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SAAP Annual Meeting 2018

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Peirce and the Religious Ethos: The Case of Prison Reform

Peirce’s sentimental conservatism—the view that in the conduct of life we ought not to trust too much to our theories and reasons (conservatism) but instead should trust to our sentiments and instincts (sentimentalism)—is consistent with promoting progressive reforms. One way in which Peirce promotes such reforms is by way of an appeal to the religious sentiments. This is especially evident in his brief essay “Dmesis,” which has received little attention in the scholarly literature. In it, Peirce argues in favor of prison reform by appealing to the Christian sentiments. I will briefly explain the state of the prison system when Peirce wrote “Dmesis” and show that it is not much unlike today. Second, I examine the religiously-informed argument of Peirce’s article.

Richard Atkins
Boston College
United States


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