J. Nubiola: "Review of Writings of Charles S. Peirce: A Chronological Edition. vol. 6",
Transactions of the Charles S. Peirce Society XXXVII/1 (2001), pp. 123-128

Writings of Charles S. Peirce: A Chronological Edition. Volume 6, 1886-1890. Edited by the Peirce Edition Project. Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 2000, lxxxiv + 698 pp.

Good news for all the Peirce community is the recent release of the sixth volume of the Chronological Edition, with 698 pages covering the writings of Peirce from the Fall of 1886 until April 18901. The first volume appeared in 1982, six years after the Peirce Edition Project was launched under the leadership of Max Fisch and Edward C. Moore. Since then the subsequent volumes have been appearing at a somewhat erratic pace: in 1984 the second, in 1986 the third, in 1989 the fourth; the fifth appeared four years later in 1993, and right now, seven years later, the sixth. The slower pace of publication for the last two volumes is the result of a series of difficulties the editors of the Peirce Edition Project faced during the early 1990's. Some of those difficulties, such as a lack of funding, were external to the Project, while others, for instance the transition to a new generation of scholars, were of a more personal nature. Finally, there were unavoidable textual difficulties, mostly due to the evolution of Peirce’s writing habits, which have enormously complicated the task of a critical edition.

The six volumes amount to an impressive total of 4,320 pages in a truly beautiful and handsomely produced edition. The whole series, which is projected to encompass thirty volumes, may be properly called "one of the great scholarly endeavors of our time"2. Like its predecessors, the sixth volume proudly displays the seal of "An Approved Edition" by which the Modern Language Association's Committee on Scholarly Editions certifies that this edition meets the highest standards of accuracy, consistency, and clarity, established by an independent body of scholars committed to excellence in editing. In other words, that emblem warrants that the thousands of hours of scholarship hidden behind it have been a good investment for Indiana University, the National Endowment for Humanities and all the people supporting the Peirce Edition Project at a time when funding research in the humanities is not easy.

The present volume is the first which appeared since the death of Max H. Fisch and Edward C. Moore, and since Nathan Houser replaced Christian J. W. Kloesel as Director of the Peirce Edition Project. Though, as may be expected, it shows a strong continuity with the preceding volumes, some relevant changes may be noted. First of all, the editors have wisely chosen to discontinue the attempt at rearranging and renumbering the manuscripts of Peirce by assigning them a new chronologically determined manuscript number. As they explain in the "Preface", this effort "was found to be unnecessarily time-consuming because it required the thorough study and reorganization of all Peirce's manuscripts, including many that were not candidates for publication" (W6: xiii). Indeed, because it had become "the greatest impediment to the Project's pace of production", this attempt "has now been dropped, for it is not central to the Project's principal mission of producing a selected chronological edition" (W6: 512). The new policy is explained in detail in the "Preface" and in the "Chronological Catalog January 1887-April 1890". It consists mainly in identifying the manuscripts by their Robin numbers from Harvard's Houghton Library collection or by standard archive identifiers for other collections. This is indeed good news for all Peirce scholars, for not only can they expect subsequent volumes to appear sooner, but the new policy will greatly simplify their work by sticking to the numbering system used by scholars until now without major problems, and recently made available in electronic form (Robin's catalogue at the website of the Peirce Edition Project; and Peirce's Collected Papers and Ketner's Comprehensive Bibliography from InteLex).

Other changes are related to the publication order of the forthcoming volumes, and to the internal organization and style of the volumes. With regard to the former, the editors announce that volume 7 will appear out of sequence, because it will be dedicated exclusively to a selection of Peirce's contributions to the Century Dictionary, and that, therefore, the next volume to appear will be volume 8 covering Peirce's writings for the years 1890-92. With respect to style, the headers of the selected texts have been redesigned, and for the organization of the volume the chronology of Peirce that appeared in the previous volumes has been slightly expanded. A useful and complete list of "Bibliographical Abbreviations in Editorial Matter" has been added in the opening pages, and most of the information regarding editorial methods and practices wisely has been moved to the proper sections of the backmatter, making the volume easier to handle. As in the previous volumes, the editorial backmatter includes an explanation of the "Editorial Symbols" (413-415), nearly one hundred pages of "Annotations" (417-505), in which persons whose names are not widely known are identified, sources of quotations and paraphrases are given, obscure passages are clarified, historical background and explanations of the philosophical, mathematical and scientific terms is provided, and relevant passages elsewhere in Peirce's work are referred to. Besides the "Bibliography of Peirce's References" (506-511) and the "Chronological Catalog January 1887-April 1890" (512-530) already mentioned, there is a "Supplement to W5 Chronological List 1884-1886" (531-532), an "Essay on Editorial Theory and Method" (534-556), and more than one hundred pages of "Textual Apparatus" (557-672) providing a complete record of the decisions taken by the editors regarding the forty-three texts of Peirce published in this volume. In sum, all this massive editorial backmatter covers more than one third of the volume. As Thomas Short wrote about the first five volumes, this may really be qualified as an "elephantine editorial apparatus"3. The volume ends with a detailed "Index" of twenty-four pages (673-697) and a delightful set of four drawings of Peirce's house at Milford, Pennsylvania, showing the successive renovations and enlargements. The "Annotations" are also available on the web in the electronic companion to volume 6 of the Peirce Edition Project, which makes it possible to electronically access the material while reading the printed text. The web address is: http://www.iupui.edu/~peirce/web/writings/v6/W6ann/W6annIntrox.htm

As in volume 4 and 5, perhaps the most interesting piece of the entire book is Nathan Houser's masterly introduction of sixty pages, in a somehow too small font for which may very well turn out to be the most read sixty pages of the volume. Unfortunately, the comment by George Benedict in volume 4, "the intrinsic value of the 'Introduction' merits superior visibility,"4 must here be repeated. But, happily, this shortcoming is compensated by the fact that the introduction is also to be found on the web of the Peirce Edition Project at http://www.iupui.edu/~peirce/web/writings/v6/v6introx.htm. It is possible to download it at the preferred character size and to go through the hardcopy freely with a yellow marker: I can assure that it is really a very pleasant experience and it is the way of getting the best benefit of that thoughtful and accurate presentation of Peirce's life and intentions from "one of the most knowledgeable scholars —if not the most knowledgeable— of a younger generation"5. The main result of these introductions, —and to my view, it is perhaps the most relevant by-product of the entire chronological edition—, is that the (until recently) prevailing image of Peirce as an obscure philosopher and an eccentric semiotician is slowly being replaced by a more accurate presentation of him as a real scientist working seriously and strenuously during thousands of hours over many years with measurements in astronomy and geodesy, and as a philosopher developing his philosophical insights by reflecting upon his scientific experience. In this sense, it may be said that Peirce was a philosopher in the traditional sense of the word, but that his work deals with modern problems of science, truth and knowledge, starting from his own valuable personal experience as a logician and experimental researcher laboring within an international community of scientists and thinkers.

The years covered in this volume (1886-90) mark an important shift in Peirce's life. As Houser puts it: This period, "though not without hope and accomplishment, was a time of disillusionment and defeat for Peirce" (W6: xxv). In 1886 there was a reorganization of the U. S. Coast and Geodetic Survey that ended Peirce's assignment to field operations. In 1887, he moved with his second wife, Juliette Froissy, from New York to Milford, Pennsylvania, where he tried to rearrange his life. Houser’s thoughtful introduction sheds an always graceful light on many issues by providing a wealth of detailed information which till now had remained mostly unknown, such as: the correspondence course in logic that Peirce tried unsuccessfully to launch in 1887 to make a living; the circumstances of the ill-fated Greely Expedition to Lady Franklin Bay in the Arctic and the pressure on Peirce to finish his report on the pendulum work that had been carried out during that expedition; his mother's death in October 1887 and his increasingly deteriorating relations with his family and friends due to his marriage to Juliette; his settlement in Milford; his purchase of Arisbe and his projects to enlarge the house and to run his estate, his difficult relations with the Coast Survey due to the delay of his report regarding the determination of gravity, which eventually led to his forced resignation in 1891; his effort to earn money by (often anonymously) writing reviews and contributions to newspapers and assorted hack articles; and several other topics of a biographical nature that enhance Peirce's mostly scientific profile.

As may be expected, good attention is paid also in the introduction to Peirce's main philosophical interests during those years: his definitions for the Century Dictionary (reserved for W7) and especially his attempts at building his philosophical system, of which in this volume some relevant selections are included: "The present volume," Houser writes, "most notably with "A Guess at the Riddle" (sels. 22-28), inaugurates a new period of philosophy for Peirce, one distinguished by a commitment to a thoroughgoing architectonic approach based on his categories" (W6: lxxxii). The volume contains 43 selections of Peirce's writings of the years 1887-90, three selections of others (two letters from his correspondent J. B. Loring and two texts from his opponent E. Gurney), and Peirce's paper of eight pages on "Boolian Algebra— Elementary Explanations" from the Fall 1886, that should have appeared in the previous volume. Since the total number of Peirce's texts written during those years and listed in the catalogue amounts to 127, a third of these are included in the present volume, and what is more relevant 29 (roughly 290 pages) of which had not till now been made accessible to the general reader or are printed here for the first time. The texts are arranged mainly in chronological order with three special sections: 1) the correspondence course on the Art of Reasoning (sels. 2-13) ; 2) the Peirce-Gurney dispute over Phantasms of the Living (sels. 16-21); and 3) the texts related to "A Guess at the Riddle" (sels. 22-28).

From a philosophical point of view the first group of texts related to the correspondence course is of minor interest. More interesting is selection 14, which consists of Peirce's answers to three questions regarding "the relation of science to the question of immortality", a question which had been submitted by the Christian Register to prominent scientists of the time. In his answer, Peirce writes that "the theory of another life is very likely to be strengthened, along with spiritualistic views generally, when the palpable falsity of that mechanical philosophy of the universe which dominates the modern world shall be recognized. It is sufficient to go out into the air and open one's eyes to see that the world is not governed altogether by mechanism, as Spencer, in accord with greater minds, would have us believe. The endless variety in the world has not been created by law." (W6: 63). We learn from the textual apparatus that the editor of the Christian Register chose to print Peirce's answer immediately behind Spencer's, probably on account of that direct attack on Spencer's views on mechanistic evolution (W6: 582). Nowadays, it is difficult to imagine how hugely influential Herbert Spencer was during the mid- to late-nineteenth century, especially in the United States, which he visited in 1882. In the spring of 1890, Peirce's criticism would lead to an open debate on Spencerianism in the pages of the New York Times, a debate which is also included in this volume (sels. 45 and 47), and in which Peirce identified himself as "Outsider". Given that Spencerianism was the mainstream and popular philosophy of his time, Peirce's approach was really an outsider in relation to it.

Peirce's paper on "Logical Machines" (sel. 15), which originally was published in The American Journal of Psychology, also has some philosophical interest. Peirce’s position is remarkable to the modern reader because he holds the view that the study of such machines is useful for logic, because it makes clear the differences between human and machine reasoning: "In the first place, every reasoning machine (...) is destitute of all originality, of all initiative. It cannot find its own problems; it cannot feed itself" (W6: 70); in the second place, it "has absolute limitations; it has been contrived to do a certain thing, and it can do nothing else. (...) the mind working with a pencil and plenty of paper has no such limitation" (W6: 71). The heart of the volume is made up by two selections: the acrimonious dispute between Peirce and Edmund Gurney over the latter's use of probability theory in Phantasms of the Living in support of "ghosts" and supernatural phenomena (74-154), and the well-known texts of "A Guess at the Riddle" (166-215). Peirce's guess was that because of an original tendency of things to acquire determinate properties, to take habits, the universe must has evolved from a state of pure chance to the present state, in which phenomena show an almost exact conformity to law. In fact, the secret revealed in Peirce’s "A Guess at the Riddle" is simply the application of the three categories, which he had discovered from his study of logic, to science (W6: 175-176). The three categories are the key to a rich and novel understanding of the whole edifice of science. And by using this key, Peirce explores succinctly, but in a beautiful and powerful language, the application of the three categories to metaphysics, psychology, physiology, biological development and physics. Interestingly, Peirce was remarkably self-confident about the importance of his unpublished book. He was convinced that he was inaugurating a new philosophy which, like the earlier system of Aristotle, was so comprehensive that "for a long time to come, the entire work of human reason (...) shall appear as the filling up of its details" (W6: 168-169, li).

The rest of the volume is more miscellaneous and reflects well the widely differing areas of Peirce's interests. Selections 30 and 36 are dedicated respectively to Peirce's report on the "Pendulum Observations at Fort Conger" (216-245) and his "Report on Gravity at the Smithsonian, Ann Arbor, Madison, and Cornell" (275-353). Other shorter selections are dedicated to the logic of science (sel. 31), geometry (sels. 32, 33, 37, 38 and 42), mathematics (sel. 34 and 39), the classification of relations (sels. 40 and 41), the unforgettable review of Stock's Deductive Logic (sel. 35), his review of Noel's Science of Metrology (sel. 43), and finally the manuscript on "Logic and spiritualism" (sel. 44) and the Spencer debate in the New York Times already mentioned (sels. 45 and 47).

All in all, the volume is a real feast for any Peirce scholar. As Short wrote, "even if one's initial interest in Peirce is strictly philosophical, it is difficult, once having scanned the full range of Peirce's writings, not to feel something of awe. This edition —more, perhaps, because of its excesses than despite them— will be a monument to an amazing mind"6. My regrets are minor in comparison. I miss a table of illustrations, and I deplore the non exhaustive character of the index of names; for instance, the "Textual Apparatus" is not registered in the index and even the name of Nathan Houser, the author of the superb introduction, does not appear in it.

Last August, the present reviewer had the honor of visiting Paul Weiss and to learn from him how happy he was with this Indiana edition. He repeatedly expressed his feeling that, with this monumental edition, the work that Charles Hartshorne, as a young instructor, had started at Harvard in the thirties together with him, then a graduate student, had finally been completed and brought to perfection.



1. I am grateful to Hilary Putnam and to the Department of Philosophy at Harvard, where I prepared this review as a Visiting Scholar during the summer of 2000. I am also indebted to Guy Debrock for his help.

2. David Gordon, "Review of Writings of C. S. Peirce: A Chronological Edition. Vol. 5: 1884-1886", Library Journal, November 1 (1992), 90.

3. Thomas L. Short, "Review Essay of Writings of C. S. Peirce: A Chronological Edition", Synthese, 106 (1996), 410.

4. George A. Benedict, "Review of Writings of C. S. Peirce: A Chronological Edition. Volume. 4: 1879-1884", Transactions of the Charles S. Peirce Society, 31 (1995), 515.

5. Vincent Colapietro, "Review of Writings of C. S. Peirce: A Chronological Edition. Vol. 4", Man and World, 24 (1991), 236.

6. Thomas L. Short, "Review Essay", 429.


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Universidad de Navarra