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  • Die Genese der Peirce’schen Semiotik. Teil 1: Das Kategorienproblem (1857–1865)
  • Daniel Rellstab
Alessandro Topa. Die Genese der Peirce’schen Semiotik. Teil 1: Das Kategorienproblem (1857–1865). Epistemata Reihe Philosophie 428. Würzburg: Könighausen & Neumann 2007. 443 p. No index.

Let me begin with a paragraph by André De Tienne, which the author had printed on the back of his book:

The community of Peirce scholars today seems to be growing more and more conscious of the fact that if a more accurate understanding of Peirce’s thought is really desired, greater attention must be paid to his earlier writings (1859–1866) because they shelter the germs of most of the later important doctrines.

[De Tienne, 1989: 385]

This claim, made almost twenty years ago, serves not only as a motto to this book, but must also have functioned as the spark which ignited the [End Page 248] author’s interest in the subject matter. As Alessandro Topa points out in his foreword, the book resulted from an attempt to understand more thoroughly how Peirce carried out the semiotic transformation of transcendental philosophy, as Karl Otto Apel has called Peirce’s adaptation of Kant in an—at least in the German speaking world—very influential interpretation of Peirce (cf. Apel, 1975). Following the sign posted by De Tienne, Topa must have hypothesized that this transformation had its origins in writings composed before 1867 and “On a New List of Categories” (1867), which caused him to turn to the early Peirce, namely the papers written between 1857 and 1865. Topa’s main focus lies on the categories and their development during these years. However, he aims at more. Topa asserts that “the theory of categories represents the systematic basis of Peirce’s philosophy” not only in the early days but also in later years (25). Therefore, to contribute to a better understanding of the early Peirce means for Topa contributing to a better understanding of Peirce per se.

Topa is not the second—after De Tienne (1989, 1996)—to scrutinize the early writings of Peirce nor is he the second to analyze the development of Peirce’s doctrine of categories. Earlier and influential investigations of this period and subject had been undertaken, for example, by Murray G. Murphey (1961) and Joseph L. Esposito (1980). However, Topa presents himself rather boldly as the first to “paint a detailed overall picture of the dynamics of reflection of these years” and as the first to show that the early Peirce was not involved in an exclusive dialogue with Kant, but was influenced by other philosophers as well—a truism, and a familiar one at that (26). It goes without saying that Topa could not have written his book without his forerunners. Yet his claim is justified to the extent that the aforementioned investigations have a much broader outlook than Topa’s. Topa confines himself to the development of the theory of the categories between 1857 and 1865, and he puts most emphasis on Peirce’s relation to Kant. Though a contextualizing approach Topa intends to substantiate that Peirce did not adopt Kant in a vacuum, but that his adoption was influenced by philosophical and theological discourses reigning in Boston during the late 1850s and the 1860s—which would be, after all, anything but surprising (26).

The book is divided into three parts of quite different sizes. In the first part, entitled “The Nature of Things and the Nature of Reason,” Topa intends to lay the basis for the future elucidations of Peirce’s Kant readings. The author presents an interpretation of Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason as a renewed project of self-elucidation, or, as Kant put it himself, “self-knowledge” of reason (cf. CpR A:xii), and he sketches the main threads of Kant’s discussion of the nature of things, the nature of reason, and the latter’s relation to the nature of understanding. Considering that Kant’s conception of a critique of reason has been controversially [End Page 249] discussed for a long time, and that the literature is vast, the author refrains from engaging in a dialogue with former interpreters of Kant’s project. He...