- Some Comments on Roger Ward’sPeirce and Religion
early last year, i was invited to write a review for the Journal of the American Academy of Religion of Roger Ward’s recently published book on Peirce and Religion: Knowledge, Transformation, and the Reality of God (Raposa 565–68). I was delighted to do so, and I am now equally pleased to participate in today’s discussion.1 My presentation here represents a natural sequel to that published review. The greater length of this paper should allow me to explain more clearly and carefully why I think this book is so important and valuable, while also allowing me to clarify those places where Ward and I interpret Peirce differently and, finally, to raise a few questions.
I noted in my review the unfortunate fact that, while the religious dimension of Peirce’s thought has drawn some scrutiny in recent years, nevertheless, his philosophy of religion remains a bit neglected, at least compared to his work in other areas such as semiotic, logic, and the philosophy of science. The significance of his religious thought has clearly been overshadowed by his game-changing contributions in these areas, as well as by his historic role as one of the founding fathers of pragmatism. To be sure, Peirce did not write or publish a great deal explicitly or primarily about religion. There are a few notable exceptions to this rule, for example, his essay in the 1890s Monist series on “Evolutionary Love,” and also, of course, the 1908 article on “A Neglected Argument for the Reality of God.” Moreover, there are remarks about religion scattered throughout his corpus, often appearing unexpectedly in various essays, lectures, or reviews devoted to other topics. It is demonstrably the case that what he thought about many of these topics is intimately connected to his religious ideas. It would be a mistake, then, to ignore such ideas or neglect their evaluation. Roger Ward is to be applauded [End Page 105] and appreciated for placing Peirce’s philosophy of religion squarely in the spotlight; his careful reading of selected writings fully exposes the relationship between Peirce’s religious ideas and the rest of his philosophical system.
At the same time, Ward illuminates how these ideas originated and evolved under conditions best described by attending carefully to the details of Peirce’s life story. This attention to biographical detail, in my estimation, is a very important and distinctive feature of the book. Perhaps even to a greater extent than his philosophy of religion, Peirce’s biography—both its details and their relevance for understanding the development of his thought—has been woefully neglected. (Indeed, as the acting president of the Charles S. Peirce Society in 2020, my primary objective would have been to commission someone to research and produce a new biography, if only the Society possessed the financial resources to support such an undertaking.) Since Peirce died in 1914, Joseph Brent has produced the only book-length biography of Peirce in English, first published in 1993, with a revised and enlarged edition in 1998 (Brent). Several other biographies have been written by European scholars, as well as shorter biographical sketches, and the editorial introductions to the volumes of the critical edition of Peirce’s Writings—albeit for the distressingly small number of them completed so far—have also proven to be invaluable (see Peirce, Writings). Nevertheless, surveying this territory as a whole and over the stretch of more than a century now, it must be categorized as an intellectual desert.
My distinguished dissertation mentor, the late Murray G. Murphey, was the first Peirce scholar to demonstrate clearly and convincingly that Peirce’s thought continuously evolved in response to new experiences and shifting circumstances. No really adequate understanding of Peirce’s philosophy can be possible, he argued, unless it is examined within a carefully delineated narrative context. In his classic 1961 study, The Development of Peirce’s Philosophy, Murphey, like Ward, interspersed philosophical analysis with biographical reflections (Murphey). For Ward’s purposes, the focus of attention is on Peirce’s religious life, from his youth and early adulthood, culminating in a powerful religious experience that occurred in 1892...