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Charles Sanders Peirce: biography of this pragmatist philosopher

Charles Sanders Peirce: biography of this pragmatist philosopher

October 1, 2022

Charles Sanders Peirce (1839-1914) was an American philosopher and scientist, founder of the school of American pragmatism. He was also a specialist in logic and in the theory of language and communication, which has an important influence on the development of philosophy and also on a large part of psychology.

In this article we will see a biography of Charles Sanders Peirce , as well as some of its main theoretical contributions.

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Biography of Charles Sanders Peirce: founder of American pragmatism

Charles Sanders Peirce was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts on September 10, 1839. He was the fourth child of Sarah Mills and Benjamin Peirce, who was an important professor of astronomy and mathematics at Harvard University .


Like his father, Peirce graduated from Harvard College in 1859 and began studies in chemistry within the Lawrende School of Science that was part of the same university. He also worked as a computer assistant for his father, with whom he did important work in astronomy, within the Harvard Observatory.

As part of the same, between the years of 1873 and 1886, Charles Sanders Peirce conducted experiments on approximately 20 space stations in the United States, Europe and Canada. In these experiments he used pendulums designed by himself. This gave him an important international recognition and led him to perform for many years as a chemical engineer, mathematician and inventor . Likewise, the practical participation he had in physics led him to finally reject scientific determinism.


In the year of 1867, Peirce was elected member of the Academy of Arts and Sciences , as well as member of the National Academy of Sciences in 1877 and, three years later, he was elected member of the Society of Mathematicians of London.

So, for a long time he worked in mathematics and physics, although I had a special interest in philosophy, philology, and especially in logic , issues that later brought him closer to experimental psychology. He is considered among other things the father of modern semiotics (the science of signs) and one of the most important philosophers of all time.

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The logic of Peirce

Through his studies, Pierce linked logic with the theory of signs in an important way; although especially it was dedicated to study the logic in the scientific terrain or the "logic of the science", that is to say, of the induction (how to extract conclusions or principles from a data set and logical way).


To this last, Peirce added two methods to generate hypotheses which he called "retroduction" and "abduction". Abduction, for Peirce, is a complement to induction and deduction , that is, they are closely related tools.

And he maintained that the latter is not only found in the scientific method, but is part of our daily activity. This is because, when faced with a phenomenon that we can hardly explain, we display a range of beliefs that, as we can not offer a solution to our doubts, lead us to generate a series of hypotheses about the phenomenon.

Then we deduce the consequences of this hypothesis and, finally, we put them to the test through experience. This logic allows us not so much to verify which hypothesis is correct, but what each one consists of and how it differs from the others, which leads us to evaluate above all the set of its practical consequences.

According to Peirce, all this could only be understood through a broad knowledge of the methods and reasoning present in all sciences .

Likewise, among the studies he carried out in the logic of science, Pierce analyzed for several years the work of the German philosopher Immanuel Kant, concluding that these were arguments with a logic that Pierce described as "superficial", and that finally led him towards formal research in logic, both in philosophy and in other disciplines.

American pragmatism or pragmaticism

Peirce maintained that the scientific method is one of the resources of construction and modification of beliefs, as well as one of the most important tools to clarify complex problems and offer successful solutions to them.

In Peirce's pragmatism, every idea has meaning from its practical consequences, that is, by its experiential value. And in an attempt to differentiate other currents of pragmatism that began to develop from his works, Pierce baptized his own tradition as "pragmaticism", which currently serves as a synonym for the school of "American pragmatism" and differs for example from pragmatism of his colleagues William James and John Dewey.

Outstanding works

Charles Sanders Peirce wrote for more than 50 years on issues related to very different areas of knowledge. From mathematics and physics, to economics and psychology, to mention a few .

However, probably his two best-known works are the first two articles in a series of six that were originally compiled in Illustrations of Logic of Science, published in 1877 in the journal Popular Science Monthly.

These two articles were: The fixation of belief, where defends the superiority of the scientific method about other methods for the resolution of doubts and the formation of beliefs; Y How to clarify our ideas, where he establishes a "pragmatic" definition for the concepts.

Other of his best known books are Photometric investigations, of 1878, and Studies in logic, of 1883. In general terms, the extensive work of Peirce problematizes questions such as the foundations of modern science, the existence or possibility of reaching an absolute truth, and knowledge from a logical perspective.

Bibliographic references:

  • Charles Sanders Peirce (2018). Encyclopaedia Britannica. Retrieved August 31, 2018. Available at //www.britannica.com/biography/Charles-Sanders-Peirce.
  • McNabb, D. (2015). Peirce's functionalism and pragmaticism: Towards a more viable ontology of mental states. Stoa (6) 11: 61-75.
  • Bruch, R. (2014). Charles Sanders Peirce. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Retrieved August 31, 2018. Available at //plato.stanford.edu/entries/peirce/#bio.

Pragmatism - A truly American philosophy (October 2022).


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