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  • Peirce's Account of Purposefulness: A Kantian Perspective by Gabriele Gava
  • Giovanni Maddalena
Gabriele Gava
Peirce's Account of Purposefulness: A Kantian Perspective
New York: Routledge, 2014. 234 pp. incl. index

Gava's book is worth reading. It is one of the best accounts of the attempt to read Peirce within a transcendental model of philosophy. This position is now one of the most powerful in Peirce's scholarship, even though it is highly problematic from both an exegetical and a theoretical standpoint. I will try to explain these problems at the end of this review (III), but first I will sketch Gava's detour (I) and some positive advancements in Peirce's scholarship that he accomplishes (II). [End Page 503]


Gava's way to link Peirce to transcendental philosophy is based on a general reading of the development of Peirce's thought. In this reading, Peirce would have been very Hegelian in his early writings where he strongly linked "being" and "being represented", while he would have changed his mind after the early 1880s when he discovered the semiotic power of indices. Indices would have taught him the resistance of existing objects to a complete representation, pointing out the relevance of individuality. At this point, Peirce would have faced the issue of linking this individuality with the necessity of generality already discovered in his logic. This is the crucial point where Gava inserts the theme of purposefulness. Purpose links individuality and generality according to a principle of progressive but not deterministic determination. Gava distinguishes purposefulness from Kant's purposiveness, defining the first as "orientation toward an end involved in a thought process" and the latter as "conformity to an end" (69). Peirce's purposefulness, thus, is more comprehensive than Kant's purposiveness. Purposefulness is a general principle that leads our abductive inquiry indicating the admirable per se to which our qualitative feelings refer (chapter 3), that guides cosmological and metaphysical evolutionism (chapter 4), that accounts for the working of some interesting epistemic items as necessity, infallibility (164-71) and the pragmatic maxim (chapter 6).

In Gava's reading, purposefulness is the mark of transcendentalism, the view which Gava interprets as the explanation of the conditions of our knowledge and not as the vindication of knowledge against a skeptical challenge (131). Notwithstanding his critiques of transcendental positions, Peirce would remain a transcendental philosopher insofar as he secretly keeps its explanatory moment while apparently rejecting the version aimed at responding to a skeptic. By this account, purposefulness accounts for the general drive of Peirce's philosophy, the interplay of the individual object in senses and the generalization involved in knowledge.


The picture is consistent and interesting. Gava crawls through many Peircean themes with mastery and intelligence. Therefore, there are some important issues that Gava's book illuminates even if you disagree with the general scheme. One of those is the clarification of the relationship between Speculative Rhetoric and Methodeutics to which Gava dedicates the entire chapter 2. In Gava's account Methodeutics is "a purposeful use of signs in order to attain knowledge" (38) while Speculative Rhetoric is a broader "general study of the conditions of interpretation" (33). Methodeutics finds a precise definition that matches with Fisch's recall that in his late years Peirce identified the whole pragmatism with such a discipline (Fisch 1986: 373-4). Moreover, it provides a technical [End Page 504] pathway to the central role of purposefulness in Gava's reconstruction of Peirce's philosophy.

In chapter 2 of his book, Gava deals with great intelligence with the difficult issue of the first Cambridge conference from 1898, with the well-known distinction between theoretical and practical knowledge. I think that Gava's treatment of the topic (46-9), emphasizing the fact that "in Peirce's text, this sharp separation between instinctive reasoning, everyday practical reasoning, and scientific reasoning is only apparent" (47), is a definitive statement on this article that confirms Rosa M. Calcaterra's insights on the same issue (2003: 77-83).

Gava's discussion on the relevance given to iconicity within abduction is also very significant (72-9). Indeed the use of a reading of signs—not only...


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