- Peirce’s Prejudices against Hispanics and the Ethical Scope of His Philosophy
in two letters concerning the Spanish-American War of 1898, Charles Sanders Peirce openly expresses some egregious prejudices against several groups of people, including Hispanics—people of at least partly Spanish origin in the Iberian Peninsula or the Americas (L 254 and L 339; reprint, translation to Spanish, and commentary in Nubiola and Zalamea 76–811). In an undated letter to his cousin Henry Cabot Lodge, a Massachusetts politician, Peirce writes regarding the war: “I don’t believe the Spaniards will make a good fight; for as I have studied them in Spain, the whole people has been corrupted with the centuries of cruelty, injustice and rapine they have indulged in, and have little real manhood left” (L 254; reprint in Nubiola and Zalamea 77). In the same letter, Peirce characterizes Cubans favorably, but only by disparaging almost everyone else: “As for the Cubans, they have passed through the refining furnace of adversity, and those of them that inhabited Key West, refugees mainly, the winter I was there, were far better than the Negroes, the Bahama people, or the Americans, there” (L 254; reprint in Nubiola and Zalamea 77). Presumably the United Statesians were not New Englanders of Peirce’s educated elite. Furthermore, in a letter dated 7 May 1898, to his brother James Mills Peirce, Peirce writes: “I am entirely in favor of the war. Two years ago I thought the United States instead of recognizing Cuba, for which there was no justification, ought to have intervened in the name of civilization. Besides, I have always thought we wanted Cuba, and what I have seen of the Cubans makes me think them very superior to the Spaniards of Spain” (L 339; reprint in Nubiola and Zalamea 79). As it turns out, Peirce thinks well of the Cubans, but only insofar as they are worthy of the United States’s imperialist, allegedly civilizing, tutelage. In the letter, Peirce goes on to say that even if no formal proof can be produced that the Spaniards in Cuba blew up the USS [End Page 42] Maine, he thinks it is clear that the Spaniards did it and that the United States did well to go to war because of the explosion, even if the sabotage was not formally declared the cause of the war. He concludes: “Besides that, I think it is a very fortunate thing to have a war with Spain; for we could not go on forever without a war. It might have been Germany, with which we must probably fight sooner or later; certainly we must if we are not prepared for it. Now nothing could wake us up but an actual war” (L 339; reprint in Nubiola and Zalamea 79).
Should Peirce’s prejudices matter in terms of his own philosophy? I claim that they do matter and that Peirce’s prejudicial statements should be scrutinized and criticized in terms of his own philosophy. I have anticipated some reasons in my review of Jaime Nubiola and Fernando Zalamea’s Peirce y el mundo hispánico (see Campos, Rev. of Peirce), but here I aim to elaborate and deepen them. I will argue that the philosophical upshot goes far beyond a dispute about these particular views. What is at stake is the systematic interpretation and application of the ethical scope of his philosophy—that is, of his agapism, sentimentalism, and critical common-sensism in integral relation to his theory of inquiry and his account of the normative sciences of aesthetics, ethics, and logic.
In my review, I generally agreed with Nubiola’s own critical emphasis on assessing the articulation between responsible philosophy and life (Nubiola and Zalamea 17), and I noted Nubiola’s interest in exploring the ways in which Peirce’s biography relates to his philosophy. In this regard, though, I found that Nubiola assesses Peirce fairly and positively when the latter’s life and thought, in relation to Spain, merits praise as scientist and philosopher, but fails to criticize Peirce thoroughly, on the grounds of Peirce’s own philosophy, when the New Englander displays his cultural prejudices in commenting on Hispanic...