§2. Thirdness and Generality

102. You may, perhaps, ask me how I connect generality with Thirdness. Various different replies, each fully satisfactory, may be made to that inquiry. The old definition of a general is Generale est quod natum aptum est dici de multis.2) This recognizes that the general is essentially predicative and therefore of the nature of a representamen. And by following out that path of suggestion we should obtain a good reply to the inquiry.

103. In another respect, however, the definition represents a very degenerate sort of generality. None of the scholastic logics fails to explain that sol is a general term; because although there happens to be but one sun yet the term sol aptum natum est dici de multis. But that is most inadequately expressed. If sol is apt to be predicated of many, it is apt to be predicated of any multitude however great, and since there is no maximum multitude,3) those objects, of which it is fit to be predicated, form an aggregate that exceeds all multitude. Take any two possible objects that might be called suns and, however much alike they may be, any multitude whatsoever of intermediate suns are alternatively possible, and therefore as before these intermediate possible suns transcend all multitude. In short, the idea of a general involves the idea of possible variations which no multitude of existent things could exhaust but would leave between any two not merely many possibilities, but possibilities absolutely beyond all multitude.

104. Now Thirdness is nothing but the character of an object which embodies Betweenness or Mediation in its simplest and most rudimentary form; and I use it as the name of that element of the phenomenon which is predominant wherever Mediation is predominant, and which reaches its fullness in Representation.

105. Thirdness, as I use the term, is only a synonym for Representation, to which I prefer the less colored term because its suggestions are not so narrow and special as those of the word Representation. Now it is proper to say that a general principle that is operative in the real world is of the essential nature of a Representation and of a Symbol because its modus operandi is the same as that by which words produce physical effects. Nobody can deny that words do produce such effects. Take, for example, that sentence of Patrick Henry which, at the time of our Revolution, was repeated by every man to his neighbor:

"Three millions of people, armed in the holy cause of Liberty, and in such a country as we possess, are invincible against any force that the enemy can bring against us.«

Those words present this character of the general law of nature. They might have produced effects indefinitely transcending any that circumstances allowed them to produce. It might, for example, have happened that some American schoolboy, sailing as a passenger in the Pacific Ocean, should have idly written down those words on a slip of paper. The paper might have been tossed overboard and might have been picked up by some Jagala on a beach of the island of Luzon; and if he had had them translated to him, they might easily have passed from mouth to mouth there as they did in this country, and with similar effect.

106. Words then do produce physical effects. It is madness to deny it. The very denial of it involves a belief in it; and nobody can consistently fail to acknowledge it until he sinks to a complete mental paresis.

But how do they produce their effect? They certainly do not, in their character as symbols, directly react upon matter. Such action as they have is merely logical. It is not even psychological. It is merely that one symbol would justify another. However, suppose that first difficulty to have been surmounted, and that they do act upon actual thoughts. That thoughts act on the physical world and conversely, is one of the most familiar of facts. Those who deny it are persons with whom theories are stronger than facts. But how thoughts act on things it is impossible for us, in the present state of our knowledge, so much as to make any very promising guess; although, as I will show you presently,1) a guess can be made which suffices to show that the problem is not beyond all hope of ultimate solution.

107. All this is equally true of the manner in which the laws of nature influence matter. A law is in itself nothing but a general formula or symbol. An existing thing is simply a blind reacting thing, to which not merely all generality, but even all representation, is utterly foreign. The general formula may logically determine another, less broadly general. But it will be of its essential nature general, and its being narrower does not in the least constitute any participation in the reacting character of the thing. Here we have that great problem of the principle of individuation which the scholastic doctors after a century of the closest possible analysis were obliged to confess was quite incomprehensible to them. Analogy suggests that the laws of nature are ideas or resolutions in the mind of some vast consciousness, who, whether supreme or subordinate, is a Deity relatively to us. I do not approve of mixing up Religion and Philosophy; but as a purely philosophical hypothesis, that has the advantage of being supported by analogy. Yet I cannot clearly see that beyond that support to the imagination it is of any particular scientific service. . . .

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