§3. The Reality of Thirdness 1)
343. . . . It is impossible to resolve everything in our thoughts into those two elements [of Firstness and Secondness]. We may say that the bulk of what is actually done consists of Secondness — or better, Secondness is the predominant character of what has been done. The immediate present, could we seize it, would have no character but its Firstness. Not that I mean to say that immediate consciousness (a pure fiction, by the way), would be Firstness, but that the quality of what we are immediately conscious of, which is no fiction, is Firstness. But we constantly predict what is to be. Now what is to be, according to our conception of it, can never become wholly past. In general, we may say that meanings are inexhaustible. We are too apt to think that what one means to do and the meaning of a word are quite unrelated meanings of the word »meaning,« or that they are only connected by both referring to some actual operation of the mind. Professor Royce especially in his great work The World and the Individual has done much to break up this mistake. In truth the only difference is that when a person means to do anything he is in some state in consequence of which the brute reactions between things will be moulded [in] to conformity to the form to which the man's mind is itself moulded, while the meaning of a word really lies in the way in which it might, in a proper position in a proposition believed, tend to mould the conduct of a person into conformity to that to which it is itself moulded. Not only will meaning always, more or less, in the long run, mould reactions to itself, but it is only in doing so that its own being consists. For this reason I call this element of the phenomenon or object of thought the element of Thirdness. It is that which is what it is by virtue of imparting a quality to reactions in the future.
344. There is a strong tendency in us all to be sceptical about there being any real meaning or law in things. This scepticism is strongest in the most masculine thinkers. I applaud scepticism with all my heart, provided it have four qualities: first, that it be sincere and real doubt; second, that it be aggressive; third, that it push inquiry; and fourth, that it stand ready to acknowledge what it now doubts, as soon as the doubted element comes clearly to light. To be angry with sceptics, who, whether they are aware of it or not, are the best friends of spiritual truth, is a manifest sign that the angry person is himself infected with scepticism — not, however, of the innocent and wholesome kind that tries to bring truth to light, but of the mendacious, clandestine, disguised, and conservative variety that is afraid of truth, although truth merely means the way to attain one's purposes. If the sceptics think that any account can be given of the phenomena of the universe while they leave Meaning out of account, by all means let them go ahead and try to do it. It is a most laudable and wholesome enterprise. But when they go so far as to say that there is no such idea in our minds, irreducible to anything else, I say to them, »Gentlemen, your strongest sentiment, to which I subscribe with all my heart, is that a man worthy of that name will not allow petty intellectual predilections to blind him to truth, which consists in the conformity of his thoughts to his purposes. But you know there is such a thing as a defect of candor of which one is not oneself aware. You perceive, no doubt, that if there be an element of thought irreducible to any other, it would be hard, on your principles, to account for man's having it, unless he derived it from environing Nature. But if, because of that, you were to turn your gaze away from an idea that shines out clearly in your mind, you would be violating your principles in a very much more radical way.«
345. I will sketch a proof that the idea of meaning is irreducible to those of quality and reaction. It depends on two main premisses. The first is that every genuine triadic relation involves meaning, as meaning is obviously a triadic relation. The second is that a triadic relation is inexpressible by means of dyadic relations alone. Considerable reflexion may be required to convince yourself of the first of these premisses, that every triadic relation involves meaning. There will be two lines of inquiry. First, all physical forces appear to subsist between pairs of particles. This was assumed by Helmholtz in his original paper, On the Conservation of Forces.1) Take any fact in physics of the triadic kind, by which I mean a fact which can only be defined by simultaneous reference to three things, and you will find there is ample evidence that it never was produced by the action of forces on mere dyadic conditions. Thus, your right hand is that hand which is toward the east, when you face the north with your head toward the zenith. Three things, east, west, and up, are required to define the difference between right and left. Consequently chemists find that those substances which rotate the plane of polarization to the right or left can only be produced from such [similar] active substances. They are all of such complex constitution that they cannot have existed when the earth was very hot, and how the first one was produced is a puzzle. It cannot have been by the action of brute forces. For the second branch of the inquiry, you must train yourself to the analysis of relations, beginning with such as are very markedly triadic, gradually going on to others. In that way, you will convince yourself thoroughly that every genuine triadic relation involves thought or meaning. Take, for example, the relation of giving. A gives B to C. This does not consist in A's throwing B away and its accidentally hitting C, like the date-stone, which hit the Jinnee in the eye. If that were all, it would not be a genuine triadic relation, but merely one dyadic relation followed by another. There need be no motion of the thing given. Giving is a transfer of the right of property. Now right is a matter of law, and law is a matter of thought and meaning. I there leave the matter to your own reflection, merely adding that, though I have inserted the word "genuine,« yet I do not really think that necessary. I think even degenerate triadic relations involve something like thought.
346. The other premiss of the argument that genuine triadic relations can never be built of dyadic relations and of qualities is easily shown. In existential graphs, a spot with one tail — X represents a quality, a spot with two tails — R — a dyadic relation.1) Joining the ends of two tails is also a dyadic relation. But you can never by such joining make a graph with three tails. You may think that a node connecting three lines of identity Y is not a triadic idea. But analysis will show that it is so. I see a man on Monday. On Tuesday I see a man, and I exclaim, »Why, that is the very man I saw on Monday.« We may say, with sufficient accuracy, that I directly experienced the identity. On Wednesday I see a man and I say, »That is the same man I saw on Tuesday, and consequently is the same I saw on Monday.« There is a recognition of triadic identity; but it is only brought about as a conclusion from two premisses, which is itself a triadic relation. If I see two men at once, I cannot by any such direct experience identify both of them with a man I saw before. I can only identify them if I regard them, not as the very same, but as two different manifestations of the same man. But the idea of manifestation is the idea of a sign.
Now a sign is something, A, which denotes some fact or object, B, to some interpretant thought, C.
347. It is interesting to remark that while a graph with three tails cannot be made out of graphs each with two or one tail, yet combinations of graphs of three tails each will suffice to build graphs with every higher number of tails.
And analysis will show that every relation which is tetradic, pentadic, or of any greater number of correlates is nothing but a compound of triadic relations. It is therefore not surprising to find that beyond the three elements of Firstness, Secondness, and Thirdness, there is nothing else to be found in the phenomenon.
348. As to the common aversion to recognizing thought as an active factor in the real world, some of its causes are easily traced. In the first place, people are persuaded that everything that happens in the material universe is a motion completely determined by inviolable laws of dynamics; and that, they think, leaves no room for any other influence. But the laws of dynamics stand on quite a different footing from the laws of gravitation, elasticity, electricity, and the like. The laws of dynamics are very much like logical principles, if they are not precisely that. They only say how bodies will move after you have said what the forces are. They permit any forces, and therefore any motions. Only, the principle of the conservation of energy requires us to explain certain kinds of motions by special hypotheses about molecules and the like. Thus, in order that the viscosity of gases should not disobey that law we have to suppose that gases have a certain molecular constitution. Setting dynamical laws to one side, then, as hardly being positive laws, but rather mere formal principles, we have only the laws of gravitation, elasticity, electricity, and chemistry. Now who will deliberately say that our knowledge of these laws is sufficient to make us reasonably confident that they are absolutely eternal and immutable, and that they escape the great law of evolution? Each hereditary character is a law, but it is subject to developement and to decay. Each habit of an individual is
a law; but these laws are modified so easily by the operation of self-control, that it is one of the most patent of facts that ideals and thought generally have a very great influence on human conduct. That truth and justice are great powers in the world is no figure of speech, but a plain fact to which theories must accommodate themselves.
349. The child, with his wonderful genius for language, naturally looks upon the world as chiefly governed by thought; for thought and expression are really one. As Wordsworth truly says, the child is quite right in this; he is an
»eye among the blind,
»On whom those truths do rest
»Which we are toiling all our lives to find.«
But as he grows up, he loses this faculty; and all through his childhood he has been stuffed with such a pack of lies, which parents are accustomed to think are the most wholesome food for the child — because they do not think of his future — that he begins real life with the utmost contempt for all the ideas of his childhood; and the great truth of the immanent power of thought in the universe is flung away along with the lies. I offer this hypothetical explanation because, if the common aversion to regarding thought as a real power, or as anything but a fantastic figment, were really natural, it would make an argument of no little strength against its being acknowledged as a real power.