Charles Sanders Peirce: A Life

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Indiana University Press, 1998 - Philosophy - 412 pages
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Charles Sanders Peirce was born in September 1839 and died five months before the guns of August 1914. He is perhaps the most important mind the United States has ever produced. He made significant contributions throughout his life as a mathematician, astronomer, chemist, geodesist, surveyor, cartographer, metrologist, engineer, and inventor. He was a psychologist, a philologist, a lexicographer, a historian of science, a lifelong student of medicine, and, above all, a philosopher, whose special fields were logic and semiotics. He is widely credited with being the founder of pragmatism. In terms of his importance as a philosopher and a scientist, he has been compared to Plato and Aristotle. He himself intended "to make a philosophy like that of Aristotle." Peirce was also a tormented and in many ways tragic figure. He suffered throughout his life from various ailments, including a painful facial neuralgia, and had wide swings of mood which frequently left him depressed to the state of inertia, and other times found him explosively violent. Despite his consistent belief that ideas could find meaning only if they "worked" in the world, he himself found it almost impossible to make satisfactory economic and social arrangements for himself. This brilliant scientist, this great philosopher, this astounding polymath was never able, throughout his long life, to find an academic post that would allow him to pursue his major interest, the study of logic, and thus also fulfill his destiny as America's greatest philosopher. Much of his work remained unpublished in his own time, and is only now finding publication in a coherent, chronologically organized edition. Even more astounding is that,despite many monographic studies, there has been no biography until now, almost eighty years after his death. Brent has studied the Peirce papers in detail and enriches his account with numerous quotations from letters by Peirce and by his friends. This is a fascinating account of a p

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Charles Sanders Peirce: a life

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Volume 5 of the Writings of Charles S. Peirce brings the editors of the Peirce Project one step closer to their momentous goal: a complete edition of the philosopher's works. The present volume ... Read full review

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This is no doubt the best biography both in accuracy and comprehensiveness written about the polyhistori Charles Sanders Peirce (pronounced as Purse or Pers) who was the best American philosopher and one of the great thinkers of all times. I found a long time a go that I get thoroughly bored when reading biographies or Autobiographies, even of people who were supposedly living a very interesting life. Surprisingly perhaps this book proves the exception and is quite possibly the only book of its kind I've ever read to completion. This should be partly attributed to the very uncommon and exotic character of Peirce and partly to Brent's power of presentation. I shall not describe here in any sort of detail Peirce' difficult life paralleling his amazingly original and vast intellectual achievements. However, just to give an idea of the scope of his abilities and contribution I shall quote the following from the book: "Who is the most original and the most versatile intellect that the Americas have so far produced? The answer "Charles S. Peirce" is uncontested, because any second would be so far behind as not to be worth nominating. Mathematician, astronomer, chemist, geodist, surveyor, cartographer, metrologist, spectroscopist, engineer, inventor; psychologist, philologist, lexicographer, historian of science, mathematical economist, lifelong student of medicine; book reviewer, dramatist, actor, short story writer; phenomenologist, semiotician, logician, rhetorician [and] metaphysician... the first known conceiver of the design and theory of an electric switching-circuit computer... He is the only system-building philosopher in the Americas who has been both competent and productive in logic, in mathematics, and in a wide range of sciences..." [Fisch, "Introductory Note," in Sebeok, The Play of Musement, 17]) - 5 in the BBB (Barak's Book Benchmark) scale! 


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About the author (1998)

Joseph Brent, an intellectual historian, was formerly on the faculty at the University of the District of Columbia.

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