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Licensed Unlicensed Requires Authentication Published by De Gruyter Mouton April 26, 2014

Peirce on Wonder, Inquiry and the Semiotic Ubiquity of Surprise

Elizabeth F. Cooke
From the journal Chinese Semiotic Studies


This paper examines the relationship between surprise and wonder. Peirce develops a phenomenology of surprise as central to inquiry. In his essay “A Neglected Argument for the Reality of God”, Peirce examines this phenomenon of surprise in relation to the three semiotic universes: firstness, secondness, and thirdness. “Every inquiry whatsoever takes its rise in the observation, in one or another of the three Universes, of some surprising phenomenon”. Inquiry begins by contemplating one of the universes of signs, or their relations upon the discovery of some new and surprising dimension of these universes or their relations. Apparently one could begin inquiry and wonder about virtually anything, but what exactly motivates this process, and why is it motivated in some people sometimes and not others? And, further, what is the relationship between surprise and wonder when we consider that, for Peirce, surprise is ubiquitous throughout our experience? I argue that surprise is a form of error recognition, and that what distinguishes those surprises that lead to wonder is that they regard previous beliefs that we truly care about. Wonder in particular (as opposed to other inquiries) is prompted when a surprise reveals an error in a belief that we care about, making the pursuit to settle the question that arises a deeply personal one.

Published Online: 2014-4-26
Published in Print: 2012-12-1

© 2014 by Walter de Gruyter Berlin/Boston