Charles Sanders Peirce Additional Biography


(Critical Survey of Ethics and Literature)

From 1864 to 1907, Peirce served as an occasional lecturer at Harvard and The Johns Hopkins University on the topics of logic and pragmatism. His genius and potential on pragmatic theory were never fully realized or publicly appreciated, however, because of his personal difficulties, eccentricity, and opposition to traditional philosophical thought. Peirce believed that it was a mistake to accept a priori reasoning, or absolute truth, without first examining its results. In an article published in Popular Science Monthly in January, 1878, he attempted to answer the question “How to Make Our Ideas Clear” by stating that an idea’s utility and results or effects give it meaning, not some inherent absolute truth or a priori reasoning. One’s conception of these effects becomes one’s conception of the object. Peirce interpreted every subject, including philosophy, almost entirely from a logical (pragmatic) perspective. Peirce emphasized that pragmatism is a principle of method—not of metaphysics. Using this principle, he claimed that scientific laws were statements of probabilities only and subject to evolutionary change. Unlike his disciple and benefactor William James, however, Peirce never discarded his beliefs in an Absolute or in universals. Scholars consider Peirce’s work an important intellectual foundation for twentieth century progressivism.


(Survey of World Philosophers)

Article abstract: Largely unrecognized by contemporaries, except for his contribution to pragmatism, Peirce developed a system of philosophy that attempted to reconcile the nineteenth century’s faith in empirical science with its love of the metaphysical absolute. His difficult and often confusing ideas anticipated problems central to twentieth century philosophy.

Early Life

Charles Sanders Peirce, born on September 10, 1839, in Cambridge, Massachusetts, was the son of Benjamin Peirce, one of America’s foremost mathematicians. During his childhood, Peirce’s mother, Sarah Hunt (Mills) Peirce, took second place to his dynamic father, who personally supervised the boy’s education...

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