Freedom Giving Birth to Order: Philosophical Reflections on Peirce's Evolutionary Cosmology and its Contemporary Resurrections


  • Zeyad Sameh El Nabolsy Cornell University


Charles Sanders Peirce, Evolutionary Cosmology, Causality, Schelling, Historicity, Ontology, Chinese Metaphysics


The first part of this paper will discuss Peirce's evolutionary cosmology, which is centered around the thesis that the laws of nature evolve, and his motivations for it. The second part of this paper will discuss the contemporary resurrection, by Lee Smolin and Roberto Unger, of Peirce's thesis. The discussion will revolve around the philosophical implications of this thesis, especially with regard to the need to rethink the nature of causation in order to make sense of this thesis, and the need to recognize (and perhaps abandon) the metaphorical nature of the way that we talk about laws as being "obeyed" by systems, or as "governing" systems. I will be focusing on three aspects of this evolutionary (and revolutionary) approach to the laws of nature. First, the idea (advanced explicitly by Smolin and Unger) that causal relations and processes are primary and that laws, understood as representations of a special case of causation taking the form of repetition and having a determinate structure, are derivative. I will argue that this approach, which purports to provide an account of causation in terms of powers and dispositions, runs into difficulties about the identity of the entities whose causal powers are taken to behave in a non-lawlike manner. I will then attempt to show how these difficulties can be mitigated by drawing on discourses of identity and individuation from early Chinese metaphysics. Second, I will engage with Smolin's claim that an evolutionary cosmology requires a preferred global time. I will argue that the relativity of simultaneity does not preclude the existence of a determinate order of succession between causally related events, and hence, if a preferred global time is being introduced in order to guarantee the existence of a determinate order of succession between causally related universes (i.e., a 'parent universe' and its progeny) then it is superfluous (assuming that we can independently establish that the universes in question are causally related). Third, I will argue that emphasizing the primacy of becoming over being has wider implications for the axiology of the sciences, i.e., the way in which we traditionally rank different sciences with physics at the top, then chemistry, then biology, then the human sciences on successively lower rungs

Author Biography

Zeyad Sameh El Nabolsy, Cornell University

Africana Studies and Research Center, PhD Student




How to Cite

El Nabolsy, Z. S. (2020). Freedom Giving Birth to Order: Philosophical Reflections on Peirce’s Evolutionary Cosmology and its Contemporary Resurrections. Cosmos and History: The Journal of Natural and Social Philosophy, 16(1), 1–23. Retrieved from