Peirce and the Open Court

Charles S. Peirce

Charles S. Peirce, American philosopher and scientist

Paul Carus

Paul Carus, editor of The Monist and The Open Court

Charles S. Peirce (1839–1914), deemed the “American Aristotle,” is a famous philosopher and scientist of the 19th and 20th centuries. He is most well-known today as the inventor of pragmatism. He also made important contributions to many other fields, including semiotics, metaphysics, cosmology, phenomenology, psychology, astronomy, chemistry, scientific methodology, logic, mathematics, geodesy, and metrology.

A very important part of Peirce’s career as a philosopher was his relationship with the Open Court Publishing Company, La Salle, IL. During the period of 1890–1910, he published some of his major writings with the company. The company was owned by Edward C. Hegeler (1835-1910) and it ran two periodicals, The Monist (a quarterly philosophy journal) and The Open Court (a semimonthly then weekly journal). Peirce would in total publish thirteen articles in the former and six articles in the latter, as well as book reviews and other items. Today scholars recognize that this relationship was “by far the most important outlet for Peirce's mature philosophy” in his lifetime.

The first years of Peirce’s relationship with the Open Court, 1890–1893, were especially important. Peirce elected to use the new publishing platform to present, for the first time in his career, a comprehensive and systematic account of his metaphysics. The plan would amount to a series of five articles in The Monist arguing for his theories of tychism, synechism, objective idealism, agapism, and evolutionary cosmology. While composing his writings, Peirce also fomented a relationship with the German editor Paul Carus (1852-1919) who became an important interlocutor on essential philosophical ideas.

Unfortunately, these important philosophical years simultaneously marked the beginning of great hardship and poverty defining the end of Peirce’s life, precipitated by the loss of his job as a university professor and forced resignation as a professional scientist. While the bedrock of Peirce's future reputation as a first-tier world philosopher was being laid, his personal life was crumbling around him. Both of these dimensions of Peirce’s life we read in his early correspondence with Carus.

The Open Court Publishing Company Records at Southern Illinois University Carbondale contain original hand-written manuscripts by Peirce. There are off-prints of articles with Peirce’s hand-written marginalia and correspondence between Peirce, Carus, and Hegeler. The collection is an important resource of biographical information about Peirce's later life and essential ideas of his philosophy.

Peirce and the Open Court