5 Jun 2016

Peirce (CP1.284–1.287) Collected Papers of Charles Sanders Peirce, §1, “The Phaneron”


by Corry Shores

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[The following is summary. Boldface and bracketed commentary are mine. Proofreading is incomplete, so please forgive my typos.]



Summary of


Charles Sanders Peirce


Collected Papers of Charles Sanders Peirce


Volume 1: Principles of Philosophy


Book 3: Phenomenology


Chapter 1: Introduction


§1: The Phaneron [1.284–1.287]




Brief summary:

Peirce develops his own sort of phenomenology. It is concerned with phanerons, which are basically phenomena, that is, they are anything that can be given to one’s mind, regardless of a correspondence to some objective reality in the physical world or to some physiological state – like brain states – of the person experiencing them. Peirce’s study of the phaneron (the sum total of all phanerons) is called phaneroscopy. Its primary task is determining a taxonomy of phaneron types, and methodologically it examines just phanerons and does not bring into that study any other theoretical notions.






[The phaneron is the sum total of all phenomena, which are anything capable of coming before one’s mind, regardless of whether they are real or not. Phaneroscopy is the description of the phaneron.]


[Previously, in section 1.186, Peirce divides philosophy into three branches, Phenomenology, Normative Science, and Metaphysics. He then defines phenomenology in this way.

Phenomenology ascertains and studies the kinds of elements universally present in the phenomenon; meaning by the phenomenon, whatever is present at any time to the mind in any way.

(1.186, p.78)

] Peirce will begin an account of his phenomenology; it studies phenomena, which are anything present to the mind in any way [see 1.86, p.78]. But he will introduce unique terminology. The first term to note is the phaneron. This is the sum total of all phenomena, that is, of all things which can come before the mind, whether really existing or not [hallucinated for example, or imagined]. Phaneroscopy, then, is the description of the phaneron.

Phaneroscopy is the description of the phaneron; and by the phaneron I mean the collective total of all that is in any way or in any sense present to the mind, quite regardless of whether it corresponds to any real thing or not. If you ask present when, and to whose mind, I reply that I leave these questions unanswered, never having entertained a doubt that those features of the phaneron that I have found in my mind are present at all times and to all minds. So far as I have developed this science of phaneroscopy, it is occupied with the formal elements of the phaneron. I know that there is another series of elements imperfectly represented by Hegel's Categories. But I have been unable to give any satisfactory account of them.





[The phaneron is a little like the notion of idea in British philosophy of that time, but it is different, because the phaneron includes phenomena that do not correspond to really existing things.]


We find an unsatisfactory approximation of Peirce’ s notion of phaneron in some English philosophers’ notion of the idea. [But their notion of the idea does not extend to cases of phenomena that do not exist, so this concept is not the same.]

English philosophers have quite commonly used the word idea in a sense approaching to that which I give to phaneron. But in various ways they have restricted the meaning of it too much to cover my conception (if conception it can be called), besides giving a psychological connotation to their word which I am careful to exclude. The fact that they have the habit of saying that "there is no such idea" as this or that, in the very same breath in which they definitely describe the phaneron | in question, renders their term fatally inapt for my purpose.





[Peirce’s phaneroscopy will classify the different types of phanerons.]


Phanerons more than anything else are apparent directly to our observations. Peirce will deal only with commonly experienced ones. This means we can better evaluate his claims. In fact, what he will say requires that we repeat his experience-descriptions for ourselves. Peirce’s phaneroscopy will do the following things: {1} distinguish types of phanerons, {2} describe each’s features, {3} show that although we can describe each type’s characteristic traits, at the same time, phanerons are so mixed up and bound together with one another that none can be isolated, {4} prove that there is only a short list of general phaneron types, and {5} carefully detail subdivisions within each general type.

There is nothing quite so directly open to observation as phanerons; and since I shall have no need of referring to any but those which (or the like of which) are perfectly familiar to everybody, every reader can control the accuracy of what I am going to say about them. Indeed, he must actually repeat my observations and experiments for himself, or else I shall more utterly fail to convey my meaning than if I were to discourse of effects of chromatic decoration to a man congenitally blind. What I term phaneroscopy is that study which, supported by the direct observation of phanerons and generalizing its observations, signalizes several very broad classes of phanerons; describes the features of each; shows that although they are so inextricably mixed together that no one can be isolated, yet it is manifest that their characters are quite disparate; then proves, beyond question, that a certain very short list comprises all of these broadest categories of phanerons there are; and finally proceeds to the laborious and difficult task of enumerating the principal subdivisions of those categories.





[Methodologically speaking, Peirce’s phaneroscopy works only with phenomenal givens and makes its claims just on their basis; it does not presuppose other theoretical notions.]


Peirce’s phaneroscopy is concerned merely with phenomena in their phenomenal givenness. He will not deal with questions regarding their correspondence to reality, neither to a real physical world outside us nor to our own physiology, as with brain states. Rather, it will carefully analyze small details in phenomenal givenness and at the same time try to make on their basis very broad generalizations. We also take as a methodological principle a rejection of any pregiven knowledge on the matter. Rather, we only work with what is phenomenally given and with what can be said about it on its basis.

It will be plain from what has been said that phaneroscopy has nothing at all to do with the question of how far the phanerons it studies correspond to any realities. It religiously abstains from all speculation as to any relations between its categories and physiological facts, cerebral or other. It does not undertake, but sedulously avoids, hypothetical explanations of any sort. It simply scrutinizes the direct appearances, and endeavors to combine minute accuracy with the broadest possible generalization. The student's great effort is not to be influenced by any tradition, any authority, any reasons for supposing that such and such ought to be the facts, or any fancies of any kind, and to confine himself to honest, single-minded observation of the appearances. The reader, upon his side, must repeat the author's observations for himself, and decide from his own observations whether the author's account of the appearances is correct or not.





Peirce, C.S. Collected Papers of Charles Sanders Peirce, Vol 1: Principles of Philosophy.  In Collected Papers of Charles Sanders Peirce [Two Volumes in One], Vols. 1 and 2. Edited by Charles Hartshorne and Paul Weiss. Cambridge, Massachusetts: 1965 [1931].

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