top of page
Review Glassy
Reviews of His Glassy Essence

From Nineteenth Century Prose

Long, Mark C. "Kenneth Laine Ketner, His Glassy Essence: An Autobiography of Charles Sanders Peirce." Nineteenth-Century Prose, vol. 28, no. 1, spring 2001, pp. 155+. Gale Literature Resource Center,

From the Introduction: "Both Kenneth Laine Ketner's autobiography of the logician, scientist, and philosopher Charles Sanders Peirce, and Richard A. Smyth's study of Peirce's readings of his philosophical predecessors, encourage rethinking the early life and writing of one of America's most important thinkers. Ketner's first volume of a proposed three-volume set is a sourcebook of new material for the specialist interested in the formative years of Peirce's life (1839-1867) and an engaging introduction for those less familiar with Peirce's intellectual development. Smyth's study of Peirce's readings in the history of philosophy, written for Peirce scholars and students of intellectual history, provides a lesson in what Peirce's early essays can teach us about philosophers and philosophical ideas...."  Read more HERE.

From Library Journal

The word autobiography in the subtitle should be in quotes, because this is an autobiography only in the sense that Ketner (philosophy, Texas Tech Univ.) uses as his primary source Peirce's own words concerning the facts and events in his life as found in his published and unpublished writings. Ketner adopts an innovative, mystery novel-like approach here: he invents several contemporaneous fictional characters, then follows them on a journey to fill in the gaps of a manuscript, found in an old box, purporting to be Peirce's autobiography. These characters then track Peirce (1839-1914) through the first 28 years of his life (two more volumes are planned). This device not only allows Ketner to supply biographical information but also, along the way, to explicate Peirce's philosophical thinking up to that point in his life. This entertaining yet scholarly read would be accessible to the novice but could also prove useful and informative to the advanced student or professional philosopher. Highly recommended for academic and larger public library collections.          

    ~ Leon H. Brody, U.S. Office of Personnel Mgt. Lib., Washington, DC. (c) 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Publishers Weekly


Having published eight books on C.S. Peirce, the founder of American pragmatism, Ketner is an acknowledged authority on the man as well as a true believer. The collected papers of Peirce (pronounced Purse) were published in multivolume editions, but Peirce never wrote an autobiography. To make up for this omission, Ketner has begun to write one for him in the first of three planned volumes. To produce this work of literary nonfiction, Ketner has inserted imagined speeches by Peirce and passages from Peirce's letters and philosophic writings where he "waxed autobiographical." To move the story along, Ketner introduces a narrator and two other fictional characters who function as intellectual detectives, separating genuine revelations from bogus ones. Their sleuthing may be helped or hindered by the fact that the narrator believes he is possessed by the spirit of Peirce. The reader is therefore confronted by a real author (Ketner), a dead subject (Peirce), fictional characters and reconstructed and imagined events. Using this convention, Ketner is able to make Peirce more immediate, and he weaves together an impressive amount of research on Peirce's early life, connecting thoughts to the thinker..... 
   ~ (c)  1998 Reed Business Information, Inc.

 ...I think most thoughtful readers will find His Glassy Essence:  An Autobiography of Charles Sanders Peirce as quirky and brilliantly creative as Peirce himself....  

          (Read the rest of the review HERE.)

   ~ Bruce Wilshire, Journal of Speculative Philosophy

A wonderful read, based on extensive and meticulous research--a book one finds hard to put down.
   ~ Ruth Anna Putnam, Wellesley College

In creating an intriguing 'scholarly' mystery as the setting for his life of Peirce, Ketner tells a story that gives a sense of excitement and satisfaction unusual for intellectual biographies, one that will convince readers that Peirce is a neglected American treasure.
   ~  Nathan Houser, Peirce Edition Project

             I want to add my opinion about His Glassy Essence, and to try to explain why it works, as a way of suggesting to other possible readers of it how they might find it most profitable to approach it.

            I found that the book works. When I first read it, I was prepared for catastrophe—at first description it sounded like one of those ideas that seem really good after the sixth beer or so, but looks oh so very different in the harsh light of the morning after! But, in fact, it does work, or at least it did for me, and I strongly recommend it.

            Why does it work? I think the reason is simply that it is mostly just Peirce himself talking—and of course his family and others that knew him talk in their own voices, too—and the subtitle, An Autobiography of Charles Sanders Peirce, is a literal truth about the book, strange though that may seem initially. Ketner will doubtless take some heavy hits on this book from reviewers who misread it by mistakenly thinking that it is to be adjudged as a literary work having the general form of a novel, that genre being used in an innovative way to do a biography. It can certainly be assessed from that perspective if one thinks it important to do so, and I imagine a good many people who have no real interest in Peirce to begin with and merely want to form an opinion about him in case they happen to need such an opinion for this purpose or that—you never know when such an opinion will come in handy—will find that sort of assessment to their purposes.   But the sort of people to whom I recommend the book won't be much interested in the book in that respect since they will be people who will be reading it in hopes of coming to know Peirce as a person, first-hand, as he really is, and not just as he is represented to be by a biographer of some supposed repute.  People of the sort I have in mind will therefore particularly appreciate the fact that Ketner has figured out a way to remove the biographer from the role of authoritative interpreter as much as possible, so that the reader can be affected directly by Peirce himself (and by those around him) and can thus be his or her own biographer of Peirce by being provided with documents which make it possible to do so....

           (Read the rest of the review HERE.)

     ~ Joseph M. Ransdell, Peirce-L Internet Discussion List

           In Ken Ketner’s His Glassy Essence (which I would like to recommend highly), even in its oddest moments, such as when it uses manuscripts from the early 1900s to illustrate Peirce’s thought in the late 1860’s, it works: I suddenly had an image of Peirce collecting phenomenological data on scraps of paper to train himself to detect Firstness, of doing exercises with Weights to get a glimpse of Secondness, of connecting chemistry with logic to get the Logic of Relatives. Ketner reproduces MS 645, of which a part is: “A feeling is the only true Ding an sich. Everything else is relative, and has its Being in something else.”

           (Read the rest of the review HERE.)

    ~ Arien Malec, Peirce-L Internet Discussion List

            Both Kenneth Laine Ketner's autobiography of the logician, scientist, and philosopher Charles Sanders Peirce, and Richard A. Smyth's study of Peirce's readings of his philosophical predecessors, encourage rethinking the early life and writing of one of America's most important thinkers. Ketner's first volume of a proposed three‑volume set is a sourcebook of new material for the specialist interested in the formative years of Peirce's life (1839-1867) and an engaging introduction for those less familiar with Peirce's intellectual development. Smyth's study of Peirce's readings in the history of philosophy, written for Peirce scholars and students of intellectual history, provides a lesson in what Peirce's early essays can teach us about philosophers and philosophical ideas.   

           (Read the rest of the review HERE.)

     ~ Mark C. Long, Review in Nineteenth Century Prose

         Charles Peirce died in the spring of 1914. The first full-length biography, my own, did not appear until almost eighty years later in the spring of 1993.1   The first volume of the second-projected for three volumes—by Kenneth Laine Ketner and under review here, appeared five years after that. It is, I think, important to be able to place in their historical context the reasons why one of the great and original thinkers of the 19th Century waited so long for well-researched biographical studies, especially in light of the fact that there exists in many depositories a varied and very large number of primary sources on Peirce's life, of which the largest and most complete collection is at Harvard University's Houghton Library.

          (Read the rest of the review HERE.)

      ~ Joseph Brent, Transactions of the Charles S. Peirce Society

Review of His Glassy Essence by Fran Scott in Lubbock Magazine


Just in time for the holiday season and those cold winter nights when you search your book shelves for something more mind-shifting than Monday night football, local author Kenneth Laine Ketner appears on the scene with a book that is both a detective story and an autobiography, fiction and fact. Fiction is often most compelling when it is based on actual events or persons.  This approach has been used effectively by many authors.  James Michener immediately comes to mind as one who frequently reached out in time or place to weave historical tales through the experiences of fictional witnesses.


Most readers know the pleasure of settling into a comfortable chair with a well-contrived mystery written by a notable tale spinner like Dashiell Hammett or Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.  We quickly become entrapped in the author’s clever web of relationships and subtly concealed clues. Good writers compel us to join the competition so that we mentally race ahead, trying to uncover the solution before the author’s protagonist wraps up the case. Sometimes we find we are in error.  Our conclusion doesn’t match the one proposed by the author.  Perhaps our reasoning was faulty or the writer rigged our defeat by tricking us with bogus clues. We complain and compare notes with our friends.


The exceptional writer doesn’t posture as the sole authority, but instead enlists us as an active colleague in the investigation.  Our interpretation of the clues is encouraged and, intriguingly, a final answer is not dictated by the author.  We recognize that important truths can be imparted through fiction, so we continue to wrestle with the ideas presented. These are the books we honor and remember. 


In His Glassy Essence, Kenneth Ketner takes the second approach and adds a crucial twist. The subject of this detective story is also the autobiographer. Significantly, the subject/autobiographer is an actual person, the brilliant American thinker Charles Sanders Peirce. Although deceased, Peirce is given a credible voice in this book through the “discovery” of some of his papers by fictional characters.  In turn, the content of these papers are delivered to the readers for their interpretation and enrichment. Although the three fictional characters unravel clues about Peirce and offer their interpretations, their opinions are not presumed to be definitive.  They serve as a literary pipeline to the reader.


Ketner is the Charles Sanders Peirce Professor and Director of the Institute for Studies in Pragmaticism and the author of numerous books and articles dealing with Peirce and related subjects.  In this book he easily could have taken the role of the narrator, but he rejects the scholar’s temptation to present himself to readers as an authoritative interpreter.  Instead he steps aside for the fictional characters whose opinions can be challenged and reversed by careful readers. Ketner eloquently explains the rationale behind his decision to take this approach:


History is an abductive, guessing science. That means historians cannot avoid interpreting their data.  The “story of what happened in the past” is not necessarily the same as “what happened in the past.”  We can never be certain that the story we have is the right one.  Something new in the way of data may turn up.  Or somebody may have made a mistake about how the story was told. Yet we mortals must have a story.


So history is a storytelling art. History and storytelling are intertwined such that stories historians tell are in effect large-scale hypotheses (more or less confirmed guesses) about the truth of “what happened in the past”….  (His Glassy Essence Preface)


His Glassy Essence offers readers a fascinating firsthand encounter with one of America’s most important and influential thinkers. Charles Sanders Peirce, 1839 to 1914, is acclaimed internationally for his contributions to science, mathematics, logic and philosophy. Through this autobiography, we begin to comprehend the impact of his work and marvel that his name is not a common household word like Einstein, even though Peirce developed a broad theory of relations decades before Einstein and also anticipated the logic of quantum mechanics. His Glassy Essence contains only a fraction of Peirce’s voluminous writings.  During his lifetime he published approximately 10,000 pages and at his death he left some 80,000 additional pages in manuscript form.


Through the efforts of scholars across the world, Peirce’s rich contributions to contemporary thought are emerging from obscurity. Nevertheless, access to his profound  and relevant ideas has been confined primarily to the rarified air of academic circles.  The renowned author Walker Percy was one of the rare exceptions.  Through their common admiration for Peirce, Ketner and Percy became good friends and it was Percy who urged Ketner to write a biography that would make Peirce and his remarkable insights accessible to the broader population.


Percy would be pleased with the success of Ketner’s approach.  The reader does not need to be trained in logic or philosophy to enjoy and benefit from Peirce’s ideas. Ketner has devised a plausible detective narrative involving three fictional characters and the contents of a handsome wooden box. Each character has a unique role to perform in the effort to compile biographical data on Peirce and to organize and interpret the written document they find in the box. Once the pages from the box are visible, Peirce begins to speaks for himself.


Ike Eisenstaat, the fictional narrator, describes himself as a mystery writer by trade, but an amateur by inclination and instinct. We might add that he also is the rational detective who keeps the inquiry going and suspends judgement until he has the evidence.  We could compare him to the serious long run scientist. His wife Betsy is a nurse who is an intuitive clinician like many good nurses. Roy, or Dr. Leroi Wyttynys, (say his name out loud and catch the intentional play on words) is a former student of Peirce and thereby is an eye witness who adds the immediacy of personal contact with the subject. He also possesses a draft of an article on pragmatism which Peirce handed to him in 1907.


It is significant that Ike describes himself as an amateur detective.  This ploy presents the opportunity for us to be amateur detectives as well because we too are becoming acquainted with Peirce.  As we read further, Peirce himself supplies the method for our own investigation. 


Readers will not miss the seriousness of opening the historic box and finding Peirce’s papers.  They will be intrigued, but also forewarned.  When Betsy’s grandfather related to his granddaughter how he had acquired the box, he quoted Madame Purse (Juliette Peirce, the wife of Charles Sanders Peirce) as saying “There is a fortune in it – now it’s yours.”  Then he added in a deep tone that frightened her, “Take care! It has transforming power.”  Unlike the story of Pandora who opens a box and releases the woes of the world, Ike opens a box and releases the writings of Peirce which have the “power to transform.”  The box is not an exclusive possession; we are invited to open the box and draw our own conclusions.


It is not an exaggeration to claim that Peirce is a key thinker to help us map our journey into the twenty-first century, yet the general public is largely unaware of him. This is especially critical because his ideas and insights are valuable resources we need to address both current concerns and those which are anticipated in the new millenium. Roy urges the reader to study and apply Peirce’s system of science:


It is the content of that system of science that constitutes Peirce’s greatness….It is the master science, the glue that will re-cement the broken soul of Western civilization. It will reunite the split that has been created between matter and mind, science and the humanities. Why should this be important? Lacking a long disquisition, I can only answer with a comparison.  It has a status similar to that of another question, to wit: What would be important today about being a corporation that owned and controlled the operating system that every computer in the world used?  (His Glassy Essence 305-306)


But these concerns need not be of global proportions. Readers may find that Peirce’s insights offer a productive approach for resolving business dilemmas or promoting personal growth. In fact, the book title, His Glassy Essence, suggests this opportunity. The fictional character Ike alludes to this prospect:


“That was the first puzzle I solved: an understanding of that odd title and its literary nimbus.  It’s an allusion to Shakespeare, Measure for Measure, act 2, scene 2….My solution was complete when I discovered that “glassy” in Shakespearean English meant “mirror-like.” Also, I noted in speeches by several Shakespearean characters that mirrors often appeared as literary images for self-study or self-awareness.”  (His Glassy Essence 10-11)


Kenneth Ketner has adopted an approach that succeeds in giving the curious layperson access to Peirce as a fascinating individual and also to his valuable “toolbox” for the Twenty-first Century.  We leave our encounter with Peirce convinced that he merits the accolade “genius.” But we may be surprised to hear from Peirce that we too could share in at least one attribute of a genius if we can preserve and cultivate our plasticity or readiness to consider new ideas.


Children are geniuses; at least they have that readiness at taking new ideas and new ways which is an important aspect of genius….as habit grows upon the child, his genius generally dies out. If some very few retain the latter, no one escapes the former; and he is fortunate and gifted who is not to some degree its slave. (His Glassy Essence 145)


We live in an age when many people search the shelves of bookstores and newsstands to find the latest self-help book.  They hope the author will either guide them to self-realization or tell them how to make their business more successful. According to Peircean science, we mistakenly seek recipes fed to us by authoritarians.  If we have some sense of the magnitude of changes we will encounter in the next century, we recognize we must be pro-active and equipped to help ourselves.  If we wait for the next newly revised self-help book, we will miss our opportunities.


Emulating the child genius, we must cultivate the plasticity of our minds and be able to think and re-think our course; receive and process pertinent information; test it; apply it and never cease testing it.  In other words, become a fellow scientist, an active interpreter who is prepared to avoid the quicksand and survive on the ever-expanding information flow.

Reviews of A Thief of Peirce

5.0 out of 5 stars

The brilliant interplay between two powerful intellects

ByRhonda on June 15, 2013

Format: Hardcover|Verified Purchase

These letters were my first introduction to the complexities of C.S. Peirce's semeiotic (his spelling) as Walker Percy tested his own understanding and application of those theories in his correspondence with Peirce professor Ken Ketner. Never dry, the letters exhibit warmth, humor and a joyous pursuit of knowledge seen only in the greatest minds. I find myself swept by a certain nostalgia as I read them, for Percy is of the last generation of such thinkers likely leave behind correspondence in this traditional sense. In the instant messaging age, how much of what could endure are we losing? Can you imagine a book someday being published containing the Facebook chats between X and Y?


5.0 out of 5 stars

Sovereign Wayfaring at its Best

ByTj Reilley on January 10, 2000

Format: Hardcover

It's a rare and beautiful event when two scientific intelligences engage in genuinely truthful dialogue about vitally important matters which impact daily life. Fortunately that's just what lies in store for any sovereign wayfaring reader of Thief of Peirce. At least that was what I discovered throughout this smooth-flowing collection of correspondence between essayist/novelist Walker Percy, and philosopher Kenneth Ketner.
I've read and re-read so many portions of this book, making margin notes galore, and reflecting on my own view of the subjects on which these two gents exchange ideas and thoughts. So much goes on in Thief that any list of the best content would end up including the whole book anyway; although the most used portion of my copy is Ketner's essay, Novel Science.
So, if you're looking to gain insight into Percy's novels, and Ketner's new sense of autobiography in His Glassy Essence (written before the Reagan bio, as a matter of fact), then don't miss this particular essay in Thief.
But, don't take my word for it --- be Percy's sovereign wayfarer and discover the beauty of this book on your own. After reading it you'll likely be a Thief of Peirce yourself.

Review of Elements of Logic


This book is designed to provide an introduction to basic logic by means of Charles Sanders Peirce's semeiotic (pronounced "See my OH tick," approximately as the German "Semiotik" and the French "Semiotique" are pronounced). In his later years, Peirce conceived semeiotic as composed of three parts: Speculative Grammar (basic definitions), Critic (theory of argumentation), and Methodeutic (theory of objective method). (For an extended discussion of these divisions, see Ketner 1987.) In his mature work, Peirce also declared that logic and semeiotic were identical, understanding by "logic" something much broader than its meaning today. Throughout this work, the words Logic and Semeiotic are regarded as interchangeable. This interchangeability has, in recent years, instigated some disorientation: logicians and contemporary practitioners of semiotics especially have tended to think of semeiotic as disconnected from Peirce's path-breaking researches as one of the founders of contemporary formal logic. This disorientation will disappear, however, if we consider that Peirce's semeiotic/logic had certain features that logicians and semeioticians today are beginning to appreciate and study, although sometimes under other names.


Truly this book is one of the clearest introductions to logic on the market today. For those who struggle with the confusion of symbolic logic this book wipes the table clean using a method of logic rather unheard-of among laypeople. It is highly understandable. Anyone who can read can learn logic from it. Its visual graphs of reasoning make it perfect for those who think with their eyes. I would recommend it above all other book of logic with which I have had experience.


Highly recommended. As a former student of Ketner's, and having used this book coupled with a class, this book paints an easy, easy fundamental understanding of Peirce's Existential Graphing, and that understanding provides a whole world of insight into the limitations of traditional logic diagramming systems. Highly recommended.

Reviews of Other Publications

5 Stars

Reasoning and the Logic of Things.the Cambridge Conferences. Lectures by Ch. S. Peirce


Format: Paperback|Verified Purchase

This is the best edition of Charles S. Peirce's Cambridge Conferences of 1898.  The introduction and commentaries Mad by Ketner and Putman are truly magistral. I recommend to all the students of Peirce's Thought

5 stars

A fine book [Chance, Love, and Logic] to add to the library of anyone interested in C. S. Peirce.

ByJesse J. Thomason February 1, 2014

Format: Hardcover|Verified Purchase

Most of the Peirce's writings here are found in other popular editions of his works, but the intro and conclusion are exceptionally important for anyone trying to understand Peirce, a major philosophical and scientific thinker who has helped to shape our age. This edition is a relatively old one, published in 1949 and only available as a used book, which I bought from Amazon.  The Preface and Introduction, however, is as good as any written before or since, containing a technical but clear intro to Peirce's logic, philosophy, and science. As a bonus, at the end of the book is a reprint of John Dewey's argument for the superiority of the pragmaticism of Peirce over the pragmatism William James.

Peirce's contribution to logic is his "abduction," which describes what traditional deduction and induction do not, namely how a hypothesis is created in the first place. Eventually this will lead to what physicists like Ilya Prigogine describe as the way order develops spontaneously out of chaos in far from equilibrium thermodynamic states. None of this is on the horizon yet when Cohen is writing, but Cohen's meticulous descriptions of Peirce's chance, logic, and evolutionary love surely help to set the scene for the "order for free" of not only Prigogine but biologists like Stuart Kauffman and Terrence Deacon.

Peirce and Contemporary Thought: Philosophical Inquiries

Edited by Kenneth Laine Ketner

“This is the book to read for anyone seeking to learn how Peirce is relevant for contemporary thought.” (―Transactions of the C. S. Peirce Society)

bottom of page