David Auerbach on literature, tech, film, etc.

Charles Sanders Peirce

I am a man of whom critics have never found anything good to say. When they could see no opportunity to injure me, they have held their peace. The little laudation I have had has come from such sources, that only the satisfaction I have derived from it, has been from such slices of bread and butter as it might waft my way. Only once, as far as I remember, in all my lifetime have I experienced the pleasure of praise–not for what it might bring but in itself. That pleasure was beatific; and the praise that conferred it was meant for blame. It was that a critic said of me that I did not seem to be absolutely sure of my own conclusions. Never, if I can help it, shall that great critic’s eye ever rest on what I am now writing; for I owe a great pleasure to him; and, such was his evident animus, that should he find that out, I fear the fires of hell would be fed with new fuel in his breast.

Charles Sanders Peirce, “Preface to an Unwritten Book”

I was introduced to Peirce by a man who said that Peirce scholars tended to be rather eccentric, like the man himself. At age 27, he published the fairly brilliant “On a New List of Categories” (the greatest American work of neo-Kantianism of the 19th century?), whose idiosyncratic depiction of the process of judgment gives little indication of his forays into physics, biology, logic, philosophy of mind (where he shares some of his views with William James), philosophy of language and linguistic development, and “pragmaticism.” As far as comprehensiveness goes, I think he doesn’t have a real American successor until Wilfred Sellars.

But the eccentricity of some Peirce specialists wasn’t concretized for me until I stumbled on this book: His Glassy Essence: An Autobiography of Charles Sanders Peirce, by Kenneth Laine Ketner. It is written in an informal style in the voice of Peirce (and this is before the Reagan “autobiography” that garnered so much attention). I have no problem with the approach in principle, but it does make sense that it would be applied to Peirce; I can’t ever imagine someone writing an “autobiography” of Hegel or Heidegger. Ketner is also the co-author of US Patent 6819474 – Quantum Switches and Circuits, alongside another Peircian and…Charles Sanders Peirce himself, possibly with reference to Peirce’s hypothesis that electrical switches could execute logical operations.

Ketner is, of course, the Charles Sanders Peirce Professor of Philosophy at Texas Tech University.

1 Comment

  1. Do you know Susan Howe’s fine little book of Peirce poems? Good stuff.

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