Peirce on Metaphysics and Common Sense Belief

A précis of my contribution to Pragmatic Reason.

Joshua Wilson Black


June 28, 2022

A volume in honour of Christopher Hookway is currently in the works edited by Robert Talisse, Paniel Reyes Cárdenas, and Daniel Herbert. I’ve contributed a piece on Chris’s account of Peirce’s metaphysics, especially as it appeals to ‘common sense’.

On Chris’s view, metaphysics articulates those features of common sense or instinct which are appealed to (often implicitly) in the generation of scientific hypotheses. Importantly, Chris takes it that the role of common sense diminishes as sciences develop. We might, then, expect the need for metaphysics to reduce over time (perhaps being replaced by… physics).

Chris and former students at The Idea of Pragmatism, a conference in his honour (I’m second from right).

I argue that Chris’s emphasis on Peirce’s appeals to common sense belief hides Peirce’s more fundamental appeal to common experience. I emphasise Peirce’s notion of the ‘scientific intelligence’, or anything which can learn from experience (CP2.229, c. 1897). By abstraction, we make fallible claims about features of experience common to any scientific intelligence. This is the source of the strong modal claims which Peirce makes in his logic and metaphysics. I argue that common sense beliefs are only interesting for Peirce insofar as they give us access to common experience.

Download a pre-print of the paper here.