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Peirce, Charles S. (Charles Sanders) (1839-1914) | Southern Illinois University Special Collections Research Center

Name: Peirce, Charles S. (Charles Sanders) (1839-1914)

Historical Note: Charles S. Peirce was born in 1839 in Cambridge, MA. He was raised within a rich intellectual environment. His father Benjamin Peirce was a distinguished professor of mathematics at Harvard University and intimately involved with the academic and professional scientific communities in the United States. Charles showed a penchant for logic and chemistry even as a young child, and when a teenager, he conducted some of his first readings in philosophy, in particular in the area of aesthetics by reading Friedrich Schiller's Aesthetic Letters. He attained his college degree from Harvard in 1859, and then a graduate degree in chemistry from Harvard's Lawrence Scientific School in 1862. At Harvard, Peirce met William James who would remain a close friend and interlocutor throughout his life. From the years 1859-1891 he pursued a career as a scientist with the U. S. Coast and Geodetic Survey, and in 1879-1884 he served as a professor of philosophy at Johns Hopkins University. In 1887, he moved into his country home, affectionately named "Arisbe," located in Milford, PA. There, where Peirce would reside the remainder of his life, he began to develop some of his most provactive and profound philosophical theories in metaphysics, phenomenology, cosmology, pyschology, and semiotics. Throughout his later years, he continued to write prolifically, deliver lectures, and publish original essays and book reviews on these and many other subjects. However, due to a series of misfortunes and a weakened reputation with some individuals in the academic and scientific communities, he struggled to regain regular employment and fell into financial ruin. The stress of this period also prevented him from ever completing several proposed long monographs on his system of philosophy. Nonetheless, he continued to write until his death and his manuscripts are filled with his many novel ideas, exhibiting his great polymathic abilities as one of the greatest intellectuals of history, deemed the "American Aristotle." Among some of his contributions is his theory of pragmaticism, his founding of modern semiotics, his logic of abduction, existential graphs, and his evolutionary cosmology. In 1914, he died of cancer, succeeded by his wife who donated his manuscripts to Harvard.

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