Peirce on Signs

Peirce on Signs: Writings on Semiotic by Charles Sanders Peirce

Charles Sanders Peirce
Edited by James Hoopes
Copyright Date: 1991
Pages: 294
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Peirce on Signs
    Book Description:

    Charles Sanders Peirce (1839-1914) is rapidly becoming recognized as the greatest American philosopher. At the center of his philosophy was a revolutionary model of the way human beings think. Peirce, a logician, challenged traditional models by describing thoughts not as "ideas" but as "signs," external to the self and without meaning unless interpreted by a subsequent thought. His general theory of signs -- or semiotic -- is especially pertinent to methodologies currently being debated in many disciplines.This anthology, the first one-volume work devoted to Peirce's writings on semiotic, provides a much-needed, basic introduction to a complex aspect of his work. James Hoopes has selected the most authoritative texts and supplemented them with informative headnotes. His introduction explains the place of Peirce's semiotic in the history of philosophy and compares Peirce's theory of signs to theories developed in literature and linguistics.

    eISBN: 978-1-4696-1682-7
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-ix)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-13)

    Charles Sanders Peirce (1839–1914) was born and raised in the most intellectually advantageous circumstances offered by nineteenth-century America. Benjamin Peirce, his father, was professor of mathematics and astronomy at Harvard and a preeminent American scientist who served many years with the United States Coast and Geodetic Survey. The talented parent recognized his son’s great gifts and devoted many hours to training Charles’s mental facility and powers of concentration. After Charles’s graduation from Harvard, Benjamin arranged for his Coast Survey employment, which lasted for thirty years. Charles probably also owed to his father an assistantship at the Harvard Observatory from...

  5. 1 An Essay on the Limits of Religious Thought Written to Prove That We Can Reason upon the Nature of God
    (pp. 14-15)

    What can we discuss? Can we discuss nothing we do not comprehend? Can we not even discuss that which has no existence in nature or the imagination? We can discuss whatever we can syllogise upon. We can syllogize upon whatever we can define. And strange as it is we can give intelligible comprehensible definitions of many things which can never be themselves comprehended.

    I will give two instances of this; one simple and the other practical. Suppose somebody should talk about an OG and when you asked him what he meant he should say it was a four-sided triangle. You...

  6. 2 [A Treatise on Metaphysics]
    (pp. 16-22)

    When the view that metaphysics is the study of the human consciousness is carried out in a one-sided way, in forgetfulness that it is as truly Philosophy and also the Analysis of Conceptions, it produces Transcendentalism (better named Criticism), which is the system of investigation which thinks necessary to prove that the normal representations of truth within us are really correct. . . .

    I shall show

    α.that the Transcendentalists conclude with a return to Faith.

    β.that the use they make of it in their own procedure is the source of all that is valuable in their investigations....

  7. 3 On a New List of Categories
    (pp. 23-33)

    §1. This paper is based upon the theory already established, that the function of conceptions is to reduce the manifold of sensuous impressions to unity, and that the validity of a conception consists in the impossibility of reducing the content of consciousness to unity without the introduction of it.

    §2. This theory gives rise to a conception of gradation among those conceptions which are universal. For one such conception may unite the manifold of sense and yet another may be required to unite the conception and the

    manifold to which it is applied; and so on.

    §3. That universal conception...

  8. 4 Questions concerning Certain Faculties Claimed for Man
    (pp. 34-53)

    QUESTION 1.Whether by the simple contemplation of a cognition, independently of any previous knowledge and without reasoning from signs, we are enabled rightly to judge whether that cognition has been determined by a previous cognition or whether it refers immediately to its object.

    Throughout this paper, the term intuition will be taken as signifying a cognition not determined by a previous cognition of the same object, and therefore so determined by something out of the consciousness.¹ Let me request the reader to note this.Intuitionhere will be nearly the same as “premise not itself a conclusion”; the only...

  9. 5 Some Consequences of Four Incapacities
    (pp. 54-84)

    Descartes is the father of modern philosophy, and the spirit of Cartesianism—that which principally distinguishes it from the scholasticism which it displaced—may be compendiously stated as follows:

    1. It teaches that philosophy must begin with universal doubt; whereas scholasticism had never questioned fundamentals.

    2. It teaches that the ultimate test of certainty is to be found in the individual consciousness; whereas scholasticism had rested on the testimony of sages and of the Catholic Church.

    3. The multiform argumentation of the middle ages is replaced by a single thread of inference depending often upon inconspicuous premises.

    4. Scholasticism had...

  10. 6 Grounds of Validity of the Laws of Logic: Further Consequences of Four Incapacities
    (pp. 85-115)

    If, as I maintained in an article in the last number of this Journal, every judgment results from inference, to doubt every inference is to doubt everything. It has often been argued that absolute scepticism is self-contradictory; but this is a mistake: and even if it were not so, it would be no argument against the absolute sceptic, inasmuch as he does not admit that no contradictory propositions are true. Indeed, it would be impossible to move such a man, for his scepticism consists in considering every argument and never deciding upon its validity; he would, therefore, act in this...

  11. 7 [Fraser’s The Works of George Berkeley]
    (pp. 116-140)

    The Works of George Berkeley, D.D., formerly Bishop of Cloyne: including many of his Writings hitherto unpublished.With Prefaces, Annotations, his Life and Letters, and an Account of his Philosophy. By Alexander Campbell Fraser, M.Α., Professor of Logic and Metaphysics in the University of Edinburgh. In Four Volumes. Oxford: At the Clarendon Press. 8vo. 1871.

    This new edition of Berkeley’s works is much superior to any of the former ones. It contains some writings not in any of the other editions, and the rest are given with a more carefully edited text. The editor has done his work well. The...

  12. 8 On the Nature of Signs
    (pp. 141-143)

    A sign is an object which stands for another to some mind. I propose to describe the characters of a sign. In the first place like any other thing it must have qualities which belong to it whether it be regarded as a sign or not. Thus a printed word is black, has a certain number of letters and those letters have certain shapes. Such characters of a sign I call its material quality. In the next place a sign must have some real connection with the thing it signifies so that when the object is present or is so...

  13. 9 The Fixation of Belief
    (pp. 144-159)

    Few persons care to study logic, because everybody conceives himself to be proficient enough in the art of reasoning already. But I observe that this satisfaction is limited to one’s own ratiocination, and does not extend to that of other men.

    We come to the full possession of our power of drawing inferences the last of all our faculties, for it is not so much a natural gift as a long and difficult art. The history of its practice would make a grand subject for a book. The mediaeval schoolmen, following the Romans, made logic the earliest of a boy’s...

  14. 10 How to Make Our Ideas Clear
    (pp. 160-179)

    Whoever has looked into a modern treatise on logic of the common sort, will doubtless remember the two distinctions betweenclearandobscureconceptions, and betweendistinctandconfusedconceptions. They have lain in the books now for nigh two centuries, unimproved and unmodified, and are generally reckoned by logicians as among the gems of their doctrine.

    A clear idea is defined as one which is so apprehended that it will be recognized wherever it is met with, and so that no other will be mistaken for it. If it fails of this clearness, it is said to be obscure....

  15. 11 One, Two, Three: Fundamental Categories of Thought and of Nature
    (pp. 180-185)

    Kant, the King of modern thought, it was who first remarked the frequency in logical analytics oftrichotomiesor three-fold distinctions. It really is so; I have tried hard and long to persuade myself that it is only fanciful, but the facts will not countenance that way of disposing of the phenomenon. Take any ordinary syllogism:

    All men are mortal,

    Elijah was a man;

    Therefore, Elijah was mortal.

    There are here three propositions, namely, two premises and a conclusion; there are also three terms,man,mortal,andElijah.If we transpose one of the premises with the conclusion, denying both,...

  16. 12 A Guess at the Riddle
    (pp. 186-202)

    Chapter 1. One, Two, Three. Already written.

    Chapter 2. The triad in reasoning. Not touched. It is to be made as follows, 1. Three kinds of signs; as best shown in my last paper in theAm. Jour. Math.2. Term, proposition, and argument, mentioned in my paper on a new list of categories. 3. Three kinds of argument, deduction, induction, hypothesis, as shown in my paper inStudies in Logic.Also three figures of syllogism, as shown there and in my paper on the classification of arguments. 4. Three kinds of terms, absolute, relative, and conjugad ve, as shown...

  17. 13 James’s Psychology
    (pp. 203-211)

    Upon this vast work no definitive judgment can be passed for a long time; yet it is probably safe to say that it is the most important contribution that has been made to the subject for many years. Certainly it is one of the most weighty productions of American thought. The directness and sharpness with which we shall state some objections to it must be understood as a tribute of respect.

    Beginning with the most external and insignificant characters, we cannot much admire it as a piece of bookmaking; for it misses the unity of an essay, and almost that...

  18. 14 Man’s Glassy Essence
    (pp. 212-230)

    InThe Monistfor January, 1891, I tried to show what conceptions ought to form the brick and mortar of a philosophical system. Chief among these was that of absolute chance for which I argued again in last April’s number.¹ In July, I applied another fundamental idea, that of continuity, to the law of mind. Next in order, I have to elucidate, from the point of view chosen, the relation between the psychical and physical aspects of a substance.

    The first step towards this ought, I think, to be the framing of a molecular theory of protoplasm. But before doing...

  19. 15 Minute Logic
    (pp. 231-238)

    . . . when we have finished a process of thinking, and come to the logical criticism of it, the first question we ask ourselves is “What did I conclude?” To that we answer with someform of words,probably. Yet we had probably not been thinking in any such form;—certainly not, if our thought amounted to anything. Our whole logical criticism consists in investigating whether or not to one portion of knowledge, expressed presumably in a very different form from that in which it was thought, we can, without serious danger of error, attach a certain addition. What...

  20. 16 Sign
    (pp. 239-240)

    Sign [Lat.signum,a mark, a token]: Ger.Zeichen;Fr.signe;Ital.segno.(I) Anything which determines something else (itsinterpretant) to refer to an object to which itself refers (itsobject) in the same way, the interpretant becoming in turn a sign, and so onad infinitum.

    No doubt, intelligent consciousness must enter into the series. If the series of successive interpretaras comes to an end, the sign is thereby rendered imperfect, at least. If, an interpretant idea having been determined in an individual consciousness, it determines no outward sign, but that consciousness becomes annihilated, or otherwise loses all...

  21. 17 Lectures on Pragmatism
    (pp. 241-245)

    I proceed to argue thatThirdnessis operative in Nature.

    Suppose we attack the question experimentally. Here is a stone. Now I place that stone where there will be no obstacle between it and the floor, and I will predict with confidence that as soon as I let go my hold upon the stone it will fall to the floor. I will prove that I can make a correct prediction by actual trial if you like. But I see by your faces that you all think it will be a very silly experiment. Why so? Because you all know very...

  22. 18 [“Pragmatism” Defined]
    (pp. 246-248)

    No criticism of such a book, no characterization of it, not even as slight a one as that here to be attempted, can have any meaning until the standpoint of the critic’s observations be recognized. Our standpoint will be pragmatism; but this word has been so loosely used, that a partial explanation of its nature is needful, with some indications of the intricate process by which those who hold it become assured of its truth. If philosophy is ever to become a sound science, its students must submit themselves to that same ethics of terminology that students of chemistry and...

  23. 19 Prolegomena to an Apology for Pragmaticism
    (pp. 249-252)

    Come on, my Reader, and let us construct a diagram to illustrate the general course of thought; I mean a System of diagrammatization by means of which any course of thought can be represented with exactitude.

    “But why do that, when the thought itself is present to us?” Such, substantially, has been the interrogative objection raised by more than one or two superior intelligences, among whom I single out an eminent and glorious General.

    Recluse that I am, I was not ready with the counter-question, which should have run, “General, you make use of maps during a campaign, I believe....

  24. 20 The Basis of Pragmaticism
    (pp. 253-259)

    Mr. Ferdinand C. S. Schiller informs us that he and [William] James have made up their minds that the true is simply the satisfactory. No doubt; but to say “satisfactory” is not to complete any predicate whatever. Satisfactory to what end?

    That truth is the correspondence of a representation with its object is, as Kant says, merely the nominal definition of it. Truth belongs exclusively to propositions. A proposition has a subject (or set of subjects) and a predicate. The subject is a sign; the predicate is a sign; and the proposition is a sign that the predicate is a...

  25. 21 A Neglected Argument for the Reality of God
    (pp. 260-278)

    The word “God,” so “capitalised” (as we Americans say), isthedefinable proper name, signifyingEns necessarium; in my belief Really creator of all three Universes of Experience.

    Some words shall herein be capitalised when used, not as vernacular, but as terms defined. Thus an “idea” is the substance of an actual unitary thought or fancy; but “Idea,” nearer Plato’s idea of ιδέα, denotes anything whose Being consists in its mere capacity for getting fully represented, regardless of any person’s faculty or impotence to represent it.

    “Real” is a word invented in the thirteenth century to signify having Properties,i.e....

  26. Bibliography
    (pp. 279-280)
  27. Index
    (pp. 281-284)