RE: Signs, signs, everywhere there's signs.

From: Cunningham, Donald J. (
Date: Thu Dec 16 2004 - 15:54:08 PST

It was a conference paper long ago and not even Google desktop could
turn it up. It is probably in print somewhere but it doesn't say much
more than it would be a good idea to explore this link. Artifacts (tools
and signs) mediate, but how and why? The qualisign, sinsign, legisign
triad, for example, might offer that mediation by an artifact could be
related to a quality of the artifact, something about its physicality,
or by some habitual action. Icon, index and symbol would offer different
distinctions for mediation. And so on. That could be the how. The why
is more difficult and leads us off into the land of the spread of
interpretants or unlimited semiosis. Context is key!

There is quite a bit written on firstness, secondness and thirdness,
most of it quite obtuse and obscure. Tony Whitson might have a good
reference. In the class I teach I give people this (many drop soon

Three categories of phenomena

1. Firstness - "the mode of being of that which is such as it is,
positively and without reference to anything else", such as qualities of
feeling (experienced only, not reflected upon) or outward appearances
(sensed only, not analyzed or rationalized). Things that are by nature
firsts are referred to as monads.

2. Secondness - "the mode of being of that which is as it is, with
respect to a second but regardless of any third". These are actually
existent things and events but come into being only when paired with
something else, as dyads. So, for example, a married couple is a pair
which has a man and a woman as requisites, but which is more than either
just a man and/or a woman. In secondness, one thing generally acts on
another thing in such a way that by virtue of the interaction, both
things acquire a status beyond their mere qualities or appearances.

3. Thirdness - "the mode of being of that which is such as it is, in
bringing a second and a third into relation with one another." A thing
is a third if its nature is to mediate a particular, otherwise
non-existent relationship between two further things. Thus a triad is
involved, but one of the three is serving a mediating role.

This is Peirce's phenomenology (or phaneroscopy). What is the "stuff" of
the world with which we can engage in semiosis? Basically there are
qualities, things and relationships (connections). We as cognitive
beings live in a world of thirdness.

The reason this is important is that it explains why so much of Peirce
is in threes. Icon, index symbol. Abduction, induction, deduction. Etc.
Invariably one of the three is mostly about firstness, another about
secondness, the last about thirdness. Peirce seems pretty
incomprehensible (he did to me at least) until this basic insight is

Dinner time.......djc

-----Original Message-----
From: Mike Cole []
Sent: Thursday, December 16, 2004 5:46 PM
Subject: Re: Signs, signs, everywhere there's signs.

Don-- Might you point us to your point us to your rash moment when
dealing with signs and artifacts? And to your favorite dicussion of
first, second, and thirdness?

To me, the articles for discussions are media for our collective self
-development. For my part, as someone who may not understand artifacts
but thinks about them, I would be happy to try to build on next

There is a paper by (I think) Bourne and Shewder or Shweder and someone
on the
semiotic nature of the self in cultural psychology. If that is
relevant, I can chase it down and try to make it available.

On Thu, 16 Dec 2004 15:43:09 -0500, Cunningham, Donald J.
<> wrote:
> There is much to admire in Uslucan's paper but also much I would
> critique. To leave aside a discussion of firstness, secondness and
> thirdness is a bit like a discussion of Descartes leaving out that
> issue of mind/body. I am especially concerned that the paper gives the
> impression that Peirce minimizes the importance of doubt when in fact
> doubt (genuine doubt that arises from experience) is the only state in
> which we learn something new. It is true that he saw no need for the
> methodological form of doubt used by Descartes as a tool to discover
> indubitable, but that is an entirely different issue. Likewise, for
> Peirce all thought is in signs, but not all signs are thoughts.
> is semiosic but not all semiosis is dialogic (unless you take dialogue
> as a metaphor for all inter- or trans-action).
> But perhaps a more useful activity than taking shots at the article is
> to consider the broader question of how Peircean semiotics might
> activity theory and vice versa. In a rash moment I once suggested that
> Peirce's concept of sign might elucidate the concept of artifact in
> CHAT. That may be because I never had a very clear idea of artifact
> (never mind object!)...........djc
> Don Cunningham
> Indiana University
> -----Original Message-----
> From: Bill Barowy []
> Sent: Thursday, December 16, 2004 12:09 PM
> To:
> Subject: Signs, signs, everywhere there's signs.
> "..dialogue is the genuine context in which signs evolve. The semiotic
> activity has at least two sides: the generation of signs and the
> interpretation of signs. All signs require two minds: (a) a quasi
> utterer,
> and a (b) quasi interpreter (CP 4.551). Dialogicity is not only a
> special
> human capacity but, far more, it is a constitutive condition of signs
> and of
> the act of semiosis."
> I think this is where semiotics, while preserving the constructive
> nature of
> meaning making, departs radically from constructivism (a culture-free
> individually-focussed epistemology) to account for a collective basis
> thought. "Mind is distributed" seems to be the buzzphrase, but it is
> more
> than that - signs, in their evolution, have a history closely tied to
> ontogenesis. As well as being dialogic, semiosis relies upon the
> of
> the interpretant, with whom interpretation is a
> putting-into-relation-of-prior-signs. Ontogenesis is now a
> of
> the "semiotic self" and consequently developmental processes are
> bi-directional.
> Semiosis is inherently dynamic, dependent over time: "Even in the most
> private
> moment, thinking is dialogue between the self of the moment and the
> of
> the next moment"
> And a solid methodology of semiotics is forthcoming (I've heard
> approches termed "eclectic"): Peirce "failed to formulate the
> basis of the semiotic constitution...."
> But I think I disagree with this: "The idea of a semiotic psychology
> to
> look at how signs actually function in intrapersonal and interpersonal
> behavior. "
> Isn't the nature of semiosis, by involving signs that are always
> cultural,
> fundamentally and only interpersonal, never intrapersonal in the
> traditional
> sense, no matter how private is the private moment?
> bb

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