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  • Broadening Peirce’s Phaneroscopy: Part One
  • Richard Kenneth Atkins

The Narrow and Broad Conceptions of Phaneroscopy

Peirce’s Mature Architectonic, or classification of the sciences, divides philosophy into three primary disciplines. They are phaneroscopy (Peirce’s later name for the science of phenomenology1), normative science, and metaphysics. Both normative science and metaphysics have sub-disciplines. Normative science subdivides into aesthetics (or, as Peirce spells it, esthetics), ethics, and logic. Metaphysics subdivides into general ontology, psychical metaphysics, and physical metaphysics.2 However, Peirce never identifies sub-disciplines for phaneroscopy. Why is this?

One answer to the question is that phaneroscopy has no sub-disciplines because it is a simple—as in parts or aims, not as in easily accomplished— science. At least three interpreters of Peirce endorse such a view. First, Christopher Hookway writes that phaneroscopy “uncovers the three categories— indeed, that is its sole role” (103, emphasis added). Second, Joseph Ransdell thinks that phaneroscopic inquiry is relatively simple and that most of the work is to be done in semiotic (§ 22). Evidently, this is because phaneroscopy’s only aim is to discover and “conceptually isolate” the three Cenopythagorean (so named because they attach a special importance to numbers) categories of Firstness, Secondness, and Thirdness (Ransdell § 1). Hence, he concludes that if contemporary phenomenology develops in a Peircean direction “it might involve the abandonment of quite a lot which has traditionally been associated with it” (§ 33). Third, in The Phenomenology of Charles S. Peirce, William L. Rosensohn writes: “Phenomenology merely observes the phenomenon and, through analysis, ascertains its distinct forms or elements, the universal conceptions or Categories of all experiences and thought” (2, emphasis added). [End Page 1]

Let us call this the Narrow Conception of phaneroscopy as opposed to the Broad Conception. Sciences have an object, an aim, and a method. Both the Narrow and the Broad Conceptions of phaneroscopy agree that the object of phaneroscopy is the phaneron (“the collective total of all that is in any way or in any sense present to the mind, quite regardless of whether it corresponds to any real thing or not” [CP 1.2843]. They also agree that the method of phaneroscopy is observation of and abstraction from the phaneron (though more shall be said about this in Part Two). However, the Narrow Conception of phaneroscopy holds that the sole aim of the science is to discover the three Cenopythagorean categories as parts of (or “indecomposable elements” of) the phaneron. The Broad Conception objects to the use of the word “sole” here; it holds that phaneroscopy has the aforementioned aim and others.

Not every Peirce scholar endorses the Narrow Conception. Kelly Parker, for example, notes that “[b]ecause the actual world is more complex than the limited two- and three-element universes of the simplest mathematics, though, [Peirce] leaves the door open for discovering other series of categories, ‘consisting of the phases of evolution’” (48). Douglas Anderson writes: “[T]he categories are the upshot of phenomenology. Peirce argued that categories may be of two kinds: 1) those of a ‘short list’ which are universal and 2) those of a ‘long list’ which are not universal” (“Peirce and Heidegger” 123). André De Tienne also rejects the Narrow Conception, noting that phaneroscopy must not only isolate the categories but show how they interact in appearances; it also studies “the agency of those categories with respect to appearances” (“Is Phaneroscopy” 15).

Yet all three of these scholars admit that so far as Peirce developed the science of phaneroscopy, it is concerned with the three Cenopythagorean categories. Parker proceeds to note that in practice Peirce was “well enough occupied” investing the Cenopythagorean categories (48). Anderson states that “Peirce concentrated on those of a short list: his firstness, secondness, and thirdness” (“Peirce and Heidegger” 123). For De Tienne, in analyzing the agency of the categories in appearances, we are still examining the specifications of the three Cenopythagorean categories with respect to appearances.

I might add one more scholar to this mix. T. L. Short does not, as far as I can tell, explicitly embrace the Narrow Conception. Yet, he does concede that so far as Peirce developed the science of phaneroscopy, it is occupied with...


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