American Philosophy

Charles Sanders Peirce

What are some key facts about Charles Peirce’s career and life?

Charles Sanders Peirce (1839–1914) was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts. His father, Benjamin, was professor of mathematics at Harvard University and a founder of the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey and the Smithsonian Institution. (Benjamin Peirce is also said to have built the Harvard department of mathematics.) At the age of 12, young Charles discovered logic, and at 16, he began his independent study of philosophy. In 1859 he graduated from Harvard, unsure of “what I would do in life.” His primary interest was in logic, for which there were no career opportunities. He practiced geodesy for several years and returned to Harvard to study natural history and philosophy in 1861. He got a Ph.D. in chemistry in 1863, graduating summa cum laude.

Peirce continued his studies of logic on his own and has been considered to be one of the greatest logicians of all times. Although he disagreed with Immanuel Kant’s (1724–1804) insistence that space was Euclidean and later moved to Friedrich Hegel’s (1770–1831) objective idealism, Kant remained a dominating influence over his philosophical ideas. Peirce’s philosophy was a distinct form of pragmatism, which he called “Pragmaticism.”


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