RE: Peirce

From: Cunningham, Donald J. (
Date: Mon Jan 17 2005 - 15:05:39 PST

Jay's message popped in just as I was typing "sop to Cerberus" so that makes him top dog!


In my simple minded way, I think of possible interpretants as feelings, actions and thoughts (firsts, seconds and thirds again?). But there is no doubt that much of the discussion in Peirce is about thinking and reasoning. In fact he was drawn to the study of signs in his search for a model of meaning valid for scientific reasoning. This is a key passage. We could spend weeks unpacking this:


Logic, in its general sense, is ...only another name for semiotic ({sémeiötiké}), the quasi-necessary, or formal, doctrine of signs. By describing the doctrine as "quasi-necessary," or formal, I mean that we observe the characters of such signs as we know, and from such an observation, by a process which I will not object to naming Abstraction, we are led to statements, eminently fallible, and therefore in one sense by no means necessary, as to what must be the characters of all signs used by a "scientific" intelligence, that is to say, by an intelligence capable of learning by experience. As to that process of abstraction, it is itself a sort of observation........ [The person] makes in his imagination a sort of skeleton diagram, or outline sketch ......, considers what modifications the hypothetical state of things would require to be made in that picture, and then examines it, that is, observes what he has imagined....... By such a process, which is at bottom very much like mathematical reasoning, we can reach conclusions as to what would be true of signs in all cases, so long as the intelligence using them was scientific. The modes of thought of a God, who should possess an intuitive omniscience superseding reason, are put out of the question. Now the whole process of development among the community of students of those formulations by abstractive observation and reasoning of the truths which must hold good of all signs used by a scientific intelligence is an observational science, like any other positive science, notwithstanding its strong contrast to all the special sciences which arises from its aiming to find out what must be and not merely what is in the actual world. (Peirce 2.227, emphases in original)



Don Cunningham

Indiana University


From: Jay Lemke []
Sent: Monday, January 17, 2005 5:24 PM
Subject: Re: Peirce


This is a famous question, and Peirce specialists can answer better than I.

But in a letter, Peirce wrote that "as a sop to Cerberus" he had explained semiosis and especially the interpretant in mentalistic terms, because otherwise he thought no one would understand what he was trying to say. He was quite ahead of his time.

I believe that ultimately the relations of representamen-object-interpretant are meant to be purely LOGICAL (i.e. formal) relations, at least initially, in CSP. I think he eventually moved to a more "system" -like view, in which semiosis is a process conducted by some material system, in which the logical relations are instantiated.

He may well have been a "mentalist" in general, but he certainly did not regard mind as more fundamental than or prior to meaning, semiosis, or, certainly, logic.

I won't speak for Uslucan's interpretation of Peirce.


At 08:50 AM 1/17/2005, you wrote:

<?xml version="1.0" ?>
Hello everybody,
On 2004-12-20 I sent you this message but I didn't get through. It 's a little late in the day, but ...
My name is Ini Haket and I am from the Netherlands. I'm glad to have the opportunity to participate in your discussions. I read the article about Peirce and it left me with the following problem.
Did I find a mentalistic conception of meaning in Uslucan's article? When I started reading, I expected to find more about meaning and especially about topics like embodied meaning, meaning as a relation with the world or joint understanding. I found far less about meaning, than I expected in an article about signs. Why isn't for instance meaning in fig 1 en 2 in the middle instead of two times sign in one figure? What I found gave me the impression that meaning is mainly made inside the subjects head. It is true Uslucan writes that the interpretant is "the act as an entity (101). This could mean that the interpretant is something like a transaction in Dewey's terms. But meaning is not linked to the interpretant: it is "the images the sign creates in the mind of the person (101) In other places I don't find the act but just the subject (103: "... the role of the subject - the interpretant - is evident: it is the determination of the meaning of signs." ; also 99 and 100). Did I get this al wrong or is either Peirce or Uslucan's interpretation of his work mentalistic?

Jay Lemke
University of Michigan
School of Education
610 East University
Ann Arbor, MI 48109

Tel. 734-763-9276

This archive was generated by hypermail 2b29 : Tue Feb 01 2005 - 01:00:05 PST