Charles Sanders Peirce on Necessity

In Adriane Rini, Edwin Mares & Max Cresswell (eds.), Logical Modalities from Aristotle to Carnap: The Story of Necessity. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press. pp. 256-278 (2016)
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Necessity is a touchstone issue in the thought of Charles Peirce, not least because his pragmatist account of meaning relies upon modal terms. We here offer an overview of Peirce’s highly original and multi-faceted take on the matter. We begin by considering how a self-avowed pragmatist and fallibilist can even talk about necessary truth. We then outline the source of Peirce’s theory of representation in his three categories of Firstness, Secondness and Thirdness, (monadic, dyadic and triadic relations). These have modal purport insofar as the first category corresponds to possibility, the second to mechanical necessity and the third to a kind of semantic or intentional necessity. We then turn to Peirce’s explicit modal epistemology and show how it began as information-relative, with different modalities (e.g. logical, physical, practical) distinguished in terms of respective ‘designated states of information’, and shifted later in his life towards a more robust realism founded in direct perception of ideas in their relations. We then turn to Peirce’s formal logic, focusing on his diagrammatic system of Existential Graphs where he did his most serious logical research. Finally we discuss Peirce’s modal metaphysics and its implications for determinism and realism about universals.

Author Profiles

Cathy Legg
Deakin University
Cheryl Misak
University of Toronto, St. George Campus


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