Thursday, August 12, 2010

Hookway, Christopher. Review of Charles Sanders Peirce, 1890-1892. Vol. 8 of WRITINGS: A CHRONOLOGICAL EDITION. NDPR (August 2010).

Peirce, Charles Sanders.  1890-1892. Vol. 8 of Writings of Charles S. Peirce: a Chronological Edition. Ed. Edward C. Moore, Max H. Fisch, and J. W. Kloesel. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 2010.

This book is volume eight of a multi-volume edition of Peirce's writings in logic and philosophy that was launched in the 1970s. The edition is important because, unlike most of its predecessors, it presents material chronologically, making it possible to study the development of Peirce's thought. It is also invaluable because of the extensive study of manuscripts and texts which has been involved in its production. Many manuscripts have been re-dated, others have been reconstructed from fragments, and we are now provided with extremely reliable transcripts of their contents. And, as in previous volumes, the editors have included drafts of important published papers and a lot of unpublished material. The current volume contains fifty-six items, ranging from published papers on metaphysics to manuscripts on logic and mathematics and reviews, mostly from The Nation, on a wide variety of topics, including William James's Psychology. Like earlier volumes, it contains a long introduction which gives us yet another chapter in a fascinating detailed and scholarly account of Peirce's life and work as well as providing insights into American academic and philosophical life in the later nineteenth century.

The period covered by this volume is an important one in Peirce's life. His teaching post at the Johns Hopkins University had lapsed in 1884, and he was struggling to earn enough to live on by working for the US Coast Survey and by writing definitions for the Century Dictionary. Around this time, Paul Carus launched a philosophical journal, The Monist. Peirce was in regular contact with Carus, and most of his writings between 1890 and his death in 1914, were either published in The Monist or intended for publication there, including five papers on metaphysics included in the present volume. Although not all are among the most accessible of his writings, these papers presented ideas that he had been working on for ten years or more and that continued to be important for his later work. Because these papers provide the intellectual core of the current volume, my comments will focus on them.

Since Peirce was best known in his lifetime as a logician and is probably familiar to contemporary philosophers mostly through his pragmatism and writings on the method of science, these papers may surprise some of Peirce's readers. Pragmatism is usually understood as a tool for undermining the pretentions of 'ontological metaphysics'. Peirce himself called it a form of 'prope-positivism', and, in many of his writings, it is associated with the rejection of the Kantian idea of a thing-in-itself. It is striking that the papers on metaphysics display some similarities to the German philosophical tradition of naturphilosophie, presenting a system of evolutionary cosmology and defending a form of objective idealism which shows the influence of Schelling and Schiller. There is no inconsistency here. Peirce's project is one of 'scientific metaphysics' and his cosmological writings are informed by science and consistent with pragmatism. . . .

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