Peirce the idea man

Charles Sanders Peirce (Purse) is one of my favorite 19th century American Philosophers not because I consider him a great Philosopher but because I consider him the ultimate "idea" and "system" man. As an "idea" man he was hugely successful. He is credited with the ideas of Pragmatism, Semiotics, and logical Abduction. If you are well read on books on philosophy, linguistics, logic or the Scientific method you will have heard of him. As a scientist working for the United States Coast and Geodetic Survey he did geodesy and gravimetry. Unbelievably, in 1886 he determined that logical operations could be done with electrical switches foreshadowing the modern computer and Shannon (Engineer who in 1937 analyzed and utilized boolean logic with switches predating the modern binary computer).

Peirce came up with the ideas of signs (Semiotics) before the great linquist Ferdinand de Saussure came up with similar theories. It could be argued that Peirce's system works better. And Peirce’s ideas about the Philosophy of Science sound remarkably like Karl Popper who wrote 90 years later.

Unfortunately, Peirce failed as a great Philosopher in an essential way. He never wrote a book or "that book". He was a polymath (a genius in several fields) and for whatever reason was unable to publish a comprehensive book on one thing. He wrote many essays in many fields. In my opinion this made him more of an "idea" and "system" man whose ideas are remarkable and brillant.

He is credited with starting Pragmatism but unlike James or Dewey (later philosophers who took up Pragmatism and made it famous) he believed in an objective reality. He believed that objective reality could be approached by an iterative approach using his tool of usefulness (usefulness - is there evidence that it works). He inspired William James who in a sense is the impetus and substance for Pragmatism as a philosophy. William James became a life long friend and supported the difficult and somewhat anti-social Peirce (for his time) both financially and scholastically. Without James,we would have probably never heard of Peirce.

I can not fault Peirce as a Philosopher who wrote hundreds of essays and articles on everything. I can fault him for scattering his ideas accross several bodies of work and giving later editors an impossible job. Editors have created books of his essays which I highly recomment. Yet a 100 years later many editors and compilers are still trying to make sense of his myriad journals, articles and essays.

In truth, I see Charles Sanders Peirce as a sidelined 19th century American Philosopher whose ideas predated the intellectual culture and the breakthroughs made in the 20th and 21st century.