His Glassy Essence: An Autobiography of Charles Sanders Peirce

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Charles Sanders Peirce (1839-1914), the most important and influential of the classical American philosophers, is credited as the inventor of the philosophical school of pragmatism. The scope and significance of his work have had a lasting effect not only in several fields of philosophy but also in mathematics, the history and philosophy of science, and the theory of signs, as well as in literary and cultural studies. Largely obscure until after his death, Peirce's life has long been a subject of interest and ...
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Overview


Charles Sanders Peirce (1839-1914), the most important and influential of the classical American philosophers, is credited as the inventor of the philosophical school of pragmatism. The scope and significance of his work have had a lasting effect not only in several fields of philosophy but also in mathematics, the history and philosophy of science, and the theory of signs, as well as in literary and cultural studies. Largely obscure until after his death, Peirce's life has long been a subject of interest and dispute. Unfortunately, previous biographies often confuse as much as they clarify crucial matters in Peirce's story. Ketner's new biographical project is remarkable not only for its entertaining aspects but also for its illuminating insights into Peirce's life, his thought, and the intellectual milieu in which he worked.
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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

A wonderful read, based on extensive and meticulous research--a book one finds hard to put down.
--Ruth Anna Putnam, Wellesley College

In creating an intriguing 'scholarly' mystery as the setting for his life of Peirce, Ketner tells a story that gives a sense of excitement and satisfaction unusual for intellectual biographies, one that will convince readers that Peirce is a neglected American treasure.
--Nathan Houser, Peirce Edition Project

J. Bottum
...Ketner has a good imgination, an easy prose style, and as complete a knowledge of the history of American philosophy as anyone alive....To explain why Peirce failed...would require a great intellectual biography....Ketner has all the credentials to produce that book.
National Review
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Having published eight books on C.S. Peirce, the founder of American pragmatism, Ketner is an acknowledged authority on the man as well as a true believer. The collected papers of Peirce (pronounced Purse) were published in multivolume editions, but Peirce never wrote an autobiography. To make up for this omission, Ketner has begun to write one for him in the first of three planned volumes. To produce this work of literary nonfiction, Ketner has inserted imagined speeches by Peirce and passages from Peirce's letters and philosophic writings where he "waxed autobiographical." To move the story along, Ketner introduces a narrator and two other fictional characters who function as intellectual detectives, separating genuine revelations from bogus ones. Their sleuthing may be helped or hindered by the fact that the narrator believes he is possessed by the spirit of Peirce. The reader is therefore confronted by a real author (Ketner), a dead subject (Peirce), fictional characters and reconstructed and imagined events. Using this convention, Ketner is able to make Peirce more immediate, and he weaves together an impressive amount of research on Peirce's early life, connecting thoughts to the thinker. However, the device of fictional scholarship becomes very complicated, awkward and, ultimately, impossible to sustain. If, as pragmatism claims, truth is whatever works, then this book cannot be called true.
Library Journal
The word autobiography in the subtitle should be in quotes, because this is an autobiography only in the sense that Ketner philosophy, Texas Tech Univ. uses as his primary source Peirce's own words concerning the facts and events in his life as found in his published and unpublished writings. Ketner adopts an innovative, mystery novel-like approach here: he invents several contemporaneous fictional characters, then follows them on a journey to fill in the gaps of a manuscript, found in an old box, purporting to be Peirce's autobiography. These characters then track Peirce 1839-1914 through the first 28 years of his life two more volumes are planned. This device not only allows Ketner to supply biographical information but also, along the way, to explicate Peirce's philosophical thinking up to that point in his life. This entertaining yet scholarly read would be accessible to the novice but could also prove useful and informative to the advanced student or professional philosopher. Highly recommended.--Leon H. Brody, U.S. Office of Personnel Mgt. Lib., Washington, DC
J. Bottum
...Ketner has a good imgination, an easy prose style, and as complete a knowledge of the history of American philosophy as anyone alive....To explain why Peirce failed...would require a great intellectual biography....Ketner has all the credentials to produce that book.
National Review
Kirkus Reviews
Framed as an "autobiography" full of deliberate fictional creations, this life of Pragmatismþs founding genius is a breathtakingly original attempt to reinvent the dry habitudes of biography. Unfortunately, it is also an epic, perplexing failure. The first of an anticipated three volumes, this account takes us, in a jittering, wildly idiosyncratic way, through the first 28 years (childhood and schooling) of Peirceþs life. In the frame-tale manner so popular in the 19th-century novel, Ketner (Philosophy/Texas Tech Univ., A Thief of Peirce: The Letters of Kenneth Laine Ketner and Walker Percy, not reviewed) has created a labyrinth of multiple narrations. First off, there is fictional interpolator Ike Eisenstaat, a writer of detective stories. Digging through a box that his wife, Betsey Darbey, inherited, he comes across Peirceþs fragmentary autobiography, which he then proceeds to flesh out with additional notes, anecdotes, commentary, etc. Then there are the explications of Peirceþs philosophy, provided by his centenarian student, LeRoi Wyttynys. The autobiography as such consists of Ketnerþs clever, but impossibly fragmentary, compilation and distillation of autobiographical snippets from Peirceþs various writings. Peirce was one of the 19th centuryþs great minds; his influence on everything from philosophy to semiotics has been enormous. But he is not well served here. The general effect is confusion and tedium. Ketner knows his subject almost too well, forgetting that the general reader, especially given the complexity of Peirceþs thought, needs a more straightforward grounding, at least intermittently. The author does dig up someinteresting tidbits, including a secret first marriage, and convincingly traces, as much as his disjointed structure allows, the early beginnings of Peirceþs ideas. But as much as one wants to salute this audacious project, Ketnerþs style, sensibility, and methodology donþt rise to the occasion, begging the ultimate question, "Why?"
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Product Details

Meet the Author


Kenneth Laine Ketner is the Charles Sanders Peirce Professor of Philosophy at Texas Tech University and the director of its Institute for Studies in Pragmaticism. He is editor of several works by and about Peirce and was co-organizer of the Charles S. Peirce International Congress held at Harvard in 1989. He is also one of the two principals in a noteworthy volume of correspondence with Walker Percy (A Thief of Peirce: The Letters of Kenneth Laine Ketner and Walker Percy, published in 1995).
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