Peirce : What Is a Sign?

three states of mind
1. dreamy state – no consciously thinking
2. state of resistance – brute force, one thing acts against another
3. thinking mind – things are governed, there are means to an end
He uses the story of a man waking up to a loud sound, and how he shifts between the three states in trying to figure out where the sound is coming from.

“In Reaction only two things are involved; but in government there is a third thing which is a means to an end. The very word means signifies something which is in the middle between two others. Moreover, this third state of mind, or Thought, is a sense of learning, and learning is the means by which we pass from ignorance to knowledge.”

three kinds of signs
1. likeness, icons “which serve to convey ideas of the things they represent simply by imitating them.”

2. indications, indices “which show something about things, on account of their being physically connected with them. Such is a guidepost, which points down the road to be taken, or a relative pronoun, which is placed just after the name of the thing intended to be denoted”

3. symbols, general signs “which have become associated with their meanings by usage.”

“In all reasoning, we have to use a mixture of likenesses, indices, and symbols. We cannot dispense with any of them. The complex whole may be called a symbol; for its symbolic, living character is the prevailing one…..

The art of reasoning is the art of marshalling such signs, and of finding out the truth.”

Text can be found here:

MS 404. [Published in part in CP 2.281, 285, and 297-302. This work, probably composed early in 1894, was originally the first chapter of a book entitled “The Art of Reasoning,” but was then turned into the second chapter of Peirce’s multi-volume “How to Reason: A Critick of Arguments” (also known as “Grand Logic”).] In this selection Peirce gives an account of signs based on an analysis of conscious experience from the standpoint of his three universal categories. He discusses the three principal kinds of signs—icons, indices, and symbols—and provides many examples. He maintains, as he had earlier, that reasoning must involve all three kinds of signs, and he claims that the art of reasoning is the art of marshalling signs, thus emphasizing the relationship between logic and semiotics.


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