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Charles S. Peirce
Logic, Considered as Semeiotic

An Overview of Charles Peirce's Philosophical Logic,
Constructed from Manuscript L75

Version 1

Analytical reconstruction by

Joseph Ransdell

Department of Philosophy
Texas Tech University
Lubbock, TX 79409 USA


Version 1 of MS L75 is a special editorial construction designed to be read by default as a single linear-sequential text. It is not a hypertext document proper but uses hypertext only as a tool for management of the text for the purposes of on-screen presentation.

For technical reasons the MS is too large to present as a whole on a single web "page" (i.e. as a single continuous document unit), and so it is presented here in ten consecutive parts. It should be understood, though, that these parts have no significance as regards its organization and merely reflect the need to break it into smaller units for technical reasons only.

The document is organized by successively numbered memoirs and sections. The up and down arrowheads

at the top of each memoir or section move you, respectively, to the beginning of the previous and the following memoirs or sections, so that you can jump through the document in a sequential order, forward or back, in that way if you wish.

The title, "Logic, Considered as Semeiotic," is editorially supplied but echoes Peirce himself in related contexts. Peirce sometimes used the spelling "semiotic" instead, and either spelling is justified, given his variable usage. So far as I know, Peirce never spelled it as "semiotics".

*   Please read the Editorial Introduction if you are not already familiar with this special reconstruction of the text and its rationale.

*   Read the Scholarly Notes if you have a scholar's interest in the purposes, compromises, and qualifications involved in transcribing this material from its manuscript form and arranging it for presentation here.

*   Go to the separate Table of Contents page if you want to jump directly to some particular section or memoir.




  Final Version - MS L75.345  


Milford, Pa., 1902, July 15

To the Executive Committee of the Carnegie Institution,


      I have the honor respectfully to submit to you herein an application for aid from the Carnegie Institution in accomplishing certain scientific work. The contents of the letter are as follows:

      1. Explanation of what work is proposed.

           Appendix containing a fuller statement.

EDITORIAL NOTE: By the "Appendix" Peirce means the entire list of 36 proposed "Memoirs," including his accompanying descriptions of their contents: thus he is referring by this to what we are treating here as the body of the present work, which we have supplemented extensively from the draft material.

      2. Considerations as to its Utility.

      3. Estimate of the Labor it will involve.

      4. Estimate of Other Expense involved.

      5. Statement as to the Need of aid from the Carnegie Institution.

      6. Suggestion of a Plan by which aid might be extended.

      7. Estimate of the Probability of Completion of the work, etc.

      8. Remarks as to the Probable Net Cost to the Carnegie Institution, in money and in efficiency.

      9. Statement of my apprehension of the Basis of my claim for aid.


  Final Version - MS L75.346-349  



      Some personal narrative is here necessary. I imbibed from my boyhood the spirit of positive science, and especially of exact science; and early became intensely curious concerning the theory of the methods of science; so that, shortly after my graduation from college in 1859, I determined to devote my life to that study; although indeed it was less a resolve than an overmastering passion which I had been for some years unable to hold in check. It has never abated. In 1866, and more in 1867, I ventured upon my first original contributions to the science of logic, and have continued my studies of this science ever since, with rare interruptions of a few months only each. Owing to my treating logic as a science, like the physical sciences in which I had been trained, and making my studies special, minute, exact, and checked by experience, and owing to the fact that logic had seldom before been so studied, discoveries poured in upon me in such a flood as to be embarrassing. This has been one reason why I have hitherto published but a few fragments of outlying parts of |347| my work, or slight sketches of more important parts. For logic differs from the natural sciences and, in some measure, even from mathematics, in being more essentially systematic. Consequently, if new discoveries were made in the course of writing a paper, they would be apt to call for a remodelling of it, a work for mature reconsideration. Still, as far as I remember, no definitive conclusion of importance to which I have ever been led has required retraction, such were the advantages of the scientific methods of study. Modification in details and changes (very sparse) of the relative importance of principles are the greatest alterations I have ever been led to make. Even those have been due, not to the fault of the scientific method, but chiefly to my adherence to early teachings. But what has, more than that cause, prevented my publishing has been, first, that my desire to teach has not been so strong as my desire to learn, and secondly, that far from there having been any demand for papers by me, I have always found no little difficulty in getting what I wrote printed; and |348| when the favor was accorded, it was usually represented to me that funds were sacrificed in doing so. My first papers, which have since been pronounced good work, were sent to almost every logician in the world, accompanied in many cases with letters; but for ten years thereafter I never could learn that a single individual had looked into them. Since then, I have had little ardor about printing anything. Now, however, being upon the threshold of old age, I could not feel that I had done my best to do that which I was put into the world to do, if I did not spend all my available forces in putting upon record as many of my logical results as I could.

      Therefore, what I hereby solicit the aid of the Carnegie Institution to enable me to do is to draw up some three dozen memoirs, each complete in itself, yet the whole forming a unitary system of logic in all its parts, which memoirs shall present in a form quite convincing to a candid mind the results to which I have found that the scientific |349| method unequivocally leads, adding in each case, rational explanations of how opposing opinions have come about; the whole putting logic, as far as my studies of it have gone, upon the undeniable footing of a science.

COMMENT to L75.349 by Ransdell (Rev. 7-3-98)

     From the beginning to the end of his career Peirce had as his goal the establishment of logic as a science, and "establish" should be understood here in two senses: first, in the sense of showing or demonstrating some things about it which would make it rationally plausible to regard it in that way, and second, in the sense of persuading others to this effect such that it actually came to be publicly identified as such, institutionalized appropriately in universities, and so forth.

      As regards the first aim, what needed to be shown was both that its subject-matter is essentially public, which is the primary—though not the only—sense of the dictum "all thought is in signs" that runs like a leitmotiv throughout Peirce's work, and that it can be understood methodically, in the manner of science generally. "Methodically" does not mean "algorithmically": Peirce did not think of scientific method in terms of a mechanistic procedure of generating or validating truths, but rather in terms of the exercise of judgment in following complex cyclical and self-corrective procedures involving hypothesis, deduction, and induction, the last-mentioned of which he regarded in terms of testing rather than generating general propositions.

      To understand Peirce's logic and philosophy of science, though, it is of the first importance to take due account of a second sense of "establish" which he, as a working scientist himself, knew to be at least as important as considerations of the sort just mentioned above. For he also understood that the establishing of a science is not a matter of an ingenious tour de force of demonstration by an individual in a book or article, as philosophers are usually inclined to conceive it, but means rather the actual establishing of a shared practice of inquiry by a community of inquirers with common and overlapping concerns. This second sense of "establishment" is especially relevant here; for Peirce regarded this application to the Carnegie Institution as presenting the real possibility of establishing logic, in a broad sense which includes what we now call "philosophy of science", as an institutionally recognized scientific field on par with the hard sciences by appealing to his own scientific peers in the hard sciences to recognize it as such by supporting him in gathering and presenting it systematically as foundational work in the field.

      Contrary to a continuing misconception, Peirce was not an unknown figure in his time as regards academicians in general and scientists in particular, and had quite an impressive backing for his application by way of letters of recommendation from important academicians, of whom a good many were in or connected in one way or another with the sciences, and the board of referees to whom he was appealing was a similarly prestigious board composed largely of people in the sciences. (Transcriptions of these letters are currently being prepared and will be made available here at the Arisbe website in the near future.) The attempt, though unsuccessful, was not quixotic: indeed, there is reason to think it would have been successful had it not been for extensive clandestine activity aimed chiefly at discrediting Peirce's character rather than his plan. This is discussed in a little more detail in the Editorial Introduction.


* * *

  From Draft A - MS L75.21-29  

      What I desire aid in doing is in bringing before the world the result of my researches into logic.

      I began the study of logic in 1856, and it has been my principal occupation ever since. Twice, I have made determined efforts to dismiss the subject from my thoughts; but the bent of my mind is such that I did not succeed in doing so for more than a few months each time. It was, however, not until 1861 that I ventured upon any serious original research; so that, subtracting distractions, forty years' work is about what my results have cost me.

      These results have never been published. It is true that fragmentary papers mostly upon relatively unimportant topics have appeared; but the whole forms a unitary system to such a degree that no part which seems to have any importance can be set forth separately in a manner to do it justice, either in respect to its meaning or in respect to the evidences of it. I will explain how this came to be the case. In May 1867 I presented |22| to the Academy in Boston a paper of ten pages, or about 4000 words, upon a New List of Categories. It was the result of full two years' intense and incessant application. It surprises me today that in so short a time I could produce a statement of that sort so nearly accurate, especially when I look back at my notebooks and find by what an unnecessarily difficult route I reached my goal. For this list of categories differs from the lists of Aristotle, Kant, and Hegel in attempting much more than they. They merely took conceptions which they found at hand, already worked out. Their labor was limited to selecting the conceptions, slightly developing some of them, arranging them, and in Hegel's case, separating one or two that had been confused with others. But what I undertook to do was to go back to experience, in the sense of whatever we find to have been forced upon our minds, and by examining it to form clear conceptions of its radically different classes of |23| elements, without relying upon any previous philosophizing, at all. This was the most difficult task I ever ventured to undertake. This list is fortunately very short. Corresponding to Aristotle's Substance, there are two conceptions which I call Being and Substance, but corresponding to his nine Accidents I find only three, Quality, Reaction, Mediation. Having obtained this list of three kinds of elements of experience, (for Being and Substance are of a different nature,) the business before me was the mixed one of making my apprehension of three ideas which had never been accurately grasped as clear and plain as possible, and of tracing out all their modes of combination. This last, at least, seemed to be a problem which could be worked out by straightforward patience. Such was the teaching of all the logic I knew, that of Aristotle, of the Greek commentators, of |24| the 11th century thinkers, of the great scholastic doctors, of the modern French, English, and German logicians. Long after, when I had developed the only effective methods of doing the one thing and the other, that is, of rendering my apprehension clear and of finding the forms of combination of the categories, I ascertained that the latter was from the nature of things, not to be compassed by mere hard thinking, that it was necessary to wait for the compounds to make their appearance, and patiently to analyze them, until the list down to a certain point was complete. But, not then knowing this, after years of fruitless effort (I will not say they were wasted, since they gave me great training,) I said to myself, this list of categories, specious as it is, must be a delusion of which I must disabuse myself. Thereupon, I spent five years in diligently, yes, passionately, seeking facts which should refute my list. Never in my life have I been more thoroughly in earnest |25| than I was in that long struggle. It was in vain. Everything that promised to refute the list, when carefully examined only confirmed it. The evidence became irresistible. Then that in which I had failed must be feasible.

EDITORIAL NOTE: Peirce apparently means that he failed in finding the forms of combinations of the categories. His point seems to be that these cannot be ascertained a priori. Thus in a draft version of his comments on Memoir 5 he says: "These three categories are compounded in a multitude of ways which can only be apprehended through experience. They cannot be built up by an act of pure thought. Some of these forms of composition have to be carefully examined in order to obtain distinct conceptions with which to build a theory of logic."

But it never proved so; and at length I learned why it could not prove so. To this solution I was guided by the very categories themselves. Then began the long work of collecting the compounds and analyzing them into the categories. This work is of its nature absolutely interminable. It involves a logical doctrine which can never be completed. But it was now worked up to the point at which the general method of research could be made evident to every mind.

      But by that time, I had reached a mode of thought so remote from that of the ordinary man, that I was unable to communicate with him. Another great labor was required in breaking a path by which to lead him |26| from his position to my own. I had become entirely unaccustomed to the use of ordinary language to express my own logical ideas to myself. I was obliged to make a regular study of ordinary ideas and language, in order to convey any hint of my real meaning. I found that I had a difficult art to acquire. The clear expression of my thoughts is still most difficult to me. How awkward I am at it, this very statement will in some measure show.

      All this will explain—not distinctly, that would be impossible without going into details, yet in some vague way,—how impossible it was that any fragment of the truth that it has been granted to me to perceive should be adequately represented by itself. Hence, it is that I have been quite grotesquely misrepresented. I have been called a hedonist, I who from the beginning of my career to this day, have not written one single piece of a general nature which did not sufficiently show that I regard pleasure, not as most do, as a small satisfaction, but as quite no rational satisfaction at all. One History of Philosophy sets me down as a typical sceptic, though Kant's criticism was, so to say, my mother's |27| milk in philosophy. I have been called a modern Hume, because Hume denied causality altogether, and I, after calling attention to the fact that all men set some limits to causality, endeavored to define these limits. Because I pointed out the insufficiency of existing logical algebra, and have used algebra as an aid in explaining the logic of relations, it has been assumed that I regarded logical algebra as the whole, or chief, part of logic; although, in fact, I have protested earnestly against the exaggerated importance attached by many to this instrument of logic. At almost the same moment, one eminent philosopher was referring to me as a sort of Büchner, while another was calling me a pure Schellingian. I am supposed to be opposed to Hegel at all points. Indeed, I do think that Hegel's processes, if regarded as proofs, are quite the most absurd reasonings that ever were or could be. But as to his main doctrines, which were reached by him before he ever lit up his dialectical procedure, I think there is a good deal of truth in them. |28| I think that metaphysics, as it has been hitherto, has mainly consisted of pretty well-grounded truths enormously exaggerated, till they become monstrous falsities; and Hegel's opinion that they are all one-sided amounts to the same thing. My main objection to Hegel is that of all exaggerators he is the most errant; and that he carries onesidedness to its last extreme. In my view, there are seven conceivable types of philosophy. Three greatly exaggerate the importance of some one of my three categories and more or less underrate the others. Three more somewhat overrate two and almost utterly neglect the third. The seventh type does nearly equal justice to all three. Hegelianism is one of the first three. But the category which it exaggerates is the one most commonly overlooked; and for that reason there is a relative wholesomeness in it. Vera used to say that while Hegelianism was rejected, it had more or less filtered into and permeated all thought. Very well; dilute |29| Hegelianism by diminishing the importance it places upon mediation and by recognizing the due significance of the others, and you have something like the truth.

* * *

  From Draft B - MS L75.3-9  

      That which I desire aid in doing is to bring before the world the results of my researches into logic.

      I began this study in 1856; and it has been my principal occupation ever since. I cannot lay claim to the slightest merit for the constancy with which I have pursued it, since it has been an uncontrollable impulse. On the contrary, it has been necessary for me at all times to exercise all my control over myself, for fear that my mind might be affected by such unceasing application to a particular subject. When I have found myself in a solitary situation, and there was not a daily round of duties to occupy me, I have had desperate struggles with my logic. It has kept me poor; but my experience is that there is only a small proportion of mankind who are able to make the earning or gaining of money their leading motive. At any rate, I am sure that I am not one of that class. I have experienced |4| extremely little encouragement. It was more than ten years after I published my first papers that I became aware in any way that anybody but myself and the printer had ever looked into them. I have thus had every reason except one for abandoning the pursuit. Twice I have made determined efforts to do so; but my bent was too strong.

      Though I began the study as far back as 1856 and spent almost all my time reading at that time the German philosophers and Aristotle, it was not until 1861 that I ventured upon any serious original research, and not until 1866 that I was far enough advanced to offer anything for publication. It is therefore the results of about thirty-five years work which I desire to present.

      Merely fragments of the work have been published, and relatively unimportant parts, which moreover cannot be properly understood when standing alone. A striking |5| example of how I am misunderstood is that while one of the histories of philosophy sets me down as a sceptic, a sort of Modern Hume, as I have been called, I note that one of the greatest living philosophers ranks me as a pure Schellingian. Both [of] those classifications cannot be true; yet they both come from most competent and careful critics.

      I shall be asked why I have published so little and in [so] fragmentary a way. I answer,

      1st, that I have had extreme difficulty in getting what I wrote on logic printed. My boxes are full of unprinted MSS on the subject as carefully written as anything I ever wrote. Only those things could be printed which could pass as relating to some other subject, and then only if they were made so brief as to be almost unintelligible, or else worked up so as to answer the purposes of popular magazines.|6|

      2nd, that even so, I have not been able to learn that as many as half a dozen persons have ever read any paper of mine, no matter how I had dressed it up.

      3rd, that during all these years the vast volume of my results has been such that it has not been easy for me, with my aptitude for the subject, my personal interest in the discoveries, and my incessant study of them, to hold them all in my head at once in an orderly manner; and the difficulty of the task of arranging them in a lucid and convincing manner is such that several years of exclusive devotion to that task would be requisite for its accomplishment.

      4th, that up to within a few years [ago], new results were continually coming in in such profusion as to leave me no leisure to set forth old ones.

      5th, that I have no natural gift of making myself understood, and my thoughts appear to me in a garb so |7| foreign from the ordinary ways of thinking that it would be a difficult matter to translate them into the language used by readers.

      6th, the chief reason remains unmentioned. In May 1867, as the result of two years of unceasing application, I published a paper of ten pages which was either entirely mistaken or was one of the most important of philosophical generalizations. Several years next following were largely occupied in tracing the matter out into its developments. But here such difficulties were encountered that were so great that, although my original result still seemed evident, I began to think that some undiscovered error must lurk in it and that I was the victim of a self-delusion. Almost persuaded that this must be so, for a considerable series of years I was continually scheming to discover some downright refutation of my theory. But every inquiry I made which promised |8| to lead to such refutation, turned out in the end to afford only new evidence of its truth. Finally, I discovered that the real reason of my difficulties lay not in my generalization, but in a view which had been accepted by all logicians without serious question. I now returned with energy to my original position which I adopted, with the utmost advantage as a sort of skeleton of my whole logical doctrine. It brought great unity into the whole subject, but at the same time kept it far remote from the ordinary highway of men's thoughts. Since that development, it has been absolutely impossible to present my views on almost any part of logic separated from the whole.

      7th, notwithstanding all I have said, without referring to earlier essays, I have twice within my later years written a whole book upon logic. The first was offered to a publisher; but notwithstanding the recommendations of his readers, he declined it; and I have been very glad he did. |9| The other was a very large work, done with much care. However, when it was done, I found it to be written too much from its own standpoint. It did not examine opposed opinions with sufficient sympathy and understanding; there was an offensive tone throughout; it was unconvincing, and utterly unworthy of the theory which it had the honor to defend. I have since thought much and experimented much upon how the book should be written. I can now write a treatise which shall restrain every assertion in it within the limits in which it shall be absolutely convincing, which shall notice everything of importance that has been said on each topic, and shall meet every issue squarely and fairly.

* * *

  From Draft C - MS L75.60-64  

      What are the researches of which I speak?

      They are the work of my life, that which I seem to have been put into the world to do. I was born in 1839, and brought up in a scientific circle. I began to be initiated into the methods of physical science before I was ten years old; and it has always been methods which have chiefly interested me. By 1856, I was already systematically studying logic, in its broad sense, beginning with the Critic of the Pure Reason. I continued my reading diligently, passing to Hegel, Herbart, Aristotle, the scholastics, Berkeley, Hume, Leibniz, etc. I first began serious original research, parallel to my reading, about 1861, and began to publish in 1866. From 1856 until this day my passion for the study of logic has been so intense that no other motives could prevail, although the amount of encouragement that I have received has been so |61| small that I have mostly been in a desperate depression. Several people have at one time and another given me aid in pursuing my studies. I can never forget them. In each case, there have been solid results, as I shall show, in the proper place. I have, however, published very little, because there was no sort of encouragement to do so. During the greater part of my life, the chairs of logic at the universities have been occupied by men bred in theological seminaries, devoid of any ideal of progressive science, penetrated with formalisms, examining nothing with real exactitude. This fact naturally brought along an entire situation sufficient to discourage me from troubling a printer to set up what no man would read. What little I could print had to be brief and fragmentary. I must select subjects concerning which what I had to say would be intelligible without previous studies.|62|

      But my studies were continued almost without interruption. Whatever distractions from my solitary position I might seek, a certain amount of work upon my logic was a daily need. My perseverance was no merit, any more than my perseverance in breathing. The result has been that by this time I have built up such an elaborate system, that the task of undertaking to explain it is one of the utmost difficulty.

      It is, however, now a good many years that I have had this task under systematic study. Twice I have actually written treatises on logic. The first was rejected by the publisher, I am very happy to say. The second, a more ambitious performance, I myself condemned. Finally, last year some friends offered to buy of me the copyright of a few sections of such a work; and I wrote several, amounting to about 200,000 words in all, which if the funds had not |63| given out, would have grown into the convincing book which I should recognize as somewhat worthy of the great theory it would attempt to expound.

      What I desire is to divide my researches into a number of heads, say from a score to two dozen in all, and to set forth my investigations of each together with an exhaustive critical examination of everything of importance that has been said or could be said against my results. Each such paper would be complete in itself, except that it would suppose an acquaintance with those which had gone before. The different memoirs would range from 20,000 to 100,000 words each. Probably it would require, on the average, some ten weeks to prepare each. During the last year I have worked faster, it is true; but I hurried more than I ought to have done. If I lived to complete the plan, as there is every reason to expect that I |64| should under the enormous stimulus which assured aid would give my vitality, the whole when completed would make a large treatise on logic, somewhat the largest ever given to the world. It might be something like a million words. When I speak of the number of words, I mean that it would when properly printed occupy as much space as that number of words of ordinary matter set up solidly. A good deal of it would contain formulae, diagrams, etc.

* * *

  From Draft A - MS L75.29-33  

      But what would be the contents of my three ponderous volumes of logic? I answer, in the first place, in reference to the expectations which would be roused in uninstructed minds by the word "logic," that it would contain a theory of scientific reasoning and also a theory of the reasoning of practical men about every day affairs. These two would be shown to be governed by somewhat different principles, inasmuch as the practical reasoning is forced to reach some definite conclusion promptly, while science can wait a century or five centuries, if need be, before coming to any conclusion at all. Another cause which acts still more strongly to differentiate the methodeutic of theoretical and practical reasoning is that the latter can be regulated by instinct |30| acting in its natural way, while [the] theory of how one should reason depends upon one's ultimate purpose and is modified with every modification of ethics. Theory is thus at a special disadvantage here; but instinct within its proper domain is generally far keener, and surer, and above all swifter, than any deduction from theory can be. Besides, logical instinct has, at all events, to be employed in applying the theory. On the other hand, the ultimate purpose of pure science, as such, is perfectly definite and simple; the theory of purely scientific reasoning can be worked out with mathematical certainty; and the application of the theory does not require the logical instinct to be strained beyond its natural function. On the other hand, if we attempt to apply natural logical instinct to purely scientific questions of any difficulty, it not only becomes uncertain, but if it is heeded, the voice of instinct itself is that objective considerations should be the decisive ones.|31|

      The methodeutic utility of logic is still further limited by the fact that the reasonings of pure mathematics are perfectly evident and have no need of any separate theory of logic to reinforce them. Mathematics is its own logic.

      Furthermore, the three normative sciences, esthetics, ethics, and logic itself, although they do not come under that branch of science called practical, that is, the arts, are nevertheless so far practical that instinct in its natural operation, is perfectly adapted to their reasonings after the subtle analyses of which these sciences themselves take cognizance have prepared the premisses.

      It follows that the only reasonings for which a science of logic is methodeutically useful are those of metaphysics, and the special theoretical sciences, of the physical and the psychical wing. Physical science has hitherto done well enough without any appeal |32| to a science of logic. But at this moment questions of a logical nature have arisen which nothing but a scientific logic are likely to settle. Witness the controversy between those who are about Poincare and those who are about Boltzmann. Witness the still more difficult question of the constitution of matter. To my prevision physics seems to be entering a period when such questions will be multiplied.

      How much the psychical sciences have suffered from the lack of an exact logic can be understood from my memoir on the methods of research into history by means of documents.

      In metaphysics the dependence is much stronger yet, but it is in great part masked by the circumstance that metaphysics is utterly dependent upon logic in a different way which the categories of Kant and even those of Aristotle illustrate. Namely, metaphysics regards the universe as thinking, as representing, and all the logical relations are repeated as meta|33|physical relations. Metaphysics is hardly more than a corollary from logic. Now metaphysics affects physics and the physical sciences most intimately, even more than it does the psychical sciences.

      Thus the methodeutic utility of the science of logic, although it is beyond price, is pretty narrowly limited.


End of PART 1 of 10 of MS L75


Queries, comments, and suggestions to
Joseph Ransdell -- Dept of Philosophy
Texas Tech University, Lubbock Texas 79409


Page last modified jULY 6, 1998

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