Peirce certainly deserves a spot at this table - for his contributions to meta-theory, semiotics, pragmatism, evolutionary philosophy, etc.

Here is an excerpt from an introductory essay on Peirce by Zach Stein, which will appear in the forthcoming Meta-Theory for the 21st Century.

Meta-Theory 3: C.S. Peirce and the birth of normative meta-theory

"Peirce’s meta-theoretical modus operandi

The word normative was invented by the school of Schleiermacher …. But we must trace its introduction into common speech, to Wundt. It is taken from the Latin verb normo, to square…. The majority of writers who make use of it tell us that there are three normative sciences: logic, aesthetics, and ethics. The doctrines of the true, the beautiful, and the good, a triad of ideals which has been recognized since antiquity…. Logic is the theory of right reasoning, of what reasoning ought to be, not of what it is. On that account, it used to be called a directive science, but of late years the adjective normative has been generally substituted.

—Charles S. Peirce (1931 p. 5)


Peirce was a towering but controversial figure on the intellectual scene of his day. He was by any measure a prodigious polymath, with a working mastery of well over a dozen sciences, a mathematician, logician, metaphysician, and an epistemologist. He was one of the few American academics on the world stage during the middle of the 19th century, and was the first American to be elected as a member of an international scientific organization. But he was never able to gain the institutional support and positioning in the American academy that many thought he deserved. Both his personality and the substance of his intellectual contributions made it difficult for him to secure a position. As would be the case for Baldwin two decades later, a scandal forced Peirce to leave John Hopkins University.[1] And like Baldwin, Peirce was a meta-theorist during a time when it was unacceptable to be one. During the last decade of his life he faded into obscurity, eventually dying in poverty in rural Pennsylvania. He was known as the greatest genius of his generation to a few (including William James and Theodore Roosevelt), but completely unknown to most.[2]

Yet Peirce toiled away at his work, even as he was starving to death in the Delaware River Valley. He ultimately built what is one of the most profound philosophical systems ever constructed. As Peirce explained it, “[I intend] to make a philosophy like that of Aristotle, that is to say, to outline a theory so comprehensive that, for a long time to come, the entire work of human reason, in philosophy of every school and kind, in mathematics, in psychology, in physical science, in history, in sociology, and in whatever other department there may be, shall appear as the filling up of its details” (Peirce, 2000, p.168). This system has exerted a wide ranging influence, from philosophers like Popper (1966) to linguists like Chomsky (1979), both of whom see Peirce as one of the most significant philosophers to have ever lived. His continued relevance for a wide range of fields outside philosophy, including semiotics (a field which he founded), cognitive science, and computer science, is evidenced by what amounts to an academic cottage industry, where scholarship is burgeoning (see: Misak, 2004).

For the purposes of the story I am telling here, it is important to see that Peirce’s work was a response to the unprecedented transformations affecting academic knowledge production processes in the later half of the 19th Century (Ketner & Kloesel, 1986). On one reading, Peirce’s philosophical system can be understood as a general semiotics, analytically equipped for overseeing, explicating, and evaluating different kinds of beliefs at multiple levels—from propositions, to arguments, to discourses. Peirce executes this ambitious project by utilizing a variety of philosophical methods—methods Baldwin would claim exemplify the exercise of aesthetic imagination, or theoretical intuition (what today developmentalists would call post-formal thought).

Peirce surveyed a broad expanse of sciences and inductively explicated an evolutionary hierarchy akin to a biological taxonomy (Kent, 1987; Peirce, 1931). He built a system of existential-graphs wherein the relations between propositions are explicated via logically uniform concept maps (Peirce, 1933; Shin, 2002). He also clarified the intersubjective conditions for the possibility of reliable knowledge production, arguing that inquiry-oriented communication communities must have an open and inclusive structure predicated on trust, honesty, and reciprocity (Apel, 1995; Peirce, 1984a). And of course, as a final example, it is well known that underlying his whole system was a set of three primordial concepts—in Kant’s sense of being transcendentally basic—that he characterized as syncategorematic categories, and once correlated with the three basic pronouns: I, Thou, and IT (Habermas, 1992; Peirce, 1982). In all of these instances Peirce was out to build meta-theoretical constructs that could play a role in adjudicative processes concerning the value of our cognitive wares.

Moreover, Peirce positioned his discourse-regulative project atop a broader evolutionary vision of the universe where the strivings of humanity are continuous with the evolution of the cosmos (Peirce, 2000; 1934; Esposito, 1980; Hausman, 1993). Peirce articulated a sophisticated and empirically grounded evolutionary ontology where all events are semiotic processes that co-evolve toward increasing complexity, autonomy, self-awareness, and possible harmony. Peirce’s pansemiotic evolutionary theory was a unique (post-metaphysical) view in so far as it was explicitly offered as a hypothesis amenable to correction in light of forthcoming empirical data. It greatly influenced Whitehead (1978) and continues to intrigue and inspire scholars in the physical and biological sciences (Prigogine & Stengers, 1984) and philosophy (Apel, 1994).

This understanding of evolution allowed Peirce to bring his overarching normative concerns about the trajectory of academic discourses in line with a venerable philosophical tradition that articulated the radical significance of humanity’s cultural endeavors in terms of a cosmic evolutionary unfolding. Ultimately, Peirce, with a look in Kant’s direction, envisioned humanity as capable of multitudinous self-correcting intellectual and ethical endeavors, which ought to result in an ideal communication community coterminous with the cosmos. In this post-metaphysical eschatology, the ideals of harmonious love between all beings and unconditional knowledge about all things stand as goals to be approached asymptotically. With this thought Peirce rearticulates a philosophical motif that can be traced back through Emerson, Schelling, and Kant to the obscure cipher of Bohme’s mystical Protestant religiosity and its ancient Hebraic and Neo-Platonic roots.

[1] A footnote is warranted about the fact that both Peirce and Baldwin were dismissed from the academy due to sexual scandals. (Baldwin was caught in a club that also served as a brothel; Peirce got a divorce and married a (very) young French woman). But a full discussion of the shadows of these men, the mores of Victorian America, and the complex and personal nature of the academic politics involved would take us too far afield (See: Brent, 1998; Richards, 1987).

[2] For an account of Peirce’s life, which had the plot line of a Greek tragedy see: Brent, 1998."

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We've referenced Peirce several times in the forum. I'll link to some of those below.

He was mentioned several times in the first few pages of the Integral Semiotics thread.

In this post and several following on that page and the next page.

In this post and several following on that page, and a few on the next page.

In the Zalamea thread.

Some relevant excerpts from the Zalamea thread starting in this post and a few following:

It turns out Zalamea is a big fan of Peirce. Here's one of his articles on Peirce. [...] Also see Zalamea's essay on transmodernism here. From the Intro:

"Transmodernity' –both diachronic and methodological- hopes to reintegrate many awkward postmodern differentials, to balance some supposed breaks with more in-depth sutures, to counter relativism with a topological logic where some 'universal relatives' provide invariants beyond the flux of transformations [....] to reinterpret universals as partial invariants of a logic of change."

""Broadening these precepts to the general context of semiotics, for knowing a given arbitrary sign (the context of the actual) we must run through the multiple contexts of interpretation that can interpret the sign (the context of the possible), and within each context, we must study the practical (imperative) consequents associated with each of those interpretations (the context of the necessary). In this process the relations between the possible contexts (situated in a global space) and the relations between the fragments of necessary contrastation (placed in a local space) take a fundamental relevance; this underscores the conceptual importance of the logic of relations, which was systematized by Peirce himself. Thus the pragmaticist maxim shows that knowledge, seen as a logico-semiotic process, is preeminently contextual (as opposed to absolute), relational (as opposed to substantial), modal (as opposed to determinate), and synthetic (as opposed to analytic)."

Pierce also has an important influence on Tim Winton's realist approach to pansemiotics in his ITC 2013 paper on The Meaning of Planetary Civilization, which we discussed here.

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