Charles S. Peirce

C. S. Peirce 1859
Charles Sanders Peirce (1839-1914) was an American philosopher, logician, and scientist. Today, he is primarily known as the founder of pragmatism, and as the developer of a fertile theory of signs and sign-action. He is also recognized as a central figure in modern logic and the methodology of science. Peirce pursued a systematic approach to philosophy, using his phenomenological theory of three basic categories ("Firstness", "Secondness", and "Thirdness") as a guiding principle. The influence of the categorial approach can be seen throughout Peirce's thought, in his cosmological and theological speculations as well as in his logical and semiotic theories. Yet, Peirce's philosophy possesses a remarkable vitality and flexibility, which explains how it can act as a starting-point and source of inspiration for contemporary inquiries in such different fields as aesthetics, communication theory, and the study of artificial intelligence.

Peirce was born on the 10th of September, 1839, in Cambridge, Massachusetts. His father was Benjamin Peirce, a renowned mathematician, and an influential man in the scientific community of his day. As a consequence, Charles became acquainted with the practice of science early in life. He worked for many years in the U.S. Coast Survey (after 1878 known as the Coast and Geodetic Survey), and made several important contributions to various fields (e.g. to geodesy, metrology, astronomy, and psychology). Still, his primary passion was philosophy and logic (both in the sense of formal logic and in the broader sense of logic as semeiotic, the general theory of signs and sign-action). In the beginning of his philosophical career, Peirce seemed destined for success. He could, however, never obtain a permanent position in the academic world, probably because of his difficult personality and powerful enemies. Scandals, the exact nature of which are not clear, were involved as Peirce divorced his first wife, Harriet Melusina Fay, and entered a new marriage with Juliette Froissy in 1883, which may in part explain why he was abruptly dismissed from his position as lecturer at the Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. In 1887 Charles and Juliette moved to Milford, Pensylvania, where they purchased an estate they named Arisbe. There, Peirce had hoped to found an intellectual community similar to those of Plato and Aristotle, but his plans failed miserably. After a series of misguided ventures and schemes, Peirce found himself impoverished as well as separated from the intellectual community. He never compromised his strong philosophical vision, although he found himself increasingly dependent on the support of loyal friends such as William James. In his final years, Peirce witnessed with mixed feelings the meteoric rise of the pragmatistic movement, in which he served the role of a founding father, while his own position in the philosophical world remained marginal. Peirce died in Milford on 19th of April, 1914.

In spite of his professional difficulties, Peirce was always a prolific writer. He produced a huge number of published and unpublished papers and articles, but never wrote a full-length book that could be viewed as his magnum opus. His ideas had a tangible, although often delayed, impact on some of his contemporaries, especially on the pragmatists (primarily James, John Dewey, and Josiah Royce) and certain logicians (most notably Ernst Schröder). After his death, Peirce became widely credited as a precursor in many important fields of philosophy and logic, but for various reasons more thorough investigations of his ideas were rarely pursued. The situation has improved rapidly in recent years, as new and better editions of Peirce's writings have become available, and as studies in his philosophy have increasingly focused on such pivotal Peircean concerns as sign theory and methodology of science. Nowadays Peirce is often named as the most original and versatile American thinker of all times, and his reputation continues to grow. Many consider him to be one of the greatest figures in the history of Western philosophy.
C. S. Peirce in his final years
by Sami Paavola and Mats Bergman
"My life is built upon a theory; and if this theory turns out false, my life will turn out a failure... I am not to be an old fogey or go by any rules that other people give me - if I should turn old fogey or obedient lad, my life would in truth and indeed be a failure. For on my not doing it is my whole Theory built." (Charles in 1854, about 15 years old)


Charles Peirce From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

Charles S. Peirce, entry in the online encyclopedia Nupedia by Jaime Nubiola.

Who is Charles Peirce? by Joseph Ransdell on the Arisbe website.

Charles Sanders Peirce, by Robert Burch in The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

Chronology of Peirce's life on the website of the Peirce Edition Project.
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