T.S. Eliot and Charles Peirce : a study of the influence of Peircean philosophy on the philosophy, poetry and criticism of T.S. Eliot.
This is a study of the relationship between the philosophy of
Charles Peirce and the philosophy, criticism and poetic methodology
of T.S. Eliot.
I begin by considering Peirce's connections with Harvard
University, and the effects of Peircean philosophy on the ideas and
teaching methods of the philosophers who taught Eliot at Harvard
between 1907 and 1914.
I discuss Peirce's sign-theory of cognition, and consider ho~
this theory may have influenced Eliot's choice of a poetic method -
his choice, that is, to write a poetry of 'signification'. I argue
that the choice of such a method by Eliot evidences a Peircean conception
I consider the Pragmatism of Peirce, and argue that Eliot' ~
poems consistently present a 'pragmatistic' view of reality, a Vl~
of reality as dependent upon, or identifiable with, actio]
('practice'). Conversely, ~eality in the poetry of Eliot i:
frequently represented in terms of a failure of practice, the fail
ure to act. Central to Peirce's Pragmatism is the theory that a
experience of the world as 'real' requires the sense of continuit
in experience. I discuss this theory as it is found in the work 0
Peirce and William James, and argue that in the poems and plays c
Eliot reality is consistently represented as directly dependent upc
continuity and coherence in experience.
Associated with the Pragmatism of William James is the VlE
that our 'habits' of perception and behaviour are what literal]
determine the identity (and thus the reality) of objects. I discu~
the extent to which 'habits' of various kinds (including Freudic , ceremonials') are represented in Eliot's poems as that In which
reality in same sense inheres.
I discuss finally Peirce's conception of the crucial function
of 'Doubt' in the quest for knowledge specifically in the
'scientific method' of inquiry. I argue that doubt plays a crucial
role in Eliot's poetry, and performs an essentially Peircean
function in Eliot's quest for reality and truth.