Peirce’s argument for forms

Contemporary thomists have popularized St. Thomas’s argument that if there were no final causes then there would be no reason for an agent to one thing as opposed to another. Peirce uses the identical idea to argue against Nominalism and in favor of forms that are both common and existing in things apart from the consideration of mind. I can pick up and drop ten rocks and watch them fall each time, and I can flip ten fair coins and watch them land on heads ten times, but I have totally different expectations of what will happen in each case on the eleventh try. I know there is something about rocks that is at work t ensure results and so know what is going to happen, but I know there is nothing at work in the coins. In the first I see a pattern, in the second only a fluke. It’s crucial to see that (contra Hume) no string of heads is enough to transmute itself into a cause: if the string of heads breaks, I’ll see it as expected, if it keeps going, I’ll either find the fluke more and more marvelous or I’ll cease to think it’s a fluke – but no constant conjunction of heads, no matter how long, is enough by itself to make me judge that there is a causal relation. On the other hand, scientific experiments frequently draw conclusions about the whole nature of things on the basis of a single experiment (think of Eddington proving Relativity with a single ambiguous measurement). So we have wildly different responses to multiplication of experience – in the case of the experiment, two findings almost seem like overkill since the pattern is seen; in the case of the coin flip, no amount of repetition will ever make us see a pattern in the each result.

1 Comment

  1. D.S. Thorne said,

    June 10, 2014 at 10:57 am

    Pretty meaty topic – where does Pierce make this argument?

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