C.S. Peirce, detail of a notebook sketch

Psychology and C.S. Peirce

In “An Essay towards Reasoning in Security and Uberty” C.S. Peirce praises the advances of modern psychology, but he also offers a cautionary note:

I beseech my readers to make no mistake as to my enthusiastic rejoicing over the great light this new psychology has brought. Of course I do not think it is the final word to be said about the mind; for such finality is not yet known, thank God, in any modern science; should such ever take possession of scientific minds it will forebode either the speedy extinction of the human race, or else an era of intellectual epilepsy. So, it in no degree conflicts with my admiration of modern psychology that I at once express the opinion that (at least as far as I am acquainted with it) it can afford no aid whatever in laying the foundation for a sound philosophy of reasoning, albeit it has been and can still be of the most precious service in planning and executing the observations on which the reasonings depend and from which they spring. (471)

Peirce is even more explicit in discussing the low stature of psychology in matters of semiotics and logic in his outline of a proposed work in a letter to William James. Book I was to be about the classification of signs—the foundation of thought.

Book II, on Critic, discusses the warrant for each of the different kinds of reasoning. Throughout this book and Book I, I do not allow myself to accept any discovery of “Psychology Proper,” by which I mean the Empirical Science of the Modes of Functioning of finite Minds. For example, the modes of Association, its formations, suggestions through it, etc., Fatigue,—in short, the Physiology of the Mind. For in my opinion, excepting Metaphysics, there is no science that is in more need of the science of Logic than Psychology Proper is. (501)

However, Peirce goes on to state that psychology plays a large role in his concept of Phaneroscopy, the keen observation and generalization from immediate perception.

Peirce’s realism attempted to embrace both the constructions of the mind and the mind’s interface with reality through perception. It seems notable to me that his semiology did not spring from psychology, but rather informed it.

1 thought on “Psychology”

  1. The Art of C.S. Peirce

    This Public Address publishes a fascinating sketch by philosopher Charles Sanders Peirce. Trigonometry, algebra, statistics, drawings of faces (the one at the bottom vaguely reminds me of Charles Crumb), retraced figure-eights…the impression I get is…

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