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Helsinki Metaphysical Club

Information:


Contact Information:

Helsinki Peirce Research Centre
PO Box 9
00014 University of Helsinki

Phone: +358-(0)9-191 29224
Email: peirce-research(at)helsinki.fi

Introduction

The Metaphysical Club at the University of Helsinki is an open discussion and study group, which is primarily focused on the investigation and advancement of pragmatism and Peircean philosophy. The activities include original presentations by members and invited guests, and organized debates.

Please see the programme for upcoming events and material to be discussed. The old programmes contain information about past activities and links to presented papers. Contact us if you have questions concerning the club, or come to one of the meetings.

Background

"In the sixties I started a little club called the Metaphysical Club. It seldom if ever had more than half a dozen present. Wright was the strongest member and probably I was next. Nicholas St. John Green was a marvelously strong intelligence. Then there was Frank Abbot, William James, and others. It was there that the name and the doctrine of pragmatism saw the light." (Charles Peirce, after 1903)

The name "Metaphysical Club" has been taken from the history of pragmatism. The original Metaphysical Club was an informal, philosophical discussion group at Cambridge, Massachusetts. The club may have been founded in the late 1860s, but it is difficult to establish the precise year of origin because of conflicting testimonies. Even Peirce's own later recollections concerning the matter are often inconsistent. We do know for certain that the original Metaphysical Club convened regularly in the early 1870s. Charles Peirce was an active member of this club, which was formed primarily by young philosophers and lawyers from Harvard (among the other members were William James, Chauncey Wright, Nicholas St. John Green, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., John Fiske, and Francis Ellingwood Abbot). The Metaphysical Club is known as the place where Peirce first presented the ideas that led William James to name him as the founder of pragmatism in 1898.

"It was in the early seventies that a knot of us young men, calling ourselves semi-ironically, semi-defiantly, the "Metaphysical Club," used to meet in Old Cambridge, sometimes in my study, sometimes in William James's." (Charles Peirce, c. 1907)

After the dwindling away of the first Metaphysical Club in the mid-1870s, William James organized a second club in Cambridge, during a period when Peirce was abroad. Later, Peirce also founded another Metaphysical Club, when he was employed as a lecturer in logic at the Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore 1879-1884.

"In fact, so devious and unpredictable was his [Peirce's] course that he once, to the delight of his students, proposed at the end of his lecture, that we should form (for greater freedom of discussion) a Metaphysical Club, though he had begun the lecture by defining metaphysics to be the "science of unclear thinking." (Christine Ladd-Franklin, one of Peirce's students at Johns Hopkins, 1916)

The Helsinki Club

The Helsinki Metaphysical Club held its first meeting in January 1997 when Mirja Kela, Sami Paavola, and Kimmo Pentikäinen, postgraduate students at the University of Helsinki, decided to start a discussion group. The aim of the new club was to collect together people interested in Peirce's thought, and to promote collaborative research related to Peircean philosophy. Mats Bergman and Erkki Kilpinen were actively involved from the start.

"The Metaphysical Club" refers, of course, to the renowned groups in which Peirce was involved. On the other hand, our name was taken "semi-ironically" and "semi-defiantly" as well (cf. Peirce quotations above).

Our activities have mainly involved presentations by participants and visitors, and close reading and commenting on Peirce's texts. Currently the Helsinki Metaphysical Club is sponsored by the Helsinki Peirce Research Centre.