Mathematical Method • Discussion 3

Re: Peirce ListGary Fuhrman

Dear Gary,

Auke van Breemen wrote:

It seems to come down to:  never consider the textual production of a scientist only in itself, but also look at the reality the text tries to explain.

I took this as an admirably succinct statement of the difference between (1) scriptural hermeneutics — I’d call it “corpus hermeneutics” except for the risk of confusion with Corpus Hermeneticum — and (2) scientific interpretation, that is, any development of interpretant texts in relation to an independent object domain with the aim of forming true descriptions or gaining knowledge of that domain.

What I wrote in response to Auke was this:

We interpret texts
in relation to
the object in view.

All I did there was mention the three roles in a sign relation.  We take in texts or whole bodies of work as signs of an object domain and we form interpretive texts as signs of the same domain.  For my part, I interpret Peirce’s work as signs of an object world, one with respect to which other writers, artists, signifactors of all sorts have generated signs worthy of our interpretation.

I wouldn’t take the words “in view” too literally.  I just as easily could have said “at hand” or “in mind” but I went with “object in view” on account of the fondness one of my old teachers had for Dewey’s signature “end in view”.  As far as indicial signs are concerned, we’re all embroiled in concernful situations all the time, making our selves the initial signs of those pragmata, from which we derive all the remainder.

Peirce’s distinction between theorematic and corollarial reasoning has come up before.  From what I recall of previous discussions, we should not read the word “theorematic” in too reductive or purely deductive a sense.  Years ago it was something of a commonplace, even outside Peircean circles, to call attention to the etymology of “theorem” as having an observational, even “visionary” sense, cognate with “theatre”, and some would even point to the sacred origins of theatre, though maybe that’s a bridge too far …

As far as the iconic aspects of mathematics go, or even our knowledge representations in general, they are nice when we can get them, but I’m careful not to stress them too far — it’s too easy to “fall victim to a picture”, in Wittgenstein’s phrase, or succumb to the short-sightedness of Russell’s isomorphism theory of knowledge.  Icons are specializations of symbols and thus fall short of symbols’ full potential.  There is more to science than serving as a mirror of nature.


  • Eisele, C. (1982), “Mathematical Methodology in the Thought of Charles S. Peirce”, Historia Mathematica 9, pp. 333–341.  OnlinePDF.

cc: CyberneticsOntolog • Peirce List (1) (2) (3)Structural ModelingSystems Science

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