Charles S. Peirce (16.12.04)

Arisbe, Milford, Pa.
1904 Dec. 16

My dear Lady Welby:

I must first explain why I have allowed several days to pass without answering your most kind Cable. In the first place it did not reach me for three days; for the telegraph operator in Milford has directions to mail telegrams unless they seem urgent. Now my mail is brought by a neighbor, my next neighbor but a mile & more away, to his house & I do not every day seek it. It happened that the day after the cable came, I saw my wife sitting in my study and toasting her feet at the steam radiator although there was a fire in the fire place. So when she was called out of the room a few minutes I hurriedly slipped out of the house to get a log of wood for the fire (we still burn great logs here) knowing she would remonstrate if she saw me do so. In my hurry, I slipped on the waxed floor. Now it has been a nervous peculiarity of late years that when I fall, I become stiff & cannot put out a hand or do anything to fall in an easy way. So down I went, hit my forehead over my eye & cut it open & had a slight concussion of the brain. This letter is the first I have done with pen & ink since. I had not long before stumbled over a steam pipe in the dark cellar & bruised the shoulder of my writing hand so that I have by no means recovered from that yet.

Certainly dear Lady Welby we must accept your ladyship's kind hospitality; and it is an immense pleasure to do so, —would be so, even if I could not accept. But it is by no means an easy thing to sell this place & that I must do; for I could not be worried with it. I am very sorry to do so, too; because the house is a work of art of my wife's decoration. We planned it, together. I was my own builder, hiring the workmen direct & buying the materials that I could not have procured easily. My wife is a true artist in decoration. Everything is exquisitely soft without the faintest suggestion of ambition. The house is entirely unlike any other & breathes a spirit of deep peace. I am sorry to lose it. But to be away and worry about it would be far worse. So, though we are putting the price very low indeed, —needlessly, perhaps,— still one cannot sell a place so out of the social world, so out of the world that is afraid to be alone, in a day, or a week. Besides, I haven't received my appointment yet. I am a friend of Roosevelt's of many years. My brother1 is Assistant Secretary of Foreing Affairs (of "State", as we call it) and has all matters connected with consuls under his special charge. All appointments are made by the President, ordinarily at my brothers recommendation, and have to be confirmed by the Senate, this last step being by no means a mere matter of form. One of the most powerful senators Cabot Lodge of Massachusetts is a cousin of mine and his wife is a specially intimate cousin of mine, too; and in the Senate, "courtesy" is a very great consideration. Besides all that, I have personal claims to some rewards or recognition. Therefore, I do not think there will be any difficulty in my getting the consulate, —a minor one—, which is to be vacated; but it is impossible to be sure, for I have powerful enemies. It would be an immense advantage to all I have at heart to see you and the Oxford thinkers. I hope it may be possible.

Your ladyship's essay on Time was probably sent to me because I mentioned having been at work on that subject. But the directions of your work and mine are as different as they well could be. Although you do not explicity state whether the dependence of Time on Space for which you contend is a logical metaphysical, epistemological, psychological, or ethnological-anthropological dependence, yet from the account you make of the usages of speech I infer that it is of the last kind mainly. It appears to me that the method of designating temporal relations by their analogies with spacil relations must date from the very beginnings or speech. For language can have had very little development when it was not yet settled how one was to express temporal relations. I therefore imagine the method took rise between two persons who met and endeavored to communicate partly by words and partly by signs. These persons would be together with a common spatial environment, which was visible, and in which special parts could be pointed out by gesture. It would therefore be particularly easy to form a terminology for spatial relations. On the other hand, they would probably have no great variety of common memories, and the few they had could not be indicated by gesture, without their analogies to spatial relations. Hence, if you do not assume a dependence of Time on Space to be otherwise independently proved, it appears to me that circumstances would nevertheless infalliby drive those two persons to the expression of temporal relations through their analogy with spatial relations; and I see nothing in these circumstances to prove any dependence of Time on Space except in the matter of expression in speech. There is much else that is suggestive in the essay, but somehow my mind fails to apprehend it very sharply.

This I have little doubt is my fault. For I must tell you that my philosophical studies have a very narrow range, —except in reading. Bred in an atmosphere of mathematics and of the severest branches of physics, all my studies, excepting some ancillary inquiries, have been directed toward proving points that I thought could be put beyond all intelligent doubt. I have studied philosophy only in so far as it is and exact science, not according to the childish notions of proof of the metaphysicians but according to the logic of science. Hence it has seemed to me that the first thing to be done was to define accurately the relations of time as common-sense assumes them, before entering upon the questions of whether or how far or in what respect these conceptions are valid and still less into any psychological questions about them & still less yet into attempt to make a history of the conceptions. This first humble labor of defining the temporal and spatial relations had never been rightly done. For I can absolutely refute the notions of the mathematicians on the matter. I need not say that at the outset of the inquiry I asked myself by what tests I should known that my definitions when I got them were correct, nor that I provided myself with several independent tests. One of these was as follows. There is one of the main branches of geometry, Topics, which alone occupies itself with properties of Space itself, namely, with the order of connection of its parts. This has been little studied, and no regular method of treating it is known. But if I obtain the proper definitions of temporal relations, little more will be required to furnish me with definitions of the Spatial relations, and if this is rightly done, it must throw a strong light on Topics, while if it is not rightly done it will do nothing for topics.

I first commenced tracing out the doctrine of Topics when my definition of continuity was faulty; and therefore made little progress. Still, I worked out the beginnings of a system. Then I fell in with a great paper of J. B. Listing (not John Baptist by the way but Johann Benedict) in the Göttingen Abhandlungen2. This set me right on many points while my previous studies set the paper right. For many years I have not seen the paper, & am now as completely unable to say what is mine and what is Listing's as any third party could be, althought I know that certain things are Listing's and that certain things are mine. I know that the four Listing numbers, and some enunciation of the census-theorem with a scheme.

and I know that all exact definitions and the whole doctrine of singularities is mine, and the discovery that there are several different census theorems, together with other relations between Listing numbers. I assume that you know nothing of this out of the way subject and since it is a fascinating subject & very easy when one once knows how to handle it, though inscrutable until one knows how, I must try to draw up a little sketch of it for your Ladyship. When I see you, however, I can make it clear in a trice. I cannot put that into this letter; but I will give spare minutes to it.

Since I have been ill with my accidents, a generalization has occurred to me which seems to me both novel, surprisingly wide, obvious, and useful. The proposition is that when the store of any quantity is in process of increase, actions are facilitated that would draw upon that store, while actions that would add to the store are hindered.

Let a man be growing rich and he will be more likely to go into operations involving the expenditure of money than if he were growing poor, and less active in going into operations to bring in immediate money.

Let heat be pouring into an agglomeration of substances, and reactions between them that involve using up heat will be facilitated while reactions that evolve heat will be retarded.

Increase the pressure upon the agglomeration and actions involving contraction (and consequent action of pressure) will be facilitated, while actions involving expansion & consequent increase of pressure will be hindered.

The principle, you will understand, only undertakes to say in which of two opposite directions a change will take place. Namely, it will always take place so as to retard the changing condition. The man getting rich will be led into operations retarding his getting rich rather than into operations immediately bringing in funds.

If any change induces an electrical current, the direction of the current will be such as to retard that change.

An increasing supply of any commodity will cause such a change in the price as will discourage the production of it.

Perhaps the generalization has already been made; but I never met with it. It might be called the economic law.

Mrs. Peirce wanted to add something in her hand to this letter. But writing occasions her so much pain, not merely while she writes, but for a long time after, that I would not permit her to do it. She is one of those persons whose energy far exceeds their strength, and is really in a most precarious condition, the reflection or which poisons my life.

very faithfully
C. S. Peirce


1. Herbert Henry Davis Peirce (1849-1916), diplomat; third assistant secretary of state under John Hay (1894-1911). He held the office 1901-1906 [Nota de SS]

2. Johann Benedict Listing, "Der Census raumlicher Complexe", published in the Abhandlungen der Gesellschaft der Wissenschaft zu Göttingen [Nota de SS]

Fin de: "L 463: Letter to Lady Welby" (16.12.04). Fuente textual en SS 45-50.

Fecha del documento: 21 de agosto 2006
Última actualización: 26 de enero 2011

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