“The Architecture of Theories”[1] [1891]


     Copyright © 2014 Bruce W. Hauptli


In this article Peirce clarified the outlines of his overall metaphysical system—one which he would claim grows organically out of the theory of inquiry which he has advanced.  As Arthur Burks notes in a footnote on pp. 87-88, this article was one of five published in the first three volumes of The Moist and


according to Peirce there are three factors involved in the process of cosmic evolution: Chance, Logic, and Love.  Consequently, his metaphysics of cosmic evolution involves three doctrines: Tychism—the doctrine that there is objective chance; Synechism—the logical principle of continuity governing development; and Agapism—the philosophy of evolutionary love.  The whole theory is outlined in [this article]; [and] tychism is developed…”[2] in “The Doctrine of Necessity Examined,” which we will turn to next.


The other pragmatists we will study do not adopt his overall metaphysical system.  Moreover, as we read through this article, I will be wondering how the overview he offers fits with traditional Christianity—it does not seem immediately obvious how his agapism relates to Christianity.  As I have noted, Cornel West maintains that:


Peirce’s double consciousness of experimental inquiry and common human sentiments and his dual allegiance to scientific method and Christian faith serve as the soil upon which the seeds of American pragmatism sprout.  Peirce found himself split between the two cultures of science and religion throughout his life....The historic emergence of American pragmatism principally results from Peirce’s profound evasion of “the spirit of Cartesianism” owing to his obsession with the procedures of the scientific community, his loyalty to a Christian doctrine of love, and the lure of community in the midst of anomic Gesellschaften[3] of urban, industrial capitalist America.  This Peircean evasion consists, in part, of a creative revision of Emersonian themes of contingency and revisability and an Emersonian theodicy that promotes human progress, betterment, and moral development.[4] 


How do we account for Peirce’s valorizing of change, revision, openness, and newness in science and his defense of dogma, custom, habit, and tradition in ethics and religion?  On the one hand, Peirce is a fearless intellectual pioneer, deeply devoted to the life of the mind and forever traversing the boundaries of methodological reflections on science.  As an active scientist well acquainted with the actual practices of the scientific community and fascinated with the powers unleashed by scientific inquiry, Peirce revels in the contingency and revisability promoted by the scientific method. 

  On the other hand, Peirce is highly sensitive to the eclipse of Gemeinschaft owing to urban industrialization and professional specialization under an ever-expanding monopoly capitalism.  As a Boston Brahmin and Harvard graduate (son of a Harvard professor), yet still an outsider to the academy [he taught at Johns Hopkins only from 1879-1884], Peirce is acutely affected by the feelings of loneliness and homelessness of modern existence.  Emerson’s individualistic revolt against the moribund tradition of the church has lost its cultural shock and appeal.  Instead, one either embraces or ignores the church.  The nascent industrial order of the 1830s has developed into the class-ridden, conflict-prone society of the late nineteenth century.  And the identity crises of the young postcolonial and imperialist nation of Emerson’s day has evolved into a postpuberty stage of romantic nationalism, chauvinistic nativism, and aspirations for a world empire.[5] 


West notes that Peirce adopts a doctrine of absolute chance so that he can avoid determinism and allow for growth, variety, diversity, and spontaneity in the universe.[6]  However, West continues,


prompted by his friend and fellow member of the Metaphysical Club Chauncey Wright’s wholesale enthusiasm for Darwin and his disdain for evolution infused with moral ends, Peirce was impelled to criticize Darwin and defend moral evolutionary teleology.  Peirce’s need to defend the theoretical coherence and logical consistency of his pragmatism and its compatibility with Christianity led him to put forward his own speculative evolutionary perspective, that is, agapism [love].  This viewpoint holds, in stark contrast to Darwin, that what motors evolution is not…variation and natural selection, but rather an amalgam of this necessity, chance, and most important, love.  The very laws of nature themselves are regulated by a supreme law of the universe; chance is a crucial factor in the universe but even it begets order and harmony promoted by evolutionary love.[7] 


West cites Peirce: “It may seem strange that I should put forward three sentiments, namely interest in an indefinite community, recognition of the possibility of this interest being made supreme, and the hope in the unlimited continuance of intellectual activity, as indispensable requirements of logic.  Yet, when we consider that logic depends on a mere struggle to escape doubt which, as it terminates in action, must begin in emotion, and that, furthermore, the only cause of our planting ourselves on reason is that other methods of escaping doubt fail on account of the social impulse, why should we wonder to find social sentiment presupposed in reasoning?  As for the other two sentiments which I find necessary, they are so only as supports and accessories of that.  It interests me to notice that these three sentiments seem to be pretty much the same as that famous trio of Charity, faith, and Hope, which, in the estimation of St. Paul, are the finest and greatest of spiritual gifts.  Neither Old nor New Testament is a textbook of the logic of science, but the latter is certainly the highest existing authority in regard to the dispositions of the heart which a man ought to have.”[8] 


But here we need to turn to the article. 


The Text:


87-91 Peirce contents that prior theorists did not develop their overall systems “architectonically,” and he provides a quick-and-dirty survey of the developments of scientific theories from the development of mechanics [Galileo], through early ideas of force [Huygens and Newton], to evolutionary theory [Darwin].  According to him, this history shows that:


-91 uniformities are precisely the sort of facts that need to be accounted for….Law is par excellence the thing that wants a reason. 

  Now the only possible way of accounting for laws of nature and the uniformity in general is to suppose them results of evolution.  This supposes then not to be absolute, not to be obeyed precisely.  It makes an element of indeterminacy, spontaneity, or absolute chance in nature. 


--Now his claim that the only way to account for laws is through an evolutionary account is, in part, based on the historical story he told about the development of scientific theorizing—it is a story of how the laws don’t perfectly fit the facts, and of how in order to develop an adequate scientific theory (especially as we move into the life sciences), we need to develop an evolutionary account which itself requires the notion of chance.  This, of course, makes the first and second steps in his metaphysical theory necessary--does it also "suggest" the third stepHis complex metaphysical view is, of course, also based upon his theory of inquiry. 


91-92 Peirce contrasts the evolutionary theories of Spencer, Darwin, and Lamarck: the former endeavors to develop a “mechanical” account, while [92] ‘Darwinian evolution is evolution by the operation of chance, and the destruction of bad results, while Lamarckian evolution is evolution by the effect of [individual habit and effort].” 


93 Peirce turns his attention to psychology where he contrasts three differing important phenomena:


-“feelings” which he means to include “…all that is immediately present.  They are states of mind having their own “…living quality, independent of any other state of mind.” 


-“sensations of reaction” which he means to include states which relate two “feelings.”  He says that “…the sense of action and reaction has two types; it may be either a perception of relation between two ideas, or it may be a sense of action and reaction between feeling and something out of feeling.  And this sense of external reaction again has two forms; for it is either a sense of something happening to us, by no act of ours, we being passive in the matter, or it is a sense of resistance, that is, of our expending feeling upon something without.” 


-94 “general conceptions which arise “when we think, we are conscious that a connection between feelings is determined by a general rule, we are aware of being governed by a habit.  Intellectual power is nothing but facility in taking habits and following them in cases essentially analogous to, but in non-essentials widely remote from, the normal cases of connections of feeling under which those habits were formed.” 


According to Peirce:


the one primary and fundamental law of mental action consists in a tendency to generalization.  Feeling tends to spread; connections between feelings awaken feelings; neighboring feelings become assimilated, ideas are apt to reproduce themselves.  These are so many formulations of one law, of the growth of mind.  When a disturbance of feeling takers place, we have a consciousness of gain, the gain of experience, and a new disturbance will be apt to assimilate itself to the one that preceded it.  Feelings, by being exited, become more easily excited, especially in the ways in which they have previously been excited.  The consciousness of such a habit constitutes a general conception.” 


He emphasizes that this “law of habit” is significantly different from physical laws.  The latter are “absolute”—they treat like cases exactly alike.  “On the other hand, no exact conformity is required by the mental law.  Nay, exact conformity would be in downright conflict with the law; since it would instantly crystallize thought and prevent all further formation of habit.  The law of mind only makes a given feeling more likely to arise.” 


95 Thus he is drawing a parallel between psychology and Darwinian biology: both require likelihood rather than exact relationships.  These observations on the fundamental law of mental action and evolutionary biology supplement the “historical account of science” which, he contended, could only be accounted for by a metaphysics which emphasizes both “chance” and “a tendency toward generalization.”  In other words, we are being led to at least the first two levels of his metaphysical theory!  


Peirce sees his observations on psychology as fully undercutting the “old metaphysical dualism” of matter and mind.  He contends there are three possibilities regarding the relationship of physical and psychical laws:


-monism—which holds that they are independent of one another.


-materialism—which holds that the psychical laws are derived from the physical ones, and


-idealism which holds that the physical laws are derived from the psychical ones. 


Peirce defends the third possibility!  He believes that the materialist alternative is unacceptable to both common sense and science, and implies that mechanisms will “feel.”  Neutralism leaves us with unrelated categories of things, and this leaves us with


-"the one intelligible theory of the universe is that of objective idealism, that matter is effete [degenerate] mind, inveterate habits becoming physical laws.  But before this can be accepted it must show itself capable of explaining the tridimensionality of space, the laws of motion, and the general characteristics of the universe, with mathematical clearness and precision…. 


--95-98 He discusses Euclidean geometry and notes that the doctrine of absolute space, as understood then, seems to imply [97] that either (i) space is both unlimited and immeasurable; (ii) that it is immeasurable but limited, or that it is unlimited but finite.  He goes on to note that geometers now note that there is no reason for holding that triangles are exactly 180° [p. 98].  He is referring to the development of non-Euclidean geometries which offer three distinct interpretations of the geometric system: one where triangles can have exactly 180°, one where they have more, and one where they have less than this amount!  He concludes that the metaphysical theories of old, which were based upon Euclidean geometry, should also be rejected: “geometry suggested the idea of a demonstrative system of absolutely certain philosophical principles; and the ideas of the metaphysicians have at all times been in large drawn from mathematics.  The metaphysical axioms are imitations of the geometrical axioms, and now that the latter have been thrown overboard without doubt the former will be sent after them….[Thus] there is an arbitrary element in the universe we see—namely its variety.  This variety must be attributed to spontaneity, in some form.” 


---Clearly the discussion he offers here does not begin to do what he indicated was needed on p. 95—there is no mathematically clear proof that his “objective idealism” can account for the “general character of the universe”—he offers veiled hints, but it is clear that he is at least suggesting that his overall system will “fit the facts.” 


99-100 Peirce says his overall system has “three fundamental conceptions of logic:”


99 first is the conception of being or existing independent of anything else,


second is the conception of being relative to, the conception of being in reaction with something else,


third is the conception of mediation whereby a first and second are brought into relation. 


He “illustrates” [not helpfully] as:








Origins in themselves, not as leading anywhere


Arbitrary sporting




The end of things

Sensation of reaction





The process of mediating between the above two. 

General conceptions

Fixing of accidental characteristics




According to him, we are brought to a “Cosmogonic Philosophy” which supposes: “…in the beginning,--infinitely remote,—there was a chaos of unpersonalized feeling, which being without connection or regularity would properly be without existence.  This feeling, sporting9 here and there in pure arbitrariness, would have started the germ of a generalizing tendency.  Its other sporting would be evanescent, but this would have a growing virtue.  Thus, the tendency to habit would be started and from this with the other principles of evolution all the regularities of the universe would be evolved.  At any time, however, an element of pure chance survives and will remain until the world becomes an absolutely perfect, rational, and symmetrical system, in which mind is at last crystallized in the infinitely distant future.” 




Clearly Peirce has drawn deeply from the evolutionary well.  The idea he is advancing is not just that inquiry is evolutionary, but that the universe itself evolves.  He seems to base this upon his "historical" view of inquiry, of biology, of logic and mathematics, and of psychology.  Seeing a move of increasing order from "beliefs," to "habits," to "general conceptions," he sees a similar evolutionary move as chance begets some order, and that begets more order.  As noted above, Arthur Burks notes in a footnote on pp. 87-88,


according to Peirce there are three factors involved in the process of cosmic evolution: Chance, Logic, and Love.  Consequently, his metaphysics of cosmic evolution involves three doctrines: Tychism—the doctrine that there is objective chance; Synechism—the logical principle of continuity governing development; and Agapism—the philosophy of evolutionary love.  The whole theory is outlined in [this article]; [and] tychism is developed…”[2] in “The Doctrine of Necessity Examined,” which we will turn to next.


Ultimately, however, the current article does not successfully present the third stage of his metaphysical picture, and little is done to clarify how his “scientific realism” would fit into his “objective idealism.”  I recommend reading John E. Smith’s “Charles S. Peirce: Meaning, Belief, and Love In An Evolving Universe”10 which is available on reserve in the Green Library in Smith’s The Spirit of American Philosophy—it doesn’t fully make the requisite connections here, but it is suggestive and, hopefully, helpful.  On the other hand in his introduction to our chapter on Peirce in the Fisch volume, Arthur Burks argues that the sort of metaphysics Peirce develops may be inconsistent with his pragmatic theory of meaning.[11] 

[click on note number to return to the passage the note refers to]

[1] C.S. Peirce, “The Architecture of Theories,” The Monist, v. 1 (1891), pp. 161-176.  This supplement refers to pages in the reprint in Classic American Philosophers [1951] (second edition), ed. Max Fisch (N.Y.: Fordham U.P., 1996), pp. 87-100, and emphasis has been added to passages at many points! 

[2] Arthur Burks, editor of the Peirce chapter in Classic American Philosophers, edited by Max Fisch, op. cit., pp. 87-88, footnote.  Emphasis [bold] has been added to the passage at several points. 

[3] The contrast West is making in these two paragraphs between Gesellschaft” and “Gemeinschaft” is clarified in Wikipedia [Gemeinschaft and Gesellschaft”] as follows: Gemeinschaft (often translated as community) is an association in which individuals are oriented to the large association as much as, if not more than, to their own self interest.  Furthermore, individuals in gemeinschaft are regulated by common mores, or beliefs about the appropriate behavior and responsibility of members of the association, to each other and to the association at large…. 

  Gemeinschaften are broadly characterized by a moderate division of labour, strong personal relationships, strong families, and relatively simple social institutions.  In such societies there is seldom a need to enforce social control externally, due to a collective sense of loyalty individuals feel for society. 

  In contrast, gesellschaft (often translated as society, civil society or association) describes associations in which, for the individual, the larger association never takes precedence over the individual's self interest, and these associations lack the same level of shared mores. 

  Gesellschaft is maintained through individuals acting in their own self interest.  A modern business is a good example of gesellschaft: the workers, managers, and owners may have very little in terms of shared orientations or beliefs, they may not care deeply for the product they are making, but it is in all their self interest to come to work to make money, and thus the business continues.  Gesellschaft society involves achieved status.  You reach your status by education and work, for example, through the attainment of goals, or attendance at University. 

  Unlike gemeinschaften, gesellschaften emphasize secondary relationships rather than familial or community ties, and there is generally less individual loyalty to society.  Social cohesion in gesellschaften typically derives from a more elaborate division of labor.  Such societies are considered more susceptible to class conflict as well as racial and ethnic conflicts.”  From “Gemeinschaft and Gesellschaft,” Wikipedia

 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gemeinschaft_and_Gesellschaft  accessed on September 4, 2012. 

[4] Cornel West, The American Evasion of Philosophy: A Genealogy of Pragmatism (Madison: U of Wisconsin, 1989), p. 47. 

[5] Ibid., pp. 47-48. 

[6] Cf., ibid.,  p. 52.  Emphasis added to the passage. 

[7] Ibid.  Emphasis [bold] added to the passage several times. 

[8] Ibid., p. 53, West cites Peirce’s Collected Papers v. 2: 655 (pp. 399-400). 

[9] I believe the intended meaning here is: “the action on the part of Nature of producing an abnormal form or variety….” The Compact Edition of the Oxford English Dictionary (Oxford: Oxford U.P., 1971), volume II, “Sporting,” p. 2979—definition 2a.  

[10] John E. Smith’s “Charles S. Peirce: Meaning, Belief, and Love In An Evolving Universe,” Smith’s The Spirit of American Philosophy Revised Edition (Albany: SUNY Press, 1983), pp. 3-37. 

[11] Cf., Arthur Burks, “Introduction” [to the Peirce chapter] in Classic American Philosophers, Max Fisch, op. cit., 41-53, esp. pp. 50-52.  Note, also, Bruks footnote on p. 113 at the conclusion of "The Doctrine of Necessity Examined." 


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