Peirce's Conception of Metaphysics


This thesis develops and defends a Peircean conception of the task of metaphysics and critically compares it with recent anti-metaphysical forms of pragmatism. Peirce characterises metaphysics in terms of its place within his hierarchical classification of the sciences. According to the classification, metaphysics depends on logic for principles and provides principles to the natural and social sciences. This arrangement of the sciences is defended by appeal to Peirce’s account of philosophy as ‘cenoscopy’. The dependence of the natural and social sciences on cenoscopy is then argued for on the basis of Peirce’s rejection of psychologism and in terms of the necessity of abductive inference. Peirce’s position is then compared with recent forms of pragmatism. While it is less naturalistic, Peirce’s position is defended on pragmatist grounds. An account of Peirce on truth is then developed. Peirce’s account of truth in terms of an ideal limit of inquiry is defended as consistent with recent, more deflationary, approaches. The truth of ‘abstract propositions’ is a matter of local indefeasibility. These abstract propositions are related to the ‘absolute truth’, understood as a single non-abstract proposition. The truth of this proposition is then understood in terms of an identity theory. Two conceptions of Peircean metaphysics are presented. Both are ‘abductive’. Their task is to explain the possibility of success in inquiry. However, only one proposal accepts the notion of an absolute truth. The ‘absolutist’ proposal is defended as an interpretation of Peirce and as a contemporary option for pragmatist philosophers. The thesis concludes by comparing recent anti-metaphysical arguments due to Huw Price with the Peircean position. Room for the absolutist proposal is defended by means of an account of recent exchanges between Price and Robert Brandom on dispositional modality.