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Charles Sanders Peirce (// PURSS; September 10, 1839 – April 19, 1914) was an American scientist, mathematician, logician, and philosopher who is sometimes known as "the father of pragmatism". According to philosopher Paul Weiss, Peirce was "the most original and versatile of America's philosophers and America's greatest logician". Bertrand Russell wrote "he was one of the most original minds of the later nineteenth century and certainly the greatest American thinker ever".
Charles Sanders Peirce
|(1839-09-10)September 10, 1839
Cambridge, Massachusetts, U.S.
|April 19, 1914(1914-04-19) (aged 74)
Milford, Pennsylvania, U.S.
|Benjamin Peirce (father)
|Late modern philosophy
|Johns Hopkins University
Educated as a chemist and employed as a scientist for thirty years, Peirce meanwhile made major contributions to logic, such as theories of relations and quantification. C. I. Lewis wrote, "The contributions of C.S. Peirce to symbolic logic are more numerous and varied than those of any other writer—at least in the nineteenth century." For Peirce, logic also encompassed much of what is now called epistemology and the philosophy of science. He saw logic as the formal branch of semiotics or study of signs, of which he is a founder, which foreshadowed the debate among logical positivists and proponents of philosophy of language that dominated 20th-century Western philosophy. Peirce's study of signs also included a tripartite theory of predication.
Additionally, he defined the concept of abductive reasoning, as well as rigorously formulating mathematical induction and deductive reasoning. He was one of the founders of statistics. As early as 1886, he saw that logical operations could be carried out by electrical switching circuits. The same idea was used decades later to produce digital computers.
For metaphysics, Peirce was an "objective idealist" in the tradition of German philosopher Immanuel Kant as well as a scholastic realist about universals. He also held a commitment to the ideas of continuity and chance as real features of the universe, views he labeled synechism and tychism respectively. Peirce believed an epistemic fallibilism and anti-skepticism went along with these views.
Peirce was born at 3 Phillips Place in Cambridge, Massachusetts. He was the son of Sarah Hunt Mills and Benjamin Peirce, himself a professor of mathematics and astronomy at Harvard University. At age 12, Charles read his older brother's copy of Richard Whately's Elements of Logic, then the leading English-language text on the subject. So began his lifelong fascination with logic and reasoning.
He suffered from his late teens onward from a nervous condition then known as "facial neuralgia", which would today be diagnosed as trigeminal neuralgia. His biographer, Joseph Brent, says that when in the throes of its pain "he was, at first, almost stupefied, and then aloof, cold, depressed, extremely suspicious, impatient of the slightest crossing, and subject to violent outbursts of temper". Its consequences may have led to the social isolation of his later life.
Peirce went on to earn a Bachelor of Arts degree and a Master of Arts degree (1862) from Harvard. In 1863 the Lawrence Scientific School awarded him a Bachelor of Science degree, Harvard's first summa cum laude chemistry degree. His academic record was otherwise undistinguished. At Harvard, he began lifelong friendships with Francis Ellingwood Abbot, Chauncey Wright, and William James. One of his Harvard instructors, Charles William Eliot, formed an unfavorable opinion of Peirce. This proved fateful, because Eliot, while President of Harvard (1869–1909—a period encompassing nearly all of Peirce's working life), repeatedly vetoed Peirce's employment at the university.
United States Coast Survey
Between 1859 and 1891, Peirce was intermittently employed in various scientific capacities by the United States Coast Survey, which in 1878 was renamed the United States Coast and Geodetic Survey, where he enjoyed his highly influential father's protection until the latter's death in 1880. At the Survey, he worked mainly in geodesy and gravimetry, refining the use of pendulums to determine small local variations in the Earth's gravity.
American Civil War
This employment exempted Peirce from having to take part in the American Civil War; it would have been very awkward for him to do so, as the Boston Brahmin Peirces sympathized with the Confederacy. No members of the Peirce family volunteered or enlisted. Peirce grew up in a home where white supremacy was taken for granted, and slavery was considered natural. Peirce's father had described himself as a secessionist until the outbreak of the war, after which he became a Union partisan, providing donations to the Sanitary Commission, the leading Northern war charity.
All Men are equal in their political rights.
Negroes are Men.
Therefore, negroes are equal in political rights to whites.
Travels to Europe
He was elected a resident fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in January 1867. The Survey sent him to Europe five times, first in 1871 as part of a group sent to observe a solar eclipse. There, he sought out Augustus De Morgan, William Stanley Jevons, and William Kingdon Clifford, British mathematicians and logicians whose turn of mind resembled his own.
From 1869 to 1872, he was employed as an assistant in Harvard's astronomical observatory, doing important work on determining the brightness of stars and the shape of the Milky Way. In 1872 he founded the Metaphysical Club, a conversational philosophical club that Peirce, the future Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr., the philosopher and psychologist William James, amongst others, formed in January 1872 in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and dissolved in December 1872. Other members of the club included Chauncey Wright, John Fiske, Francis Ellingwood Abbot, Nicholas St. John Green, and Joseph Bangs Warner. The discussions eventually birthed Peirce's notion of pragmatism.
National Academy of Sciences
On April 20, 1877, he was elected a member of the National Academy of Sciences. Also in 1877, he proposed measuring the meter as so many wavelengths of light of a certain frequency, the kind of definition employed from 1960 to 1983.
In 1879 Peirce developed Peirce quincuncial projection, having been inspired by H. A. Schwarz's 1869 conformal transformation of a circle onto a polygon of n sides (known as the Schwarz–Christoffel mapping).
1880 to 1891
During the 1880s, Peirce's indifference to bureaucratic detail waxed while his Survey work's quality and timeliness waned. Peirce took years to write reports that he should have completed in months.[according to whom?] Meanwhile, he wrote entries, ultimately thousands, during 1883–1909 on philosophy, logic, science, and other subjects for the encyclopedic Century Dictionary. In 1885, an investigation by the Allison Commission exonerated Peirce, but led to the dismissal of Superintendent Julius Hilgard and several other Coast Survey employees for misuse of public funds. In 1891, Peirce resigned from the Coast Survey at Superintendent Thomas Corwin Mendenhall's request.
Johns Hopkins University
In 1879, Peirce was appointed lecturer in logic at Johns Hopkins University, which had strong departments in areas that interested him, such as philosophy (Royce and Dewey completed their PhDs at Hopkins), psychology (taught by G. Stanley Hall and studied by Joseph Jastrow, who coauthored a landmark empirical study with Peirce), and mathematics (taught by J. J. Sylvester, who came to admire Peirce's work on mathematics and logic). His Studies in Logic by Members of the Johns Hopkins University (1883) contained works by himself and Allan Marquand, Christine Ladd, Benjamin Ives Gilman, and Oscar Howard Mitchell, several of whom were his graduate students. Peirce's nontenured position at Hopkins was the only academic appointment he ever held.
Brent documents something Peirce never suspected, namely that his efforts to obtain academic employment, grants, and scientific respectability were repeatedly frustrated by the covert opposition of a major Canadian-American scientist of the day, Simon Newcomb. Newcomb had been a favourite student of Peirce's father; although "no doubt quite bright", "like Salieri in Peter Shaffer’s Amadeus he also had just enough talent to recognize he was not a genius and just enough pettiness to resent someone who was". Additionally "an intensely devout and literal-minded Christian of rigid moral standards", he was appalled by what he considered Peirce's personal shortcomings. Peirce's efforts may also have been hampered by what Brent characterizes as "his difficult personality". In contrast, Keith Devlin believes that Peirce's work was too far ahead of his time to be appreciated by the academic establishment of the day and that this played a large role in his inability to obtain a tenured position.
Peirce's personal life undoubtedly worked against his professional success. After his first wife, Harriet Melusina Fay ("Zina"), left him in 1875, Peirce, while still legally married, became involved with Juliette, whose last name, given variously as Froissy and Pourtalai, and nationality (she spoke French) remains uncertain. When his divorce from Zina became final in 1883, he married Juliette. That year, Newcomb pointed out to a Johns Hopkins trustee that Peirce, while a Hopkins employee, had lived and traveled with a woman to whom he was not married; the ensuing scandal led to his dismissal in January 1884. Over the years Peirce sought academic employment at various universities without success. He had no children by either marriage.
Later life and poverty
In 1887, Peirce spent part of his inheritance from his parents to buy 2,000 acres (8 km2) of rural land near Milford, Pennsylvania, which never yielded an economic return. There he had an 1854 farmhouse remodeled to his design. The Peirces named the property "Arisbe". There they lived with few interruptions for the rest of their lives, Charles writing prolifically, with much of his work remaining unpublished to this day (see Works). Living beyond their means soon led to grave financial and legal difficulties. Charles spent much of his last two decades unable to afford heat in winter and subsisting on old bread donated by the local baker. Unable to afford new stationery, he wrote on the verso side of old manuscripts. An outstanding warrant for assault and unpaid debts led to his being a fugitive in New York City for a while. Several people, including his brother James Mills Peirce and his neighbors, relatives of Gifford Pinchot, settled his debts and paid his property taxes and mortgage.
Peirce did some scientific and engineering consulting and wrote much for meager pay, mainly encyclopedic dictionary entries, and reviews for The Nation (with whose editor, Wendell Phillips Garrison, he became friendly). He did translations for the Smithsonian Institution, at its director Samuel Langley's instigation. Peirce also did substantial mathematical calculations for Langley's research on powered flight. Hoping to make money, Peirce tried inventing. He began but did not complete several books. In 1888, President Grover Cleveland appointed him to the Assay Commission.
From 1890 on, he had a friend and admirer in Judge Francis C. Russell of Chicago, who introduced Peirce to editor Paul Carus and owner Edward C. Hegeler of the pioneering American philosophy journal The Monist, which eventually published at least 14 articles by Peirce. He wrote many texts in James Mark Baldwin's Dictionary of Philosophy and Psychology (1901–1905); half of those credited to him appear to have been written actually by Christine Ladd-Franklin under his supervision. He applied in 1902 to the newly formed Carnegie Institution for a grant to write a systematic book describing his life's work. The application was doomed; his nemesis, Newcomb, served on the Carnegie Institution executive committee, and its president had been president of Johns Hopkins at the time of Peirce's dismissal.
The one who did the most to help Peirce in these desperate times was his old friend William James, dedicating his Will to Believe (1897) to Peirce, and arranging for Peirce to be paid to give two series of lectures at or near Harvard (1898 and 1903). Most important, each year from 1907 until James's death in 1910, James wrote to his friends in the Boston intelligentsia to request financial aid for Peirce; the fund continued even after James died. Peirce reciprocated by designating James's eldest son as his heir should Juliette predecease him. It has been believed that this was also why Peirce used "Santiago" ("St. James" in English) as a middle name, but he appeared in print as early as 1890 as Charles Santiago Peirce. (See Charles Santiago Sanders Peirce for discussion and references).
Death and legacy
Peirce died destitute in Milford, Pennsylvania, twenty years before his widow. Juliette Peirce kept the urn with Peirce's ashes at Arisbe. In 1934, Pennsylvania Governor Gifford Pinchot arranged for Juliette's burial in Milford Cemetery. The urn with Peirce's ashes was interred with Juliette.
Bertrand Russell (1959) wrote "Beyond doubt [...] he was one of the most original minds of the later nineteenth century and certainly the greatest American thinker ever". Russell and Whitehead's Principia Mathematica, published from 1910 to 1913, does not mention Peirce (Peirce's work was not widely known until later). A. N. Whitehead, while reading some of Peirce's unpublished manuscripts soon after arriving at Harvard in 1924, was struck by how Peirce had anticipated his own "process" thinking. (On Peirce and process metaphysics, see Lowe 1964.) Karl Popper viewed Peirce as "one of the greatest philosophers of all times". Yet Peirce's achievements were not immediately recognized. His imposing contemporaries William James and Josiah Royce admired him and Cassius Jackson Keyser, at Columbia and C. K. Ogden, wrote about Peirce with respect but to no immediate effect.
The first scholar to give Peirce his considered professional attention was Royce's student Morris Raphael Cohen, the editor of an anthology of Peirce's writings entitled Chance, Love, and Logic (1923), and the author of the first bibliography of Peirce's scattered writings. John Dewey studied under Peirce at Johns Hopkins. From 1916 onward, Dewey's writings repeatedly mention Peirce with deference. His 1938 Logic: The Theory of Inquiry is much influenced by Peirce. The publication of the first six volumes of Collected Papers (1931–1935), the most important event to date in Peirce studies and one that Cohen made possible by raising the needed funds, did not prompt an outpouring of secondary studies. The editors of those volumes, Charles Hartshorne and Paul Weiss, did not become Peirce specialists. Early landmarks of the secondary literature include the monographs by Buchler (1939), Feibleman (1946), and Goudge (1950), the 1941 PhD thesis by Arthur W. Burks (who went on to edit volumes 7 and 8), and the studies edited by Wiener and Young (1952). The Charles S. Peirce Society was founded in 1946. Its Transactions, an academic quarterly specializing in Peirce's pragmatism and American philosophy has appeared since 1965. (See Phillips 2014, 62 for discussion of Peirce and Dewey relative to transactionalism.)
In 1949, while doing unrelated archival work, the historian of mathematics Carolyn Eisele (1902–2000) chanced on an autograph letter by Peirce. So began her forty years of research on Peirce, “the mathematician and scientist,” culminating in Eisele (1976, 1979, 1985). Beginning around 1960, the philosopher and historian of ideas Max Fisch (1900–1995) emerged as an authority on Peirce (Fisch, 1986). He includes many of his relevant articles in a survey (Fisch 1986: 422–448) of the impact of Peirce's thought through 1983.
Peirce has gained an international following, marked by university research centers devoted to Peirce studies and pragmatism in Brazil (CeneP/CIEP), Finland (HPRC and Commens), Germany (Wirth's group, Hoffman's and Otte's group, and Deuser's and Härle's group), France (L'I.R.S.C.E.), Spain (GEP), and Italy (CSP). His writings have been translated into several languages, including German, French, Finnish, Spanish, and Swedish. Since 1950, there have been French, Italian, Spanish, British, and Brazilian Peirce scholars of note. For many years, the North American philosophy department most devoted to Peirce was the University of Toronto, thanks in part to the leadership of Thomas Goudge and David Savan. In recent years, U.S. Peirce scholars have clustered at Indiana University – Purdue University Indianapolis, home of the Peirce Edition Project (PEP) –, and Pennsylvania State University.
Currently, considerable interest is being taken in Peirce's ideas by researchers wholly outside the arena of academic philosophy. The interest comes from industry, business, technology, intelligence organizations, and the military; and it has resulted in the existence of a substantial number of agencies, institutes, businesses, and laboratories in which ongoing research into and development of Peircean concepts are being vigorously undertaken.
In recent years, Peirce's trichotomy of signs is exploited by a growing number of practitioners for marketing and design tasks.
John Deely writes that Peirce was the last of the "moderns" and "first of the postmoderns". He lauds Peirce's doctrine of signs as a contribution to the dawn of the Postmodern epoch. Deely additionally comments that "Peirce stands...in a position analogous to the position occupied by Augustine as last of the Western Fathers and first of the medievals".
Peirce's reputation rests largely on academic papers published in American scientific and scholarly journals such as Proceedings of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the Journal of Speculative Philosophy, The Monist, Popular Science Monthly, the American Journal of Mathematics, Memoirs of the National Academy of Sciences, The Nation, and others. See Articles by Peirce, published in his lifetime for an extensive list with links to them online. The only full-length book (neither extract nor pamphlet) that Peirce authored and saw published in his lifetime was Photometric Researches (1878), a 181-page monograph on the applications of spectrographic methods to astronomy. While at Johns Hopkins, he edited Studies in Logic (1883), containing chapters by himself and his graduate students. Besides lectures during his years (1879–1884) as lecturer in Logic at Johns Hopkins, he gave at least nine series of lectures, many now published; see Lectures by Peirce.
After Peirce's death, Harvard University obtained from Peirce's widow the papers found in his study, but did not microfilm them until 1964. Only after Richard Robin (1967) catalogued this Nachlass did it become clear that Peirce had left approximately 1,650 unpublished manuscripts, totaling over 100,000 pages, mostly still unpublished except on microfilm. On the vicissitudes of Peirce's papers, see Houser (1989). Reportedly the papers remain in unsatisfactory condition.
The first published anthology of Peirce's articles was the one-volume Chance, Love and Logic: Philosophical Essays, edited by Morris Raphael Cohen, 1923, still in print. Other one-volume anthologies were published in 1940, 1957, 1958, 1972, 1994, and 2009, most still in print. The main posthumous editions of Peirce's works in their long trek to light, often multi-volume, and some still in print, have included:
1931–1958: Collected Papers of Charles Sanders Peirce (CP), 8 volumes, includes many published works, along with a selection of previously unpublished work and a smattering of his correspondence. This long-time standard edition drawn from Peirce's work from the 1860s to 1913 remains the most comprehensive survey of his prolific output from 1893 to 1913. It is organized thematically, but texts (including lecture series) are often split up across volumes, while texts from various stages in Peirce's development are often combined, requiring frequent visits to editors' notes. Edited (1–6) by Charles Hartshorne and Paul Weiss and (7–8) by Arthur Burks, in print and online.
1975–1987: Charles Sanders Peirce: Contributions to The Nation, 4 volumes, includes Peirce's more than 300 reviews and articles published 1869–1908 in The Nation. Edited by Kenneth Laine Ketner and James Edward Cook, online.
1976: The New Elements of Mathematics by Charles S. Peirce, 4 volumes in 5, included many previously unpublished Peirce manuscripts on mathematical subjects, along with Peirce's important published mathematical articles. Edited by Carolyn Eisele, back in print.
1977: Semiotic and Significs: The Correspondence between C. S. Peirce and Victoria Lady Welby (2nd edition 2001), included Peirce's entire correspondence (1903–1912) with Victoria, Lady Welby. Peirce's other published correspondence is largely limited to the 14 letters included in volume 8 of the Collected Papers, and the 20-odd pre-1890 items included so far in the Writings. Edited by Charles S. Hardwick with James Cook, out of print.
1982–now: Writings of Charles S. Peirce, A Chronological Edition (W), Volumes 1–6 & 8, of a projected 30. The limited coverage, and defective editing and organization, of the Collected Papers led Max Fisch and others in the 1970s to found the Peirce Edition Project (PEP), whose mission is to prepare a more complete critical chronological edition. Only seven volumes have appeared to date, but they cover the period from 1859 to 1892, when Peirce carried out much of his best-known work. Writings of Charles S. Peirce, 8 was published in November 2010; and work continues on Writings of Charles S. Peirce, 7, 9, and 11. In print and online.
1985: Historical Perspectives on Peirce's Logic of Science: A History of Science, 2 volumes. Auspitz has said, "The extent of Peirce's immersion in the science of his day is evident in his reviews in the Nation [...] and in his papers, grant applications, and publishers' prospectuses in the history and practice of science", referring latterly to Historical Perspectives. Edited by Carolyn Eisele, back in print.
1992–1998: The Essential Peirce (EP), 2 volumes, is an important recent sampler of Peirce's philosophical writings. Edited (1) by Nathan Hauser and Christian Kloesel and (2) by Peirce Edition Project editors, in print.
1997: Pragmatism as a Principle and Method of Right Thinking collects Peirce's 1903 Harvard "Lectures on Pragmatism" in a study edition, including drafts, of Peirce's lecture manuscripts, which had been previously published in abridged form; the lectures now also appear in The Essential Peirce, 2. Edited by Patricia Ann Turisi, in print.
2010: Philosophy of Mathematics: Selected Writings collects important writings by Peirce on the subject, many not previously in print. Edited by Matthew E. Moore, in print.
Peirce's most important work in pure mathematics was in logical and foundational areas. He also worked on linear algebra, matrices, various geometries, topology and Listing numbers, Bell numbers, graphs, the four-color problem, and the nature of continuity.
He worked on applied mathematics in economics, engineering, and map projections, and was especially active in probability and statistics.
Peirce made a number of striking discoveries in formal logic and foundational mathematics, nearly all of which came to be appreciated only long after he died:
In 1860 he suggested a cardinal arithmetic for infinite numbers, years before any work by Georg Cantor (who completed his dissertation in 1867) and without access to Bernard Bolzano's 1851 (posthumous) Paradoxien des Unendlichen.
In 1881 he set out the axiomatization of natural number arithmetic, a few years before Richard Dedekind and Giuseppe Peano. In the same paper Peirce gave, years before Dedekind, the first purely cardinal definition of a finite set in the sense now known as "Dedekind-finite", and implied by the same stroke an important formal definition of an infinite set (Dedekind-infinite), as a set that can be put into a one-to-one correspondence with one of its proper subsets.
In 1885 he distinguished between first-order and second-order quantification. In the same paper he set out what can be read as the first (primitive) axiomatic set theory, anticipating Zermelo by about two decades (Brady 2000, pp. 132–133).
In 1886, he saw that Boolean calculations could be carried out via electrical switches, anticipating Claude Shannon by more than 50 years. By the later 1890s he was devising existential graphs, a diagrammatic notation for the predicate calculus. Based on them are John F. Sowa's conceptual graphs and Sun-Joo Shin's diagrammatic reasoning.
- The New Elements of Mathematics
Peirce wrote drafts for an introductory textbook, with the working title The New Elements of Mathematics, that presented mathematics from an original standpoint. Those drafts and many other of his previously unpublished mathematical manuscripts finally appeared in The New Elements of Mathematics by Charles S. Peirce (1976), edited by mathematician Carolyn Eisele.
- Nature of mathematics
Peirce agreed with Auguste Comte in regarding mathematics as more basic than philosophy and the special sciences (of nature and mind). Peirce classified mathematics into three subareas: (1) mathematics of logic, (2) discrete series, and (3) pseudo-continua (as he called them, including the real numbers) and continua. Influenced by his father Benjamin, Peirce argued that mathematics studies purely hypothetical objects and is not just the science of quantity but is more broadly the science which draws necessary conclusions; that mathematics aids logic, not vice versa; and that logic itself is part of philosophy and is the science about drawing conclusions necessary and otherwise.
Mathematics of logic
- "On an Improvement in Boole's Calculus of Logic" (1867)
- "Description of a Notation for the Logic of Relatives" (1870)
- "On the Algebra of Logic" (1880)
- "A Boolian [sic] Algebra with One Constant" (1880 MS)
- "On the Logic of Number" (1881)
- "Note B: The Logic of Relatives" (1883)
- "On the Algebra of Logic: A Contribution to the Philosophy of Notation" (1884/1885)
- "The Logic of Relatives" (1897)
- "The Simplest Mathematics" (1902 MS)
- "Prolegomena to an Apology for Pragmaticism" (1906, on existential graphs)
Probability and statistics
Peirce held that science achieves statistical probabilities, not certainties, and that spontaneity (absolute chance) is real (see Tychism on his view). Most of his statistical writings promote the frequency interpretation of probability (objective ratios of cases), and many of his writings express skepticism about (and criticize the use of) probability when such models are not based on objective randomization. Though Peirce was largely a frequentist, his possible world semantics introduced the "propensity" theory of probability before Karl Popper. Peirce (sometimes with Joseph Jastrow) investigated the probability judgments of experimental subjects, "perhaps the very first" elicitation and estimation of subjective probabilities in experimental psychology and (what came to be called) Bayesian statistics.
Peirce was one of the founders of statistics. He formulated modern statistics in "Illustrations of the Logic of Science" (1877–1878) and "A Theory of Probable Inference" (1883). With a repeated measures design, Charles Sanders Peirce and Joseph Jastrow introduced blinded, controlled randomized experiments in 1884 (Hacking 1990:205) (before Ronald A. Fisher). He invented optimal design for experiments on gravity, in which he "corrected the means". He used correlation and smoothing. Peirce extended the work on outliers by Benjamin Peirce, his father. He introduced terms "confidence" and "likelihood" (before Jerzy Neyman and Fisher). (See Stephen Stigler's historical books and Ian Hacking 1990.)