introduction: peirce and the history of science society

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  • Introduction: Peirce and the History of Science SocietyAuthor(s): Max H. FiscbSource: Transactions of the Charles S. Peirce Society, Vol. 11, No. 3 (Summer, 1975), pp. 145-148Published by: Indiana University PressStable URL: .Accessed: 28/06/2014 12:34

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  • Charles Sanders Peirce: Scientist, Mathematician, and Historian of Science

    The introduction below and the jour papers that follow it were presented at a session under the above title at the Semi-Centennial Meeting of the History of Science Society at Nor walk, Connecticut, on October 26, 1974 The initiative for the session was taken by the Metropolitan New York Section of the Society. Thomas B. Settle of that Section was chairman. The planning of the session was largely his work.

    Max H. Fisch


    It is in a dual capacity that Peirce concerns the History of Science Society: on the one hand as scientist, mathematician, and philosopher of science; on the other as historian of science. His published writings in these capacities date from 1863 through 1908, a period of forty-five years; but much of his work is still unpublished and unstudied.

    A Peirce session at this Semi-Centennial meeting is appropriate for the reason that at the beginning of the Society's first half -century Peirce was ten years dead and nearly forgotten, but at the end of it he is rapidly coming to be known around the world as the most original and versatile intellect the Americas have so far produced. The change is due in large part to the researches and publications of members of the Society, but in some part also to its very existence.

    More exactly, in 1924 Peirce was ten years dead and nearly forgotten as scientist and historian of science, but was beginning to be recognized as

    philosopher. An issue of the Journal of Philosophy had been devoted to him in 1916, and nearly thirty pages of C. I. Lewis's Survey of Symbolic Logic in 1918. In 1923, just before our founding, Morris R. Cohen had

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  • 146 Max H. Fisch

    reprinted two of Peirce's most important series of published papers, under the title Chance, Love, and Logic, with a key extract from an equally important earlier series, an introduction, an essay by John Dewey on Peirce's pragmatism, and a bibliography of Peirce's published writings. In the same year, in an appendix to The Meaning of Meaning, Ogden and Richards presented extracts from Peirce's writings that suggested that he might well have been one of the founders of semiotic, the general theory of signs.

    In the first half of the 1930s appeared the first six volumes of Peirce's Collected Papers, the article by Paul Weiss in the Dictionary of American Biography, and the first published dissertation on his philosophy. Since then, there have been two further volumes of the Collected Papers, a. score of anthologies in English, French, German, Italian, and Polish, a hundred Ph.D. theses, more than fifty books and a thousand articles. These pub- lications have left little doubt that Peirce was our greatest American philosopher.

    But it was not until the early 1950s, midway in the Society's first half- century, that Carolyn Eisele began her long series of articles on Peirce as historian of science, as scientist, and as mathematician. It was not until the 1960s that Victor Lenzen began the series of articles in which he has brought the competence of a physicist to the closer analysis and evalua- tion of several ranges of Peirce's scientific work. And it was not until the 1970s that Thomas Cadwallader began trying the hypothesis that Peirce was, among many other things, America's first modern experimental psychologist.

    From 1859 to 1891 Peirce's scientific work was largely in the service of the Coast and Geodetic Survey. We have long needed a history of that Survey which would do for it what Thomas G. Manning's Govern- ment in Science did for the Geological Survey. We are fortunate that Manning himself is about to give us such a book, and that his paper this morning will give us some notion of the light the book will shed on Peirce's career.

    It is good news also that Carolyn Eisele, with her four-volume edition of Peirce's mathematical writings now in press, is returning to her earlier project of editing his writings on the history of science.

    In summary, then, at the beginning of our Society's first half -century Peirce was coming into recognition as philosopher and logician, and at the end of it he is coming into recognition again as scientist, mathemati- cian, and historian of science. And it is a striking fact that the order of

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  • Introduction: Peirce and the History of Science Society I Al

    retrospective recognition is the reverse of the order of recognition in his own lifetime. He was known to his contemporaries primarily as scientist, mathematician, and historian of science. He was a member of the Amer- ican Academy of Arts and Sciences, the National Academy of Sciences, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the American Metrological Society, the London Mathematical Society, and the New York (later the American) Mathematical Society. He contributed to such journals as the American Jotirnal of Science, Nature, the American Journal of Mathematics, the American Journal of Psychology, and Science, as well as to the Memoirs of the American Academy and of the National Aca- demy, the Comptes Rendus of the French Academy of Sciences, and the Proceedings of the International Geodetic Association. He gave a course of Lowell Lectures on the History of Science in 1892 and contracted to write a History of Science for Putnam's in 1898. His recognition as a

    philosopher, on the other hand, was largely posthumous. He never at- tended a congress or convention of philosophers, nor was he ever a member of any philosophic association.

    Why, then, did his previous repute as scientist, mathematician, and historian of science decline as his repute as philosopher grew? Chiefly because he had discovered no new phenomenon or law, given no lasting new direction to subsequent research. But that was in part because of the primarily experimental character of his work, and in part because of its extreme diversification. In many a field his work was soon overshadowed if not surpassed by that of specialists who had more nearly confined themselves to that one field. Confronted for the first time by a list of his scientific publications, a present-day scientist might well be forgiven for saying: "Such versatility was doubtless impressive at the time, but if instead he had concentrated his efforts he might not have been so soon forgotten."

    We are beginning to see, however, that he deliberately diversified his efforts just in order to concentrate them. Almost from the beginning, he rejected the doctrine of intuitive knowledge. Theologians may conceive a divine intelligence that knows everything - past, present, and future - unconditionally, immediately, infallibly; for which there is therefore no such thing as experience or as learning, as finding out, as putting things together, as coming to know one thing by way of another, as mak- ing up its mind. But human intelligence, at least, is scientific intelligence - intelligence that makes or produces knowledge; intelligence whose knowledge must be worked up or inferred from experience; intelligence

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  • 148 Max H. Fisch

    that knows nothing intuitively or infallibly but that both can learn from experience and must learn from experience whatever it is to know. In the several "sciences" the business of knowledge- making has been both professionalized and specialized to certain ranges or kinds of experience, and has thereby gained efficiency. Even pure mathematics learns from experience - the experience of constructing diagrams or arbitrary hy- potheses, performing experiments upon them, and observing consequences not specified or anticipated in the rule or precept of construction.

    Now Peirce's special study was the logic of science; that is, the ana- lytic and critical study of the methods of those sciences which have pursued knowledge-making with evident success. But those methods cannot