Nov 1999

Few philosophers today know much about Charles Peirce’s metaphysics, although a great many know something about his epistemology, philosophy of science, and logic. Indeed, few Peirce experts have written much on his metaphysics or made it the focus of their research. To an extent, this is understandable. Peirce’s writings were left in a disastrously disorganized state (mostly unpublished), and the crucial papers on metaphysics from his later years have not yet been republished in the first-rate chronological edition, the incomplete Writings of Charles S. Peirce: A Chronological Edition , edited at Indianapolis by my friends. And then there is Peirce’s writing: an awkward, abrasive, arrogant, eclectic style that demands technical knowledge in diverse fields, especially logic, mathematics, and the natural sciences. His worst personality traits manifested themselves in his highly technical metaphysics—with its idiosyncratic, anti-Cantorian conception of continua, a pecularly mathematical phenomenology, and elaborate views on Darwinian and non-Darwinian evolution, for example. Finally, there is what might appear to be the bizarreness of the theory itself, as we shall see. Peirce was a kind of philosophical swashbuckler, a bold, courageous speculator on philosophical questions beyond most of our temperaments even to ponder. Ours is not the philosophical age of Errol Flynn but the minimalist age of Harrison Ford, with no grand gestures or speeches, just a series of small, no-nonsense gestures: we typically like our philosophy short, neat, "science-like," and isolated from other philosophical issues
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