§2. Representation and Generality 1)
338. The ideas in which Thirdness is predominant are, as might be expected, more complicated, and mostly require careful analysis to be clearly apprehended; for ordinary, unenergetic thought slurs over this element as too difficult. There is all the more need of examining some of these ideas.
339. The easiest of those which are of philosophical interest is the idea of a sign, or representation.2) A sign stands for something to the idea which it produces, or modifies. Or, it is a vehicle conveying into the mind something from without. That for which it stands is called its object; that which it conveys, its meaning; and the idea to which it gives rise, its interpretant. The object of representation can be nothing but a representation of which the first representation is the interpretant. But an endless series of representations, each representing the one behind it, may be conceived to have an absolute object at its limit. The meaning of a representation can be nothing but a representation. In fact, it is nothing but the representation itself conceived as stripped of irrelevant clothing. But this clothing never can be completely stripped off; it is only changed for something more diaphanous. So there is an infinite regression here. Finally, the interpretant is nothing but another representation to which the torch of truth is handed along; and as representation, it has its interpretant again. Lo, another infinite series.
340. Some of the ideas of prominent Thirdness which, owing to their great importance in philosophy and in science, require attentive study are generality, infinity, continuity, diffusion, growth, and intelligence.
341. Let us examine the idea of generality. Every cook has in her recipe-book a collection of rules, which she is accustomed to follow. An apple pie is desired. Now, observe that we seldom, probably never, desire a single individual thing. What we want is something which shall produce a certain pleasure of a certain kind. To speak of a single individual pleasure is to use words without meaning. We may have a single experience of pleasure; but the pleasure itself is a quality. Experiences are single; but qualities, however specialized, cannot be enumerated. There are some two dozen kinds of metals well known to me. I remember to have examined lumps of those qualities. But it is only the limitation of experience which attaches that number; there is simply no end to the metallic qualities I can imagine. I can imagine an infinite variety between tin and lead, or between copper and silver, or between iron and nickel, or between magnesium and aluminum. An apple pie, then, is desired — a good apple pie, made of fresh apples, with a crust moderately light and somewhat short, neither too sweet nor too sour, etc. But it is not any particular apple pie; for it is to be made for the occasion; and the only particularity about it is that it is to be made and eaten today. For that, apples are wanted; and remembering that there is a barrel of apples in the cellar, the cook goes to the cellar and takes the apples that are uppermost and handiest. That is an example of following a general rule. She is directed to take apples. Many times she has seen things which were called apples, and has noticed their common quality. She knows how to find such things now; and as long as they are sound and fine, any apples will do. What she desires is something of a given quality; what she has to take is this or that particular apple. From the nature of things, she cannot take the quality but must take the particular thing. Sensation and volition being affairs of action and reaction relate to particular things. She has seen only particular apples, and can take only particular apples. But desire has nothing to do with particulars; it relates to qualities. Desire is not a reaction with reference to a particular thing; it is an idea about an idea, namely, the idea of how delightful it would be for me, the cook's master, to eat an apple pie. However, what is desired is not a mere unattached quality; what is desired is that the dream of eating an apple pie should be realized in Me; and this Me is an object of experience. So with the cook's desire. She has no particular apple pie she particularly prefers to serve; but she does desire and intend to serve an apple pie to a particular person. When she goes into the cellar for the apples, she takes whatever bowl or basket comes handy, without caring what one, so long as it has a certain size, is clean, and has other qualities, but having once selected it, into that particular bowl she intends to put some apples. She takes any apples that are handy and seem good; but having taken them she means to make a pie of those apples. If she chances to see some others in the kitchen, on her return from the cellar, she will not use them for the pie, unless for some reason she changes her mind. Throughout her whole proceedings she pursues an idea or dream without any particular thisness or thatness — or, as we say, hecceity — to it, but this dream she wishes to realize in connection with an object of experience, which as such, does possess hecceity; and since she has to act, and action only relates to this and that, she has to be perpetually making random selections, that is, taking whatever comes handiest.
342. The dream itself has no prominent thirdness; it is, on the contrary, utterly irresponsible; it is whatever it pleases. The object of experience as a reality is a second. But the desire in seeking to attach the one to the other is a third, or medium.
So it is with any law of nature. Were it but a mere idea unrealized — and it is of the nature of an idea — it would be a pure first. The cases to which it applies, are seconds.