Code: TP-15


Peirceís Early Realism


Traditional Paper submission for the 2004 SAAP Conference



Abstract: It is well known that C. S. Peirce eventually accepted an "extreme scholastic realism" realism about generals and "vagues." It is also well known that Peirceís philosophical system as a whole became more realistic over the course of his life. But it is mysterious whether Peirceís earliest position regarding generals was a form of nominalism, or whether he was a realist about generals from the very beginning. The mystery is deepened by what seem to be contradictory statements by Peirce, some of which suggest that his earliest view of generals was realist, others of which suggest an early nominalism. In this essay I argue for an interpretation that makes sense of those passages and that clarifies Peirceís earliest position on generals.





††††††††††† Charles Peirce described the question of nominalism vs. realism as the question "whether laws and general types are figments of the mind or are real" (1.16, 1903, emphases in original).[1] In this debate, Peirce himself came down squarely on the side of realism. Late in his life, he described himself as "a scholastic realist of a somewhat extreme stripe." (5.470, c.1906) His "extreme scholastic realism" (8.208, c.1905) was the doctrine that there are "real vagues" (5.453, 1905), including real possibilities, and "real generals" (5.503, c.1905), including real natural laws and kinds.[2] However, Peirce was not always an extreme scholastic realist. He became a realist about possibilities only in 1897.[3] For at least several years before that time, he was concurrently an anti-realist about possibility and a realist about generals.[4] His realism about generals stretches back at least as far as 1868, in which he argued that "universals may be as real as singulars" (W2:175) and that "generals must have a real existence." (5.312 and W2:239)[5]

But it is unclear whether Peirce was a realist about generals before 1868. In 1865, Peirce claimed that abstract terms such as "whiteness" denote only "fictions": in the case of such terms, "we pretend that we hold realistic opinions." (W1:287, 1865) That same year, he also wrote that

Qualities are fictions ... redness is nothing, but a fiction framed for the purpose of philosophizing; yet harmless so long as we remember that the scholastic realism it implies is false. (W1:307, 1865, emphasis in original)


If we make the reasonable assumptions that qualities like whiteness and redness are generals and that by "scholastic realism" Peirce meant at theory that at the very least includes the claim that generals are real, then these comments seem to indicate that, in 1865, Peirce was not a realist about generals, and thus that he became a realist about generals at some point between 1865 and 1868.

This seems to be the conclusion reached by Max Fisch. Fisch was concerned to trace "Peirceís Progress from Nominalism toward Realism," both in an essay by that name and in his introduction to volume two of the Chronological Edition of Peirceís writings. He argued that over the course of Peirceís life, his philosophical views became increasingly more realistic, particularly with regard to probability and possibility. And although Fisch did not say explicitly that the early Peirce denied the reality of generals, his emphasis on the passages quoted above leads me to believe that he took the early Peirce to have been an anti-realist, not only about probability and possibility, but also about generals.[6]

††††††††††† But the textual evidence is not as decisive as it appears, as its suggestion of anti-realism runs counter to Peirceís later assessment of his own intellectual development. In 1893, he wrote that "never, during the thirty years in which I have been writing on philosophical questions, have I failed in my allegiance to realistic opinions and to certain Scotistic ideas." (6.605)[7] A reasonable interpretation of this remark is that from at least 1863--two years before he wrote the seemingly nominalistic passages quoted above--Peirce was a realist about generals.

††††††††††† In this essay I want to settle the question whether, prior to 1868, Peirce was in fact an anti-realist about generals. In doing so, I will explain how early comments which so strongly suggest that he denied the reality of generals can be reconciled with his self-assessment quoted above. My explanation of those statements, as well as my account of Peirceís earliest position regarding generals, will hinge on arguments for two claims. The first claim is that Peirce never meant to deny the reality of qualities but meant only to deny that such qualities were entities, things, individuals. The second claim is that at some point between 1865 and 1868, what Peirce meant by the phrase "scholastic realism" changed dramatically. Prior to that year, he used "scholastic realism" to refer to the view, not simply that there are real generals, but that generals (including qualities) are individuals. It is this doctrine that Peirce meant to deny, not just prior to 1868, but until the end of his life. Peirce was, as I will argue, and as he himself claimed, never an anti-realist about generals.


††††††††††† To begin, I should say something about terminology. Astute readers will have noticed that, although I opened with a reference to the debate between realism and nominalism, I soon began referring to anti-realism about generals rather than to nominalism about generals. This is because anti-realism about generals is constituent claim of, but not identical to, nominalism about generals. By "nominalism about generals," I mean the conjunction of the following two claims:

N1 (a.k.a. anti-realism about generals): generals (i.e. universals, including natural kinds, types, laws, etc.) are not real, i.e. they are not independent of what anyone thinks about them.

N2: generality occurs only within thought and signification.

Notice that N1 employs Peirceís own definition of "real," which he used as early as 1871ís Berkeley review. There he distinguished between that which is real (the characteristics of which are independent of what we think about it) and that which is a fiction or figment (the characters of which do depend on what we think about it).[8] This is a definition of "reality" on which both nominalists and realists should agree. But there are at least two ways to elucidate this definition, and on Peirceís view, it is in a disagreement over how best to do so that their difference of opinion between nominalists and realists regarding the reality of generals begins. Nominalists think of the real, i.e. that which is independent of what anyone thinks about it, as including only external (i.e. non-mental) causes of cognition. If this is how one understands reality, and if one also accepts N2, then he or she thereby commits to N1. In other words, the conjunction of N2 with the claim that reality is limited to external causes of cognition implies that generals are not real.

Peirce himself accepted N2, referring to it as "the nominalistic element" of his view of generals: "the nominalistic element of my theory is certainly an admission that nothing out of cognition and signification generally, has any generality" (W2:180, 1868).[9] But by no later than 1868ís "Questions Concerning Reality," a draft of the Journal of Speculative Philosophy series of 1868-69, he had struck on a way of elucidating the concept of reality different than accepted by nominalists. He described the real as "the object of an absolutely true proposition" (W2:175); this anticipated the more sophisticated account of reality in "Consequences of Four Incapacities" as "that which, sooner or later, information and reasoning would finally result in, and which is therefore independent of the vagaries of me and you." (5.311 and W2:239, 1868) The conjunction of N2 and this alternative elucidation of the concept of reality does not imply N1, and this is why, in 1868, Peirce was able to accept N2 without also denying the reality of generals. And it is clear that, by no later than the time he penned the draft quoted above, Peirce denied N1 and held that there are real universals: "...there is nothing to prevent universal propositions from being absolutely true, and therefore universals may be as real as singulars." (W2:175, 1868)

The claim I will defend is that, despite the passages from 1865 that so strongly suggest N1, Peirce did not accept N1 before 1868. Here again, and at greater length, are the relevant passages. The first comes from the eleventh Harvard Lecture:

For every symbol must have denotation that is must imply the existence of some thing to which it is applicable. It may be a mere fiction; we may know it to be a fiction; it may be intended to be a fiction and the very form of the word may hint that intention as in the case of abstract terms such as whiteness, nonentity, and the like. In these cases, we pretend that we hold realistic opinions for the sake of indicating that our propositions are meant to be explicatory or analytic. (W1:287, April-May, 1865)


The second and third passages are from drafts of an unpublished work entitled "An Unpsychological View of Logic..."[10] In one draft, Peirce wrote:

Qualities are fictions; for though it is true that roses are red, yet redness is nothing, but a fiction framed for the purpose of philosophizing; yet harmless so long as we remember that the scholastic realism it implies is false. (W1:307, May-Fall 1865)


Peirce expressed the same views in a subsequent draft:


What are such words as blueness, hardness, loudness, but fictions...? ... To use [such terms] ... is to make use of a fiction, but one which is corrected by a steady avoidance of all realistic inferences. (W1:311-12, May-Fall 1865)


But that something other than an assertion of N1 with regard to qualities is going on in the 1865 passages is suggested by the following claim, made by Peirce in the same paragraph of "An Unpsychological View..." in which he claimed that qualities are fictions: "Without this kind of fiction, not only modern mathematics would be impossible; but philosophy, itself, would be deprived of all its terms." (W1:311, 1865) If Peirce was committing to N1 with regard to qualities, then he was also denying the reality of objects of mathematical and philosophical inquiry. Despite appearances, Peirce was not denying the reality of generals in these passages. A correct understanding shows them to be consistent with his 1893 self-assessment as having always been a realist about generals.

To see what Peirce was really up to, we need to look more closely at the two drafts of "An Unpsychological View..." There Peirce argued that it is legitimate to speak of the logical properties of an argument, e.g. validity, even if that argument was inscribed long ago in a forgotten language and will never be translated and understood by anyone ever again. To call such an argument valid is to say that "if it could be read ... [it] would yield a belief such as would never be contradicted by an experience." (W1:312, 1865)[11] Peirce was explaining the claim that an argument is valid by describing what would happen were someone to interpret that argument, and he claimed that this explanation is no less legitimate because no one will in fact ever interpret it.[12]

††††††††††† Peirce raised the issue of sensory qualities (blueness, hardness, etc.) in order to draw an analogy between such qualities and logical properties. He claimed that it is legitimate to speak of things as having such qualities even if they will never actually be experienced by anyone. An argument that will never be interpreted is, he wrote,

like a flower in a desert. Has this not colour because nobody can see its colour? It is true that to call that a colour which cannot be seen is a sort of fiction; but it is a fiction which is purified from its fictitious element completely as soon as we add that it cannot be seen. ... What are such words as blueness, hardness, loudness, but fictions of this kind? (W1:311, 1865)[13]


So a predication of a sensory quality to a physical object should be understood as a claim about what would happen were someone to come into experiential contact with that object.[14]

††††††††††† Although this helps to illuminate what Peirce was up to in those passages, it doesnít fully explain them. Although he was obviously drawing an analogy between logical properties and sensory qualities, it is far from clear how far the analogy was supposed to go. After all, he did say something about blueness, hardness and loudness that he did not say about logical properties: he called them fictions--and it is reasonable to believe that by this he meant that they were not real, i.e. not independent of what anyone happens to think about them.

††††††††††† At this point, we should not a pair of distinctions Peirce employed in the Harvard lectures of 1865. The first is the distinction between thing and quality.[15] This distinction depends on the second, that between the matter and form of a "phenomenon" (by which Peirce seems to have meant a visual experience).[16] Matter and form are two aspects of a visual experience, and according to Peirce, there is a hypothesis corresponding to each of them. Corresponding to the matter of the experience is the hypothesis that there are things or "external realities", and corresponding to the form of the experience is the hypothesis that there are qualities. "Things," wrote Peirce, "are legitimate hypotheses." But "[q]ualities are fictions; for though it is true that roses are red, yet redness is nothing, but a fiction framed for the purposes of philosophizing." (W1:307, 1865)

To see that this claim does not imply N1 about qualities, we need to recognize that, in 1865, Peirce held the very use of "abstract names" such as "blueness," "hardness" and "loudness" to suggest that there are external realities--things or entities--to which they refer:

It has been said that these "abstract names" denote qualities and connote nothing. But it seems to me the phrase "denoted object" is nothing but a roundabout expression for a thing. What else is a thing but that which a perception or sign stands for? To say that a quality is denoted is to say that it is a thing. (W1:311-312, 1865)


Peirceís concept of thing, entity or external reality is an anticipation of his later concept of the existent or actual. The existent is "that which reacts against other things" (8.191, 1904); it is, in other words, an individual. (3.613, 1901-2) And Peirce would eventually come to think of the individual as coextensive with the non-general (e.g., 1.434, c.1896). The above quotation about "abstract names" indicates that Peirce, in 1865, took words such as "blueness," "hardness" and "loudness" to refer to qualities conceived as individuals, things, external entities. Therefore, when Peirce characterized qualities as fictions, he was rejecting the view that blueness, hardness, and the like, are individuals, "entities which [have] no quality but that expressed by the word." (W1:312, 1865) This is the view that Peirce would eventually dub "nominalistic Platonism"(5.503, c.1905), the claim that universals are (not just real but) existing individuals. The realistic inference against which he cautioned us in 1865 is the inference from the presence of abstract terms in our language to the belief that there exist individual things that those terms denote. When Peirce denied that the terms "whiteness," "hardness," etc. denote anything real, he was denying that whiteness, hardness, etc. are real individual things, real existing entities. And that denial is compatible with a belief in the reality of whiteness, hardness, etc., conceived, not as individuals, but as generals. In particular, it is compatible with the realism about qualities expressed in this passage from 1868ís "Questions Concerning Reality":

...the reader may here inquire whether I believe that there is any reality other than those things which are only in one place at one time. Why, certainly, I should say, there is blackness, if the testimony of our senses is to be credited. But is the blackness of this, identical with the blackness of that? I cannot see how it can help being; the determinations which accompany it are different but the blackness itself is the same, by supposition. If this seems a monstrous doctrine, remember that my nominalism [i.e., N2] saves me from all absurdity. This blackness, upon my principles is purely significative purely cognitive; there is nothing I suppose to prevent signs being applied to different individuals in precisely the same sense. ... if our principles are correct blackness in general, is shown to be real, by the testimony of the senses, and its cognitive or significative character does not stand in the way of this, at all. (W2:181)


What changed between 1865 and 1868 was his willingness to use abstract terms like "blackness" to refer to qualities conceived as generals rather than individuals. The ontological commitments Peirce made in this passage are compatible with his 1865 claims.

††††††††††† So in the 1865 passages in which he characterizes qualities as fictions, Peirce was denying the reality only of qualities-conceived-as-individuals. This is a position he would never give up, because he would never adopt the position that qualities are individuals, existents or entities. So the 1865 passages in which Peirce claimed that qualities are fictions do not indicate that the early Peirce accepted N1.


But what about Peirceís 1865 suggestion that "scholastic realism" is false? I think the correct explanation of that claim is not that Peirce meant, in 1865, to deny the reality of generals, even qualities. Rather, I think a more accurate explanation is suggested by what we know of Peirceís philosophical studies between the years 1865 and 1868. John Boler estimates that Peirceís first serious studies of the works of Duns Scotus occurred "around 1867-68,"[17] and according to Max Fish, in the spring of 1867, Peirce

acquired early editions of Duns Scotus. On January 1 1868 he compiled a "Catalogue of Books on Mediaeval Logic which are available in Cambridge"--more of them in his own library than at Harvardís or anywhere else.[18]


So the evidence suggests that Peirce spent significant time studying medieval philosophy between his prima facie anti-realistic writings of 1865 and his explicitly realist statements of 1868. Those studies had an important and lasting influence on the development of Peirceís metaphysics. But it would be a mistake to conclude from this that his studies caused him to change his mind about N1. Rather, those studies caused him to change his mind about what the medieval realists themselves had believed.

In 1865ís "An Unpsychological View of Logic...", Peirce wrote:

To say that a quality is denoted is to say that it is a thing. And this gives a hint of the veritable nature of such terms [as "blueness," "hardness," and "loudness"]. They were framed at a time when all men were realists in the scholastic sense and consequently things were meant by them, entities which had no quality but that expressed by the word. (W1:312, 1865, emphasis added)


This indicates that in 1865, Peirce held realism "in the scholastic sense" to be the view that qualities are things, entities that have the quality denoted by the word that refers to them. In other words, Peirce seems at this time to have taken scholastic realism to be the view that qualities are real individuals. At this early stage, by "scholastic realism" and "realism in the scholastic sense" he meant the view he would later call nominalistic Platonism. This shows how his claim that "scholastic realism ... is false" (W1:307, 1865) does not imply N1--since his rejection of "scholastic realism" amounts to nothing but the denial that qualities are individual things.

††††††††††† But by 1868, Peirceís understanding of, and attitude towards, the realism of the scholastics had changed in an important way:

... since no cognition of ours is absolutely determinate, generals must have a real existence. Now this scholastic realism is usually set down as a belief in metaphysical fictions. [Just as Peirce himself had done in 1865!] But, in fact, a realist is simply one who knows no more recondite reality than that which is represented in a true representation. Since, therefore, the word "man" is true of something, that which "man" means is real. (5.312 and W2:239, 1868)


And there is further textual evidence of this change, albeit evidence that is more oblique than the passage just quoted. If my explanation of the 1865 passages is correct, then the following passage, from 1909, should be read as criticisms by Peirce of his own earlier misunderstanding:

It must not be imagined that any notable realist of the thirteenth or fourteenth century took the ground that any "universal" was what we in English should call a "thing," as it seems that, in an earlier age, some realists and some nominalists, too, had done; though perhaps it is not quite certain that they did so, their writings being lost. (1.27n.1, 1909)[19]



††††††††††† So Peirce began as a realist about qualities-conceived-as-generals, and his position then became, not more realist, but simply more fine-grained. At no point did Peirce embrace N1 and deny that there are real generals. To be sure, the early Peirce held anti-realist positions on probability and possibility. It would be decades before his initial realism broadened to become an "extreme scholastic realism" and before he revised his pragmatic maxim so that it would take account of the reality of "would-bes."† But Peirceís "progress from nominalism to realism" did not begin with anti-realism about generals. In his earliest statements relevant to the nominalism/realism debate, there is an "element" of nominalism--viz. N2, the view that the general is to be found only in cognition and signification--but no denial of the reality of generality.
















Fisch, M. 1967. "Peirceís Progress from Nominalism toward Realism," Monist 51, 159-78; reprinted in 1986, 184-200; page references are to the reprint.


†† ___. 1984. "Introduction," in Peirce, C. S., 1982- , v.2, pp.xxi-xlviii.


†† ___. 1986. Peirce, Semeiotic and Pragmatism: Essays by Max H. Fisch, Ketner, K., and Kloesel, C., eds., Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press.


Haack, S. 1992. "Extreme Scholastic Realism: Its Relevance for Philosophy of Science Today," Transactions of the Charles S. Peirce Society 28, 18-50.


Houser, N. 2000. "Introduction," in Peirce, C. S., 1982- , v.6, pp.xxv-lxxxiv.


Ketner, K., Ransdell, J., Eisele, C., Fisch, M., and Hardwick, C., eds. 1981. Proceedings of the C. S. Peirce Bicentennial International Congress. Graduate Studies Texas Tech University, no. 23, Lubbock, TX: Texas Tech Press.


Michael, F. 1988. "Two Forms of Scholastic Realism in Peirceís Philosophy," Transactions of the Charles S. Peirce Society 24, 317-348.


Morgan, C. 1979. "Modality, Analogy, and Ideal Experiments According to C. S. Peirce," Synthese 41, 65-83.


†† ___.† 1981. "Peirce-Semantics for Modal Logics," in Ketner et al, 207-215.


Peirce, C. S. 1931-58. Collected Papers, Hartshorne, C., Weiss, P. and Burks, A., eds., 8 vv., Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press (references by volume and paragraph number).


†† ___. 1966.† The Charles S. Peirce Papers, microfilm edition, Cambridge: Harvard University Library, Photographic Service.† References to this microfilm set of Peirceís papers held in Houghton Library, Harvard, use the numbering system for manuscripts developed by Robin (1967, 1971) (references by manuscript and page number).


†† ___. 1976. The New Elements of Mathematics, ed. Eisele, C., 4 vv. in 5, Atlantic Highlands, NJ: Humanities Press, 1976 (references to "NEM" by volume and page number).


†† ___.† 1982- . Writings of Charles Sanders Peirce: a Chronological Edition, Fisch, M., Moore, E., and Kloesel, C., et al, eds., 6 vv., Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press (references to "W" by volume and page number).


Roberts, D. 1970. "On Peirceís Realism," Transactions of the Charles S. Peirce Society 6, 67-83.


Robin, R. 1967. Annotated Catalogue of the Papers of Charles S. Peirce, Amherst, MA: University of Massachusetts Press.


†† ___. 1971. "The Peirce Papers: A Supplementary Catalogue," Transactions of the Charles S. Peirce Society 7, 37-57.


Short, T. 1996. "Review Essay," Synthese 106, 409-30.





[1] References in this decimal notation are to Peirceís Collected Papers (1931-1958) by volume and paragraph number.


[2] Cf. MS 290:17, 1905, and MS 339, 1908. References to "MS" are to the microfilm edition of The Charles S. Peirce Papers (1966), by MS and page number.


[3] In 1897, motivated by problems in set theory, Peirce began to move towards a full-blown realism about modality (3.527f.).


[4] The connection between generals and modality (including possibility) is a potential source of confusion in any discussion of Peirceís realism. This is because, early on, Peirce took the question whether there are real generals to be independent of the question whether possibility is real; but late in his life he came to think of the two questions, not just as related, but as identical. For the most part, I will be setting aside the issue of modality in this essay.


[5] References to "W" are to the Writings of Charles S. Peirce: A Chronological Edition (1982-) by volume and page number.


[6] Fisch writes: "Where is the evidence in volume 1 of [the Chronological Edition] that [Peirce] was a professing nominalist during the period of that volume? In what he says about the falsity of scholastic realism on pages 307 and 312 and in other relevant passages on pages 287, 306, and 360." (1984, p.xxvi) This is as close as Fisch comes in either this 1984 piece or in his 1967 article "Peirceís Progress..." to claiming that the early Peirce denied the reality, not just of probability and possibility, but of generality as well.

Don Roberts, in a 1970 article in which he argues against some of the points Fisch made in "Peirceís Progress...", says that Fisch does not "class [Peirce] with those who deny the real existence of anything general." (76) But my impression is that this is in fact what Fisch had in mind; Susan Haack (1992, p.44 n.4) seems to agree with me on this. Michael (1988) and Short (1996) are, like Roberts, critical of Fischís account of Peirceís progress from nominalism to realism. On the disagreements among Fisch, Roberts, Michael, and Short, see Houser 2000, pp.lxxxi-lxxxii. For my own comments on Michaelís views, see note 9.


[7] He echoed this sentiment ten years later, in his Lowell Lectures of 1903:


In a long notice of Frazerís [sic] Berkeley, in the North American Review for October, 1871, I declared for realism. I have since very carefully and thoroughly revised my philosophical opinions more than half a dozen times, and have modified them more or less on most topics; but I have never been able to think differently on that question of nominalism and realism. (1.20, 1903)


Peirce might be understood to mean that since his review of Fraserís Berkeley, he had not been able to think differently about this question, whereas at some time before 1871 he had accepted nominalism.† Or he might be understood to be saying something stronger, that since the beginning of his philosophical career (around 1863, exactly thirty years prior to the first quotation, the year of his first philosophical publication, an "oration delivered at the Reunion of the Cambridge High School Association" and published in the Cambridge Chronicle in November 1863), he had been unable to think differently on the matter. I believe the latter interpretation to be accurate.



Objects are divided into figments, dreams, etc., on the one hand, and realities on the other. The former are those which exist only inasmuch as you or I or some man imagines them; the latter are those which have an existence independent of your mind or mine or that of any number of persons. The real is that which is not whatever we happen to think it, but is unaffected by what we may think of it. (8.12 and W2:467, 1871)


This definition of real appeared later, in 1878ís "How to Make Our Ideas Clear," as the merely verbal definition of "real", the result of making the concept of reality clear to the second degree of clearness. (5.408 and W3:271, 1878)


[9] Michael (1988) argues that Peirce abandoned N2 and adopted the view that generals occur outside of cognition and signification at some point shortly after 1883. Whether he is right about this is a question that is outside the scope of this essay, but some of his claims about the early stages in Peirceís thinking about generals are worth noting here. On Michaelís view, Peirce actually remained a "nominalist" after 1868 and did not begin converting to his eventual, strong form of scholastic realism until after 1883. But this is not as shocking as at first it may seem. By "nominalism," Michael does not mean the conjunction of N1 and N2, or even N1 alone. Rather, he means simply N2, the view that "there is no generality outside of language and thought." As potentially confusing as this might be, Michaelís use of "nominalism" as a label for N2 rather than for N1, or for the conjunction of N1 and N2, probably stems from Peirceís own use of the term. Peirce referred to N2 as† the "nominalistic element" of his position ("Questions Concerning Reality," W2:180, 1868) and then shortly thereafter admonished his readers to remember "my nominalism" (W2:181, emphases added), clearly meaning N2 alone, not the conjunction of N1 and N2, or N1 alone. Michaelís account of the evolution of Peirceís realism is weakened by his failure clearly to distinguish N1 from N2 when he quotes passages from 1865ís "An Unpsychological View of Logic..." which strongly suggest that at that time Peirce accepted N1 and comments simply that "Peirce here denies the reality of universals and so seems plainly committed to some form of nominalism." He then proceeds to explain Peirceís early nominalism as consisting of N2 rather than N1, without ever acknowledging this shift. Part of my own work in the present essay is to explain those 1865 passages so as to dispel the appearance that in them Peirce is committing himself to N1.


[10] The full title is: "An Unpsychological View of Logic to which are appended some applications of the theory to Psychology and other subjects."


[11] The entire sentence is as follows:


By a logically valid argument which no one can read, is meant one which, if it could be read and if it has any ultimate premisses whatever which given in experience or analyzable out of experience, would yield a belief such as would never be contradicted by any experience. (W1:312, 1865)


Although Iím unsure of the significance of the second "if" clause, I am nonetheless confident in my interpretation of this passage.


[12] Notice the anticipation of his pragmatic definition of truth: "...... [it] would yield a belief such as would never be contradicted by an experience."


[13] Peirce drew the same analogy in the other draft of "An Unpsychological View...":

Suppose that in an undecipherable inscription of a long-extinct people an argument is written. Is that any the less logically correct or fallacious because no one can read it and so no one can think it? I believe the reader will agree that it is not. It seems to me to be in exactly the same condition as a flower in the desert. This is said to have colour, though colour is nothing but in the eye; and no one can see this flower. This colour is nothing actual--nothing physically possible--but it is a fiction from which all the fictitious element has been eliminated by a device of language. (W1:306, 1865)


[14] A complete discussion of this point would take account of the distinction between conditionals in the indicative mood and those in the subjunctive mood. Although Peirce himself used the subjunctive mood in his statements about the never-again-to-be-read argument, itís not clear in these early writings that he is aware of the modal realism toward which one might be pulled by the use of subjunctive conditionals. His 1865 statements about arguments-never-to-be-interpreted and colors-never-to-be-seen clearly anticipate that later, more realistic version of pragmatic maxim, which gives the meaning of intellectual concepts in terms of conditionals in the subjunctive mood rather than in the indicative mood. Does this mean that Peirce was also a realist about modality as early as 1865? Far from it: earlier in this same draft of "An Unpsychological View...", Peirce wrote that "...possibility is itself a fiction," and this does indicate a nominalistic position, for Peirce goes on to say that possibility "is the mode in which that is which is only more or less expected." (W1:312) This is an early appearance of Peirceís "information-relative" view of modality (Morgan, 1979 and 1981) according to which that is possible which is compatible with what is believed in some state of information or other. By 1878ís "How to Make Our Ideas Clear," in his discussion of the diamond to which pressure will never be applied, he had still not yet embraced modal realism, and he maintained that it made no difference whether we say that the diamond to which pressure will never be applied is hard or not. After 1897ís initial move toward a more realist view of modality, he eventually revised his original statement of the pragmatic maxim to make it explicit that the maxim analyzes concepts in terms of subjunctive, rather than indicative, conditionals (e.g., 5.453-7, 1905).


[15] These concepts actually belong to Peirceís triadic division of quality, thing and representation in general, which is an early anticipation of Peirceís eventual concepts of Firstness, Secondness and Thirdness. But for my present purposes, itís the distinction between quality and thing that is most relevant.


[16] I base this interpretation on Peirceís statement that every phenomenon involves, besides its matter and its form, a third aspect: an image. (W1:307, 1865)


[17] 1963, p.152. Boler bases this on the following passage:


Before I came to manís estate, being greatly impressed with Kantís Critic of the Pure Reason, my father, who was an eminent mathematician, pointed out to me lacunś in Kantís reasoning which I should probably not otherwise have discovered. From Kant, I was led to an admiring study of Locke, Berkeley, and Hume, and to that of Aristotleís Organon, Metaphysics, and psychological treatises, and somewhat later derived the greatest advantage from a deeply pondering perusal of some of the works of medieval thinkers, St. Augustine, Abelard, and John of Salisbury, with related fragments from St. Thomas Aquinas, most especially from John of Duns, the Scot (Duns being the name of a then not unimportant place in East Lothian), and from William of Ockham. So far as a modern man of science can share the ideas of those medieval theologians, I ultimately came to approve the opinions of Duns, although I think he inclines too much toward nominalism. (1.560, c.1905)


[18] 1984, p.xxiv.


[19] This echoes what Peirce wrote a few years earlier, in about 1905, about the tendency of "individualists," those who believe that reality consists solely of individuals, to project their view onto others:

Individualists are apt to fall into the almost incredible misunderstanding that all other men are individualists, too -- even the scholastic realists, who, they suppose, thought that "universals exist." ... They certainly did not so opine, but regarded generals as modes of determination of individuals; and such modes were recognized as being of the nature of thought. (5.503, c.1905, emphasis in original )


That is, the realists of the scholastic period rejected N1; they were realists about generals and thus not individualists.

Peirce makes a similar criticism of individualistic misinterpretations of scholastic realism in his Baldwinís Dictionary entry for "Matter and Form":


In reviewing the arguments at the present day, when the position of the mechanical philosophers is becoming almost as obsolete as that of the scholastic doctors, we first note that when the new men denied that the substantial forms were "entities," what they really had in mind was that those forms had not such a mode of being as would confer upon them the power dynamical to react upon things. The Scotists ... had in fact never called the substantial forms "entities," a word sounding like a Scotistic term, but in fact the mere caricature of such a term. But had they used the word, nothing more innocent than the only meaning it could bear for them could be imagined. To call a form an "entity" could hardly mean more than to call it an abstraction. If the distinction of matter and form could have any value at all, it was the substantial forms that were, properly speaking, forms. If the Scotists could really specify any natural class, say man--and physics was at that time in no condition to raise any just doubt upon that score--then they were perfectly justified in giving a name to the intelligible characteristic of that class, and that was all the substantial form made any pretension to being. ... All through the eighteenth century and a large part of the nineteenth, exclamations against the monstrousness of the scholastic dogma that substantial forms were entities continued to be part of the stock-in-trade of metaphysicians, and it accorded with the prevalent nominalism. But nowadays, when it is clearly seen that physical science gives its assent much more to scholastic realism (limited closely to its formal statement) than it does to nominalism, a view of the history more like that here put forward is beginning to prevail. (6.361, 1902)


Peirceís earliest comments about individualism are intertwined with some of the claims that might mislead readers into thinking that he was indeed an anti-realist about generals. In 1868, again in "Questions Concerning Reality," he described his position on generals as nominalistic, but nominalistic only in that "it bases universals upon signs" (W2:175, 1868): "the nominalistic element of my theory is certainly an admission that nothing out of cognition and signification generally, has any generality..." (W2:180, 1868). But "while it is nominalistic," he wrote, his position


is yet quite opposed to that individualism which is often supposed to be coextensive with nominalism. For there is nothing to prevent universal propositions from being absolutely true, and therefore universals may be as real as singulars. (W2:175, 1868)


He would later describe "individualism" as a form of nominalism, that form "which endeavors to express the universe in terms of Matter alone" (MS4 and NEM 4:295, c.1903) and the essence of which is that "reality and existence are coextensive." (5.503, c.1905) Reference to "NEM" is to New Elements of Mathematics (1976), by volume and page number.

Peirceís position may well be understood as less realistic, and thus more nominalistic, than, say, Platonic realism, according to which the Forms are entirely independent of cognition. Nonetheless, Peirceís view in 1868 was obviously not an anti-realism about generals.