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Peirce's Scientific Metaphysics

The Philosophy of Chance, Law, and Evolution

Andrew Reynolds

Publication Year: 2002

Peirce's Scientific Metaphysics is the first book devoted to understanding Charles Sanders Peirce's (1839-1914) metaphysics from the perspective of the scientific questions that motivated his thinking. Deftly situating Peirce's often original and pathbreaking ideas within their appropriate historical and scientific contexts, Reynolds traces his reliance upon the law of large numbers, which illustrated for Peirce the emergence of a stable order and regularity from a multitude of chance events, throughout his writings on late nineteenth-century physics, chemistry, biology, psychology, and cosmology. Along the way, Peirce's vision of an indeterministic and evolutionary cosmology is contrasted with the thought of other important late nineteenth-century scientists and philosophers, such as James Clerk Maxwell, Ludwig Boltzmann, William Thomson (Lord Kelvin), Herbert Spencer, Charles Darwin, and Ernst Haeckel. While offering a detailed account of the scientific ideas and theories essential for understanding Peirce's metaphysical system (e.g., the irreversibility of time and the reversibility of physical laws, the statistical law of large numbers), this book is written in a manner accessible to the non-specialist. This will make it especially attractive to students of Peirce's philosophy who lack familiarity with the scientific and mathematical ideas that are so central to his thought. Those with an interest in the history and philosophy of science, especially concerning the application of statistical and probabilistic thinking to physics, chemistry, biology, psychology, and cosmology, will find this discussion of Peirce's philosophy invaluable. "Andrew Reynolds has written exactly the book we need, a clear, well-argued, scientifically informed study of Peirce's metaphysics. I wish it had been available well before now!"--Christopher Hookway, author of Peirce

Published by: Vanderbilt University Press

Title Page

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Table of Contents

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pp. vii-viii

Texts and Abbreviations

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pp. ix


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pp. xi-xii

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pp. 1-4

Charles Peirce’s metaphysical writings, in particular those dealing with his evolutionary cosmology, have not met with the same popular approval as have his contributions to symbolic logic, philosophy of science, and the theory of signs. In fact, Gallie (1952, 215) has referred to the cosmology as the “black sheep” or “white elephant”...

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Chapter 1. Philosophical and Scientific Background

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pp. 5-25

Modern cosmology seeks to understand the laws and the historical development of the universe at large. But it is characteristic of the modern approach to cosmology that one concentrates, first and foremost, on inorganic physical structures, only later passing on to organic structures and the necessary conditions for their possibility. ...

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Chapter 2. Irreversibility in Physics

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pp. 26-48

The aim of this chapter is to outline Peirce’s understanding of the physical principles and theories of the nineteenth century, with special attention being paid to his comments on the role of time as it appears in the laws of mechanics and in the principles of energy physics (dynamics). It is important to see that Peirce’s dissatisfac-...

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Chapter 3. Irreversibility in Psychics

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pp. 49-75

The last chapter detailed how Peirce proposed to explain the irreversibility of natural processes by appeal to the statistical principles of the kinetic theory of matter. We concluded, however, that he did not attribute the asymmetry of time itself, with respect to the difference between past and future, to any such considerations. It should...

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Chapter 4. Irreversibility in Physiology and Evolution

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pp. 76-109

This chapter consists of two main sections. In the first, Peirce’s molecular theory of protoplasm will be the focus of attention. In particular, we will be looking to see whether he manages to provide a convincing story of how the strong notion of final causation associated with conscious goal-seeking behavior...

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Chapter 5. Cosmology and Synechism

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pp. 110-141

In the last chapter, we were concerned with seeing whether Peirce had managed to reconcile the purposeless but directed behavior of stochastic systems with his neo-Lamarckian theory of evolution (agapasm). ...

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Chapter 6. Chance and Law

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pp. 142-175

In Peirce’s system, the fates of chance and law are inversely related. What starts off as a chaotic sequence of events gradually becomes more and more regular and lawlike, until all semblance of spontaneity and life are forever diminished. ...

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pp. 176-183

There is an ongoing dispute within Peirce scholarship between those, on the one hand, who make the charge that his philosophy as a whole is inconsistent and at odds with itself in its ambitions (e.g., Goudge, 1950; Gallie, 1952; Apel, 1987; Murphy, 1993) and those, on the other, who argue that it is highly systematic and coherent (e.g., Corrington, 1993; Hausman, 1993; Rosenthal, 1994; Anderson, 1995; Parker, 1998). ...


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pp. 185-211


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pp. 213-222


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pp. 223-228

E-ISBN-13: 9780826591517
Print-ISBN-13: 9780826513960
Print-ISBN-10: 0826513964

Page Count: 248
Publication Year: 2002