Charles Sanders Peirce

Charles Sanders Peirce Biography
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Charles Sanders Peirce Biography

Charles Sanders Peirce (September 10, 1839 – April 19, 1914) was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts, United States. Philosopher, logician, and scientist, considered the father of semiotics and founder of pragmatism.

Peirce was one of the most prominent scientists and philosophers of the 19th century, he collaborated extensively in the development of the philosophical movement that he named. Throughout his academic career, he taught at Harvard, Johns Hopkins and Bryn Mawr. By the end of the 1880s, he retired to Milford, where he continued to publish various articles in academic journals. In the last years of his life, Peirce faced serious problems associated with his health and money.

He was born into a prominent family that had great influence in the intellectual and political sphere of Boston, which is why his home was frequently visited by famous figures of the time. His father was the renowned astronomer and mathematician Benjamin Peirce, who served as a professor at Harvard University for several years. Thanks to this, he received a careful scientific training, focused on the exact and natural sciences, at that time he studied mathematics, physics, and astronomy, later he began to study chemistry with his father, an area in which he excelled in a short time. Towards the middle of the 1850s, he studied Chemistry at Harvard University, from which he graduated in 1863.


After graduating he taught philosophy for two years at Harvard University, followed by joining the United States Coast and Geodetic Survey as a research assistant, a position he held for about three decades. While carrying out his duties at the institution, he carried out various investigations related to astronomy, focusing on the intensity of starlight and pendular measurements of gravity, being the first scientist to use the wavelength of light as a unit of measure. For that same period of time, he made several trips around Europe, the continent in which he gained fame, becoming one of the most prominent scientists of his time. However, his talent and intelligence were overshadowed by his temper and the various conflicts in which he was involved.

Towards the end of the 1860s, he returned to Harvard as an assistant to the observatory, where he served between 1869 and 1875. Shortly after starting his work at the observatory he conducted a series of experiments with the pendulum which were aimed at specifying the density and shape of the planet. That year, he began his studies on the wavelength of light with the famous astronomer Lewis Morris Rutherfurd. One year after the end of his activity at the observatory he was elected as a member of the National Academy of Sciences. In the course of the following years he published numerous articles on physics, mathematics, chemistry, engineering, and astronomy, among these are: photometric (1878) and How to make our ideas clear, article that was published in Popular Science Monthly of 1878, subsequently was translated into French and published in Revue philosophique of 1879.

Between 1879 and 1884 he taught Logic at Johns Hopkins University and conducted various courses at Bryn Mawr College. During this period, he continued his academic activity actively collaborating in various academic publications and later published Studies of Logic (1883), one of his most outstanding works. In 1884, he was fired from Johns Hopkins since in the past he had been involved in various conflicts. These experiences prevented him from getting a permanent position in other educational institutions, situation worsened when his activity in the United States Coast and Geodetic Survey, began to decrease to the point where he did not receive any compensation for this, which is why he decided to retire to Milford with his second wife Juliette, a native of France and 20 years younger than him. It is worth mentioning that this marriage caused a stir, as it was made shortly after his divorce with Harriet Melusina Fay in 1876.

By the end of the 1880s, he was a member of the drafting committee of the Century Dictionary, an activity he carried out between 1889 and 1891, for this same period he published The Architecture of Theories (1890). Between 1901 and 1905 he worked on the drafting committee of the Dictionary of Philosophy and Psychology, where he published several articles on phonetics, bibliography, cartography, physics, and psychology, among other areas. In the course of these years, he began to write several articles related to pragmatism which were published in the early years of the twentieth century, such as: What is pragmatism (1905) and the birth of pragmatism (1905), books that were the basis of the philosophical movement founded by the author with John Dewey and William James, who argued that scientific and philosophical knowledge can only be considered true if it has practical value.

In the last years of life, the author faced various economic problems, derived from the mismanagement of his income, which worsened due to the cancer he suffered at that time. He spent much of these years alone in poverty, yet he continued writing and researching. After several years of suffering, Charles Sanders Peirce died on April 19, 1914, in Milford.

Most of his writings remained unpublished until in the 1930s Harvard University published a compilation of all his manuscripts, entitled Collected Papers of Charles Sanders Peirce.

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