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  • Charles Sanders Peirce and a Religious Metaphysics of Nature
  • Adam Pryor
Charles Sanders Peirce and a Religious Metaphysics of Nature. Leon J. Niemoczynski. Lanham: Lexington Books, 2011. 182 pp. $60 cloth. (Reviewed by Adam Pryor, Graduate Theological Union)

Writing a text in metaphysics founded upon a particular historical figure can be an isolating task. It can easily become a hagiographic, esoteric process with relevance to only a small group of specialists. In his work Charles Sanders Pierce and a Religious Metaphysics of Nature, Leon Niemoczynski deftly avoids this insulating trap as he constructively builds upon C. S. Pierce’s philosophy of religion and categories. Developing creative insights into themes with deep theological resonance, such as the ground or abyss, Niemoczynski’s text generates a pragmatic speculative realism that encourages the wider use of abduction in constructive theology.

The text develops three constructive appropriations of Peirce’s work, breeding a conclusion connected to two continental philosophers. First, Niemoczynski asserts that Pierce’s three categories have both phenomenological and ontological dimensions. He focuses primarily on the category of Firstness, the category of freedom and possibility, out of which emerge Peirce’s other two categories, Secondness (actuality) and Thirdness (lawful generality). Elaborating the qualities of Firstness as a modality of being and descriptive of phenomena become the subsequent parts around which the text unfolds (9–13, 37–41).

Second, Niemoczynski’s account of Firstness as a mode of being is correlated to Robert Corrington’s “ecstatic naturalism.” Corrington’s concept becomes a template for Niemoczynski’s constructive appropriation of Peirce. Ecstatic naturalism assumes a fully natural vision of transcendence and seeks, in distinction from other forms of naturalism, not to foundationally or ontologically privilege any particular element or quality of nature as investigated. Under ecstatic naturalism, nature is treated as the pure availability of whatever is—an indefinite plenitude that is unbounded dynamic potential. As such, the transcendence of ecstatic naturalism is a vision of nature’s self-transcendence: a disclosure of the divine through realizing the possibilities of nature’s development (18–23). Nature’s self-transcendence describes well the way Niemoczynski brings together elements of Peirce’s metaphysics, cosmology, and vision of the divine.

Not surprisingly ecstatic naturalism is related to Peirce’s understanding of nature as a continuum evolving from an unruly potentiality toward the divine as an expression of reasoned lawfulness of absolute mind. Peirce describes this drive toward absolute mind as “synechism.” Synechestic determinism is mitigated by what Peirce calls “tychism,” the spontaneity and chance from [End Page 175] which nature emerges that makes the drive toward absolute mind developmental rather than predetermined. Tychistic chance implicates the power of possibility, contingency, and boundless freedom as an originating nothingness that is fundamental to the initial state of Pierce’s cosmology (44–46).

This primordial, originating nothingness is not a form of negation. Rather, it is the nothingness that results from freedom and potentiality continually annulling itself through variety and spontaneity. Niemoczynski correlates this originating dynamic power with Corrington’s term “nature naturing” and the ontological mode of Firstness (what he calls Firstness-possibility). Correlating these various terms indicates, as Niemoczynski aptly puts it, that he “view[s] nature as containing within its own depths an animating power that continually gives birth and creates itself, thus ensuring the divine’s own infinite life” (50). Nature then is a continuum with this depth of animating power on the one hand (tychism and Firstness-possibility) and the rational order of mind on the other (synechism and the generalizing laws of Thirdness).

Moving into the religious realm, Niemoczynski connects this metaphysical continuum to Peirce’s vision of God: the developing of divine life toward absolute mind. While Peirce emphasized Thirdness in this connection, Niemoczynski emphasizes Firstness-possibility conceived as nature naturing. The radical nothingness of Firstness-possibility is included in the divine life itself (not only the subsequent unfolding towards absolute mind in Thirdness). This indicates there is a nonfoundational, transcendental ground to the divine. As such, a simple pantheist equivalence of God with nature becomes unsatisfactory for characterizing Peirce’s vision of the divine life. Thus, Niemoczynski emphasizes the panentheistic quality of this vision of God: Firstness-possibility is the...