Essential Architectonic Building Blocks: "The Law of Mind"

Charles S. Peirce letter to Paul Carus, May 5, 1892

Letter by Charles S. Peirce to Paul Carus, May 5, 1892

Peirce letter to Carus - 24 May 1892.pdf

Letter by Charles S. Peirce to Paul Carus, May 24, 1892

The Law of Mind - ms first page.pdf

First page of Peirce's manuscript "The Law of Mind"

Monist 2.4

First edition of The Monist containing "The Law of Mind"

Peirce’s work with the Open Court during the year 1892 was very productive. While debating with Carus on the doctrine of necessitarianism, he continued his original plan to construct an architectonic philosophy and to publish it in the form of a continuous series of articles. To this end, he completed “The Law of Mind” and “Man’s Glassy Essence,” two essential building blocks of his systematic metaphysics. In addition, he assisted with a translation of Ernst Mach’s The Science of Mechanics, and published a new series of four short articles in The Open Court, entitled “The Critic of Arguments” (“Pythagorics,” “The Critic of Arguments. I. Exact Thinking,” “Dmesis,” and “The Critic of Arguments. II. The Reader is Introduced to Relatives”).

On 24 May, Peirce sent Carus his manuscript “The Law of Mind.” A few weeks earlier, while writing the work, he had told Carus that it, along with “Man’s Glassy Essence,” amounted to

“the most valuable things I have done.”

It was published in The Monist in July 1892.

Peirce was correct to declare “The Law of Mind” one of his greatest accomplishments. Contemporary scholarship has frequently noted its original contributions to mathematics, psychology, and metaphysics. The central tenet of the article is his synechism—meaning “continuity” in Greek—which Peirce argues is “an idea of prime importance in philosophy.” He tells us that the theory has its historical background in the Naturphilosophie of F. W. J. Schelling and the Transcendentalism of Ralph Waldo Emerson, who both pronounce the connaturality of mind and matter, or humankind and nature.

The fundamental principle of synechism is compatible with Peirce’s objective idealism and his rejection of metaphysical dualism. “The Law of Mind” develops upon these theories by focusing on the presence of continuity in psychical phenomena. Ideas, he argues, exist as “living feelings” that are spread out and overlap each other. Furthermore, they tend to grow, and in the process affect other ideas creating general natures. This explains how separate ideas can relate to each other across time and space, how personality exists as a coordination of ideas, and how communication can occur between individual minds.