Charles Peirce’s Theory of Scientific Method

Review of Metaphysics 26 (3):544-545 (1973)

Reilly approaches his topic by presenting the spirit of science and the phases of scientific inquiry as Peirce saw it, keeping before the reader, at all times, Peirce’s overarching view of man and the universe. The two prevailing themes guiding Peirce’s thought are 1) that there is a special conformity of the human mind to nature and of nature to God, and 2) that there is an architectonic qualifying all the various types and levels of treatment which occupy the philosopher’s interest. The first question examined is the nature of the scientific concern. For Peirce, the scientist’s spirit is marked by the pure love of knowledge. It is important to note the theoretical aspect because it explains the possibility of holding belief in abeyance while examining nature: the purity of motive allows that proper questions will be asked and errors will be readily corrected. The scientist’s purpose is the real truth of things; he begins with questions about the world. There are four stages of scientific method: 1) The scientist observes nature as a thinking, analytic inquirer. Observation presupposes that nature is intelligibly structured. 2) He formulates an explanatory hypothesis which is a process of bringing a manifold of characters to a unified whole. 3) By deduction, the inquirer gathers experiential consequents of the hypothesis. 4) By induction the question is put to nature and observed phenomena are matched to the predicted phenomena, resulting in either truth or a modified hypothesis. Peirce’s principle of the kinship of man’s mind to nature supports his dictum to follow instinct over reasoned likelihood in choosing hypotheses. Also important is the doctrine of moderate fallibilism which holds that there is a convergence upon the truth founded upon the regularity of nature, but that chance is a real factor due to nature’s evolution. Reilly’s book gives an adequate account of the aspects of Peirce’s scientific method sacrificing specific and detailed analysis to a more general approach wherein he shows the unity operative throughout Peirce’s thinking. A good index and copious notes are provided.—W. A. F.
Keywords Catholic Tradition  Contemporary Philosophy  General Interest
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ISBN(s) 0034-6632
DOI revmetaph197326332
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