§2. The Firstness of Firstness, Secondness and Thirdness
536. Let us proceed in the same way with Thirdness. We have here a first, a second, and a third. The first is a positive qualitative possibility, in itself nothing more. The second is an existent thing without any mode of being less than existence, but determined by that first. A third has a mode of being which consists in the Secondnesses that it determines, the mode of being of a law, or concept. Do not confound this with the ideal being of a quality in itself. A quality is something capable of being completely embodied. A law never can be embodied in its character as a law except by determining a habit. A quality is how something may or might have been. A law is how an endless future must continue to be.
537. Now in genuine Thirdness, the first, the second, and the third are all three of the nature of thirds, or thought, while in respect to one another they are first, second, and third. The first is thought in its capacity as mere possibility; that is, mere mind capable of thinking, or a mere vague idea. The second is thought playing the role of a Secondness, or event. That is, it is of the general nature of experience or information. The third is thought in its role as governing Secondness. It brings the information into the mind, or determines the idea and gives it body. It is informing thought, or cognition. But take away the psychological or accidental human element, and in this genuine Thirdness we see the operation of a sign.
538. Every sign stands for an object independent of itself; but it can only be a sign of that object in so far as that object is itself of the nature of a sign or thought. For the sign does not affect the object but is affected by it; so that the object must be able to convey thought, that is, must be of the nature of thought or of a sign. Every thought is a sign. But in the first degree of degeneracy the Thirdness affects the object, so that this is not of the nature of a Thirdness — not so, at least, as far as this operation of degenerate Thirdness is concerned. It is that the third brings about a Secondness but does not regard that Secondness as anything more than a fact. In short it is the operation of executing an intention. In the last degree of degeneracy of Thirdness, there is thought, but no conveyance or embodiment of thought at all. It is merely that a fact of which there must be, I suppose, something like knowledge is apprehended according to a possible idea. There is an instigation without any prompting. For example, you look at something and say, »It is red.« Well, I ask you what justification you have for such a judgment. You reply, »I saw it was red.« Not at all. You saw nothing in the least like that. You saw an image. There was no subject or predicate in it. It was just one unseparated image, not resembling a proposition in the smallest particular. It instigated you to your judgment, owing to a possibility of thought; but it never told you so. Now in all imagination and perception there is such an operation by which thought springs up; and its only justification is that it subsequently turns out to be useful.
539. Now it may be that logic ought to be the science of Thirdness in general. But as I have studied it, it is simply the science of what must be and ought to be true representation, so far as representation can be known without any gathering of special facts beyond our ordinary daily life. It is, in short, the philosophy of representation.
540. The analysis which I have just used to give you some notion of genuine Thirdness and its two forms of degeneracy is the merest rough blackboard sketch of the true state of things; and I must begin the examination of representation by defining representation a little more accurately. In the first place, as to my terminology, I confine the word representation to the operation of a sign or its relation to the object for the interpreter of the representation. The concrete subject that represents I call a sign or a representamen. I use these two words, sign and representamen, differently. By a sign I mean anything which conveys any definite notion of an object in any way, as such conveyers of thought are familiarly known to us. Now I start with this familiar idea and make the best analysis I can of what is essential to a sign, and I define a representamen as being whatever that analysis applies to. If therefore I have committed an error in my analysis, part of what I say about signs will be false. For in that case a sign may not be a representamen. The analysis is certainly true of the representamen, since that is all that word means. Even if my analysis is correct, something may happen to be true of all signs, that is of everything that, antecedently to any analysis, we should be willing to regard as conveying a notion of anything, while there might be something which my analysis describes of which the same thing is not true. In particular, all signs convey notions to human minds; but I know no reason why every representamen should do so.
541. My definition of a representamen is as follows:
A REPRESENTAMEN is a subject of a triadic relation TO a second, called its OBJECT, FOR a third, called its INTERPRETANT, this triadic relation being such that the REPRESENTAMEN determines its interpretant to stand in the same triadic relation to the same object for some interpretant.
542. It follows at once that this relation cannot consist in any actual event that ever can have occurred; for in that case there would be another actual event connecting the interpretant to an interpretant of its own of which the same would be true; and thus there would be an endless series of events which could have actually occurred, which is absurd. For the same reason the interpretant cannot be a definite individual object. The relation must therefore consist in a power of the representamen to determine some interpretant to being a representamen of the same object.
543. Here we make a new distinction. You see the principle of our procedure. We begin by asking what is the mode of being of the subject of inquiry, that is, what is its absolute and most universal Firstness? The answer comes, that it is either the Firstness of Firstness, the Firstness of Secondness, or the Firstness of Thirdness.
We then ask what is the universal Secondness, and what the universal Thirdness, of the subject in hand.
Next we say that Firstness of Firstness, that Firstness of Secondness and that Firstness of Thirdness, that have been described, have been the Firstness of the Firstness in each case. But what is the Secondness that is involved in it and what is the Thirdness?
So the Secondnesses as they have been first given are the Firstnesses of those Secondnesses. We ask what Secondness they involve and what Thirdness. And so we have endless questions, of which I have only given you small scraps.
The answers to these questions do not come of themselves. They require the most laborious study, the most careful and exact examination. The system of questions does not save that trouble in the least degree. It enormously increases it by multiplying the questions that are suggested. But it forces us along step by step to much clearer conceptions of the objects of logic than have ever been attained before. The hard fact that it has yielded such fruit is the principal argument in its favor.
544. The method has a general similarity to Hegel's. It would be historically false to call it a modification of Hegel's. It was brought into being by the study of Kant's categories and not Hegel's. Hegel's method has the defect of not working at all if you think with too great exactitude. Moreover, it presents no such definite question to the mind as this method does. This method works better the finer and more accurate the thought. The subtlest mind cannot get the best possible results from it; but a mind of very moderate skill can make better analyses by this method than the same mind could obtain without it, by far.
Analyses apparently conflicting may be obtained by this method by different minds, owing to the impossibility of conforming strictly to the requirements. But it does not follow that the results are utterly wrong. They will be two imperfect analyses, each getting a part of the truth.