Chauncey Wright

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Chauncey Wright, c. 1870

Chauncey Wright (September 10, 1830 – September 12, 1875) was an American philosopher and mathematician.


He was born in Northampton, Massachusetts. In 1852 he graduated from Harvard and became computer to the American Ephemeris and Nautical Almanac. He made his name by contributions on mathematical and physical subjects in the Mathematical Monthly. He soon, however, turned his attention to metaphysics and psychology, and for the North American Review and later for The Nation he wrote philosophical essays on the lines of Mill, Darwin and Spencer.

In 1870-71 he lectured on psychology at Harvard. Although, in general, he adhered to the evolution theory, he was a free-lancer in thought. Among his essays may be mentioned The Evolution of Self-Consciousness and two articles published in 1871 on the Genesis of Species. Of these, the former endeavors to explain the most elaborate psychical activities of men as developments of elementary forms of conscious processes in the animal kingdom as a whole; the latter is a defense of the theory of natural selection against the attacks of St George Mivart, and appeared in an English edition on the suggestion of Darwin. From 1863 to 1870 he was secretary and recorder to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and in the last year of his life he lectured on mathematical physics at Harvard.

In 1872, Wright helped found The Metaphysical Club with other Harvard intellectuals such as Charles Sanders Peirce, William James and Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. His views on Darwinism played a significant role in shaping the ideas of the other members of the club.[1] Pragmatism—a philosophy largely developed by Peirce and James—has often been understood as a post-Darwinian philosophy.

His essays were collected and published, with a biographical sketch, by Charles Eliot Norton in 1877, and his Letters were edited and privately printed at Cambridge, Massachusetts, in 1878 by James Bradley Thayer.


  • By Wright
    • (1857) "The Winds and the Weather" (review of books on physical geography and climatology, accompanied by some philosophical observations), Proceedings of the British Association for the Advancement of Science. Eprint. Word DOC Eprint.
    • (1878) Philosophical Discussions: With a Biographical Sketch of the Author by Charles Eliot Norton, Henry Holt and Company, New York. Google Books Eprint.
    • (1878) Letters of Chauncey Wright: With Some Account of His Life by James Bradley Thayer, privately printed, Press of John Wilson and Son, Cambridge, MA. Google Books Eprint.
  • On Wright
    • Fiske, John, "Chauncey Wright" (written December 1876), Darwinism and other Essays (London and New York: MacMillan and Co., 1879), pp. 78–109. Google Books Eprint.

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