Re: Thirdness

John F. Sowa (
Wed, 22 Apr 1998 06:33:37 -0400


>Peirce's actual quotation (Collected Papers 1.524) was to call Hegel "in
>some respects the greatest philosopher that ever lived". This came late
>in Peirce's life (the 1903 Lowell lectures) and contrasts, by Peirce's
>own admission, with the contempt with which he held Hegel as a young man
>in the 1860s (when his knowledge came second-hand through a French book on
>Hegel's philosophy.)

Yes, but he also qualified that point in the same lectures, when he
compared the 7 types of metaphysical systems, based on how they
recognized 1-2-3-ness. He listed Aristotle and Kant as two of the few
people besides himself who emphasized all three equally. He considered
Hegel to be someone who approached the level of pure Thirdness to the
exclusion of the other two. But to soften my remarks a bit, I said
that Peirce was influenced by both Kant and Hegel:

Like most logicians, Peirce found Hegel's logic repugnant, but he was
just as intrigued by the patterns of triads in the categories
of Kant and Hegel.

>... Russell is more a smear artist than a philosophical critic.

Yes, I bought a remaindered copy of Russell's _History of Western
Philosophy_ for a dollar, which is about all it's worth. He is totally
unreliable as a source of information about anyone (including himself),
but the book is useful as a source of witty remarks.

>... And in the case of Hegel he drew further rhetorical fuel
>from the anti-Germanism of the two World Wars.

In 1943, Ernst Cassirer observed that the war between Germany and Russia
was a battle between the Hegelians of the right and the Hegelians of
the left. Many people have noted that a tendency to totalitarianism is
a danger of Hegel's view of history. Hegel would have disavowed
the extremes of his followers (as did Marx, who said "Je ne suis pas
marxiste"), but there is always the danger of Thirdness run amok.

>With respect to Hegel's "logic" Peirce had split views. It was clearly
>not logic in the positive sense of a science of the norms for drawing
>valid inferences. Indeed, it undermined such a science by its shifting,
>literary and idiosyncratic use of terms. On the other had, it was logic
>in the broader sense of addressing the limits of thought, without
>descending into psychologism....

>.... Peirce's take on this, as I
>remember, is that Aristotle had not yet come to a firm enough distinction
>between logic and language, and that his work on the categories was a
>straddle that would require further development and clarification.

In many respects, I regard the pre-twentieth century logic books
(which are mostly watered-down versions of Peter of Spain's textbook)
as better balanced treatments of logic and ontology. The first half
is devoted to the categories with a version of the tree of Porphyry.
By contrast, a typical modern text like Schoenfield's _Mathematical
Logic_ devotes about one paragraph to what the symbols represent.

>> I intend my categories to be first and foremost a classification of the
>> labels we use to describe how we think the world is....

>Hence my uneasiness with the firstness of woman example, which remains
>from the earlier draft and suggests essences and attributes rather than
>signs and modalities....

OK. I revised that discussion to avoid the suggestion that the concept
type Woman is itself Firstness:

1. An individual can be recognized as a human being or as a subtype,
such as man or woman, by sensory impressions (Firstness), independent
of any external relationships. The type label Woman characterizes
an individual by properties that can be recognized without regard
to any relationships to other entities.

2. The same individual could be classified relative to or in reaction
with many other things, as in the concept types Mother, Attorney,
Wife, Pilot, Employee, or Pedestrian. A classification by any
of those types depends on an external relationship (Secondness)
to some other entity, such as a child, client, husband, airplane,
employer, or traffic.

3. Thirdness focuses on the mediating intention that brings the first
and second into relation. Motherhood, which comprises the act of
giving birth and the subsequent period of nurturing, relates the
mother and the child. The legal system gives rise to the roles
of attorney and client. Marriage relates the wife and the husband.
Aviation relates the pilot to the airplane. The business enterprise
relates the employee to the employer. And the activity of walking
on a street that is dominated by vehicles relates the pedestrian
to the ongoing traffic.

>Let me say that I much admire your openness and energy in continually
>submitting your work to pre-publiication comment.

It's primarily in self defense. I'd rather get the comments and
complaints while I still have a chance to do something about them.