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Charles Sanders Peirce Biography

(1839–1914), Collected Papers, Letters to Lady Welby, icon, index, symbol, context

American philosopher, born in Cambridge, Massachusetts, educated at Harvard; he was a lecturer at Johns Hopkins University between 1879 and 1884. Peirce is considered to be the founder of pragmatism, in which he took truth to be the sum total of the conceivable effects of a particular object, as he states in his wellknown axiom: ‘Consider what effects, that might conceivably have practical bearings, we conceive the object of our conception to have. Then, our conception of those effects is the whole of our conception of the object.’ Peirce's essays on logic, epistemology, and metaphysics were published posthumously in the eight-volume Collected Papers (19311958) and in Letters to Lady Welby (1953). With the developments in structuralism by such theorists as Roman Jakobson and Umberto Eco, Peirce has recaptured philosophical interest owing to his pioneering work on signs and semiotics. Few writers have dedicated such effort to the definition of ‘the meaning of meaning’ than Peirce, who believed that he was dealing with the foundations of logic, since he perceived logic to be the science of the basic laws of signs. The motivation behind his semiotic analyses was the attempt to provide better grounds for belief and disbelief, and to teach us how to clarify our ideas sufficiently to verify their truthfulness. His framework for the existence of knowledge derives from the triad of signs: icon, index, and symbol. Since all signs include some aspects of the signifying functions of this triad, Peirce developed a complex system of the classification of signs upon this basis. Since a sign can function in one or more modes of signification, the ultimate nature of a sign's dominant mode will finally depend on its context. Peirce's semiotic theories are increasingly being used as a means to investigate and to explicate the mutations in language and culture, clarifying both the sense of grammar and the sense of change.

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Literature Reference: American Literature, English Literature, Classics & Modern FictionEncyclopedia of Literature: Cynthia Ozick Biography to Ellis Peters Biography