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On the Mature Peirce's Re-discovery of Plato
and the Overcoming of Nominalistic Prejudice in History [1]


Twenty-three years ago Robert Ayers noticed several brief and intriguing comments on miracles in the
Collected Papers of Charles Sanders Peirce (CP). Working with just those scraps of information from the CP, he stitched together a rough but helpful starting point for understanding this aspect of Peirce's religious and scientific thought. In the last few years several more articles on this subject have been written, each filling in a gap left by the others: Ayers' is a theological view, based solely on the CP; later articles fill out Peirce's mathematics and his logic. This paper attempts to fill in a genealogical gap by showing how his thought on miracles is directly related to his dialogues with Plato, Hume, and Lutoslawski. My resources are largely unpublished manuscripts, many of which are fragmentary. I show the relationship between these manuscripts and two key published essays, “Philosophy and the Conduct of Life” (1898), and “On the Logic of Drawing History from Ancient Documents, Especially from Testimonies” (1901), and then show how Peirce, in dialogue with Plato, exposes and overcomes the nominalistic and anti-miracle prejudices of historiography in his day. The resulting view of history is fallibilistic, realistic and evolutionary, in which miracles are not violations of laws of nature but are to be expected as evolutionary variations that form part of the ongoing self-revelation of the cosmos. Miracles, like all events in history, must not be viewed prejudicially by adherents or detractors, but must be taken into careful account in the grand induction of history and science.


        Robert Ayers, in his article on Peirce's treatment of miracles, says that what Peirce has to say on the subject is “interesting and…tantalizingly brief”[2], but this is only halfway true.[3] That what Peirce has to say about miracles is interesting is understatement. That what he says is tantalizingly brief is a misunderstanding of the context in which those writings appear. While it is true that what Peirce says explicitly about miracles is often quite brief, it is usually nested in a larger context that pertains implicitly to an understanding of the miraculous, and so his writings on miracles might be understood to be considerably greater than the few snippets most often cited.

        One example of this is in his 1901 piece, “On the Logic of Drawing History From Ancient Documents, Especially from Testimonies.”[4] The opening lines indicate that the subtext of this rather long essay is miracles, and that what follows will be a sustained response to Hume's “On Miracles” chapter in the Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding. It is mostly, however, an indirect response to Hume. One curious aspect of this essay is how little it mentions Hume and miracles and how much attention it gives to a discussion of Plato.

        Plato, Hume, miracles and “laws of nature” each receive considerable attention from Peirce in the period 1897-1903. The “Logic of History” is of particular interest to me for two reasons: first, because we have several drafts of the paper in addition to similar work in the “minute logic”, an abstract Peirce delivered to the National Academy of Sciences in 1901[5] and his write-up of that conference, so its context is quite rich. Second, the “Logic of History” brings all these themes together in one place. But this juxtaposition of themes prompts the question I wish to take up here, namely: what has Peirce's interest in Plato got to do with Hume and, more importantly, with miracles?

Why Plato?

        One simple answer that may be given to the question of why Peirce chooses to talk about Plato rather than, say, the miracles of the New Testament, is that any discussion of the latter is liable to generate more heat than light. There exist several manuscripts that are either drafts of the “Logic of History” or closely related chapters for his “Minute Logic”, each bearing telling titles. One reads, “The Proper Treatment of Hypotheses: A Preliminary Chapter, Toward an Examination of Hume's Argument Against Miracles, in its Logic and in its History”.[6] An earlier version of this title was “On the Principles which ought to Guide us in Accepting or Rejecting Historical Testimony.” In the latter of these, Peirce writes “We here find ourselves plumped into a corner of the fray which has long been raging all over the field over historical criticism between instinct and systematic logic.”[7] To jump into this fight over practical matters of religion is to enter a battlefield where no speech can be heard over the din of the shouting combatants. A discussion of the history of Plato, or of Pythagoras, would perhaps not excite such violent passions, and might allow for a hearing for his ideas.

        But I think there is more to Plato's presence here than that. Another reason why Peirce doesn't discuss particular miracles is because in order to be able to do so we would need first to have a proper understanding of the logic of history, i.e. of the proper treatment of hypotheses concerning testimonies about prodigious events. In order to talk about miracle-testimony we need first to understand the logic of abduction; metaphysics and logic are thus intimately connected. Peirce finds a version of Plato's metaphysics helpful in thinking about miracles. To explain, let me say a few words about some unpublished MSS that illustrate Peirce's growing interest in Plato in this period.

Part I: Peirce's turn to Plato

Lutoslawski's Origin and Growth of Plato's Logic, and Peirce's unpublished Plato MSS

        Shortly after its 1897 publication, Peirce came into possession (most likely through William James[8]) of Wincenty Lutoslawski's Origin and Growth of Plato's Logic, Lutoslawski's compilation of stylometric analyses of Plato's work[9]. The unpublished MSS of Peirce of around this time contain hundreds of pages of notes on Plato's dialogues, with frequent references to Lutoslawski. Among these pages are two partial translations (of the Apology and the Cratylus); catalogues of metaphors used by Plato in the various dialogues; and summaries of the dialogues. There are also a large number of pages devoted to stylometric analyses of Plato's Greek that Peirce undertook himself, which is interesting because several years earlier Peirce wrote that he usually read Plato in English, and only Aristotle in Greek[10]. His turn to the original texts is partly of necessity, in order to check Lutoslawski's work; but it also indicates Peirce beginning to take Plato's language as seriously as he takes Aristotle's.

Reaction to Lutoslawski's “strict individualism”

        Peirce's reaction to Lutoslawski's work was mixed. He admired Lutoslawski's attempt to perform a scientific analysis that depended upon mathematics and upon empirical data. But while Peirce admired the method, he lamented Lutoslawski's prejudicial handling of the data. In his 1903 Harvard lecture on “Seven Systems of Metaphysics”, Peirce describes Lutoslawski as a metaphysician of mere secondness, that is, one who “would like to explain everything by means of mechanical force.”[11] His contempt for this prejudice, which he calls “strict individualism, the doctrine of Lutoslawski and his unpronounceable master”[12] is hard to miss.

        For Peirce this strict individualism of Lutoslawski is a toxin that has poisoned the whole well of Lutoslawski's historical, literary and logical researches. Peirce's critique of Lutoslawski is like his repeated critique of Zeller in the 1892 Lowell Lectures: both men are blind to their mechanistic prejudices, largely because those prejudices are shared by many of their nominalistic contemporaries. Historians who reduce all history to a mere account of brute facts must of necessity be telling only the story that suits their presuppositions. History must take into account the development of real ideas, but Lutoslawski and Zeller fail to notice the abductions they themselves perform and the realism those abductions imply.

        In the “Logic of History”, Peirce points out that by their prejudices, Lutoslawski, Zeller and the like “are thus provided with two defenses against historical testimony. If the story appears to them in any degree unlikely, they reject it without scruple; while if there is no taint of improbability in it, it will fall under the heavier accusation of being too probable; and in this way, they preserve a noble freedom in manufacturing history to suit their respective impressions.” (EP2:77).[13]

        Peirce's critique of Lutoslawski in the unpublished MSS and of Zeller in both the “Logic of History” and elsewhere[14] is nearly identical to the critique of Hume in the “Logic of History”.[15] This critique has been dealt with in some detail elsewhere,[16] so a rough summary will do here. Peirce remarks that “The whole of modern 'higher criticism' of ancient history in general, and of Biblical history in particular, is based upon the same logic that is used by Hume.”[17] Roughly, Hume misunderstands the nature of abduction, and attempts to use probabilistic methods, which are correctly applied only to seconds, to discuss firsts and thirds. The objection is not to the use of statistical probability in general, but to the attempt to use it to compare the likelihood of an event against that of a character.[18] In his abstract of the “Logic of History”, Peirce writes that “the probabilities upon which the critics of history rely are not objective, but are mere expressions of their preconceived notions, than which no guide can be less trustworthy.”[19] Peirce agrees with Hume and his 19th century disciples in wanting to put prejudicial religious dogmatism in its place; but Peirce sees what they do not, namely that they are subject to another kind of dogmatism, namely their allegedly “scientific” prejudices.

        Peirce then turns to Plato as an unwitting philosopher of thirdness to overcome this prejudice. While Peirce's critique of Hume has received considerable attention, his turn to Plato, however, has not.[20]

Good thinking is Platonic: Plato in Peirce, 1897-1903

        Besides the previously mentioned wealth of unpublished MSS on Plato and the “Logic of History”, Plato figures prominently in several of the later Peirce's published works. Among these are the 1898 Cambridge Conference papers, notably “Philosophy and the Conduct of Life”, (where he refers to Plato so often he feels compelled to apologize for doing so); the 1903 Harvard Lectures on Pragmatism[21] (where Aristotle is identified as a sort of Platonist); and, arguably, still resonate in the 1908 “Neglected Argument for the Reality of God” (where Plato and the Ideas are mentioned explicitly and favorably in the introduction). The conclusion to “Philosophy and the Conduct of Life” provides an excellent example of the depth of the Platonic influence on Peirce in this period:

If you enjoy the good fortune of talking with a number of mathematicians of a high order, you will discover that the typical pure Mathematician is a sort of Platonist….The soul's deeper parts can only be reached through its surface. In this way the eternal forms, that mathematics and philosophy and the other sciences make us acquainted with, will by slow percolation gradually reach the very core of one's being; and they will come to influence our lives; and this they will do, not because they involve truths of merely vital importance, but because they are ideal and eternal verities. (EP2:40-41)
        This is, for Peirce, a new picture of Platonism. Earlier in the lecture, Peirce explains that he has recently come to understand something about Plato that Plato himself never seems to have fully recognized, namely that Plato is a philosopher of three, not two categories, and that he is a philosopher of continuity. Peirce's researches into the dating of the dialogues serve the purpose of placing the Sophist at the end of Plato's career, allowing the later theory of the forms as continuities (i.e. as thirds rather than as transcendent seconds) to be the fruit of a life of research. Against the prevailing notion of laws of nature as invariable and inviolable fixities Peirce contrasts this Platonic notion of real generalities that are synechistic. Such generals have inherently the possibility of growth, at least in terms of their getting represented in a variety of ways. Peirce writes elsewhere in “Philosophy and the Conduct of Life” that

The really continuous things, Space and Time, and Law, are eternal. The dialogue of the Sophistes, lately shown to belong to Plato's last period—when he had, Aristotle tells us, abandoned Ideas and put Numbers in place of them—this dialogue, I say, gives reasons for abandoning the Theory of Ideas which imply that Plato himself had come to see, if not that the Eternal Essences are continuous, at least, that there is an order of affinity among them, such as there is among Numbers. Thus, at last, the Platonic Ideas became Mathematical Essences, not possessed of Actual Existence but only of a Potential Being quite as Real, and his maturest philosophy became welded into mathematics. (EP2:35.)
        The evolution of Plato's thought thus appears to correspond to the evolution of Peirce's thought. The re-evaluation by Plato of his Theory of Forms closely parallels the re-evaluation of the notion of “natural law” that Peirce is calling for. Both the Forms and natural laws have been thought incorrectly either as mere names or as unchanging existences. Peirce connects Number with Law, and calls Law a continuity. Natural laws then, like the later Forms, are to be re-thought as continua with infinite possibility of getting represented in the world, and the job of science is not to presuppose laws, but to “begin to discern…one great cosmos of forms, a world of potential being,” one “for which the real world affords no parallel.”[22] Elsewhere he writes that “the evolutionary process is, therefore, not a mere evolution of the existing universe, but rather a process by which the very Platonic forms themselves have become or are becoming developed.”[23]

        It should be noted that this discussion occurs in the context of the role of philosophy in the conduct of life. The logic of miracle-testimony and the metaphysics of the miraculous are bound together with the ethics of scientific (and theological) inquiry; the logic leads to an understanding of the metaphysics if it is conducted apart from the dictatorial whims of prejudice.

Part II: Plato and the overcoming of scientific prejudice:

        So Plato is of interest in the “Logic of History” paper for two reasons: 1) as a subject of history which will not excite the passions as would a discussion of New Testament miracles; 2) as a corrective to the prejudices of scientists, including scientists of history.

        The prejudices of scientists (and of historians) that Peirce identifies are three: 1) They hold that science should aim at utility, producing practical material or moral results; 2) that laws of nature are eternal fixities such that an inductive, probabilistic inquiry will approximate certain knowledge of them[24]; and 3), following from (2), that miracles are violations of the fixed laws of nature, the unlikelihood of which makes all miracle-testimony negligible.

The first prejudice

        For the later Peirce, Plato answers each of these prejudices.

        First, the notion that science should aim at utility. Peirce's concern is that all science which is done for practical purposes will wind up being blinded by those purposes and so will fail to see what is really there to be seen. Plato, too, may be understood as holding this prejudice, inasmuch as he makes the purpose of all inquiry the improvement of the soul. But, as Peirce writes in “Philosophy and the Conduct of Life”, Plato counterbalances this error with “the opposite [error] of making the whole aim of human life to consist in making the acquaintance of pure ideas”.

        Now these pure ideas have traditionally been understood as Peircean seconds, as eternal fixities that exist in another realm and which are somehow instantiated in ours[25].

The second prejudice

        Which brings us to the second prejudice: that nature is governed by immutable laws. The project of empirical science has met with enough success in formulating rules whereby future reactions may be accurately predicted that the result has been scientific hubris in declaring these laws to be unchanging verities which we know with continually greater certainty. Science has, then, uncritically taken up a sort of nominalistic theory of the Forms.[26] As a remedy for this, Peirce then looks both to contemporary evolutionary theories and to the later Plato[27] whom he finds moving away from the forms as discrete existences and towards an understanding of the forms as real continua. As continua, the forms can function as a basis for scientific knowledge and for predicting future events, while themselves being subject to growth and habit-taking. When the forms cease to be brute seconds and become general thirds, “laws of nature” become (as they were for so much of the history of western thought) the “course of nature”[28]; these general, continuous forms then take on an evolutionary character, and those who seek to acquaint themselves with them recognize that they are engaged in an enterprise that must be marked by humility and fallibilism.[29] Furthermore, this enterprise must be carried out in community, since it will only be over the course of generations that real discoveries will be made.

The Third Prejudice and Miracles

        Now it is plain how Plato helps to answer this third prejudice as well, since it rests upon the second. This prejudice is deeply rooted in both empirical scientific and theological camps. Peirce recounts that by A.D. 1800:

Committee after committee of the most distinguished members of the French Academy of Sciences had reported positively that no stones ever fall from the sky. Scientific prejudice was even more opposed to a belief in that than to the possibility of human flight. Why, the prejudice was so rooted and so diffused that even an English Bishop, though I dare say he was given in the pulpit to thundering against “science falsely so called”, chancing to be in Sienna one day when a whole shower of stones fell, white-hot, I suppose,in a public square in that city, wrote home that he had received the testimony of so many and so competent witnesses of the occurrence that—what? that he was convinced, think you? oh, no, prejudice, especially scientific prejudice, is too strong for that, but that—he “did not know what to think”. You know that, nowadays, it is estimated that ten millions of these stones fall on the earth's surface every twenty-four hours![30]
        Peirce tells this story with obvious amazement. Scientific prejudice has infected all camps, even theological camps, which have tried to make fixities out of religious tenets just as scientists attempt to make fixities out of their doctrines.

        But if, following Plato and Peirce, by “laws of nature” we really mean the evolutionary “course of nature” or a “habit of nature”[31] then we should not be surprised if these real evolutionary thirds arise not only out of brute seconds but out of some primordial possibility, or firstness, that underlies all reality.

        Miracles, then, far from being violations of laws of nature, become new events which must be added into the grand induction of science, and which are to be understood not as violent prodigies, but as eruptions of firstness as actual seconds which are quite in accord with the generality of the course of nature. Along with the theologians, Peirce will allow for miracles to have a revelatory character; along with the the scientists, he will require them to be susceptible to reasoned inquiry. But the prejudices of neither party will be allowed to interpret the miracles as totalizing or irrelevant. Miracles are revelatory inasmuch as they are a part of the unfolding of the course of nature. Every general is in some sense revelatory in this way, since there is always more in our abduction of a general than is immediately given in experience. Miracles then are reasonable inasmuch as there is a logic to them and they are susceptible to explanation, i.e. to being subsumed under some general principle yet to be discovered.

        I hardly need add that this is all the more reasonable if Agape turns out to be “the force that through the green fuse drives the flower.”[32]


        We might ask, at the end of all this, whether Plato is really necessary in order to correct these prejudices, and the simple answer is no. Peirce could, if he wanted, simply assert what he has to say against scientific prejudice in his own voice, and indeed he does just this in numerous places, without needing to play ventriloquist to his dummy Plato. But Peirce's turn to Plato is, I think, much more than a mere appropriation of a great name from the past in order to attribute to it his own ideas. Peirce's intense study of Plato, almost entirely unpublished, attests to his real respect for Plato as a thinker. Furthermore, his turn to Plato, like his constant returns to Duns Scotus and Aristotle, is the lived evidence of his commitment to a real community of inquiry in which ideas are real, and in which, through the loving attendance of disinterested inquirers, the ideas themselves may be seen to grow.

        Peirce finds in Plato a fellow champion of synechism and tychism (although Plato, Peirce admits, was often unaware of how close he was to what Peirce later articulated); an interesting subject for historiography; a distant member in the community of those who long to find things out; a model of a full-bodied ethics of inquiry; and in all of this, a reason to expect the miraculous. If I am right in all this, then our inquiries into Peirce's religious thought ought to pay attention to its Platonic character.

        As we attend to history we must not allow our present prejudices to squelch the voice of other inquirers, even (perhaps especially) when they report prodigies in the course of nature, any more than we ought to commit the other error of embracing too quickly not only the miracle-testimony but the interpretation of the miracle as given by theologians or witnesses who are like the scientists in one important and undesirable way, namely, that the theologians view the miracles as the scientists view the laws of nature: as unquestionable fixities not subject to any future change, challenge, or growth.


[1] I should say at the outset that this paper is more concerned with how Plato helps Peirce think about miracles than with the resultant Peircean view of miracles. For a more detailed account of Peirce's views on miracles I refer the reader to Robert Ayers' aforementioned article “C.S. Peirce on Miracles”, Transactions of the Charles S. Peirce Society. Summer 1980, 16:242-254; Cathy Legg's excellent “Naturalism and Wonder: Peirce on the Logic of Hume's Argument Against Miracles”, Philosophia: The Philosophical Quarterly of Israel, June 2001; 28 (1-4): 297-318; Kenneth R. Merrill's “Hume's 'Of Miracles,' Peirce, and the Balancing of Likelihoods”, Journal of the History of Philosophy. Ja 91; 85-113; Philip Wiener's “The Peirce-Langley Correspondence and Peirce's Manuscript on Hume and the 'Laws of Nature'” Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society. 91(1947): 201-228; and to the MSS to which Wiener's article refers.

[2] Ayers, op.cit.

[3] Ayers was apparently relying on the few bits and pieces available in the Collected Papers as he does not reference any of the unpublished MSS.

[4] Hereafter, “The Logic of History”.

[5] Indicating that here we have Peirce's edited views, which he considered well-formed enough to publish.

[6] MS 692. I note simply that he does not refer to miracles directly in the title of the “Logic of History”, but mentions them immediately in the opening paragraph.

[7] For instance, in Peirce's time, this debate over historical criticism had recently come to a head with regard to the question of the historicity and reliability of Biblical documents. Peirce's concern here anticipates the “de-mythologizing” movement in Biblical criticism in the 20th century.

[8] Lutoslawski, a Polish philosopher and friend of James, sent James a copy of his book immediately following its publication in 1897. When Lutoslawski later wrote to James to ask what he thought of the book, James replied that “a genius of our own who was staying with me shortly after the book arrived fell upon it and devoured it, and so I gave it to him, as he said he wished to write a notice of it for The Nation.” Peirce was visiting James around the time of the book's arrival, and it seems likely that Peirce is the 'genius' to whom James refers. Peirce does not appear to have published this review. See the letter from William James to Lutoslawski, dated 11/4/1898, Cambridge MA

[9] I.e. attempts to date Plato's dialogues by means of a comparative analysis of the frequency of occurrence of certain key words and phrases in each dialogue. For a fuller account of stylometry and its use in dating Platonic documents in the 19th century see Leonard Brandwood's helpful article, “Stylometry and Chronology” in Richard Kraut's The Cambridge Companion to Plato, Cambridge University Press: 1993. pp 90-120.

[10] MS 1604, “My Reading in Philosophy”.

[11] The Essential Peirce, Volume 2 (hereafter EP2), pp164, 180

[12] EP2, p 180. The footnote to this sentence in EP2 identifies the “unpronoundeable master” as Adam Mickiewicz, the Polish National poet, and author of “Pan Tadeusz”. In a late essay entitled “Polish Personalism” (The Personalist, 1952. 33:15-21), Lutoslawski explains with patriotic enthusiasm that Mickiewicz's lectures at the Collège de France in 1840-1845 made individualist personalism the national philosophy of Poland. It is characterized by an opposition to idealism; and by the sole certainty of one's own pre-corporeal and persistent existence. Lutoslawski describes a transformative experience he had some 66 years before, when, as a youth of 22 in the year 1885, he read Diotima's speech in Plato's Symposium. “As soon as I had read the above passage I suddenly became aware with absolute certainty that Diotima and Socrates were wrong [in claiming the reality of Ideas], for absolute beauty is a mere notion of the mind and it is only the individual mind that is a true being, not its ideas or notions. Plato's error confirmed my certainty that I am the only true being I know.” (op. cit. p. 16) He goes on to say that he held this prejudice for the remainder of his career.

[13] It is difficult to tell from the MSS, but while most of the MSS appear to be from this engagement with Lutoslawski, the project of discovering the chronology of the dialogues may have occupied Peirce for some time prior to this. There are also correspondences between the themes of “The Logic of History” and the Lowell Lectures of 1891 and the “History of Science in One Volume” projected In 1898. According to MS 1604, dated September 1894, Peirce had not up to that year read Plato except in translation, so any work involving translation of Plato may safely be placed after 1894. Peirce was understandably disgusted with Lutoslawski's and Zeller's subjective historical reductionism. At the same time, he found one element of their thinking attractive: the Humean attempt to approach historiography scientifically and in terms of mathematics. He latches on to the method of stylometry and puts it to full use in trying to arrive at a chronology for the dialogues. The secondness of the fact of the written words of the dialogues makes them susceptible to mathematization; whereas the ideas themselves are not seconds and therefore not quantifiable; this is the error of the historians of secondness.

[14] Notably, the Lowell Lectures of 1892, where Peirce addresses Zeller at some length in several of the lectures. These have been published in Carolyn Eisele, Ed., Historical Perspectives on Peirce's Logic of Science: A History of Science, vol II. (Berlin; New York; Amsterdam: Mouton, 1985) pp. 139-296. See especially lectures I, II and VI (MSS 1275 and 1278).

[15] But whereas Lutoslawski and Zeller are minor figures and simple “corpuscularians”, Hume is both a more significant figure in the history of philosophy and more admirable to Peirce as a thinker.

[16] In addition to the articles on miracles mentioned in note 1, I refer the reader to William Pencak's “Charles Sanders Peirce, Historian and Semiotician”, Semiotica 83-3/4 (1991), 311-332..

[17] From “The Laws of Nature and Hume's Argument Against Miracles”, June 1, 1901. Cited in Philip P. Wiener, Values in a Universe of Chance, 1958: New York, pp 292-293.

[18] And since characters are not brute events or reactions, they are not susceptible to methods of statistical analysis. Cf. CP 2.777: “An objective probability is the ratio of frequency of a specific to a generic event in the ordinary course of experience. Of a fact per se it is absurd to speak of objective probability. All that is attainable are subjective probabilities, or likelihoods, which express nothing but the conformity of a new suggestion to our prepossessions: and these are the source of most of the errors into which man falls, and of all the worst of them.”

[19] CP 7.162

[20] Two of the rare exceptions to this rule are Max Fisch's very helpful article on “Peirce's Arisbe: the Greek Influence in His Later Philosophy” in K. L. Ketner and C. J. W. Kloesel, eds., Peirce, Semeiotic and Pragmatism: Essays by Max H. Fisch (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1986), pp 227-248; and Joseph Ransdell's article, “Peirce and the Socratic Tradition”, Transactions of the Charles S. Peirce Society, Summer 2000, Vol. XXXVI, No. 3, pp 341-356

[21] Notably in the lecture entitled “The Seven Systems of Metaphysics”.

[22] EP2:40, “Philosophy and the Conduct of Life.”

[23] CP 6.194. Note that Peirce makes the Forms play the dual role of firsts and thirds: they are both 'potential being' and that which has 'become developed'. Cf. CP 6.353 and 6.452, and the corresponding definitions in Baldwin's Dictionary of Philosophy and Psychology, especially Vol 2:50-55 on “Matter and Form”.

[24] It would seem that this contradicts the idea that laws of nature are purely human constructs, which many scientists, Peirce would say, claim to believe, but in fact this claim is only a lack of self-awareness, since all actually hold that laws of nature are real.

[25] This view goes back to Aristotle. Cf. Metaphysics, M, 1078b30 “But whereas Socrates did not regard his universals as separable nor his definitions they (i.e. Plato and his followers) attributed separate existence to them and gave to this class of realities the name of Ideas.”

[26] And they have taken up the forms without considering the problems – like the Parmenides' “third man” argument—that will inevitably follow. (The irony for Peirce, of course, is that these scientists claim that laws of nature are not real all the while seeking after them.)

[27] Of particular interest for Peirce are the Sophist, the Parmenides and the Theaetetus. The sources are too numerous to mention here, but in addition to the sites already mentioned, cf. L463 on the Theaetetus; and CP 6.349 et seqq. as material evidence of the influence of Parmenides. Peirce's engagement with Lutoslawski was very much concerned with the dating of the dialogues precisely in order to be able to situate the various understandings of the forms in their proper chronology; he agrees with Lutoslawski on the dating of the Sophist. See MS 434 p. 33 on the importance of a scientific chronology of the dialogues.

[28] See Peirce's view on this in the Peirce-Langley correspondence on Hume and Laws of Nature.

[29] Since we have not got and cannot expect to have the 'God's-eye view', as Joseph Ransdell calls it (Ransdell, op.cit., p351).

[30] MS 856: “A Logical Criticism of the Articles of Religious Belief”, ca. 1911.

[31] Cf. MS 856.13, e.g.: “Consider what a law must be. I distinguish…between a law and an expression of that law, the former being a habit of nature and the latter a form of human statement” (italics mine).

[32] Dylan Thomas, “The Force that Through the Green Fuse Drives the Flower” From The Poems of Dylan Thomas, published by New Directions. Copyright © 1952, 1953 Dylan Thomas. Copyright © 1937, 1945, 1955, 1962, 1966, 1967 the Trustees for the Copyrights of Dylan Thomas. Copyright © 1938, 1939, 1943, 1946, 1971, 2003 New Directions Publishing Corp.

END OF:  David O'Hara, "Peirce, Plato, and Miracles"


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