Logic, Psychology, and Apperception: Charles S. Peirce and Johann F. Herbart

By Bellucci, Francesco | Journal of the History of Ideas, January 2015 | Go to article overview

Logic, Psychology, and Apperception: Charles S. Peirce and Johann F. Herbart


Bellucci, Francesco, Journal of the History of Ideas


From his early writings onward, Charles S. Peirce defended an unpsychological approach to logic. Logicians, he argued in his Harvard lectures of 1865, should not be interested in how and what we in fact think: logic deals only with the necessary and objective relations among symbols, whether they are actually thought or not, so that any intromission of psychological facts into logic would confound rather than elucidate what logic is about. As an authority for this opinion, he quoted Johann Friedrich Herbart (1776-1841), especially the passage from the Lehrbuch zur Einleitung in die Philosophie in which "the great German metaphysician" had claimed that "in logic it is necessary to ignore everything that is psychological."1 This was destined to become a standard reference for Peirce's subsequent philosophy of logic. Herbart's influence on Pierce was not limited to logic, however. What he especially learned from Herbart was the doctrine of the association of ideas. Pierce knew, of course, the British empiricistassociationist tradition-of Locke, Berkeley, Hume, Mill, Bain-quite well. But for him the only adequate description of how ideas are connected one another was Herbart's. There is evidence that it was from Herbart's conception of apperception that Peirce inherited the "synechistic" doctrine of the association of ideas that he first presented in his celebrated "The Law of Mind" of 1892.

Neither of these subjects, important though they are to determine the genesis and the scope of some fundamental ideas in Peirce's earlier and later philosophy, has been given the attention that they warrant in the scholarly literature. In this essay I will try to offer some suggestions that might help facilitate a deeper understanding of what is an incontestably important thread in the history of ideas. This paper is divided into two parts. Section one explores Peirce's lifelong "Herbartian" anti-psychologism; section two briefly describes Herbart's notion of apperception and indicates its significance for Peirce's law of mind.2

I. HERBART AND PEIRCE'S ANTI-PSYCHOLOGISM

In the transition from traditional to modern formal logic, which reached its apex with the establishment of the Fregean paradigm, logical psychologism -most generally, the tendency to regard logical questions as psychological- was considered by most of the "new" logicians as the principal barrier to the foundation of an objective logic. A sort of strong psychologism-i.e., the tendency to regard the laws of logic as descriptive laws of how men actually think-had been maintained by John Stuart Mill, who considered logic to be "a branch of Psychology."3 On the other hand, Edmund Husserl, who in his 1891 Philosophie der Arithmetik had provided a psychological characterization of the origin and the content of the concept of number,4 was committed to a weak version of psychologism-i.e., the tendency to regard the theoretical foundations of logic and mathematics as somehow grounded upon psychology.5 Gottlob Frege's main argument against logical psychologism was presented in the Grundgesetzte der Arithmetik, and had Benno Erdmann6 as its target. For Frege truth was independent of its being acknowledged by a thinking subject; therefore, the laws of truth were not psychological laws.7 But he also attacked the (weak) psychologist approach of Husserl's Philosophie der Arithmetik, which famously turned Husserl away from his earlier position. In the Prolegomena of his Logische Untersuchungen Husserl had claimed that logic, considered as a Kunstlehre or a practical-normative science, had its foundations not in psychology but in pure logic, which was concerned with the study of the ideal conditions of the possibility of science.8 Despite their differences, Husserl's and Frege's positions are commonly taken as constituting the anti-psychological turn in logic.9

Peirce, on the other side of the Atlantic, also made a point against the "malady" of psychologism.10 We do not know whether he was aware of Frege's work in logic. …

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