Partisan "Flags" and a Community of Philosophical Inquirers

Carus letterpress to Peirce - 31 May 1892.pdf

Letterpress of original letter by Paul Carus to Charles S. Peirce, May 31, 1892

Peirce letter to Carus - 3 June 1892.pdf

Letter by Charles S. Peirce to Paul Carus, June 3, 1892

Pythagorics - ms first page.pdf

First page of Peirce's manuscript "Pythagorics"

Recovering from their brief disagreement in late May, Peirce and Carus resolved to be mutual allies as philosophical inquirers. Carus in his letter to Peirce on 31 May tells him that his “impression is that we are working, perhaps not so much in the same line, as on lines converging to a common goal." He instinctually felt this by certain hints suggested in Peirce's writings, which "were straws in the wind, which I observed before making my tests with the vane." This goal he explains is the attainment of truth worked out by a group of unbiased inquirers. Such a group, Carus envisions, is the scholarly community of The Monist. The journal is “broad enough to encompass not only sympathizers and men as you are, who steer for the same goal, but also opponents.” On these grounds, Carus reports once suggesting to Hegeler that their journal be named “Thought,” rather than “The Monist,” in order to remain non-partisan. Yet, Hegeler preferred the latter precisely because “the name of the journal is to him the flag” for his philosophy.

Carus’s letter well expresses Peirce’s own intellectual commitments. Peirce often speaks of an ideal community of inquirers who passionately pursue the truth in and for itself, that is, pursue it in a state of open-mindedness without any ulterior purpose. Not surprisingly, thus, he whole-heartedly agrees with Carus’s letter by responding that the journal title Thought “would have been a superb one.” Further, he completely rejects those who commit to “flags and parties”:

“As for flags and parties in philosophy, I think it is 10 to 1 we all are in the wrong. We should therefore exercise the utmost toleration…. In fact, when philosophy becomes partisan, it may be sophy, but it ceases to be philosophy…. The scientist, like the philosopher, does not busy himself with vindicating doctrines but in searching out truth. He is a student, not a party-leader."

Peirce, in his article “Pythagorics,” published in September, expands on his vision of a community of inquirers: “The individual scholar looks upon himself as only one of a vast army of ants who are collectively building up something which no one of them can comprehend in advance or is destined ever to see, but which is to be the solace, stimulus, and strength of future generations. The student’s life would lack something of its proper dignity if he did not well know, at the outset, that, in embracing it, and thus surrendering the ordinary joys of life, he has to look forward to no personal compensation, whether material or sentimental.”

In these writings Peirce is speaking from first-hand experience and from a sense of his personal destiny as an intellectual martyr in pursuit of truth. As he diligently worked at the construction of his architectonic philosophy, he contrasted his philosophical efforts with those efforts of his contemporary colleagues whom he saw as sophists. Peirce was beginning to see Hegeler as part of this group, but also included would have been the persons who played roles in the loss of his jobs at Johns Hopkins University and the United States Coast Survey. His forced resignation from the latter had only just occurred in December, and it was brought about by impatient and practically-minded managers who did not unconditionally support knowledge for its own sake.