Chauncey Wright and the Aim of Pure Science
The glory of the nineteenth century has been its science. . . . It was my inestimable privilege to have felt as a boy the warmth of the steadily burning enthusiasm of the scientific generation of Darwin, most of the leaders of which at home I knew intimately, and some very well in almost every country of Europe.
CHARLES SANDERS PEIRCE, 1901
Chauncey Wright has had a wraithlike presence in the history of the Metaphysical Club and of pragmatism. He clearly influenced a host of major figures during their young adulthood, including Charles Peirce, Charles Eliot Norton, William James, and his brother Henry; but, because he died too young to become influential in his own right, and because he never held a significant institutional position, he easily slips out of conventional categories. He came closer to living "the life of the mind" and treating "philosophy as a conversation" than most thinkers evaluated with those labels. He was a mathematical prodigy, he read deeply in nineteenth-century philosophy and science, and he loved to discuss for hours on end. Not fitting well into professional occupations or intellectual traditions, he pushed at their boundaries, always using science as his prod. His admiring comment about John Stuart Mill says as much about him as it does about the British philosopher: "He weighed his arguments as dispassionately as if his aim had been pure science."1 His scientific enthusiasm helped to keep the attention of those around him on Dar