The One Law of Mind
By C.B. Wilson
July 13, 2012
“Logical analysis applied to mental phenomena shows that there is but one law of mind, namely, that ideas tend to spread continuously and to affect certain others which stand to them in a peculiar relation of affectibility. In this spreading they lose intensity, and especially the power of affecting others, but gain generality and become welded with other ideas” (EP1: 313, 1892).
This paper will present a perspective that relates the semiotic of C. S. Peirce and mental phenomenon. Given Peirce’s proposition that ideas affect each other and stand in a particular relation to each other, what can semiotic show us that reveals the meaning behind this one law of mind? I will start by deriving a general definition of a sign, which resembles the syllogistic form Barbara, then I will develop this general semiotic structure into a model that shows how objective sign activity relates to subjective1 mental states and then argue that this is representative of pragmaticism.
The central conception in Peirce’s semiotics is the sign. From The Essential Peirce: Selected Philosophical Writings, vol. 2, there are ten definitions of sign. The selected accounts of the definition begin chronologically three years after publication of Peirce’s essay The Law of Mind, in The Monist 1892, where he states what the one law of mind is. All of these definitions help express the dynamics of the law of mind and they have the same general logical form. I have chosen just four examples that are concise enough to represent the whole set of definitions referred to in The Essential Peirce.
1) “I use the word ‘Sign’ in the widest sense for any medium for the communication or extension of a Form (or feature). Being medium, it is determined by something, called its Object, and determines something, called its Interpretant or Interpretand” (Excerpts from Lady Welby, EP2: 477, 1906).
2) “I will say that a sign is anything, of whatsoever mode of being, which mediates between an object and an interpretant; since it is both determined by the object relatively to the interpretant, and determines the interpretant in reference to the object, in such wise as to cause the interpretant to be determined by the object through the mediation of this ‘sign’” (Pragmatism, EP2: 410, 1907).
3) “I define a Sign as anything which is so determined by something else, called its Object, and so determines an effect upon a person, which effect I call its Interpretant, that the latter is thereby mediately determined by the former” (Excerpts from Lady Welby, EP2: 478, 1908).
4) “I define a Sign as anything which on the one hand is so determined by an Object and on the other hand so determines an idea in a person’s mind, that this later determination, which I term the Interpretant of the Sign, is thereby mediately determined by that Object. A Sign, therefore, has a triadic relation to its Object and to its Interpretant. It is necessary to distinguish the Immediate Object, or the Object as the Sign represents it, from the Dynamical Object, or really efficient but not immediately present Object. It is likewise requisite to distinguish the Immediate Interpretant, i.e., the Interpretant represented or signified in the Sign, from the Dynamic Interpretant, or effect actually produced on the mind by the Sign; and both of these from the Normal Interpretant, or effect that would be produced on the mind by the Sign after sufficient development of thought” (Excerpts from Lady Welby, EP2: 482, 1908).
From all the definitions of a sign, the question is posed: what is the invariant common core of the definition of Sign? Which I will answer with three simple formulations:
1.1) A Sign always determines its Interpretant.
1.2) A Sign is always determined by its Object.
1.3) A Sign always mediates between its Object and its Interpretant.
This form resembles the syllogism Barbara mainly in the two premises.
2.1) All M are P
2.2) All S are M
2.3) All S are P
The Semiotic terms Object, Sign, and Interpretant are like the Syllogistic terms Subject, Middle Term, and Predicate respectively. Comparing 1.2 with 2.2 we observe that “A Sign is always determined by its Object,” is like, “All S are M,” and comparing 1.1 with 2.1 we observe “A Sign always determines its Interpretant,” is like, “All M are P.” In both forms, semiotic and syllogistic, there is a term that mediates. The syllogism formulates a conclusion that drops the middle term, thus we have “All S are P,” and the semiotic form concludes that the middle term or sign “always mediates between the Object and Interpretant.2” It seems imperative that we view these two forms as expressions of the same logical phenomenon, though which formulation is referred to leads to different perspectives on the nature of validity. Barbara is the paradigmatic form for deduction, but the form outlined in 1.1 - 1.3 seems to be representative of Abduction, Peirce’s original discovery.
From MS 339 a matrix for ten divisions of a Sign is given. In this matrix three relations are indicated3: the relation between the Dynamic Object and the Sign, the relation between the Sign and the Final or Normal Interpretant, and the relation between the Sign and the Dynamic Interpretant. These first two relations are objectively valid, and by objective validity I mean no more than what I have understood in Peirce’s argument in Grounds of the validity of the Laws of Logic. I summarize this argument by saying that truth consists in the ability of a syllogism to demonstrate the premises: if premises are demonstrative, then they are objective, and if they are objective, then they are valid.
The third formulation from MS 339 relates the possibility of objective semiotic demonstration by way of the Sign to the subjective mode of perception in the Dynamic Interpretant. The Dynamic Interpretant is the “effect actually produced on the mind by the Sign” (Excerpts from Lady Welby, EP2: 482, 1908). These relations accord with 1.1, 1.2, and 1.3.
I suggest that these three relations explicated by Peirce in MS 339 contain all the elements for a genuine triadic relation. From Sundry Logical Conceptions, Peirce states “The triadic relation is genuine, that is, its three members are bound together by it in a way that does not consist in any complexus of dyadic relations” (Sundry Logical Conceptions, EP2: 273, 1903). The Sign is the invariant element in all three relations. But Peirce is somewhat vague here, he makes this statement after specifying that “A Sign, or Representamen, is a First which stands in such a genuine triadic relation to a Second, called its Object, as to be capable of determining a Third, called its Interpretant, to assume the same triadic relation to its Object in which it stands itself to the same Object” (Sundry Logical Conceptions, EP2: 272, 1903).
My suggestion is that the Dynamic Object, the Sign, and the Final Interpretant make up the genuine triadic structure. This supposition hints at an explanation why MS 339 stipulates one of the three relations as being a relation of the Sign to the Dynamic Interpretant. This relation is needed to explain how an object determines an interpretant by way of a Sign. If the Sign’s relation to the Final Interpretant is capable of providing the normative structure for the Sign’s relation to the Dynamic Interpretant “to assume the same triadic relation to its Object in which it stands itself to the same Object” (EP2: 272, 1903), then semiosis occurs, that is there is an inference from a Sign: “Thought conforms not to the functions of judgment, but to the forms of valid inference, which express law-like regularity in the relation of premises to conclusions” (Parker, 7). In this sense an inference is in part an indexical effect and not merely a symbolic affect or deduction4. Hence, the continuity of the Dynamical Interpretant evolves, necessarily, but not sufficiently, as the product of valid inference. The objective relation of Sign to Final Interpretant acts as a normative structure that guides the development of the subjective relation of Sign to Dynamic Interpretant. The Dynamic Interpretant develops and “grows” toward the Final Interpretant asymptotically, as a habit of mind.
Peirce’s work on this subject resulted in Pragmaticism, the doctrine that the meaning of an intellectual predicate is the Interpretant produced when a description of that term is evaluated. An “intellectual predicate” is an objective term, and it is capable of deriving a convergence of opinion about it. I would argue that this is the intent behind the classification of signs. Concepts such as colors have less rational purport from which to evaluate them in an accurate manner. Concepts such as “hard” are comparatively easier to evaluate because there is less perceptual vagueness about them. The redness of a paint tint may appeal to one person and not another, but the hardness of an object will not vary from one observation to the next, ceteris paribus. If the hardness of a diamond were met with it would-be hard.
Hardness may be hard, but it would be meaningless to say this if hardness had no Second-ness from which to determine the Interpretant “would-be hard.” In this sense, Second- ness is the prime determining factor for the law of mind. The would-be aspect is future oriented, in part, to provide priority to the road of investigation that would allow a convergence of opinion about an intellectual concept.
Peirce’s three categories work together allowing Seconds to determine Firsts, and Firsts to mediate Seconds into Thirds, demonstratively as a rule. So, a general rule is what guides the Dynamic Interpretant in the normative relation of Objects to Interpretants.
At the time I was originally puzzling over the enigma of the nature of the logical interpretant, and had reached about the stage where the discussion now is, being in a quandary, it occurred to me that if I only could find a moderate number of concepts which should be at once highly abstract and abstruse, and yet the whole nature of whose meanings should be quite unquestionable, a study of them would go far toward showing me how and why the logical interpretant should in all cases be a conditional future. I had no sooner framed a definite wish for such concepts, than I perceived that in mathematics they are as plenty as blackberries. I at once began running through the explications of them, which I found all took the following form: Proceed according to such and such a general rule. Then, if such and such a concept is applicable to such and such an object, the operation will have such and such a general result; and conversely. (EP2: 410-1, 1907)
The definition of Sign, as I argued above, fulfills the condition of a general rule as stated by Peirce in the above quote. Why would the definition of a Sign fulfill the condition of a general rule? Because the Sign as defined can be used as the basis for argument demonstration.
This function relates directly to Pragmaticism. If, according to Pragmaticism, “the whole meaning of an intellectual predicate is that certain kinds of events would happen, once in so often, in the course of experience, under certain kinds of existential circumstances,”(EP2: 402, 1907) then Sign interpretation as evaluation of a general rule is “a certain kind of existential circumstance”(ibid). Semiotic argumentation has the potential to demonstrate the validity of intellectual concepts as they would-be verified by any individual Dynamic Interpretant: “The meaning of a proposition, according to pragmaticism, is to be found in the activity or experience that would-be undergone should the proposition in question be taken as a guide” (Reynolds, 11).
An analogy between using Peirce’s semiotic to map out an inquiry and using a compass and map may conceptually clear up how Peirce’s categories may be interpreted.
All maps used for land navigation make use of two kinds of bearing: True or Grid north, and Magnetic north. True and Grid north are functionally the same and are determined by Magnetic north. The difference between these two kinds of bearing is called declination. The ability to understand how declination works, affects the interpretation of a map. The analogy with Peirce’s categories is this: True or Grid north is like First-ness, its being is the most abstract or iconic. It only receives real definition when in contact with Second-ness, which is analogous to Magnetic north. The relation between the two is like the declination of the map, and this is analogous to an Index5.
When most people use a map, they use it with no consideration of Magnetic north. It is easy enough to orient yourself on a map with the use of a few landmarks and a symbolically accurate map. Once this has happened, moving from point to point is basic, given one can interpret a map to represent their location relative to other objects. If I want to move from point A to point B on the map, and these points are parallel to the Grid Line running south to north, respectively, then it is true that I would move north when walking to point B from point A. Moving this way would correlate with Grid north. If, on the other hand, I had put the map in my pocket, and were using my compass to move from the point represented as A to the point represented as B on the map, it would also be true that I was moving north, but in this case movement is determined by Magnetic north, not Grid north, and these are two categorically different standards of orientation though they can produce the same result, which is arrival at B.
Though the categories of First and Second are different, First-ness can represent Second- ness truthfully, but this requires an Interpretant, which represents the Third and final category6. Looking at a map that has both Grid and Magnetic north, one can see that they are represented by two lines. The Grid north line runs parallel to the map grid, and the Magnetic north line originates from the same point the other does, but is usually less than or greater than the Grid north angle. The difference in the amount of angle from Magnetic north to Grid north is called declination and functions as an Index from Magnetic north to Grid north. Proper interpretation of the declination allows one to orient Grid north to the Magnetic north and use the map as a symbol of the environment. Of course, a compass is needed to do this.
The map is a Sign, Magnetic north its Object, and successful navigation its Dynamic Interpretant. It seems to me that much of the philosophy of science is about how to distinguish the First-ness of a sign from the Second-ness of an object, and about how the First-ness of a sign applies to the Second-ness of an Object meaningfully. Putting the map example in a semiotic structure eliminates one emerging problem. The Sign refers to the Object as its determining factor, so when the map is explicated with a semiotic structure, Grid north is seen to rely on Magnetic north for its primary determination, but this is not made explicit in a general delineation of maps or what truth means.
Grid north is grounded in First-ness, and Indexed to Magnetic north which is grounded in Second-ness. That is, the relation between Grid north and First-ness is not indexical, but symbolic, and the relation between Magnetic north and Second-ness is not indexical, but symbolic, and the relation between First-ness and Second-ness is not symbolic, but indexical. Grid north is determined by the index to Magnetic north. Without this index the map is a limited piece of information and eventually it would cease to be a symbol and become a mere icon once the symbolic limitations of interpretation7 have been surpassed. First-ness (sign) is indexed to second-ness (object), which drives the determination of the ground of third-ness (interpretant) to be established as a habit of inference or interpretation8. Second-ness is the life line that allows the interpretant to become the living definition Peirce sought after.
In conclusion, Peirce’s definitions of Sign have a common core that highlights an essential factor in the process of inference. The form of this feature is similar to the deductive form Barbara, though the implication is distinct in semiotics. The semiotic form stipulates the importance of the function of the Sign in relation to the Object and Interpretant. I have argued that this normative relation promotes the acquisition of a Dynamic Interpretant which is in part the indexical effect of Second-ness and distinct from the symbolic affect of the Final Interpretant.
Diagram BDiagram C
Historically Layered References
Houser, N. and Christian Kloesel.
1992. The Essential Peirce: Selected Philosophical Writings, Vol. 1. (Bloomington: Indiana).
Parker, Kelly A.
1998. The Continuity of Peirce’s Thought. (Vanderbilt: Nashville).
Peirce Edition Project, the, Edited by.
1998. The Essential Peirce: Selected Philosophical Writings, Vol. 2. (Bloomington: Indiana).
2002. Peirce’s Scientific Metaphysics: The Philosophy of Chance, Law, and Evolution. (Vanderbilt: Nashville).