The Iconic Moment. Towards a Peircean Theory of Diagrammatic Imagination

Ahti Veikko Pietarinen*, Francesco Bellucci

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Chapter in book/report/conference proceedingChapterpeer-review

12 Citations (Scopus)


Einstein famously said, “Imagination is more important than knowledge”. But how to study imagination and how to represent and communicate what the content of imagination may be in the context of scientific discovery? In 1908 Peirce stated that deduction consists of “two sub-stages”, logical analysis and mathematical reasoning. Mathematical reasoning is further divisible into “corollarial and theorematic reasoning”, the latter concerning an invention of a new icon, or “imaginary object diagram”, while the former results from “previous logical analyses and mathematically reasoned conclusions”. The iconic moment is clearly stated here, as well as the imaginative character of theorematic reasoning. But translating propositions into a suitable diagrammatic language is also needed: A diagram is for Peirce “a concrete but possibly changing mental image of such a thing as it represents”. “A model”, he held, “may be employed to aid the imagination; but the essential thing to be performed is the act of imagining” (MS 616, 1906). Peirce had observed that the importance of imagination in scientific investigation is in supplying an inquirer, not with any fiction but, in quite stark contrast to what fiction is, with “an inkling of truth”. Since Peirce’s limit notion of truth precludes gaining any direct insight into the truth, in rational inquiry the question of what the truth may be or what it could be needs to be tackled by imagination. This imaginative faculty is aided by diagrams which are iconic in nature. The inquirers who imagine the truth “dream of explanations and laws”. Imagination becomes a crucial part of the method for attaining truth, that is, of the logic of science and scientific inquiry, so much so that Peirce took it that “next after the passion to learn there is no quality so indispensable to the successful prosecution of science as imagination”. In this paper we investigate aspects of scientific reasoning and discovery that seem irreplaceably dependent on a Peircean understanding of imagination, abductive reasoning and diagrammatic representations.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationEpistemology, Knowledge and the Impact of Interaction
EditorsJuan Redmond, Olga Pombo Martins, Ángel Nepomuceno Fernández
PublisherSpringer Cham
Number of pages19
ISBN (Electronic)9783319265063
ISBN (Print)9783319265049, 9783319799643
Publication statusPublished - 29 Apr 2016

Publication series

NameLogic, Epistemology, and the Unity of Science
ISSN (Print)2214-9775
ISSN (Electronic)2214-9783

Scopus Subject Areas

  • History and Philosophy of Science
  • History
  • Philosophy

User-Defined Keywords

  • Abduction
  • Diagrams
  • Discovery
  • Imagination
  • Peirce
  • Scientific Reasoning


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