Peirce's First Impression of the the Open Court and the "Conciliation of Religion with Science"

Paul Carus to Charles S. Peirce, 3 September 1890

Letterpress of original letter by Paul Carus to Charles S. Peirce, September 3, 1890

CSP letter to Carus, Sep 6, 1890.pdf

Letter by Charles S. Peirce to Paul Carus, September 6, 1890

CSP letter to Hegeler, Sep 7, 1890.pdf

Letter by Charles S. Peirce to Edward C. Hegeler, September 7, 1890

While exchanging letters with Carus, Peirce had been somewhat covertly critically reflecting on the editor’s philosophical writings, and on the general mission of the Open Court. His book review of Carus’s Fundamental Problems was published in The Nation on 7 August 1890; it contained mixed opinions, notably about The Open Court’s goal to “conciliate religion with science,” as stated in the subtitle printed on each weekly at the time. The review was anonymous, yet that did not stop Hegeler and Carus from suspecting Peirce as author. Hegeler was compelled to publically respond to the critical parts of the review in an Open Court article, published 28 August 1890, and Carus called out Peirce as the author in his letter to him of 3 September (“August 3rd” is a miss-date). While Peirce’s writings provided his first impression of the philosophical and editorial agendas of the publishing company, they also served to initiate a greater philosophical dialogue between Peirce and Carus that would last the remainder of Peirce’s life and that would influence both of their future publications.

In his letter 3 September, Carus mentions Peirce’s objection to the conciliation of religion with science. Peirce’s response is at first coy about admitting to be the true author of the Nation review: “You should not attribute anonymous articles to me, as you don’t know what editorial liberties may have been taken with them.” He suggests, nonetheless, that we should perhaps let religion and science

“work out their own roads to truth.”

Peirce further elaborates his thoughts in his letter to Hegeler. He denies that The Open Court is achieving its aim of conciliation, and accuses Hegeler of “just taking the side of science in advance” in his false hope for a “rational religion.” The problem for Peirce pertains to the method of inquiry. As he explains in his Nation review, Hegeler’s goal is “anti-scientific” and “anti-philosophical” because it relies on an a priori method in its “endeavor to reach a foredetermined conclusion.” Furthermore, it underestimates the tenacity of the religious mind that demands “the unconditional surrender of free thinking”; religious thinking clings to its deeply held spiritual beliefs not admitting scientific fact. Thus, in his letter, Peirce says: “The religious man thinks his God tells him certain things. Science says these things are not true. Shall he go and ask his God if he is not mistaken? He can conclude his religion is false and when he is ready to do so, the priest can come just in time and say that God never dreamt of saying any such thing.”

While these remarks sound critical of religion on the whole, they are directed at the particular corrosive kind of religious thinking Peirce describes in his letter, namely the extreme kind that is anti-scientific in attitude. Yet, religion and science are not downright conflicting, and, so long as they “work out their own roads to truth” while utilizing a scientific method of inquiry, they ought to converge on a shared truth in the indefinite future. In his later writings—even in the ensuing 1890 Monist articles—Peirce in this way and others shows support for religious experience.

Hence begins, in print and out of print, Peirce’s first philosophical dialogue with the Open Court editors. Their debate on religion and science continued for a few years with the next round of exchanges coming in the form of Carus’s “The Unity of Truth,” in the The Open Court (11 September), and Peirce’s untitled note about the inaugural issue of The Monist, in The Nation (23 October). More exchanges followed these, and Peirce would publish three more times with the Open Court company on religion: “The Marriage of Religion and Science,” The Open Court (16 February 1893); “What is Christian Faith?” The Open Court (27 July 1893); and “Evolutionary Love,” The Monist (January 1893).

Peirce's First Impression of the the Open Court and the "Conciliation of Religion with Science"