Charles S. Peirce Papers

More than 100,000 pages of working notes and drafts by the influential philosopher and scientist.

About Charles S. Peirce

Charles Peirce's labyrinth drawing
Labyrinth, from [Fragments on Games]: autograph manuscript, undated. MS Am 1632 (1537)
Houghton Library

One of the most creative and versatile intellectual figures of the last two centuries, Charles Sanders Peirce was a mathematician and a scientist, but is now best known as a philosopher, the founder of American pragmatism, and as a theorist of logic as semiotic (the theory of signs). 

For 32 years he practiced geodesy and chemistry for the U.S. Coast and Geodesic Survey, and his polymathic mind led him to research and writing on an immense range of topics.

Peirce called himself a logician, and his logical theories informed his work in pragmatism, metaphysics, scientific analyses, historical studies, and even his experimental work. The logic of scientific methodology, particularly the logic of discovery, interested him deeply, and makes his work significant today.

Interest in Peirce’s concepts now goes far outside the boundary of academic philosophy, with groundbreaking contributions to mathematics, experimental psychology, cosmology, cartography, historiography, and computer science. His work has had application to intelligence organizations, the military, technology, and transdisciplinary science.

 

Charles Peirce, Prolegomena to an Apology for Pragmatism manuscript
Prolegomena to an Apology for Pragmatism, autograph manuscript, circa 1906. MS Am 1632 (292a) p. 44.
Houghton Library

The Peirce Archive

The Peirce papers at Houghton Library comprise an estimated 100,000 pages. Peirce published some 12,000 pages of scientific and philosophical work during his lifetime. The Chronological Edition of the Peirce Edition Project has published eight of a projected 30 volumes, editing works through 1892.  

But Peirce’s mature work is only available in his papers at Houghton Library. These, estimated at some 50,000 manuscript pages, remain unpublished, and are in brittle condition. Some of these documents were published on microfilm 60 years ago.

Further, while several efforts have been made to categorize and catalog them, most notably by Richard Robin, Peirce’s essentially non-linear working method, his habit of writing and re-writing and revising through several (usually undated) drafts, combined with his increased use of colorful graphical representation, makes presentation in printed transcription difficult.

The Digitization Initiative

Digitization of the Peirce papers makes the raw material for further study of his concepts freely available to all. While some 2,000 images are now available, a group of Peirce scholars has initiated an effort to digitize the important late manuscripts, some 50,000 pages.

This copyright-free material can then be transcribed and assembled by researchers worldwide: as conjectured reconstructions of Peirce’s intended works, or in research to apply his ideas, or to continue developing his many promising insights. In online media Peirce’s ideas can continue to evolve, with broad participation from scientific and other disciplinary perspectives, as Peirce would have hoped.

Support Digitization 

Digitization goal: $50,000

Raised to date: $11,635 (last updated August 2019)

Further Reading

 

Prelogical Notions. Section I. Classification of the Sciences (Logic II), autograph manuscript, begun February 20, 1902. MS Am 1632 (427).
Houghton Library

Accessing These Materials

A summary description of the Charles S. Peirce Papers can be found in HOLLIS. A more detailed guide to the collection, with links to those documents that have been digitized and put online, can be found in HOLLIS for Archival Discovery.

The papers are kept onsite, and are available in the Houghton Reading Room.

Contact

Houghton Reference