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The Significance of
Peirce's Application to the Carnegie Institution
Joseph Ransdell
(Rev 6-12-98)

This is an editorial introduction to Manuscript L75: Charles Peirce's 1902 application to the Carnegie Institution for support for his work in logic, retitled as Logic, Considered as Semeiotic. This was written especially for Version 1 but is applicable to both versions.

      In 1902 Peirce made application to the Carnegie Institution for support in bringing his work in logic into a synoptically ordered whole, which he at first envisioned as being contained within "three ponderous volumes" but finally came to conceive as a set of 36 "memoirs" (or "monographs," as we would say) of varying length, of a million words or so altogether. There are (at least) five preliminary drafts plus a final version of the application — there is reason to believe that some of the MS material has been lost or has perished — and the total number of extant MS pages is approximately 459, though these are actually half-pages. The final version (which bears a stamp of receipt from the Carnegie Institution, with the date of July 30, 1902) is 80 such pages.

      Those scholars who have worked extensively with Peirce's Nachlass, the extant portion of which contains something in excess of 100,000 pages (including correspondence), have usually been aware of this MS, and Carolyn Eisele transcribed the final version of it for inclusion in her multi-volume collection of his mathematical work called New Elements of Mathematics. It has never attracted much attention, though, except as something of special biographical interest. As far as I know, the only person other than myself who perceived that it might have some special importance in the overall interpretation of Peirce's work was Shea Zellweger, though our respective concerns with it are from somewhat different perspectives.

      Some twenty-five years or so ago, though, I noticed a certain peculiarity of the whole body of the L75 MS material taken collectively, namely, that Peirce's aversion to self-repetition—his thought flowed so bountifully that he rarely practiced self-quotation or verbatim repetition and sometimes even seems obsessive in his avoidance of it—had resulted in six versions (including the final one), each of which develops in some detail things either not mentioned or only briefly referred to in any of the others. One odd consequence of this is that the version which was submitted to the Carnegie Institution is strangely out of balance structurally and reads as if incomplete, as indeed it is, since its completion lies in the material in the five earlier draft versions which Peirce did not attempt to incorporate in the final version. Let me explain this further.

      The final version contains an introductory segment followed by nine sections in which Peirce attempts to persuade the referees that he deserves the grant and that he can be counted on to do what he says he will do with it. Then as an "appendix" to this—much longer than the main body of the application—we have what makes this MS of special philosophical interest, namely, a list of the 36 proposed monographs, of which some are only given titles, some contain no more than a sentence or two of explanation of their prospective contents, but some are quite lengthy.

     But before proceeding to that I should explain first that although the part of the application that contains the case he makes for himself as a candidate for the grant probably violates every known principal of grantsmanship, and may appear at first to be paranoid, Peirce is in fact addressing himself quite directly to what he knows collaterally and from a reliable source to be the objections which are already being raised to granting him the money, and his apparent paranoia is actually a realistic assessment of his situation. Though he could indeed have handled the problem more gracefully, there is no basis in this for imputing paranoid tendencies to him, nor is there any evidence of such a tendency in him otherwise, as far as I am aware. If anything, Peirce was probably a more trusting and optimistic person than most.

      Peirce did in fact have a highly influential and remarkably dedicated enemy in the academic/scientific establishment—the astronomer Simon Newcomb—who worked indefatigably and very effectively at Peirce's professional destruction, through adroit use of clandestine calumny, at every crucial juncture in Peirce's professional career, beginning at least as early as the time of his temporary appointment as a half-time professor at Johns Hopkins two decades earlier. Newcomb was, overtly, a friend of the Peirce family, bearing great but well-hidden resentment as a sort of "poor cousin" of this gifted and privileged family, but probably having other motives as well, and Peirce apparently never knew until it was too late to make any difference that it was Newcomb who was the major agent in the machinations, though he correctly surmised that there was a standing and insurmountably powerful agency behind the unremitting undermining of his professional career. See Joseph Brent's biography Charles Sanders Peirce: A Life (Bloomington, Indiana University Press, 1993) for an account of Newcomb's remarkable dedication to this.

      There is a dimension to this that Brent—whose focus is always on the psychological—does not treat of adequately, however, namely, the problem Peirce posed for the academic administrative establishment of his time as someone potentially of unusually strong influence in academia in virtue both of his powerful family connections—in the U.S. government as well as at Harvard—and his own independently established reputation as a scientist. Peirce was an "insider" in the scientific world, not a fringe figure at all in that respect, and his father, the Harvard mathematician Benjamin Peirce, was, moreover, a leader in the organized academic opposition to the policies being adopted at Harvard and elsewhere in accommodation of the economic ideology of the time.

      These were times remarkably like our own in some ways, such as in the dominance of Social Darwinism—"The Gospel of Greed," as Peirce referred to it—and in the ubiquitous role of the commercial world and of commercial values in research and learning, to which Peirce, like his father, was profoundly and outspokenly opposed. It seems likely that Newcomb's peculiarly dedicated opposition to Peirce was driven at least as strongly by the politics of the situation as by his personal resentment—he is openly identified by Peirce as a proponent of Social Darwinism—though the latter undoubtedly had some role to play in his seemingly fanatical devotion to such a questionable end. In any case, Newcomb was successful here, as in his other endeavors, in spite of some very powerful backing for Peirce, including the approval of Carnegie himself. With that much understood, though, let us leave that aspect of the application to one side here, and focus on the part of it in which Peirce is explaining what the proposed work in logic will contain.

      In browsing through the MS material, some two decades ago, it occurred to me that—given what I knew of Peirce's aversion to repetition—it might well be that if you were to decompose the six versions into paragraphs and then arrange 36 sorting bins in front of you, representing the topics of the 36 memoirs listed in the final version, and you were then to sort that material out paragraph by paragraph into the appropriate topical bins, you would end up with something substantial in nearly all of them, and thus with a largely complete overview of the projected work, topic by topic, instead of the seemingly half-baked account that was actually submitted by Peirce as the final version.

      I was at that time working with Kenneth Ketner in the Institute for Studies in Pragmaticism at Texas Tech, and we had the secretary type up a complete transcription of L75, with each paragraph ending on a separate page, so that I could sort them out in the way described above. The upshot was that the whole MS did indeed fall out in just the way anticipated, and with remarkably little overlap from draft to draft. The version of it which I present here for philosophical purposes is based on this strategy of decomposition and composite construction.

      What gives this its larger significance is the fact that the 36 memoirs represent topically Peirce's entire system of philosophy as analyzed by him in terms of the presuppositional order of the topics. Thus we begin with topics in mathematics, namely, those that have especially to do with mathematical logic. This is followed by memoirs whose topics are phenomenology (which is about the categories of appearance), the normative sciences (which consists of esthetics, ethics, and semiotic or logic), and finally metaphysics, which is the bridge study between philosophy and the special sciences (i.e. the natural and human sciences). Semiotic or logic in the broad sense of the term divides into philosophical grammar, logic in the relatively more narrow sense (which divides in turn into abductive, inductive, and deductive logic), and philosophical rhetoric. Here is the way it all looks in tabular form:

[Peirce's titles; the bracketed material is mine]

1    On the Classification of the Theoretic Sciences of Research


2    On the Simplest Mathematics
3    Analysis of the Conceptions of Mathematics
4    Analysis of the Methods of Mathematical Demonstration


5    On the Qualities of the Three Categories of Experience
6    On the Categories in Their Reactional Aspects
7    On the Categories in Their Mediate Aspects
8    Examination of the Historical Lists of Categories


9    On the Bearing of Esthetics and Ethics upon Logic


10    On the Presuppositions of Logic
11    On the Logical Conception of Mind
12    On the Definition of Logic
13    On the Division of Logic
14    On the Method of Discovering and Establishing the Truths of Logic

[PHILOSOPHICAL ("SPECULATIVE") GRAMMAR (here called "Stechiologic")]

15   Of the Nature of Stechiologic
16    A General Outline of Stechiologic
17    On Terms
18    On Propositions
19    On Arguments


20    Of Critical Logic in General
21    Of First Premises
22    The Logic of Chance
23   On the Validity of Induction
24    On the Justification of Abduction
25    Of Mixed Arguments
26    On Fallacies

[PHILOSOPHICAL ("SPECULATIVE") RHETORIC (here called "Methodeutic")]

27    Of Methodeutic
28    On the Economics of Research
29    On the Course of Research
30    On Systems of Doctrine
31    On Classification
32    On Definition and the Clearness of Ideas [i.e. pragmatism]
33    On Objective Logic


34    On the Uniformity of Nature
35    On Metaphysics
36    On the Reality and Nature of Time and Space

[THE SPECIAL SCIENCES would follow here, in the presuppositional order which underlies his classification of the sciences]

      Peirce always claimed to be a systematic philosopher, but the usual view has been that this was never more than a "pipe dream" of his, that such efforts as he made in that direction were feeble, hopelessly fragmentary, and largely undeveloped in any form at all. But this is just false. For the foregoing schema IS Peirce's "system" in outline, which is not of course a Spinozan (or Cartesian) deductive axiom-theorem system but rather one based upon presuppositional relationships and the ubiquitous structuring principles implicitly generated by recursive application of his category theory.

      Did Peirce ever "complete" his system? Silly question, isn't it? But did he "fail" somehow to get it all together? Well, the Carnegie Institution didn't see fit to fund him to do that, nor did any of the other great intellectual institutions of his time regard themselves as having any obligation to support him to do that, so it was not gotten together. But if you were to take those 36 topics and go through all of his work, published and unpublished, and sort it all out under those 36 headings, you would find that there is enough first rate work under any given one of most of those headings to put most of his critics to shame as underproductive.

      What makes this all the more remarkable is the fact that Peirce made his living and published extensively as a scientist at the same time, and this without the assistance either of people or of time-saving instruments that scientists of the present day take for granted as necessities! According to Fisch, Ketner, and Kloesel in 1979, "we know of well over 800 publications running to roughly 12,000 pages"! (From "The New Tools of Peirce Scholarship" in Peirce Studies 1, 1979, p. 3) It does seem that somebody failed to "get it together," but it is not at all clear that it was Peirce.

      I can't resist following this with a quotation from the late Max Fisch, a scholar of great but typically well-justified caution, not known for hyperbole:

Who is the most original and the most versatile intellect that the Americas have so far produced? The answer "Charles S. Peirce" is uncontested, because any second would be so far behind as not to be worth nominating. Mathematician, astronomer, chemist, geodesist, surveyor, cartographer, metrologist, spectroscopist, engineer, inventor; psychologist, philologist, lexicographer, historian of science, mathematical economist, lifelong student of medicine; book reviewer, dramatist, actor, short story writer; phenomenologist, semiotician, logician, rhetorician [and] metaphysician[.] He was, for a few examples, the first metrologist to use a wave-length of light as a unit of measure, the inventor of the quincuncial projection of the sphere, the first known conceiver of the design and theory of an electric switching- circuit computer, and the founder of "the economy of research." He is the only system-building philosopher in the Americas who has been both competent and productive in logic, in mathematics, and in a wide range of sciences. If he has had any equals in that respect in the entire history of philosophy, they do not number more than two. (Quoted by Joseph Brent in his Charles Sanders Peirce: A Life, Indiana University Press, 1993, pp 2f.)

     In summary to this point, then, one of several especially interesting things about this particular MS is that, when analytically decomposed and reconstituted in the way indicated, it yields an overview of Peirce's entire system of thought which makes it readily apparent to anyone well-acquainted with the corpus of his work that, whatever its shortcomings may be, it does not lie in its lack of systematicity or degree of incompleteness. The extent to which it is coherent, valid, true, promising, suggestive, salutary, helpful, pertinent, and so forth is, of course, another matter.

     The projected 36 memoirs represent topically Peirce's entire system of philosophy as analyzed by him in terms of the presuppositional order of its parts, which he articulates in his classification of the sciences. (Peirce regards a science as a social activity controlled critically by the norm of truth and, in his view, philosophy can be like that.) After reading the composite manuscript presented here, those already well acquainted with Peirce's writings should find no difficulty in seeing how the entire corpus of his work, published and unpublished, could be sorted out using this topical schema (supposing his writings were decomposed into appropriate units), and should be able to see accordingly that Peirce actually did work out his system of thought in as much detail as anybody could reasonably be expected to do.

      As regards the cut-and-paste editorial strategy, I should stress, though, that Manuscript L75 is a special case. One certainly would not want to decompose his writings in general in that way, except as a thought-experiment for a special purpose. In fact, that is what Hartshorne and Weiss did with much of the MS material they used in putting together the first six volumes of the Collected Papers back in the early '30's; but few Peirce enthusiasts would want to see a repetition of that editorial strategy, which resulted in a collection of his work which gave the impression that Peirce had a fragmented mentality, as likely to express itself in self-contradictions as in insights.

      That view of him, which has no basis in his work, is now past as far as responsible commentary goes, though the generally prevailing impression of Peirce has yet to change into conformity with the results of more recent research, and at the time when I discovered the latent order in the MS material and the possibility of exhibiting it by redistributing its parts in the way indicated, following the framework provided by the final version, it was still fashionable to think of Peirce as a lunatic genius, with big ideas but little real accomplishment, brilliant insights unconnected by rhyme or reason. Thus I conceived the composite version not only as providing a tool for scholars who worked with Peirce which would be useful in showing the overall structure of his aims and accomplishments but also as providing a schema that one could use as a sort of referential control center in dealing with the chaos of his writings in the savaged form in which they then existed and still largely exist in spite of significant areas of restoration.

      Bearing in mind that this was prior to the advent of electronic text, the original idea was that MS L75, reconstructed as indicated, would be presented on the printed page in such a way that the student of Peirce could use its 36-part memoir structure—which is highly mnemonic once one grasps its relationship to his ordering of the sciences and the underlying category theory—as a kind of iconic index-space to be filled ad lib with references to the rest of his work. Thus the volume envisaged would have had very wide margins, so that if, for example, one was working with some MS and ran across some discussion of, say, the presuppositions of logic that one thought particularly interesting one could pick up one's copy of L75, flip through to the memoir on that topic (whose location would be easy to remember relative to the rest), and jot down a coded reference to the identification number of the MS file.

      Peirce scholars often make such notes as a matter of course, but the problem is, how do you keep track of the notes? Well, you keyword them, of course, and then alphabetize them some way. But with a plurality of key words for any moderately interesting note the problem then becomes choosing the most useful keyword, and that is frequently quite impossible apart from some special context! For some philosophers that sort of system might nevertheless work fairly well because they typically work from within much the same special context regardless of what they are concerned with. But for Peirce a systematic schema for the purposes of referential indexing simply cannot be constructed in that way with any real efficiency.

      Peirce published quite a lot, far more than is commonly realized, and he also left a lot of very fine unpublished work; but his corpus as a whole and the unpublished MS material in particular is a nightmare to work with in its present form, made bearable only by the excitement of discovery which working with it so richly yields. One reason for this is that Peirce is liable to talk about any topic anywhere, regardless of what the nominal purpose of the essay may be, which makes it extraordinarily difficult to remember where he talked about something in a certain definite way. Indeed, my experience has been that if I am certain that he said a certain thing in a given paper or manuscript, there is a 50/50 chance that he said it elsewhere, regardless of how vividly I seem to remember it being said in that place.

      This is connected with the fact that Peirce has a marvelous ability to redescribe the same subject-matter from several different points of view, so that the moves made from a given description of something can lead in quite different directions than those made from a different description of the same thing. (This does not imply either contradiction or logical contrariety.) Thus, for example, there must be, I would guess, something like two hundred verbally different formulations of the generic representation (or "sign") relation, some of which differ only in a relatively insignificant respect, some of which, however, seem at first quite unlike the others and can lead in importantly different directions.

      This is why it seems to people who read Peirce superficially that he is forever changing his mind, when in fact he is just taking another look at the same thing or is heading in a different direction from it. Real things have innumerable true descriptions—it is the mark of a merely fictitious or made up entity that it is only what it is described as being—and there is no reason to suppose a priori that when we are attempting to describe the "essential"—that is, the most cognitively important—aspects of something real that we should be able to capture that in a single concise and perfect description. Reality has facets.

      This explains, in any case, something of the motives implicit in the radical reconstructive method I used to develop Version One of the manuscript. The original plan to publish it in paper form in the way described above never materialized because it was intended to be made available as a special volume in the Peirce Studies series, which was originally planned as an organ of professional communication expressing the editorial judgment of a collaborative group of eleven Peirce scholars who at that time constituted the members of the Institute for Studies in Pragmaticism. When this collaboration ceased to be functional (for reasons not relevant here), I felt it would be inappropriate to make use of the Peirce Studies series as its vehicle of publication, since the rationale of the series necessarily changed significantly in virtue of that, and I never regarded the reconstructed MS as something that should be put forth in regular publication as a "book" in the sense in which people usually understand that.

      in any case, a detailed plan for this reconstruction of it, to appear under our collective auspices as collaborative Peirce scholars, was approved at a meeting of all eleven members of the Institute in Denver, Colorado on the occasion of a meeting of the Semiotic Society of America, and copies of MS L75 in its reconstructed form have been in private circulation among scholars for nearly two decades, though not in any systematic way, beginning with copies distributed to the other ten Peirce scholars comprising the original eleven-person Editorial Board of Peirce Studies, as listed in issue Number 1 (1979): Jarrett Brock, Jerry Dozoretz, Carolyn Eisele, Joseph Esposito, Max Fisch, Charles Hardwick, Kenneth Ketner, Christian Kloesel, Klaus Oehler, and David Pfeifer. I have no idea to what extent copies have been made from those copies, though I have since provided a few more copies to individuals over the years, as particular occasion has arisen.

      As mentioned earlier, Shea Zellweger subsequently developed an independent interest in MS L75 owing to his studies of the MS material usually referred to as "The Minute Logic", from the period of 1900-1902. Shea is an academic psychologist, by vocation, with a special avocation as a formal logician with a long-standing interest in Peirce's remarkable notational accomplishments, for which interest Shea is best known among Peirce scholars. As a psychologist, though, Shea has also been especially interested in Peirce's compositional methods, and has focused especially on his work of that period as revealing some important things about the psychology of inquiry. From his perspective MS L75 appears as the culmination of the work devoted to "The Minute Logic"—a sort of concluding epitome of it, perhaps—which was abandoned by Peirce as a project when the Carnegie Institution refused to support him. (With that opportunity closed off, Peirce tried to reconceive strategically his task of getting his work out effectively while his declining health still permitted it. But there are others better positioned than I am to explain something of the detail of that.)

      In any case, as regards Shea and myself, there is no scholarly debt on either side in respect to our common interest in or work in connection with MS L75. Shea's work on this began a few years later, after my reconstruction was completed, when he spent a year (possibly more) at the Peirce Edition Project studying the MS material of that period, and he apparently was not apprised of my earlier reconstruction of L75 even though at least two people there (Kloesel and Fisch) were aware of it, and at least one copy was available there, presumably because the connection between L75 and the Minute Logic was not realized until Shea himself pointed it out. (Such is the disorder of the MS material—and the introverted tendencies of scholars that keep them from working collaboratively—that major connections like this can easily go unnoted.)

      But Shea's insistence on the importance of attending to the exact character of Peirce's compositional procedure, particularly during this period, has affected my understanding of Peirce as a philosopher in important ways, and helps to explain why I am presenting the material from this MS in a second form here on the website Arisbe as well. I explain the rationale for that in some detail in the special editorial notes to be found in the editorial panel of the screen in Version 2 of MS L75, though, and will not repeat them here.


END: Joseph Ransdell, Editor's Introduction to MS L75, Ver. 1

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