The Normative Thought of Charles S. Peirce

By Cornelis De Waal; Krzysztof Piotr SkowroŃski | Go to book overview

Preface

This volume contains eleven essays on the normative philosophy of the American scientist and philosopher Charles Sanders Peirce (1839–1914). Peirce is best known for his contributions to pragmatism—of which he is considered the originator—and he saw himself first and foremost as a logician. When we add to this Peirce’s own claim that he had little esthetic sense and that he pretty much dismissed moral philosophy as an immoral enterprise, we might get the impression—especially while reading the first of his 1898 Cambridge Conference lectures—of a philosopher who shunned normative philosophy and was even hostile to it. However, the truth of the matter is quite the opposite. The conception of logic Peirce came to settle on—as the science directed to preventing us from drawing false conclusions from true premises—is overtly normative. It aims to tell us how we should reason if we want to preserve truth. Over time Peirce came to realize that logic, thus conceived, derives part of its principles from what he called “the science of ethics.” A few years later he would go even further, adding that this science of ethics ought in turn to be grounded in a science of esthetics. Though Peirce warned that these two sciences should not be confused with what generally goes under the names of ethics and esthetics, he believed that they were nonetheless close enough to warrant retaining their names. Hence, in his mature division of the sciences, Peirce divided philosophy—which he considered the most basic of the positive sciences—into phenomenology (or phaneroscopy, as he frequently called it), the normative sciences (esthetics, ethics, and logic), and metaphysics, with each subsequent discipline deriving some of its key principles from those that precede it.

Despite the central place of the normative sciences in Peirce’s mature conception of philosophy, those who want to study Peirce’s views on esthetics and ethics are by and large dependent on his occasional remarks

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