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Charles Peirce's Reading of Richard Whately's Elements of Logic

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Charles S. Peirce frequently mentioned reading Richard Whately's Elements of Logic when he was 12 years old. Throughout his life, Peirce emphasized the importance of that experience. This valorization of Whately is puzzling at first. Early in his career Peirce rejected Whately's central logical doctrines. What valuable insight concerning logic was robust enough to survive these specific rejections? Peirce recommended a biographical approach to understanding his philosophy. This essay follows that suggestion by considering Peirce's reading of Whately in a larger life context. Surprisingly many factors in Charles Peirce's personal and intellectual development were at play when he read Whately. His father, Benjamin Peirce, oversaw rigorous home schooling intended to train young Charley for a brilliant intellectual career. Laboratory experience with qualitative chemical analysis exposed the boy to the logic of scientific investigation, specifically to the hypothetico-deductive method of inquiry. However, tensions between father and son developed over Charles' wish to devote his life to studying the logic of science. The two also disagreed upon the value of formal science. Against this background we will review relevant logical doctrines of Whately's book, as well as his innovative formalizing practice of logical inquiry. Then we will see that it was Whately's lessons about formal science that were of such importance to Peirce.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 2005-02-01

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