CHARLES SANDERS PEIRCE
Charles Sanders Peirce (1839–1914), born in Cambridge, the son of a Harvard University mathematician, was a scientist and philosopher. He received his M.A. in mathematics and chemistry, and worked for three years at the Harvard astronomical observatory. From 1861 to 1891 he was associated with the U.S. Coastal and Geodetic Survey. He also lectured at Johns Hopkins University but was never a permanent member of the faculty. Although he deplored the popularization of his thought by William James, James was a loyal friend who introduced Peirce's theories to the intellectual public. Peirce is primarily known for having identified a third type of reasoning in addition to the two standard forms, deduction and induction, which he named “abduction,” and which has subsequently been known as reasoning to the best explanation. He is also the father of pragmatism (from the Greek word pragma, meaning act or deed), which emphasizes the practical nature of philosophy.
In the 1870s Peirce published a series in Popular Science Monthly, one of which was “The Fixation of Belief,” which is reprinted below. The essay argues that the function of coming to believe something is to relieve the disturbance of uncertainty and doubt. He distinguishes four ways of coming to a settled belief about some issue or subject matter: the methods of tenacity, authority, natural preferences, and science, the method that Peirce prefers.
Ayer, A. J. Origins of Pragmatism: Studies in the Philosophy of Charles Sanders Peirce and William James (Macmillan, 1968).
Kuklick, Bruce. The Rise of American Philosophy (Yale University Press, 1977).
Murphy, John. Pragmatism: From Peirce to Davidson (Westview Press, 1990).
Peirce, C. S. Essays in the Philosophy of Science (Liberal Arts Library, 1957).
Quine, W. V., and Joseph Ullian. The Web of Belief 2nd ed. (Random House, 1978).
Scheffler, Israel. Four Pragmatists (Humanities Press, 1974).
Smith, John. The Spirit of American Philosophy (Oxford University Press, 1963).