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. In fact, C.S. Peirce is now regarded by many as the greatest American philosopher – yet he was dismissed from the only academic position he ever held, and he died a poverty-stricken outcast.