Pragmatism and Open Content

Over the weekend I finally had a chance to try out my Kindle 2.  Although I have still not found a satisfactory way to convert PDFs of academic journal articles into readable Kindle files, I am very pleased with the formating of books available through  And while most of the content on ManyBooks comes directly from Project Gutenberg, one important difference is the option to download .AZW files, which is Kindle’s native format.  

So far I’ve downloaded over 50 books from ManyBooks — all for free — ranging from the complete works of Williams Shakespeare and Edgar Allen Poe to the Declaration of Independence and the 2007 CIA World Factbook. ManyBooks also offers a selection of copyrighted titles that are licensed through some flavor of open content license.  For example, I downloaded Eric S. Raymond’s (1996) The Cathedral and the Bazaar, a short story by Kurt Vonnegut, and The Cluetrain Manifesto. Of course, it is doubtful I’ll be reading most of these titles anytime soon.  But with 1.4 GB of storage, they are now at my fingertips.

Of more immediate interest to me are about a dozen books by scholars such as Henri Bergson, William James, Adam Smith, Thorstein Veblen, and so forth. In fact, yesterday I cruised through the first third of Pragmatism, a series of seven lectures delivered by William James at the Lowell Institute in Boston and Columbia University in New York, between November 1906 and January 1907. And it is here that I began to appreciate the power of open content, in particular, the power of Kindle + Project Gutenberg and ManyBooks + Google Books. 

In Pragmatism, James (1907: 46) credits C. S. Peirce’s 1878 article in Popular Science Monthly as the first to introduce pragmatism into philosophy. Curious about what Peirce had to say, I first went to Google.  Dissatisfied with the results, I tried Google Books. After a few minutes of searching, I found Popular Science Monthly Volume 12 November 1877 to April 1878. As it turns out, during this 6 month period Peirce published a series of 4 different articles, including “How to make our ideas clear,” the paper cited by James.

Through Google Books, I downloaded the entire volume (about 30MB).  Then using Acrobat Professional, I extracted each of the 4 articles as separate files, ran OCR on them, added these PDFs to my collection of research on the philosophy of pragmatism, and created citations for all 4 in EndNote. All this without ever setting foot in the library. Long live open content.

James, W. 1907. Pragmatism: A new name for some old ways of thinking. New York: Longmans, Green, and Co. Accessed from

Peirce, C. S. 1878. Illustrations of the logic of science. Second paper: How to make our ideas clear. In E. L. Youmans & W. J. Youmans (Eds.), Popular Science Monthly, Vol. 12 (November 1877 to April 1878): 286-302. New York: Appleton. Accessed from

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