Brief Lives

C.S. Peirce (1839-1914)

Was he the greatest American philosopher? Alistair MacFarlane studies the signs.

Look around you. What do you see? Not merely shapes and colours, but things with meanings: tables, chairs, cars, people, animals… You see what Peirce called ‘signs’. Peirce saw reality in terms of what things mean to us, and his world was a world of signs. He regarded even himself as a sign. His theory of semiotics – the study of signs, their function and their interpretation – was only one of his many highly original contributions to philosophy.

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