Code: PP-1


Proposal for Poster Presentation

"The Structure and Compositional History of Peirce's How to Reason"


Description of the project

The poster will present the basic structure and compositional history of Peirce s logic book How to Reason; later also referred to as the Grand Logic. Peirce s How to Reason will be published as volume 10 of the Writings. The poster will show how the logic book evolved from earlier projects, what transitions the document went trough, and what sorts of manuscript material remain. The poster will illustrate in particular how the history and composition of the document is derived from surviving material and what kind of problems are encountered in this process.

A one-sheet handout will be made available containing a short paper on How to Reason, which appeared as "The History of Peirce s 1894 Logic Book," (Peirce Edition Project Newsletter 3.2 [2000]: 4-5). This short paper is a product of part of the research that will be presented on the poster; research that is still ongoing. The background information given below also comes from this paper.

Materials to be included

Diagram outlining the history of the manuscript with notes on the compositional history of the document and illustrated with reduced photocopies of manuscript pages, annotated proof pages, correspondence etc.


How to Reason is in part the outcome of several earlier projects that failed. In 1892, the Open Court Publishing Company offered to publish in book form the series of articles called "The Critic of Arguments," which Peirce had begun writing for the weekly The Open Court. However, due to complex interpersonal relations, fueled in part by Peirce s misguided suspicions, this enterprise fell through. In 1893, Peirce refocused his attention and conceived of a volume containing revised versions of his published essays, entitled Search for a Method. Some of these essays have survived, while others made their way into How to Reason. For instance, chapter fifteen of How to Reason was formerly "Essay III," and illustrations for "Essay I" have been cut out and glued on the manuscript of chapter nine.

Shortly thereafter, perhaps inspired by the great success of Herbert Spencer s multi-volume Synthetic Philosophy, Peirce abandoned his one-volume Search for a Method to embark on a much more ambitious enterprise. In November 1893, he wrote to publisher Henry Holt that he planned to write a series of small books under the title Tractates of Synechism or Synechistic Philosophy, and he envisioned producing about four volumes a year. A few weeks later, this project developed into the better known The Principles of Philosophy: Or, Logic, Physics and Psychics, Considered as a Unity, in the Light of the Nineteenth Century, a series of twelve volumes for which Peirce had a circular and a syllabus printed. The plan was to sell the series by subscription.

On 26 December 1893, Peirce wrote a letter to William James, asking him to endorse this project, adding, "the first two volumes are nearly ready; the first needs a month s work." In a syllabus written to promote the series of volumes, Peirce further indicated that the first volume was "nearly ready" and the second "substantially ready." Although Peirce received some subscriptions for the series, the project never really got off the ground.

It is the second volume, entitled Theory of Demonstrative Reasoning, that concerns us most here, as it is probably his work on this volume that eventually evolved into How to Reason. Peirce described the volume as "a plain, elementary account of formal logic, ordinary and relative & carefully adapted to the use of young persons of mediocre capacities."

It is hard to estimate exactly what Peirce meant by the volume being "substantially ready." It is likely, however, that he continued to work extensively on it during the first half of 1894. In June of that year he sent the manuscript to the Boston office of Ginn & Co., a textbook publisher. They rejected the manuscript on the grounds that it was not suitable as a college textbook. The next mention of the manuscript occurs in a letter from Peirce to Francis Russell early in September. Peirce wrote Russell that he was holding back on the manuscript "to make some alterations which I have no time to make at present." A few days later, on September 8, he wrote Russell again, reaffirming that the volume was now "completely ready for the press; though I am anxious to make some alterations in it."

In the same month, Peirce received a letter from George Plimpton from the New York office of Ginn & Co. in which he invited Peirce to submit a short logic book "after the plan of Jevons." Of this work, which he called the Short Logic, Peirce completed only the first chapter. Later in the year, Peirce submitted How to Reason to another textbook publisher, the American Book Company. Although we have not found an actual rejection letter, it appears that the manuscript was not accepted.

In March of the following year, 1895, Peirce seems to have given up on the idea of publishing How to Reason. In a letter to his brother Jem he wrote, "I had a great ambition to some day write a Popular Logic for the Million But I must be upon my guard against things I have an inclination for." However, in August Peirce was back in the running, writing Francis Russell that his logic "has been completed & largely rewritten." It is unclear whether he submitted the manuscript at this point, but he may have tried to strike a deal by combining it with his geometry textbook, an extensively revised republication of his father s Elementary Treatise on Geometry. Whatever happened, by November, part of the manuscript had ended up in the hands of Russell in Chicago, who kept it until June 1896. A few months later, Peirce asked Russell about the possibility of publishing How to Reason with the Open Court, adding that the chapter on quantitative logic, which he had sent to Russell earlier, needed serious revision, requiring a "few months more of terribly hard work."

Two years later, in 1898, D.C. Heath & Co. invited Peirce, on the recommendation of Josiah Royce, to write a small logic manual. Peirce optimistically replied by sending a proposal for three small volumes, in which he probably sought to include the material from How to Reason. Peirce s proposal was more than the editors of Heath & Co. had bargained for. On top of that, they thought Peirce s logic was terribly outdated. They answered, "From your description of your work it is evidently scholastic and belongs to a period of thought which rather antedates the present marked interest in science." This seems to mark the end of Peirce s attempts to get the manuscript published