Philosophy Charles Sanders Peirce
by
Albert Atkin
  • LAST REVIEWED: 07 October 2016
  • LAST MODIFIED: 10 May 2010
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195396577-0089

Introduction

Charles Sanders Peirce (b. 1839–d. 1914) was a polymathic but influential thinker who is widely regarded as America’s first great philosopher. His work and interests are broad and multifaceted, but his greatest and most interesting philosophical achievements include playing a foundational role in the pragmatist movement, an approach to philosophy characterized by its concern with the practical upshots of our philosophical concepts; developing a pragmatist account of truth and inquiry; playing a central role in the development of modern formal logics; developing a sophisticated view of science and scientific practice; inventing a complex and influential account of signification and representation; and developing deep and interesting accounts of metaphysics. Despite these achievements, his work is arguably still underestimated and under-explored, due in part to the details of his life and availability of his work. Nonetheless, there is a wealth of interesting literature in many of these areas, and lively research on Peirce, his philosophy, and its contemporary relevance.

General Overviews

The scope of Peirce’s philosophical interest is broad, and overviews of his work often fall foul of either oversimplification, or of making his theories seem daunting and impenetrable. The works mentioned here, for the most part, tend to avoid these mistakes and represent useful short overviews or ways into Peirce’s broader body of work. Atkin 2004 and Anderson 1995 give introductions to Peirce via summaries of his architectonic view of philosophy. Anderson in particular is an excellent way into Peirce’s broader philosophy via the architectonic. Misak 2004 gives a good overview of the various key themes and theories of Peirce’s work and provides a short but excellent theory-by-theory guide. Burch 2001 takes an approach similar to Misak’s but focuses more on his own view of Peirce’s metaphysical ideas and their place in his broader thought. Consequently, it is more complicated than might be and certainly less useful for undergraduate students than other overviews mentioned here. Nonetheless, it does provide a useful starting point and gives a good sense of the breadth of Peirce’s work. Hookway 1998 is an excellent and thorough introduction to Peirce, offering ready but detailed discussions of particular areas and theories. This is easily the best resource available for giving students a quick and accessible overview of Peirce’s philosophy. Houser 1992 and Houser 1998 provide excellent and detailed accounts of Peirce’s ideas, their development, and his shifting interests across his intellectual life. Although they are perhaps intended for a slightly more advanced audience than, say, Hookway 1998, attention to them will pay dividends for those wanting to acquaint themselves with Peirce’s work.

  • Anderson, Douglas R. “Strands of System.” In Strands of System: The Philosophy of Charles Peirce. Series Purdue University Press Series in the History of Philosophy. By Douglas R. Anderson and Charles Sanders Peirce, 26–67. West Lafayette, IN: Purdue University Press, 1995.

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    Uses Peirce’s architectonic vision to introduce some key and important themes in his work. Excellent resource for giving a quick but relatively detailed overview of Peirce’s ideas and how they are supposed to relate to each other.

  • Atkin, Albert. “Peirce’s Architectonic.” In The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Edited by James Fieser and Bradley Dowden. 2004.

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    Introduces the broad areas and themes in Peirce’s philosophy by discussing his thoughts about the architectonic structure of philosophy. Less detailed on particular areas, but a quick and useful overview of Peirce’s broader philosophical vision nonetheless.

  • Burch, Robert. “Peirce.” In The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Edited by Edward N. Zalta. 2001.

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    Good overview of Peirce’s philosophy with quick summaries of the main areas of his ideas. It focuses more heavily on the elements of Peirce’s evolutionary cosmology than one might ordinarily expect from an encyclopedia entry, and this makes it a little obscure in places.

  • Hookway, Christopher. “Peirce, Charles Sanders.” In Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Vol. 7. Edited by Edward Craig, 269–284. London: Routledge, 1998.

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    Excellent overview of Peirce’s philosophy. It gives a sense of the overall structure of Peirce’s thought, the details of his views on particular topics, and some sense of the development of his views. Ideal for a quick orientation with Peirce, or for giving students a ready overview.

  • Houser, Nathan. “Introduction.” In The Essential Peirce: Selected Philosophical Writings. Vol. 1, 1867–1893. Edited by Nathan Houser and Christian J. W. Kloesel, xix–xlii. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1992.

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    Introduction to a selected collection of Peirce’s important earlier papers. It introduces the central themes, intellectual background, and broader importance of the philosophical ideas in the papers. As such, the collection serves as a valuable and subtle overview of Peirce’s thought. More for advanced scholars, but profitable for advanced undergraduates, too.

  • Houser, Nathan. “Introduction.” In The Essential Peirce: Selected Philosophical Writings. Vol. 2, 1893–1913. Edited by Nathan Houser and Christian J. W. Kloesel, xvii–xxxviii. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1998.

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    Introduction to a selected collection of Peirce’s important later papers. It introduces the central themes, intellectual background, and broader importance of the philosophical ideas in the papers. As such, the collection serves as a valuable and subtle overview of Peirce’s thought. More for advanced scholars, but profitable for advanced undergraduates, too.

  • Misak, Cheryl J. “Charles Sanders Peirce (1839–1914).” In The Cambridge Companion to Peirce. Edited by Cheryl J. Misak, 1–26. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2004.

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    An introduction to a collection of essays on Peirce’s philosophy, this overview of Peirce’s ideas is intended to give those unfamiliar with his philosophy some sense of its scope and details. It is an excellent and well-informed overview, especially useful for advanced undergraduates and researchers.

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