- Writings of Charles S. Peirce: A Chronological Edition, Volume 8: 1890–1892
“I have a hard year, a year of effort before me. . . . I think I shall very soon be completely ruined; it seems inevitable. What I have to do is to peg away and try to do my duty, and starve if necessary. One thing I must make up my mind to clearly. I must earn some money every day” (W8 lxiv). Peirce wrote these words in his diary on New Year’s Day 1892, at 12:05 a.m. His forced resignation from the Coast and Geodetic Survey, his most reliable source of income, had taken effect at midnight. On another front, he had recently published the first two articles in his landmark Monist metaphysical series (selections 22–24). A replacement for his Coast Survey income never did appear, but three more papers in the Monist series did. In this volume of the Writings of Charles S. Peirce we encounter Peirce as a man with his back against the wall, a genius uncertain of his place in the world who responded, in part, with a return to his studies of “great men” in history (selections 43, 44, 47, and 49). We see the brilliant philosopher-scientist coming to regard himself and the world in a new light: “The Law of Mind,” “Man’s Glassy Essence,” and “Evolutionary Love” (selections 25–30) manifest a remarkable change in content and emphasis compared to his earlier works.
As with its predecessors, volume 8 of the Writings is a comprehensive and meticulously documented presentation of Peirce’s work during the years in question. (Volume 7, covering Peirce’s work for the Century Dictionary beginning in the late 1880’s, will be published at a later date.) The volume was supported by the National Endowment for the Humanities and bears approval from the Modern Language Association’s Committee on Scholarly Editions. Scholars will find the extensive index and editorial apparatus to be invaluable; any reader will find the thorough “Introduction” by Nathan Houser to be both informative [End Page 348] and fascinating. Those interested in more biographical and historical detail will want to consult the substantially longer version of Houser’s “Introduction,” which the Peirce Edition has made available online.
The scope of Peirce’s interests is on full display in volume 8. Among the fifty-six selections included, about half concern philosophical work. There are twelve book reviews (including Peirce’s highly critical review of William James’s Principles of Psychology), works on logic (notably, several manuscripts on the logic of the copula, [selections 31–35]), works in mathematics, physics, and chemistry, materials for textbooks, and even “Embroidered Thessaly,” a romantic adventure story based on Peirce’s own travels in northern Greece in 1870 (selection 51).
Peirce famously insisted, as in “The Architecture of Theories” (selections 22 & 23), that philosophy, and especially metaphysics, must be informed by science—by the latest scientific findings, of course, but above all by its methods. Such assertions draw heavily on one’s own reputation as a scientist. In volume 8, Peirce’s scientific credibility is plainly visible. His book reviews and commentaries on scientific disputes show his high competence in the science of the day. The chronological arrangement allows us to see how Peirce’s scientific occupations in fact did influence his own philosophical work: his assertions in the Monist papers about the evolution of physical laws, and of their approximate nature, are clearly and directly linked to his scientific work. “The Law of Mind” is particularly illuminated by a reading of his introductory works on non-Euclidean geometry (selections 6 and 45) and his proposed experiment to determine the shape of space (selection 36). As a measure of his scientific standing, note that this latter material is related to a now-lost paper Peirce read at a National Academy of Sciences meeting, where he hypothesized that observed space is hyperbolic.
Peirce’s financial situation collapsed in 1891. Besides...