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Charles Sanders Peirce

Peirce, Charles Sanders (pûrs) [key], 1839–1914, American philosopher and polymath, b. Cambridge, Mass., grad. Harvard, 1859; son of Benjamin Peirce. Except for occasional lectures he renounced the regimen of academic life and was in government service with the Geodetic Survey for many years. Regarding logic as the beginning of all philosophical study, Peirce felt that the meaning of an idea was to be found in an examination of the consequences to which the idea would lead. This principle was published in 1878 in Popular Science Monthly, using the term pragmatism, which was later employed, with acknowledgment, by his friend William James.

A major thinker in a number of fields, Peirce is also recognized as the originator of the modern form of semiotics and the first American experimental psychologist. His influence is clearly seen in the works of Josiah Royce and John Dewey, but recognition of his importance was delayed because of the scarcity of published works. He had a difficult and tumultuous life, died in poverty, and left many fragmentary manuscripts. The only book published during his lifetime was Photometric Researches (1878), in which Peirce originated the technique of using light waves to measure length. His scientific interests had also led him to design an electric switching circuit computer. In all, Peirce made significant contributions to chemistry, physics, astronomy, geodesy, meteorology, engineering, cartography, psychology, philology, the history and philosophy of science and mathematics, phenomenology, and logic. After his death his major essays were edited by M. R. Cohen in Chance, Love, and Logic (1923).


See his collected papers (8 vol., 1931–58); selections of his letters, ed. by C. S. Hardwick (1977); biography by J. Brent (1993); studies by J. Buchler (1939, repr. 1966), M. G. Murphey (1961), A. J. Ayer (1968), J. K. Feibleman (1970), F. E. Reilly (1979), R. J. Bernstein, ed. (1965, repr. 1980), E. Freeman, ed. (1983), and J. Hoopes, ed. (1991).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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