Peirce on Metaphysics and Common Sense Belief: A Challenge to Hookway’s Account


In “Metaphysics, Science, and Self-Control” (2000[1989]), Christopher Hookway presents an interpretation of the purpose and methods of Peirce’s metaphysics. On Hookway’s account, Peircean metaphysics proceeds by articulating features of common sense upon which scientific hypothesis generation depends. This grants the metaphysician a critical orientation towards hypotheses from the special sciences which violate common sense. However, Hookway also claims that the role of common sense beliefs diminishes as the sciences move into areas of experience which are radically different from the areas in which human common sense evolved. At this point, the metaphysician is free to appeal to cutting-edge scientific results. This paper sets out Hookway’s account of Peirce’s metaphysics, as developed in “Metaphysics, Science, and Self-Control,” and challenges his claim that the role of the “common” diminishes as the sciences develop. With Hookway, I center my attention on Peirce’s account of metaphysics in 1906’s “The Basis of Pragmaticism in the Normative Sciences.” There Peirce characterizes philosophy as “cenoscopy,” the observational science of the common, and claims that metaphysics completes cenoscopy and “welds” into the special sciences. I argue that that characterization of metaphysics in terms of its relationship with other sciences requires us to account for (i) the difference between metaphysics and its neighbors, (ii) their common nature as “sciences,” and (iii) their interactions with one another. These three demands provide a scaffold for critical engagement with Hookway’s interpretation. I argue that Hookway’s account of the role of common sense in Peirce’s metaphysics leads him to insufficiently account for the difference in methods which Peirce posits between metaphysics and the special sciences and for their appropriate interaction. I argue that a better interpretation of Peirce’s metaphysics, and its interactions with the special sciences, is achieved by emphasizing Peirce’s account of common experience, understood in terms of the experience which would be common to a scientific intelligence, rather than his account of common sense belief. I argue that common sense beliefs are only interesting to the Peircean metaphysician in so far as they provide access to common experience.

Upcoming volume in honour of Christopher Hookway