Although Peirce clearly and repeatedly stated his intention to construct a philosophical system, each of his attempts in that direction is at best fragmentary and some are ultimately incoherent. The ambiguities of Peirce's cosmology, his theory of meaning and his conception of truth cannot be avoided by anyone who carefully considers his own "guess at the riddle." Rather than cataloguing these puzzles, I hope to give at least a partial account of why they remain in the work of a philosopher who was avowedly systematic, possessed great analytic and synthetic powers, and had an acute sense of the physiognomy of the major schools of philosophy. My account will be somewhat indirect, and therefore partial, because it attempts to acquire some perspective on Peirce's own philosophical method by considering his criticism of Hegel. Like many others, Peirce regards Hegel as tbe systematic philosopher of the nineteenth century. In reviewing the great philosophical systems of the past he goes further than this by mentioning only two of independent significance, the Aristotelian (with alterations by "Descartes, Hobbes, Kant and others"!) and "the new Schelling-Hegel mansion, lately run up in the German taste, but with such oversights in its construction that it is already pronounced uninhabitable". Although the uninhabitable mansion is elsewhere said to be "a pasteboard model of a philosophy that in reality does not exist", Peirce also declares that it is closely allied to pragmaticism, differing from it in its denial of the categories of Firstness and Secondness. Among the aspects of Hegel's system which Peirce explicitly found congenial are evolutionism, the denial of an unknowable thing-in-itself, a recognition of the principle of continuity, objective idealism, and triadic structure. In some areas, such as the conception of the summum bonum and the attempt to construct a non-dualistic account of thought and action, there are additional deep similarites which Peirce did not remark. Why then does Peirce pronounce Hegelianism to be the mere sketch of a philosophical system? Aside from the general charge that Hegel was weak in mathematics and formal logic, Peirce offers a detailed critique of Hegel's phenomenology and categorial system and of his conception of philosophical method; and it is these critiques, dealing with philosophical architectonic and procedure which we shall examine. In each area Peirce is inconsistent and one side of his thought is closer to Hegel than he was able to acknowledge.

Document Type


Publication Date

Summer 1981

Publisher Statement

Copyright © 1981 Charles S. Peirce Society. This article first appeared in Transactions of the Charles S. Peirce Society 17, no. 3 (Spring 1981): 269-75.

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