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Reviewed by:
  • Charl’z Sanders Pirs, ili Osa v butylke, Vvedenie v intellektual’nuyu istoriyu Ameriki
  • Irving H. Anellis
Vitalij Kiryushenko. Charl’z Sanders Pirs, ili Osa v butylke, Vvedenie v intellektual’nuyu istoriyu Ameriki. [Charles Sanders Peirce, or the Wasp in the Bottle: Introduction to the Intellectual History of America]. Moscow: Publishing House Future Territory, 2008, 373 pp.

Writing the biography of an intellectual or cultural figure, in which there are few if any familiar historical signposts, can be extremely daunting. Unlike the celebrity or the military or political personality, there are few if any incidents of action to recount. Rather, there are primarily ideas to describe, and the biographical subject’s thought processes and interactions, insofar as these have been recorded, to explain and to evaluate. Thus, one must depend in large part upon the background and knowledge of the reader to assist in making sense of the movement of the biographee’s thought. There are, of course, exceptions. Albert Einstein might be one, if only because he became a public figure and [End Page 111] his upending of the Newtonian world was intriguing, albeit mystifying. Bertrand Russell might be another, because, besides his work in technical philosophy and mathematical logic, he, too, became a public figure.

Charles Sanders Peirce (1839–1914) was never a public figure. Even the scandals that figured in his life remained outside the realm of consciousness of the general public, and were relevant to none but a closed circle of friends, family members, colleagues, and members of his social and intellectual circle. Moreover, as a previous biographer of Peirce, Joseph Brent, noted, obtaining information on Peirce’s life was exceedingly difficult, and efforts to prevent information from coming to the fore vigorous.1 Even without the problem of obstruction through withholding of permission to examine archival documents, writing a biography of Peirce proved to be exceedingly difficult. The late Max Harold Fisch (1900–1995), who was given access to the recesses of the private holdings of the Harvard library, spent the better part of his academic career, from 1959 onward, accumulating material for a biography of Peirce, which he never completed.

Professor Kiryushenko has made good use of the material available at the Peirce Edition Project of Indiana University-Purdue University at Indianapolis, including its archival resources and Max Fisch Library. He has drawn from discussions with Peirce biographer Joseph Brent and with various other Peirce scholars. Moreover, he also visited the Peirce home, Arisbe, in Milford, Pennsylvania, and spoke with the manager of the Milford cemetery where Peirce and his wife Juliette are buried.

It is one thing to write a biography of a cultural or intellectual figure. It is quite another to write a study of the work and thought of such a figure. Kiryushenko aspires to do both at once, in a single book. The result is problematic. Indeed, he himself recognizes that his book is not a standard intellectual biography, as he says in his “Foreword” (p. 13) and reiterates in his English summary (p. 371). Kiryushenko’s goal is to elucidate Peirce’s life against the background of the architectonic outline he early on planned for his life, in a deliberate effort to integrate fully the development of his life with the philosophical structure than he envisioned as a student. Kiryushenko (p. 371) explains that, for Peirce, “both theoretical and life interests prove to be dependent on the same architectonic principle,” which is formed by indiscernible points of contact.

But, more than either a straightforward biography of Peirce or even an effort to interpret the course of Peirce’s life in terms of the course of his philosophical development, this is a biography of the intellectual milieu in which Peirce lived, hence the subtitle: “Introduction to the Intellectual History of America.” The subtitle suggests that American intellectual history begins in the second half of the nineteenth century, when Charles Peirce was active. There are three platforms for the intellectual life of Peirce: Cambridge, Baltimore, and Milford, and these also mark the stages of Peirce’s intellectual and personal life. [End Page 112]

The three stages in which Peirce’s life unfolded correspond to the stages of his education...