, in The Critique of the Power of Judgment, tries to so (...)
  • 23 For a further elucidation of this point see Hookway (1985: 265-71).

32Peirce here states that the program of his architectonic philosophy is motivated by two interdependent concerns: First, the need to find a functional substitute for the heuristic power of the principle of simplicity, which would [aa] enable us to hypothetically derive specific laws from a ‘law of laws,’ and thus second [ab] provide us with a criterium for testing hypotheses efficiently. The concerns [aa] and [ab], however, make it imperative to have a theory of the diversification of the special forms of laws of nature and their relation to the law of laws if we do not want to lose all grounds for assuming the general intelligibility of nature, which would be the case if we were to claim [b]: a radically unsystematic empiricism that merely postulates general lawfulness without being able to account for the relation that needs to be thought as obtaining between general lawfulness and its specifications.22 The concerns [aa] and [ab], thus, necessitate us to offer an account of the grounds of the general intelligibility of nature, from which, then, the lawfulness of the special laws would become intelligible to us in the first place. Such an account, Peirce says, needs to be evolutionary.23

III.1 The Structure of “The Fixation of Belief”

33The structural analysis of “FOB” reveals a symmetry: After an episodic sketch of the history of the empirical sciences, the sections II-IV introduce the basic concepts of Peirce’s theory of inquiry by outlining the archetypical pragmatistic epistemic situation in which an organism is primordially related to its environment through biological needs, emotional responses and conceptual dispositions to act. The normative grounding of inquiry, however, has so far only been involved embryonically, especially in a momentous reference to the role of reflection (EP 1: 114). This normative grounding will be articulated in section V, where a second narrative sequentially introducing four methods of fixating belief leads to the emergence of scientific rationality and its apotheosis in the “integrity of belief” (EP 1: 123). On the whole then, this structuring presents a triptych: Two narratives are mediated through the theory of inquiry. The unity of the text thus consists in its giving an answer to the question ‘What conception of logical thought is needed to account for scientific progress?’

  • 24 In their most primitive meaning, the Peircean categories we are here using represent the three elem (...)
  • 25 See Peirce’s identification of the “third grade of clearness of apprehension” of the meaning of a c (...)
  • 26 Fichte (1982: 198-9): “The Science of Knowledge is to be a pragmatic history of the human mind.”
  • 27 Cf. Coleridge (1983: 129-67).
  • 28 Cf. Goodman (2015: 147-61)

34There is, however, another possible analysis: We can read “FOB” as a sequence of three narratives soaked with theory that disclose three aspects of history: In its firstness (in its being what it is without reference to anything else),24 history is chronicled as a mere sequence of monadic events and agents (sec. I). In its secondness (in its being what it is as determined by something else), history is resulting from a blind evolutionary process in which “logical animals” (EP 1: 112) are forced to react to the challenges of their environment (sec. II-IV). In its thirdness (in its being what it is as mediating between a first and a second) and third degree of clearness,25 history eventually is projected as a gradual realization of the conceptual moments of scientific rationality (sec. V). With this approach – and the conception of an ideal history (cf. 1.60) enshrined within it – Peirce follows a tradition that can be traced back to Fichte’s conception of a “pragmatic history of the human mind,” articulated in his 1794 Science of Knowledge,26 that with its emphasis on the dialectical actuosity obtaining between Ego and Non-Ego in the genesis of subjectivity, not only inspires the philosophy of history in Schiller’s Æsthetic Letters – which Peirce remembers as his first philosophical reading (cf. 2.197) leaving an “indelible impression upon my soul” (MS 619: 10) – but also informs the conception of “Philosophy as a History of Self-Consciousness in Epochs” in Schelling’s System of Transcendental Idealism (1800) that, through excerpts and paraphrases in Coleridge’s Biographia Literaria (1817),27 had become part and parcel of the Concord Transcendentalism Peirce remembers to be the origin of his “Schelling-fashioned idealism” (EP 1: 312).28 A decade before Hegel’s Phenomenology, Schiller and Schelling thus are among the first idealists to emphasize the historicity of reason by conceiving of it as a process of education in which the static faculties of Kant’s first Critique – which closes with a chapter on “The History of Pure Reason” merely to “designate a place that is left open in the system and must be filled in the future” (A852/B880) – are interpreted as stages of the historical becoming of reason. On this backdrop, “FOB” answers a question which complements the first: What philosophical conception of history will allow us to conceive of ourselves as historically capable of gaining increasing control over the development of rationality by studying logic as “an art not yet reduced to rules” (EP 1: 141)?

III.2 The Sequence of Methods and Transitions: Peirce’s Analytic Program

  • 29 Cf. CP 5.133.

35The sequence of four methods of belief-fixation is introduced to test their respective conformity with the normative principle of belief-formation (NPBF). As Peirce indicates in section IV, this principle, which should regulate all rational processes of reflectively turning – not to the sensuous matter of inquiry, but – to the procedural mode of belief-formation, “will make us reject any belief which does not seem to have been so formed as to insure this result” (EP 1: 114, emphasis mine): This result is to produce beliefs which can (i.) “truly guide our actions,” (ii.) “so as to” (iii.) “satisfy our desires.” Reflection thus monitors – and in case of a violation of norms, inhibits – the process of belief-formation under the profile of the question whether a belief has been produced in such a way that it meets the conditions to be (i.) irrevocably authoritative (ii.) to establish a relation of functionality (iii.) among our beliefs and aims of action. Inasmuch as NPBF – as a principle that does not state what our goal is, but only which form it requires – thus sets the norm that all our beliefs ought to be formed in a certain way so as to guarantee the most fundamental requirement for the practical identity of an agent, namely the possibility of the continuity of its actions,29 section V, consequently, assigns itself the task to assess which methods of generating and stabilizing belief are in accordance with this principle and, therefore, practically rational.

  • 30 Items on this agenda are (i.) descriptions of the practices constituting the methods; (ii.) implici (...)

36Irrespective of Peirce’s literary style, there is a dense analytic program underlying the description of each of the four methods and three transitions.30 This analysis progresses towards two goals, in which the accomplishment of the first depends on the second: (A.) to differentiate the developmental stages of the unfolding of man’s second nature as being rooted in a capacity to acquire and modify complexes of habits, and (B.) to give an account of the necessity of the form (and thus: lawfulness) of this development by identifying the principle of its movement and thus provide a justification for the specification of its moments qua particular developmental stages, which is required for accomplishing the first task.

III.3 A Categoriologically Grounded Interpretation of Section V of “Fixation of Belief”

37As we can here only sketch the close reading that becomes possible when we conceive of “ELO” as a complement to “FOB,” let me immediately refer you to the passage that holds the key both for the reconstruction of the sequence of methods as categoriologically derived moments and for the explanation of their unity and form through a principle that specifies the origin, growth and télos of the development they constitute: In the third section of “ELO” we see Peirce applying the general modes of evolution he has categoriologically differentiated to the “historical development of human thought,” thus obtaining a tychistic mode, “two varieties of anancasm” and “three of agapasm” (EP 1: 363). He writes:

[o] In the very nature of things, the line of demarcation between the three modes of evolution is not perfectly sharp. That does not prevent its being quite real, perhaps it is rather a mark of its reality […]. The main question is whether three radically different evolutionary elements have been operative; and […] what are the most striking characteristics of whatever elements have been operative […]. The [a] agapastic development of thought is the adoption of certain mental tendencies, not [aa] altogether heedlessly, as in tychasm, nor quite blindly by [aba] the mere force of circumstances or [abb] of logic, as [ab] in anancasm, but [b] by an immediate attraction for the idea itself, whose nature is divined before the mind possesses it, by the power of sympathy, that is, by virtue of the continuity of mind; and this mental tendency may be of three varieties, as follows. First, [ba] it may affect a whole people or community in its collective personality, and be thence communicated to such individuals as are in powerfully sympathetic connection with the collective people, although they may be intellectually incapable of attaining the idea by their private understandings or even perhaps of consciously apprehending it. Second, [bb] it may affect a private person directly, yet so that he is only enabled to apprehend the idea, or to appreciate its attractiveness, by virtue of his sympathy with his neighbors, under the influence of a striking experience or development of thought. The conversion of St. Paul may be taken as an example of what is meant. Third, [bc] it may affect an individual, independently of his human affections, by virtue of an attraction it exercises upon his mind, even before he has comprehended it. This is the phenomenon which has been well called the divination of genius; for it is due to the continuity between the man’s mind and the Most High. (EP 1: 364, additions in brackets and all italicizations except the last are mine)

38I shall first briefly show how this passage allows us to understand the categoriological nature of the distinctions Peirce draws in “FOB” (III.3.1). Then I will adumbrate in how far ‘that-which-first-manifests-itself-as-the-social-impulse’ functions as the principle of the internal development – i.e. as the origin, growth and télos – of the impulse’s manifestation in three stages (III.3.2). As we will see, Peirce is first retroactively establishing a seamless correspondence between the methods of belief-fixation and the modes of the historical development of thought ontologically grounding them (cf. [a]-[bc]), and then proceeding to account for the internal unity and categoriological order of the three manifestations of the social impulse as concretizations of the modes of agapic historical development (cf. [ba]-[bc]). In this perspective, thus, the methods of tenacity, authority and pure reason are conceived of as degenerate forms of the method of science, whereas tychistic and anancastic agapic evolution reveal themselves to be degenerate forms of “divination” (cf. [bc]).

III.3.1 The Methods of Belief-Fixation are Praxeological Manifestations of the Evolutionary modes of the development of Human Thought Cosmologically Grounding them

39The claim that the objective relation man is capable of establishing between him and the world through science is grounded in practices and social relations among human beings, is the explicit epistemological theme of “FOB”: we establish our relation to an objective realm we call ‘reality’ or ‘the world we share’ by entering and entertaining definite social – i.e. cooperative – relations to others. The claim that the objective relation that man is capable of establishing to reality via scientific inquiries, is the upshot of a development in which mind – as a communicative agency unfolding from a “social impulse” – has the tendency to develop in accordance to a categoriologically ordered sequence, is the implicit metaphysical theme of Peirce’s philosophy of history in “FOB,” culminating in the temporal schematization of a categoriological analysis of the moments of scientific rationality in section V: A conceptual sequence is schematized in a dramatic form in order to idealiter present methods of fixating belief as distinct complex sets of habits that realiter are not sharply demarcated, but – being simultaneously operative types of causes of historical processes – do, rather, overlap (cf. [o]).

  • 31 Murphey’s (1961: 164-5) decision to read section V of “FOB” as a mere assemblage of methods, leads (...)
  • 32 Cf. SW V: 287: “There is no state of barbarism that does not have its origins in a perished culture (...)
  • 33 Misak (2004: 57-8); and cf. Hookway (1985: 48-9).
  • 34 This analytical abstractness and real interdependence of the methods is also seen by Pape (2002: 65 (...)

40The description of the method of tenacity does thus not mean to imply that there are real historical individuals who are capable of exclusively following the method of tenacity in their belief-forming-procedures by voluntaristically determining their beliefs in order to then cut themselves off from all communication with others and the world by selectively perceiving and hearing what confirms their beliefs and, as a last resort, rejecting all requests to abide by standards of rationality as a request to use standards that are not their own (cf. EP 1: 116). We also resist the temptation to conceive of the method of tenacity as an independently existing31 “historical state of culture […] [in which] one opinion does not influence another” and men “cannot put two and two together,” as Peirce characterizes its essence two pages later (EP 1: 118).32 Rather, we understand that this method aims to capture the internal bond of certain attitudes, practices and economies inherent in routines of belief-production which, both on the onto- and phylogenetic level, are verifiable as the dominating factors periodically determining phases of personal and cultural development. Moreover, we understand that these practices have an unrestricted autonomy at their core which, when pushed to its extremes, will result in the complete absence of rule-governed forms of fixating and reflectively assessing belief. Of course, these rule-governed forms have yet to develop; but they cannot develop without having the act of logical determination in its firstness as its prerequisite: “[W]e cling tenaciously, not merely to believing, but to believing just what we do believe” (EP 1: 114). What emerges on the stage of tenacity, thus, is the intent to determine one’s self by determining one’s beliefs: the most fundamental condition of any form of logical determination or practical identity. Here and in what follows, Peirce does not base his analysis on “purported fact[s] about our psychological make-up.”33 The taking control of their processes of belief-formation by organisms praxeologically requires their autonomy. Consequently, Peirce emphasizes that tenacity, considered in isolation from the other methods, is a praxeological fiction:34 it is “unable to hold its ground in practice” as “the social impulse is against it” (EP 1: 116).

41In correspondence with the method of tenacity, the tychistic mode of evolution is held to be capable of reigning a historical process only for a limited time, insofar as this mode occurs “whenever we find men’s thought taking by imperceptible degrees a turn contrary to the purposes which animate them, in spite of their highest impulses” (EP 1: 365). As a result, this mode – like the tenacious method cosmologically grounded within it – will effectuate “slight departures from habitual ideas in different directions indifferently, quite purposeless and quite unconstrained whether by outward circumstances or by force of logic” (EP 1: 363), thus establishing a practice of “heedlessly” (EP 1: 364) fixating beliefs, i.e. without any concern for general standards and the well-being of others.

42As Peirce impatiently exclaims in “ELO,” we surely cannot understand ourselves and our history on the basis of the supposedly exclusive action of absolute chance: “I have to confess I cannot read history so” (EP 1: 365). As much as the method of tenacity has the social impulse against it, it is correspondingly not possible that “tychasm” – note Peirce’s slip from talk of a mode of evolution to talk of a method – “has been the sole method [sic!] of intellectual development,” inasmuch as such a development “has seldom been of a tychastic nature, and exclusively in backward and barbarising movements” (EP 1: 365). Cooperation and communication reign in the historical world we inhabit, thus indicating the operativeness of a “real entitative »spirit« of an age or of a people” (EP 1: 365).

  • 35 Hookway (1985: 48).

43Is the social impulse really the “psychological property of human beings, [that] we cannot hold on to beliefs that other people confidently deny”?35 Peirce’s argumentation points to a different meaning: the upshot of the social impulse is that men as historical beings “necessarily influence each other’s opinions” (EP 1: 118), inasmuch as the most fundamental practices – especially the semeiotic-communicative ones – are rule-governed. The social impulse, then, is primarily an instinctive openness to coordinate and communicate, a capacity to have our thoughts influenced by others; only secondarily is it a form of pressure to accept the views of others, as this presupposes the recognition that “another man’s thoughts or sentiment may be equivalent to one’s own” and “arises from an impulse too strong in men to be suppressed, without danger of destroying the human species,” i.e. the recognition arises from the social impulse as a first manifestation of a transactional instinct to coordinate, cooperate and communicate (EP 1: 116-7; my emphasis). Without this impulse then, men, passing on their experiences through mediatic practices from generation to generation, would never become part of the collective process of experience they most naturally dwell in.

  • 36 External anancasm, which praxeologically corresponds to the uniformity of will brought about by the (...)
  • 37 Internal anancasm or “logical groping” (EP 1: 368) brings about a change of ideas not by external c (...)
  • 38 See CPJ: 28, 72.

44The social impulse, originating from the transactional-communicative instinct is the origo of all histories and communities. Like the agápe generating the “agapastic development of thought,” this impulse is neither autonomous (like tenacity as the praxeological manifestation of the tychastic mode of thought-development, cf. [aa]) nor heteronomous (as the methods of authority and pure reason qua manifestations of the two anancastic modes, cf. [aba]36 and [abb]37), but heautonomous38 (like the self-correcting method of science qua embodiment of the agapic mode; cf. [bc]) or: ‘inventive in giving to itself rules for the reflection of itself.’

45We are thus invited to conceive of the methods of authority and the apriori method as those sets of habits of belief-determination in its secondness that are expressions of the two varieties of the anancastic development of thought, in which, generally, “new ideas are adopted without foreseeing whither they tend” and have the specific character to be “determined by causes either external to the mind […] or internal” (EP1: 364), whereas the method of science corresponds to the agapistic mode and is “distinguished by its purposive character,” consisting in the “development of an idea” (EP1: 369).

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      TCSPS: Transactions of the Charles S. Peirce Society

      In citations from and references to C. S. Peirce’s writings the following notations are used:

      CP The Collected Papers of Charles Sanders Peirce, followed by volume number and paragraph number: The Collected Papers of Charles Sanders Peirce, 8 vols., vols. 1-6 Hartshorne, C. & Weiss, P. (eds.), Cambridge, 1931-1935; vols. 7-8, Burks, A. (ed.), Cambridge, 1958.

      EP The Essential Peirce, followed by volume number and page number: The Essential Peirce, vols. 1-2, Bloomington, 1998.

      MS Manuscripts of Charles S. Peirce in the Houghton Library of Harvard University, followed by manuscript number and page number, as identified in: Robin, R. (1967): Annotated Catalogue of the Papers of Charles S. Peirce, Amherst, and in: Robin, R. (1971): The Peirce Papers: A supplementary catalogue, in: TCSPS, vol. 7, 37-57.

      W Writings of Charles S. Peirce, followed by voulme number and page number: Writings of Charles S. Peirce. A Chronological Edition, vols. 1-8, Bloomington, 1982-.

      In citations from and references to F. W. J. Schelling the following notation is used:

      SW Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph von Schellings sämmtliche Werke, Erste Abtheilung, vols. 1-10, followed by volume and page number, ed. by K. A. Schelling, Stuttgart und Augsburg 1856-1861.

      In citations from and references to Immanuel Kant the following notation is used:

      AHE The Cambridge Edition of the Works of Kant: Anthropology, History, Education, followed by page number, ed. by Zöller, G., translated by Louden, R. B. and Zöller, G., Cambridge 2011.

      CPR The Cambridge Edition of the Works of Kant: Critique of Pure Reason, followed by page number of the first and/or second edition: Critique of Pure Reason, translated and edited by Guyer, P. & Wood, A. W., Cambridge, 1998.

      CPJ The Cambridge Edition of the Works of Kant: Critique of the Power of Judgment, followed by reference to page number: Critique of the Power of Judgment, edited by Guyer, P., translated by Guyer, P. and Matthews, E., Cambridge, 2000.

      RRT The Cambridge Edition of the Works of Immanuel Kant: Religion and Rational Theology, followed by page number, edited and translated by Wood, A. & Di Giovanni, G., Cambridge 2001.

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      1 Peirce, however, admits to being better acquainted with the “history of philosophy” than with “political history” (CP 7.231).

      2 Esposito (1983: 164) refers to CP 3.425, erroneously assuming that “The Regenerated Logic” (1896) belongs to the Monist series of the early 1890s.

      3 See Taylor (1985: 80): Agent’s knowledge, according to Taylor, originates with Vico’s verum ipsum factum (ibid.: 81) and reflects the beautifully commonsensical notion that “the degree of awareness in our action is something we come to achieve” (ibid.: 84).

      4 This is also clearly brought out and emphasized by Hampe (2006: 40-1, 141-52).

      5 Hampe (2006: 124-52).

      6 EP 1:309, emphases mine.

      7 See Barnouw 1988, and Lefevbre 2007.

      8 See De Tienne (1996: 55ff.), Topa (2007: 113-56).

      9 Cf. e.g. Esposito 1977 and 1980; Reynolds (2002: 5-25); and Franks 2015.

      10 CPR, A 80/B 106.

      11 Cf. the analogous distinction between a “repetitive order” and a universal “greater life-history that every symbol furnished with a vehicle of life goes through” in the semeiotically grounded metaphysics of history of the Minute Logic (CP 2.111).

      12 In a letter to James from 1895, Peirce acknowledges that “my views were probably influenced by Schelling, – by all stages of Schelling, but especially by the Philosophie der Natur” (Perry 1935: 416ff.), which implies he read substantial portions of Schelling’s works in the German original. Correlating this with the ‘confession’ to have been introduced to the thought of Schelling through the acquaintance with the Concord Transcendentalists in his early youth (cf. EP 1: 312-3), there is, then, good reason to assume that Peirce, after having studied Schiller and Kant, started to read Schelling in the original around 1860.

      13 I will be quoting Heath’s translation of the “System of Transcendental Idealism” (Schelling 1997), but refer to the pagination of the Sämtliche Werke which is also given there.

      14 Cf. AHE: 116: “One can regard the history of the human species in the large as the completion of a hidden plan of nature to bring about an inwardly and, to this end, also an externally perfect state constitution, as the only condition in which it can fully develop all its predispositions in humanity.”

      15 See MS 1334: 21 where Peirce defines ‘God’ as “the highest flight toward an understanding of the original of the whole physico-psychical universe that we can make” of HIM as inquirers.

      16 Cf. W 1:108.

      17 All translations from “The Historical Construction of Christianity” are mine, unless otherwise stated.

      18 See Kant’s Religion within the Boundaries of Mere Reason, Part III: “Concerning the victory of the good over the evil principle and the founding of a Kingdom of God on earth,” in RRT: 129-71.

      19 See e.g. Gallie (1952: 221-9); and Hookway 1997.

      20 This embarrassment stems from the fact that the position Peirce develops in his metaphysics – and which he is not too shy to call “Schellingism transformed in the light of modern physics” (Letter to W. James, 1895, quoted in Perry 1935: 416 ff.; cf. 6.605) or a “Schelling-fashioned idealism” (EP 1: 312-3; cf. MS 400) – must appear as a betrayal to those who read (i.) the theory of reality (cf. EP 1:120-1, 136-9) as a form of positivistic scientism, (ii.) the pragmatic maxim (cf. EP 1: 132) as a verificationist procedure, and (iii.) the theory of inquiry (cf. EP 1: 111-5) as a naturalistic instrumentalism anchored in a proto-behavioristic biologism, in which thought and the development of its logicality are understood to be aiming at nothing nobler (and less relativistic) than the production of adaptive habits of action.

      21 CP 4.2 (1898): “I came to the study of philosophy intensely curious about Cosmology and Psychology.”

      22 Note that this is the same problem that Kant, in The Critique of the Power of Judgment, tries to solve with his account of the regulative apriority of an heautonomous reflective power of judgment; cf. CPJ, Introduction, IV.

      23 For a further elucidation of this point see Hookway (1985: 265-71).

      24 In their most primitive meaning, the Peircean categories we are here using represent the three elementary and irreducible relational modes of the determination of being (cf. e.g. EP 1: 242 and EP 2: 267-8). A fine introduction to Peirce’s categoriology is offered by de Waal (2013: 33-46)

      25 See Peirce’s identification of the “third grade of clearness of apprehension” of the meaning of a concept with the reflection on its “conceived sensible effects” on the basis of the pragmatic maxim in “How to Make Our Ideas Clear” (EP 1: 132). Before, Peirce reflects on the historical impact the cultural preference for two opposed conceptions of the goodness of ideas might have: On the one hand, the preference for an “excessive wealth of language and its natural concomitant, a vast, unfathomable deep of ideas”; on the other hand, the pragmatic predilection for a language “whose ideas […] are few, but which possesses a wonderful mastery over those that it has” (EP 1: 126-7).

      26 Fichte (1982: 198-9): “The Science of Knowledge is to be a pragmatic history of the human mind.”

      27 Cf. Coleridge (1983: 129-67).

      28 Cf. Goodman (2015: 147-61)

      29 Cf. CP 5.133.

      30 Items on this agenda are (i.) descriptions of the practices constituting the methods; (ii.) implicit analyses of the faculties involved and the specific historical constellations emerging among them; emphasis on individuating the (iii.) social, (iv.) objective and (v.) normative relations established in the practices of each method between the individual on the one and the community, world and rational thought on the other hand.

      31 Murphey’s (1961: 164-5) decision to read section V of “FOB” as a mere assemblage of methods, leads him to a view which has significantly shaped later scholarship: once the first three methods are degraded to “straw methods” (Murphey 1961: 165), the main problem is no longer an analysis of the moments of scientific rationality, but the justification of the superiority of the method of science and the ensuing search for Peircean arguments supporting this claim, which then, quite unsurprisingly, turn out to be “barely worthy of the name” (Murphey 1961: 164). By taking it for granted that “there is no historical justification of the list” (Murphey 1961: 164), Murphey’s interpretation buries the distinction between historiography and a philosophy of history in the graveyard of oblivion and prevents the contextualization of “FOB” in the idealist tradition, taken up again by Smyth 1988.

      32 Cf. SW V: 287: “There is no state of barbarism that does not have its origins in a perished culture.”

      33 Misak (2004: 57-8); and cf. Hookway (1985: 48-9).

      34 This analytical abstractness and real interdependence of the methods is also seen by Pape (2002: 65-79).

      35 Hookway (1985: 48).

      36 External anancasm, which praxeologically corresponds to the uniformity of will brought about by the forced surrender of the will of the individual to “the will of the state” through its techniques of indoctrination, censorship and degrees of violence as ultima ratio of its power (cf. EP 1: 117), thus establishes vast historical spaces dominated by the gradually morphing belief-systems of monotheistic faiths, which utilize the intellects, hearts and hands of human beings to produce and refine material culture (cf. EP 1: 118).

      37 Internal anancasm or “logical groping” (EP 1: 368) brings about a change of ideas not by external constraints, but by causes “internal to the mind as logical developments of ideas already accepted, such as generalisations” (EP 1: 364) and corresponds to the a priori method as its processual ground of historical concretization.

      38 See CPJ: 28, 72.

      39 Peirce in a letter from 1882 to his brother James Mills, quoted in EP 1: 211.

      40 All three transitional reflections are related to NPBF (cf. III.2) and can be reconstructed as aspects of a sensus communis, in the sense that the § 40 of the Critique of the Power of Judgement defines it as “a faculty of judgement” that “in its reflection takes account” of the following “maxims of common human understanding”: “1. to think for oneself; 2. to put ourselves in thought in the place of everyone else; 3. always to think consistently” (CPJ, § 40; see AHE, 307-8, for a parallel in § 43 of the Anthropology).

      41 Cf. the account Peirce gives of reflection in the earliest phase of his evolutionary metaphysics in “Design and Chance”: although reflection is “the instrument by which we make ourselves rational, it does not follow that it is essential to rationality” (EP 1: 222-3). For Peirce, in this period, reflexivity thus is only an accidental remedy for a generic imperfection in our modes of bringing thought to unity.

      42 An exception is the excellent interpretation offered by Pape 1997.

      43 Cf. Peirce’s division of three classes of men, in: MS 1334: 16-8.

      44 Cf. Plato, Theaitetus, 176 a-b and Timaeus, 90 a-d.

      45 Cf. Ventimiglia 2008; and Colapietro (1989: 61-97, and esp. 95-7) on this theme in Peirce.

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      Electronic reference

      Alessandro Topa, « “I Have To Confess I Cannot Read History So,”  », European Journal of Pragmatism and American Philosophy [Online], VIII-2 | 2016, Online since 16 January 2017, connection on 18 December 2017. URL : ; DOI : 10.4000/ejpap.628

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      About the author

      Alessandro Topa

      American University in Cairo

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      Licence Creative Commons
      Author retains copyright and grants the European Journal of Pragmatism and American Philosophy right of first publication with the work simultaneously licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

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