Charles Sanders Peirce. A life. (English) Zbl 0827.01013

Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press. xvi, 388 p. (1993).
The author has written a fine study of the extraordinary life of a major figure in 19th century American philosophy. He remarks: ‘Although Peirce’s intellectual prowess was widely acknowledged and his achievements were numerous and important, his contempt for convention, his difficult character, his reckless involvement in get-rich-quick schemes, and recurring questions about his morals caused him to fail at every turn of his career’. Peirce was the son of Benjamin Peirce and so belonged to a socially and politically prominent family of the Boston and Harvard establishment. Thus Peirce had great advantages in his formative years. Benjamin Peirce’s position in the U.S. Coast Survey resulted in C. S. Peirce working for the Survey for some 30 years, and during this time he did valuable work in gravimetrics. This position enabled him to travel to Europe and meet a number of scientists there. Peirce’s character and personal life – particularly his divorce and second marriage – proved an obstacle to his career. He gave courses of lectures at Harvard and Johns Hopkins but their Presidents C. W. Eliot and D. C. Gilman prevented him gaining permanent posts at these universities. After his dismissal from the Coast Survey in 1891 he was always in financial difficulties. He wrote a good deal for periodicals; W. P. Garrison, the editor of Nation, was a good friend at this time. Another lifelong friend was William James who credited Peirce with the concept of pragmatism. The author sums up Peirce’s life: ‘As a scientist, Peirce was remarkably able, profoundly knowledgable, and a brillant innovator. He was extremely unfortunate in the mediocrity and scientific literalness of those who judged his work’.


01A70 Biographies, obituaries, personalia, bibliographies
01A55 History of mathematics in the 19th century
03A05 Philosophical and critical aspects of logic and foundations


Benjamin Peirce

Biographic References:

Peirce, Charles Sanders