[Sequence] C.S. Peirce & Pragmatism

Charles Sanders Peirce (1839-1914) has been called “the father of pragmatism”, “America’s greatest logician”, and “the most original thinker of his time”. He founded the field of semiotics (the study of signs, which I touch on here), invented abduction (inference to the best explanation), and anticipated the work of geniuses like Georg Cantor (mathematics of infinity), Claude Shannon (information theory), and Ernst Zermelo (set theory) by decades.

Peirce met with a fate not unusual for thinkers of caliber: much of his work only came to be fully appreciated posthumously. His writings were never consolidated in book form, and remained largely disorganized until collated into various anthologies.

An autobiographical snippet from a paper entitled Concerning The Author:

My book will have no instruction to impart to anybody. Like a mathematical treatise, it will suggest certain ideas and certain reasons for holding them true; but then, if you accept them, it must be because you like my reasons, and the responsibility lies with you. Man is essentially a social animal: but to be social is one thing, to be gregarious is another: I decline to serve as shepherd. My book is meant for people who want to find out; people who want philosophy ladled out to them can go elsewhere. There are philosophy soup shops at every corner, thank God!

The development of my ideas has been the industry of thirty years. I did not know as I ever should get to publish them, their ripening seemed so slow. But the harvest time has come, at last, and to me that harvest seems a wild one, but of course it is not I who have to pass judgment. It is not quite you, either, individual reader; it is experience and history.

For years in the course of this ripening process, I used to collect my ideas under the designation fallibilism; and indeed the first step toward finding out is to acknowledge you do not satisfactorily know already; so that no blight can so surely arrest all intellectual growth as the blight of cocksureness; and ninety-nine out of every hundred good heads are reduced to impotence by that malady – of whose inroads they are most strangely unaware!

Indeed, out of a contrite fallibilism, combined with a high faith in the reality of knowledge, and an intense desire to find things out, all my philosophy has always seemed to me to grow ….

In many ways, Peirce and I march to the beat of the same drum…

Reviewed essays: