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C. S. Peirce articles
General:  Charles Sanders Peirce
Charles Sanders Peirce bibliography
Philosophical: Categories (Peirce)
Semiotic elements and
  classes of signs (Peirce)

Pragmatic maximPragmaticism
Classification of the sciences (Peirce)
Biographical:  Juliette Peirce
Charles Santiago Sanders Peirce

The philosopher Charles Sanders Peirce (1839-1914) did considerable work over a period of years on the classification of sciences (including mathematics).[1] His classifications are of interest both as a survey by an accomplished polymath of science in his time, and also as a rough map for navigating his philosophy. Peirce himself was well grounded and did work in many research fields, including logic, mathematics, statistics, philosophy, and chemistry.


The Classifications

Philosophers have done little work on classification of the sciences and mathematics since Peirce's time. Birger Hjørland[2] in Denmark has commented: "There is not today (2005), to my knowledge, any organized research program about the classification of the sciences in any discipline or in any country. As Miksa (1998) writes, the interest for this question largely died in the beginning of the 20th century."[3] (It is not clear that Hjørland includes the classification of mathematics in that characterization.) Hjørland also notes Peirce's "important" contribution.



In 1902 and 1903, Peirce elaborates classifications of the sciences in:

  • his Feb.-Apr. 1902 "A Detailed Classification of the Sciences" (Collected Papers of Charles Sanders Peirce (CP) v. 1, paragraphs 203-283,)[4] in his projected book Minute Logic;
  • his July 1902 application to the Carnegie institution (MS L75);[5] and
  • his 1903 "An Outline Classification of the Sciences (CP 1.180-202)[6] in his "A Syllabus of Certain Topics in Logic," wherein his classifications of the sciences take more or less their final form.

However, only in the "Detailed Classification" and the Carnegie application does he discuss the taxa which he used, which were inspired by the biological taxa of Louis Agassiz.[7]

Taxa of scientific departments
Name Characterization
("A Detailed Classification of the Sciences",[8] Feb.-Apr. 1902)
(Carnegie application,[9] July 1902)
(1902 examples are the Carnegie application)
Branch of science Branches differ in fundamental purposes. Throughout a branch, there is one same animating motive (though researchers in a branch's different classes seem to live in different worlds). Peirce's three different branches (1903): Science of Discovery. Science of Review. Practical Science.
Class of science Classes differ radically in observation. Observations in one class (say physical & psychological sciences) cannot yield the kind of information which another class (say pure mathematics) requires of observation. Throughout a class, researchers feel that they inquire into the same great subject (as kinds of inquiry differ but interconnect). Peirce's three different classes of discovery science: Pure mathematics. Cenoscopic philosophy. The special sciences.
Order of science Two orders within one class or subclass may differ hierarchically, one more general, the other more specialized.[8] Throughout an order, researchers pursue the same general kind of inquiry (but deal with different kinds of conceptions). Peirce's 1902 example of different orders: General Physics. Biology. Geology.
Family of science Has special name, journal, society. Studies one group of facts. Researchers understand one another in a general way and naturally associate together. Throughout a family, researchers have the same general conceptions (but differ in skills). Peirce's 1902 example of different families: Astronomy. Geognosy
Genus of science "I can give no such definitions of genera and species, not having carried my classification of the sciences to these minutiae" (of definitions of taxa; he does use the genus taxon). Throughout the genus, researchers have the same skills (but differ in acquaintance with facts in detail). Peirce's 1902 example of different genera: Optics. Electrics.
Species of science The species is the narrowest division still having societies and journals, each researcher is thoroughly well qualified in all parts of it. Peirce's 1902 example of different species: Entomology. Ichthyology.
Variety of science Researchers devote lives to a variety of science, but not so numerously as to support distinct societies and journals. Peirce's 1902 example of different varieties: Study of Kant. Study of Spinoza.


In 1902, he divided science into Theoretical and Practical.[10] Theoretical Science consisted of Science of Discovery and Science of Review, the latter of which he also called "Synthetic Philosophy", a name taken from the title of the vast work, written over many years, by Herbert Spencer. Then, in 1903,[11] he made it a three-way division: Science of Discovery, Science of Review, and Practical Science. In 1903 he characterized Science of Review as:

...arranging the results of discovery, beginning with digests, and going on to endeavor to form a philosophy of science. Such is the nature of Humboldt's Cosmos, of Comte's Philosophie positive, and of Spencer's Synthetic Philosophy. The classification of the sciences belongs to this department."[12]

Peirce had already for a while divided the Sciences of Discovery into:

(1) mathematics (which draws necessary conclusions about hypothetical objects);
(2) cenoscopy[13] or philosophy (about positive phenomena in general, such as confront a person at every waking moment, rather than special classes, and not settling theoretical issues by special experiences or experiments), and
(3) idioscopy,[13] or the special sciences (about special classes of positive phenomena, and settling theoretical issues by special experiences or experiments).

Thus Peirce ends up framing two fields each of which is philosophy in a sense: cenoscopic philosophy which precedes the special sciences, and synthetic philosophy (that is to say, science of review), which does take advantage of the results of all the sciences of discovery and develops, for instance, classifications of the sciences.

Peirce opens his 1903 classification (the "Syllabus" classification) with a concise statement of method and purpose:

This classification, which aims to base itself on the principal affinities of the objects classified, is concerned not with all possible sciences, nor with so many branches of knowledge, but with sciences in their present condition, as so many businesses of groups of living men. It borrows its idea from Comte's classification; namely, the idea that one science depends upon another for fundamental principles, but does not furnish such principles to that other. It turns out that in most cases the divisions are trichotomic; the First of the three members relating to universal elements or laws, the Second arranging classes of forms and seeking to bring them under universal laws, the Third going into the utmost detail, describing individual phenomena and endeavoring to explain them. But not all the divisions are of this character...."[14]

The following table is based mostly on Peirce's 1903 classification, which was more or less the final form.

Classification of the Sciences of Discovery
Classes Subclasses Orders Other Taxa (suborders, families, etc.)
I. Mathematics.

Draws necessary conclusions about hypothetical objects.
A. Mathematics of Logic.
B. Mathematics of Discrete Series.
C. Mathematics of Continua and Pseudocontinua.
(Note: By "continuum" Peirce meant, until 1908,[15] a continuum of instants (as he called them) beyond any Cantorian aleph's worth.[16] He held that such a continuum was the true subject matter of that which we now call topology, and that the reals, the complex reals, etc., constituted pseudocontinua.)
II. Cenoscopy,
or Philosophy.

(Philosophia Prima, First Philosophy.)

About positive phenomena in general, such as are available to every person at every waking moment, and not about special classes of phenomena. Does not resort to special experiences or experiments in order to settle theoretical questions.
(1902 classification only).[17]
A. Phenomenology (or Categorics or Phaneroscopy).
(Includes the study of the cenopythagorean categories: Firstness, Secondness, and Thirdness).
B. Normative Science. i. Esthetics. (Study of the good, the admirable. Peirce reserved the spelling "aesthetics" for the study of artistic beauty.)
ii. Ethics. (Study of right and wrong).
iii. Logic
(or Semiotic or Formal Semiotic). (Study of true and false.)

(The presuppositions of reason are the locus of Peirce's truth theory and his fallibilism.)

1. Speculative Grammar
(or Philosophical or Universal Grammar)
(or Stechiology)
(Includes the classification of signs).
2. Critic
(or Logical Critic, Critical Logic, or Logic Proper).
(Includes study of the modes of inference: abduction, induction, and deduction).
3. Methodeutic
(or Speculative Rhetoric,
or Universal or Philosophical Rhetoric).
(Is the locus of Peirce's Pragmatism, and includes study of scientific method).
C. Metaphysics. i. Ontology or General. (Locus of Peirce's Scholastic Realism.)
ii. Psychical or Religious. 1. God.
2. freedom (& destiny).
3. immortality.
iii. Physical. (Locus of Peirce's Objective Idealism and his doctrines that physical space, time, and law are continuous, and that chance, mechanical necessity, and creative love are physically real and involve corresponding modes of universal evolution.)
Theôric (1902 classification only).
Peirce: "...[theôrics] only resort to special observation to settle some minute details, concerning which the testimony of general experience is possibly insufficient."[17]
Chronotheory &
(1902 only)
III. Idioscopy,
or the Special Sciences.

About special classes of positive phenomena. Resorts to special experience or experiments in order to settle theoretical questions.
[?]. Physical. i. Nomological or General. i. Molar Physics. Dynamics &
ii. Molecular Physics. Elaterics (pressure) &
iii. Etherial Physics. Optics &
ii. Classificatory.
Peirce in the 1903 Syllabus classification:[18] "Classificatory physics seems, at present, as a matter of fact, to be divided, quite irrationally and most unequally, into i, Crystallography; ii, Chemistry; iii, Biology."
i. Crystallography
ii. Chemistry. 1. Physical.
2. Organic.
Aliphatic & Aromatic.

3. Inorganic
(elements, atomic weights, compounds, periodicity, etc.)

iii. Biology. 1. Physiology.
2. Anatomy.
iii. Descriptive. Geognosy & Astronomy.
[?]. Psychical. i. Nomological Psychics,
or Psychology.
i. Introspectional.
ii. Experimental.
iii. Physiological.
iv. Child.
ii. Classificatory Psychics,
or Ethnology.
1. Special Psychology. 1. Individual Psychology. 2. Psychical Heredity.
3. Abnormal Psychology. 4. Mob Psychology.
5. Race Psychology. 6. Animal Psychology.
2. Linguistics. 1. Word Linguistics.
2. Grammar ("should be a comparative science of forms of composition"[19])
3. Ethnology. 1. Ethnology of Social Developments, customs, laws, religion, and tradition.
2. Ethnology of Technology.
iii. Descriptive Psychics,
or History.
1. History proper.
2. Biography ("which at present is rather a mass of lies than a science"[20])
3. Criticism 1. Literary criticism
2. Art criticism (criticism of military operations, criticism of architecture, etc.)


  1. ^ See "Development of Peirce's classification of sciences - three stages: 1889, 1898, 1903" by Tommi Vehkavaara, 2003, Eprint PDF (19.4 KiB) and "The outline of Peirce's classification of sciences (1902-1911)" by Tommi Vehkavaara, 2001, Eprint PDF (11.4 KiB)
  2. ^ Professor in knowledge orgnanization, library science. See faculty profile page.
  3. ^ See Hjørland's comments here.
  4. ^ Eprint
  5. ^ Arisbe Eprint
  6. ^ Eprint and Eprint
  7. ^ CP 1.229-230, (from the "Minute Logic", 1902), Eprint
  8. ^ a b Collected Papers, v. 1, paragraph 238, 1902, Eprint
  9. ^ Manuscript L75.351-353, (in the "final draft" = actually submitted version of the Carnegie Application) July 1902, Eprint
  10. ^ Peirce (1902), Manuscript L75.355, Application to the Carnegie Institute, Arisbe Eprint
  11. ^ Peirce (1903), CP 1.181, Eprint
  12. ^ Peirce (1903), CP 1.182 Eprint
  13. ^ a b Peirce borrows the terms "cenoscopy" and "idioscopy" from Jeremy Bentham. See Peirce: (1902) CP 1.239-241; (1903) CP 1.183-187; (c. 1903) CP 6.6; and (1905) CP 8.199.
  14. ^ The Collected Peirce (CP), v. 1, paragraph 180 Eprint
  15. ^ See "Peirce's Clarifications on Continuity" by Jérôme Havenel, Transactions Winter 2008 pp. 68-133. From p. 119: "It is on May 26, 1908, that Peirce finally gave up his idea that in every continuum there is room for whatever collection of any multitude. From now on, there are different kinds of continua, which have different properties."
  16. ^ Peirce, C.S., "Analysis of the Methods of Mathematical Demonstration", Memoir 4, Draft C, Manuscript L75.90-102, see 99-100, Eprint
  17. ^ a b CP 1.278 Eprint
  18. ^ The CP 1.194 Eprint
  19. ^ CP 1.200 (from "An Outline Classification of the Sciences" 1903) Eprint
  20. ^ CP 1.201 (from "An Outline Classification of the Sciences" 1903) Eprint.


  • Peirce, C.S., 1902, "An Outline Classification of the Sciences", The Collected Papers, vol. 1, pp. 203-283 (1902) Eprint, from projected book Minute Logic.
  • Peirce, C.S., 1902, "On the Classification of the Theoretic Sciences of Research", Manuscript L75.350-357, Arisbe Eprint, from "Logic, Considered As Semeiotic", Manuscript L75, with draft sections labeled and interpolated into the final (submitted July 1902) version of the 1902 Carnegie Institute application, Joseph Ransdell, ed., Arisbe Eprint.
  • Peirce, C.S., 1903, "A Detailed Classification of the Sciences", The Collected Papers, vol. 1, pp. 180-202 (1903) Eprint and Eprint, from "A Syllabus Of Certain Topics In Logic", the Essential Peirce, vol. 2, pp. 258-330.
  • Vehkavaara, Tommi, 2001, "The outline of Peirce's classification of sciences (1902-1911)", Eprint PDF (11.4 KiB).
  • Vehkavaara, Tommi, 2003, "Development of Peirce's classification of sciences - three stages: 1889, 1898, 1903", Eprint PDF (19.4 KiB).

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