«1 12/15/2014 This is the manuscript for the chapter “ The Riddle of the Sphinx Answered: On how C. S. Peirce’s Transdisciplinary Semiotic ...»
This is the manuscript for the chapter “ The Riddle of the Sphinx Answered: On how C. S. Peirce’s Transdisciplinary
Semiotic Philosophy of Knowing Links Science, Spirituality and Knowing, chapter two in Tandy, C (ed.)(2014).
Death and Anti-Death, Volume 12: One Hundred Years After Charles S. Peirce (1839-1914), Ann Arbor MI: Ria
The riddle of the Sphinx answered: On how C. S. Peirce’s
transdisciplinary semiotic philosophy of knowing links science and spirituality1 Søren Brier Introduction2 Husserl wrote in The Crisis of European Sciences and Transcendental Phenomenology (1970) that the beginning of Galilean science – where models are related to a mathematical ideal world – changed the role of philosophy as the queen of all sciences fundamentally. Positivism and analytical philosophy later tried to get rid of all traditional metaphysical thinking of the meaning of human life and its place in the Cosmos. Science made its own – from a human subjects’ point of view – unembodied meaningless mathematical metaphysics, not at least through the mathematizing of modern logic. Cognitive science later attempted to produce a transdisciplinary science based on the objective definition of information.3 Though a contributor to the development of modern logic and science, C.S. Peirce, through inventing a semiotics that embraced phenomenology, tried to heal the split Husserl saw. Philosophy aims primarily at the kind of knowledge that gives unity and system to the whole body of human, social and natural basic sciences through a critical examination of the grounds of our convictions, prejudices, and beliefs. Where Husserl wanted to heal the split he observed through his pure phenomenology, Peirce integrated his semiotics with a pure mathematical analysis of phenomenology and the coining of three new basic categories (Esposito, 1980), and
I have chosen the transcultural and trans-religious concept of spirituality, because Peirce did not deal with organized religion and its effects on law and power as such. He was interested in the existential aspect of knowledge and meaning as well as the possible ontologies of his semiotic process philosophy of science.
I am also using the classical Peirce scholar reference system, where CP refers to Peirce, C.S. (1994 [1866and 1931-35]): The Collected Papers of Charles Sanders Peirce. SS refers to Peirce, C.S. 1977. Semiotics and Significs. Ed Charles Hardwick. Bloomington IN.: Indiana University Press. EP: Peirce, C.S. 1998. The
Essential Peirce. Volume 1 and 2. Eds. Peirce edition Project. Bloomington IN.: Indiana University Press. W:
Peirce, C.S. (1982-). The Writings of Charles S. Peirce: A Chronological Edition Volumes 1–6, take the form W n. m. where n and m indicate volume and page number respectively. As this book is not primarily aimed for Peirce specialists, I bring a substantial amount of original quotes as the basis of my arguments.
Recently there has been attempts to naturalize Husserlian phenomenology (Petitot et. al. 1999) into a cognitive science framework – in my view – with no luck, as it violates the Husserlian foundation in order to do so, and then misses the point.
considered logic to be the study of the essential nature of signs. Science is driven by the ethics of finding the truth and as such, in the end, it is a religious search, since Pierce has integrated phenomenology with ethics and aesthetics in his theory of science. This sets him squarely apart from logical positivism. Peirce’s philosophical work is famous for the transdisciplinary semiotic framework its philosophical basis makes possible (Brier 2012). It is a bit more controversial that this foundation also suggests a new understanding of science and religion and the relation between them, which transcends the usual way we separate these matters in the West since the Romantics (Sharma 2009). In 1893, Peirce wrote a paper with the title “The Marriage of Religion and Science” where he suggested that a true religion of love like Christianity would also love truth, and therefore pursue it through science, and therefore undergo a necessary dynamic development in a process of integration of new knowledge.
Peirce wanted to solve the riddle, expressed in Emerson’s4 poem The Sphinx (“Who taught thee me to name? I am thy Spirit, yoke-fellow. Of thine eye I am the eyebeam. Though art the unanswered question”5), of what the place and nature of man’s role is in the universe and of how his knowing is possible at all and what its role is in the development of the Cosmos.
Peirce attempts a new way of answering Kant’s basic question in the Critique of Pure Reason: “What can we know?” and “What may we hope?”. Peirce saw as his primary task to develop a comprehensive metaphysical and epistemological system in which a new theory of categories, developed after Kant and Hegel, was defined in a completely new way (Esposito 1980). His triadic category theory was connected to a dynamic triadic web of semiotics viewed as the dynamics of objective mind (Raposa 1989, p. 146).
Deely (2001) writes that Peirce is not only a modern in his critique of Kant’s philosophy and in his development of it, but that Peirce may also be the first true postmodern scholar and philosopher through his dynamic web theory of triadic dynamic sign relations not based on transcendental egos. This is because Peirce’s pragmaticist semiotics attempts to bridge the gap between natural sciences and humanities by combining a phenomenological approach with an evolutionary and realistic understanding of nature and society in the
development of a new transdisicplinary and evolutionary theory of meaning and logic. About logic Peirce wrote:
Ralph Waldo Emerson was the most influential of those radical thinkers and writers of the New England Transcendentalists (1830s-1850s) in Concordia. His book Nature (1836) was a systematic exposition of transcendental philosophy where he argued for a direct relationship with God and nature derived from his concept of the Over-Soul. Some early Unitarians had turned away from unforgiving Calvinism and started to preach a more humanistic and socially conscious form of religion. These liberal Unitarians around Harvard between 1805 and 1861 (start of civil war) represented a special form of Christian Enlightenment (Howe 1970 Introduction). This movement paved the way for the Transcendentalists’ view of God. The Transcendentalists, among other, read Fichte, Schleiermacher, Hegel, Schelling, Goethe, and Coleridge, Carlyle, Wordsworth, and the Swedish mystic Emanuel Swedenborg; as well as the sacred texts of the Vishnu Purana, the Upanishads, and the Bhagavad-Gita. But there was a spilt between the empiricist and intuitionist view of knowledge among them.
It is my view that Peirce through his pragmaticist semiotics suggested a way to unite these two hostile epistemologies.
Line 9-12). http://poetry.eserver.org/Emerson%28Sphinx%29.html. See Nöth (2014) for a good discussion of the significance of this poem.
As such Peirce viewed logic as a normative science on par with ethic and aesthetics, with only phenomenology and mathematics as more foundational when it came to building a metaphysical framework to solve man’s cognitive and communicatory riddle.
Also the philosopher Ferdinand Schiller dealt whit this enigma in the book Riddle of the Sphinx (1891)6 in Peirce’s lifetime. The problem is how to describe man within a scientific cosmogony and as an existential creature, at the same time. One of Peirce’s most famous articles is titled: A Guess at the Riddle. Here is a quote from Peirce of his attempt to make such a new vision through his new basic philosophical categories (elements) after Kant and combine that with an alternative scientific cosmogony to the mechanistic view of Galilean and
Newtonian physics, namely that of creation from chaos:
… three elements are active in the world: first, chance; second, law; and third, habit-taking.
Peirce was nursed in logic and mathematics by his father Benjamin Peirce, who was a famous mathematical and cosmological researcher. Peirce himself was educated as a chemist and worked as an empirical and experimental physicist for a long period of his life. He was a well-read philosopher and influenced by Unitarianism’s aim of using science as well as theology in a harmonic way in the search for a natural moral. It is important to understand that Peirce’s conception of God, which he holds in common with his father Benjamin and brother, James, as well as numerous other nineteenth century "Liberal Unitarians" is different from most other Christian movements. The early Unitarianism from Salem and Boston of the 18th and 19th century involved an attempt to reconceive the notion of "God" as compatible with enlightenment through science (Howe 1970). Thus, a worldview with harmony between ethics, logic, evolution, and spirituality emerged before C.S.
Peirce was born.
Ferdinand Canning Scott Schiller (1864-1937), German-British philosopher, had a philosophy rather similar to the pragmatism of William James. The Peirce family represents a century of intellectual excellence and enlightenment at Harvard (Howe 1970). C. S. Peirce was representative of a period of American Enlightenment that was later oppressed by religious conservatism and is sadly mostly forgotten now. The Peirce family was also acquainted with transcendentalists like Emerson, who was considered a liberal Unitarian7 and who furthermore was influenced by the Perennial philosophical view of a common mystical ground of all religions, including Buddhism and Vedic teachings8. They were all interested in Indian philosophy. There are several books on this (Christy 1932, Jackson 1981, Lavan 1984). Thus the Peirce family does not distinguish between the principal goal of theology and science. “To believe in a god at all, is not that to believe that man’s reason is allied to the originating principle of the universe?” (CP 2.24) wrote Peirce. This idea of an inner connection is an important way of explaining how it is possible that man can know anything about the world or Kant’s “Ding an sich”. On this
basis Peirce tried to solve the riddle by founding a new epistemology and philosophy of science:
It was in the desperate endeavor to make a beginning of penetrating into that riddle that on May 14, 1867, after three years of almost insanely concentrated thought, hardly interrupted even by sleep, I produced my one contribution to philosophy in the “New List of Categories” in the Proceedings of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, Vol. VII, pp. 287-298. Much as I would like to see Hegel’s list of categories reformed, I hold that a classification of the elements of thought and consciousness according to their formal
In the famous article “A neglected argument for God” Peirce writes in the spirit of such naturalized phenomenological and pragmatic view of the sacred. “If God Really be, and be benign, then, in view of the generally conceded truth that religion, were it but proved, would be a good outweighing all others, we should naturally expect that there would be some Argument for His Reality that should be obvious to all minds, high and low alike, that should earnestly strive to find the truth of the matter; and further, that this Argument should present its conclusion, not as a proposition of metaphysical theology, but in a form directly applicable to the conduct of life, and full of nutrition for man's highest growth.” (CP 6.457). It is important in this connection to note that he Unitarians emphasized the use of logic and reason to understand scripture.
As an example of his knowledge and inspiration from the Transcendentalists Peirce wrote the following: “A Brahmanical hymn begins as follows: “I am that pure and infinite Self, who am bliss, eternal, manifest, allpervading, and who am the substrate of all that owns name and form.” This expresses more than humiliation, – the utter swallowing up of the poor individual self in the Spirit of prayer. All communication from mind to mind is through continuity of being. A man is capable of having assigned to him a role in the drama of creation, and so far as he loses himself in that role, – no matter how humble it may be, – so far he identifies himself with its Author.” (CP 7.572). See also Bishop 1981 on Peirce and Buddhism and Lavan 1977 on the Unitarians’ relation to Vedic thinking, especially Advaita Vedanta as missionaries in India.
On this extraordinary interdisciplinary background including phenomenology he created not only a transdisciplinary process-philosophy framework for a new scientific cosmogony, but also an existential philosophy drawing on a trans-religious view of the relation between the development of man, science, the meaning of life and the cosmos. Here he was influenced by the new development of symbolic logic (Lewis 1918/60) and the nature philosophy of Schelling (Ejsing 2007, Bisanz, 2009, Brent, 1998, Niemoczynski, 2011).
Peirce’s semiotic process-philosophy of knowledge explicitly and interestingly goes beyond material deterministic mechanicism as well as pure chance indeterminism and Cartesian dualism. Thus it needs an alternative metaphysical foundation for the development of knowledge and understanding through science. This was possible for Peirce because he created his pragmaticist10 semiotic and transdisciplinary framework of cognition,
communication and knowledge development through the launching of three new philosophical categories. He wrote: