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Reviewed by:
  • Strands of System: The Philosophy of Charles Peirce
  • Robert W. Burch
Strands of System: The Philosophy of Charles Peirce, by Douglas R. Anderson; xiv & 204pp. West Layfayette, Indiana: Purdue University Press, 1995, $24.95 cloth, $13.95 paper.

The Purdue University Press Series in the History of Philosophy was created to “present well-edited basic texts to be used in courses and seminars and for teachers looking for a succinct exposition of the results of recent research.” Anderson’s contribution to this series matches the aim of the series to near perfection.

Strands of System is a general introduction to both the life and the work of the American scientist-mathematician-philosopher Charles S. Peirce. Many, though by no means all, of the main themes of Peirce’s philosophy are touched. Anderson’s exposition is succinct and—usually—at a basic, introductory level; virtually no specialist knowledge of Peirce’s thinking is required to follow it. References to recent research on Peirce are ample and up-to-date. Anderson’s account falls well within the mainstream of current understanding of Peirce, and accordingly it should occasion no distasteful surprises for the teacher who desires a solid introductory survey.

Besides a preface and appendices, the book contains four chapters. The first is a biographical sketch; the second is an overview of certain themes in Peirce’s philosophy; the third is the full text of and a commentary upon the rather early essay “The Fixation of Belief”; and the fourth chapter is the full text of and a commentary upon the rather late essay “A Neglected Argument for the Existence of God.”

Chapter Two, entitled “Strands of System,” is perhaps the heart of Anderson’s [End Page 384] exposition of what he regards as Peirce’s somewhat-less-than-monolithic philosophical system—a system in which, as Anderson sees it, a host of diverse themes start and stop, twist and turn, and cross and recross each other like the different strands making up a rope. A wide variety of Peircean topics are briefly discussed: the classification of the sciences, mathematics, philosophy, phenomenology, normative sciences, aesthetics, ethics, logic, and metaphysics. Most of the major concepts of Peircean thought are taken up: synechism, tychism, the categories of firstness and secondness and thirdness, the theory of signs, and some features of the notion of semeiosis.

Despite its apparent thoroughness, Anderson’s book mostly lacks a presentation of the technical-scientific-mathematical-logical side of Peirce’s thought. In ignoring this side of Peirce’s intellectual endeavor, however, Anderson is not very different from most other contemporary discussants of Peirce; and the omission is perhaps justified in an introductory survey. All in all, Anderson’s volume should make an excellent, if somewhat partial, introduction to the thought of Peirce, an introduction that I can highly recommend for use in a first course or seminar in the thought of this extremely important American thinker.

Robert W. Burch
Texas A&M University

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pp. 384-385
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