Charles Sanders Peirce (1839 -1914)
Charles Sanders Peirce
is known as the
founder of pragmatism or as he
later came to call it, in order to differentiate it from other later
Peirce described his pragmaticism as "a method of determining
meanings of hard words and abstract conceptions."
Peirce was born on September 10, 1839 in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and
the son of Harvard mathematician Benjamin Peirce.
While he wrote
prolifically on many subjects including mathematics, economics,
anthropology, psychology and much more, he was a practicing chemist and
geodesist by profession, yet he regarded scientific philosophy as his
Peirce was unusual for a
, in that, he published no major work based on his
thoughts. Nevertheless, his contributions were significant and his
published works consist of about 12,000 pages and his known unpublished
manuscripts of about 80,000 handwritten pages.
Due to his father's profession, Peirce grew up in a very intellectual
atmosphere and was exposed to the top scientific and philosophical
thinkers of the time, many of whom visited the Peirce household
regularly. By the time he was eight years old, he was studying
chemistry, and at thirteen, he started to read Immanuel
Kant's Critique of Pure Reason
Later on, as one who was devoted to logic and scientific practices,
Peirce applied his scientific principles to philosophy.
The guiding principle of Peirce's 'pragmaticist' philosophy is summed
up in a statement from his article How to Make Out
, which was published in
Popular Science Monthly
"...If one can
all conceivable experimental phenomena which the affirmation or denial
of a concept could imply, one will have a complete definition of the
concept.....Our idea of anything is our idea of its sensible
effects....It is absurd to say that thought has any meaning unrelated
to its only function."
other words, we can get
clarity about the content of a thought or concept by working through
all its experimental consequences. This process also gives us the
ability to distinguish between nonsensical metaphysical propositions,
which have no sense because they don't represent any idea that has
observable, reasonable effects, from the genuinely meaningful
prepositions of 'scientific metaphysics'.
scientific metaphysics is an observational discipline derived from the
first and most basic elements of experience and one that begins with
phenomenology (the way things are represented to us).
Peirce also had an interesting take on truth and the nature of reality
through the notion of scientific method. He saw scientific enquiry as
proceeding according to three principles of inference. First, was
abduction, which refers to the generation of hypotheses for the
purposes of explaining particular phenomena. Secondly, deduction, which
is the means by which testable propositions are derived from
hypotheses; and thirdly, inference, which is the whole process of
experimentation which takes place in order to test hypotheses.
came to argue that one should never be attached to the truth of current
scientific opinion, but rather accept it as a stage
on the way towards truth.
Ultimately Peirce's, pragmatism is a doctrine about how to establish
empirical meanings or to arrive at truth. He saw pragmatism and account
of inquiry as methods for both resolving metaphysics and supporting
As well as his contributions to pragmatism and providing its name,
Charles Sanders Pierce was an important influence upon the works of