About the Metaphysical Club

"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 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 (see Old Programmes). For a couple of years the club has been run by:

Mats Bergman

MA/Lic.Soc.Sc. Postgraduate student in philosophy and communication studies. Primarily interested in Peircean sign theory, particularly questions concerning communication, sign action, and interpretation.
Department Homepage

Erkki Kilpinen

PhD (sociology). Current interests: (i) Peirce's general conception of human (and animal) rationality, (ii) G.H. Mead, and (iii) Pragmatistic social theory.

Sami Paavola

M.Soc.Sc. Postgraduate student in philosophy and researcher at the Centre for Research on Networked Learning and Knowledge Building. Main interests: Peirce's philosophy of science, especially abductive inference and various other models of innovation and discovery.
Homepage at the Research Centre

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