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Andrew Reynolds - Peirce on Science and Metaphysics

Andrew Reynolds - Peirce on Science and

The ong>Peirceong> Quote Book - – Charles Sanders ong>Peirceong> in His Own Words ong>Andrewong> S. ong>Reynoldsong>, PhD. Associate Professor, Department of Philosophy and Religious Studies, Cape Breton University, Sydney, Nova Scotia, Canada Science and Metaphysics Find a scientific man who proposes to get along without any metaphysics…and you have found one whose doctrines are thoroughly vitiated by the crude and uncriticized metaphysics with which they are packed. (CP 1.129) Recent pronouncements by several notable physicists (see below), give this passage, written ca. 1905, an ironically prescient relevance. It originally appeared in a Notebook with the title, “Sketch of Some Proposed Chapters on the Sect of Philosophy Called Pragmatism.” Earlier in the same document ong>Peirceong> wrote that “The special sciences are obliged to take for granted a number of most important propositions, because their ways of working afford no means of bringing these propositions to the test. In short, they always rest upon metaphysics” (CP 1.129). Consequently, he pronounced, “there is no escape from the need of a critical examination of ‘first principles’” (CP 1.129). ong>Peirceong> appears to be saying that science cannot hope to escape entirely from making certain ‘metaphysical’ assumptions. As discussed here a metaphysical proposition or ‘first principle’ would appear to be marked by two features: (i) it is of a nature not investigable by means of the methods and techniques of the specific science in question, and (ii) it is important to, perhaps essential to, the normal and successful conduct of research in that special scientific discipline. From (i) it would seem to follow that the set of metaphysical propositions could be discipline-specific, i.e. a proposition could be ‘metaphysical’ in one scientific field but not in another, should the latter provide the means with which to investigate the proposition. The descriptor ‘metaphysical’ may be a relative one, then, not absolute. This would make sense given ong>Peirceong>’s belief that all the various sciences could be classified in a hierarchical system according to the degree of generality of their special principles–the less general reliant upon the more general. Philosophy–including metaphysics as the study of the most general features of reality (CP 6.6)—lies near the bottom of this system (only less fundamental than mathematics, the science of necessary reasoning). Therefore the philosopher alone, guided by logic, is equipped to examine the special science’s “axioms” (CP 1.129).

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