Peirces conception of the trinary structure of thought is mentioned in passing in the SEP on Hegels Logic

Hegel's later treatment of the syllogism found in Book 3, in which he follows Aristotle's own three-termed schematism of the syllogistic structure, repeats the triadic structure as does his analysis of concepts into the moments of “universality,” “particularity,” and “singularity.” Hegel's logical triads are often regarded as expressions of an artificial and functionless formalism, but it should be remembered that in the later nineteenth century, no less a logician than Charles Sanders Peirce came to a similar idea about the fundamentally trinary structure of the categories of thought.

What are they and how does he formulate tem?

  • 1
    Might I suggest spelling the philosopher's name correctly in the title, body, and tag? (“Peirce's.”) Cheers. Mar 11, 2014 at 0:40
  • I think you're referring to the categories well-described by this Wikipedia article, though Peirce also made a point of distinguishing deduction, induction, and abduction as three kinds of reasoning. Mar 11, 2014 at 0:45
  • corrected, apart from the tag - I don't know how that is edited. Mar 11, 2014 at 4:09
  • Hey Mozibur! You should check out this insightful article: Larry A. Hickman, “Why Peirce Didn’t Like Dewey’s Logic,” Southwest Philosophy Review, 3 (1986), 178-189. Mar 12, 2014 at 16:12

1 Answer 1


Given that Peirce’s naturalism is more anthropocentric than Hegel’s, he sought to revise the Kantian powers of feeling, knowing, and willing whereas Hegel just circumvented them. These translate for Peirce into the spheres of value and experience that are aesthetic, scientific, and moral. These are the cultural instantiations of consciousness as Peirce writes:

The true categories of consciousness are: first, feeling, the consciousness which can be included with an instant of time, passive consciousness . . .; second, consciousness of an interruption in the field of consciousness, sense of resistance . . .; third, synthetic consciousness, binding time together, sense of learning, thought (CS Papers, 1.33).

Therefore, Firstness, Secondness, and Thirdness may be analyzed in terms of quality, relation, and synthesis. The qualitative associated with the aesthetic provides a normative status and this is when Peirce is most pluralistic and finds affinities with Schelling’s System of Transcendental Idealism and philosophy of nature (contra Hegel). Relation involves any purposive activity, or action and reaction; what Peirce refers to as the “polar sense” as a re-working of St. Augustine’s notion of volition that Peirce viewed as narrow. Instead of the something like Descartes’ cogito or “cognitive faculty,” Peirce supplemented the enterprise of knowledge with “learning” or “acquisition” in a very similar vein as the Platonic Eros. Logic, unlike in Hegel, involves the norms of thinking or the task of realizing the ends for thinking.

Where Hegel and Peirce find common ground, and this distinguishes him from other pragmatists, is that he does not find pluralism congenial. To this degree he agrees with the architectonic outlook of experience when he says, “life can have but one end.”

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