Re: Thirdness

John F. Sowa (
Thu, 30 Apr 1998 07:18:42 -0400


I'll grant that Hegel (like Jesus, Mohammed, and many other people)
should not be held accountable for the distortions and excesses of some
of the people who at one time or another may have been influenced by him.

In any case, this correspondence has strayed from the topic that I
wanted to discuss, which was a clarification of Peirce's trichotomy.
Partly as a result of your comments, I have decided to delete the
exercise that mentions Karl Marx and replace it with the following,
which I think will be more useful for most readers of the book.


Exercise 2.7

A description of an event that omitted all interpretation or background
knowledge would be almost unintelligible or meaningless. As an example,
Devlin and Rozenberg (1996) discussed the following story, which might
be told by a visitor from another planet who had learned some English,
but knew nothing about human culture:

There are some people. Some of the men are carrying a long
wooden box. A man wearing a black robe walks in front of them.
The remaining people all walk behind the box.

All the nouns, adjectives, and verbs in this story describe people,
objects, and events by the immediate sensory impressions that they
create (Firstness) without any consideration of external relationships
(Secondness) or context (Thirdness). Compare the following description
of the same event:

A funeral is taking place. The priest, wearing a black robe, is
at the head of the procession. The pallbearers carry the coffin.
The mourners follow on behind.

The reporter who wrote this description added information that would
not be known to an observer who was not familiar with the culture.
Using Peirce's categories, explain how that information is conveyed
by the following words: _funeral, priest, procession, pallbearer,
coffin, mourner, follow_.

After analyzing these sample paragraphs, select another paragraph from
a newspaper or magazine that contains words that describe objects, people,
and events by Secondness or Thirdness. Translate that paragraph to a report
that might be told by a visitor from another planet who saw the same events,
but had no knowledge of the culture.

Answer to Exercise 2.7

The word _funeral_ describes a nexus (Physical Mediation), which relates
all the participants mentioned in the rest of the story. The words
_priest_, _pallbearer_, and _mourner_ describe people by their roles
(Secondness), not by any inherent characteristics. The word _coffin_
describes an object by its function (Secondness), not by its structure
or composition. The words _procession_ and _follow_ describe what
the people are doing in relationship (Secondness) to each other as
participants in the funeral (Thirdness).