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the Metaphysical Club

by John Shook


          The Metaphysical Club was an informal discussion group of scholarly friends, close from their associations with Harvard University, that started in 1871 and continued until spring 1879. This Club had two primary phases, distinguished from each other by the most active participants and the topics pursued. The first phase of the Metaphysical Club lasted from 1871 until mid-1875, while the second phase existed from early 1876 until spring 1879. The dominant theme of first phase was pragmatism, while idealism dominated the second phase. The "pragmatist" first phase of the Metaphysical Club was organized by Charles Peirce (Harvard graduate and occasional lecturer), Chauncey Wright (Harvard graduate and occasional lecturer), and William James (Harvard graduate and instructor of physiology and psychology). These three philosophers were then formulating recognizably pragmatist views. Other active members of the "Pragmatist" Metaphysical Club were two more Harvard graduates and local lawyers, Nicholas St. John Green and Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., who were also advocating pragmatic views of human conduct and law. The "idealist" second phase of the Metaphysical Club was organized and led by idealists who showed no interest in pragmatism: Thomas Davidson (independent scholar), George Holmes Howison (professor of philosophy at nearby Massachusetts Institute of Technology), and James Elliot Cabot (Harvard graduate and Emerson scholar). There was some continuity between the two phases. Although Peirce had departed in April 1875 for a year in Europe, and Wright died in September 1875, most of the original members from the first phase were available for a renewed second phase. By January 1876 the "Idealist" Metaphysical Club (for James still was referring to a metaphysical club in a letter of 10 February 1876) was meeting regularly for discussions first on Hume, then proceeding through Kant and Hegel in succeeding years. Besides Davidson, Howison, and Cabot, the most active members appear to be William James, Charles Carroll Everett (Harvard graduate and Dean of its Divinity School), George Herbert Palmer (Harvard graduate and professor of philosophy), and Francis Ellingwood Abbott (Harvard graduate and independent scholar). Other occasional participants include Francis Bowen (Harvard graduate and professor of philosophy), Nicholas St. John Green, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., and G. Stanley Hall (Harvard graduate and psychologist).

          The Metaphysical Club was a nine-year episode within a much broader pattern of informal philosophical discussion that occurred in the Boston area from the 1850s to the 1880s. Chauncey Wright, renowned in town for his social demeanor and remarkable intelligence, had been a central participant in various philosophy clubs and study groups dating as early as his own college years at Harvard in the early 1850s. Wright, Peirce, James, and Green were the most active members of the Metaphysical Club from its inception in 1871. By mid-1875 the original Metaphysical Club was no longer functioning; James was the strongest connection between the first and second phases, helping Thomas Davidson to collect the members of the "Idealist" Metaphysical Club. James also was a link to the next philosophical club, the "Hegel Club", which began in fall 1880 in connection with George Herbert Palmer's seminar on Hegel. By winter 1881 the Hegel Club had expanded to include several from the Metaphysical Club, including James, Cabot, Everett, Howison, Palmer, Abbott, Hall, and the newcomer William Torrey Harris who had taken up residence in Concord. This Hegel Club was in many ways a continuation of the St. Louis Hegelian Society from the late 1850s and 1860s, as Harris, Howison, Davidson, and their Hegelian students had moved east. The Concord Summer School of Philosophy (1879-1888), under the leadership of Amos Bronson Alcott and energized by the Hegelians, soon brought other young American scholars into the orbit of the Cambridge clubs, such as John Dewey.

          The "Pragmatist" Metaphysical Club met on irregular occasions, probably fortnightly during the Club's most active period of fall 1871 to winter 1872, and they usually met in the home of Charles Peirce or William James in Cambridge. This Club met for four years until mid-1875, when their diverse career demands, extended travels to Europe, and early deaths began to disperse them. The heart of the club was the close bonds between five very unusual thinkers on the American intellectual scene. Chauncey Wright and Charles Sanders Peirce shared the same scientific interests and outlook, having adopted a positivistic and evolutionary stance, and their common love for philosophical discussion sparked the club's beginnings. Wright's old friend and lawyer Nicholas St. John Green was glad to be included, as was Peirce's good friend William James who had also gone down the road towards empiricism and evolutionism. William James brought along his best friend, the lawyer Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., who like Green was mounting a resistance to the legal formalism dominating that era. Green brought fellow lawyer Joseph Bangs Warner, and the group also invited two philosophers who had graduated with them from Harvard, Francis Ellingwood Abbott and John Fiske, who were both interested in evolution and metaphysics. Other occasional members were Henry Ware Putnam, Francis Greenwood Peabody, and William Pepperell Montague.

        Activities of the "Pragmatist" Metaphysical Club were recorded only by Peirce, William James, and William's brother Henry James, who all describe intense and productive debates on many philosophical problems. Both Peirce and James recalled that the name of the club was the "Metaphysical" Club. Peirce suggests that the name indicated their determination to discuss deep scientific and metaphysical issues despite that era's prevailing positivism and agnosticism. A successful "Metaphysical Club" in London was also not unknown to them. Peirce later stated that the club witnessed the birth of the philosophy of pragmatism in 1871, which he elaborated (without using the term 'pragmatism' itself) in published articles in the late 1870s. His own role as the "father of pragmatism" should not obscure, in Peirce's view, the importance of Nicholas Green. Green should be recognized as pragmatism's "grandfather" because, in Peirce's words, Green had "often urged the importance of applying Alexander Bain's definition of belief as 'that upon which a man is prepared to act,' from which 'pragmatism is scarce more than a corollary'." Chauncey Wright also deserves considerable credit, for as both Peirce and James recall, it was Wright who demanded a phenomenalist and fallibilist empiricism as a vital alternative to rationalistic speculation.

         The several lawyers in this club took great interest in evolution, empiricism, and Bain's pragmatic definition of belief. They were also acquainted with James Stephen's A General View of the Criminal Law in England, which also pragmatically declared that people believe because they must act. At the time of the Metaphysical Club, Green and Holmes were primarily concerned with special problems in determining criminal states of mind and general problems of defining the nature of law in a culturally evolutionary way. Both Green and Holmes made important advances in the theory of negligence which relied on a pragmatic approach to belief and established a "reasonable person" standard. Holmes went on to explore pragmatic definitions of law that look forward to future judicial consequences rather than to past legislative decisions.

          Below are brief expositions of principal members of the "Pragmatist" Metaphysical Club -- Green, Wright, Holmes, Peirce, and James -- with full bibliographies for Wright and Green. The other better-known figures have brief bibliographies of important writings during the decade of their closest interactions from 1868 to 1882, and suggests links to more resources.


Further Reading

Fisch, Max H. "Was There a Metaphysical Club in Cambridge?" in Studies in the Philosophy of Charles Sanders Peirce, ed. Edward C. Moore and Richard S. Robin (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1964), pp. 3-32.

Fisch, Max H. Peirce, Semeiotic, and Pragmatism, ed. Kenneth L. Ketner and Christian J. W. Kloesel (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1986). See these chapters: "A Chronicle of Pragmaticism, 1865-1879" pp. 114-136; "Philosophical Clubs in Cambridge and Boston" pp. 137-170; "Justice Holmes, the Prediction Theory of Law, and Pragmatism" pp. 6-18; "Alexander bain and the genealogy of Pragmatism" pp. 79-109.

Menand, Louis. The Metaphysical Club: A Story of Ideas in America (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2001).

Wiener, Philip P. Evolution and the Founders of Pragmatism (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1949).



Chauncey Wright (1830-1875)

Chauncey Wright was born on 20 September 1830 in Northampton, Massachusetts. He entered Harvard College in 1848, and displayed a facility with philosophy and a remarkable ability in mathematics that impressed even Professor Benjamin Peirce. He graduated with Harvard's BA in 1852. No academic or ministerial position seemed possible in light of his atheism and positivism, but Professor Peirce ensured that Wright was soon hired as a computer for the Nautical Almanac, keeping him salaried until 1870. In 1860 Wright was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, serving as its secretary and editing its volumes of proceedings from 1863 to 1870. His Harvard friends encouraged his scientific and philosophical interests by demanding his articles and reviews for their journals The Nation and North American Review. Wright twice gave lectures at Harvard, on Bain's psychology (1870) and mathematical physics (1874). During his travels in England during the summer of 1872 he was able to visit his friend Charles Darwin, but not his hero John Stuart Mill. Wright died on 12 September 1875 in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

                Wright was continually at the center of philosophical discussion clubs in Cambridge, of which the most famous was what Charles Peirce called the "Metaphysical Club." Wright's devotion to John Stuart Mill's empiricism and Darwin's theory of natural selection was very influential on several members of the club. Darwin himself was highly impressed by Wright's helpful defenses and elaborations of natural selection, including Wright's attempt to locate human consciousness in the evolutionary world-view. Three stances of Wright were especially important for the later development of the Cambridge school of pragmatism: (1) his positivism and utilitarianism; (2) his demand that inductive scientific method anticipates new phenomena in consequence of theory as much as theory is built on past observations (a trial and error theory of learning acquired from Bain's Emotions and the Will); and (3) his confidence that humanity can be brought into the evolutionary perspective. However, Wright would have disdained many of Peirce's and James more metaphysical and teleological theories on natural laws and the mind-body relation, and his sharp dichotomy between facts and values would be challenged by James and Dewey. An ironic anecdote about Wright concerns his rejection of W.T. Harris's paper on Spencer for North American Review, calling it the "mere dry husk of Hegelianism." This rejection so enraged Harris that he founded the Journal of Speculative Philosophy the next year (1867) and made his essay the lead article. Thus Wright indirectly launched the career of pragmatist John Dewey, who published his first articles in the Journal of Speculative Philosophy. [Philip Wiener, Evolution and the Founders of Pragmatism, p. 259.]

See Jean De Groot's article on Chauncey Wright at


Most of Wright's important articles and reviews were collected in Philosophical Discussions by Chauncey Wright with a Biographical Sketch of the Author, ed. Charles Eliot Norton (New York, Henry Holt, 1877). Most of his letters were preserved in Letters of Chauncey Wright with some Account of His Life, ed. James Bradley Thayer (Cambridge, Mass.: John Wilson and Son, 1878). Both volumes were reprinted as vols. 1 and 2 of The Evolutionary Philosophy of Chauncey Wright, ed. Frank X. Ryan (Bristol, UK: Thoemmes Press, 2000). The only other collection of Wright's writings is The Philosophical Writings of Chauncey Wright: Representative Selections, ed. Edward H. Madden (New York, Liberal Arts Press, 1958).

Wright's extant letters are in various files of his friends such as Charles E. Norton and James B. Thayer at Harvard University. Some more letters and three school essays are at the American Philosophical Society in Philadelphia. His letters to Charles Darwin are at Cambridge University. The Darwin-Wright letters have been published in Wright's Letters and/or Darwin's Correspondence. See the website catalog of Darwin-Wright letters and related letters. See also Edward Madden, "Chauncey Wright's Life and Work: Some New Material," Journal of the History of Ideas 15 (1954): 445-455. In this article Madden reprints discovered letters not published in the Letters, and he also reprints a brief manuscript comparing animal and human intellect that was written during Wright's college years, probably 1852. Philip Wiener in Evolution and the Founders of Pragmatism (Appendix B, pp. 213-220) lists letters that were then held in Northampton, Mass., but most of them now appear in the list of letters in the American Philosophical Society collection. Wiener published two of Wright's school essays in Appendix B. This bibliography compiles publications from the contents of Philosophical Discussions, pieces mentioned in the Letters, and additional references gleaned from writings about Wright. The editor of Letters mentions that Wright published pieces in the New York Evening Post, but they have not been discovered.



"On the Phyllotaxis." Astronomical Journal 5.99 (December 1856): 22-24.

"Life." Autobiographical essay written in 1858 with photograph and addenda. Harvard Class of 1852 Class Book, pp. 530-533. Harvard University Archives, HUD 252.714. A large portion of this essay is reprinted in "Biographical Sketch of Chauncey Wright" by Charles Eliot Norton, in Philosophical Discussions by Chauncey Wright, ed. C. E. Norton (New York, Henry Holt, 1878), pp. 4-7.

"The Winds and the Weather." Atlantic Monthly 1.3 (January 1858): 272-279.

"The Prismoidal Formula." Runkle's Mathematical Monthly 1.1 (October 1858): 21-?.

"Extension of the Prismoidal Formula." Runkle's Mathematical Monthly 1.2 (November 1858): 53-?.

"The Most Thorough Uniform Distribution of Points about an Axis." Runkle's Mathematical Monthly 1.7 (April 1859): 244-248.

"Properties of Curvature in the Ellipse and Hyperbola." Runkle's Mathematical Monthly 2.6 (March 1860): 198-?.

"Remarks on the Architecture of Bees." Proceedings of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences 4 (8 May 1860): 432-433.

"The Economy and Symmetry of the Honey Bee's Cells." Runkle's Mathematical Monthly 2.9 (June 1860): 304-320.

"Chauvenet's Manual of Astronomy." Review of William Chavaunet, A Manual of Spherical and Practical Astronomy. North American Review 98.2 (April 1864): 611-613.

"A Physical Theory of the Universe." Review essay on Herbert Spencer, Essays: Scientific, Political, and Speculative. North American Review 99.1 (July 1864): 1-34. Philosophical Discussions, pp. 1-34.

"Youman's Correlation and Conservation of Forces." Review of E.L. Youmans, The Correlation and Conservation of Forces. North American Review 100.2 (April 1865): 619-623.

"Bowen's Logic." Review of Francis Bowen, A Treatise on Logic. North American Review 99.2 (October 1865): 592-605.

"Natural Theology as a Positive Science." Review essay on Josiah Cooke, Religion and Chemistry. North American Review 100.1 (January 1865): 177-186. Philosophical Discussions, pp. 35-42.

"The Philosophy of Herbert Spencer." Review essay on eight of Herbert Spencer's books. North American Review 100.2 (April 1865): 423-476. Philosophical Discussions, pp. 43-96.

"The American Ephemeris and Nautical Almanac." North American Review 101.2 (July 1865): 134-147.

"Chapin on Gravitation and Heat." Review of E.S. Chapin, The Correlation and Conservation of Gravitation and Heat. North American Review 101.2 (July 1865): 330-352.

"Mill on Hamilton." Review of John Stuart Mill, An Examination of Sir William Hamilton's Philosophy. The Nation 1.9 (31 August 1865): 278-281.

"Draper's Thoughts on the Future Civil Policy of America." Review essay of John Draper, Thoughts on the Future Civil Policy of America. North American Review 101.2 (October 1865): 589-597.

"McCosh on Intuitions." Review of James McCosh, The Intuitions of the Mind Inductively Investigated. The Nation 1.20 (16 November 1865): 627-629. Philosophical Discussions, pp. 329-341.

"Mill on Comte." Review of John Stuart Mill, The Positive Philosophy of August Comte. The Nation 2.27 (4 January 1966): 20-21.

"Spencer's Biology." Review of Herbert Spencer, The Principles of Biology. The Nation 2.55 (8 June 1866): 724-725.

"Martineau's Essays." Review of James Martineau, Essays Philosophical and Theological. The Nation 2.60 (26 June 1866): 804.

"Alden's Philosophy." Review of Joseph Alden, Elements of Intellectual Philosophy. North American Review 103.2 (July 1866): 260-269.

"Mill on Hamilton." Review of John Stuart Mill, An Examination of Sir William Hamilton's Philosophy. North American Review 103.2 (July 1866): 250-260.

"The Right of Suffrage." Review of Frederick Maurice, The Workman and the Franchise. North American Review 103.2 (July 1866): 241-250.

"Spare's Differential Calculus." Review of John Spare, The Differential Calculus. North American Review 103.2 (July 1866):

"Masson's Recent British Philosophy." Review of David Masson, Recent British Philosophy. The Nation 3.72 (15 November 1866): 385-386. Philosophical Discussions, pp. 342-349.

"Mansel's Reply to Mill." The Nation 4.80 (10 January 1867): 27-29. Philosophical Discussions, pp. 350-359.

"Ennis on the Origin of the Stars." Review of Jacob Ennis, The Origin of the Stars, and the Causes of their Motion and their Light. The Nation 4.90 (21 March 1867): 231-232.

"Ennis' Origin of the Stars." Review of Jacob Ennis, The Origin of the Stars, and the Causes of their Motion and their Light. North American Review 104.2 (April 1867): 618-626.

"The Reign of Law." Review of the Duke of Argyll, The Reign of Law. The Nation 4.102 (13 June 1867): 470.

"Mathematics in Court." Letter to the Editor, signed as "V. X." The Nation 5.116 (19 September 1867): 238.

"Peabody's Positive Philosophy." Review of A.P. Peabody, The Positive Philosophy. North American Review 106.1 (January 1868): 285-294.

"Review of A.T. Bledsoe, The Philosophy of Mathematics." The Nation 4.148 (30 April 1868): 355-356.

"Limits of Natural Selection." Review essay of Alfred Wallace, Contributions to the Theory of Natural Selection. North American Review 111.2 (October 1870): 282-311. Philosophical Discussions, pp. 97-125.

"The Genesis of Species." Review essay of Charles Darwin's The Descent of Man and The Origin of Species, 5th ed.; George Mivart's On the Genesis of Species; and Alfred Wallaces' Contributions to the Theory of Natural Selection. North American Review 113.1 (July 1871): 63-104. Philosophical Discussions, pp. 126-167. Darwin had this essay, with some additional material by Wright, published as Darwinism: being an Examination of Mr. St. George Mivart's 'Genesis of Species' (London: John Murray, 1871). This pamphlet was reviewed in Journal of the Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland 1 (1872): 261-262.

"C.S. Peirce's Review of Berkeley." Note about Charles S. Peirce's review of A.C. Fraser, The Works of George Berkeley. The Nation 13.335 (30 November 1871): 355-356.

"The Uses and Origin of the Arrangement of Leaves in Plants." Memoirs of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences n.s. 9 (10 October 1871): 379-415. Philosophical Discussions, pp. 296-328.

"Evolution by Natural Selection." Review essay on Charles Darwin's The Origin of Species, 6th ed.; and George Mivart's "Evolution and its Consequences," and "Specific Genesis." North American Review 115.1 (July 1872): 1-31. Philosophical Discussions, pp. 168-198.

"A Fragment on Cause and Effect." (1873). Philosophical Discussions, pp. 406-413. From a manuscript that Wright never published.

"Evolution of Self-Consciousness." North American Review 116.2 (April 1873): 245-310. Philosophical Discussions, pp. 199-266.

"John Stuart Mill." The Nation 16.412 (22 May 1873): 351. Only the portion from "The standing of Mill..." is by Wright.

"John Stuart Mill - A Commemorative Notice." Proceedings of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (12 November 1873). Philosophical Discussions, pp. 414-428.

"Lewes's 'Problems of Life and Mind'." Review of George H. Lewes, Problems of Life and Mind, first series, The Foundations of a Creed. Philosophical Discussions, pp. 360-374. Pp. 366-374 appeared in The Nation 18.467 (11 June 1874): 381-382. The other pages were from a manuscript.

"Books Relating to the Theory of Evolution." The Nation 20.503 (18 February 1875): 113-114. Philosophical Discussions, pp. 394-397.

"Sir Charles Lyell." The Nation 20.505 (4 March 1875): 146-147.

"Note on Bastian." The Nation 20.505 (24 March 1875): 208.

"McCosh on Tyndall." Review of James McCosh, Ideas in Nature overlooked by Dr. Tyndall and The Scottish Philosophy. The Nation 20.512 (22 April 1875): 277-278. Philosophical Discussions, pp. 375-384.

"Speculative Dynamics." Review of Augustus Fendler, The Mechanism of the Universe and Its Primary Effort-exerting Powers. The Nation 20.518 (3 June 1875): 379-381. Philosophical Discussions, pp. 385-384.

"Who Are Our Ancestors." The Nation 20.520 (17 June 1875): 405-407.

"Death of Professor Winlock." The Nation 20.520 (17 June 1875): 409-410.

"Todhunter's Conflict of Studies." Review essay of I. Todhunter, The Conflict of Studies, and other Essays Connected with Education. North American Review 121.1 (July 1875): 86-113. As "The Conflict of Studies" in Philosophical Discussions, pp. 267-295.

"Sir Henry Maine and the 'Greatest Happiness' Principle." The Nation 21.522 (1 July 1875): 9.

"Blackwell's 'Sexes in Nature'." Review of Antoinette Blackwell, The Sexes throughout Nature. The Nation 21.524 (15 July 1875): 43-44.

"German Darwinism." Reviews of Oscar Schmidt, The Doctrine of Decent and Darwinism, and M.E. Cazelles, Outline of the Evolution-Philosophy. The Nation 21.532 (9 September 1875): 168-170. Philosophical Discussions, pp. 398-405.

"A Popular Explanation (for those who understand Botany) of the Mathematical Nature of Phyllotaxis." American Naturalist 10 (June 1876): 326-329. Published by Harvard Botany professor George Goodale, who appended a note to explain that this manuscript was written by Wright several years before his death.


Further Reading

Blau, Joseph. Men and Movements in American Philosophy (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1952).

Bowne, Borden Parker. "Chauncey Wright as a Philosopher." New Englander, no. 146 (1878): 585-603.

James, William. "Chauncey Wright." The Nation 21.534 (23 September 1875): 194. Reprinted in William James, Collected Essays and Reviews (New York: Russell and Russell, 1920), pp. 20-25.

James, William. "Against Wright's Nihilism." Written in 1873 or 1874. Published in part in The Thought and Character of William James, ed. Ralph Barton Perry (Boston: Little, Brown, and Co., 1935), vol. 1, pp. 525-528. This manuscript had annotations by Chauncey Wright, also in Perry, vol. 2, appendix 3, pp. 718-721.

Fiske, John. "Chauncey Wright." Darwinism, and Other Essays (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1892), pp. 79-110.

Giuffrida, Robert. "The Philosophical Thought of Chauncey Wright." Transactions of the Charles S. Peirce Society 24 (1988): 33-64.

Kennedy, Gail. "The Pragmatic Naturalism of Chauncey Wright," in Studies in the History of Ideas, vol. 3 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1935).

Madden, Edward H. Chauncey Wright and the Foundations of Pragmatism (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1963).

Norton, Charles Eliot. "Biographical Sketch of Chauncey Wright." In Philosophical Discussions by Chauncey Wright, ed. C. E. Norton (New York, Henry Holt, 1878), pp. vii-xxiii.

Perry, Ralph Barton. "Chauncey Wright," in The Thought and Character of William James, ed. Ralph Barton Perry (Boston: Little, Brown, and Co., 1935), vol. 1, pp. 520-532.

Ryan, Frank X., ed. The Evolutionary Philosophy of Chauncey Wright, vol. 3: Influence and Legacy (Bristol, UK: Thoemmes Press, 2000). Collects 18 articles about Wright, including the pieces by Bowne, James, and Fiske referenced here.

White, Morton. Science and Sentiment in America (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1972).

Wiener, Philip P. "Chauncey Wright, Defender of Darwin and Precursor of Pragmatism" in Evolution and the Founders of Pragmatism (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1949), pp. 31-69, 207-212.

Wiener, Philip P. "Biographical Notes on Chauncey Wright (1830-1875)" in Evolution and the Founders of Pragmatism (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1949), pp. 207-212.

Wiener, Philip P. "The Chauncey Wright Papers at Northampton, Massachusetts" in Evolution and the Founders of Pragmatism (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1949), pp. 213-220. 


Nicholas St. John Green (1830-1876)

Nicholas St. John Green was born on 30 March 1830 in Dover, New Hampshire. His father, James D. Green, was in the 1817 class of Harvard graduates who became a Unitarian minister of the East Cambridge church, and later mayor of Cambridge. Green received his Harvard AB in 1851. He then studied law with Harvard law professor Joseph Story and became junior partner to Boston lawyer Benjamin Franklin Butler. He earned his law degree from Harvard in 1861. With the outbreak of the Civil War, Green enlisted and served as a paymaster. After the war, Green opened his own practice and was appointed as an instructor in mental philosophy at Harvard, where he taught logic, metaphysics, psychology, and political economy. The publication of noteworthy articles in the American Law Review led Harvard to appoint Green as lecturer in the Law School in 1870. In 1873 Green accepted a professorship of law in Boston University's new law school, and he also served as its acting dean during 1874-1876. Green died on 8 September 1876 in Cambridge, Massachusetts. A file for Green is in the Biographical Folders (HUG 300) at Harvard University Archives.



Green's significant published writings were collected by his son: Essays and Notes on the Law of Tort and Crime, ed. Frederick Green (Menasha, Wisc.: George Banta Publishing Co., 1933).

"Proximate and Remote Cause." American Law Review 4.2 (January 1870): 201-216.  Reprinted in Essays and Notes on the Law of Tort and Crime, pp. 1-17.

"Contributory Negligence on the Part of an Infant." American Law Review 4.3 (April 1870): 405-416. Reprinted in Essays and Notes on the Law of Tort and Crime, pp. 18-30.

"Insanity in Criminal Law." Review of I. Ray, A Treatise on the Medical Jurisprudence of Insanity, 5th edn. American Law Review 5.4 (July 1871): 704-709. Reprinted in Essays and Notes on the Law of Tort and Crime, pp. 161-167.

"Some Results of Reform in Indictments." Review of Francis Wharton, Precedents of Indictments and Pleas. American Law Review 5.4 (July 1871): 732-735. Reprinted in Essays and Notes on the Law of Tort and Crime, pp. 151-154.

"Married Women." Review of J.P. Bishop, Commentaries on the Law of Married Women under the Statutes of the Several States and at Common Law and in Equity. American Law Review 6.1 (October 1872): 57-74. Reprinted in Essays and Notes on the Law of Tort and Crime, pp. 31-48.

"Slander and Libel." Review of John Townsend, A Treatise on the Wrongs called Slander and Libel, 2nd edn. American Law Review 6.4 (July 1872): 593-613. Reprinted in Essays and Notes on the Law of Tort and Crime, pp. 49-70.

"Torts Under the French Law." Review of M.A. Sourdat, Traité Général de la Responsabilité ou de l'Action en Dommages-in-térêts en dehors des Contracts. American Law Review 8.3 (April 1874): 508-529. Reprinted in Essays and Notes on the Law of Tort and Crime, pp. 71-92.

"The Three Degrees of Negligence." American Law Review 8.4 (July 1874): 649-668. Reprinted in Essays and Notes on the Law of Tort and Crime, pp. 93-111.

Commentaries on the Law of Agency as a branch of Commercial and Maritime Jurisprudence, by Joseph Story. 8th edn. revised with additions by Nicholas St. John Green (Boston: Little, Brown, and Co., 1874).

                Short notes by Green are on pp. 7, 14, 21, 34, 35, 77-78, 92-93, 106, 117, 118, 118-119, 121, 124, 127, 140, 149, 156, 166, 167, 172, 172-173, 174, 208, 242, 248, 260, 262, 298-299, 305, 306, 316, 330, 380, 385, 389, 478-479, 504-505, 519, 548-549, 551, 610, 611, 634, 640, 641, 648, 657, 660.

                Longer and more significant notes by Green are on:

                pp. 23-32 ["The Powers and Duties of Attorneys at Law," Essays and Notes, pp. 115-126]

pp. 78-80 pp. 157-159 p. 233 p. 298 ["Sale in the Roman Law," Essays and Notes, p. 114] pp. 299-301 p. 334 pp. 543-545 ["The Liability of a Principal to Third Persons for the Torts of his Agents and Servants," Essays and Notes, pp. 127-130] pp. 546-547 pp. 559-566 [pp. 559-564 as "The Liability of a Master to his Servants," Essays and Notes, pp. 131-137. p. 638-639 ["Mandate in the Roman Law," Essays and Notes, pp. 112-113]


Criminal Law Reports, 2 vols. (New York: Hurd and Houghton, 1874-75).

                Significant notes by Green are:

                vol. 1, p. 180 ["The Effect of a Pardon," Essays and Notes, p. 198]

                vol. 1, p. 317-318 ["Rape under the Statutes of Westminster," Essays and Notes, pp. 199-204]

                vol. 1, pp. 343-344 ["The Locus of Larceny," Essays and Notes, pp. 195-197]

vol. 1, p. 294 ["Indictments for Statutory Offences," Essays and Notes, p. 160] vol. 1, p. 390 ["The Power of the Will over Conduct," Essays and Notes, pp. 168-169]

                vol. 1, p. 392

                vol. 1, pp. 399-405 ["The Punishability of Children," Essays and Notes, pp. 170-180]

                vol. 1, pp. 405-406 ["Retrial after Partial Acquittal as Double Jeopardy," Essays and Notes, pp. 148-150]

                vol. 1, pp. 490-491 ["The Right to Repel Attack on the Dwelling-House," Essays and Notes, pp. 206-211]

                vol. 2, pp. 101-102

                vol. 2, pp. 215-226

                vol. 2, pp. 244-246 ["The Maxim that a Man is Presumed to Intend the Natural Consequences of His Acts," pp. 191-194]

                vol. 2, pp. 271-275 ["Threat of Violence as Criminal Assault," Essays and Notes, pp. 138-147]

                vol. 2, pp. 208-210 ["The Distinction between Mistake of Fact and Mistake of Law," Essays and Notes, pp. 181-190]

                vol. 2, pp. 286-289

                vol. 2, pp. 381-382 ["The Requisites of an Indictment for Murder," Essays and Notes, pp. 155-158]

                vol. 2, pp. 392-394

                vol. 2, p. 437 ["Reasonable Doubt," Essays and Notes, p. 205]

                vol. 2, pp. 574 ["Failure to Prove a Descriptive Allegation as a Variance," Essays and Notes, p. 159]


Further Reading

Anon. "Mr. Nicholas St. John Green." Memorial notice. American Law Review 11.1 (October 1876): 173-174.  Probably written by John Chipman Gray.

Fisch, Max. "Was There a Metaphysical Club in Cambridge?" Studies in the Philosophy of Charles Sanders Peirce, ed. Moore and Robin (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1964), pp. 3-32.

Hackney, James. "The Intellectual Origins of American Strict Products Liability: A Case Study in American Pragmatic Instrumentalism." American Journal of Legal History 39 (1995): 443-509.  

Peirce, Charles S. "Nicholas St. John Green." Proceedings of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences n.s. 4 (1877): 289-291. Reprinted in Writings of Charles S. Peirce, A Chronological Edition, vol. 3, 1872-1878 (Bloomington: Indiana University Press), pp. 208-210.

Wiener, Philip P. "The Pragmatic Legal Philosophy of Nicholas St. John Green," in Evolution and the Founders of Pragmatism (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1949), pp. 152-171. See also "Biographical Notes on Nicholas St. John Green (1835-1876)," 231-234.



Charles Sanders Peirce (1839-1914)

Peirce was born on 10 September 1839 in Cambridge, Massachusetts. His father, Benjamin Peirce, was professor of mathematics and astronomy at Harvard, where Peirce received his BA in 1859, MA in 1862, and Sc.B. in chemistry in 1863. His primary career was working for the Coast and Geodetic Survey for almost thirty years until 1891, solving many key problems in astronomy, mapping the earth's surface, and measuring gravity. By the mid-1870s Peirce was among the foremost internationally recognized scientists from America, but his first love was always philosophy. He occasionally lectured at Harvard and in privately in Cambridge where William James and Josiah Royce attended, and was lecturer in philosophy at Johns Hopkins University from 1879-1884 where graduate student John Dewey took his courses. Unable to secure any stable living, Peirce became a reclusive genius supported by James's generosity. Peirce died on 19 April 1914 at his home Arisbe near Milford, Pennsylvania.

See the Peirce Edition Project, the "C. S. Peirce" article, and the Cambridge School of Pragmatism



"Questions Concerning Certain Faculties Claimed for Man." Journal of Speculative Philosophy 2 (1868): 103-114.

"Some Consequences of Four Incapacities Claimed For Man." Journal of Speculative Philosophy 2 (1868): 140-157.

"Grounds of Validity of the Laws of Logic: Further Consequences of Four Incapacities." Journal of Speculative Philosophy 2 (1869): 193-208.

"Professor Porter's Human Intellect." The Nation 8 (18 March 1869): 211-213.

"The English Doctrine of Ideas." The Nation 9 (25 November 1869): 461-462.

"Fraser's The Works of George Berkeley." North American Review 113 (October 1871): 449-472.

"Mr. Peirce and the Realists." Letter to the Editor, about Chauncey Wright's note on Peirce's review of Fraser's Works of Berkeley. The Nation 13 (14 December 1871): 386.

Toward a Logic Book. Manuscript written during 1872-1873. Published in Writings of Charles S. Peirce, vol. 3, pp. 14-108.

"The Fixation of Belief." Popular Science Monthly 12 (November 1877): 1-15.

"How to Make Our Ideas Clear." Popular Science Monthly 12 (January 1878): 286-302.


 Further Reading

Wiener, Philip P. Evolution and the Founders of Pragmatism (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1949).



Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. (1841-1935)

Holmes was born on 8 March 1841 in Boston, the son of Amelia Jackson and Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr., the latter a professor of anatomy at the Harvard Medical School and a well-known poet and writer. Holmes began his studies at Harvard College in 1857, graduated in 1861, and joined the Twentieth Massachusetts regiment. After a distinguished military record and serious wounds, he entered Harvard Law School in 1864 and graduated in 1866. He engaged in the private practice of law in Boston from 1867 until 1882, when he taught for a short time at Harvard Law School. Holmes was appointed to the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court in 1882 and became Chief Justice in 1899. He was appointed by Theodore Roosevelt to the United States Supreme court in 1902. Holmes retired from the Supreme Court in 1932 and died on 6 March 1935 in Washington, D.C.

                Holmes's most famous writings formulating his pragmatic theory of law are The Common Law (1881), especially pp. 1-4 and 34-38; and "The Path of the Law," Harvard Law Review 10 (1897): 457-478.



"Codes, and the Arrangement of Law." American Law Review 5 (October 1870): 1-13.

"Review of Law Magazine and Review, April 1872." American Law Review 6 (July 1872): 723-725. In this notice of an article by Frederick Pollock criticizing John Austin, Holmes summarizes his own view that law is manifested in the adoption of the sovereign's edicts by the courts.

"The Arrangement of the Law. Privity." American Law Review 7 (October 1872): 46-66.

"The Theory of Torts." American Law Review 7 (July 1873): 652-663.

"Primitive Notions in Modern Law. I." American Law Review 10 (April 1876): 422-439.

"Primitive Notions in Modern Law. II." American Law Review 11 (July 1877): 641-660.

The Common Law (Boston: Little, Brown, 1881).    Read online at


Further Reading

Fisch, Max. "Justice Holmes, the Prediction Theory of Law, and Pragmatism." Journal of Philosophy 39 (1942): 85-97.

Frank, Jerome. "A Conflict with Oblivion: Some Observations on the Founders of Legal Pragmatism." Rutgers Law Review 9 (1954): 425-463.

Kellogg, Frederic Rogers, ed. The Formative Essays of Justice Holmes: The Making of an American Legal Philosophy (Westport, Conn.: Greenwood, 1984).

Pound, Roscoe. "Liberty of Contract." Yale Law Journal 18 (May 1909): 454-487. Pound describes Holmes as a pragmatist on p. 464.


William James (1842-1910)

William James was born on 11 January 1842 in New York City. James tried painting, Harvard's scientific school, then Harvard's medical school, then explored Brazil with Harvard biologist Louis Agassiz, then finally finished medical school with his degree in 1869. He never used his medical degree, and instead taught anatomy and physiology at Harvard during the mid-1870s. James received permission in 1875 to start the first U.S. psychology laboratory (although Peirce was the first American to perform scientific psychology experiments at Johns Hopkins years before). James became professor of psychology and later philosophy at Harvard, teaching full-time until 1907. He lectured widely in America and Europe until his death on 26 August 1910 in Chocorua, New Hampshire.

See Chronology of James's Life, the "William James" article, and the Cambridge School of Pragmatism



"Review of H. Maudsley, Responsibility in Mental Disease." Atlantic Monthly 34 (1974): 364-365.

"Review of G. H. Lewes's Problems of Life and Mind." Atlantic Monthly 36 (September 1875): 361-363.

"Remarks on Spencer's Definition of Mind as Correspondence." Journal of Speculative Philosophy 12.1 (January 1878): 1-18.

"Brute and Human Intellect." Journal of Speculative Philosophy 12.3 (July 1878): 236-276.

"The Sentiment of Rationality." Mind o.s. 4.3 (July 1879): 317-346.

"Rationality, Activity, and Faith." Princeton Review 2 (July 1882): 58-86.


Further Reading

Consult Frank Pajares's William James Website



Joseph Bangs Warner (1848-1923)

Joseph Bangs Warner was born on 5 August 1848 in Boston, Massachusetts. He was a lawyer, like William Pepperell Montague, and a friend of Nicholas St. John Green and Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.  Francis Greenwood Peabody and Warner attended Peirce's Harvard lectures on British Logicians in 1869-70 and had studied Kant with him privately.


"Review of Holmes, The Common Law." American Law Review 2 (May 1881): 331-338.


Further Reading

"Obituary." Boston Transcript (2 January 1923).

Wiener, Philip P. "Biographical Notes on Joseph B. Warner (1848-1923)" in Evolution and the Founders of Pragmatism (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1949), pp. 235-2442.