§2. The Firstness of Firstness, Secondness and Thirdness


530. But now I wish to call your attention to a kind of distinction which affects Firstness more than it does Secondness, and Secondness more than it does Thirdness. This distinction arises from the circumstance that where you have a triplet you have three pairs; and where you have a pair, you have two units. Thus, Secondness is an essential part of Thirdness though not of Firstness, and Firstness is an essential element of both Secondness and Thirdness. Hence there is such a thing as the Firstness of Secondness and such a thing as the Firstness of Thirdness; and there is such a thing as the Secondness of Thirdness. But there is no Secondness of pure Firstness and no Thirdness of pure Firstness or Secondness. When you strive to get the purest conceptions you can of Firstness, Secondness, and Thirdness, thinking of quality, reaction, and mediation — what you are striving to apprehend is pure Firstness, the Firstness of Secondness — that is what Secondness is, of itself — and the Firstness of Thirdness. When you contrast the blind compulsion in an event of reaction considered as something which happens and which of its nature can never happen again, since you cannot cross the same river twice, when, I say, you contrast this compulsion with the logical necessitation of a meaning considered as something that has no being at all except so far as it actually gets embodied in an event of thought, and you regard this logical necessitation as a sort of actual compulsion, since the meaning must actually be embodied, what you are thinking of is a Secondness involved in Thirdness.

531. A Firstness is exemplified in every quality of a total feeling. It is perfectly simple and without parts; and everything has its quality. Thus the tragedy of King Lear has its Firstness, its flavor sui generis. That wherein all such qualities agree is universal Firstness, the very being of Firstness. The word possibility fits it, except that possibility implies a relation to what exists, while universal Firstness is the mode of being of itself. That is why a new word was required for it. Otherwise, »possibility« would have answered the purpose.

532. As to Secondness, I have said that our only direct knowledge of it is in willing and in the experience of a perception. It is in willing that the Secondness comes out most strongly. But it is not pure Secondness. For, in the first place, he who wills has a purpose; and that idea of purpose makes the act appear as a means to an end. Now the word means is almost an exact synonym to the word third. It certainly involves Thirdness. Moreover, he who wills is conscious of doing so, in the sense of representing to himself that he does so. But representation is precisely genuine Thirdness. You must conceive an instantaneous consciousness that is instantly and totally forgotten and an effort without purpose. It is a hopeless undertaking to try to realize what consciousness would be without the element of representation. It would be like unexpectedly hearing a great explosion of nitroglycerine before one had recovered oneself and merely had the sense of the breaking off of the quiet. Perhaps it might not be far from what ordinary common sense conceives to take place when one billiard ball caroms on another. One ball »acts« on the other; that is, it makes an exertion minus the element of representation. We may say with some approach to accuracy that the general Firstness of all true Secondness is existence, though this term more particularly applies to Secondness in so far as it is an element of the reacting first and second. If we mean Secondness as it is an element of the occurrence, the Firstness of it is actuality. But actuality and existence are words expressing the same idea in different applications. Secondness, strictly speaking, is just when and where it takes place, and has no other being; and therefore different Secondnesses, strictly speaking, have in themselves no quality in common. Accordingly, existence, or the universal Firstness of all Secondness, is really not a quality at all. An actual dollar to your credit in the bank does not differ in any respect from a possible imaginary dollar. For if it did, the imaginary dollar could be imagined to be changed in that respect, so as to agree with the actual dollar. We thus see that actuality is not a quality, or mere mode of feeling. Hence Hegel, whose neglect of Secondness was due chiefly to his not recognizing any other mode of being than existence — and what he calls existenz is a special variety of it merely — regarded pure being as pretty much the same as nothing. It is true that the word »existence« names, as if it were an abstract possibility, that which is precisely the not having any being in abstract possibility; and this circumstance, when you look upon existence as the only being, seems to make existence all but the same as nothing.

533. To express the Firstness of Thirdness, the peculiar flavor or color of mediation, we have no really good word. Mentality is, perhaps, as good as any, poor and inadequate as it is. Here, then, are three kinds of Firstness, qualitative possibility, existence, mentality, resulting from applying Firstness to the three categories. We might strike new words for them: primity, secundity, tertiality.

534. There are also three other kinds of Firstness which arise in a somewhat similar way; namely, the idea of a simple original quality, the idea of a quality essentially relative, such as that of being »an inch long"; and the idea of a quality that consists in the way something is thought or represented, such as the quality of being manifest.

535. I shall not enter into any exact analysis of these ideas. I only wished to give you such slight glimpse as I could of the sort of questions that busy the student of phenomenology, merely to lead up to Thirdness and to the particular kind and aspect of Thirdness which is the sole object of logical study. I want first to show you what genuine Thirdness is and what are its two degenerate forms. Now we found the genuine and degenerate forms of Secondness by considering the full ideas of first and second. Then the genuine Secondness was found to be reaction, where first and second are both true seconds and the Secondness is something distinct from them, while in degenerate Secondness, or mere reference, the first is a mere first never attaining full Secondness.


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