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Sunday, December 27, 2009

Peirce Obituary May 16, 1914,3222890&dq=charles-peirce

Part ThreeBoston Evening Transcript, Saturday, May 16, 19143

Some Appreciation of a Harvard Philosopher, First Among American Pragmatists, Who Recently Died in Secluded Retirement
Charles Sanders Peirce, second son of the late Benjamin Peirce, Perkins professor of astronomy and mathematics at Harvard University for forty years, and of his wife, Sarah Hunt Mills, who died at his home in Milford Pa., on April 19 last, in his seventy-fifth year, was born in September, 1839, of a family eminent in scientific pursuits and in the higher branches of education. Beginning with Benjamin Peirce, Sr., for several years librarian of Harvard, the sum of the services of the Peirce family in that seat of learning, including that of his son Benjamin and of his grandson James Mills Peirce, numbered over one hundred years.
Charles Peirce, from his youth to the end of his life, exhibited in marked degree the family trait of mathematical ability as well as the allied sciences, his mind finally centering itself upon logic and philosophy, but never forsaking mathematical research.
Even in childhood Dr. Peirce exhibited remarkable qualities of mind an a profound love of study and research, pursued, however in his own way and by original methods. He appeared to have acquired the art of reading and writing by himself without the usual course of instruction. As a child he was forever digging into encyclopedias and other books in search of knowledge upon abstruse subjects, while discussions with his learned father upon profound questions of science, especially higher mathematics and philosophy, were common matters of astonishment, not only to his brothers and sister, but to his parents as well.
Charles however was no prig or pedant. His mirthful, contagious laugh, his keen sense of humor and ready wit made him a bright and ever welcome companion in all gatherings. He was always capable of holding his own with unconscious ease whether among his elders or with simple unpretentiousness joining in the sports of the youngest and smallest. His own choice was for intellectual games, especially chess, of which he early became a master.
Mr. Peirce was mainly fitted for college at the Cambridge High School, with one term, prior to the entrance examinations, at the famous school of Mr. Epes Sargent Dixwell, in Boston. He was graduated from Harvard in 1859, among the youngest of his class, and entered the Lawrence Scientific School where he took the highest honors for research work in chemistry which attracted the attention of some of the great German universities as valuable contributions to science. Pure mathematics, astronomy and logic, however, early attracted Peirce more deeply than the more practical pursuit which he then abandoned, and devoted himself to astronomy, passing long nights at the Harvard observatory, and, later, to pendulum observations and computations for determining the earth’s density. His research regarding it was noted with warm praise by the French Academy and by other European scientists.
It was during this period of Peirce’s practical work in the field of physics, that he published his book on “Photometric Research” besides many articles on the history of science, metaphysics, psychology, gravitation, chemistry, map projection and astronomy. He also edited his father’s work on “Linear Associative Algebra,” a mathematical contribution which was contemporaneously considered to ascend so far into the realm of pure mathematics as to make it improbable that it could ever find a reading public sufficient to warrant further publication than the one hundred lithographed copies which constituted the original edition. At this time also he was employed by the publishers of the Century Dictionary to prepare the greater part of the scientific definitions for that great lexicon.
Research in the domain of his chosen subject, logic, and the art of reasoning, had long been drawing Peirce away from the more practical and immediately profitable paths of science. He had already formulated and given to the world the principle of logic which he was first among Americans to call “Pragmatism” and which the late Professor William James of Harvard afterward amplified and carried to higher development. In 1887 Mr. Peirce, feeling the burden and friction of the busily active world too distracting for the pursuit of his studies, retired to the place he bought in Pike Country, Pennsylvania, where, surrounded by his voluminous library, he immersed himself in the sea of philosophic thought from which he rarely emerged, living in Milford the life of a recluse and an anchorite.
During the pursuit of his studies this profound thinker contracted a gnawing and a progressing malady which greatly impaired the regular continuity of his labors defeating the full fruition of the brilliant promise of his life. His pursuits could not win for him popular applause, but to those who knew him well he gave a light which can never fade.

Charles Santiago Sanders Peirce, ’59

Harvard Alumni

Volume XVI Wednesday, May 27, 1914Number 34

[Pages 549-50]

Charles Santiago Sanders Peirce, ’59
By George F. Becker, ’68, U. S. Geological Survey.
IT would be difficult to bring home to the average reader of American periodicals a due sense of the loss sustained by the community on April 19 in the death of Charles Peirce at the age of 75, for his work was done in the least popular realms of knowledge: Logic, mathematics, metaphysics and physics. To the worshipers of the Golden Calf his name is meaningless, but none the less he has added to the sum of human knowledge and to the fecundity of human thought, leaving the world the wiser for his existence.
From boyhood he showed great aptitude for learning and a very unusual originality, qualities which he inherited from his father, Benjamin, the leading American mathematician of his clay. Benjamin Peirce’s most brilliant achievement was an investigation on linear associative algebras. These form a large group of methods of mathematical reasoning each distinct from the rest, and including as special cases ordinary algebra, infinitesimal calculus and quaternions. In this investigation Charles collaborated, and to it he made extensive additions after his father’s death. Charles himself also wrote a memoir of great originality on the algebra of logic, of which the purpose is to apply the infallible mechanism of mathematics to the elucidation of logical relations, whencesoever these may be derived. Peirce was not the first to make such an attempt, but is said to have attained a far greater measure of success than his predecessors. On the whole, these memoirs and others which need not be mentioned here show that he was quite as able a mathematician as his father.

C. S. S. Peirce, ’59.

Allied to these researches in pure reason, but distinct from them, are Peirce’s two great contributions to philosophy. Of these, the first, is now known as “pragmatism”; his own term, but first used in print by the famous philosopher, William James, with due acknowledgments to the originator. This ambiguous term denotes a method of thought founded upon the very simple and fundamental generalization, now called by so eminent a philosopher as Mr. F. C. S. Schiller, “Peirce’s Principle”, viz.; Every truth has practical consequences and these are the test of its truth. To the uninitiated this may seem a truism, but by purely logical processes it is capable of development into a whole system of philosophy ; or conversely, a certain philosophic system is reducible in ultimate analysis to “Peirce’s Principle.”
Not less important is his treatment in a series of papers, published during the last decade of the last century, of the statistical method as applied to the nature of evolutionary processes depending upon the association of entities in large numbers. This method (which likewise underlies most of the very recent investigations into the properties of matter) is proving efficacious in philosophy in the hands of Professor Josiah Royce on the lines laid down by Peirce.
His most important contribution to physics resulted in an increase in the precision of geodetic surveys, which are useless unless they are of extreme exactness. Peirce detected the fact that the flexibility of the stone piers, on which pendulums are swung to determine the force of gravity, is great enough to introduce important errors into the observations, and showed how to apply appropriate corrections.
Passing by his various contributions to astronomy and other subjects, be it mentioned that Peirce was responsible for nearly all of the excellent definitions of mathematical terms in the two editions of the Century Dictionary, as well as those on mechanics, astronomy, logic and metaphysics. In this enormously laborious and responsible task he came closer to the habitat of the man of ordinary education than in any of his other works.
Genius Peirce indubitably had; he also had its eccentricities; they stood sadly in his way, diminished his intellectual output, and exposed him to privations. Though he could be very charming, he was so intensely individualistic that cooperation was for him almost an impossibility, he could not “get along” with associates, and, as he grew older, ill-health aggravated his peculiarities. To his friends these were an inconvenience, speedily forgotten; to himself they were a misfortune, and this is the only considerable reason for regretting them or referring to them ; they deprived him of the popularity, prosperity, and honors to which his great achievements would have entitled him.
Peirce was for many years a member of the National Academy of Sciences. His official biography will be prepared by a colleague eminently fitted for that difficult task, Josiah Royce.