rkatkinsMy review of Richard K. Atkins‘s Peirce and the Conduct of Life:  Sentiment and Instinct in Ethics and Religion posted today to NDPR.

In writing it, I discovered just how hard it is to distill one’s engagement with a book into 2500 words – I have a newfound appreciation for this form of philosophical writing, which now seems to me an art of its own.

The main puzzle I faced was how to balance what I wanted to say to Peirce students and scholars with what I wanted to say to the general readership served by NDPR.  I erred on the side of writing as if to the latter audience, so I want to say here what I would say to Peirce scholars: go buy this book posthaste!*

Here’s why:

  • I’ve been working on Peirce since 2004 and I learned *a ton* from reading this book.  (KB and I have already cited it in a forthcoming paper.)
  • I’ve long been inclined to think that much changes (and largely for the better) in Peirce’s writings after the turn of the century, and Richard does a very effective job of demonstrating that one of the things that changes is the way Peirce approaches questions concerning conduct (and good conduct).
  • I most usually use my forty-foot pole when it comes to the things Peirce says about philosophy of religion, but Richard’s careful and charitable reconstruction of Peirce’s main lines of thought in that area persuaded me that a ten-foot pole will do.  Believe me, that’s a victory and a testament to Richard’s impeccable scholarship.
  • If you have ever published anything about Peirce, I will bet you a toonie (but not a glow in the dark one, those are my preciousss) that Richard has read it.  The bibliography is like a state of the union snapshot of Peirce scholarship in 2016.  Every grad student working on Peirce should have this volume for its comprehensive engagement with the secondary literature.

So this is sort of the conundrum I faced: it will be hard for a reader new to Peirce to appreciate what an accomplishment this book is.  But you, dear readers, will be able to see this for what it is: a major accomplishment.

– DH


*Update: in re-reading this, I realize that I implied that everyone who might want to buy this book could just head out and do that.  That obviously isn’t true, and I apologize for failing to recognize that in my initial post.  Many, many, many grad students, non-TT faculty, and early career folks do not have the financial resources.  So please let me mention that another common route to a book one wants to read is to have one’s library procure it – which they’ll usually be more willing to do if an electronic copy will do the trick.  Of course, not everyone is at an institution that has the resources to do that, either.

So here’s a proposal: I was writing from a position of privilege in making my recommendation that interested readers should buy the book.  My library bought the volume in hardback when it came out, and then Cambridge sent me a review copy, so I had free access twice.  I propose to pass that access along – if you want a copy of Atkins’s book and (a) are a graduate student or non-TT faculty member, who will (b) report back to our readers with your own thoughts on the book, and perhaps even do a guest post for the blog or an online reading group or something, email me at peircepageaday[at]gmail[dot]com.  I will send copies to the first two respondents who meet (a) and (b).  More good books being read in the world = more better.