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  • The Categorial Logic of Peirce’s Metaphysical Cosmogony
  • Nicholas Lee Guardiano

1. Introduction

In this paper, I present a detailed interpretation of Peirce’s cosmogony about the origin of the universe and its evolutionary development. This involves bringing together and making sense of Peirce’s disconnected statements on cosmology, which are scattered throughout his writings and which sometimes employ different terminologies. Furthermore, it shall involve identifying the categories of firstness, secondness, and thirdness that govern its conceptual structure, and ultimately the metaphysical structure of the universe to which it refers. Attending to the categories at play here reveals the basic “logic” of Peirce’s theory from which its rational coherence is discernable. As such, it may be argued that given the inherent logic of his position, Peirce’s theory amounts to a reasonable abduction, as well as one that possesses some unique theoretical merits in comparison to other alternative cosmogonies that have been proposed in the history of philosophy and modern astronomy.

Before addressing Peirce’s cosmological claims, it is crucial to explain my general interpretative approach to his writings in order to justify the primary role given to the categories. The approach takes Peirce’s cosmological speculations as a valuable philosophical effort and as one systematically continuous with his greater philosophy. This systematic coherence is something that the following exposition will help demonstrate, following an established line of scholarship that has shown Peirce as a systematic thinker with important contributions to the field of metaphysics.1 The compatibility of the cosmological theories with Peirce’s greater philosophy is evident in the fact that the theories often state and imply important bottom-line tenets that agree with those recurrent throughout his writings on other subjects. One of these connections is the relationship to his three categories that are a [End Page 313] cornerstone of his thought. The presence of the categories can be identified in the cosmogony, and such an identification is highly relevant to a complete understanding of it. This approach is justifiable given that it is consistent with Peirce’s own emphasis on the categories. He clearly believes that they are essential to all philosophical and scientific reasoning, as attested by his classification of the sciences whereby phenomenology—the study of the categories as they appear in experience—is first philosophy, grounding the normative sciences, metaphysics, and idioscopy or the special sciences. In addition, as part of his philosophical realism, Peirce takes the categories as objective constituents of the world, asserting that they are “metaphysicocosmical elements.”2 In Max Fisch’s words, Peirce is nothing other than a “three-category realist”; he believes in “the triune Reality” whereby the categories are inherent, ubiquitous, and tripresent elements of the universe.3 This is to say that the categories are more than the most general conceptual structures of experience and thought—as Kant’s categories are for him. They are that and the most general ontological or metaphysical structures of the universe. As Vincent Colapietro explains, the categories “are not merely mental in origin. They are part of the structure of our minds, but they are also part of the structure of reality itself.”4 Thus the categories have “ontological or cosmological import . . . [in that they] designate, among other things, the modes of being and also the modes of the coming to be of the cosmos itself. . . . [They] designate both the irreducible modes of being and the ubiquitous traits of nature.”5

Peirce’s position that the categories extend across the phenomenal and metaphysical is in keeping with his synechism. He makes various explicit arguments to support this, and it is worth quoting one here. The following example occurs in his Cambridge lecture series of 1898 entitled Reasoning and the Logic of Things, the final lecture of which includes an extended presentation of his cosmogony. To his audience, he argues:

Whatever unanalyzable element sui generis seems to be in nature, although it be not really where it seems to be, yet must really be in nature somewhere, since nothing else could have produced even the false appearance of such an element sui generis. For example, I may be in a dream at this moment, and while I think I am...


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