Charles Sanders Peirce


From The Varieties of Religious Experience, 1902 by William James

What God hath joined together, let no man put asunder. The Continental schools of philosophy have too often overlooked the fact that man’s thinking is organically connected with his conduct. It seems to me to be the chief glory of English and Scottish thinkers to have kept the organic connection in view. The guiding principle of British philosophy has in fact been that every difference must make a difference, and that the best method of discussing points of theory is to begin by ascertaining what practical difference would result from one alternative or the other being true. What is the particular truth in question known as? In what facts does it result ? What is its cash-value in terms of particular experience ? This is the characteristic English way of taking up a question. In this way, you remember, Lock takes up the question of personal identity. What you mean by it is just your chain of particular memories, says he. This is the only concretely verifiable part of its significance. All further ideas about it, such as the oneness or manyness of the spiritual substance on which it is based, are therefore void of intelligible meaning; and propositions touching such ideas may be indifferently affirmed or denied. So Berkeley with his “matter.” The cash-value of matter is our physical sensations. That is what it is known as, all that we concretely verify of its conception. That, therefore, is the whole meaning of the term “matter”—any other pretended meaning is mere wind of words. Hume does the same thing with causation. It is known as habitual antecedence, and as tendency on our part to look for something definite to come. Apart from this practical meaning it has no significance whatever, and books about it may be committed to the flames, says Hume. Dugald Stewart and Thomas Brown, James Mill, John Mill, and Professor Bain, have followed more or less consistently the same method; and Shadworth Hodgson has used the principle with full explicitness. When all is said and done, it was English and Scotch writers, and not Kant, who introduced “the critical method” into philosophy, the one method fitted to make philosophy a study worthy of serious men. For what seriousness can possibly remain in debating philosophic propositions that will never make an appreciable difference to us in action? And what could it matter, if all propositions were practically indifferent, which of them we should agree to call true or which false?

An American philosopher of eminent originality, Mr. Charles Sanders Peirce, has rendered thought a service by disentangling from the particulars of its application the principle by which these men were instinctively guided, and by singling it out as fundamental and giving to it a Greek names. He calls it the principle of pragmatism, and he defends it somewhat as follows : 1

Thought in movement has for its only conceivable motive the attainment of belief, or thought at rest. Only when our thought about a subject has found its rest in belief can our action on the subject firmly and safely begin. Beliefs, in short, are rules for action ; and the whole function of thinking is but one step in the production of active habits. If there were any part of a thought that made no difference in the thought’s practical consequences, then that part would be no proper element of the thought’s significance. To develop a thought’s meaning we need therefore only determine what conduct it is fitted to produce ; that conduct is for us its sole significance ; and the tangible fact at the root of all our thought-distinctions is that there is no one of them so fine as to consist in anything but a possible difference of practice. To attain perfect clearness in our thoughts of an object, we need then only consider what sensation, immediate or remote, we are conceivably to expect from it, and what conduct we must prepare in case the object should be true. Our conception of these practical consequences is for us the whole of our conception of the object, so far as that conception has positive significance at all.

That is the principle of Peirce, the principle of pragmatism.   (Etc.)

      In an article, How to make our Ideas Clear, in the Popular Science Monthly for January, 1878, vol. xii. p. 286.

New York : Modern Library (Random House) 1929, pp. 432-35.


Charles S. Peirce 7 June 1903 to Lady Welby

"Arisbe," Milford Pa.
1903 June 7

My dear Sir:
    I think you for your pleasant letter. I had already received your book from the London Macmillan firm and had looked it through with much interest, for I have often thought a book ought to be written on that subject.

As to my own writings on the subject, there were two in the Revue Philosophique. I think one was in volume VI and the other in vol VII. They were transalted into English and printed in the Popular Science Monthly (Edited by E. L. Youmans) at the end of 1877 or beginning of 1878.

To the doctrine there proposed I gave the name pragmatism, which is defined in Baldwin's dictionary, and which has some adherents in Oxford—Schiller, Sturt, etc. But I do not subscribe to all their extensions.

I have just been delivering a course of lectures on the subject in Harvard University, and these will be printed if I can find a publisher.

There was also a review by me of the first three chapters of Pearson's Grammar of Science in the Popular Science Motly of Jan. 1901 or thereabouts.

When I get time I shall read your book consecutively and will call attention to it in the Nation, if the editor will insert a short note for that purpose. I know the columns of that journal to be so crowded that is it difficult to get anything into it.

Yours very truly
C. S. Peirce

Semiotic and Significs
The Correspondence between Charles S. Peirce and Victoria Lady Welby
Edited by Charles S. Hardwick with the assistance of James Cook
Bloomington and London : Indiana University Press 1977, pp. 3-4.



Selected bibliographic

Author Ketner, Kenneth Laine. Title A comprehensive bibliography of the published works of Charles Sanders Peirce with a bibliography of secondary studies / edited by Kenneth Laine Ketner ; with the assistance of Arthur Franklin Stewart and Claude V. Bridges. Edition 2nd ed., rev. Publisher Bowling Green, Ohio, USA : Philosophy Documentation Center, Bowling Green State University, c1986. Description vii, 337 p. ; 27 cm. Series Bibliographies of famous philosophers. Note "Serves as an index and guide to: Charles Sanders Peirce: Complete published works, including selected secondary materials, a microfiche collection published by Johnson Associates in 1977."--P. i. ISBN 0912632844

Author Peirce, Charles S. (Charles Sanders), 1839-1914. Title Charles Sanders Peirce : contributions to The Nation / compiled and annotated by Kenneth Laine Ketner and James Edward Cook. Publisher Lubbock : Texas Tech Press, 1975-1987. Description 4 v. ; 26 cm.

Author Peirce, Charles S. (Charles Sanders), 1839-1914. Title Charles S. Peirce papers [microform] Publisher Cambridge, Massachusetts : Harvard University Library, Microreproduction Service with the cooperation of the Houghton Library, 1967-1979. Description 38 microfilm reels : ill. ; 35 mm. Contents Reel 1-30. Papers -- Reel 31-32. Supplement to the microfilm edition of the Charles S. Peirce papers -- Reel L1-L6. [Professional correspondence]

Author Peirce, Charles S. (Charles Sanders), 1839-1914. Title Collected papers. Edited by Charles Hartshorne and Paul Weiss. Publisher Cambridge : Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1974-1979, c1935-1961. Description 8 v. in 4 illus. 25 cm. Note Vols. 7-8 edited by A. W. Burks.

Title Galois lectures, addresses delivered by Jesse Douglas, Philip Franklin, Cassius Jackson Keyser, Leopold Infeld at the Galois Institute of Mathematics, Long Island University, Brooklyn, N.Y Publisher New York, Scripta Mathematica, Yeshiva College, 1941 Description 3 p. �., 3-124 p. illus. (diagrs.) 20 cm Series The Scripta mathematica library,no. 5 Note Bibliographical footnotes Contents Survey of the theory of integration, by Jesse Douglas.--The four color problem, by Philip Franklin.--Charles Sanders Peirce as a pioneer, by C. J. Keyser.--The fourth dimension and relativity, by Leopold Infeld

Author Keyser, Cassius Jackson, 1862-1947. Title A glance at some of the ideas of Charles Sanders Peirce, by Cassius Jackson Keyser. Publisher New York, Scripta Mathematica, 1935. Description 11-37 p. ports. 25 cm. Note Detached copy: from Scripta mathematica, v. 3.

Author Peirce, Charles S. (Charles Sanders), 1839-1914. Title Collected papers, edited by Charles Hartshorne and Paul Weiss. Publisher Cambridge : Harvard University Press, 1931-60. Description 8 v. in 7 ports., diagrs., facsim. 24 cm. Note Vols. 7-8 edited by A. W. Burks. Note Bibliography: v. 8, p. 251-330. Contents v.1. Principles of philosophy.--v.2 Elements of logic.--v.3. Exact logic (published papers)--v.4. The simplest mathematics.--v.5. Pragmatism and pragmaticism.--v.6. Scientific metaphysics.--v.7. Science and philosophy.--v.8. Reviews, correspondence, and bibliography.

Author Peirce, Charles S. (Charles Sanders), 1839-1914. Title Chance, love, and logic; Publisher New York, Harcourt, Brace & company, inc.; [etc., etc. ] 1923. Description 2 p.l., iii-xxxiii, 318 p. diagrs. 22 cm.

Schumann, Victor, 1841-1913. Title On the absorption and emission of air and its ingredients for light of wave-lengths from 250 [Greek letters mu mu] to 100 [Greek letters mu mu]. By Victor Schumann. Publisher Washington, Smithsonian Institution, 1903. Description iv, 30 p. illus., 4 plates. 34 cm. Series Smithsonian contributions to knowledge,v. 29, art. 9 Publication (Smithsonian Institution) ;1413. Note At head of title: Hodgkins Fund. Translated from the German manuscript by Charles S. Peirce.

Author Peirce, Charles S. (Charles Sanders), 1839-1914 Title The century's great men in science [microform] / by Charles S. Peirce Publisher [Washington : G.P.O., 1901] Description 693-699 p Series Microbook library of American civilization ;LAC 40097 Note Detached from the Annual report of the Board of Regents of the Smithsonian Institution ... for the year ending June 30, 1900 "Reprinted from the Evening Post, January 12, 1901."

Author Peirce, Charles S. (Charles Sanders), 1839-1914. Title Report on gravity at the Smithsonian, Ann Arbor, Madison, and Cornell : ms., [ca. 1889] Description 137 leaves. Original Original in: U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey Archives.

Author Peirce, Charles S. (Charles Sanders), 1839-1914 Title On small differences of sensation [microform] / by C.S. Peirce and J. Jastrow Publisher [Washington : G.P.O., 1885] Description 75-83 p Series Microbook library of American civilization ;LAC 40097 Note Detached from Memoirs of the National Academy of Sciences, v. 3 (5th memoir), pt. 1 Language English

Title Studies in logic / by members of the Johns Hopkins University. Publisher Boston : Little, Brown, and Company, 1883. Description vi, 203 p., [2] leaves of plates : ill., maps ; 19 cm. Note Preface signed by editor: C. S. Peirce. Contents The logic of the Epicureans / Allan Marquand -- A machine for producing syllogistic variations / Allan Marquand -- Note on an eight-term logical machine -- On the algebra of logic / Christine Ladd -- On a new algebra of logic / O.H. Mitchell -- Operations in relative number with applications to the theory of probabilities / B.I. Gilman -- A theory of probable inference / C.S. Peirce.


Page created 5 May 2004
Last updated 12 December 2004

W. Paul Tabaka
Contact 1