Re: truth (Fritz Lehmann)
Date: Tue, 31 Jan 95 20:47:10 CST
From: (Fritz Lehmann)
Message-id: <>
Subject: Re:  truth
Precedence: bulk
   On the definition of the "sign-relation" in the works of Charles
S. Peirce, Peirce expert Joe Ransdell said on the peirce-l email list:
-----begin quote-----
Thus there are about two dozen different formulations of the
sign-relation in the Collected Papers alone, and I would guess that at
least 200 variants can be found in the total extant corpus of his work.
The reason is that these are "real" definitions rather than "nominal"
ones, in the sense that they are not mere stipulations of verbal
equivalence or replicas of such stipulations but descriptions of the
subject-matter to which the term applies which aim at identifying those
aspects of it which will be maximally fruitful for purposes of deductive
elaboration of the conception associated with the word when the conception
functions hypothetically in a context of inquiry into the phenomena.  Now
real things have facets, unlike fictions, which are like facades, and the
variations in the descriptions reflect the difference in different
viewpoints on the same thing. We are so accustomed in modern and
contemporary philosophy, though, to the notion that meanings can be
established once for all by pure stipulations--pure volitions that somehow
have a power of continuing to act "until further notice", gluing things
together "from now on" with the magic of intentionality--that when Peirce
defines things differently in different places we take it for granted that
he must be changing his conception, as indeed he would be if he were
offering nominal definitions.

Is there a master formulation--one which covers every aspect of the
relation--to be found in his work?  Is such a thing even possible?  I have
worked extensively with these formulations but I have never found any that
seem to be capable of that, and I know of no reason to think that Peirce
thought so either.
-----end quote------

     This request is wholly alien to Ransdells's main conclusion, BUT,
would someone please propose the CENTRAL and BEST Peircean formal definition
of the sign-relation.  Include any A. Necessary conditions true of any
sign-relation, and B. Any sufficient conditions to determine that
a given relation is in fact a sign relation, and C. Any necessary-
and-sufficient conditions (pure logical "definition").

     (Note that my allowing for A. and B. above, as opposed to C., 
means that I'm not confining this to Ransdell's "mere stipulation"; the 
"definition" may be acknowledgedly incomplete and approximative,
of something real in the world, but still a reliable formal
constraint suitable for automated inference.)

     We have a practical task which is to create a useful ontology
for the real world (as part of the "CCAT" group of the "Peirce
Software project" -- dealing with Conceptual Catalogues).  A major
"core ontology" will be REPRESENTATION/SEMIOTIC which turns out to
be required for most other subjects.  We know that any sign-relation 
is triadic (a representamen A represents object B to interpretant C)
and inherently causal (the relations of A to B, and of A to C,
_cause_ a relation to arise between B and C), but that is still too
general to capture what is meant by sign-relation or representation.

     It is not crucial that the so-defined relation correspond to
any natural-language word (like "sign"), nor that it correspond
to anybody's prior (like Peirce's) conception.  What is crucial is
to have a generally useful defined relation which we can then
use for various practical knowledge representation applications
(such as Artificial Intelligence or Semantic Database/Standards
Integration).  (The Cyc project in AI is a similar effort.)  I assume
that once we have a servicable definition of the sign-relation, we
can exploit the Peircean classifications (the 3, the 10, the 66
and the 111?) and maybe the latest Marty classifications, if these
distinctions will lead to important inferences.

    We would like to drink from the Fount (Peirce), but in its
native state the waters are too cloudy.  Notwithstanding Ransdell's
aversion to would-be precision in Aristotelian definitions, I hope
he and others will come forward with some clear ones.
Certainly someone familiar with Peirce's many versions should be
able to come up with a solid core-notion, presumably incorporating the
common properties of all the definitions, plus such other
conditions as are clear and functionally useful.   (Vaguely calling
it "Peircean" doesn't mean we think Peirce himself would 
necessarily endorse it.)

     Any takers?

                          Yours truly,   Fritz Lehmann
GRANDAI Software, 4282 Sandburg Way, Irvine, CA 92715, U.S.A.
Tel:(714)-733-0566  Fax:(714)-733-0506

P.S.  This is crossposted to the Shared Ontology list, the Conceptual Graphs list,
and the C. S. Peirce scholars list

P.P.S.   Ransdell mentioned "truth" in the same posting.
I'd like to oppose the Peircean definition of truth as the eventual
limit of scientific community inquiry.  It's circular.  The "inquiry"
is assumed to be rational and intelligent inquiry, not the
inquiry of a community of increasingly superstitious and
credulous or demented fools.  (The community inquiry of certain ages
like maybe the Dark Ages, the Age of Faith, the Age of Hegel/Marx,
the Age of Alchemy, the Age of Postmodernism, of Quantum Philosophies,
etc. may well have been inquiring away with truth in the tail direction.)
"Intelligent inquiry" or "rational inquiry" or "scientific inquiry" is,
in contrast, that inquiry which results in _truth_ rather than error or
superstition.  So the whole thing looks like a circular,
hence no good, definition.  No doubt others (like Russell
maybe, and Peirce himself?) have noticed the same apparent flaw.