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The paradox at the center of this essay is that a writer who was at war with literature can provide important insights into distinctive features of literary discourse. He can do so not only despite but because of what, and especially how, he wrote. C. S. Peirce proclaimed, “I am not in the least degree literary.” His writings offer unmistakable evidence of a more complex relationship between this author and one of his bêtes noires—the literary mind. My purpose is to focus on this complexity, thereby disclosing unappreciated facets of Peirce’s authorship and, more generally, important links between inquiry and writing.

C. S. Peirce’s writings are instructive in a number of ways, not least of all for how they, in part despite themselves, assist us in conceiving what he was so strongly disposed to disparage, literary discourse (more precisely, such writing when it is self-consciously composed as literary1). He possessed greater linguistic facility and deeper literary sensibility than he appreciated, though a militantly polemical identity helped to insure he left this facility undeveloped and this sensibility unacknowledged.2 For this and other reasons, a study of Peirce as a writer is worthwhile. It is likely to prove more fruitful than he would have expected. The present essay is only a preliminary study of what would need much greater scope than an article.3 Even so, it might itself prove instructive, almost as much about literary discourse as about this unduly harsh critic of the “literary mind.” This harshness indicates extreme defensiveness and perhaps signals unresolved ambivalence,4 but here I am focusing not on Peirce’s idiosyncratic psyche but his philosophical authorship. [End Page 384]


Peirce severely berated himself as a writer. “I am not naturally a writer,” he noted in a letter, “but as far from being so as any man.”5 “One of the most extreme and lamentable of my incapacities,” he confessed in a manuscript, “is my incapacity for linguistic expression.” His incapacity for linguistic expression was almost certainly connected to his antipathy toward literary elegance. “Some branches of science are not in a healthy state,” he proudly proclaimed, “if they are not abstruse, arid, and abstract.”6 Philosophy ought to become such a science, but in order to do so we must “rescue the good ship Philosophy … from the hands of lawless rovers of the sea of literature.” This requires that “literary elegance must be sacrificed—like the soldier’s old brilliant uniforms—to the stern requirements of efficiency” (CP 5.13). To the ears of “dull fools,” the result will no doubt sound “harsh and crabbed,” though to those acclimated to the severe demands of rigorous thought it will sound “musical as is Apollo’s lute” (CP 5.537).7

Peirce also confessed to having little or no interior understanding of the literary mind. “As far as I am not in the least degree literary,” he asserted, “it would be impossible for me to state correctly the position of literary men” (MS 586).8 As I shall show, however, this did not constrain him from venturing to state just what their position was! For the moment, let me recall a handful of passages in which Peirce’s contemptuous attitude toward literary authors or “littérateurs” is evident. If anything, his contempt for litterateurs was more intense than his distaste for his own style of writing. Neither this contempt nor this distaste is warranted—especially the contempt.

The manuscript from which I have just quoted opens with this observation: “There is nothing perhaps in a university town we feel more strongly than the contrast, not to say the contradiction, between the modes of thought of scientific and literary men” (MS 586). Note: the literary and the scientific designate rival modes of thought, not simply styles of presentation. “This divergence,” he immediately adds, “has existed throughout modern times.” But the antagonism between these modes of thought became intensified and entrenched in European and American culture precisely when Peirce’s intellectual character was being shaped,9 that is, during the decades immediately preceding the middle of the nineteenth century. By the time of his adolescence, the figure of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, an intellect who combined an artistic and scientific temperament, would have been already outmoded. [End Page 385]

In a letter to Lady Welby (in late December 1908), Peirce recalls an incident from many years before. “I remember one day, when I was in the twenties, on my way to the post-office I fell in with the novelist Wm. D. Howells, who began criticizing one of my articles from the point of view of rhetorical elegance. I said to him, ‘Mr. Howells, it is no part of the purpose of my writings to give readers pleasure’” (CP 8.378). (Here, too, is a point to which I will return: Peirce’s all-too-quick assumption that rhetorical elegance principally aims at aesthetic pleasure and, moreover, that such pleasure is unimportant.10) “Such an idea,” Peirce goes on to relate, “was quite out of his horizon; and I heard of his repeating it as very amusing.” That is, Peirce became the object of the litterateur’s ridicule, the butt of a joke. It may have been that Howells was unable to comprehend the primary purpose of scientific discourse; but it may equally be the case that the rhetorical features of strictly scientific discourse were quite beyond the youthful Peirce’s horizon, as they would not be when he wrote so insightfully about the rhetoric of science.11 The rhetoric of science demands, at the very least, that terms be explicitly defined, evidence formally presented, the most important assumptions fully acknowledged, the most important implications carefully traced, and unanswered questions candidly admitted. The artifice of, say, the geometer in formulating a proposition or a botanist in crafting a definition or a chemist in describing a crystal is no less extreme or practiced than the artifice of the painter, poet, sculptor (EP 2, p. 326). As a writer, Peirce practically “knew” this. As a theorist of signs, hence as an inquirer interested in the genres of discourse, he theoretically explored such artifice.

In “How to Make Our Ideas Clear,” Peirce contends, “among dilettanti it is not rare to find those who have so perverted thought to the purposes of pleasure that it seems to vex them to think that the questions upon which they delight to exercise it may ever get finally settled” (CP 5.396).12 He is explicit about the disposition to exercise ingenuity in this manner: it “is the very debauchery of thought” (CP 5.396). Though Peirce is implicit about who these dilettanti might be, it is nonetheless safe to infer that, in his judgment, litterateurs disproportionately populate this class of thinkers (see, e.g., CP 6.484; also, CP 4.438).

What is largely implicit in the passages just cited becomes quite explicit elsewhere. After noting that the Renaissance humanists ridiculed scholastic writers for their lack of literary skill, he rose to the defense of the medieval schoolmen: “As for that phrase ‘studying in a literary spirit’ it is impossible to express how nauseating it is to any scientific man, yes [End Page 386] even to the scientific linguist” (CP 1.33).13 In this same text, he makes the startling claim that the scholastic authors exhibit the genuine spirit of experimental inquiry, whereas the Renaissance humanists deployed their rhetorical skills to usurp the cultural authority of these selfless inquirers. Implicit in this observation is Peirce’s judgment that vainglorious individuals pushed to the wings of the stage humble thinkers carrying on an intergenerational debate in a rigorous manner.

Then there is his motive for coining the term pragmaticism. “At present, the word [pragmatism] begins,” Peirce observed in 1905, “to be met with occasionally in the literary journals, where it gets abused in the merciless way words have to expect when they fall into literary clutches.” So Peirce, “finding his bantling ‘pragmatism’ so promoted [in such literary journals], feels that it is time to kiss his child good-bye and relinquish to a higher destiny” (CP 5.414; also in EP 2, p. 334). For “the precise purpose of expressing the original doctrine, he begs to announce the birth of the word ‘pragmaticism,’ which is ugly enough to be safe from kidnappers’” (CP 5.414; also in EP 2, p. 335).

Let us also recall the context in which Peirce confessed “one of the most extreme and most lamentable of his incapacities” and let us do so at length, since it is so crucial to our understanding of Peirce as a writer. His recollection of this incapacity is as poignant as it is revealing.

I have suffered grievously from it since childhood; and I cannot tell you how assiduously I have labored to overcome it. I myself am conscious of the badness of my style, although I am probably not fully conscious of it. I can imagine one of my readers saying to another, “Why can he not express himself naturally?” I can supply the answer to that. It is because no linguistic expression is natural to him. He never thinks in words, but always in some kind of diagrams. He is always struggling with a foreign language; for every language [including his native tongue!] is foreign. He has studied English just as he studied Greek; and if his English is not quite as ridiculous as his Greek would be, that is partly that the latter is a far more elaborate tongue, that nobody but a master of slaves can ever have spoken really well, and partly that this individual has had no practice at all in speaking and writing ancient Greek. In college, I received the most humiliating marks for my themes, and I have no doubt that my admirable teacher Professor Francis James Child, who once presented me with a charming edition of Boswell’s Johnson, and to whom I was, for other reasons, greatly attached, thought I took no pains. But I did: I worked harder over them than over anything else. I have taken equal pains throughout this book to render my style, if it can be called a style, [End Page 387] but perhaps I should better say my method of treatment and manner of expression, —as little nauseous [sic.] as I can; but I am sorry to say that I fear, despite all my efforts, that you will find the reading a dreadful dose.

(MS 632, pp. 7–8)14

On the most charitable reading, we may say that Peirce was willing, perhaps even happy, to sacrifice an allegedly trivial goal (literary elegance) for his paramount objective. Despite his harsh self-criticisms, he seems to have felt that the problem was as deeply rooted in the desire of his contemporaries to be spared the burden of thought as in any of his incapacities to convey, in manner at once rigorous and intelligible, his thoughts in writing.15


Impressed by Peirce’s intellectual gifts, his admirers and expositors tend to forgive him his literary shortcomings. But they largely concur with his judgment regarding the quality of his writing. So even expositors who have the deepest sympathy for Peirce’s thought accept as accurate such judgments regarding his prose. For example, James J. Liszka warns his readers near the outset of his study of Peirce’s semeiotic, “Peirce’s writing is terse and convoluted, without much wit or grace” (Liszka, p. ix). A commentator who more than most others possesses an appreciation of Peirce’s gifts as a writer16 nonetheless writes, of the Collected Papers, “they do not make the reading of Peirce either easy or attractive” (Gallie, p. 42). Indeed, W. B. Gallie too tends to lend support to Peirce’s self-condemnation in this regard: Peirce “was essentially a philosopher’s philosopher . . . with neither the gift nor the ability to be an effective expositor of his own discoveries” (p. 39). But he also offers a crucial clue (one to which I will return) regarding the nature of so much of Peirce’s writings: “Peirce, like a number of other solitaries, used writing as a method of thinking; and any man who does this is likely to ‘ride’ a theory—perhaps for twenty-odd pages to see where it leads him—which he would not dream of submitting to the public” (pp. 43–44; emphasis added).

One of his greatest admirers went so far as to lament Peirce’s allegedly willful obscurity. In a coauthored piece, Josiah Royce claimed:

It is not always easy to understand Peirce. He never regretted the fact that most people found it hard to follow his ideas. He deliberately chose that [End Page 388] most of his researches should be concerned with highly technical topics and should be secure from the intrusion of the uncalled [or uninitiated]. On occasion, he could be brilliantly clear in his expressions of highly complex and recondite problems, although this clearness was a capricious fact in his life and in his writings, and was frequently interrupted by a mode of expression which often seemed to me to be due to the fear, after all, that in case mediocre minds found themselves understanding too many of his ideas, they would be led to form too high an impression of their own powers. One finds this tendency toward what might be called “impenetrability” especially evident in his manuscripts. Too often the reader meets with a thought of surpassing brilliance and follows it eagerly, only to have it disappear like the cuttlefish in an inky blackness of its own secretion.17

To take one final example, this time from a study much closer to the present, T. L. Short makes this suggestion. In Peirce’s criticism of intuitionism, “his stratagem works,” this commentator insightfully suggests, “as a reductio ad absurdum.” But Short immediately adds: Peirce “did not point this out.” He wonders whether Peirce was “unaware of the real nature of his own argument,” but thinks not. Rather he thinks Peirce “delighted in baroque archness.”18 While there are undeniably places where we encounter this tendency, baroque archness is no more a defining feature of Peirce’s manner of expression than willful obscurity.

Contra Royce, Peirce did deeply regret that intelligent and receptive individuals found his lectures and publications so hard to follow. But it appears that he failed to adhere strictly enough to his own maxim. “The best maxim in writing, perhaps,” he once suggested, “is really to love your reader for his own sake.”19 To too great a degree, he tended to blame his readers for his failures as a writer. That is, he did not love them sufficiently. They wanted, he was prone to feel, to be handed conclusions but spared the toil of thinking (that is, relieved from following the arduous path of experimental reasoning). In this, he was not entirely unfair. But his criticism of the unwillingness of his readers to join him as a co-inquirer does not go the full distance here.


Moreover, a facet of Peirce’s persona as a writer is consistently overlooked, even by many of his most ardent admirers. Even those who appreciate this aspect of his writing, most notably Gallie, do not bring it into sharp enough focus, for they tend to envision Peirce’s efforts [End Page 389] to think through his pen as more private than they are. My purpose in this paper is indeed to bring just this facet into sharper focus than other interpreters of his writings have yet done. However much authorial intention has been for decades the target of sustained criticism, something remotely akin to it inevitably guides our reading of a text. We are not unreasonably guided by the question of (to use Umberto Eco’s distinction) intentio operis (the intention of the work or text), if not necessarily intentio auctoris (that of the author).20 As artifacts, texts are designed to fulfill functions, to actualize purposes, though the intentio operis cannot be identified with the intentio auctoris (especially when the latter is conceived as the conscious intention of the empirical or historical author).

In my judgment, however, Peirce’s writings hardly lack either wit (he frequently exhibits a droll yet effective sense of humor21) or grace (less frequently but not at all rarely, the force of his thought is equaled by the aptness of expression). He however was not consistently a master stylist; far from it. He is certainly not comparable to, say, Friedrich Nietzsche, William James, George Santayana, Henri Bergson, Albert Camus, or Betrand Russell. But he was in ways not adequately appreciated an effective writer, often a very effective one, if only we can appreciate the mixed genre of his philosophical writings. In his writings but also in his understanding of literature, his traditionalism tended to work against his experimentalism. He was in effect forging a new genre of philosophical prose, but in intent was trying to adapt himself to the traditional genre of the scientific memoir. Time and again, he failed to cast his thought into the mold of this genre. Without question, some of his essays are admirable in their architecture and detail. That is, he occasionally succeeded quite commendably in casting his thought into one or another of the forms of canonical discourse. But his corpus abounds with drafts, and these drafts reveal something fundamental about the character of his authorship.

Peirce was first and foremost an experimentalist. He was trying out ideas and expressions. His texts or drafts are principally sites of experimentation. They are, moreover, invitations to his readers to join him as co-inquirers, that is, to take up seriously the painstaking work of experimental investigation.

Peirce makes the remarkable claim that his capacity to express himself is located in his inkstand no less than whatever lobe of the brain enables the act of writing.22 His exact words are worth recalling here. Positing that a psychologist cuts out a lobe of Peirce’s brain and the subject of [End Page 390] the experiment cannot express himself, Peirce has the psychologist proclaim, “You see, your faculty of language was localized in that lobe.” Peirce concedes the point: “No doubt it was.” But he immediately adds: “And so, if he had filched my inkstand, I should not have been able to continue my discussion until I got another” (CP 7.366). Is he joking in expressing himself in this way? Most likely, he is. At the same time, however, he is quite serious. The serious point of his apparently frivolous equivalence bears directly on the topic of this paper, Peirce as a writer. The inkstand is an adventitious aid to writing, whereas a lobe of the brain is an internal, truly vital condition. Or so we customarily think. But this disposition is what Peirce is inclined to challenge, partly in the name of disposition (or habit) itself.

In the words of one of William James’s biographers, James’s lecture notes for a course in 1893 show him “thinking through his pen on a topic that gave him much difficulty and on which his opinion fluctuated.”23 James confesses about his own efforts: “Still obscure!” So, he forms a resolution: “Work at all next year!” My concern in this essay is just this process, though in reference to Peirce rather than James. We fail to appreciate Peirce as a writer unless we appreciate the nature of his endeavor. First and foremost, he was thinking through his pen. This makes his texts experiments to a far greater extent than is ordinarily the case. His drafts of essays were truly essais. Very often, they need to be read tout ensemble: for example, the various drafts of a particular essay constitute a single essai. What Freud disclosed about his process of writing applies equally to Peirce’s: “When I sit down to work, and take my pen in hand, I am always curious about what will come forth, and that drives me irresistibly to work” (DFD, p. 18). In one of his lectures, Freud asked his readers to suspend their judgment, in order “to let the material work on them” [auf sich wirken lassen] (p. 16). Peirce immersed himself in his material, expecting his readers to follow him in doing so, for the very same reason: to allow the material under investigation to shape his, and their, understanding of it.

The differences between Peirce and Freud are likely more fundamental than the similarities. But in a crucial respect they are akin, and that respect bears directly on the character of their authorship. The ground for this approach has already been prepared by both Patrick J. Mahony’s treatment of Freud and, indeed, some of the very best expositors of Peirce. In Freud as Writer, Mahony uses a distinction drawn by Freud to illuminate his subject, but sharpens it by correlating it to one drawn by Morris Croll. It is one thing for a writer to present [End Page 391] ideas already crystallized (more or less thought out in advance of their presentation), another to explore ideas in and through the act of writing. While (to use Croll’s language) the Ciceronian style of writing is preoccupied with pensée pensée (thought thought, i.e., thought already thought out), the anti-Ciceronian (or “baroque”) style24 is an instance of pensée pensante (thought thinking). This adjective is not used here in the pejorative sense attached to it by Short. Pensée pensante is processive, ongoing, though often also circuitous (FW, pp. 120–21). Such pensée is evolving, though not in the etymological sense but in a developmental sense. It is not a process of unfolding wherein something already present is revealed but one of coming-into-being. Developmental teleology is specifically a process in which novel purposes emerge and in which they themselves evolve (CP 6.156; also in EP 1, p. 331), even to the point where they displace the original purposes (i.e., the inaugurating ones, those animating the writer to take up a pen in the first place).

Something is especially appropriate about the fact that Freud’s writings on psychoanalysis are tentative and exploratory. This is all the more true of Peirce’s on science, especially when we recall that science in Peirce’s sense is an invincibly tentative process of experimental exploration. This sense extends to every aspect of writing, including the topic. What Peirce noted in a different context applies equally to writing (exactly what I am writing about): “It would, certainly, in one sense be extravagant to say that we can never tell what we are talking about; yet, in another sense, it is quite true” (CP 3.419). Part of the function of writing is to ascertain what our topic is; another is to discover what we might responsibly or suggestively or interestingly or playfully say about our topic. The Socratic function of writing encompasses a series of assaults on presumption to know adequately either our topic or the attributions serving our purpose.

One can of course admit this and still object that the form of writing being described here is best conceived as preliminary or pre-writing. The impatient reader is more often than not justified in rebuking an author who has such an unsteady hand on the ship’s wheel: “Get back to me when you figure out these matters! Until then, my time and energy are too valuable to expend on moving through the trackless seas in such a chaotic fashion.”

But this is just what Peirce did. He began anew, depending on where his thought unexpectedly took him in the previous draft. As mindful as he was of his audience, he tended to be even more mindful of his subject. He immersed himself in it, and did so typically to a depth far [End Page 392] beyond what his predecessors or contemporaries ventured. As a result, he is, as a writer, paradoxical, at once acutely conscious of his readers (this entails being acutely conscious of himself vis-à-vis them) and oblivious of all but the subject into which he is inquiring. The paradoxical conjunction of heightened reflexivity and phenomenological naiveté, of awareness of self vis-à-vis others, and of absorption in the subject to the point of self-obliviousness, mark his best writing. He is simultaneously aware of how his words are likely to baffle, mislead, or in some other way fail him and his readers; and for stretches unaware of everything but the subject at hand. His authorial persona was at least as complex and paradoxical as his prickly, sweet character.25

His authorial self-consciousness is evident in a variety of ways. But this self-consciousness can itself assume the form of self-effacement or self-displacement. There is no better illustration of this than his beginning a text with the figure of the reader (or, as he in some places identifies this figure, Reader Loquitur). Peirce is indeed an author who makes the role of the reader not only central to most of his writings but also inaugural in some cases. That is, the reader is loquacious at the outset, being given the very first word. Peirce’s response to this preemptive challenge is moreover of the most significant character. In utterly colloquial language, he draws a distinction between telling and saying (or, more likely, simply adapts a colloquial distinction for a philosophical and rhetorical purpose): “Of course I have something to say to you; but I have nothing to tell you” (MS 598). Telling someone what is so implies more authority than Peirce is willing to assume as an author, at least on this occasion, while saying something to a companion indicates that the author and reader are standing shoulder to shoulder on the same ground or level. The verb in the very next sentence, spoken to the Reader, is equally important: “I invite you to journey with me over a land of thought” (emphasis added). At their best, Peirce’s texts are invitations, since they issue a number of invitations (consider this phenomenon from this angle; consider this perspective itself in light of what it forces us to do to the phenomena staring us in the face; or consider the dicta of this authority in light of the disclosures of your own experience). In effect, they are asking his readers to look and see, not to think26—or, more precisely, not to think apart from careful, sustained, and repeatedly renewed observations (as in Wittgenstein).

Put otherwise, Peirce’s texts confront us with a set of instructions for what to do, what procedures to implement, or what steps to follow. The words on the page are footprints indicative of a path leading from [End Page 393] the page to the world of our experience, that is, to places far beyond the control or purview of the author, but ones toward which his words seem to point. The words of authors inevitably mean more than those individuals can comprehend or fathom, but possibly also less than they desire or intend.

As much as the themes of experience, practice, and context, pragmatism makes the theme of purpose central. In the context of this paper, we are as pragmatists invited to ask of Peirce: What purpose animates this author on this occasion? This question does not point to some adventitious, hidden psychological motive, but to an inherent, discoverable purpose, one explicit or implicit in the text itself.

The inaugural purpose often turns out to be other than the emergent one. The process of writing can be undertaken for the sake of proving an opportunity for the dramatic emergence of novel purposes. On this issue, however, Peirce’s mind is pulled in opposite directions. On the surface, Peirce seems to endorse an ideal of self-determination predicated on more or less knowing what one is endeavoring to accomplish. In moments when he appears to take his concept of developmental teleology to apply to our discursive practices no less than to our finite selves, however, he seems to be very tolerant of not knowing what he is doing. At times, he goes so far as to suggest this is simply our fate: ineluctably, our endeavors far outdistance our comprehension of them. His logic—specifically, his distinction between logica utens and logica docens—is deeply rooted in this understanding of our agency. We typically say more than we intend and our actions inevitably achieve results other than our intentions, even when they do result in what we intend.

In numerous instances, Peirce’s unpublished manuscripts present us with a dramatic instance of pensée pensante. While they were composed in solitude or, at most, in proximity to his wife, they were not essentially private. In his imagination, he was addressing not only himself but also actual readers, social beings who could be persuaded to take up the demanding work of intricate (or minute) reasoning. In brief, he was writing for others. His diminishing hope of ever winning a contemporary audience only intensified his heroic efforts to address a future one.27 While his Existential Graphs, an intricate system of logical notation created to facilitate logical analysis, were deliberately designed to provide a “moving picture of thought,”28 his unpublished writings more or less unintentionally staged the drama of thinking thought, that is, experimental intelligence (CP 2.227). He confessed he lacked an interior understanding of the literary mind. While his judgment regarding [End Page 394] his gifts as a writer is disputable, his judgment regarding this blindness is not: the cast of literary mind was always foreign to that of his own mind. In this instance, then, he was not blind to his own blindness. His understanding of literature was not predominantly polemical but, alas, remarkably superficial.

What makes this all the more incomprehensible is that he devoted time to reading novels, plays, and other works of fiction. Even so, he failed to glimpse even fleetingly what the litterateurs saw so clearly—in the words of Salman Rushdie, a contemporary representative of the literary mind, “literature is an inquiry.”29 Peirce, who devoted his life to the exploration of inquiry (CP 1.568n; also 7.59), failed to see one of the paradigmatic instances of this singular undertaking. What makes matters worse is that literature so often is, at least in effect (though in many instances also by intent) an exploration of the forms, bases, and limits of meaning, linguistic and otherwise, that is, one of the explorations in which Peirce was most deeply engaged (CP 8.173). Yet, literature is, at the very least, a stage in a process of inquiry, when the scope of concern is widened to include especially the relationship of the self to appearance and reality, hence to truth (FCC, p. 32). Literature concerns insight as much (if not more than) pleasure. What Lionel Trilling wrote of Freud applies even more fully to Peirce:

by the middle of the nineteenth century the separation between science and literature becomes complete, and an antagonism develops between them. . . . He is, above all else, a scientist. He was reared in the ethos of the nineteenth-century physical sciences, which was as rigorous and as jealous as a professional ethos can possibly be, and he found in that ethos the heroism which he always looked for in men, in groups, and in himself.

(FCC, p. 32)

When the scientific inquirer is envisioned in terms of such a heroic ethos and conceived in fundamental opposition to rival figures (such as “seminary”-rather than “laboratory”-trained philosophers or writers using literary elegance to win personal notoriety), a highly idealized portrait of the scientist works to discredit such cultural rivals (CP 1.40 and especially 1.620).

But if we take the example of Émile Zola, one of Peirce’s contemporaries, we are confronted with a dramatic example of the heroic artist. The ethos of the natural sciences and that of artistic endeavors are both instances of the heuristic imagination. In his indefatigable efforts to think through his pen, Peirce was honoring in practice what he failed [End Page 395] to recognize in his harsh judgments regarding the literary mind—an interminable struggle with the discursive forms most effective in presenting the hard-won results of painstaking inquiry and, of far greater significance, the very process of opening and exploring one or another field of inquiry.

One person who visited the home of his youth, an exemplar of a litterateur, wrote: “If any of us knew what we were doing, or where we are going, then when we think we know best,” or, in more contemporary usage, simply “when we think we know best.”30 Peirce not only was especially fond of quoting a line from Emerson’s poem “The Sphinx” (“Of thine eye, I am eyebeam”)31 but he also incorporated an insight from Emerson’s essay “Experience” at the heart of his logic. “The methods of thinking men consciously admire,” Peirce wrote immediately after quoting the line from Emerson’s poem, “are different from, and often, in some respects, inferior to those they actually employ” (CP 3.404). So, too, the manner of writing individuals theoretically extol might be different from and, in some instances, inferior to the one to which they practically devote themselves.

The philosophical essay, modeled on the exacting genre of the scientific memoir, might be an inhospitable environment for the free play of experimental intelligence. The successive drafts of an evolving inquiry that fail to come to any definitive conclusion, let alone to produce a fully satisfactory articulation of either the tentative conclusions reached or the actual process enacted, are not so much evidence of failure as they are of the very character of Peirce’s authorship. If Josef Pieper, in The Silence of St. Thomas,32 can take the incompleteness of the Summa theologiae to be integral to the architecture of that work, not simply a reflection of external events, we can take the unfinished character of so many alternative drafts of the same essay to be integral to what Peirce as a writer was striving to accomplish—nothing more, and nothing less, than to push inquiry forward. For a fallibilist and pragmatist such as Peirce CP 1.8–14), approximation is, after all, the only fabric out of which any philosophy can be woven (CP 1.404). Is it too charitable to suggest that the very form of Peirce’s writings is far more expressive of the nature of his undertaking than even his most insightful and admiring expositors imagine? Of course, nothing less than charity is, at least provisionally, required of readers. The best maxim of reading is, perhaps, really to love one’s author for that author’s sake, especially if that author appears to be heroically committed to the work of inquiry. [End Page 396]


As I noted at the outset, Peirce was defensive about his ability to express himself effectively in writing. He did not feel the same way about expressing himself orally.33 In fact, he was confident that he could, in conversation, counteract his reputation for obscurity and win a fair hearing from an “open-minded and scientific critic”: “Now I know well that if I could only converse with those very people [who might be all too quickly disposed to allow his reputation to prejudice their reading of his texts] face to face, there would be no such danger.”34 In place of such a face-to-face exchange, Peirce as writer took pains in a number of manuscripts to introduce himself to his readers: “Now it has occurred to me, as a possibility that the difference between the cases of writing and talking might be lessened, if the perusers of what I write were to be frankly told what manner of man I am. Let that consideration, dubious though it may be, outweigh every other.”35 At least, let that consideration neutralize the prejudices against Peirce the obscure.

For Peirce, “the manner of man” is inseparable from the manner by which an individual arrives at the conclusions being presented in an essay or treatise, including that by which the inquirers frame hypotheses. By their method ye shall know them. This method is itself the fruit of their experience and striving. Peirce went so far as to suggest pragmatism “is nothing but a particular application of an older logical rule, ‘By their fruits ye shall know them’”! (CP 5.465). He took his own and virtually everyone else’s identity to be linked to their manner of forming beliefs. That is because by their method individuals truly identify themselves. They forge nothing less than their intellectual identities by their methodological commitments. “The reader,” Peirce consequently suggests, “has the right to know how the author’s opinions were formed. Not, of course, that he is expected to accept any conclusions which are not borne out by argument.” The reader, however, might benefit from such knowledge, especially when picking up a putative contribution to philosophical investigations. For “in discussions of extreme difficulty, like these, when good judgment is a factor, and pure ratiocination not everything, it is prudent to take every element into consideration” (CP 1.3).

In a number of texts, Peirce foregrounds his relationship to his reader. Take three examples of this. In a draft connected to his last publication (“A Neglected Argument for the Reality of God”), he writes the essay in the form of a letter addressed “To the friend of my dreams” [End Page 397] (MS 842). In MS 598, he gives the reader both an arresting title and the first word—in fact, an objection—even before Peirce has inscribed any words of his own. The Reader Loquitur preemptively challenges Peirce: “The author professes to have something to say. Before I listen to him, I want to know, in a general way, what it is he has to tell me” (p. 1). (Peirce seizes this challenge as an opportunity to draw a distinction between telling and saying: “Of course, I have something to say to you, but I have nothing to tell you. I invite you to journey with me over a land of thought which is already more or less known to you.”) Finally, in yet another text, now available in volume 2 of The Essential Peirce, he foregrounds the relationship in this manner: “I address the Reader as ‘your Honor.’” He takes pains to spell out his reasons for doing so:

[I do so] simply because I sincerely do honor anybody who is disposed to undertake a sustained endeavor to train himself to reason in such ways as to miss as little as possible of such truth as it concerns him to know, while at the same time, as far as circumstances permit, avoiding risks of error; and I address him in the second person because I think of him as a real person, with all the instincts [or innate dispositions] of which we human beings are so sublimely and so responsibly endowed.

(EP 2, 463–64)

Peirce also directly addresses his readers in a number of other writings. His commitment to tuism is so thoroughgoing and radical that he cannot help but imagine his potential readers as “real persons.” “Writing . . . is,” as Pico Iyer suggests, “the oddest of anomalies: an intimate letter to a stranger.” This can be true even when the writing in question aims at being impersonal or technical.36

Thus, this much is certainly clear. Peirce envisions writing to be essentially an appeal to the judgment of others. Even in his seemingly most “private” musings on paper, Peirce is addressing the reader as other as much as his critical self emerging in the flow of the efforts of the innovative self (i.e., the critical self as other to its own innovative impulses).37 The responsibility of the writer encompasses adherence to the ideal of clarity, not least of all to save readers as much time, energy, and trouble as possible. Equally, it enfolds within itself minute precision, a measure of precision often far beyond what we conversationally would likely find bearable or welcome. The ideal of such precision tends to pull against that of clarity. Think here how demanding it is to read the language of law. In their efforts to be precise and clear, those who draft laws tend to tax the effort of interpreters. The clarity of laws is often not an immediately accessible or appreciable feature. [End Page 398]

In Freud as a Writer and On Defining Freud’s Discourse, Mahony derives a distinction from Freud’s writings, one applicable to the subject of Peirce as a writer. In a letter written to Josef Breuer on June 29, 1892, regarding how they ought to organize the material from their case studies of hysteria, Freud suggested: “The main question, no doubt, is whether we should describe it historically and lead off with all (or two) of the best case studies, or whether, on the other hand, we should start by dogmatically stating the theories we have devised as an explanation” (DFD, p. 14). In Some Preliminary Lessons in Psychoanalysis, written decades later, Freud distinguishes between a genetic (or historical) and a dogmatic mode of presentation. The former reconstructs the process by which a discovery was made, while the latter presents the results of such a process. When successful, a genetic or historical presentation conveys, often quite vividly, the spirit of the hunt; the dogmatic presentation, what the hunter has captured. While this mode of discourse tends to be a prominent feature of Freud’s case studies, it is also unmistakably present in such works as The Future of an Illusion or Moses and Monotheism.

Whenever Freud sat down and took pen in hand, as I have noted, he was curious about what would emerge in the course of his writing. The promise of surprising himself proved “irresistible” (DFD, p. 18). The extent to which this was so is more clearly revealed in a letter to Wilhelm Fliess, dated March 24, 1898, regarding the task of writing Interpretation of Dreams: The composition of this book “completely follows the dictates of the unconscious, on the well-known principle of Itzig, the Sunday rider, ‘Itzig, where are you going?’ ‘Do I know? Ask the horse.’ I did not start a single paragraph knowing where I would end up” (p. 18). But, as Mahony stresses, Freud’s commitment to spontaneous writing was tightly tethered to his concern for public intelligibility; although “spontaneity was his goal [or, if not his goal, at least his method], Freud never abandoned his responsibility to his readership” (p. 19), above all, that of presenting his thought in as clear, coherent, and persuasive manner as the material and his comprehension of that material allowed. For this and allied purposes, he tended to blend the two styles, in various ways and different degrees. In the best of his writings, the reader is effectively and indeed affectively participating in a process of thought.

Returning to the distinction drawn by Croll, Mahony suggests that in Ciceronian discourse we are presented with pensée pensée, whereas in what Croll identifies as baroque discourse we are brought into the process of pensée pensante (FW, p. 119). It is not clear whether Mahony would equate the distinction between these two modes of discourse with [End Page 399] that between dogmatic and genetic registers of discourse. However he might relate these two distinctions, I am here taking them to be at least rough equivalents. The baroque style is one in which pensée pensante is most prominent. As such, it does not so much describe a process of interpretation (or inquiry) as it provides an opportunity to reenact and, hence, to relive such a process.

For our purpose, one final point can be drawn from Mahony’s reading of Freud’s authorship (a point just anticipated). As the letter to Fliess suggests, an intimate connection exists between this authorship and psychoanalysis (how could it be otherwise!). In psychoanalysis, Freud was convinced that where the id (or “it”) has been, the ego (or “I”) will be.38 However, this dynamic also turns out to be true of the process of writing itself. “Contrary to the general run of analysts who merely write about psychoanalysis,” Mahony astutely notes, “Freud in his writings enacts and makes present, and does not just represent, the essence of the psychoanalytic experience, a constant ongoing and a becoming” (DFD, p. 137). This interpreter deepens this insight when he suggests: “Because essentially an act of the present, Freud’s writing lives out his ideas which are relived in our reading, and if his writing itself constitutes quasiverifications of proposed postulates, our reading experience constitutes a secondary and serendipitous verification” (pp. 118–19).

I need not address the question of the legitimacy of psychoanalysis to appreciate Mahony’s point. Freud as writer conveys in both his processual manner of writing and the rhetorical features of his texts the experience of the exchange between analyst and analysand, including the complex interplay of unconscious impulses.

In Freud’s texts, the presentation of an antecedently established truth is, to a significant degree, usurped by the description of an ongoing heuristic process. Indeed, if it is not usurped by this process, the antecedent “truth” can never appear as a psychoanalytic truth. While the dogmatic and the genetic genres of discourse might be harmoniously blended, jagged edges frequently appear between these distinct genres.

What is true of Freud is even truer of Peirce. We need of course to replace psychoanalysis with logic in Peirce’s encompassing sense (logic being nothing less than a normative theory of objective inquiry). Peirce’s writings are first and foremost invitations into the process of inquiring, clearly envisioned as open-ended and self-segmenting (or self-fragmenting). For reasons mostly, if not completely, different than those offered by Freud, we cannot, in Peirce’s judgment, know in advance the provisional results of an interminable undertaking39 where the course of inquiry is [End Page 400] destined to take us. The truth already in our possession is primarily a resource for discovering the truth not yet even suspected. To adapt what Mahony says about Freud to the figure under consideration in this essay, Peirce’s writings live out ideas that are then relived in our experience of reading them (see, e.g., CP 7.364). The processual character of his writings is perfectly attuned to the processual character of inquiry, as he so fully elaborates in his logic of science. It is neither incidental nor insignificant that his logic of science was in a fashion derived from the history of science or, more fully, from a detailed knowledge of the actual history of numerous forms of experimental inquiry, going back at least to ancient Babylon. Long before Thomas Kuhn, Peirce appreciated that anyone interested in the nature of science must painstakingly investigate the history of inquiry. Scientific inquiry is a historic achievement, not a timeless essence (CP 6.428): it is a dramatic instance of what Peirce calls “development teleology” (6.156; also in EP 1, p. 331), a process in which novel purposes or aims emerge rather than being present at the outset.

Peirce’s status as a scientist is far more secure than Freud’s. While Freud’s mind was to some extent literary,40 he aspired above all to be recognized as a scientist. And he did so at a time when the divorce between science and literature had already taken place. Of course, Goethe appeared to combine a scientific intelligence and artistic sensibility. “Yet by the middle of the nineteenth century the separation between science and literature becomes complete, and an antagonism develops between them,” as Trilling rightly noted. At least in aspiration, Freud “is, above all else, a scientist. He was reared in the ethos of the nineteenth-century physical sciences, which was as rigorous and as jealous as a professional ethos can possibly be, and he found in that ethos the heroism which he always looked for in men, in groups, and in himself” (FCC, pp. 14–15). This can be even more confidently said of Peirce, whose work is not nearly as often rejected as pseudo-scientific.

When Peirce so emphatically distances himself from litterateurs, he is trying to establish or solidify a cultural identity at a historical moment when an entrenched “antagonism” between the experimental inquirer and the artistic individual can be traced back to the very years of the earliest phase of his intellectual development. That is, this antagonism took root at the same time that he was in process of devoting himself wholeheartedly to the life of a scientist. The young boy who wrote a history of chemistry shortly after being introduced into the rudiments of this science was already set out on the path of the scientist (see, e.g., Brent). He adhered to this identity with more than passion and [End Page 401] single-mindedness, for he felt a visceral antipathy toward the cultural rivals of the experimental scientist.

In Peirce’s lexicon, litterateur is not a descriptive term. It is rather a polemical and even a pejorative one. The word conjures up in his mind a figure (or the embodiment of a sensibility) to be contested and even combatted. David Hume is likely one of Peirce’s models of the literary mind, someone whose “ruling passion” was “love of literary fame.”41 In Peirce’s judgment, love of fame, rather than that of truth or, more precisely, the discovery of truth defines such a figure.42 How else are we to understand his excessively negative pronouncements and portrayals? In his dramatis personae the litterateur is, at any rate, almost always his bête noire.

However, Peirce appears in this instance not to have been blind to his own blindness (CP 6.560). He suspects that he utterly lacks an “interior comprehension” of the literary mind. Such a suspicion should have stopped him in his tracks; it should have led him to refrain from forming judgments regarding, let alone casting aspersions on, the literary mind. But it did not. Rather than do what he habitually did within the philosophical arena when defending his own position, he appears to have betrayed one of his most basic intellectual commitments: “I must tell you that my practice has always been when I had said my say on any subject, to turn round upon myself and say, ‘Oh, pooh! I don’t believe a word of it,’ and devote myself seriously to trying to appreciate the other side of the question” (MS; quoted in Anderson, p. 28).43 What he did within this arena, however, he did not do consistently and completely enough from the vantage point afforded by his semeiotic theory—to appreciate from within the variable functions of literary discourse, hence to consider more fairly how his stance as a scientific inquirer might be conceived in relation to that of a literary author.

The story is actually even more complicated than this, since, in places, Peirce unmistakably exhibits an admirable sensitivity to distinctive features of the artistic mind. In his Lectures on Pragmatism, he concedes, “Bad poetry is false, I grant, but nothing is truer than true poetry.” What he goes on to claim is of salience: “And let me tell the scientific men that the artists are much finer and more accurate observers than they are, except of the special minutiae that the scientific man is looking for” (EP 2, p. 193).

Another important place where Peirce makes this suggestion is in “A Guess at the Riddle.” There he proposes: The “highest kind of synthesis is what the mind is compelled to make . . . in the interest of intelligibility . . . and [End Page 402] this it does by introducing an idea not contained in the data, which gives connections which they would not otherwise have had.” What Peirce goes on to assert is especially pertinent to my topic: “The work of the poet or the novelist is not so utterly different from that of the scientific man. The artist introduces a fiction; but it is [at least in the best cases] not an arbitrary one; it exhibits affinities to which the mind accords a certain approval in pronouncing them beautiful, which if it is not exactly the same as saying that the synthesis is true, it is something of the same general kind.” The work of the artist is in this respect not utterly different from that of the scientist: “The geometer draws a diagram, which if not exactly a fiction, is at least a creation, and by means of observation of that diagram he is able to synthesize and show relations between elements which before seemed to have no necessary [or intelligible] connection” (EP 1, p. 261; also CP 1.383).

In Peirce’s judgment, then, scientists alone do not carry out the work of rendering our experience more fully or finely intelligible. The task of the artist is, in this more balanced because less polemical portrait, not simply or even primarily to provide occasions from which to derive pleasure. It encompasses the enhancement of understanding, the opportunity for insight. So, in defense of literature, Peirce can be used against Peirce—the Peirce who appreciates the kind of syntheses offered by works of art (including poetry and novels) can be used to counter the Peirce who appears to see the literary mind in such a harshly negative light.

Allow me to develop this point beyond anything obviously warranted by Peirce’s writings. While it goes beyond what he wrote or implied, this point might be taken as a trajectory of a possibility in passages such as those encountered in “A Guess at the Riddle.” It suggests not a superficial affinity but a much deeper kinship between science and literature than any Peirce seems to have suspected. In their own ways, both are concerned with intelligibility, with enhancing our understanding of why agents, including rational agents, comport themselves as they do. Many of the traditional answers have narrowly limited the horizon of inquiry. Art and hence literature arguably even more than science have tremendously widened that horizon. Rather than taking there to be a contradiction between the scientific and the literary mind, then, we ought to conceive this relationship as complementary. What unites them is nothing so silly as the “aesthetic pleasure” of the uncommitted dilettante but what is humanly significant: insight into our predicament, motives, and dramas of self-deception as much as ones of self-correction. The pleasure derived from the beauty of a mathematical proof or an [End Page 403] elegant explanation of a complex phenomenon is, however, not anything in the least silly or trivial. It is integral to the work of understanding, so much so that for countless individuals it makes play of such work.

The words of a contemporary litterateur, already noted in abridged form, are not out of place here. Rushdie argues, “If religion is an answer, if political ideology is an answer, then literature is an inquiry; great literature, by asking extraordinary questions, opens new doors in our minds” (“INS,” p. 423; emphasis added). This view of literature accords much better with both Peirce’s experience of the arts and the trajectory of his theory of semiosis (or sign-action) than his all-too-frequent disparagements of literary discourse.44 In his better moments, Peirce (as noted above) fully appreciated the rhetoric of science and the heuristic function of artistic creation. But his polemical identity as a strict scientist was purchased at too high a price, for it resulted in ceding to too great a degree his experience to the ethos of a militant scientism45 and concealing from himself the irreducibly complex character of his intellectual identity. Peirce as writer exhibited more than the writer as inquirer; it also provided important clues for envisioning writing as dialogue and, indeed, literary writing as itself a vast family of diverse forms of imaginative inquiry.


To some readers at least, it must seem that I am not so much trying to make a virtue out of necessity (or a psychological compulsion) as I am trying to make a virtue out of a vice (or lack of what Peirce so extolled, intellectual self-control). This is however not the case. I have no doubt that Peirce’s writings are flawed, not least of all because they are too often fragmentary and incomplete in ways that prevent us from joining Peirce in the course of his inquiry. But there is something vital and indeed enlivening about many of his unfinished drafts and even quite fragmentary jottings. Beyond this, his literary corpus offers us much to learn about the emerging possibilities of philosophical discourse. If his authorial self-understanding precluded his appreciation of these possibilities and, arguably, also the imperative to craft genres beyond the traditional form of the philosophical article, his voluminous productivity can be read as demanding such appreciation and encouraging imaginative responses to this implicit imperative. His writings indeed make explicit the task of the reader: they are to carry forward work no one could ever carry to completion, but some committed, gifted, [End Page 404] and industrious individuals might render more complete, coherent, and aware of the novel purposes emerging in the ongoing course of experimental investigation.

In a dramatic manner, Peirce’s writings display, despite his antecedently fixed purposes (e.g., composing an essay in which a proof, already in hand, is laid out in the most perspicuous and economical manner possible), the irrepressibly processual character of his undertaking. They teach us about more than Peirce as writer. They also illuminate writing as dialogue and literature as inquiry. While what he actually wrote tends in some instances to conceal this, how he thought with his pen works against seeing a contradiction between the scientific and the literary mind. While fleetingly glimpsed, his kinship with artists was deeper than his self-identification, so polemically envisioned, encouraged him to acknowledge. To take a literary philosopher whom he greatly admired, Plato was a philosophical poet. He was, to recall John Herman Randall Jr.’s incomparable expression, a dramatist of the life of reason.46 The ancient quarrel between poetry and philosophy was, in Plato’s case, a renewed and indeed interior one. Are we not justified in claiming that, in the middle decades of the nineteenth century, the newly entrenched antagonism between science and literature was, in Peirce’s case, also to an extent he did not appreciate, an interior one?47 In various ways, he came to appreciate deeply how the pursuit of truth and the lure of the aesthetic are tightly interwoven.

For those of us who have a higher regard for the literary mind than Peirce typically exhibited, does not the following suggest the merciful way a philosophical author might expect his words to be treated when they fall into “literary clutches”? The “series of unfinished ‘Slaves’ by Michelangelo . . . the human figures barely emerging from their rock . . . [in their] struggle against, but also with, the stone that both holds and releases them” can be taken as “an emblem of Peirce’s own struggle.”48 Their incompleteness is part of their power, their vitality. The drama of Peirce struggling to free himself from traditional genres shows, in a surprising context, just how form can spell death and form-giving alone signals life.49 It also shows just how intimately this struggle is against, but also with, the authorized forms of one’s literary inheritance. Finally, it suggests how authors can be not only too harsh in berating themselves but also mistaken in identifying their foes. [End Page 405]

Vincent M. Colapietro
Pennsylvania State University


1. Peirce offered a highly idealized portrait of the experimental inquirer and a deeply prejudiced one of literary authors. At times, he appears to go so far as to contend such inquirers were defined by a heroic love of truth, such authors by vainglorious displays of cleverness. Though it may be the case that Peirce’s antipathy is directed toward the literary mind, rather than such discourse, it is in practice impossible to distinguish too sharply between the two.

2. “It can be very important and productive,” Jonathan Culler argues in “In Defense of Overinterpretation,” in Interpretation and Overinterpretation, ed. Stefan Collini (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992), “to ask questions the text does not encourage one to ask about it” (p. 114). “If interpretation is [as Eco contends] reconstruction of the intention of the text, then,” he adds, “these are questions that don’t lead that way; they ask about what the text does and how: how it relates to other texts and to other practices; what it conceals or represses; what it advances or is complicitous with” (p. 115). In this sense at least, what I am offering is an “overinterpretation” of Peirce’s writings, without eschewing an “interpretation” in Eco’s sense.

3. I am convinced that there is enough material here for a volume such as Patrick J. Mahony’s Freud as a Writer (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1987) or, at least, his slighter monograph On Defining Freud’s Discourse (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1989); hereafter abbreviated FW and DFD, respectively. These books have provided me with a model for this preliminary study of Peirce’s fascinating authorship, its title being in effect an homage to the earlier of Mahony’s books on this subject.

4. Hanna Segal, “The Achievement of Ambivalence,” Common Knowledge 1 (1992): 92–104. This article was expanded into chapter 14 in Psychoanalysis, Literature, and War: Papers 1972–1995, ed. John Steiner (London: Routledge, 1997), pp. 157–68.

5. C. S. Peirce, MS 632, “Preface (Meaning Preface to the Book),” dated August 24–29, 1909, quoted by James Jakób Liszka in A General Introduction to the Semeiotic of Charles Sanders Peirce (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1996), p. xi; hereafter abbreviated Liszka. MS refers to one of Peirce’s unpublished manuscripts, as identified, catalogued, and annotated by Richard S. Robin, Annotated Catalog of the Papers of Charles S. Peirce (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1967). When possible, however, I will also cite published works in which the passage from Peirce’s unpublished manuscript might be more easily found.

6. All references to The Collected Papers of Charles Sanders Peirce, vols. 1–6, ed. Charles Hartshorne and Paul Weiss (Cambridge: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1931–36), and vols. 7–8, ed. Arthur W. Burks (1958), are in accord with standard practice: hereafter abbreviated CP and cited by volume and paragraph. Here, I cite CP 5.537, referring to volume 5, paragraph 537.

7. Peirce misattributes this to Shakespeare. In a footnote, the editors of CP correct his error: “This is from Milton’s Comus” (CP 5.537). Certain facets of our aesthetic sensibility become highly developed, while other ones can even atrophy. See, e.g., The Autobiography of Charles Darwin 1809–1882, ed. Nora Barlow (New York: W. W. Norton and Co., 1958), esp. pp. 112–13. What Darwin asserts about his own manner of writing suggests parallels to the way Peirce conceived his relationship to linguistic expression (see Autobiography, pp. 111–12).

8. MS 586, an unpaginated notebook from 1869 in part focused on William Whewell.

9. Lionel Trilling in Freud and the Crisis of Our Culture (Boston: Beacon Press, 1955), pp. 14–15; hereafter abbreviated FCC.

10. Aesthetic pleasure certainly might be a secondary or even just a tertiary goal of the literary author, but it need not be the primary aim. Conceivably it is not part of the purpose of such an author.

11. C. S. Peirce, “Ideas, Stray and Stolen, about Scientific Writing,” chap. 23 in The Essential Peirce, vol. 2, ed. the Peirce Edition Project (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1998); hereafter abbreviated EP 2. This short but suggestive essay, as edited by Michael M. Krois, originally appeared in Philosophy and Rhetoric 11 (1978): 147–55. A review in The Nation (July 28, 1904) of T. Clifford Albutt’s Notes on the Composition of Scientific Papers (New York: Macmillan Co., 1904) appears to have rekindled or even sparked Peirce’s interest in the rhetoric of science. Reprinted in Charles Sanders Peirce: Contributions to “The Nation,” Part 3, 1901–1908, ed. Kenneth Laine Ketner and James Edward Cook (Lubbock: Texas Tech University Press, 1979), pp. 179–81.

12. CP 5.396. Also in C. S. Peirce, The Essential Peirce, vol. 1, ed. Nathan Houser and Christian Kloesel (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1992), p. 129; hereafter abbreviated EP 1.

13. See Susan Haack, “As for That Phrase ‘Studying in a Literary Spirit . . . ’” Proceedings and Addresses of the American Philosophical Association 70, no. 2 (November 1996): 57–75.

14. MS 632 (August 24–29, 1909), pp. 7–8. “We can see more clearly,” Gilles Deleuze wrote, “the effect of literature on language: as Proust says, it opens a kind of foreign language within language, which is neither another language nor a rediscovered patois, but a becoming-other of language, a ‘minorization’ of this major language” (Gilles Deleuze, “Literature and Life,” trans. Daniel W. Smith and Michael A. Greco, Critical Inquiry 23, no. 2 [Winter 1997]: 28–29). For this and a number of other suggestions, I am indebted to Anne Freadman, whose literary sensitivity has enabled her to write a first-rate book on Peirce, The Machinery of Talk: Charles Peirce and the Sign Hypothesis (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2004). Writing of any serious character might involve struggle with one’s own language as though it is a foreign one. Such, at least, was Peirce’s experience as a philosophical author.

15. “Man,” Peirce observed, “is essentially a social animal: but to be social is one thing, to be gregarious is another: I decline to be a bellwether. My book is meant for people who want to find out; and people who want philosophy ladled out to them can go elsewhere. There are philosophical soup shops at every corner, thank God!” (CP 1.11; emphasis in the original).

16. Gallie writes: “Not only was Peirce, at his best, a thinker of outstanding vigour, daring, and many-sidedness, he was also, if only intermittently, a writer of remarkable force and charm. To be sure, he has often been charged with obscurity. . . . But this highly uninviting judgment is far from justified. On the whole, Peirce’s style, like that of most writers, lifts perceptibly when he is on top of his subject; at such times, it will crystallize into memorable incisive statements or flower out in imagery that is at once firm and suggestive. On the other hand, it must be admitted that the level of writing in the Collected Papers is extremely uneven” (W. B. Gallie, Peirce and Pragmatism [Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1952], p. 54; hereafter abbreviated Gallie).

Gallie also suggests that Peirce’s “thought, so far from being chaotic (as it is sometimes alleged), was in fact too closely interconnected over too wide a field to admit easily of effective literary expression” (p. 55). Finally, he stresses that “Peirce could, on occasion, give wonderfully eloquent expression to his own deepest feelings” (p. 57). One of Gallie’s examples, Peirce’s comparative reflections on William James, is easily apt: “Who, for example, could be of a nature so different from his as I? He so concrete, so living; I a mere table of contents, so abstract, a very snarl of twine” (CP 6.184).

17. Josiah Royce and Fergus Kernan, “Charles Sanders Peirce,” The Journal of Philosophy, Psychology, and Scientific Method 13 (1916): 707.

18. T. L. Short, Peirce’s Theory of Signs (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007) p. 33.

19. Writings of Charles S. Peirce, vol. 1, ed. the Peirce Edition Project (Bloomington: Indiana University Press), p. 9.

20. Umberto Eco, “Overinterpreting Texts,” in Interpretation and Overinterpretation, ed. Stephan Collini (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992), pp. 63–66. Also see “Intentio Lectoris: The State of the Art,” in Umberto Eco, The Limits of Interpretation (Bloomington: Indiana University Press), pp. 44–63.

21. See Mary Magada-Ward, “Helping Thought and Keeping It Pragmatical, or, Why Experience Plays Practical Jokes,” Contemporary Pragmatism 2, no. 2 (December 2005): 63–71.

22. For an illuminating essay on Peirce’s apparently implausible position, see Peter Skagestad, “Peirce’s Semeiotic Model of Model” in The Cambridge Companion to Peirce, ed. Cheryl Misak (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004), pp. 241–56. Peirce is arguing for what today is called “extended mind.”

23. Ralph Barton Perry, The Thought and Character of William James, vol. 1 (Boston: Little, Brown and Co., 1935), p. 491; emphasis added.

24. I am using this term here in a different sense than the pejorative one in which Short uses it to charge Peirce with an intellectual or authorial failing.

25. See, e.g., Joseph Brent, Charles S. Peirce (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1998), p. 40; hereafter abbreviated Brent.

26. This is of course Ludwig Wittgenstein’s admonition in Philosophical Investigations, trans. G. E. M. Anscombe (New York: Macmillan, 1968) to his readers: “Don’t say: ‘There must be something common, or they [all these disparate things] would not be called ‘games.’—For if you look at them you will not see something that is common to all, but similarities, relationships, and a whole series of them at that [i.e., you will see ‘family resemblances’]. To repeat: don’t think, but look!” (§66). Peirce no less than Wittgenstein thought it imperative to ground thinking in observation, hence, to suspend the a priori dictates of what must be there and to exercise our capacity to discern what actually turns out to be the case. Beyond this, Peirce thought the structure of arguments might be exhibited in a form where the act of observation is crucial for “seeing” the validity of that form or structure.

27. See Edward W. Said, “Humanism and Heroism,” PMLA 115, no. 3 (May 2000): 285–91.

28. See, e.g., CP 4.8, circa 1905. See also Ahti-Veikko Pietarinen, Signs of Logic (Dordrecht: Springer, 2006), chaps. 4 and 5; also Benoint Gauthier, “The Iconicity of Thought and Its Moving Pictures,” Transactions of the Charles S. Peirce Society 53, no. 3 (Summer 2017): 374–99.

29. Salman Rushdie, “Is Nothing Sacred?” in Imaginary Homelands: Essays and Criticism 1981–1991 (New York: Penguin Books, 1992), p. 423; hereafter abbreviated “INS.”

30. R. W. Emerson, “Experience,” in Ralph Waldo Emerson: Selected Essays, ed. Larzer Ziff (New York: Penguin Books, 1982), p. 286.

31. R. W. Emerson, “The Sphinx,” in Selected Writings of Emerson, ed. Donald McQuade (New York: Modern Library, 1981), p. 846 (also see CP 3.404 and CP 7.591).

32. Josef Pieper, The Silence of St. Thomas: Three Essays, trans. John Murray and Daniel O’Connor (Chicago: Henry Regnery, 1965), pp. 38–41.

33. This judgment is supported by what his students at Johns Hopkins University recalled about his manner of expression in the classroom. See, e.g., Christine Ladd-Franklin, “Charles S. Peirce at the John Hopkins,” The Journal of Philosophy, Psychology, and Scientific Methods 13 (1916): 715–22.

34. MS 842; quoted in Douglas R. Anderson, Strands of System: The Philosophy of Charles S. Peirce (West Lafayette: Purdue University Press, 1995), p. 2; hereafter abbreviated Anderson.

35. For an arresting portrait of Peirce as a conversationalist, offered by John Jay Chapman, see Brent, pp. 255–56.

36. See especially those manuscripts in which Peirce begins with a direct salutation to his reader (e.g., MS 482 or MS 598).

37. “All thinking,” Peirce insists, “is dialogic in form. Your self of one instant appeals to your deeper self for its assent” (CP 6.338). “Let anybody call to mind some recent earnest self-deliberation, and I think he will acknowledge that it took a dialogic form, every reasoning appealing to the self of the near following moment of time for assent and confirmation” (EP 2, pp. 428–29). But, in a passage quoted, his reflexive dialogue was not conducted primarily in linguistic signs. See Vincent Colapietro, “C. S. Peirce and Dialogue: Literary Form, Heuristic Function, and Overarching Ideal,” in Imaginary Dialogues in American Literature and Philosophy, ed. Till Kinzel and Jarmila Mildorf (Heidelberg: Universitätverlag Winter, 2014), pp. 189–210.

38. Here I am following Bettelheim’s suggestion, put forth in Bruno Bettelheim, Freud and Man’s Soul (New York: Vintage Books, 1984) that id, ego, and superego are better translated as “it,” “I,” and “over-I” (pp. 53–64).

39. “Science,” Peirce asserts in one of the texts included in Contributions to “The Nation,” Part One, 1869–1893, ed. Kenneth Laine Ketner and James Edward Cook (Lubbock: Texas Tech University Press, 1975), “is incomplete; it is essentially incomplete, for what we mean by science is the sum of human activity at any epoch in the path of discovery; and were everything once found out, this activity must cease” (p. 156).

40. The only award Freud received during his lifetime was in 1930, when he was given the Goethe Prize. “Freud enlisted his rare linguistic power,” Mahony notes, “to convey a vision of life of impressive range. In this he reminds us of such classic writers as Virgil, Dante, Shakespeare, Cervantes, and Goethe.” The literary mind as exemplified by Johann Goethe, at least at its highest reach, turns out to be seen by Goethe as akin to the scientific mind, as envisioned by Peirce: “the first and last task of genius is the love of truth” (DFD, p. 90).

41. David Hume, “My Own Life,” in David Hume: The Philosophical Works, vol. 3, ed. Thomas Hill Green and Thomas Hodge Grose (Darmstadt: Scientia Verlag Aalen, 1964), p. 8.

42. John Locke, An Essay on Human Understanding, vol. 2 (New York: Dover Publications, 1958), pp. 428–29. It hardly needs to be said that Peirce was far from fair to Hume on this score, since there is no evidence that his predecessor subordinated his concern for truth to his pursuit of fame.

43. This is an unnumbered manuscript from the Max H. Fisch Collection at the Peirce Edition Project (Indiana University–Purdue University Indianapolis).

44. “If I am to possess my own experience,” Stanley Cavell notes in Philosophy the Day after Tomorrow (Cambridge: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2005), “I cannot afford to cede it to my culture as that culture stands. I must find ways to insist upon it, if I find it unheard, ways to let the culture confront itself in me, driving me to some distance to distraction” (p. 82). To too great an extent, Peirce ceded to his culture, specifically to the newly emergent ethos of scientific culture, his experience of the arts. At his best, he asked rhetorically, “What is man’s proper function if it be not to embody general ideas in art-creations, in utilities, and above all in theoretical cognition?” (CP 6.476). At his worst, however, he elevates theoretical science so high above “art-creations” and technological innovations as to separate it from the other two. In doing so, he was ceding his experience of art to the ethos of science, not as inquiry but as ideology.

45. Peirce did not consistently espouse scientism, but in many places his unqualified statements provide at least unwitting support for this ideological orientation.

46. This is indeed the subtitle of John Herman Randall Jr.’s book Plato: Dramatist of the Life of Reason (New York: Columbia University Press, 1970).

47. Peirce’s writings contain decisive steps in the direction of, but at the same time clearly ones away from, the achievement of ambivalence in the sense elaborated by Hanna Segal. See especially her “The Achievement of Ambivalence,” Common Knowledge 1, no. 1, pp. 92–104. This article was expanded into chapter 14 in Psychoanalysis, Literature, and War: Papers 1972–1995, ed. John Steiner (London: Routledge, 1997), pp. 157–68.

48. Anne Freadman, The Machinery of Talk: Charles Peirce and the Sign Hypothesis (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2004), p. xxi.

49. “Form,” Paul Klee claimed in one of his notebooks, “is the end, death.” In contrast, form-giving “is life.” Paul Klee, The Nature of Nature, vol. 2 of Notebooks, ed. J. Spiller, trans. H. Norden (London: Lund Humphries, 1973), quoted by Tim Ingold, Being Alive (London: Routledge, 2011), pp. 215–17.

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