Charles Sanders Peirce - Life

Life

Peirce was born at 3 Phillips Place in Cambridge, Massachusetts. He was the son of Sarah Hunt Mills and Benjamin Peirce, himself a professor of astronomy and mathematics at Harvard University and perhaps the first serious research mathematician in America. At age 12, Charles read his older brother's copy of Richard Whately's Elements of Logic, then the leading English-language text on the subject. So began his lifelong fascination with logic and reasoning. He went on to earn the B.A. and M.A. from Harvard; in 1863 the Lawrence Scientific School awarded him a B.Sc. that was Harvard's first summa cum laude chemistry degree; and otherwise his academic record was undistinguished. At Harvard, he began lifelong friendships with Francis Ellingwood Abbot, Chauncey Wright, and William James. One of his Harvard instructors, Charles William Eliot, formed an unfavorable opinion of Peirce. This opinion proved fateful, because Eliot, while President of Harvard 1869–1909—a period encompassing nearly all of Peirce's working life—repeatedly vetoed Harvard's employing Peirce in any capacity.

Peirce suffered from his late teens onward from a nervous condition then known as "facial neuralgia", which would today be diagnosed as trigeminal neuralgia. Brent says that when in the throes of its pain "he was, at first, almost stupefied, and then aloof, cold, depressed, extremely suspicious, impatient of the slightest crossing, and subject to violent outbursts of temper". Its consequences may have led to the social isolation which made his life's later years so tragic.

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