The conception and attributes of God: A comparison of Charles Sanders Peirce and Alfred North Whitehead

Scott W Sinclair, Marquette University


Two influential American 19th -20th Century philosophers are Charles Sanders Peirce (1839-1914) and Alfred North Whitehead (1861-1947). There seems to be many apparent commonalities. For example: both are mathematicians and logicians; both have metaphysical writings; both deny determinism; both take into account evolution; both positively relate belief and science; both use God in their systems yet in somewhat nontraditional ways; both associate God with love, eros, or agape; and both associate God within a teleological process. All this prompts the question: "How is one to view their philosophical relationship?" That is, "Did they correspond with, reference, or influence each other and are their philosophies comparable and compatible?" Specifically, "How is one to view the relationship of their conception and attributes of God?" There is no record of any direct correspondence between Peirce and Whitehead on this topic. Moreover, there are only scant references between them in general. Yet, Whitehead wrote a letter to Charles Hartshorne in which he referred to Peirce as the American Aristotle. This dissertation is arranged to address the following three questions: (1) What is a focused and adequate description of Peirce's and Whitehead's metaphysics of God, taking into account the developmental nature of their thought? (2) What are the similarities and dissimilarities between Peirce's and Whitehead's thought on God? (3) What are the viable options through which the two positions can be related to one another? The response to the first question provides a focused description of the development of Peirce's and Whitehead's metaphysics for the purposes of the second two questions. Chapters One and Two identify the early and later development of Peirce. Chapters Three and Four identify the early and later development of Whitehead. The second question calls for the objective analysis of the similarities and dissimilarities between the philosophers. Chapter Five provides a side-by-side comparison of the two metaphysical structures on God on the basis of each philosopher's own thought. The analysis begins with their general development and progressively moves to increasing specificity. The third question calls for identifying the viable ways to relate the two philosophers' thought on God. Chapter Six considers arguments concerning the following issues: (1) Is Whitehead's thought the extension of Peirce's thought? (2) Are Peirce and Whitehead best understood as parallel streams of thought? (3) Are there specific points which exemplify either extension or parallelism? (4) Is there a common source that both shared (e.g., Darwin)? The chapter concludes by considering whose conception of God is better?

This paper has been withdrawn.