Here is an introductory lecture by Grant Franks, the very charming comedian-philosopher, discussing Peirce as following in the footsteps of Descartes, Hume, Kant, and modern sciences. The lecture covers Peirce’s overall view of the world, the modes of thinking (deduction, induction, and abduction), though it does not directly cover Peirce’s pragmatism or logic, and its coverage of semiotics is also in the service of discussing Peirce’s overall metaphysics. But it does cover a lot of ground.

What Distinguishes a Person from a Word? C. S. Peirce’s Thought

Concerning epistemology and metaphysics, here is an excerpt:

“Consider carefully that everything you see, hear, feel is an inference based on other inferences preceding into dimness that we cannot penetrate. Nothing presents itself with immediate directness and if it did you wouldn’t be able to know it. Inference follows inference, clue connects to clue, without apparent beginning or end.”

If we accept this image of the world, we have to redefine what we mean when we talk about “direct contact” or “direct access” to objects in the world. It is not enough to say direct contact is impossible and that it is all indirect. We must also proceed to clarify what distinguishes the conditions where we are inclined to say, in common everyday talk, that we have different degrees of inference or different degrees of access.


Regarding abduction (hypothesis), we hear this useful example:

  • All humans are mortal
  • Socrates is mortal
  • Therefore, Socrates is human

We can compare this with the following, which has the same form (abductive reasoning) though with additional strength:

  • All humans are mortal, typically walk on two legs, and can communicate with language
  • Socrates is mortal, walks on two legs, and communicates with language
  • Therefore, Socrates is human

Reality of Thought

We also hear a discussion of realism, particularly with regard to general principles, abstract/logical concepts, something we can also refer to as super-ordinate categories. Peirce takes a realist (anti-nominalist) position regarding the status of super-ordinate concepts and propositions.

Excerpt from the lecture: realism holds that “general ideas that embrace and coordinate a multitude of sensations have a reality that individual sensations do not.”

If you and I watch an event (e.g., a murder, a robbery) from two different perspective, or if we see different parts of the events, our experiences differ with regard to our sensations of the event, but we can come to the same super-ordinate conclusion. The same can be said about general principles of reasoning and shared abstract concepts. The concept of jealousy is associated with different experiences in the minds of different people, though we can come to agree about the higher-order meaning of this concept. Indeed, “the manifolds of sensations we encounter is unreal for us until we find universals in it.”