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Abstract: In this essay I present the transformation of inquiry as an organizing theme in Peirce’s 1898 lectures.  Peirce demonstrates the advancements in science and mathematics that ground his logic and indicate the attitude and training necessary for a philosophy of knowledge expansion.  Peirce shifts from a general inquiry into logic in the first five lectures to metaphysical topics in the last three.  Rather than represent a break in focus, I argue that these metaphysical lectures instantiate the reasoning possible from a platform of inquiry that Peirce articulates. I focus on lecture six and Peirce’s argument that time is the continuum of reason because it demonstrates the need for a transformation of inquiry to stabilize his metaphysical system.  In the concluding section I raise two criticisms about Peirce’s notion of time which are crucial to the project of knowledge expansion.  (140 Words)




Knowledge and Transformation in Peirce’s “Reasoning and the Logic of Things” (3499 words)


There is one thing needful for learning the truth, and that is a hearty and active desire to learn what is true.

                                                                        C.S. Peirce[1]



The eight lectures Charles Peirce delivered in Cambridge during February of 1898 have a peculiarly interesting provenance.  There was a misunderstanding that William James was once more attempting to secure a position for his friend, which was not true.  Rather, James engineered the financial backing for a series of lectures he hoped would enable Peirce to get some material in a publishable form.  Peirce seized on the opportunity to demonstrate the technical mathematical ground for his logic, and this worried James.  In the end the lectures combined technical and speculative elements, tying metaphysics to science in a unique way among the classical pragmatists. Logic, Peirce argues, is the key to the transformation of reason that binds together novel discovery in metaphysics and scientific knowledge so that both are able to fully develop. Metaphysics must be incorporated into harmony with science, “obeying its logic, and serving its turn.”(RLT 117)[2]

James hoped his friend would prepare topical lectures that would appeal to a general audience, and Peirce complied by downplaying the mathematical demonstrations and his rapier wit.  But even so the lectures present a connected argument. “As for getting myself expressed in a systematic way,” he wrote in a letter to James, “it is the great object of my life.”(RLT 24)   In fact, the lectures develop Peirce’s early desire to know Law scientifically, which in 1863 he claims is a work of the providence of God.[3] A similar desire informs his 1903 lectures on pragmatism that expand his description of realism.[4] Interestingly enough agapism, the term prominent in his earlier Monist essays is not mentioned in the 1898 lectures.  Rather, in this context Peirce focuses on the way truths of science and metaphysics are approached through abstract reasoning.  De Waal attributes this to Peirce’s desire to counter James’s focus on the will to believe with the desire to know the truth.[5]  The mode of logical advancement toward greater generality here is also significantly different than inquiry based on a suggestion of instinct like the reality of God.  In these lectures Peirce explores the transformation of inquiry (and hence, of the inquirer) that is possible from a scientific point of view, which is essential for Peirce’s philosophical account of knowledge acquisition and expansion.

In this essay I present the transformation of inquiry as an organizing theme in Peirce’s 1898 lectures.  Peirce demonstrates the advancements in science and mathematics that ground his logic and indicate the attitude and training necessary for a philosophy of knowledge expansion.  Peirce shifts from a general inquiry into logic in the first five lectures to metaphysical topics in the last three.  Rather than represent a break in focus, I argue that these metaphysical lectures instantiate the reasoning possible from a platform of inquiry that Peirce articulates. I focus on lecture six and Peirce’s argument that time is the continuum of reason because it demonstrates the need for a transformation of inquiry to stabilize his metaphysical system.  In the concluding section I raise two criticisms about Peirce’s notion of time which are crucial to the project of knowledge expansion.


I.                    The 1898 Lectures


The lectures Peirce delivered in Cambridge were an apparent success, and the event is now a part of pragmatism’s lore.  Six months after these lectures James introduced the term pragmatism in his famous lecture at Berkeley. Josiah Royce was so impressed with the event that he wrote in appreciation to James, “Those lectures of poor C.S.Peirce that you devised will always remain quite epoche-marking in meaning for me.  They started me on such new tracks.”[6]  The profound effect these lectures had on James and Royce suggests that Peirce succeeded in shifting the concept of inquiry so that it became a discovery of both a sufficient explanation of knowledge expansion and metaphysical coherence.  Peirce’s object is not just describing logic and metaphysics, but demonstrating the reasoning that brings metaphysics and scientific observation into mutual dependence. I use the term transformation here because the product of these lectures is not simply a concatenated set of novel propositions, but a holistic approach to reasoning that forms a guide to restructuring the meaning and possibilities available to an inquirer.  The developmental aspect of this restructuring appears in the flow of the lectures that is the particular focus of this section.  

The first lecture, “Philosophy and the Way of Life,” sets asides “vital” topics of interest and even moral or utilitarian aims as a guide to inquiry.  These aims limit progress to higher orders of generality in reason.  Many people, Peirce says, “think they shape their lives according to reason, when it is really just the other way.”(RLT 114)   Reasoning that follows the movement of logic toward the abstract limits of mathematics engenders a change in inquiry that will “gradually reach the core of one’s being . . . because [the truths discovered by mathematics and philosophy] are ideal and eternal verities.”(RLT 122)  This shift in the “core of one’s being” is an early characterization of the telos of the transformation of inquiry in view in these lectures.

In the next lecture, “Types of Reasoning,” Peirce introduces the content of logic which is the proper subject of abstract inquiry.  Peirce derives the inference types Retroduction, Induction, and Deduction, and demonstrates the peculiarity that in Retroduction “no definite probability attaches even to the mode of inference.”(RLT 142)  In lecture three, “The Logic of Relatives” Peirce expands his inquiry into logic with the categories Firstness, Secondness, and Thirdness.  He develops an argument that the reality of continua is compatible with the notion of distinct points, which will become especially significant in his later analysis of time.  At this point Peirce focuses on the reality of continua that leads to the hypothesis of reality: “so far as there is any reality, what that reality consists in is this: that there is in the being of things something which corresponds to the process of reasoning, that the world lives, and moves, and HAS ITS BEING, in a logic of events.”  He also concludes that “every true universal, every continuum, is a living and conscious being.” (RLT 162) The implication of these claims is that reason is progressing in us toward more and more generality, which we may observe in physical and psychical events. Such an understanding would constitute a radical change from the modern conception and practice of reason, but Peirce says “the old ideas are too ingrained.  Very few accept my message.”(RLT 161) 

Accepting Peirce’s “message” begins with recognizing the potential failures of inquiry in “The First Rule of Logic.”  In this fourth lecture Peirce couches the “rule” in two negative ways; first, that an inquirer should never be satisfied with present deliverances of understanding, and second,  that we should not “block the way of inquiry.”  Rather than suggesting a prophetic approach to expanding knowledge, Peirce argues that reason is self-corrective given enough time and enough inquirers.  But self-correction means that inquiry changes both the conception of its practice and its object. Advancement toward truth requires an internal transformation of philosophy since “it can only be the philosophy of that age which can animate the special sciences to any work that shall really carry forward the human mind to some new and valuable truth.  Because the valuable truth is not the detached one, but the one that goes toward enlarging the system of what is already known.”(RLT 171)

The fifth lecture, “Training in Reason,” emphasizes the point that learning propositions does not enhance reasoning power.  Only the right kind of practice of observation, experimentation, and habituation contributes to enhancing reasoning power. Since every discovery is limited by observation, furthering inquiry means developing a method of self-consciously altering the perspective of the inquirer.  Thus Peirce advises “the great thing is to become emancipated from oneself.”(RLT 186)  The demonstration of re-oriented reason which is “emancipated from oneself” is seen in regard to ingrained ideas that are superseded through logical inquiry.  Though logic is independent in power from any person’s ability to reason, the development of logic is dependent on the content of our thought.  Only an instantiated practice of inquiry that reflects an altered philosophical platform for observation can support the move via logic toward greater generality in knowledge, which is the condition for approaching the truths Peirce calls “eternal.”  The blocking limit of reasoning, then, is instantiated observation that reflects entrenched ideas not sufficiently subordinated to the continuing expansion of knowledge.

Peirce’s criticism of road blocks to inquiry is aimed, I think, at scientific observation that is incomplete if it does not lead to speculative thought, and philosophical speculation ungrounded by observation.  Speculative thought is a risky mode of inquiry because it is susceptible to the “vagaries of me and you” Peirce warns against in other places, but it is still essential.[7]  In an attempt to negotiate this tension Peirce says “Nothing is more unwise than to carry an idea to extreme lengths, yet in speculative thought, it is the greatest of locomotives for advancing upon the road to truth.  Indeed it is the extreme cases which alone teach you anything new.  But I wish to notice one fallacy each in retroduction, in deduction, and in induction.”(RLT 193)  This notice of fallacies signals a shift in Peirce’s argument in the lectures.  The three lectures that follow this statement exemplify the self-corrective character of logic in the speculative discovery of the metaphysical underpinnings of reason itself.  The fallacies turn into positive moments of discovery as he outlines what Putnam calls a daring system of metaphysics.[8] This new system, however, is both the result of the observations possible through the transformed logical power of the inquirer, and the proof or fruit of this altered perspective in terms of further reaches into generality.  The metaphysical system Peirce proposes can be fully accounted for only from within this altered perspective, a conception of inquiry possible from a “different platform” then that which is commonly held.[9]


II.                 Causation and Time


The sixth essay “Causation and Force” is an example of self-correcting inquiry. Causation, for science, carries a security which only a mad man would challenge[10], and this false security is precisely the fallacy Peirce associates with deduction in the previous lecture.  Opening causation to inquiry will lead to reconsidering force as the fundamental continuum of events.  Time appears as the continuum of inquiry and events, and the conceptual transition from force to time exemplifies inquiry seeking greater generality through this focused criticism.[11]

Peirce begins by articulating the principles of causation concerning the determination of the future by prior states, and the temporal precedence of a cause to an effect.  He points out, however, that based on the Law of the Conservation of Energy “the future determines the past in precisely the same way in which the past determines the future.”  He concludes that “the principles of causation are in flat contradiction to the science of mechanics.”(RLT 201)   Here he pivots his focus and notices that many events are “inexplicable by means of the Law of the Conservation of Energy. For they are actions which cannot be reversed.” (RLT 203) Non-conservative events include both physical and psychical occurrences, and this joint characteristic represents at least the possibility of holding together mind and matter, which is a great end of inquiry.  At this point, however, the issue in consideration is that non-conservative events will simply fall out of any attempt to collect them as instants of law. Overcoming the limit to generality presented by the causation of non-conservative events requires a compelling argument that thirdness can arise within such “brute” experience.  Reaction in the here and now, he says, is “anti-general.” (RLT 212) Events are radically independent, so that a law appearing among these reactions must “involve some other continuum than Space alone.  Why Time should be that other continuum,” Peirce says, “I shall hope to make clear.” (RLT 212)  

At this point Peirce is recognizing that inquiry itself depends on independent and chance events occurring within a real continuum that is what it is whether it is thought by any mind or not.  Otherwise the continuum is a form of intuition, as it is for Kant, which permanently closes off discovery into the thing itself.[12]  And if “independence” or “chance” is ultimately just a feature of the continuum, as Peirce thinks Hegel claims, real chance is really a hoax and all novelty in the universe ceases. Time, for Peirce, must be a real continuum holding together both chance events and the discovery of regularity, not in terms of generation (for where does an instant of time originate?), but in complete independence from all other instants, yet bound together in one flowing continuum. He argues that chance as a permanent possibility in experience arises through just this independence of instants of time.  The struggle of holding together independent instants with the continuum of time appears clearly in this passage:

Yet it undoubtedly is true that the permanence of chance effects is due to the independence of the instants of time.  How are we to resolve this puzzle?  The solution of it lies in this, that time has a point of discontinuity at the present.  This discontinuity appears in one form in conservative actions where the actual instant differs from all other instants absolutely, while those others only differ in degree; and the same discontinuity appears in another form in all non-conservative action where the past is broken off from the future as it is in our consciousness.  Thus although the other instants of time are not independent of one another, independence does appear at the actual instant.  It is not an utter, complete, independence, but it is absolute independence in certain respects.  (RLT 216)


Peirce’s account here breaks beyond the consideration of time as a continuum to a conception of time as a content of reason.  The point is not that time is a continuum, but how it contains and welds many into one; both conservative and non-conservative actions become one under time, as time itself has certain respects that unite into one reality.[13]   Time is a stabilizing content of reasoning because of the transformation of inquiry in which discontinuous discoveries are held together by a self-consciously progressing inquiry, confirmed by the fruit of expanding knowledge. Since time does flow, and since logic is discoverable in time, the hypothesis that time grounds inquiry occurs.(RLT 191) What cannot be observed is the principle sustaining the progress of inquiry that connects the observation of one instant with the direction of inquiry at other separate instants.  Awareness of the transformation of inquiry through its logical form and its self-correcting instantiation in multiple inquirers is the observational ground for the reality of time, where escaping from both the blind force of “utter” discontinuous moments and the univocal and unobservable nature of “utter” continuity leads to a place where continuity is discoverable within the experience of discontinuity.

“What is time?” Peirce asks.  He answers, “It is nothing but a necessitation which instead of being brute is governed by law.” (RLT 217) Time, it seems, can only be tamed by the expansion of knowledge realized through the transformation of inquiry.  The world of reaction, the “anti-general” context of secondness, must be overcome or at least give way to thirdness for the absolute independence of instants of time not to become utter and brute. Inquiry, as non-necessary yet reflecting the logical progression toward generality in its transformation, holds together both observation in time and reasoning toward “eternal verities.” In this way time is a necessitation governed by law, an inexorable moving principle progressing toward truth through chance observations transformed into the continuum of expanding knowledge.



III.               Time, Knowledge, and Transformation


In light of Peirce’s reliance on time as the continuum of reason and inquiry, two questions can be asked.  First, it seems for Peirce that time provides a universal and unifying impetus for inquiry.  We are all in time, and every thought that has been thought has been in time and is therefore continuous with every other thought ever thought.  I think this is why he sometimes speaks of the progress of reason as predestinated to the degree that future discovery is as real, perhaps more real, than the present content of knowledge.[14]  The question is whether anything can stop or limit this progress of reasoning?  He refers to types of minds reflective of secondness as one such limit, where practical results overdetermine or undermine inquiry.[15] The transformation of inquiry described in these lectures also indicates the possibility that scientific minds (those reflecting thirdness) will fail to follow the logic of inquiry adequately into further generality.  But if for Peirce time provides both a continuum and content for inquiry, as I have tried to show, it is not clear why either of these limits can really stand in the way – and yet the future of inquiry hangs in the balance.  The character of Peirce’s argument for inquiry shows, I think, that time itself is not a sufficiently rich to explain the progress of reason.

A second question is whether time evolves.  According to Peirce’s notion of continuity everything in the universe is evolving in terns of generality.  Would Peirce exclude time from this universal demand?  If not, what would count for an evolution of time?  The nature of temporal continuity seems incapable of further abstraction, unless continuity is expanded by considering inquiry across the limits posed by time, such as the absolute separation of one instant from every other instant, and the absolute unity of all instants considered as a continuum.  For Peirce this would mean moving past the fragmentation of reasoning in some way other than projecting the ideal end of the long run of inquiry.  What I am suggesting is that there may be reason to expand Peirce’s metaphysics to include another mode of discovering the eternality of the verities he seeks that is equivalent to the “long run” image just in the sense that inquirers are assured of no future observations that will fragment knowledge. Time for Peirce must evolve toward something like this “time of transformed inquiry” since time itself is the epitome of non-conservative, non-reversible development.  What if time could be held together, not as an indefinitely strung out future time, but as collected “here and now” by virtue of the very respect by which it now appears utterly discontinuous?  I think this is Peirce’s struggle with time and inquiry.  Unlike Augustine, who claims that time is an unreal future separated from an unreal past across a disappearing “now” in which we seek a content that can hold our intellect together, Peirce faces time as that which holds firstness, secondness, and thirdness together by virtue of their radical discontinuity and seeks the kind of inquiry that emerges in continuity with scientific observation that sustains this metaphysical complexity. 

The self-reflexive character of Peirce’s logic is significant for any thorough epistemic understanding. The metaphysical context of epistemic descriptions cannot be ignored in favor of sustaining ongoing inquiry.  Otherwise inquiry remains locked in exploring the universe of reaction and attention is diverted from the possibility of genuinely expanding knowledge.  Peirce’s orientation toward increasingly general explanations stands over against the motive to sustain the community that makes discovery possible (as in Royce) and generating a more ecstatic picture of the self (as in James).  Peirce’s orientation toward expanding generality materializes in terms of the transformation of the inquirer, where the motive to inquiry entails an instantiated approach to habit alteration in lecture seven which in turn precipitates a fully realized hypothesis of continuity in the final lecture, “The Logic of Continuity.”  Peirce’s systematic argument for the transformation of inquiry incorporates the motive for approaching eternal verities within evolutionary growth that arises from the mutual dependence between the community and the self.  For Peirce, corporately established “eternal verities” are not termini of inquiry but openings for further development.[16]

Peirce’s effort to metaphysically describe an attitude of inquiry productive of the expansion of knowledge is reminiscent of the Puritan notion of disinterested benevolence.[17]  This attitude involves giving oneself heart, soul, and mind to an enterprise which is ordered by a conception of law.  The Puritan goal was to actively participate in the burgeoning moral beauty of God by overcoming personal limitations and subordinating practice and habits to divine control. Peirce exemplifies this attitude by pursuing the transformation available in relation to reason and inquiry, anticipating the fullness of knowledge of both Law and events that reflect a character similar in attraction to moral beauty.  It remains ambiguous whether Peirce considered this transformed nature of inquiry more a matter of destiny or an object of persuasive argument, although these lectures suggest the latter.  In either case, the expansion of knowledge transcends the limit of a willful production of individuals to an expression of the continuity within which we live and move and have our being.


[1] Letter to James, 4 January 1898.

[2] C.S. Peirce, Reasoning and the Logic of Things, ed. Kenneth Laine Ketner, Harvard University Press, 1992.  Subsequent references are abbreviated RLT.

[3] Writings Of C.S. Peirce I, Indiana University Press, 1982, pg 114.

[4]  Lectures on Pragmatism CP 5.14-212.

[5] Cornelis De Waal, On Pragmatism, Wadsworth, 2005, pg  94.

[6] .Oppenheim, Reverence for the Relations of Life, University of Notre Dame Press, 2005, pg 17.

[7] CP 5.311, “Some Consequences of Four Incapacities Claimed for Man.”

[8] Putnam, RLT 79. “The metaphysics presented here was thus meant to be an empirical metaphysics; it is to lead to predictions that we shall be able to test.”  I agree in principle with Putnam’s description of this work as an empirical metaphysics, but I think a clarification of the nature of the testing proper to such a system is in fact the significant question for Peirce.

[9] “Some Consequences of Four Incapacities” CP 5.265.

[10] So he says he may be demonized for challenging such a fundamental idea. RLT 198.

[11] In a letter Peirce said he was going to lecture on “Time and Causation” but he used the title “Causation and Force.”  He does this, I think, for the purpose of demonstrating the fruit of logical criticism.  The rhetorical play on the lecture title led me to speculate about the connection between the three fallacies in lecture five and the three metaphysical lectures as their compliment.

[12] Peirce makes this point in relation to Kant’s conception of Time and Space as forms of intuition and not as reals. RLT 191.

[13] This sounds a lot like Hartshorne in The Divine Relativity: A Social Conception of God, Chapter II, Yale University Press, 1948.

[14] CP 5.75 “The theory of Aristotle is that a necessary conclusion is just equally as certain as its premisses, while a probable conclusion is somewhat less so. Hence, he was driven to his strange distinction between what is better known to Nature and what is better known to us. But were every probable inference less certain than its premisses, science, which piles inference upon inference, often quite deeply, would soon be in a bad way. Every astronomer, however, is familiar with the fact that the catalogue place of a fundamental star, which is the result of elaborate reasoning, is far more accurate than any of the observations from which it was deduced.”

[15]  RLT 149, also clearly in CP 6.484, A Neglected Argument for the Reality of God, and CP 5.210, “Pragmatism and Abduction.” See also CP 1.43, CP 6.3.

[16] So I read the 1892 letter to the Rector of St. Thomas Church that Peirce is working out doctrinal points in this way, not as limits to what he believes, but as suggestions for inquiring more deeply into the continuity that he trusts is available.

[17] See The Works of Samuel Hopkins  Vol. I, ed. Edwards A. Park, Boston : Doctrinal Tract and Book Society, 1852-1854, pg 410.