The Intelligible Universe

  • Nathan Houser
Part of the Biosemiotics book series (BSEM, volume 11)


Early in the 20th century, Peirce began a paper on the foundations of mathematics which would validate a new approach in mathematics education. He titled his paper, “Kαινὰ στοιχεῖα” or “New Elements,” conjoining his project with the work of Euclid. Peirce never finished this paper and it remains one of his most problematic and obscure unfinished writings. Not long into his composition, Peirce surprisingly moved into semiotics and even turned to metaphysics and cosmological speculations. Peirce’s cosmological story is the subject of this study. According to Peirce, our universe is the natural outgrowth of the influx of a symbol into the primeval chaos from which the world emerged. Peirce’s acceptance of absolute chance as a factor in the development of the universe and its laws was a pioneering step for cosmology. Another pioneering step was his recognition of the power of symbols to affect the course of actual events and his bold inclusion of semiosis as an operative form of final causation. Peirce’s emphasis on the primeval role of semiosis puts biosemiotics on a cosmic scale and raises the question whether it is viable to regard the emergence of semiosis as virtually synonymous with the emergence of life, as many suppose. Peirce’s scientific philosophy, far from being a relic of 19th century thought, continues to be a rich resource for cosmologists and biosemioticians.


Habit Formation Efficient Causation Psychic Life Opening Quotation Endless Series 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


  1. Anderson, R. (2012). What happened before the big bang? The New Philosophy of Cosmology (interview with Tim Maudlin). The Atlantic (on line edition), 19 January 2012.Google Scholar
  2. Burks, A. (September 1978). Review: Charles S. Peirce, The new elements of mathematics. Bulletin of the American Mathematical Society, 84(5), 913–918.Google Scholar
  3. Burks, A. (1996). Peirce’s evolutionary pragmatic idealism. Synthese, 106, 323–372.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Burks, A. (1997). Logic, learning, and creativity in evolution. In N. Houser, D. D. Roberts, & J. Van Evra (Eds.), Studies in the logic of Charles S Peirce (pp. 497–535). Bloomington, Ind.Google Scholar
  5. Chaisson, E. (1987). The three eras of cosmic evolution. World Futures: The Journal of Global Education, 23(1–2), 11–29.Google Scholar
  6. Davies, P. (3 September 2010). Interview with Paul Davies. The Guardian (Friday).Google Scholar
  7. Deacon, T. W. (2012). Information. In Favareau, Cobley, & Kull (Eds.), (pp. 161–164).Google Scholar
  8. Dilworth, D. A. (2012). Peirce’s objective idealism: A reply to T. L. Short’s “What was Peirce’s objective idealism?” Cognitio 12(1), pp. 53–74.Google Scholar
  9. Einstein, A. (1923). Sidelights on relativity. New York: E.P. Dutton & Co (trans. G.B. Jeffery and W. Perrett).Google Scholar
  10. Favareau, D., et al. (Eds.). (2012). A more developed sign: Interpreting the work of Jesper Hoffmeyer. Tartu: Tartu University Press.Google Scholar
  11. Fernández, E. (2010). Peircean habits and the life of symbols. Semiotics 2010 (pp. 98–109). Ottawa: Legas Publishing.Google Scholar
  12. Fernández, E. (2012). Habit and generalization, V Jornadas Peirce en Argentina. Academia Nacional de Ciencias de Buenos Aires. Accessed 23–24 Aug 2012.
  13. Fernández, E. (2014). Peircean habits, broken symmetries, and biosemiotics. Vol. (pp. 79–94).Google Scholar
  14. Forster, P. (2011). Peirce and the threat of nominalism. New York: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Gallie, W. B. (1952). Peirce and pragmatism. Harmondsworth: Penguin Books.Google Scholar
  16. Hacking, I. (1983). Nineteenth century cracks in the concept of determinism. Journal of the History of Ideas, 44, 455–475.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Hawking, S. and Mlodinow, L. (2010). The grand design. New York: Bantam Books.Google Scholar
  18. Houser, N. (2009). Peirce as a sign to himself. In J. Deely & L. Sbrocchi (Eds.), Semiotics 2008 (pp. 387–395). Ottawa: Legas Publishing.Google Scholar
  19. Ibri, I. A. (2014). The continuity of life: on Peirce’s objective idealism. Vol. (pp. 33–49).Google Scholar
  20. James, W. (1897). The will to believe and other essays in popular philosophy. New York: Longmans Green and Co.Google Scholar
  21. James, W. (1909). A pluralistic universe. New York: Longmans Green and Co.Google Scholar
  22. Lane, R. (2014). Peircean semiotic indeterminacy and its relevance for biosemiotics, Vol. (pp. 51–78).Google Scholar
  23. Murphey, M. G. (1961). The development of Peirce’s philosophy. Cambridge: Harvard University Press. Reprinted 1993, Indianapolis: Hackett.Google Scholar
  24. Nöth, W. (2014). The life of symbols and other legisigns: More than a mere metaphor? Vol. (pp. 171–181).Google Scholar
  25. Parker, K. A. (1998). The continuity of Peirce’s thought. Nashville: Vanderbilt University Press.Google Scholar
  26. Prigogine, I., & Stengers, I. (1984). Order out of Chaos: Man’s new dialogue with nature. New York: Bantam.Google Scholar
  27. Reynolds, A. (2002). Peirce’s scientific metaphysics. Nashville: Vanderbilt University Press.Google Scholar
  28. Russell, B. (1959). My philosophical development. New York: Simon and Schuster.Google Scholar
  29. Santaella, L. (1999). A new causality for the understanding of the living. Semiotica, 127(1/4), 497–519.Google Scholar
  30. Short, T. L. (2007). Peirce’s theory of signs. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Short, T. L. (2010a). What was Peirce’s objective idealism? Cognitio, 11(2), 333–346.Google Scholar
  32. Short, T. L. (2010b). Did Peirce have a cosmology? Transactions of the Charles S. Peirce Society, 46(4), 521–543.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Short, T. L. (2011). Reading Peirce differently: A response to David Dilworth. Cognitio, 12(2), 257–271.Google Scholar
  34. Short, T. L. (2012). Review of Paul Forster’s Peirce and the threat of nominalism. Transactions of the Charles S. Peirce Society, 48(3), 385–387.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Smolin, L. (1997). The life of the cosmos. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  36. Smolin, L. (2011). Unification of the state with the dynamical law. Address delivered to the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics, Waterloo, Ontario. Accessed 28 Oct 2011.
  37. Smolin, L. (2013). Time reborn. New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Pub. Co.Google Scholar
  38. Suits, B. (1979). Doubts about Peirce’s cosmology. Transactions of the Charles S. Peirce Society, 15(4), 311–321.Google Scholar
  39. Tyson, P. (Ed.). (2004). Interview with Andy Knoll conducted 3 May 2004 by J. McMaster for “Origins: How Life Began,” NOVA online.Google Scholar
  40. Wells, R. (1964). The true nature of Peirce’s evolutionism. In E. C. Moore & R. S. Robin (Eds.), Studies in the philosophy of Charles Sanders Peirce (2nd Series, pp. 304–322). Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Indiana UniversityIndianapolisUSA

Personalised recommendations