Gary Fuhrman | 11 Mar 16:24 2012

Deacon's incompleteness and Peirce's infinity

Jon, Gary, Ben and List,


There's another part of the Minute Logic which may be related to the connection Jon is making between “objective logic” and “categories”. It is definitely related to the argument in Terrence Deacon's Incomplete Nature, which Gary R. suggested some time ago as worthy of study here. We haven't found a way to study it systematically, but maybe it's just as well to do it one post at a time. Or one thread at a time, if replies ensue.


The central part of Deacon's argument presents “a theory of emergent dynamics that shows how dynamical process can become organized around and with respect to possibilities not realized” (Deacon, p. 16). Depending on the context, he also refers to these “possibilities not realized” as “absential” or “ententional”. His argument is explicitly anti-nominalistic and acknowledges the reality of a kind of final causation in the physical universe (“teleodynamics”). It has a strong affinity with Peirce's argument for a mode of being which has its reality in futuro. In other words, he argues for the reality of Thirdness without calling it that – indeed without using Peirce's phaneroscopic categories at all. (Personally i doubt that he is familiar enough with them to use them fluently, but maybe he decided not to use them for some reason.)


“Incompleteness” is a crucial concept of what i might call Deaconian realism. In physical terms, it is connected with Prigogine's idea of dissipative structures (including organisms) as far from equilibrium in a universe where the spontaneous tendency is toward equilibrium, as the Second Law of thermodynamics would indicate. Teleodynamic processes take incompleteness to a higher level of complexity, but i don't propose to go into that now. Instead i'll present here a Peircean parallel to Deacon's “incompleteness”. The connection lies in the fact that incompleteness is etymologically – and perhaps mathematically? – equivalent to infinity.


First, we have this passage from Peirce's Minute Logic of 1902:


[[[ I doubt very much whether the Instinctive mind could ever develop into a Rational mind. I should expect the reverse process sooner. The Rational mind is the Progressive mind, and as such, by its very capacity for growth, seems more infantile than the Instinctive mind. Still, it would seem that Progressive minds must have, in some mysterious way, probably by arrested development, grown from Instinctive minds; and they are certainly enormously higher. The Deity of the Théodicée of Leibniz is as high an Instinctive mind as can well be imagined; but it impresses a scientific reader as distinctly inferior to the human mind. It reminds one of the view of the Greeks that Infinitude is a defect; for although Leibniz imagines that he is making the Divine Mind infinite, by making its knowledge Perfect and Complete, he fails to see that in thus refusing it the powers of thought and the possibility of improvement he is in fact taking away something far higher than knowledge. It is the human mind that is infinite. One of the most remarkable distinctions between the Instinctive mind of animals and the Rational mind of man is that animals rarely make mistakes, while the human mind almost invariably blunders at first, and repeatedly, where it is really exercised in the manner that is distinctive of it. If you look upon this as a defect, you ought to find an Instinctive mind higher than a Rational one, and probably, if you cross-examine yourself, you will find you do. The greatness of the human mind lies in its ability to discover truth notwithstanding its not having Instincts strong enough to exempt it from error. ]] CP 7.380 ]


This suggests to me that fallibility – which not even Peirce attributes to God – is a highly developed species of incompleteness. The connection with infinity, and with Thirdness, is further brought out in Peirce's Harvard Lecture of 1903 “On Phenomenology”:


[[[ The third category of which I come now to speak is precisely that whose reality is denied by nominalism. For although nominalism is not credited with any extraordinarily lofty appreciation of the powers of the human soul, yet it attributes to it a power of originating a kind of ideas the like of which Omnipotence has failed to create as real objects, and those general conceptions which men will never cease to consider the glory of the human intellect must, according to any consistent nominalism, be entirely wanting in the mind of Deity. Leibniz, the modern nominalist par excellence, will not admit that God has the faculty of Reason; and it seems impossible to avoid that conclusion upon nominalistic principles.


But it is not in Nominalism alone that modern thought has attributed to the human mind the miraculous power of originating a category of thought that has no counterpart at all in Heaven or Earth. Already in that strangely influential hodge-podge, the salad of Cartesianism, the doctrine stands out very emphatically that the only force is the force of impact, which clearly belongs to the category of Reaction; and ever since Newton's Principia began to affect the general thought of Europe through the sympathetic spirit of Voltaire, there has been a disposition to deny any kind of action except purely mechanical action. The Corpuscular Philosophy of Boyle — although the pious Boyle did not himself recognize its character — was bound to come to that in the last resort; and the idea constantly gained strength throughout the eighteenth century and the nineteenth until the doctrine of the Conservation of Energy, generalized rather loosely by philosophers, led to the theory of psycho-physical parallelism, against which there has, only of recent years, been any very sensible and widespread revolt. Psycho-physical parallelism is merely the doctrine that mechanical action explains all the real facts, except that these facts have an internal aspect which is a little obscure and a little shadowy.


To my way of regarding philosophy, all this movement was perfectly good scientific procedure. For the simpler hypothesis which excluded the influence of ideas upon matter had to be tried and persevered in until it was thoroughly exploded. But I believe that now at last, at any time for the last thirty years, it has been apparent, to every man who sufficiently considered the subject, that there is a mode of influence upon external facts which cannot be resolved into mere mechanical action, so that henceforward it will be a grave error of scientific philosophy to overlook the universal presence in the phenomenon of this third category. ]] CP 5.62-4; slightly variant reading in EP2:157. ]


In these terms, Deacon's argument is that “actions” governed by functions and purposes are not parallel to the physical world but continuous with it, i.e. emergent from it but still requiring it for actualization. He is essentially carrying forward Peirce's argument above, that there are real forms of action that are not mechanical, by incorporating into it some of the physical theories and observations that were not available to Peirce. Others have been doing this since the mid-20th Century, but Deacon's is the most fully developed version i've seen yet that is worked out in purely physical terms. This is his way of bringing the psychical facts out of the shadows.


Notice however that Peirce speaks of Thirdness as present in the phenomenon. Deacon on the other hand speaks of it as Absence (the title of his first chapter, appropriately numbered 0). This makes Deacon's terminology incompatible with Peirce's phaneroscopy, which “is the description of the phaneron; and by the phaneron I mean the collective total of all that is in any way or in any sense present to the mind” (CP 1.284). However, i don't think Deacon would argue that his Absence (Peirce's Thirdness) is not present to the mind in any sense; so i don't see this terminological difference as theoretically significant.


Gary F.


} Stay us wherefore in our search for tighteousness, O Sustainer [Finnegans Wake 5] { }{ gnoxic studies: Peirce



You are receiving this message because you are subscribed to the PEIRCE-L listserv. To remove yourself from this list, send a message to LISTSERV <at> LISTSERV.IUPUI.EDU with the line "SIGNOFF PEIRCE-L" in the body of the message. To post a message to the list, send it to PEIRCE-L <at> LISTSERV.IUPUI.EDU

Jon Awbrey | 14 Mar 15:56 2012

Re: Peirce an Existentialist?

At 05:23 AM 1/3/2008, Steven Ericsson-Zenith wrote:

>I did not get any response to my assertion that Peirce's life long
>commitment to independent inquiry and demeanor made him a natural
>Existentialist. Does no one wish to challenge or affirm that position?

I can't respond to the questions below, though I am quite familiar especially
with Kierkegaard. When you first posed your question I was a bit jarred,
since I think that to be an existentialist one has to at least put existence
before essence, which Peirce's views on being (the real) versus existence
(the actual) seem to me to contradict. (The idea of existence before
essence is not sufficient for existentialism, since Aquinas held this

Many years ago, when studying Kierkegaard with Bert Dreyfus, I recall
him saying that, unlike Nietzsche and Heidegger, Kierkegaard was not
a real existentialist. His reason was that Kierkegaard accepted objective
morality, although he believed that there could be reasons to suspend
the ethical (teleological suspension of the ethical).

So, Steven, I guess I need more of your reasoning that Peirce might
have been an existentialist, or had existentialist tendencies to understand
what you are getting at, since at least two things you mention seem to
me to directly raise problems for the idea.


>Is anyone familiar with a connection between Kierkegaard and Peirce,
>either during Peirce's life or in analysis of Peirce subsequently? Did
>Peirce, for example, ever speak of Kierkegaard or Dostoevsky? No doubt
>he read Dante.
>Of course, he does not have to have shown an explicit interest in
>Kierkegaard or Existentialism to be an existentialist character. His
>comments on religion suggest that intellectually he never quite got
>there in his own mind. So my intuition is that he was not as deep a
>thinker in these matters as Kierkegaard.
>I suspect that if I could get on better terms with Ketner's
>"Autobiography" I'd have a better idea of this, but alas I have been
>unable to make it past the first few chapters.
>With respect,
>Dr. Steven Ericsson-Zenith
>Institute for Advanced Science & Engineering
>Message from peirce-l forum to subscriber collierj <at>

All brains are the same colour.
Professor John Collier                                     collierj <at>
Philosophy and Ethics, University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban 4041 South Africa
T: +27 (31) 260 3248 / 260 2292       F: +27 (31) 260 3031  

Message from peirce-l forum to subscriber gspp-peirce-l <at>