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Peirce on Continuity and Laws of Nature

Author(s): Demetra Sfendoni-Mentzou

Source: Transactions of the Charles S. Peirce Society, Vol. 33, No. 3 (Summer, 1997), pp.
Published by: Indiana University Press
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Demetra Sfendoni-Mentzou

Peirce on Continuity and

Laws of Nature

"Continuity", claims Peirce, "is an indispensable element of re-

ality"; it is "the leading conception of science" and the most essen-
tial concept which "enters into every fundamental law of physics";
Synechism, or the doctrine of continuity, therefore, is "the master
key which adepts tell us unlocks the arcana of philosophy". This is
indeed a strong claim! What is there about continuity that makes it so
extremely significant? The question, I must say, is not one of the
easiest to answer, nor is Peirce's overall treatment of continuity the
most obvious of things. This is the reason why it is such a challenging
enterprise to try to uncover the complex web of concepts, which is
woven by Peirce in his attempt to synthesize his doctrine of Synechism.
Due, not only to space restrictions, but also to the complex nature of
the issue, I will not attempt an exhaustive account of the deep inter-
relation of Synechism with all aspects of Peirce's thought.1 1 will rather
concentrate on its internal structure and the role it plays in his ac-
count of laws of nature.2 The reason for this particular choice is my
belief that Synechism represents one of those special instances in
Peirce's philosophy, where his logico-mathematical speculations, com-
bined with Aristotelean-schoiastic philosophy, lead us directly to the
heart of the present day discussion concerning laws of nature.
Since there is no extensive analysis of laws of nature as an autono-
mous subject in Peirce's writings, I propose to attempt a synthesis of a
variety of themes , trying at the same time to fill in gaps. This, I believe
- if we take for granted Peirce's confession - is the only way that we
can arrive at a coherent overall picture of his thought. What I have in

Transactions of the Charles S. Peirce Society

Summer, 1997, Vol. XXXIII, No. 3

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647 Demetra Sfendoni-Mentzou

mind is a letter to William James of December 1, 1902, where Peirce

remarks: " Were all the parts of my system separately published, th
mathematician would approve of the mathematical part, the physicis
of the physical part, the ethicist would admit the ethical part to be
contribution of some weight, and so on; but the principal thing would
remain unpublished; which is not the most obvious of things, an
would then wholly escape notice" ( MS 599, 1902).3 Following thi
spirit, I must say that a big part of my present work focuses on the
"unpublished" Peirce. In effect, there was not much choice left fo
me but to express my personal inclination on the issue, as well as my
particular interest in the Aristotelean idea of potentiality, not only
because of my contention that it plays a central role in Peirce'
thought,4 but also because of my belief in the necessity of its involve
ment in any genuine realist account of laws of nature.

What is a law of nature?.

Let us now see how Peirce confronts the question concerning
the character of laws of nature. It must first be noted that his main
concern is with their ontological and not with their epistemological
aspect. He thus raises the questions: "What are laws of nature? Ar
they figments of the mind or real?" This is obviously connected wit
the fundamental issue concerning the character of reality itself: Is th
real represented by the singular , individual, actual things and event
i.e. by what the scholastics called haecceitas^ or is there somethin
more to it, which ought to be sought over and above experience i
what the scholastics called the "fundamentum univer salitati f\ i.e. i
quidditas or essence? And if yes, what is the nature of this foundation
and where is it to be found? Is it something real, existing a prio
{ante res ) and in complete separation from individual objects, or
should we rather claim that it is located in things ( in rebus ) as the
common element ( natura communis ) shared by all members of the
same kind or species? The first question represents the dilemma be-
tween empiricism (nominalism) and realism, while the second has to
do with divisions among realists themselves, starting with Aristotle'
opposition to Plato; and , what is even more interesting, still persists i

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Peirce on Continuity and Laws of Nature 648

present day discussions on laws of nature. An excellent example of con-

temporary treatment of the issue in scholastic terms can be found in
D. Armstrong ( 1983 ), F. Dretske ( 1977 ) and M. Tooley ( 1977 ).
In their opposition to the Humean tradition, the above three
philosophers put forward, separately, a theory of universals to defend
the reality of laws of nature.5 The basic ideas, shared by all three of
them, are the following: Laws of nature are relations "which link
properties with properties and things with things" by a de re neces-
sity, which is to be found in the nature of things. If it is a law, that all
swans are white, then the necessity is grounded in swanhood and in
whiteness. Laws, then, are real in their own right. They are existent
things outside space and time and have a reality independent of our
minds {extra mentem ). From this point on Tooley follows the path
of Platonism in his attempt to prove that there can be at least some
laws, which are completely separated from physical things {ante res )
and thus uninstantiated, or in Peirce's terminology unembodied.6
Armstrong, on the other hand, chooses the Aristotelean preference
for the reality of the universal in rebus, or in Peirce's terminology the
embodied universal. However, the crucial point in his alleged real-
ism about universals is his insistence on the principle of instantiation
( see, 1987a XIV, 1987b, 11 ). Laws of nature, claims Armstrong,
"cannot exist in independence of other things" ( 1983, p. 90). At the
same time the idea of powers, dispositions, potentialities is excluded
from his scheme. For Armstrong " nothing else exists except the single
spatio-temporal world, the world studied by physics, cosmology and
so on" ( ibid., p. 82; cf. p. 126 ). Thus, laws of nature are "relations
between actually instantiated universals" ( ibid., p. 112 ) and "the
law is fully present in each instantiation" (1983, p. 89 ). So that it
would seem reasonable to draw the conclusion, although Armstrong
himself doesn't explicitly do so, that law is fully particularized in his
system, leaving no room for universality per se.7 At this point
Armstrong's answer seems to me very close to that of Scotus', in his
claiming that natura communis is "contracted" in the individual by
haecceitas, so that it becomes, in some respect, identical with it. This
is one of the main reasons that Scotus has been criticized by Peirce

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for his nominalistic attitude: "Even Duns Scotus is too nominalistic",

claims Peirce, " when he says that universals are contracted to the
mode of individuality in singulars, meaning, as he does, by singulars,
ordinary existing things" (8.208 ).8
In contrast, Peirce defended a stronger version of realism, which
retained the most essential elements of Scotus' moderate realism9 but
which was at the same time enriched, as is my aim to show, with some
fundamental Aristotelean ideas. In his third Harvard Lecture on Prag-
matism (1902 ) Peirce thus claims, u I should call myself an Aristote-
lian of the scholastic wing, approaching Scotism, but going much fur-
ther in the direction of scholastic realism" ( 5.77, n. 1 ). It must be
noted here that, although he was tempted by some Platonic views,
Peirce never went so far as to defend the existence of completely
unembodied (uninstantiated) and thus transcendental universals and
laws of nature in the Platonist sense; he always insisted on the reality of
the universal in rebus'm a genuine, as I will argue, Aristotelean sense.10
Thus, his fruitful synthesis of Aristotelean-scholastic realism with
Synechism, as my claim will be, provide a much more promising con-
tribution than either Tooley's Platonism or Armstrong's alleged real-
ism to present day discussion of laws of nature interpreted as univer-
sals.11 But what exactly is Peirce's picture of laws?

Laws ofnature-Thirdness
To provide an answer, let us return to the questions posed earlier:
What are laws of nature? Are they figments of the mind or real?.12
Antirealists, or, in Peirce's terminology, nominalists,13 following the
Humean tradition, claim that every event is an actual occurance, "and
so it will be no matter how numerous the repetitions". So, in a world
that is composed of a long series of independent events, laws can be
nothing more than a description of the similarity with which things
happened in the past. Peirce admits that "there might be some force
in the argument if the events were confined to the past. But they are
not, since the law extends to the future... Future events cannot be
experienced... I can only imagine that a certain general kind of event
will occur. Consequently, it is not true that expected repetitions ex-

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Peirce on Continuity and Laws of Nature 650

tending into the future are mere additional affirmations of actual ex-
istential happenings" ( MS 320, c.1907 ). And he goes on to remark,
"generals, or rational necessities, laws, although they are not existent
and can neither be smelled, nor tasted nor heard, nor seen nor be
discerned by any skin-sensation, may nevertheless sometimes be real"14
( MS 320, c. 1907, p. 21 ). Moreover, laws for Peirce are "formula-
tions of relations", so law should be expressed in a "conditional propo-
sition whose antecedent and consequent express experiences in a fu-
ture tense" ( 8.192, 1904), which future tense is connected with an
endless future.15 This is why law can never be considered as com-
pleted. " No collection of facts", claims Peirce, " can constitute a law;
for the law goes beyond any accomplished facts" ( 1 .420, c.1896 ). It
only contains the general conditions of the realization of particular
events. This is the reason why law takes on an indeterminate yet de-
terminable character as regards its future instantiations.

In order to bring into light the full meaning of the above features
of Peirce's account of law, which is another expression of Thirdness, I
propose to examine it first through the looking glass of scholastic real-
ism. The best starting point, in my opinion, is the scholastic idea of the
general or universal. Peirce himself appeals to the scholastic definition:
"Generale est quod natum aptum est dici de multis" ( 5.102 ). As he
correctly points out, this represents only the predicative or the logical
aspect of the universal. However, the most important one is that of real
generality or law. "If sol" for e.g., Peirce continues, " is apt to be predi-
cated of many, it is apt to be predicated of any multitude however
great, and since there is no maximum multitude, those objects, of which
it is fit to be predicated form an aggregate that exceeds all multitude"
( 5. 102, 1902 ).16 It is in this latter analysis of generality that the idea
of continuity makes its appearance in order to offer the grounds for the
explanation of the character of inexhaustible possibility which is,as far
as I can understand - and as I will try to establish - the quintessence
of generality or law in Peirce's ontological scheme.
Peirce frequently repeats his contention that generality and conti-

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nuity are so intimately related that it is impossible to have a complete

understanding of the one without an appeal to the other.17 Further-
more, my claim will be that you cannot fully comprehend either withou
an appeal to the idea of potentiality. And the only way to discern the
unseen, at first sight, interrelations as well as the depth of those concep-
tions, is by an appeal both to Aristotle and contemporary thought, which
is the subsequent and more ambitious aim of this paper.

The scholastic idea of generality

Let us thus start with a brief analysis of generality,18 focusing
only on its most prominent features which will be necessary for shed-
ding light on its relation to continuity. The general is what the scho-
lastics called universalis and Aristotle to "kciòóXov" . For Aristotle
and the scholastics the generals, or the categories, correspond both
to our knowledge about the world, as well as to the ways the world
itself is structured. They have, therefore, both a logical and an onto-
logical aspect, the latter being the most important one.19 Further-
more, for both Aristotle and the scholastics, substance (oxxxia,
quidditas) is the basis of being. However, the real world is composed
of things which are compounds of essence and existence. Existence
belongs to the individuals as such, while essence does not exist, it
just is;20 for to exist means to exist as an individual, particular thing
and not as a universal. Thus, for the scholastics (and Scotus in par-
ticular) existence is haecceitas, particularity, actuality with spatio-tem-
poral determinations, while essence considered per se has only one
mode of being which is real but not actual;21 the relation of essence
to existence is as that of the relation of potentiality to actuality.22
Now, on this view, shared by Aristotle, the scholastics and Peirce, there
is a corresponding specific nature in the object for each universal in the
mind - otherwise scientific knowledge, which must be knowledge of
the general and not of the individual as such would be impossible.
Hence, the objective foundation of what is universal in the mind can
only be found in things, and the universal is not only that which the
mind abstracts, but it is also what is real in individual things {in rebus).
Now, we must remember that when the universal is in the mind, it

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is called unum de multis. It has a logical character and is the predicate

of many. When the universal is in rebus it is called unum in multis.21 It
has an ontological character; it is that which is in many, or, in other
words, it is the common nature (natura communis). It should not
escape attention here that for Scotus, as well as for the majority of
moderate realists, the universal in the sense of unum in multis has
two modes of being: the physical and the metaphysical.24 And it is
the latter which offers the most interesting material for Peirce's treat-
ment of his third category, or law.
Let us continue by taking a closer look at the most essential fea-
tures of the metaphysical mode, which are likely to illuminate our
analysis of Peirce's generality and the solution he chooses as regards
the dilemma between instantiated (embodied) and uninstantiated
(unembodied) qualities and laws of nature. The most prominent char-
acter is this: generality or common nature perse is a realitas which is
neither particular nor universal;25 it exists concretely only with its
individuation conditions; it is the mind which attributes to it its
character of universality, for the universal per se is indifferent; it is a
mere natura. In this respect, essence (universality, generality ) can be
defined as a mere possibility of existence. And this is where the door
opens, as I can see it, for the introduction of potentiality.26 If we take
into consideration the Aristotelean-scholastic analysis of universality,
then it seems to me, as I have argued elsewhere,27 that a consistent
account of generality cannot be given apart from potentiality. This is,
I believe, the idea expressed by Peirce in passages as the following:
"That which is possible is in so far general and, as general, it ceases to
be individual. Hence, remembering that the word 'potential' means
indeterminate yet capable of determination in any special case^ there
may be a potential aggregate of all the possibilities that are consistent
with certain general conditions... Thus the potential aggregate is,
with the strictest exactitude, greater in multitude than any possible
multitude of individuals" ( 6.185, 1898 ).

Potential aggregate - continuity.

So, at this point Peirce introduces an extremely interesting idea:

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that of a "potential aggregate" which, in my opinion, plays a central

role, since it can serve as a bridge between generality and continuity
in his scheme. A "potential aggregate" is defined by Peirce as a col-
lection of possible individuals which have not been made actual yet,
"a collection of which the individual units have no distinct identity"
(4.172).28 What is worth enhancing here is the idea of the absence of
distinct individuals in continuity and generality. Notice the distinc-
tion Peirce makes between discrete and continuous collections. For
instance, the collection of books on the desk is a discrete one; the
collection of drops of water in the ocean is not. And the most impor-
tant kind of continuous collections is that of possible objects, namely
the "collection of which the individual units have no distinct iden-
tity" ( 4. 172 ).
What exactly does the above distinction mean? What is really the
difference between a continuum and a discontinuous collection, and
what does it have to do with laws of nature? To provide an answer to
this crucial question, we must now try to explore the various aspects of
Peirce's treatment of continuity: The definitions of continuity given by
Peirce in various places of his work include the following characteriza-
tions: "the doctrine of continuity is that all things so swim in con-
tinua" ( 1.171, c. 1897 ), or " a continuum is merely a discontinuous
series with additional possibilities" ( 1. 170, c.1897 ) or a true con-
tinuum is something whose possibilities of determination "no multi-
tude of existent things could exhaust" ( 5.103 ). All this is not much of
a help for our understanding what Peirce had in mind when he re-
. ferred to the idea of continuity. However, the following passage offers
a wonderful explanation in very simple terms: "We all have an idea of
continuity. Continuity is fluidity, the merging of part into part. But to
achieve a really distinct and adequate conception of it is a difficult task...
If I were to attempt to give you any logical conception of it, I should
only make you dizzy to no purpose". So he continues, "I may say this,
however. I draw a line. Now the points on the line form a continuous
series. If I take any two points on that line, however close together,
other points there are lying between them. If that were not so, the
series of points would not be continuous"( 1.164).

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To be able to follow Peirce's line of thought, it would be helpful
if we made some preliminary clarifications concerning the relation of
continuity to infinity. It must thus first be noted that any attempt to
provide a definition of continuity involves the idea of infinity. With-
out a clear understanding of infinity there can be no clear answer to
the issue of continuity and vice versa.29 It must also be added that
both these notions have a long standing history. Questions concern-
ing their definition and nature have provoked endless debates and
stimulated profound analyses concerning their logical, mathematical
and metaphysical aspects, since antiquity. For our purposes it is also
important to notice xhzt^ grosso modo, there are two basic notions of
continuity: the mathematical and the geometric one, as well as two
notions of infinity respectively; the first leads to the acceptance of
actual and the second of potential infinity. This antithesis is as old as
it is tricky. Its origin can be traced back to Zeno and the atomists on
the one hand and Aristotle on the other.30 In the nineteenth century
the ideas of continuity and infinity were clarified by the significant
work of Richard Dedekind (1831-1916) and Georg Cantor (1845-
1918 ). According to Cantor's analysis, which prevailed in the nine-
teenth century and has been accepted by the majority of mathema-
ticians - at least until the appearance of Robinson's non-standard
analysis - the continuum was a collection of points.31 A corollary of
this thesis was the acceptance of the idea of the actual infinite.
This was a view that Peirce could not adopt for a very serious
reason, that will be analysed in what follows. But let us first see in
more detail how Peirce developed his theory. His starting point for
the idea of continuity , just as Dedekind's and Cantor's , is the logico-
mathematical analysis of the continuity of a line.32 However, Peirce
transcended the logico-mathematical level and went much further in
the direction of a qualitative speculation which was grounded, as we
shall see, on an Aristotelean ontological view. Now, according to
Cantor there is an isomorphism between the system of points on a
line and the system of real numbers. So, if a line is divided into two
parts, what will happen to the line is analogous to what will happen

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to the real numbers. This idea is expressed by the "Dedekind Cut

Theorem", which goes like this: If we make a division of real num-
bers at point P into two sections L (left) and R (right) , known as a
"Dedekind Cut", then every number belongs to exactly one of the
two sections. In other words, if a number belongs to R, then so does
every bigger number, and if a number belongs to L, then so does
every smaller number. Thus, according to the "Dedekind Cut Theo-
rem" no matter how the "Dedekind Cut" is made, it is always the
case that either the L section has a member or the R section has a
minimum member, but not both. As a result the two halves created
by the division cannot be mirror images of each other. Now, if this
be applied to the line, when we divide the line AD at point P (fig.l),
we must either include point P in the R half of the division, or in-
clude point P in the L half of the division. In either case one of the
two half parts of the line must remain without an end point, so that
the two halves will not be mirror images.

fig.l fig. 2

Kurt Godei, as Putnam reports,33 was one who expressed doubts

about the isomorphism of the real numbers and the geometrical line. He
thought that the geometrical line might fail to obey The Dedekind Cut
Theorem and claimed that, at least intuitively, if you divide the geo-
metrical line at point P, you would expect that the two half parts created
by the division would be mirror images. What is so interesting about this
objection is that it represents a genuine Aristotelean view, which, as we
shall see, had already been adopted by Peirce, in his treatment of conti-
nuity.34 According to this view, a line is an irreducible geometrical object
and not a collection of more elementary objects.35 If a line is divided into
two parts, it makes no sense to ask to which half the point of division
belongs, because points do not belong to lines although they lie on
them. They are simply conceptual divisions of the line.
Let us now suppose that we divide a line interval at a point P and
then separate the two halves by moving the right half a short distance

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to the right (fig. 2). According to Aristotle, this must not be consid-
ered as an one-to-one mapping of one collection of points onto an-
other, but as a primitive and irreducible geometrical transformation.
Hence, the end-points A and D are not to be regarded as members of
the line segment AD, but simply as points that are located there be-
cause of the fact that the line we have constructed ends there. More-
over, it must be noted that in fig.2 the L half AB of the original
segment AD still has two points and this is because for Aristotle the
idea of an "open" line interval had no meaning at all; a line interval
by the mere fact of existing as a line interval defines its endpoints.
The same holds for the line interval CD.36 But the question naturally
arises here: Where did C come from? The answer is simply that the
act of dividing and separating the line segments had as a result the
division of point P into two points B and C, or, in Peirce's words,
"the point P has ' become' the two points B and C". This is an idea
which has no place in the Cantonan ( atomists' ) view of a line as a
collection of distinct points. It can only work if we introduce the idea
of infinitesimals.

Continuity - Infinitesimals
We must say that the issue of infinitesimals has a long history of
its own. There have been many attempts through the centuries, start-
ing with Aristotle, to use them as a tool in order to provide an answer
to Zeno's paradoxes. However, it is of interest that in the nineteenth
century infinitesimals lost out as they came to be thought of by math-
ematicians as mere chimera. It was only by the 1960's that their
"ghostly thread in the corridors of mathematics" became quite real
once again due to the work of Abraham Robinson and others. So,
infinitesimals have now become mathematically respectable in the so
called nonstandard analysis of Robinson; and since then several meth-
ods have been devised that make use of infinitesimals.37
Now, to come back to the Dedekind's Theorem, we must re-
member that it was built on the assumption of standard points. In
other words, every point had to be located in the monad of a "stan-
dard point", a point whose distance from the origin is a (standard)

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real number. So, on this view, there was no place for infinitesimals,
for infinitesimals are line intervals whose length lies between zer
and every positive standard number, or in other words, an infinitesi-
mal is greater than zero, but less than any possible length whatsoever.
This is expressed by Peirce, whose thinking at this point is Aristotelean
as follows: within a single point one can find at least c different point
parts where c is the power of the set of real numbers and the cardinal
number of points on the line is not only greater than ¿, but greater
than the cardinal number of all sets. In other words, he believed that
the points on the line are of a higher order of infinity than the real
members. This implies the existence of nonstandard points on the
line, and cosequently the existence of infinitesimals.38 Thus Peirc
came to think of a continuum as consisting of the standard points
together with all the nonstandard points in their monads, or as h
himself remarks, a continuum is "merely a discontinuous series with
additional possibilities" ( 1.170, c.1897) . But what does he mean
by additional possibilities? To understand this view we must come
back to Aristotle.

Continuity - potentiality - infinity

The important question here to be asked concerns the existence
of point P before we made the division. Did point P exist before we
divided the line AD? Aristotle's answer would be, yes, point P was
there all the time, though potentially, and it just passed to existence
(actuality) when the division was actually made. This is exactly what
Peirce, too, had in mind. And this is because for both thinkers, as we
have already seen, points do not exist as points unless they are marked
on the line. Points are really large aggregates of point parts: hence, "a
continuum is precisely that, every part of which has parts, in the same
sense" (5.335). So, when we are dealing with a collection of material
numbers, what we are really considering is its possibility of being and
not an existent particular object. In other words, we are dealing with
a "collection of possible individuals" and this is exactly what happens
with our line, as well. Accordingly, we could also claim that a line
should be viewed as a collection of possible points, i.e. a collection of

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possibilia 39, which as possibilia " lack distinct individuality", but are
nonetheless real.
This is, therefore, how Peirce arrived at his idea of a "potential
aggregate" through the idea of continuity grounded on that of gen-
erality as well as on potentiality. On his view, the aggregate of all
abnumeral collections finally leads to such a dense field of possibility
that the units of the aggregate lose their individual identity. The ag-
gregate ceases to be a collection ( in the Cantorian-atomists' sense )
and becomes a continuum. Hence, the reason that a line is a collec-
tion of points that " lack distinct individuality" is that it is not a col-
lection of mathematical objects but a collection of possibilia and
possibilia are not fully determinate. It is a potential collection inde-
terminate and yet determinable.40 It must be added here that the
potential character of these infinitesimal entities which lose their dis-
tinct identity and merge into one another can be grounded on the
mathematical fact that two concrete numbers - those having nu-
merical content - cannot differ by an infinitesimal amount. As a
result both end points of an infinitesimal interval cannot be labeled
using concrete numbers. Thus, an infinitesimal interval can never be
captured through measurement; infinitesimals remain in principle for-
ever beyond the range of observation.
This offers a powerful instrument for dealing with Zeno's para-
dox, as has recently been argued.41 The arrow's tip is caught at rest at
concretely labeled points of time, but along the vast majority of the
stretch some kind of motion is taking place. Peirce had already seen
this, as did Aristotle. It was his contention that we can only explain
our perception of the flux of time through infinitesimals. As he re-
marks in his New Elements of Mathematics, if we try to imagine time
as "a series of instantaneous photographs... [t]hen, no matter how
closely they follow one another, there is no more motion visible in
any one of them than if they were taken at intervals of centuries "
(3.59 ). So, Peirce, exactly as Aristotle, made an appeal to time as a
"continuum par excellence, through the spectacles of which we envis-
age every other continuum" (6.86, 1898).42 He thus associated points
on a line sequent with instants in an interval of time in order to show

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that "between any two instants of time or between any two points on
a line, there is room for any multitude of instants or of points, what-
soever - not merely room for any enumerable multitude, but room
for any one of the single denumeral series of abnumerable ( abzahlbor
) multitudes". This led him to the idea that time is not a collection of
discrete instants, but " [t]heir being is welded together" (MS 137, p.
4-5, 1904), so that they lose their identity.43 Hence, instants of time
as points on a line, become a collection of possible points, a collec-
tion of possibilia which as possibilia lack distinct individuality but are
nonetheless real.

This view is essentially interwoven with the idea of infinity. The

actual infinite ( in the Zenonean-atomists' sense ) is that whose in-
finitude exists or is given all at the same time. The potential infinite
is that whose infinitude is given over time and is never present as a
whole. This is exactly what endows it with the character of a constant
state of becoming, which never actually is, in its entirety, i.e. it never
achieves full being. " Time and movement", claims Aristotle, " are
indeed unlimited, but only as processes, and we cannot even suppose
their successive stretches to exist"44 ( Physics 208a 20-23 ). Peirce
seems to have been perfectly aware of the Aristotelean view. The very
substance of what Aristotle says about time, remarks Peirce, is this:
"The past is ended and done; the future is endless and can never have
been done... when we make general assertions concerning it, we can
only be talking of it as an object of possible experience... time wreal...
I do not question Time's being a/orw, that is, being of the nature of
. a Law, and not of an Existence" ( 6.96, 1903) . Hence, what started
as a logico-mathematical analysis ends up as a metaphysical, qualita-
tive, dynamical explanation of continuity45 and through the treat-
rnent of time as a real continuum, with all its characteristics we have
already analyzed, Peirce comes back to the idea of generality and law.
Continuity and law are thus seen to be intimately related through the
idea of potentiality.

Conclusion : the real character of laws of nature.

We are now ready to pull all the threads together. It is my con-

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Peirce on Continuity and Laws of Nature 660

tention that the essential attributes applied to time, considered as an

example of real continuity and thus of infinity, can now help us draw
our final picture of laws of nature.46 What we must not lose sight of is
the close connection of generality-continuity-potentiality, which leads
to the idea of inexhaustible possibility transcending all discrete actual
multitude. This, in turn, involves the idea of an endless possibility
projected into the indefinite future.
In this picture law can be characterized as a "potential aggre-
gate" which is irreducible to any collection of actual instances; " [i]t
only contains general conditions which permit the determination of
individuals " (6.185, 1898 ). Thus, "the content of the statement of
a law no multitude of existent things could exhaust"(5.1O3), either
in the past and present or in the future, because it applies to an infin-
ity of future instances. In other words, " it involves the idea of every
possible something", or, in Aristotle's words, " the idea of that which
there is always something beyond".47 Furthermore, Peirce's view, as
has been analyzed, enriched with elements coming from Aristotle
and the scholastics and seen in the light of contemporary thought,
seem to be able to provide all the essential elements we need for
proposing an alternative solution with regard to the present day dis-
cussion of problems concerning our understanding of laws of na-
ture. Instead of defining law as a real existent thing, either in a Pla-
tonic transcendental world, and thus completely unistantiated, or in
the physical world, and thus fully instantiated, it is far more impor-
tant for realism to appeal to that mode of being of law, which repre-
sents a possibility of existence, infinitely rich in content, because of its
virtually containing the inexhaustible concrete wealth of its particu-
lar instantiations.
This is the core feature which differentiates Peirce's view from
the Platonists' insistence on the transcendental character of laws of
nature and from the nominalists' insistence on the importance of the
instantiated, i.e. existent and actually real laws . On this view, law is
essentially, as I have called it, instantiatable, i.e. potentially real as it
points to its future instantiations, for the actual manifestations of law
are the discrete units which burst the flux of what is essentially a

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continuum, the very nature of which involves the absence of distinct

individuality. And since there is no limit as to the number of instances,
a law of nature can be described both in an Aristotelean and in a
Peircean fashion as " the potential though not the realized whole",
which embraces all phenomena as a continuous spectrum of its pos-
sible future manifestations.


*This paper was read at the 23rd Annual Meeting of the SAAP, Toronto,
March 7-9, 1996; it is the product, in its most substantial part, of research th
I pursued at Harvard University as a Fulbright senior research scholar in th
Fall of 1991. I should thus like to express my gratitude both to the Fulbrigh
Institute as well as to the Department of Philosophy at Harvard University and
Hilary Putnam in particular for kindly sponsoring my visit. I would also like t
thank the Houghton Library at Harvard University for giving me permissio
to have access to C.S. Peirce's manuscripts. Finally, I am grateful to Hilar
Putnam for invaluable discussions and Richard Robin for encouraging my in
terest in Peirce's Synechism and for stimulating discussions. I must also ad
that my present work draws, in one respect, on a paper on "Peirce and Laws o
Nature" that I presented at a Round Table organized by the Charles S. Peirc
Society in the context of the XIX World Congress of Philosophy, Moscow, Rus
sia, 22-28 August 1993. I am indebted to the organizers, Richard Robin and
Christian Kloesel as well as to the participants for their invaluable comment
Finally, I would like to thank the discussant of my present paper at the 23r
SAAP Meeting, Andrew G. Bjelland, for his stimulating comments.

1 . I have earlier dealt only very briefly with the role of continuity
in some other aspects of Peirce's philosophy in my ( 1980), (1991), (1993a ),
(1993b), (1993c).
2 . The issue of the intimate connection of synechism with Peirce's
account of laws of nature has not been the object of particular interest in Peirce
scholarship, as far as I know. However, significant work has been done: (1 ) on
Peirce's theory of laws of nature in relation to the idea of generality ( see for

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Peirce on Continuity and Laws of Nature 662

e.g. E. Moore 1952 , 1968 , 1978, 1994 and L. Friedman , 1995 ); (2) on
Peirce's doctrine of synechism as an instance of his logico-mathematical specu-
lations in relation to generality and thirdness but not to laws of nature; ( 3) on
Peirce's commitment to scholastic realism but not to Aristotle . As regards (3),
J.F. Boler ( 1963) has done tremendous work on the issue. Of great interest
is also the work of E. Moore ( 1950), ( 1964), ( 1968 ), ( 1994); S. Haack, (1987),
(1992); D. Roberts ( 1970 ); C. Engel-Tiercelin ( 1992); F. Michael ( 1988); P.
Skagestad (1981 ) etc. It must be added that Edward Moore is one of the few
Peirce scholars who emphasized the role of potentiality in the function of laws
of nature in Peirce's thought. On the other hand, C. Hartshorne (1929) has
written interestingly on Peirce's notion of continuity in relation to the Third
Category. Finally, as regards the logico-mathematical analysis of Peirce's theory
of continuity in relation also to his ontological scheme and its linkage to Aristotle's
thought, H. Putnam (1995) has provided a profound analysis. See also Ketner
and Putnam (1992 ), C. Eisele ( 1979 ) and S. Levy (1991 ).
3. The difficulty of an attempt to work on the "principal thing"
of Peirce's thought, which remained "unpublished" is illustrated by Peirce
himself in a most discouraging way: " ... All that you can find in print of my
work on logic are simply scattered outcroppings here and there of a rich
vein which remains unpublished. Most of it I suppose has been written down;
but no human being could ever put together the fragments. I could not
myself do so. "1903.
4. I have earlier tried to analyze the role of potentiality in Peirce's
thought on several occasions. See for e.g. D.Sfendoni-Mentzou ( 1980), ( 1993a),
(1993c), (1994), (1995).
5 . The view that laws of nature express a real regularity in nature,
an inner bond between particulars, or, in Armstrong's terminology, a "relation
between universals", which can provide explanations of a deeper level of reality
not open to observation, is shared by the majority of present-day realists, al-
though each one of them defends his own version. J. Smart (1968), for in-
stance, holds that empirical adequacy cannot provide a criterion of the truth of
a theory, because it is restricted to actual prediction, whereas scientific theory
includes both actual and possible predictions. Regularities, then, of observable
phenomena must be explained in terms of a deeper structure of reality, other-
wise they can only be based on "lucky coincidences" or "coincidences on a

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cosmic scale" (see, 1968, p. 39). We must here notice that, as I. Hackin
(1983) has pointed out, there are two basic types of realism today: (I) Realism
about entities and (ii) Realism about theories. According to this distinction
Smart's realism is both about theories and about entities - as is the case,
believe, with Peirce - although the burden of his interest falls on the reality o
entities postulated by the theories. On the other hand Nancy Cartwright ( 1982)
accepts the reality of unobservable entities and of causal connections, but re
fuses to accept the explanatory power of theories. This attitude is also shared by
I. Hacking, who tries to abandon realism about theories, and adopts a realism
about entities, which can be used and manipulated by scientists.
6. For a critical analysis of the Platonist view on laws of nature
see my ( 1994). What I have tried to do in this essay is to show the weaknesses
of the Platonist approach through a critical discussion of James R. Brown's
(1991, 1994)theory of laws of nature. My claim in this paper is that although
Brown's theory successfully solves the epistemological problem, it nevertheless
cannot provide a satisfactory answer to the ontological question regarding the
separation of the two worlds. I, therefore, try to establish an alternative solu-
tion which is constructed on an analysis of some key concepts of Aristotelean-
scholastic realism and C.S. Peirce's thought. In particular, I focus on the idea
of natural kinds and potentiality, on the basis of which I draw the conclusio
that laws of nature must be considered as instantiatable, i.e. potentially real as
they point to their future instantiations.
7. I have dealt with the issue of laws of nature and the problems
created for Armstsrong's alleged realism by his insistence on the principle o
instantiation, in my (1996). My thesis in this paper is that a careful reading of
Armstrong reveals that some of his most basic assumptions cannot possibly liv
in harmony with the traditional doctrine of universals. His theory, which start
as a vigorously defended realism, eventually transforms into a disguised nomi-
nalism. I thus proceed to propose an alternative picture of laws of nature. In
my account, which I call a potential -pragmatic realism, because of its linkag
both to Aristotle and to C.S. Peirce, Armstrong's belief in the reality of univer-
sals is retained. What is criticized is his emphasis on the principle of instantiatio
on the one hand, and his rejection of the idea of potentiality on the other. By
contrast, my thesis is that potentiality is a sine qua non for a genuine realis
account of laws of nature .

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8. It is true, that in Scotus' idea of "contraction" there is an

emphasis on the particularization of the universal by haecceity, which jnust be
understood as the ultimate realitas of the individual and which gives it its actual
existence. Hence, Peirce also remarks that Scotus "indin[ed] too much toward
nominalism" ( 1.560), defended a " halting realism" ( 6.175 ) or "was sepa-
rated from nominalism only by the division of a hair" ( 8.11 ).
9 . All medieval scholastic philosophers, following Aristotle( see for
e.g. Arist. Met. 1029a 27-8 ) in his antithesis to Plato, held that the only true
substances are single, individual (kclò* c¿kciotov), concrete objects with spatio-
temporal determinations. Universals, therefore, cannot have the character of Pla-
tonic forms, i.e. they cannot be individual substances, existing in a world separate
from their particular manifestations (see Arist. Met. 1086b 2ff). The universal
must be found only in particular things ( see ibid. 1020a 33, 35b 2, b6, 1045a
23-35 ). This is why scholastic realism, such as that of St. Thomas Aquinas and
Duns Scotus is called "moderate realism" in comparison to that of Plato.
10. Lesley Friedman ( 1995) argues that Peirce is both a transcen-
dental and an immanent realist. This is a view that I cannot share, not even on
the basis of Friedman's own analysis of the issue. Indeed, Friedman tries to
establish her thesis upon a distinction Peirce makes between embodied ( instan-
tiated ) / unembodied (uninstantiable ) qualities as well as instantiated /
uninstantiated laws . An unembodied quality, as she claims, is that which is not
"dependent, in its being, upon the fact that some material thing possesses it",
or which is not dependent "upon sense", or "upon the subject in which it is
realized" ( 1.422 ) ( see, p. 379). This, according to Friedman, shows that for
Peirce unembodied qualities are necessary for the reality of laws of nature; and
the reason is that Peirce wants to cover counterfactual cases . The statement,
"all solid bodies fall in the absence of any upward force or pressure," remarks
Friedman, refers to actual cases only. But if a statement expressed not only
actual facts, but also counterfactuals, it would be like this: " if x were solid, then
it would react to a test in a certain way".
Although there is nothing wrong with this remark about counterfactuals,
I believe that Friedman fails to take into consideration the following central
theses which, I believe, are true of Peirce's realism : (I) it is not only unembodied
(uninstantiated), but also embodied ( instantiated ) qualities and laws of nature
that are independent both of our perception of them, and of the objects in

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which they are realized (2) and this is because an embodied or instantiat
quality is not completely identical with its instantiation, i.e. there still is a differ
ence between the quality perse and its individuation, for e.g. "redness in itsel
even if it be embodied , is something positive and sui generis" (1.25, 1903);
(iii) the "mode of being of redness , before anything in the universe" was yet
red was not really an unembodied or uninstantiated quality. It was " a positive
qualitative possibility" in other words, although it was not instantiated yet, i
was nevertheless instantiatable; if this is true then an unembodied quality
Peirce's ontology couldn't be characterized as a transcendental or a priori {ante
res) quality, in the Platonic sense, because it is in its own way immanent {i
rebus) , in virtue of its having a prospect of its future instantiation. All this a
plies to laws of nature as well.
Therefore, I cannot share the opinion that Peirce would accept com-
pletely uninstantiated laws as real laws ; and this is something, I must say, th
Friedman points out on one occasion in her paper. The only real laws, she says
that Peirce accepts are those which are instantiable, i.e. those that have a pros
pect of their future instantiation: " A true general cannot have any being unle
there is to be some prospect of its sometimes having occasion to be embodi
in a fact, which is itself not a law or anything like a law" (1.304). Friedman
making use of the above quotation, correctly remarks that "this means that law
is dependent [not upon the actual occasion but] upon the possibility of i
being instantiated. That is, it must be at least possible for the law to have i
stances , or be realized in a fact"(p.384). She thus, quite correctly, suggest
that a distinction must be made between "uninstantiated laws with nomical
impossible antecedents" and " uninstantiated laws with nomically possible an
tecedents" (according to Armstrong's terminology, see Armstrong 1983, p. 16
Still, on Friedman's view, Peirce rules out the latter type of law (see p. 386
This thesis is, in my opinion, absolutely correct.
As I will try to establish in the present paper, Peirce defends not a
Platonist-transcendental realism (realism ante res) but an Aristotelean (imm
nent, in rebus) realism. It is true, laws for Peirce are those which are neith
instantiated nor uninstantiated but those which are instantiatable. However
Friedman finally draws the unsupported conclusion, even by her own analysis
that Peirce has two types of realism: he is both a transcendental and an imma
nent realist. "Insofar as they [laws] are uninstantiated", claims Friedman, "bot

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Peirce on Continuity and Laws of Nature 666

of Peirce's universals arc transcendental"(p. 86-6). For further arguments against

a transcendental - idealistic account of Peirce's thought , see my ( 1991 ), ( 1995a).
11. See also my (1994), (1996).
1 2 . Let us here recall Peirce's strategy, namely his famous Harvard
experiment of 1903. The beauty of this experiment lies in its simplicity. Peirce
proposes to attack the question experimentally (see, 5.93 ff.). He takes a stone,
holds it in his hand and asks his audience what they think would happen, if he
let go his hold upon the stone. What he intends to do is to prove that he can
make a correct prediction by actual trial. And his prediction, as well as his
audience's prediction, is that the stone will foil to the floor. In fact, he releases
the stone, the stone falls down and he exclaims full of enthusiasm, " I told you
so!". Now the question is, how do I know that the stone will fall to the floor?
shall I say that each time I release the stone and it falls to the floor, that I have
one more single event added to the past series of such events, or shall I assume
that it is a law of nature making this uniformity necessary?
13. In his list of nominalists Peirce includes such philosophers as
the following: Locke , Hume , Berkeley, Comte, Poincaré, Pearson, etc.
14. Peirce further suggests that there is one "active principle"
operating in nature and the essence of his philosophy is his subscription to the
reality of generals. " Reality" for Peirce, " consists in regularity. Real regularity
is active law. Active law is efficient reasonableness, or in other words... Reason-
able reasonableness is Thirdness as Thirdness" (5.121).
15. At this point Peirce introduces his logic of relatives, which
provides a relational treatment both of predicates and of laws of nature. A rela-
tive is " the equivalent of a word or phrase which, either as it is ( when I term it
a complete relative ) or else when the verb 'is' is attached to it ( and if it wants
such attachment, I term it a nominal relative ) becomes a sentence with some
number of proper names left blank" ( 3.466). So, a proposition with one blank
is a monadic relative, with two blanks a dyadic relative, and so on. However, we
must notice here that for Peirce even monadic predicates are virtual relations.
For instance, the predicate 'is hard' signifies a relation of test to response. Thus,
a thing is hard if it responds in a certain way to a certain test. The proposition,
therefore, 'x is hard' is transformed by Peirce into the following proposition ' if
x were scratched by carborundum, it would not leave a mark'. The hardness of
the diamond is instantiated in the relation between test and response. This is

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exactly the crucial point that offers the real grounds for a passage from a realism
about properties to a realism about laws of nature. "[T]o say that a body is
hard, or red, or heavy, or of a given weight, or has any other property, is to say
that it is subject to law and therefore is a statement referring to the future"
(5.545, c. 1902 ). As we shall see in detail, for Peirce "the essence of a thing
is... the law of its being" ( 2.409 n. 2, 1893 ). The relation expressed in the
predicate serves as the passage to higher order relations which are laws of na-
ture. This is why Peirce claimed that what the scholastics called natura was in
reality a law of nature. Laws are formulations of relations, so all properties are
in the end laws expressed in subjunctive conditionals , or conditional proposi-
tions: "the law", claims Peirce, "should be a truth expressible as a conditional
proposition whose antecedent and consequent express experiences in a future
tense, and further, that, as long as the law retains the character of a law, there
should be possible occasions in an indefinite future when events of the kind
described in the antecedent may come to pass... But in all the range of science
there is no single proposition that goes by the name of a law, from which con-
ditional predictions as to future experiences may not be deduced" (8.192, 1904).
16. And the text continues: " Take any two possible objects that
might be called suns and, however much alike they may be, any multitude what-
soever of intermediate suns are alternatively possible, and therefore as before
these intermediate possible suns transcend all multitude. In short, the idea of a
general involves the idea of possible variations which no multitude of existent
things could exhaust but would leave between any two not merely many pos-
sibilities but possibilities absolutely beyond all multitude" ( 5.103 ).
17. " True generality" for Peirce "is, in fact, nothing but a rudi-
mentary form of true continuity. Continuity is nothing but perfect generality of
a law of relationship" (6.172, 1902).
18. For a more detailed analysis of the scholastic idea of gener-
ality see my (1995b ).
19. In fact, there are three aspects of the universal: " Est triplex
universale: quoddam quod est in re, seu natura ipsa, quae est in particularibus...
est etiam quoddam universale quod est a re acceptum per abstractionem... Est
etiam quoddam universale ante rem, quod estprius re ipsa" , St. Thomas, Comm.
in Sentt., Lib. II, dist. iii, q. 2, art 2. For the purposes of this paper we will refer
only to the two of them.

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20. Esse denotes only the act of being, while existence denotes
what is in space and time with particular determinations.
21. See, St. Thomas, Summit Theol. la pars. q. 39 art. 2.
22. See, ibid. In this respect, Scotus shares with St. Thomas the
view that matter stands to form as potency to act. He also defines form in an
Aristotelean fashion as the actuality of matter. However, matter for Scotus is
not only potentiality; it also has an actuality of its own, apart from its mere
potential existence: "Forma communicat materiae suam actualitatem et suam
actum essendi et suam operationem" , Scotus, De rerum Principio, q. ix, n. 53.
23. It must be noted, that the term universal is properly used only
when one refers to the universal concept or idea in the mind, which has an
objective foundation in things (fundamentum in rebus ), while the universal as
unum in multis is what is called natura communis. All individuals belonging to
the same species share a common nature, e.g. Socrates is a man in virtue of
something real which is called natura (communis ), i.e. in virtue of manness. At
this point several questions, regarding common nature, have been traditionally
raised. The most important are the following: (1) Is Socrates' nature as an
individual numerically different from Plato's nature as it is from a cat's nature?
If this is not the case, and if we wish to maintain that Socrates and Plato have
something real in common, then this real cannot be a singular; it cannot be
numerically one; it must therefore have a unity which is neither numerical nor
merely conceptual. This is a specific type of nature which Scotus characterizes
as "less than numerical" but nonetheless real (see, Scotus, Rep. Par. II, dist. ii,
q.5,n.ll). As to the question, how common nature, which is not a de se haec,
becomes a part of the individual, Scotus claims that common nature is "con-
tracted" in the individual, by haecceity, so that it becomes, in some respect,
identical with it (see Scotus, Op. Ox. II, dist, xlii, q. 4, n. 7 ). This is one of the
main reasons that Scotus has been criticized by Peirce for his nominalistic incli-
nation. Scotus tried to escape this difficulty created by the need to define the
character of the unity of particularity and universality by inventing his famous
"formal" distinction. What is peculiar about it is the fact that it is very close to
a logical but not itself a logical distinction; It is a distinction aparte re, i.e. a
distinction which has an objective ground in reality itself, which, however, is
not physical, since essence and thisness are not two separate things , but are
different moments or aspects of the same particular thing.

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24. Although the unity of essence is less than numerical, claims

Scotus, and although essence cannot exist apart from the unity of the individua
substance, yet it is logically and metaphysically prior to it (See Scotus, Op. Ox.
II, dist. iii, q.l). Therefore, the essence perse cannot be identical with the indi-
vidualized nature. This means that, although the nature exists objectively only
along with its individuating conditions, logically and metaphysically it is prior
to these conditions, as absolute quiddity is indifferent to singularity and univer-
sality ( see, ibid., q. i, n. 7 ).
25. It does not point to any particular individual case and
this is exactly what constitutes the indeterminacy of the ens reale.: " it can
be real without being determined to exist in any one thing" (See, Scotus
In Metaph. 1, 7, q.18, n.8).
26. See also my ( 1994), ( 1995b).
27. Following the Aristotelean -scholastic lines of thought Peirce
provides, as far as I can see, the elements for the following world-picture:
Reality is not restricted to the realm of actual, individual things, which he
places in the category of Secondness. For Peirce, as for Aristotle and scholastic
realists, reality embodies also that which is real though not completely deter-
mined, "since not presenting itself in actually objectified form" ( 6.365 ) as a
concrete existence in place and time (hie et nunc ). Peirce expresses this as fol-
lows: " the will-be's , the actually *rt and the have been's are not the sum of the
reals. They only cover actuality. There are besides would be's and can be's that
are real" ( 8.216, 1910 ). Hence, besides the nominalists' world of actually
existing things and properties, all of which come to us through our senses
there is plenty of room for properties of things interpreted by Peirce as disposi-
tions, liabilities, tendencies, habits. What is significant about them is that they
can be ascribed as real even if they are not actually tested per se. To say, for
instance, that a diamond is hard, is to assert that it would resist pressure when
scratched ( see, 8.208). For hardness, as Peirce claims, "is not invented by
men, as the word is, but is really and truly in the hard things and is one in them
all, as a description of habit, disposition, behavior" (1.27, n.l, 1909 ). In this
respect, as we have already pointed out, the analysis of qualities can be given in
the form of subjunctive conditionals, or in Peirce's terminology, in the form of
"would-be's" of possible behavior. Thus, a quality is an expression of generality
functioning through the idea of potentiality and expressed in the form of

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conditional proposition.
28. " It is vague, but yet with such a vagueness as permits of its
accurate determination in regard to any particular object proposed for exami-
nation" ( 6.186, 1898), or else, "[i]t is a potential collection indeterminate yet
determinable" ( ibid. ) .
29. As both Peirce and Aristotle point out, the concept of conti-
nuity involves that of infinity. " [I]t is in connexion with continuity that we first
encounter the concept of the 'illimitable' ", claims Aristotle, " [a]nd this is why
in definitions of continuity this concept of the 'illimitable' frequently occurs, as
when we say that the continuous is that which is susceptible of division without
limit" ( Physics, 200b 18-22 ). " So then, (a) if a single continuum is what is
meant by 'one', it follows that ' the One' is many, for every continuum is divis-
ible without limit" ( Physics 185b 10-12). In the same line of thought Peirce
remarks, "[continuity involves infinity in the strictest sense, and infinity even
in a less strict sense goes beyond the possibility of direct experience "(1.166, c.
1897; cf., 1.165) . The only difference between the two thinkers, in this par-
ticular case, is that Aristotle refers to infinity in his treatment of the issue, while
Peirce is concerned with the idea of continuity. However, both are definitely
dealing with the same issue in a remarkably similar way.
30. The exposition of such problems is to be found in Zeno's para-
doxes ( 5th cent. BC) and Aristotle's attempt to reply to them. For the An-
cient Greek ideas of continuity and infinity see, M. Kline ( 1972), W.
MacLaughlin and S.L. Miller ( 1992), E. Sondheimer and A. Rogerson ( 198 1 ),
W. MacLaughlin ( 1994 ), G.E. Melbourne ( 1995 ).
31. To this idea Kronccker was opposed as well as Peirce, as we
shall see in more detail.

32 . I must say here that for the exposition of Peirce 's logico- mathe-
matical analysis of continuity I have benefited greatly from H. Putnam (1995),
(cf. K. Ketner & H. Putnam, 1992). I also owe a lot to C. Eisele ( 1979 ) and S.
Levy ( 1991 ).
33. See H. Putnam (1995), p.3.
34. H. Putnam (1995) provides both a most profound and illu-
minating analysis of Peirce's linkage to Aristotle concerning his theory of con-
35. Geometry for Peirce is the study of continuity. In the geomet-

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671 Demetra Sfendoni-Mentzou

rie analysis Peirce was led to topology and modes of connection with the con-
tinuum. In this respect, his logic is a modal logic.
36. Peirce himself was perfectly aware of Aristotle's view on conti-
nuity (cruvexéG ) and infinity (á neipov). Indeed, he explicitly refers to Aristotle's
definition of a continuum as "something whose parts have a common limit"
(6.122, 1892) and claims that his continuity consists in Kanticity and
Aristotelicity ; the Kanticity means that there is a point between any two points,
while the Aristotelicity makes for the inclusion of every point which is a limit. In
his Elements of Mathematics, Peirce says that, " a whole is said to be continuou
or a continuum if it is infinitely divisible and if, further, it contains the limit of
every inenumerable but numerable series which it contains" (I take this from C
Eisele, 1979, p. 212) ; see also, " The property of Aristotelicity may be roughly
stated thus: a continuum contains the end point belonging to every endles
series of points which it contains" (6.123, 1892).
37. For a very interesting and illuminating analysis of the idea of
infinitesimals see, S. Levy (1991), J. Dauben (1988), W. MacLaughlin and S.L
Miller (1992). It should be noted here that, although Robinson's nonstandard
analysis is connected with the re-introduction of infinitesimals, it can in no wa
be identified with Pierce's idea of a continuum. This point is illuminated by H
Putnam (1995), p. 12.
38. Peirce's set theory presented in his Harvard lectures III and
VIII, of 1898, has points of resemblance to that of both Ernst Zermelo and
John von Neumann. See H. Putnam (1995), p. 10.
39. In an extremely interesting manuscript (MS 137, 1904), tided,
Topical Geometry, Peirce remarks: " the points on a line are not a collection of
discrete objects. Their being is welded together, so that no one can logically be
removed alone. That is as much as to say that there really exist no points upon
a continuous line... they have a potential being; but they do not exist unti
something happens which marks them... therefore those intermediate point
being possible, are already there in the only sense there is in speaking of un-
marked points. Such is the notion of continuity... Let part of a surface be painted
green while the rest remains white. What is the color of the dividing line; is
green or not? I should say that it is both green and not. ' But that violates the
principle of contradiction, without which there can be no sense in anything
Not at all; the principle of contradiction does not apply to possibilities". Thi

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Peirce on Continuity and Laws of Nature 672

view is also connected with the boundary problem in Peirce's topological stud-
ies (See C. Eisele , 1979, p.212 ). Peirce tried to explain that, if a series of
points up to the limit is included in a continuum, the limit is also included. As
he explains in his Topical Geometry ( MS 137), the fact that "there really exist
no points in a continuous line", and the fact that they are "welded together"
leads to the idea that no one can logically be removed alone. In such a case a
line would be without an end. But this is "absurd - as soon as it is assumed

that the line is truly continuous. For no point is on the line by its own blind
force of existence, as independent individual objects are in existence..., and
though you may suppose a single particle to be separated from the end of the
line, thereby supposing it to take on an independent existence, you cannot take
away the possibility of the line's having a point at the end of it. That point
remains logically possible".
40. In this sense Peirce's picture is that of L.E J. Brouwer, but
with a substantial difference, which is explained by H. Putnam in H. Putnam
(1995), p.15.
41. For a very interesting analysis of this idea see, W.
MacLaughlin ( 1994).
42. This, as far as I know, has escaped attention in Peirce scholar-
ship; For e.g. H.Putnam (1995 )(and K.Ketner and H. Putnam, 1992 ) does
not refer to Peirce's treatment of time as a continuum. C. Eisele ( 1979 ) on
the other hand, although she refers to Peirce's treatment of time as a con-
tinuum, makes the remark that it is perhaps Hamilton that influenced Peirce
on this particular issue. I must say here that the reason for my calling attention
to this fact (which deserves to be treated as an autonomous subject) is not only
because I wish to add one more point showing Peirce's linkage to Aristotle,
but also because I believe that it can offer the key to a deeper understanding of
the metaphysical aspects of continuity and generality in Peirce's philosophy.
Subsequently, my hope is that it will further illuminate the basic characters of
laws of nature.

43. Cf., the instants of time are not distinct, but rather "are so
close together as to merge into one another..." ( NE, 360) . They "are every-
where welded together" ( NE, 360) . NE stands for C.S.Peirce (1976).
44. Cf., " the unlimited potentially exists" ( Physics 206a 19 ), "it
never exists as a thing, as a determined quantum does" ( 206b 14-22). In

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673 Demetra Sfendoni-Mentzou

other words it " is the potential, though not the realized whole" ( 207a 22
Here we have the Aristotelean view which has become the source of inspiratio
for Peirce's treatment of the continuity of time. It is obvious that seen from this
point of view potentiality becomes for Aristotle an indispensable ingredient o
the idea both of continuity and infinity and subsequently of the continuity o
time. Indeed , his claim is that in this case we are to understand potentiality no
in the sense in which we say that the potentiality of a statue exists in the bronze.
"[T]he only sense in which the unlimited is actualized at all is the sense in
which we say that it 'actually is' such and such a day of the month, or that th
[Olympic] games 'actually are' on; for in these cases, too, the period of time or
the succession of events in question is not ( like the statue-potentialities of th
bronze) all actualized at once, but is in course of transit as long as it lasts. The
Olympic games, as a whole, are a potentiality only, even when they are in pro
cess of actualization" ( Physics 206a 22-25 ). This is an extremely importan
point because it stresses the fact that the potential being of infinity in real tim
is not the same as the logical divisibility, but it is a physical process progressively
being actualized and never being able to be all as a whole. This is made clear by
Aristotle as follows: " Moreover, 'having no limit' is not quite the same thing
applied to time or to the human race and as applied to the possibility of con
tinuously dividing a 'magnitude', as it decreases. In all these cases, the 'absence
of limit' may be regarded as the open 'possibility of more' the 'more' that
actually taken being always limited, but always different... [for] the parts take
are constantly perishing in such a way that the succession never fails" ( 206a 26
206b 2 ). Thus Aristotle is in a position to define the real infinite which is
another expression of real continuity as an endless potentiality of approxima-
tion by reduction of intervals.
45. If this analysis be accepted, then I think it can serve as an
answer to the following comment of Andrew G. Bjelland's on my paper : "None
theless, although I endorse Peirce's insistence that time is 'continuity par exce
lence' through the spectacles of which we envisage every other continuum
(6.86) and his unquestioning acceptance of Time as "a/orw, that is, [as] bein
of the nature of a Law, and not of Existence" (6.96), I remain unpersuaded tha
qualitative continuity and temporality are fruitfully explored by way of quant
tative abstraction and logico-mathematical analysis. I side with James, Whitehead
and Bergson, among others, in their insistence that the phases of a qualitative

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Peirce on Continuity and Laws of Nature 674

actualization-in-progress are dynamically, internally, and asymmetrically related,

and as successive elude interpretation with reference to mathematical, quantita-
tive continuity. Logico-mathematical continuity, it seems to me, just is the ab-
stract infinite divisibility of a homogeneous medium, grounded in the notion of
homogeneous spatiality as a principle of differentiation other than qualitative
differentiation. The qualitative phases of concrescent processes issue in the be-
coming of a continuity that is organic, indivisible, and pulsational in character".
It seems to me that this remark fails to take into account the most substantial

part of Peirce's metaphysical analysis of continuity. As I have tried to show,

although Peirce starts with a logico-mathematical analysis of continuity, as did
Cantor and Dedekind, he transcends this level by adopting the Aristotelean
view. What makes the difference is the introduction of the idea of potentiality
connected both with continuity and infinity, as well as with the idea of
infinitesimals. This offers the grounds for seeing the phases of qualitative actu-
alization-in-process as dynamically, internally and asymmetrically related. Thus,
the Cantonan idea of indivisibility does not hold any more. Peirce's continuum
is a collection of possible individuals which "lack distinct individuality" and
merge into one another. On this view, real continuity, such as time or laws of
nature, has a being which is given overtime, and is never present as a whole. And
this is exactly what endows it with a dynamical character of a state of becoming
which expresses an internal and asymmetrical relation, since in this process there
is always a passage from a potential to an actual state, which is in principle non-

46. I have developed this view in detail in my (1994 ), (1995b ).

47. Arist. Physics 207a 1-2: "oc áeí ti ££ü> £<tti " .



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