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A Guess at the Riddle – An Introduction to the Philosophy of C.S.Peirce

Lecturer: Maurita Harney

Originally Taught: Summer School 2015

3-5pm | 2-6 Feb

The philosophy of American pragmatist philosopher, C.S.Peirce (1839-1914), has been a source of intrigue to philosophers of most persuasions.  Although popular and influential in analytical circles, where he is feted mainly for his philosophy of science and mathematics, Peirce’s all-encompassing philosophy of nature and of the human condition means that he also has a great deal to offer continental philosophers. Scholars as diverse as Schelling, Whitehead, Husserl, Merleau-Ponty, Heidegger, Habermas, Spinozistic feminists, and Deleuze have all been linked in some way to the ideas of Peirce.

In this course we aim to introduce you to some key themes in Peirce’s philosophy, including his metaphysics and evolutionary cosmogony, his logic as semiotic (the theory of signs), his views on mind, nature and cognition, his ‘pragmaticism,’ and his philosophy of inquiry. Whilst this course is designed to present Peirce’s philosophy in its own right, the themes and ideas are selected and presented in a way that emphasises their intersection with some key approaches in continental philosophy.

As this is an introductory course, the emphasis will be on ideas and themes in Peirce’s writing rather than a close textual analysis. You will find that his ideas are incredibly fertile, opening up paths of inquiry into a vast range of inter-connected ideas and approaches in the arts and sciences.

(“A Guess at the Riddle” – the reference is to the riddle of the sphinx - is the title of one of Peirce’s works.)

Course Schedule

Lecture 1: Introduction: overview of Peirce’s philosophy and the historical context of his work; shared themes and concerns with continental philosophers; the nature of inquiry; abduction as logical inference and as method of inquiry.

Lecture 2: Peirce’s theory of signs: the irreducibly triadic structure of the sign; modes of association and the taxonomy of signs; epistemological and semantic implications; biosemiotics and naturalism.

Lecture 3: Peirce’s metaphysics – the categories of firstness, secondness, thirdness; evolutionary cosmogony; notions of synechism; tychism

Lecture 4: mind and matter; Peirce’s views on mind, self and consciousness;

Lecture 5: belief, truth, reality; Peirce’s pragmaticism; his place within the philosophical traditions.


Reading and resources:

J. Buchler (ed), 1955, Philosophical Writings of Peirce. N.Y.: Dover.

The Arisbe website:

Bergman, Mats & Paavola, Sami, eds., 2014, The Commens Dictionary:

C.S. Peirce, 1992, The Essential Peirce. Selected Philosophical Writings, vol. 1, 1867-1893, Nathan Houser and Christian Kloesel (eds.) Bloomington IN. Indiana University Press.

C.S. Peirce, 1998, The Essential Peirce. Selected Philosophical Writings, vol. 2, 1893–1913, The Peirce Edition Project (Ed.). Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press.

Christopher J. Hookway, 1985, Peirce. London: Routledge.

Cornelis de Waal, 2013,  Peirce: A Guide for the Perplexed. N.Y.:Bloomsbury.

Thomas L. Short, 2007, Peirce's Theory of Signs. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

Cheryl Misak (ed.) 2004, The Cambridge Companion to Peirce. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

Transactions of the Charles S. Peirce Society