Current 6 July 2012
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Charles S. Peirce's Phaneroscopy and Phenomenology


  1. Introduction: Why study phaneroscopy?
  2. The Phaneron
  3. Observation and generalization
  4. Disposing of preconceptions
  5. Present at any time
  6. The formal elements
  7. The primal science
  8. The Doctrine of Categories
  9. From phenomenology through representation to logic

Why study phaneroscopy?

Peirce's central focus as a philosopher and scientist was logic, which is ultimately semiotic, “the study of the essential nature of signs” (EP2:311) – which, given that “all this universe is perfused with signs” (EP2:394), is a far more comprehensive study than the discipline usually called ‘logic’ today. That comprehensiveness was rendered even more systematic when, around 1902, he gave increased attention to the “architectonic” structure of the sciences; and it was at this point that he recognized the primacy of phenomenology as a foundation or ground of semiotic/logic. He drew the term from Hegel, but decided in 1904 (for reasons to be considered below) that phaneroscopy was a better name for the discipline he had in mind. In what follows, the two terms are used interchangeably except where the context directs attention to the differences between them.

In many of his late writings (CP 1.191, 2.120, 2.197, 5.39, 8.242, 8.297 and elsewhere), Peirce described logic as dependent on phenomenology, which “ascertains and studies the kinds of elements universally present in the phenomenon; meaning by the phenomenon, whatever is present at any time to the mind in any way” (CP 2.186, 1903; note that in this essay i use double quotation marks to indicate Peirce's words, and single marks for other quotations). The nature of this dependence is difficult to explain in a few words, as is the nature of phenomenology itself; hence this attempt to take an extensive look at the many faces of phaneroscopy as it appears in Peirce's own words. This essay will assume that Peirce's writings on the subject are consistent (even when they do not seem so at first glance) until that assumption proves untenable. But as the reader, your comprehension of these writings will depend upon your own attention to what Peirce called the phaneron (or phenomenon), and thus to your own practice of phaneroscopy. We will of course provide some of Peirce's many definitions of these terms, but definitions can only serve to calibrate relations between language and experience – they cannot furnish the prior acquaintance with any subject or object which makes them meaningful. How much less, then, can a definition furnish acquaintance with the phaneron, which is so unlike other “objects” that it is in a sense inappropriate to call it one, and in another sense includes all possible objects of attention!

Getting back to the definition of phenomenology given above, though, we can say that for Peirce's semiotic/logical purposes, the “elements universally present in the phenomenon” turn out to be the three “categories” for which the simplest of many names he used are Firstness, Secondness, and Thirdness. These “elements” formed the conceptual core of all his work from 1867, when he published “A New List of Categories”, through many theoretical developments and terminological changes, to the end of his life. But the manifest usefulness of these categories in logic does not account for their origin as universal concepts. Their actual use in logical or semiotic analysis might be called category theory; phaneroscopy, on the other hand, is pre-logical in that it requires pure attention to the phaneron or phenomenon rather than reasoning about it. This is probably why Peirce called it phaneroscopy, from the Greek root σκοπειν, meaning “contemplate” or “examine”. (These are Peirce's translations, as given by his definition of the word “phenoscopy” in the Supplement to the Century Dictionary; “phenoscopy” is evidently a relic of the transition from “phenomenology” to “phaneroscopy” in Peirce's terminology. Phanerology would inappropriately suggest the kind of logic proper to more specialized sciences.) Even though he had been practicing some form of this discipline all along, Peirce during his last decade became more conscious of its importance as an essential grounding for his pragmatic philosophy and his semiotic logic.

In a 1903 letter to William James, Peirce defined phenomenology as “just the analysis of what kind of constituents there are in our thoughts and lives, (whether these be valid or invalid being quite aside from the question). It is a branch of philosophy I am most deeply interested in and which I have worked upon almost as much as I have upon logic” (CP 8.295). Yet it has not received a proportionate amount of attention from Peirce scholars, especially when compared with the attention devoted to the phenomenology of Peirce's younger contemporary Husserl (and of others who followed his lead, such as Merleau-Ponty and Heidegger). Perhaps the present study can help to remedy this comparative neglect of the philosophical practice to which Peirce ascribed such great importance.

The Phaneron

Phaneroscopy begins with the phaneron, as defined in Peirce's ‘Adirondack Lectures’ of 1905:

Phaneroscopy is the description of the phaneron; and by the phaneron I mean the collective total of all that is in any way or in any sense present to the mind, quite regardless of whether it corresponds to any real thing or not. If you ask present when, and to whose mind, I reply that I leave these questions unanswered, never having entertained a doubt that those features of the phaneron that I have found in my mind are present at all times and to all minds. So far as I have developed this science of phaneroscopy, it is occupied with the formal elements of the phaneron.
(CP 1.284)
Peirce's reference to the formal elements is probably meant to distinguish them from material elements. Peirce used the Aristotelian distinction between form and matter as early as the Lowell Lectures of 1866:
… there are two kinds of laws, those which in a different state of things would continue to hold good and those which in a different state of things would not hold good. The former we call formal laws, the latter material laws. The formal laws do not depend on any particular state of things, and hence we say that we have not derived them from experience; that is to say, any other experience would have furnished the premisses for them as well as that which we have experienced; while to discover the material laws we require to have known just such facts as we did.
This contrast, which Peirce continued to draw in his final decade, transfers easily from “laws” (of nature) to “elements” (of the phaneron).

Peirce's 1905 definition refers to both “the phaneron” and “the mind” in the singular, and its second sentence reinforces the crucial sense in which there is only one phaneron and one mind that it is “present to” (and even these two may be regarded as one, as we shall see). Peirce emphasized the singularity of the phaneron even before he coined the term, writing to James in 1904: “My ‘phenomenon’ for which I must invent a new word is very near your ‘pure experience’ but not quite since I do not exclude time and also speak of only one ‘phenomenon’” (CP 8.301; we will return later to the subject of “time”). As for the mind, Peirce wrote in 1895 (EP2:24) “that all knowledge comes to us by observation. A part is forced upon us from without and seems to result from Nature's mind; a part comes from the depths of the mind as seen from within, which by an egotistical anacoluthon we call our mind.” (Anacoluthon is defined in the Century Dictionary, apparently by Peirce, as “a construction characterized by a want of grammatical sequence … As a figure of speech it has propriety and force only so far as it suggests that the emotion of the speaker is so great as to make him forget how he began his sentence.”)

However, knowing the importance of critical thinking and “fallibilism” in Peirce, we might ask how he can be so sure “that those features of the phaneron that I have found in my mind are present at all times and to all minds.” Most of us are quite ready to doubt that what one person is experiencing at any given moment is the same as someone else's present experience. But if we enterain a doubt on this point, we are probably forgetting that the phaneron is the collective total of all that is present to the mind. In this context, the “features of the phaneron” are not like the various details of a perceptual field. They are rather the essential “features” (or “elements”) of its totality or singularity. Differences between things or minds or occasions may appear to a reflective or third-person consciousness because of the cognitive distance between observer and observed, but these differences are not essential features of the phaneron – they are, as the scholastics would say, accidental, not omnipresent. The elementary “features” of the phaneron, on the other hand, are present to “all minds” – by which Peirce means all possible minds, and not only human minds. Even when referring only to the modality of sense perception, Peirce holds that its essential forms are common to all sentient beings: “sensations do vary slightly even from hour to hour; but in the main the evidence is ample that they are common to all beings whose senses are sufficiently developed” (EP2:193). Even the entire realm of sense experience is much more limited than the phaneron; and the closer we get to the necessary conditions for any experiencing to take place, the less room there is for doubt that those essential conditions are present. In phaneroscopy, then, questions simply do not arise as to whether (or how) the quality of one person's experience might differ from that of another.

The essential elements involved whenever anything is present to any mind are neither details nor parts. Whatever individual things may be present are of no interest here, and the same goes for whatever individual minds they may be present to. Not even kinds of things or minds are subject to (or relevant factors in) this kind of investigation. Peirce criticized Husserl (among other writers) for being “intent upon those elements of the process of thinking which seem to be special to a mind like that of the human race, as we find it, to too great neglect of those elements which must belong, as much to any one as to any other mode of embodying the same thought” (CP 4.7, 1906). Spiegelberg (1956) notes that this comment is based on a partial and rather superficial reading of Husserl's early work, and therefore tells us much more about Peirce than it does about Husserl. Also, in reading anything Peirce has to say about thought, “one must not take a nominalistic view of Thought as if it were something that a man had in his consciousness. Consciousness may mean any one of the three categories. But if it is to mean Thought it is more without us than within. It is we that are in it, rather than it in any of us” (CP 8.256, 1902). Peirce sometimes uses “thought” as another name for the element of Thirdness, and frequently as the formal component of external reality (although “thinking” may refer to mental activity that is internal to the thinker).

In the Supplement to the Century Dictionary, Peirce defined phaneron as follows:

Whatever is in any sense present to the mind, whatever its cognitive value may be, and whether it be objectified or not. A term proposed by C. S. Peirce in order to avoid loading ‘phenomenon,’ ‘thought,’ ‘idea,’ etc., with multiple meanings.

Another definition appears in “The Basis of Pragmaticism in Phaneroscopy” (1905):

I propose to use the word Phaneron as a proper name to denote the total content of any one consciousness (for any one is substantially any other), the sum of all we have in mind in any way whatever, regardless of its cognitive value. This is pretty vague: I intentionally leave it so. I will only point out that I do not limit the reference to an instantaneous state of consciousness; for the clause “in any way whatever” takes in memory and all habitual cognition.
EP 2:362

Peirce gave many definitions of the phaneron in his writings from 1904 on; André De Tienne (1993) provides a large sample of these, several from unpublished manuscripts. One of these traces the word to its Greek roots:

The word φανερον is next to the simplest expression in Greek for manifest.… There can be no question that φανερος means primarily brought to light, open to public expression throughout.… I desire to have the privilege of creating an English word, phaneron, to denote whatever is throughout its entirety open to assured observation.
MS 337:4-5, 7, 1904 (De Tienne 1993, 280)

Peirce's emphasis on openness and “public expression” would seem to be closely allied with his view of science as a public, communal endeavor, and with the “principles of the objectivity of knowledge” (EP1:81) espoused in his “Grounds of Validity of the Laws of Logic” (1868, revised 1893). Apparently those “grounds” underlie phaneroscopy too, or at least the latter stage of it, which produces a description of the phaneron. Description in general terms presupposes a public (and symbolic) sign-system, and describing the phaneron requires that it be “objectified” (since it must be the object of the signs referring to it). “Observation” of it, however, should ideally be free of any bias or prejudice; we might well ask, then, whether we can attain (or how we can approach) this ideal when we are observing for the purpose of describing the essential features of the phaneron. Many of the Peirce quotes below will throw some light on this question, and on the methods proper to phaneroscopy.

We might also ask what Peirce means by “assured observation”. It can't mean knowledge that we are “assured” of by any scientific method, since we are told that phaneroscopy does not draw conclusions by reasoning from its observations, or even entertain hypotheses about them. Perhaps “assured observation” is equivalent to “direct Perception” as that term is used in a 1909 letter to James, where Peirce wrote that “I found Logic largely on a study which I call Phaneroscopy, which is the keen observation of and generalization from the direct Perception of what we are immediately aware of” (EP2:501).

Peirce's emphasis on directness and immediacy in these quotations might seem to conflict with the first definition of the phaneron above as “the collective total of all that is in any way or in any sense present to the mind” – if we think of some things as present to the mind in a mediate way (as objects of signs representing something other than themselves). The following fragment, dated c. 1904, may clarify this matter. But first we should note that in this fragment, Peirce is speaking of phaneroscopy as a science which, being public like any other science, depends on multiple observations. He therefore refers to a plurality of phaneroscopists, and since each has to see the phaneron for himself, we must refer to a plurality of “phanerons” when we consider, from this point of view, what they are doing. The plurality of phanerons is a feature of this description of phaneroscopy, just as the singularity of the phaneron is a feature of a description of the phaneron.

There is nothing quite so directly open to observation as phanerons; and since I shall have no need of referring to any but those which (or the like of which) are perfectly familiar to everybody, every reader can control the accuracy of what I am going to say about them. Indeed, he must actually repeat my observations and experiments for himself, or else I shall more utterly fail to convey my meaning than if I were to discourse of effects of chromatic decoration to a man congenitally blind. What I term phaneroscopy is that study which, supported by the direct observation of phanerons and generalizing its observations, signalizes several very broad classes of phanerons; describes the features of each; shows that although they are so inextricably mixed together that no one can be isolated, yet it is manifest that their characters are quite disparate; then proves, beyond question, that a certain very short list comprises all of these broadest categories of phanerons there are; and finally proceeds to the laborious and difficult task of enumerating the principal subdivisions of those categories.

It will be plain from what has been said that phaneroscopy has nothing at all to do with the question of how far the phanerons it studies correspond to any realities. It religiously abstains from all speculation as to any relations between its categories and physiological facts, cerebral or other. It does not undertake, but sedulously avoids, hypothetical explanations of any sort. It simply scrutinizes the direct appearances, and endeavors to combine minute accuracy with the broadest possible generalization. The student's great effort is not to be influenced by any tradition, any authority, any reasons for supposing that such and such ought to be the facts, or any fancies of any kind, and to confine himself to honest, single-minded observation of the appearances. The reader, upon his side, must repeat the author's observations for himself, and decide from his own observations whether the author's account of the appearances is correct or not.

CP 1.286-7 (c. 1904)

Even in such a ‘pluralistic’ context, Peirce consistently affirms the wholeness of the phaneron, as we can see in these two definitions quoted by De Tienne (1993, 285):

I propose to use the word Phaneron as a proper name to denote the total content of any one consciousness, … the sum of all we have in mind in any way whatever, regardless of its cognitive value.
MS 908:4 (1905)

By the Phaneron, I mean the single entirety, or total, or whole, of that which the reader has in mind in any sense.
MS 338:2 (c. 1904)
But how exactly do we “observe” such a whole, and what can we do with our observations?

Observation and generalization

At the risk of oversimplifying its contrast with other forms of phenomenology, we can characterize Peirce's phaneroscopy as (1) aiming at the highest possible level of generality in its descriptions; (2) focused on the phaneron rather than on experience; and (3) objective rather than subjective. For Peirce, the first point implies that to specialize in human ways of feeling, perceiving or thinking would be much too restrictive. If we asked how a merely human phaneroscopist (or semiotician) can generalize beyond human experience, Peirce would presumably answer with something like his usual claim that “our Reason is akin to the Reason that governs the Universe; we must assume that or despair of finding out anything” (EP2:502) – bearing in mind that genuine Reason as universal Thirdness necessarily involves universal Firstness and Secondness. Or, as we will see later, he might reply that mathematics is the key: the observations made therein are not limited by human-style senses, and the truths discovered by mathematical reasoning are universal and not merely human (although we express them in a human format, as it were). Phaneroscopic observation does not indulge in reasoning of any kind, but in the process of articulating its results (which it must do in order to count as a science), it relies on mathematical reasoning as the only means of generalizing from its honest observations.

The ‘objectivity’ of Peirce's phaneroscopy is peculiar in that it must embrace the element of Firstness even though the “first is predominant in feeling, as distinct from objective perception, will, and thought” (CP 1.302, c. 1894). One way of coming to grips with this peculiarity is through Peirce's consistent rejection of both psychology and introspection as methods of phaneroscopic ‘observation’: “although the entire consciousness at any one instant is nothing but a feeling, yet psychology can teach us nothing of the nature of feeling, nor can we gain knowledge of any feeling by introspection, the feeling being completely veiled from introspection, for the very reason that it is our immediate consciousness” (CP 1.310, 1907). The point here is related to the very last entry in Peirce's Logic Notebook (MS 339): “Let it be admitted then that no act of thinking can involve thinking about that very act of thinking.” But it also reaches all the way back to his early studies of cognition, in which he said that “introspection is not resorted to” (EP1:3-4), arguing that the external world is more directly knowable than the internal. He asserted in 1868 that “our whole knowledge of the internal world is derived from the observation of external facts” (EP1:22), and was still taking the same stance in 1900, as we can see in the following paragraph from his review of Pearson's Grammar of Science:

The remainder of this chapter on the “Facts of Science” is taken up with a theory of cognition, in which the author falls into the too common error of confounding psychology with logic. He will have it that knowledge is built up out of sense-impressions,— a correct enough statement of a conclusion of psychology. Understood, however, as Professor Pearson understands and applies it, as a statement of the nature of our logical data, of “the facts of science,” it is altogether incorrect. He tells us that each of us is like the operator at a central telephone office, shut out from the external world, of which he is informed only by sense-impressions. Not at all! Few things are more completely hidden from my observation than those hypothetical elements of thought which the psychologist finds reason to pronounce “immediate,” in his sense. But the starting point of all our reasoning is not in those sense-impressions, but in our percepts. When we first wake up to the fact that we are thinking beings and can exercise some control over our reasonings, we have to set out upon our intellectual travels from the home where we already find ourselves. Now, this home is the parish of percepts. It is not inside our skulls, either, but out in the open. It is the external world that we directly observe. What passes within we only know as it is mirrored in external objects. In a certain sense, there is such a thing as introspection; but it consists in an interpretation of phenomena presenting themselves as external percepts. We first see blue and red things. It is quite a discovery when we find the eye has anything to do with them, and a discovery still more recondite when we learn that there is an ego behind the eye, to which these qualities properly belong. Our logically initial data are percepts. Those percepts are undoubtedly purely psychical, altogether of the nature of thought. They involve three kinds of psychical elements, their qualities of feelings, their reaction against my will, and their generalizing or associating element. But all that we find out afterward. I see an inkstand on the table: that is a percept. Moving my head, I get a different percept of the inkstand. It coalesces with the other. What I call the inkstand is a generalized percept, a quasi-inference from percepts, perhaps I might say a composite-photograph of percepts. In this psychical product is involved an element of resistance to me, which I am obscurely conscious of from the first. Subsequently, when I accept the hypothesis of an inward subject for my thoughts, I yield to that consciousness of resistance and admit the inkstand to the standing of an external object. Still later, I may call this in question. But as soon as I do that, I find that the inkstand appears there in spite of me. If I turn away my eyes, other witnesses will tell me that it still remains. If we all leave the room and dismiss the matter from our thoughts, still a photographic camera would show the inkstand still there, with the same roundness, polish and transparency, and with the same opaque liquid within. Thus, or otherwise, I confirm myself in the opinion that its characters are what they are, and persist at every opportunity in revealing themselves, regardless of what you, or I, or any man, or generation of men, may think that they are. That conclusion to which I find myself driven, struggle against it as I may, I briefly express by saying that the inkstand is a real thing. Of course, in being real and external, it does not in the least cease to be a purely psychical product, a generalized percept, like everything of which I can take any sort of cognizance.
(For another approach to the question of what ‘immediate’ experience really is, see Peirce's entry on Representationism in Baldwin's Dictionary of Philosophy and Psychology.)

In Peirce's realism, thought as the “psychical product” of the reasoning process is just as real and external as the percept which is the psychical product of the perceptual process. When we drop all questions of reality or externality, as we do in phaneroscopic observation, we get to the bottom of direct perception. Phaneroscopy begins with no presuppositions, and makes no inquiry, about the reality or externality of anything, and that is why logic itself can depend on it to ground the meaning of these terms. Semiotic also depends on this ‘objectivity’, if we may call it that, because it reveals the basis of semiosis, or thought as process, in Thirdness: to the degree that they are “genuine”, signs function as the medium connecting brute fact or Secondness with feeling or Firstness.

Although perception is an essential component of cognition, percepts relate to phaneroscopy as ingredients of the phaneron, not as signs of a reality external to the perceiver, which is their role in a psychological analysis of perception. Peirce explained this to James in 1904:

I am thoroughly accustomed to think of percepts or rather of perceptual judgments as the data of all knowledge, and as such having a certain imperfect reality. They exist, — the percepts themselves do. But developed reality only belongs to signs of a certain description. Percepts are signs for psychology; but they are not so for phenomenology.
CP 8.300
The ‘objectivity’ of phaneroscopy is not like that of any other science: the phaneron as the object of undivided attention is an ‘object’ without a ‘subject’ which it confronts. Peirce rarely used the word ‘subject’ in that way in any case, but the absence of a subject/object dichotomy is especially important in phenomenology because of its intimacy with monadicity or Firstness: “Phenomenology treats of the universal Qualities of Phenomena in their immediate phenomenal character, in themselves as phenomena. It, thus, treats of Phenomena in their Firstness” (EP2:197). This includes the Firstness of Secondness and of Thirdness, as we will see below.

Even though the internal/external distinction does not arise in the observational stage of phaneroscopy proper, it may be useful for the purpose of explaining the generalized results of such observation – the “elements” of the phaneron. By the same token, if we think of the phaneron's presence to the mind as implying externality to it (or at least difference from it), then we can say of an ‘objective’ phaneroscopy that the object of its attention is the phaneron, and not the mind which is the object of the psychologist's attention. Or to put it another way (and no way is without its disadvantages), phaneroscopy attends to the contents of consciousness, and not to consciousness itself, although we may infer something about consciousness from these observations. For instance, the following series of excerpts from a draft for a 1905 Monist article lead up to an explanation of how the internal/external distinction arises.

In this draft, Peirce asked: “Can we find in the Phaneron any element logically indecomposable, which is such as it is, altogether otherwise than relatively, but positively, and regardless of ought else?”

I answer, There are many such elements. I instance the color of a stick of countinghouse sealing wax which I had to use a few moments ago, and which still lies on my table in plain sight. This is an element, for I do not see it as composite. It is also logically indecomposable. It is true that I can take down my color wheel, analyze this color, and define it in an equation. But such an equation, far from expressing any logical analysis, does not even define the color-sensation. For an observer thoroughly trained to recognize his immediate feelings as they are felt, free from all the allowances which we naturally make for the circumstances of the experience, will perceive that when the stick of sealing wax be highly illuminated, the sensation is more scarlet, and that under a dim light it verges toward a dull vermillion hue; and yet the analysis by the color wheel will wholly fail to detect this.…
Sealing-wax red, then, is a Priman. … So is any other quality of feeling. Now the whole content of consciousness is made up of qualities of feeling, as truly as the whole of space is made up of points or the whole of time of instants. Contemplate anything by itself,— anything whatever that can be so contemplated. Attend to the whole and drop the parts out of attention altogether. One can approximate nearly enough to the accomplishment of that to see that the result of its perfect accomplishment would be that one would have in his consciousness at the moment nothing but a quality of feeling. This quality of feeling would in itself, as so contemplated, have no parts. It would be unlike any other such quality of feeling. In itself, it would not even resemble any other; for resemblance has its being only in comparison. It would be a pure priman. Since this is true of whatever we contemplate, however complex may be the object, it follows that there is nothing else in immediate consciousness. To be conscious is nothing else than to feel.

What room, then, is there for Secundans and Tertians? Was there some mistake in our demonstration that they must also have their places in the Phaneron? No, there was no mistake. I said that the Phaneron is made up entirely of qualities of feeling as truly as space is entirely made up of points. There is a certain protoidal aspect — I coin the word for the need,— under which space is truly made up of nothing but points. Yet it is certain that no collection of points,— using the word collection to mean merely a plural, without the idea of the objects being brought together,— no collection of points, no matter how abnumerable its multitude, can in itself constitute Space.…

But the Phaneron does contain genuine Secundans. Standing on the outside of a door that is slightly ajar, you put your hand upon the knob to open and enter it. You experience an unseen, silent resistance. You put your shoulder against the door and, gathering your forces, put forth a tremendous effort. Effort supposes resistance. Where there is no effort there is no resistance, where there is no resistance there is no effort either in this world or any of the worlds of possibility. It follows that an effort is not a feeling nor anything priman or protoidal. There are feelings connected with it: they are the sum of consciousness during the effort. But it is conceivable that a man should have it in his power directly to summon up all those feelings, or any feelings. He could not, in any world, be endowed with the power of summoning up an effort to which there did not happen to be a resistance all ready to exist. For it is an absurdity to suppose that a man could directly will to oppose that very will. A very little thinking will show that this is what it comes to. According to such psychological analysis as I can make, effort is a phenomenon which only arises when one feeling abuts upon another in time, and which then always arises. But my psychological pretensions are little, if they exist at all, and I only mention my theory in order that contrast should impress the reader with the irrelevancy of psychology to our present problem, which is to say of what sort that is which is in our minds when we make an effort and which constitutes it an effort. We live in two worlds, a world of fact and a world of fancy. Each of us is accustomed to think that he is the creator of his world of fancy; that he has but to pronounce his fiat, and the thing exists, with no resistance and no effort; and although this is so far from the truth that I doubt not that much the greater part of the reader's labor is expended on the world of fancy, yet it is near enough the truth for a first approximation. For this reason we call the world of fancy the internal world, the world of fact the external world. In this latter we are masters, each of us, of his own voluntary muscles, and of nothing more. But man is sly, and contrives to make this little more than he needs. Beyond that, he defends himself from the angles of hard fact by clothing himself with a garment of contentment and of habituation. Were it not for this garment, he would every now and then find his internal world rudely disturbed and his fiats set at naught by brutal inroads of ideas from without. I call such forcible modification of our ways of thinking, the influence of the world of fact, experience. But he patches up his garment by guessing what those inroads are likely to be and carefully excluding from his internal world every idea which is likely to be so disturbed. Instead of waiting for experience to come at untoward times, he provokes it when it can do no harm and changes the government of his internal world accordingly.


Peirce's remarks about “the irrelevancy of psychology to our present problem” apply to “the science of psychology,—as contradistinguished from common-sense observations concerning the workings of the mind, observations well known even if little noticed, to all grown men and women that are of sound minds” (EP2:412). Phaneroscopy is all about making the kind of “common-sense observations” exemplified above, which for Peirce are distinct from what is now called ‘folk psychology’ because they rely on direct perception rather than uncritical acceptance of common belief or conventional wisdom; but they are also distinct from the observations made in the empirical science of psychology, which must use all three kinds of logic (abductive, deductive and inductive) in order to generate and test hypotheses regarding the real laws which actually govern “the workings of the mind.”

The kind of logic on which psychology (or any special science) depends is itself a science relying on experiments – though not on the kind which can be physically carried out in a laboratory – in order to develop awareness of our methods of reasoning. Peirce often refers to this as logica docens, logic consciously studied or taught, as opposed to logica utens, which is the method of reasoning we instinctively use when we are not thinking about our methods of thinking. Any scientific -ology must pay attention to its methods of inference if it hopes to approach the truth within its universe of discourse, and that accounts for its dependence on logic, by which Peirce (in this context) means the normative science of logica docens. Phaneroscopy or observation of the phaneron is for this reason a better name than phenomenology for the science on which logica docens itself depends. Every science has its logica utens and relies on it to produce any generalized results, but phaneroscopy devotes the whole of its attention to observing the phaneron and none to its own logic. Thus the distinction between instinctive and deliberate logic arises from phaneroscopy rather than functioning within it.

Disposing of preconceptions

We have seen above that the wholeness of the phaneron is essential to phaneroscopy. This presents a major challenge because, to most of us most of the time, the world is ‘given’ not as a whole but rather as a more or less miscellaneous collection of things. Indeed Peirce's “New List of Categories” takes an empirical expression of this circumstance as its starting point, since it is “based upon the theory already established, that the function of conceptions is to reduce the manifold of sensuous impressions to unity, and that the validity of a conception consists in the impossibility of reducing the content of consciousness to unity without the introduction of it” (EP1:1). But the introduction and functioning of conceptions is not part of phaneroscopic observation, and if we bring to it the habit of seeing what is present as manifold – or the habit of seeing it as unified, or any other habit! – we have to make a “great effort not to be influenced” by that habit. In another text which we will examine below, Peirce proposes “postponing actual observation until all preconceptions are disposed of, one way or the other” (CP 1.290). Otherwise our view of the phaneron may be obscured by the beam in our own eye, as it were.

The “student's great effort” as described above seems quite similar to the effort to shed one's habitual or ‘natural’ prejudices and preconceptions, or at least to ‘bracket’ them (as some Husserlian phenomenologists put it), so that they do not influence the observation or prevent one from seeing the phaneron clearly. (See Spiegelberg 1956 on the similarities and differences between Peircean and Husserlian phenomenology.) The plurality of minds – the idea that each person has a mind of his own, or that everyone's experience is private – is one such preconception that is common to social beings like ourselves; can we avoid being influenced by it in our observations of the phaneron? Or if we hold the opposite view, as Peirce seems to – that human thought is inherently public and the mind essentially communal – can we avoid being influenced by that? Peirce appears to be optimistically confident that we can.

Peirce does not hold that it is either necessary or possible to eliminate all of one's beliefs before one can think or engage in “assured observation”; he is highly critical of Descartes for claiming to systematically doubt all of his beliefs, dismissing this as “paper doubt.” In his discussion of phaneroscopy, as we have seen above, Peirce does not even claim to doubt a belief that would seem highly doubtful to many people, namely “that those features of the phaneron that I have found in my mind are present at all times and to all minds.” The implication is that for Peirce, doubting such a belief is neither necessary nor effective in the “great effort not to be influenced” by it. In other words, Peirce implicitly rejects the idea that observers are necessarily blinded or deceived by their preconceptions. People with an aptitude for the kind of observation required by philosophy do not see only what they want (or expect) to see: if they make the effort, they are capable of opening the door to observations contrary to the expectations generated by their beliefs, even deeply held beliefs, when direct experience comes knocking.

We must however be careful to notice how the Peircean usage of “experience” (in which Secondness predominates) differs from the usage common among other writers on phenomenology. Evan Thompson, for example, defines phenomenology as ‘any systematic project of investigating and describing experience’ (Thompson 2007, 474), where ‘experience’ is consciousness of the phenomenon. According to this usage, we could say that ‘experience’ is the subjective side of the phenomenon, while ‘phenomenon’ is the objective side of experience. Peirce, on the other hand, said of “phenomenology” in his 1903 Harvard Lectures that “I will not restrict it to the observation and analysis of experience but extend it to describing all the features that are common to whatever is experienced or might conceivably be experienced or become an object of study in any way direct or indirect” (CP 5.37) – which he later called “the phaneron”. Direct awareness of this, which he describes as a continuum without parts, is neither subjective nor objective in the dichotomous sense of that word.

Peirce explained his usage of “experience” in a 1905 letter to William James:

The phaneron, as I now call it, the sum total all of the contents of human consciousness, which I believe is about what you (borrowing the term of Avenarius) call pure experience,— but I do not admit the point of view of Avenarius to be correct or to be consonant to any pragmatism, nor to yours, in particular, and therefore I do not like that phrase. For me experience is what life has forced upon us,— a vague idea no doubt. But my phaneron is not limited to what is forced upon us; it also embraces all that we most capriciously conjure up, not objects only but all modes of contents of cognitional consciousness.
NEM 3:834, as cited in the Commens Dictionary

The ability “not to be influenced” by preconceived notions is among the “mental qualifications of a philosopher”, as we will see below in an extended passage from Peirce's third Lowell Lecture of 1903. The first qualification is “ability to discern what is before one's consciousness”, while the third is “generalizing power” (CP 1.522). These are clearly the two abilities deployed by the two stages of phaneroscopy: discernment or observation of the phaneron, and then description or analysis of its essential “elements”.

Long before he began referring to “the observational part of philosophy” as “phenomenology” or “phaneroscopy”, Peirce appreciated how difficult it was, as we can see in this text dated c. 1894:

… the observational part of philosophy is a simple business, compared, for example, with that of anatomy or biography, or any other special science.

To assume, however, that the observational part of philosophy, because it is not particularly laborious, is therefore easy, is a dreadful mistake, into which the student is very apt to fall, and which gives the death-blow to any possibility of his success in this study. It is, on the contrary, extremely difficult to bring our attention to elements of experience which are continually present. For we have nothing in experience with which to contrast them; and without contrast, they cannot excite our attention. We can only contrast them with imaginary states of things; but even what we imagine is but a crazy-quilt of bits snipped off from actual experiences. The result is that roundabout devices have to be resorted to, in order to enable us to perceive what stares us in the face with a glare that, once noticed, becomes almost oppressive with its insistency. This circumstance alone would be sufficient to render philosophical observation difficult — much more difficult, for example, than the kind of observation which the painter has to exercise. Yet this is the least of the difficulties of philosophy. Of the various hindrances more serious still, I may mention once more the notion that it is an extremely easy thing to perceive what is before us every day and hour. But quite the worst is, that every man becomes more or less imbued with philosophical opinions, without being clearly aware of it. Some of these, it is true, may be right opinions; if he is a quite uneducated man, they doubtless will be so. But even if they are right, or nearly right, they prevent true observation as much as a pair of blue spectacles will prevent a man from observing the blue of the sky. The man will hold the right opinion, but not knowing that it might be founded upon direct observation, he will class it among articles of faith of a pretty dubious character. The more a man is educated in other branches, but not trained in philosophy, the more certain it is that two-thirds of his stock of half-conscious philosophical opinions will be utterly wrong, and will completely blind him to the truth, which he will gradually become unable so much as to conceive. I remember a really eminent French savant, who had sojourned for very many months in America, but who must have imbibed in his childhood the notion, then common in France, that Englishmen and Americans interject into every second sentence a certain word which the French imagine to be English. He belonged to one of the most observant of races; he was naturally a keen observer; and he was trained in an observational science; and yet, in order to assimilate himself as much as possible to American ways, he used to think it necessary to greet one every morning with a ‘How do you do, goddam?’ and to keep it up all day. He actually believed that he had observed that such was the American style. The educated man who is a beginner in philosophy is just like that man, who (be it remembered) had been moving about in America for years;— and by a beginner in philosophy I wish to be understood as meaning, in the case of an educated man, one who has not been seriously, earnestly, and single-mindedly devoted to the study of it for more than six or eight years. For there is no other science for which the preparatory training requires to be nearly so severe and so long, no matter how great the natural genius of the student may be. For a plain man or a boy who should be early taken in hand by an instructor capable of making him comprehend both sides of every question, the time, without doubt, can be greatly reduced, with untiring industry and energy on the pupil's part.

CP 1.133-4
After Peirce began (in 1902) referring to the observational part of philosophy as “phenomenology”, his description of how it is done continued in much the same vein, as we can see in this excerpt from the Harvard Lectures of 1903:
… Be it understood, then, that what we have to do, as students of phenomenology, is simply to open our mental eyes and look well at the phenomenon and say what are the characteristics that are never wanting in it, whether that phenomenon be something that outward experience forces upon our attention, or whether it be the wildest of dreams, or whether it be the most abstract and general of the conclusions of science.
The faculties which we must endeavor to gather for this work are three. The first and foremost is that rare faculty, the faculty of seeing what stares one in the face, just as it presents itself, unreplaced by any interpretation, unsophisticated by any allowance for this or for that supposed modifying circumstance. This is the faculty of the artist who sees for example the apparent colors of nature as they appear. When the ground is covered by snow on which the sun shines brightly except where shadows fall, if you ask any ordinary man what its color appears to be, he will tell you white, pure white, whiter in the sunlight, a little greyish in the shadow. But that is not what is before his eyes that he is describing; it is his theory of what ought to be seen. The artist will tell him that the shadows are not grey but a dull blue and that the snow in the sunshine is of a rich yellow. That artist's observational power is what is most wanted in the study of phenomenology. The second faculty we must strive to arm ourselves with is a resolute discrimination which fastens itself like a bulldog upon the particular feature that we are studying, follows it wherever it may lurk, and detects it beneath all its disguises. The third faculty we shall need is the generalizing power of the mathematician who produces the abstract formula that comprehends the very essence of the feature under examination purified from all admixture of extraneous and irrelevant accompaniments.
CP 5.41-2

Present at any time

We have seen Peirce's own testimony that phenomenology was “a branch of philosophy I am most deeply interested in and which I have worked upon almost as much as I have upon logic”. This implies that he was still making the effort not to be influenced by preconceived ideas – which would include the three-category doctrine which had been the fruit of his own previous work in phaneroscopy (before he called it by that name). Peirce arrived at this doctrine, or some form of it, fairly early in life, but he never claimed that either his phaneroscopic work or his account of the Categories had necessarily reached their final form. (Indeed, such a claim would violate the very idea of phaneroscopy, which can only be done in the present and “sedulously avoids” hypothesis-testing in its observations.) As late as 1913, we find Peirce still engaging in the kind of reflection that can only be grounded in phaneroscopy:

… what I am aware of, or, to use a different expression for the same fact, what I am conscious of, or, as the psychologists strangely talk, the ‘contents of my consciousness’ (just as if what I am conscious of and the fact that I am conscious were two different facts, and as if the one were inside the other), this same fact, I say, however it be worded, is evidently the entire universe, so far as I am concerned. Yet there is a wonderful revelation for me in the phenomenon of my sometimes becoming conscious that I have been in error, which at once shows me that if there can be no universe, as far as I am concerned, except the universe I am aware of, still there are differences in awareness. I become aware that though ‘universe’ and ‘awareness’ are one and the same thing, yet somehow the universe will go on in some definite fashion after I am dead and gone, whether I shall be the least aware of it or not.
This “entire universe” which Peirce refers to as a single “fact” is evidently the phaneron. Although phaneroscopy does not consider the reality status of anything it observes, and does not rely on inductive logic to establish ‘facts’ as empirical sciences do, it does direct attention to what Peirce called “categorical fact”; and even though it does not concern itself with whether a manifestation is “fact or figment”, it does venture to produce a true description of the phaneron. Those familiar with Peirce's categorial triad will recognize the element of Secondness in the “differences of awareness”, and the universe “going on” as representing the element of continuity or Thirdness.

Even though this passage does not refer explicitly to phaneroscopy, it throws light from another angle on what i have called Peirce's ‘objectivity.’ Just as the phaneron can only be a “fact” in a special non-metaphysical sense, it can only be an object in a special Peircean sense, ‘which implies that it is not to be understood as the external correlate of a subject’ (De Tienne 1993, 288). De Tienne's (1993, 281) discussion of this point is worth quoting at length:

The phaneron is not an object that the subject mind can manipulate as it pleases. The cognitive distance that this requires between subject and object does not exist in the phaneron. Peirce is convinced that in the subject/object distinction “there lurks … one of the worst fallacies of metaphysics” (MS:L 482:27, c. 1904). The esse of the phaneron is its percipi (MS 908:5, 1905), and no perceptum is without percipiens; Peirce therefore insists that an external reality cannot be a phaneron: “it is not entirely open to observation” (MS 337s:8).’ An external object is opaque; sides of it elude our apprehension.
… The light to which the phaneron is brought is not external but internal to the contemplating mind; it emanates from it in a way that overlooks any sharp distinction between mind and phaneron. The phaneron is the crucible in which the inner and outer worlds are conflated.
—Or, looking at it the other way round, inner and outer worlds emerge from the one source which is the phaneron. In its wholeness there is no difference between self and other, and thus none of the self-control which is characteristic of the normative sciences, including logic. And if self and other emerge from this original whole, so do signs: they emerge from a phaneron which is not itself a sign, and this is the pre-logical, pre-scientific origin of semiotic.
“I think it will conduce to perspicuity to invent the noun ‘Phaneron’ … to denote an object of any kind of which a person is aware not merely in being first aware in something else, but directly”(MS 612:7-8, 1908).
… Our awareness of a phaneron is always total and puts it into our “Immediate and Complete possession” (MS 645:3, 1909). The most important feature is the immediacy, the directness, with which one is aware of the phaneron. The appearance and the mind are conflated, which means that there is nothing to mediate between the two: there is no intervening sign. We are put facie ad faciem before the very phaneron itself, Peirce says (MS 645:5). Direct awareness is a face-to-face encounter, which is the same as saying that that which appears to a mind is not represented. A seeming is not a representation, at least not in the first place, and thus a phaneron never conveys any cognitive information. Direct awareness is therefore not to be confounded with cognitive intuition, which is a faculty whose existence Peirce denies. It follows, then, that the mode of manifestation of a phaneron must be in some essential respect quite different from that of a sign.
De Tienne (1993, 282)

However, the representation of the phaneron (which constitutes the latter stage of phaneroscopy) does require the use of signs, and thus objectifies the phaneron. The practitioner

is forced to create, as it were, an objectifying distance between himself or herself and the phaneron. The objectified phaneron (as opposed to the lived phaneron) becomes, in this way, the product of a mental separation or abstraction, as it is indeed isolated from the continuous stream of manifestation and becomes re-presented. Only then can it be considered as an object: when it is no longer genuine, no longer “lived.” … Strictly speaking, therefore, the objectified phaneron is no longer a phaneron. Whenever Peirce speaks of phaneroscopy as a descriptive science, he has in mind the particular definition of the phaneron, which thus leads him to misuse the term.
De Tienne (1993, 284)

Such ‘misuse’ can also occur in speaking of various particulars or ‘phenomena’ as if they could be phanerons in their own right. Which anything could be, if it could take up the whole mind, leaving no room for anything else … but then it would not appear as a particular. Yet anything observable, if not the whole phaneron, must be an ingredient of it.

We call whatever is in the mind, whether as feelings, as stresses, or efforts, as habits, or habit-growths, or of whatever kind they may be by the name of ingredients of the phaneron … whatever we at all know we must know through ingredients of the phaneron.
MS 477:10-11, c. 1905 (De Tienne 1993, 286)

The formal elements

If the phaneron has “ingredients”, though, phaneroscopy proper does not attend to all of them.

There can be no psychological difficulty in determining whether anything belongs to the phaneron or not; for whatever seems to be before the mind ipso facto is so, in my sense of the phrase. I invite you to consider, not everything in the phaneron, but only its indecomposable elements, that is, those that are logically indecomposable, or indecomposable to direct inspection. I wish to make out a classification, or division, of these indecomposable elements; that is, I want to sort them into their different kinds according to their real characters. I have some acquaintance with two different such classifications, both quite true; and there may be others. Of these two I know of, one is a division according to the form or structure of the elements, the other according to their matter. The two most passionately laborious years of my life were exclusively devoted to trying to ascertain something for certain about the latter; but I abandoned the attempt as beyond my powers, or, at any rate, unsuited to my genius. I had not neglected to examine what others had done but could not persuade myself that they had been more successful than I. Fortunately, however, all taxonomists of every department have found classifications according to structure to be the most important.
CP 1.288 (c. 1908)
Peirce's mention here of two classifications clarifies his statement in the ‘Adirondack lectures’ that “So far as I have developed this science of phaneroscopy, it is occupied with the formal elements of the phaneron.” Most likely the two “passionately laborious years” which he devoted to the material elements of the phaneron were the years leading up to his “New List” of 1867, as Fisch (1986, 263) says; this would agree with the account of that time given by Peirce in a letter addressed to “Signor Calderoni”:
… on May 14, 1867, after three years of almost insanely concentrated thought, hardly interrupted even by sleep, I produced my one contribution to philosophy in the “New List of Categories” in the Proceedings of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, Vol. VII, pp. 287-298. Tell your friend Julian that this is, if possible, even less original than my maxim of pragmatism; and that I take pride in the entire absence of originality in all that I have ever sought to bring to the attention of logicians and metaphysicians. My three categories are nothing but Hegel's three grades of thinking. I know very well that there are other categories, those which Hegel calls by that name. But I never succeeded in satisfying myself with any list of them. We may classify objects according to their matter; as wooden things, iron things, silver things, ivory things, etc. But classification according to structure is generally more important. And it is the same with ideas. Much as I would like to see Hegel's list of categories reformed, I hold that a classification of the elements of thought and consciousness according to their formal structure is more important. I believe in inventing new philosophical words in order to avoid the ambiguities of the familiar words. I use the word phaneron to mean all that is present to the mind in any sense or in any way whatsoever, regardless of whether it be fact or figment. I examine the phaneron and I endeavor to sort out its elements according to the complexity of their structure. I thus reach my three categories.
CP 8.213 (c. 1905)
In his Harvard Lectures of 1903, Peirce distinguished between ‘particular’ and ‘universal’ categories, the key feature of the latter being that they ‘belong to every phenomenon, one being perhaps more prominent in one aspect of that phenomenon than another but all of them belonging to every phenomenon’ (EP2:148). Peirce's manuscripts of the period 1859-1864 include many long lists of particular categories (EP2:517 note 6), and is likely this kind of list which Peirce refers to as unsatisfactory in his letter to Calderoni. Perhaps ‘universal’ and ‘formal’ are synonymous when applied to classes of categories. In any case, the autobiographical references in the above two passages make it clear that whenever it occurred, Peirce's turn to the formal elements of the phaneron constituted (in his own view) a major shift in his practice of phaneroscopy. The letter to Calderoni also throws some light on relations between Peirce's phenomenology and Hegel's, and we will return to this below. But first let us return to the passage from c. 1908 quoted at the top of this section. In that manuscript, Peirce goes on to elucidate what he means by “form or structure” by introducing the analogous idea of valencies in chemistry:
A reader may very intelligently ask, How is it possible for an indecomposable element to have any differences of structure? Of internal logical structure it would be clearly impossible. But of external structure, that is to say, structure of its possible compounds, limited differences of structure are possible; witness the chemical elements, of which the “groups,” or vertical columns of Mendeléeff's table, are universally and justly recognized as ever so much more important than the “series,” or horizontal ranks in the same table. Those columns are characterized by their several valencies …
CP 1.289
Having established, through an examination of the periodic table, that “elements may have structure through valency,” Peirce continues:
I invite the reader to join me in a direct inspection of the valency of elements of the phaneron. Why do I seem to see my reader draw back? Does he fear to be compromised by my bias, due to preconceived views? Oh, very well; yes, I do bring some convictions to the inquiry. But let us begin by subjecting these to criticism, postponing actual observation until all preconceptions are disposed of, one way or the other.
CP 1.290
From this it seems that critical thinking, which of course follows logical principles, can clear the way for phaneroscopic “observation” and thus contribute to the “great effort not to be influenced” by preconceptions. But as we shall see in the next section, Peirce says elsewhere that logic depends on phaneroscopy; is this ‘dependence’ then circular? This question arises again in some of Peirce's late writings, such as this excerpt from MS 318 (1907), which also relates form to valency:
Everybody is familiar with the useful, though fluctuating and relative distinction of matter and form; and it is strikingly true that distinctions and classifications founded upon form are, with very rare exceptions, more important to the scientific comprehension of the behaviour of things than distinctions and classifications founded upon matter. Mendeléeff's classification of the chemical elements, with which all educated men are, by this time, familiar, affords neat illustrations of this, since the distinctions between what he calls “groups,” that is to say, the different vertical columns of his table, consists in the elements of one such “group” entering into different forms of combination with hydrogen and with oxygen from those of another group; or as we usually say, their valencies differ; while the distinctions between what he calls the “series,” that is, the different horizontal rows of the table, consist in the less formal, more material circumstance that their atoms have, the elements of one “series,” greater masses than those of the other. Now everybody who has the least acquaintance with chemistry knows that, while elements in different horizontal rows but the same vertical column always exhibit certain marked physical differences, their chemical behaviours at corresponding temperatures are quite similar; and all the major distinctions of chemical behaviour between different elements are due to their belonging to different vertical columns of the table.

This illustration has much more pertinence to pragmatism than appears at first sight; since my researches into the logic of relatives have shown beyond all sane doubt that in one respect combinations of concepts exhibit a remarkable analogy with chemical combinations; every concept having a strict valency. (This must be taken to mean that of several forms of expression that are logically equivalent, that one or ones whose analytical accuracy is least open to question, owing to the introduction of the relation of joint identity, follows the law of valency.) Thus, the predicate “is blue” is univalent, the predicate “kills” is bivalent (for the direct and indirect objects are, grammar aside, as much subjects as is the subject nominative); the predicate “gives” is trivalent, since A gives B to C, etc. Just as the valency of chemistry is an atomic character, so indecomposable concepts may be bivalent or trivalent. Indeed, definitions being scrupulously observed, it will be seen to be a truism to assert that no compound of univalent and bivalent concepts alone can be trivalent, although a compound of any concept with a trivalent concept can have at pleasure, a valency higher or lower by one than that of the former concept. Less obvious, yet demonstrable, is the fact that no indecomposable concept has a higher valency. Among my papers are actual analyses of a number greater than I care to state. They are mostly more complex than would be supposed. Thus, the relation between the four bonds of an unsymmetrical carbon atom consists of twenty-four triadic relations. Careful analysis shows that to the three grades of valency of indecomposable concepts correspond three classes of characters or predicates. Firstly come “firstnesses,” or positive internal characters of the subject in itself; secondly come “secondnesses,” or brute actions of one subject or substance on another, regardless of law or of any third subject; thirdly comes “thirdnesses,” or the mental or quasi-mental influence of one subject on another relatively to a third. Since the demonstration of this proposition is too stiff for the infantile logic of our time (which is rapidly awakening, however), I have preferred to state it problematically, as a surmise to be verified by observation. The little that I have contributed to pragmatism (or, for that matter, to any other department of philosophy), has been entirely the fruit of this outgrowth from formal logic, and is worth much more than the small sum total of the rest of my work, as time will show.

CP 5.469
If this proposition about “the three grades of valency of indecomposable concepts” is to be “verified” by “observation” – which can only be of the phaneroscopic kind – and yet is an “outgrowth from formal logic”, then which is really dependent on the other, logic or phaneroscopy? Apel (1981, Chapter 6) deals with this conundrum at great length, and we will return to it only briefly in the next section. One possibility here is that by formal logic, Peirce means his generalized study of the formal elements of the phaneron, or of the logica utens of phaneroscopy – which is not a normative science as a logica docens is, and therefore precedes it in the development of logic.

In any case, Peirce had already developed the analogy between chemical valency and the “formal elements” of the phaneron in his unpublished 1896 paper on the Logic of Mathematics (CP 1.417 ff.), subtitled “An Attempt to Develop My Categories From Within” – several years before he began writing about “phenomenology” or “the phaneron”. By referring to them as “My Categories”, Peirce might seem to be implicitly claiming some ‘ownership’ and originality which he will later emphatically deny (see above and below). Also, he is clearly bringing the three Categories into this inquiry with the intention of “developing them from within”, so that they function here as preconceptions to be verified by demonstrating their fitness as core mathematical concepts. This would seem to be quite a different procedure from the phaneroscopy he would later describe as confining itself to “honest, single-minded observation of the appearances” combined with“ a great effort not to be influenced” by preconceived ideas. Nevertheless, this paper not only represents a turning from the “material” (or “metaphysical”) to the “formal” elements, but also makes a distinction between mathematical reasoning and the logic of other sciences which will later be reflected in the classification which places mathematics first (and phenomenology second) among “theoretical sciences which do not more or less depend upon the science of logic” – as we will see in the next section.

The first four pages of the 1896 paper are missing, but the first extant paragraph explains this primacy of mathematics.

… mathematics performs its reasonings by a logica utens which it develops for itself, and has no need of any appeal to a logica docens; for no disputes about reasoning arise in mathematics which need to be submitted to the principles of the philosophy of thought for decision. The questions which are here to be examined are, what are the different systems of hypotheses from which mathematical deduction can set out, what are their general characters, why are not other hypotheses possible, and the like. These are not problems which, like those of mathematics, repose upon clear and definite assumptions recognized at the outset; and yet, like mathematical problems, they are questions of possibility and necessity. What the nature of this necessity can be is one of the very matters to be discovered. This much, however, is indisputable: if there are really any such necessary characteristics of mathematical hypotheses as I have just declared in advance that we shall find that there [are], this necessity must spring from some truth so broad as to hold not only for the universe we know but for every world that poet could create. And this truth like every truth must come to us by the way of experience. No apriorist ever denied that. The first matters which it is pertinent to examine are the most universal categories of elements of all experience, natural or poetical.
CP 1.417
This part of the Logic of Mathematics paper anticipates Peirce's 1903 remark in the Harvard Lectures of 1903 that in science, “Experience is our only teacher” – even when it comes to mathematical truth. But this is a pre-phaneroscopic view, since phaneroscopy (as we have seen) is prescientific in the sense that it does not rely on experience alone, but on “all modes of contents of cognitional consciousness.” Alternatively, we might say that for Peirce, the extension of the word “experience” was broader in 1896 than in 1905, when he wrote that the “special field of experience” was “to acquaint us with events, with changes of perception” (CP 1.336).

The paper then proceeds to introduce the three categories we find in all experience as “qualities”, “facts”, and “laws” or “thoughts”. (“The third category of elements of phenomena consists of what we call laws when we contemplate them from the outside only, but which when we see both sides of the shield we call thoughts.”) Then the attempt to “develop” them begins:

We have already seen clearly that the elements of phenomena are of three categories, quality, fact, and thought. The question we have to consider is how quality shall be defined so as to preserve the truth of that division. In order to ascertain this, we must consider how qualities are apprehended and from what point of view they become emphatic in thought, and note what it is that will and must be revealed in that mode of apprehension.
CP 1.423

The same goes for “fact”:

As before, it is not the usage of language which we seek to learn, but what must be the description of fact in order that our division of the elements of phenomena into the categories of quality, fact, and law may not only be true, but also have the utmost possible value, being governed by those same characteristics which really dominate the phenomenal world.
CP 1.427
Even after verifying that the three categories are indeed the “characteristics which really dominate the phenomenal world”, we have not yet arrived at the formal elements of phenomena, which will appear in this paper as monad, dyad and triad. Concerning the element of fact, for instance, Peirce sums up his explication of its “brute” nature as follows:
All this renders it quite certain that the nature of fact is in some way connected with the number two, and that of law with three or some higher number or numbers, just as we have already seen that quality is described by means of the number one. But although it is hardly more than might be expected to find that a particular category of the constituents of phenomena has a special capacity for relations of a certain form — that some are too complex to suit this matter, while others [are] too simple to call into action its distinctive powers — and that in that way that category comes to have an intimate affinity with a certain formal conception, yet it would certainly be astonishing if it should turn out that material constituents of phenomena were coextensive with formal ideas. We consequently wish to discover just what the connection of the dyad with fact is.
CP 1.430
Later on, in the midst of his explication of dyads, Peirce returns to this distinction between material and formal elements:
The metaphysical categories of quality, fact, and law, being categories of the matter of phenomena, do not precisely correspond with the logical categories of the monad, the dyad, and the polyad or higher set, since these are categories of the forms of experience. The dyads of monads, being dyads, belong to the category of the dyad. But since they are composed of monads as their sole matter, they belong materially to the category of quality, or the monad in its material mode of being.
CP 1.452
Here we have the beginning of a clear distinction between the formal and material elements of the phaneron. Peirce's later descriptions of Firstness, Secondness and Thirdness, when they serve the purpose of introducing readers to them, usually present them as material elements, as most readers can easily conceive them in terms of their everyday experience. But for Peirce the logician and semotician, it is the formal elements of the phaneron that are most essential, and furnish the key to the unique place of phaneroscopy in his architectonic, bridging the gap between mathematical reasoning and the logic of the positive sciences.

The primal science

In taking up some of Peirce's remarks about the relation of phaneroscopy to the other sciences – which is an important subject, given the systematic nature of Peirce's work – we might begin with the “Minute Logic” of 1902:

… there are but five theoretical sciences which do not more or less depend upon the science of logic. … The first is Mathematics.… The second of the five is that department of philosophy called Phenomenology, whose business it is simply to draw up an inventory of appearances without going into any investigation of their truth.
CP 2.120
(The other three, by the way, are Esthetics, Ethics, and Logic itself.) After outlining his classification of the sciences, Peirce's “Minute Logic” gives a preview of the chapters to follow, again beginning with Mathematics and then turning to Phenomenology:
Logic can be of no avail to mathematics; but mathematics lays the foundation on which logic builds; and those mathematical chapters will be quite indispensable. After them, it is my purpose to invite the reader to take up the study of Phenomenology. In the derivation of this word, “phenomenon” is to be understood in the broadest sense conceivable; so that phenomenology might rather be defined as the study of what seems than as the statement of what appears. It describes the essentially different elements which seem to present themselves in what seems. Its task requires and exercises a singular sort of thought, a sort of thought that will be found to be of the utmost service throughout the study of logic. It can hardly be said to involve reasoning; for reasoning reaches a conclusion, and asserts it to be true however matters may seem; while in Phenomenology there is no assertion except that there are certain seemings; and even these are not, and cannot be asserted, because they cannot be described. Phenomenology can only tell the reader which way to look and to see what he shall see. The question of how far Phenomenology does reason will receive special attention.
CP 2.197
This preliminary description is necessarily vague, especially the difference between “what seems” and “what appears”; De Tienne (1993, 281) suggests that “Peirce draws a distinction between appearance and seeming because the former has a lesser extension than the latter.” Also, “the study of what seems” would be broader than “the statement of what appears”, just as a continuing process will traverse a wider range of possibilities than any definite product of it can contain. The idea here is clarified and developed much further in the first of Peirce's Harvard Lectures of 1903, quoted here (with some omissions and comments) in the version published in CP 5.37-39:
… before we can attack any normative science, any science which proposes to separate the sheep from the goats, it is plain that there must be a preliminary inquiry which shall justify the attempt to establish such dualism. This must be a science that does not draw any distinction of good and bad in any sense whatever, but just contemplates phenomena as they are, simply opens its eyes and describes what it sees; not what it sees in the real as distinguished from figment — not regarding any such dichotomy — but simply describing the object, as a phenomenon, and stating what it finds in all phenomena alike. This is the science which Hegel made his starting-point, under the name of the Phänomenologie des Geistes — although he considered it in a fatally narrow spirit, since he restricted himself to what actually forces itself on the mind and so colored his whole philosophy with the ignoration of the distinction of essence and existence and so gave it the nominalistic and I might say in a certain sense the pragmatoidal character in which the worst of the Hegelian errors have their origin.
This last remark tells us something significant about relation between phaneroscopy and logic, because it suggests that in philosophy, ignoring a valid distinction can be just as misleading as prematurely introducing a distinction (such as good/bad or real/unreal) which the “preliminary inquiry” is supposed to disregard. Peirce goes on to say how his phenomenological method differs from Hegel's, before elaborating on what this science is supposed to accomplish.
I will so far follow Hegel as to call this science Phenomenology although I will not restrict it to the observation and analysis of experience but extend it to describing all the features that are common to whatever is experienced or might conceivably be experienced or become an object of study in any way direct or indirect.

Hegel was quite right in holding that it was the business of this science to bring out and make clear the Categories or fundamental modes. He was also right in holding that these Categories are of two kinds; the Universal Categories all of which apply to everything, and the series of categories consisting of phases of evolution.

As to these latter, I am satisfied that Hegel has not approximated to any correct catalogue of them. … I have made long and arduous studies of this matter, but I have not been able to draw up any catalogue that satisfies me.… The case is quite different with the three Universal Categories, which Hegel, by the way, does not look upon as Categories at all, or at least he does not call them so, but as three stages of thinking. In regard to these, it appears to me that Hegel is so nearly right that my own doctrine might very well be taken for a variety of Hegelianism, although in point of fact it was determined in my mind by considerations entirely foreign to Hegel …

For more on Hegel's “stages of thinking” in relation to Peirce's “categories”, see CP 8.264 ff. (a letter to William James dated June 8, 1903). Regarding the two kinds of Categories identified by Hegel, the “Universal Categories” and the “phases of evolution”, we should note that it is the former, and not the latter, which Peirce identifies with Hegel's doctine of “three stages of thinking.” Thus Peirce's three Categories are identified with the “Universal Categories” and with Hegel's “three stages of thinking”, although Hegel (according to Peirce) did not recognize their identity as Peirce himself did. It is not clear whether the distinction between two kinds of categories made here is the same as the distinction Peirce made elsewhere between formal and material “elements of the phaneron”.

Continuing with the same Harvard Lecture, Peirce states the primacy or priority of phenomenology thus:

This science of Phenomenology, then, must be taken as the basis upon which normative science is to be erected, and accordingly must claim our first attention.

This science of Phenomenology is in my view the most primal of all the positive sciences. That is, it is not based, as to its principles, upon any other positive science. By a positive science I mean an inquiry which seeks for positive knowledge; that is, for such knowledge as may conveniently be expressed in a categorical proposition. Logic and the other normative sciences, although they ask, not what is but what ought to be, nevertheless are positive sciences since it is by asserting positive, categorical truth that they are able to show that what they call good really is so; and the right reason, right effort, and right being, of which they treat, derive that character from positive categorical fact.

Perhaps you will ask me whether it is possible to conceive of a science which should not aim to declare that something is positively or categorically true. I reply that it is not only possible to conceive of such a science, but that such science exists and flourishes, and Phenomenology, which does not depend upon any other positive science, nevertheless must, if it is to be properly grounded, be made to depend upon the Conditional or Hypothetical Science of Pure Mathematics, whose only aim is to discover not how things actually are, but how they might be supposed to be, if not in our universe, then in some other. A Phenomenology which does not reckon with pure mathematics, a science hardly come to years of discretion when Hegel wrote, will be the same pitiful club-footed affair that Hegel produced.

CP 5.39-40

The above makes it clear that Phaneroscopy should not be taken as an empirical science because that would “fatally narrow” its scope. The phaneron includes not only objects present to the senses but mathematical objects as well, indeed anything that “might be supposed to be”, where ‘being’ is much more inclusive than actual ‘existence’. Among sciences, then, Phaneroscopy fits between Mathematics, which is not a positive science, and all those other sciences which are positive but not “primal” in the way that Phaneroscopy is, because they do not study the whole of the phaneron but rather investigate a more restricted set of its ingredients.

In the 1903 letter to James already quoted above, Peirce remarks on the importance of understanding the differences between sciences, and especially between phenomenology and psychology:

From the point of view of logic and methodical development the distinctions are of the greatest concern. Phenomenology has no right to appeal to logic, except to deductive logic. On the contrary, logic must be founded on phenomenology. Psychology, you may say, observes the same facts as phenomenology does. No. It does not observe the same facts. It looks upon the same world;— the same world that the astronomer looks at. But what it observes in that world is different. Psychology of all sciences stands most in need of the discoveries of the logician, which he makes by the aid of the phenomenologist.
CP 8.297

The Doctrine of Categories

In his ‘Minute Logic’ of 1902, Peirce placed Phenomenology first among the three “orders” of “necessary philosophy” (CP 1.280):
The first of these is Phenomenology, or the Doctrine of Categories, whose business it is to unravel the tangled skein [of] all that in any sense appears and wind it into distinct forms; or in other words, to make the ultimate analysis of all experiences the first task to which philosophy has to apply itself. It is a most difficult, perhaps the most difficult, of its tasks, demanding very peculiar powers of thought, the ability to seize clouds, vast and intangible, to set them in orderly array, to put them through their exercises. The mere reading of this sort of philosophy, the mere understanding of it, is not easy. Anything like a just appreciation of it has not been performed by many of those who have written books. Original work in this department, if it is to be real and hitherto unformulated truth, is — not to speak of whether it is difficult or not — one of those functions of growth which every man, perhaps, in some fashion exercises once, some even twice, but which it would be next to a miracle to perform a third time.

It should be clear by now why Peirce describes phaneroscopy as the most difficult of all philosophical tasks, and we have seen some of Peirce's remarks on how this task is carried out. With this in mind, we can now turn to “the Doctrine of Categories” as formulated by Peirce's own work in this department of philosophy. The rest of this study will consist of two extended passages from his writings on the subject.

First we present one which links the “elements of experience” (here broadly defined) with mathematics on the one hand and logic on the other – with the concept of continuity linking the two. This undated passage is the last part of a draft entitled “Some Logical Prolegomena”, which forms the final section of a manuscript “On Topical Geometry, in General”. Continuity is a key concept in topical geometry (or topology, as it is generally called today). The terminology here is quite similar to that of the 1896 Logic of Mathematics paper, for instance referring to “experience” (not to the phaneron). Phaneroscopy, or something very like it, is here called “High Philosophy”, a term Peirce uses nowhere else. (The term “Kainopythagorean” applied to the categories here is a tribute to Pythagoras, of whom Peirce wrote in MS L75 (1902): “We find in Pythagoras the beginnings of a true science of the categories. His numbers were categories; that is, elements of the phenomenon; and they bear a certain general resemblance to my categories.” The Greek adjective “kaino-” means ‘new’.)

If the whole business of mathematics consists in deducing the properties of hypothetical constructions, mathematics is the one science to which a science of logic is not pertinent. For nothing can be more evident than its own unaided reasonings. On the contrary logic is an experiential, or positive, science. Not that it needs to make any special observations, but it does rest upon a part of our experience that is common to all men. Pure deductive logic, insofar as it is restricted to mathematical hypotheses, is, indeed, mere mathematics. But when logic tells us that we can reason about the real world in the same way with security, it tells us a positive fact about the universe. As for induction, it is generally admitted that it rests upon some such fact. But all facts of this sort are irrelevant to the deduction of the properties of purely hypothetical constructions.

But there is a part of the business of the mathematician where a science of logic is required. Namely, the mathematician is called in to consider a state of facts which are presented in a confused mass. Out of this state of things he has at the outset to build his hypothesis. Thus, the question of topical geometry is suggested by ordinary observations. In order definitely to state its hypothesis, the mathematician, before he comes to his proper business, must define what continuity, for the purpose of topics, consists in; and this requires logical analysis of the utmost subtlety. Mathematicians still survive who are so little versed in reasoning as to deny that we can reason mathematically about infinity, although the hypothesis of an endless series of whole numbers involves infinity and the hypothesis of transcendental irrational quantities involves an infinity of another kind. If we cannot reason mathematically about infinity, a fortiori we cannot reason mathematically about continuity, and any exact mathematics of topical geometry becomes impossible. To clear up these difficulties, some consideration of logical matters is indispensable.

526. Logic is a branch of philosophy. That is to say it is an experiential, or positive science, but a science which rests on no special observations, made by special observational means, but on phenomena which lie open to the observation of every man, every day and hour. There are two main branches of philosophy, Logic, or the philosophy of thought, and Metaphysics, or the philosophy of being. Still more general than these is High Philosophy which brings to light certain truths applicable alike to logic and to metaphysics. It is with this high philosophy that we have at first to deal.

What is the experience upon which high philosophy is based? For any one of the special sciences, experience is that which the observational art of that science directly reveals. This is connected with and assimilated to knowledge already in our possession and otherwise derived, and thereby receives an interpretation, or theory. But in philosophy there is no special observational art, and there is no knowledge antecedently acquired in the light of which experience is to be interpreted. The interpretation itself is experience. Even logic, however, the higher of the two main branches of philosophy, draws a distinction between truth and falsehood. But in high philosophy, experience is the entire cognitive result of living, and illusion is, for its purposes, just as much experience as is real perception. With this understanding, I proceed to make evident the following proposition.

All the elements of experience belong to three classes, which, since they are best defined in terms of numbers, may be termed Kainopythagorean categories. Namely, experience is composed of

1st, monadic experiences, or simples, being elements each of such a nature that it might without inconsistency be what it is though there were nothing else in all experience;

2nd, dyadic experiences, or recurrences, each a direct experience of an opposing pair of objects;

3rd, triadic experiences, or comprehensions, each a direct experience which connects other possible experiences.

In order to prove this proposition I have, first, to invite every reader to note certain phenomena in experience and make certain simple generalizations from those observations; second, to point out in those generalized phenomena the essential characters in the above definitions of the categories; third, to point out certain other characteristics of those phenomena and show how they are related to the essential characters of the categories; fourth, to exemplify the wide range of each category in experience; fifth, to show by comparison of the characters already ascertained that none of the categories can be resolved into the others, but that all are distinct from one another; sixth, and most difficult, to prove that there can be no element in experience not included in the three categories.

A quality of feeling, say for example of [a] certain purple color, might be imagined to constitute the whole of some being's experience without any sense of beginning, ending, or continuance, without any self-consciousness distinct from the feeling of the color, without comparison with other feelings; and still it might be the very color we see. This is a conclusion which anybody can reach by comparing his different states of feeling; but we cannot actually observe a quality of feeling in its purity; it is always mixed with other elements which modify it greatly. Were a feeling thus to usurp the whole consciousness, it would necessarily be perfectly simple; for the perception of different elements in it is a comparison of feelings. Moreover, with us every feeling has its degree of vividness, which does not affect its quality, but is apparently the degree of disturbance it produces. It is necessary to speak vaguely, because it is not settled precisely what vividness consists in. But [were] the feeling uncomplicated by anything else, no particular degree of vividness would attach to it. The quality of feeling would then be the whole feeling. Qualities, then, constitute the first category. A quality of feeling is perfectly simple, in itself; though a quality thought over and thus mixed with other elements, may be compared with others and analyzed. A quality of feeling, in itself, is no object and is attached to no object. It is a mere tone of consciousness. But qualities of feeling may be attached to objects. A quality of feeling, in itself, has no generality; but it is susceptible of generalization without losing its character; and indeed all the qualities of feeling we are able to recognize are more or less generalized. In a mathematical hypothesis the qualities of feeling are so subordinate as to be scarcely noticeable.

That we cannot have an experience of exertion without a direct experience therein of resistance to our exertion is plain. By an experience of exertion, I do not mean a consciousness of resolving to do something, nor the collection of our force preparatory to an effort, but merely what we experience in the very act of doing. This being understood, I contend that it is equally true that we cannot have an experience of being affected by anything without having therein a direct experience of our resisting the effect. Take hold of one end of a lexicon and lift it, while one edge remains on the table or floor. You experience its resistance. But when the centre of gravity has passed beyond the vertical plane of stationary edge, what you feel is that the dictionary is acting upon you. Yet the only difference is that different muscles are now called into play, which are elongating instead of contracting. Lay your forearm on the table and place the book on your palm. Though the sensation is somewhat different, you still have an experience of being overborne, and thus of holding out against the compression. A series of such experiments, with variations needless to describe, will convince the reader that there is a common character in the experience of acting upon anything by a muscular contraction and an experience of being acted on whether by a relaxation of a muscle or by a sensation received upon the organs of sense. That experience gives us at once a direct consciousness of something inward and an equally direct consciousness of something outward. In fact, these two are one and the same consciousness. They are inseparable. The same two-sided consciousness appears when by direct effort I bring to the surface of recollection a name that I dimly remember, and when I make distinct to myself a confused conception.
[CSP note: But I do not mean to say that bare striving usually does any more good in these cases than in the case of such a physical difficulty as turning a key that does not fit very well in its lock. If a moderate effort does not suffice, some contrivance has to be employed.]
If the purple color which we just supposed made up the whole consciousness of a being were suddenly to change, then, still supposing the idea of continuance is either absent or not prominent, that being will have a two-sided consciousness. The sense of what has been will be a rudimentary ego, the sense of what comes about will be a rudimentary non-ego. For past experience is for each of us ours, and that which the future brings is not ours, which becomes present only in the instant of assimilation. That being could have no sense of change except by experiencing the two colors together. The instant change would involve a sort of shock consisting in the two-sided consciousness. This experience of reaction is the second Kainopythagorean category. It is impossible to find any element of experience directly involving two objects, and no more,— those two embraced in any third, such as a pair, but standing in their naked otherness,— other than an experience of reaction.

A reaction is something which occurs hic et nunc. It happens but once. If it is repeated, that makes two reactions. If it is continued for some time, that, as will be shown below, involves the third category. It is an individual event, and I shall show that it is the root of all logical individuality. A reaction cannot be generalized without entirely losing its character as a reaction. A generalized reaction is a law. But a law, by itself without the addition of a living reaction to carry it out on each separate occasion, is as impotent as a judge without a sheriff. It is an idle formula entirely different from a reaction. A reaction may be ever so conformable to law or reason, that is, it may occur when law or reason calls for it. But, in itself, as reaction it is arbitrary, blind, and brute exertion of force. To express the fact that a reaction thus resists all generalization, I say that it is anti-general. In this respect it contrasts with a quality of feeling, which though not in itself general is susceptible of generalization without losing its character as quality of feeling. It is remarkable that Reaction, which is the Dyad category, should have an aggressive unity that Quality, the Monad category, does not exhibit. But the explanation of it is that the quality involves no reference to anything else and so is one without any special emphasis, since it could not be otherwise; while reaction consists in the congress of two things, that might not come together, and every concurrence of them makes a distinct reaction. It will be found that the third category also has a mode of unity which does not belong to either of the others.

A quality of feeling does not in itself involve any reaction. But an experience of reaction does involve two qualities of feeling. It consists in the conjunction of two qualities of feeling; and in this conjunction those two qualities of feeling become more than mere qualities. In being thus set over against one another they acquire the concreteness and actuality of feelings. The one purple color absorbing the entire consciousness of our supposed being was a mere tone of life. But when a sudden change occurs setting two against one another, they become objects.

Although in all direct experience of reaction, an ego, a something within, is one member of the pair, yet we attribute reactions to objects outside of us. When we say that a thing exists, what we mean is that it reacts upon other things. That we are transferring to it our direct experience of reaction is shown by our saying that one thing acts upon another. It is our hypothesis to explain the phenomena,— a hypothesis, which like the working hypothesis of a scientific inquiry, we may not believe to be altogether true, but which is useful in enabling us to conceive of what takes place.

Now if we ask ourselves what else we observe in every experience (taking experience in its broadest sense to include experience of ideal worlds and of the real world as we interpret its phenomena) besides qualities and reactions, the answer will readily come that there remain the regularities, the continuities, the significances. These are essentially of one kind. That continuity is only a variation of regularity, or, if we please so to regard it, that regularity is only a special case of continuity, will appear below, when we come to analyze the conception of continuity. It is already quite plain that any continuum we can think of is perfectly regular in its way as far as its continuity extends. No doubt, a line may be say an arc of a circle up to a certain point and beyond that point it may be straight. Then it is in one sense continuous and without a break, while in another sense, it does not all follow one law. But in so far as it is continuous, it everywhere follows a law; that is, the same thing is true of every portion of it; while in the sense in which it is irregular its continuity is broken. In short, the idea of continuity is the idea of a homogeneity, or sameness, which is a regularity. On the other hand, just as a continuous line is one which affords room for any multitude of points, no matter how great, so all regularity affords scope for any multitude of variant particulars; so that the idea [of] continuity is an extension of the idea of regularity. Regularity implies generality; and generality is an intellectual relation essentially the same as significance, as is shown by the contention of the nominalists that all generals are names. Even if generals have a being independent of actual thought, their being consists in their being possible objects of thought whereby particulars can be thought. Now that which brings another thing before the mind is a representation; so that generality and regularity are essentially the same as significance. Thus, continuity, regularity, and significance are essentially the same idea with merely subsidiary differences. That this element is found in experience is shown by the fact that all experience involves time. Now the flow of time is conceived as continuous. No matter whether this continuity is a datum of sense, or a quasi-hypothesis imported by the mind into experience, or even an illusion; in any case it remains a direct experience. For experience is not what analysis discovers but the raw material upon which analysis works. This element then is an element of direct experience.

It remains to be shown that this element is the third Kainopythagorean category. All flow of time involves learning; and all learning involves the flow of time. Now no continuum can be apprehended except by a mental generation of it, by thinking of something as moving through it, or in some way equivalent to this, and founded upon it. For a mere dull staring at a superficies does not involve the positive apprehension of continuity. All that is given in such staring is a feeling which serves as a sign that the object might be apprehended as a continuum. Thus, all apprehension of continuity involves a consciousness of learning. In the next place, all learning is virtually reasoning; that is to say, if not reasoning, it only differs therefrom in being too low in consciousness to be controllable and in consequently not being subject to criticism as good or bad,— no doubt, a most important distinction for logical purposes, but not affecting the nature of the elements of experience that it contains. In order to convince ourselves that all learning is virtually reasoning, we have only to reflect that the mere experience of a sense-reaction is not learning. That is only something from which something can be learned, by interpreting it. The interpretation is the learning. If it is objected that there must be a first thing learned, I reply that this is like saying that there must be a first rational fraction, in the order of magnitudes, greater than zero. There is no minimum time that an experience of learning must occupy. At least, we do not conceive it so, in conceiving time as continuous; for every flow of time, however short, is an experience of learning. It may be replied that this only shows that not all learning is reasoning, inasmuch as every train of reasoning whatever consists of a finite number of discrete steps. But my rejoinder is that if by an argument we mean an attempt to state a step in reasoning, then the simplest step in reasoning is incapable of being completely stated by any finite series of arguments. For every step in reasoning has a premiss, P, and a conclusion, C; and the reasoning consists in the perception that if P is found true as it has been found true, then must C be always or mostly true; and this “must” means that not only [is] C true (or probable) unless P is false (or not found true in the way supposed) but that every analogous premiss and conclusion are in the same relation. That is to say, in the reasoning we observe that P has a certain general character and C is related to it in a certain general way, and further that given any proposition whatever of that general character, the proposition related to it in that general way is true unless the former proposition is false; whence it necessarily follows of C and P, that either the former is true or the latter is false. But this is a second argument involved in the reasoning. For the first argument was

P is true,
Hence, C must be true;
while the second argument is
P has a general character P' and C has a relation r to P;
But given any proposition having the character P', the proposition having the relation r to it is true unless the former is false;
Hence, C is true unless P is false.

Thus, every reasoning involves another reasoning, which in its turn involves another, and so on ad infinitum. Every reasoning connects something that has just been learned with knowledge already acquired so that we thereby learn what has been unknown. It is thus that the present is so welded to what is just past as to render what is just coming about inevitable. The consciousness of the present, as the boundary between past and future, involves them both. Reasoning is a new experience which involves something old and something hitherto unknown. The past as above remarked is the ego. My recent past is my uppermost ego; my distant past is my more generalized ego. The past of the community is our ego. In attributing a flow of time to unknown events we impute a quasi-ego to the universe. The present is the immediate representation we are just learning that brings the future, or non-ego, to be assimilated into the ego. It is thus seen that learning, or representation, is the third Kainopythagorean category.

There are no more Kainopythagorean categories than these three. For the first category is nonrelative experience, the second is experience of a dyadic relation, and the third is experience of a triadic relation. It is impossible to analyze a triadic relation, or fact about three objects, into dyadic relations; for the very idea of a compound supposes two parts, at least, and a whole, or three objects, at least, in all. On the other hand, every tetradic relation, or fact about four objects can be analyzed into a compound of triadic relations. This can be shown by an example. Suppose a seller, S, sells a thing, T, to a buyer, B, for a sum of money, M. This sale is a tetradic relation. But if we define precisely what it consists in, we shall find it to be a compound of six triadic relations, as follows:

1st, S is the subject of a certain receipt of money, R, in return for the performance of a certain act As;

2nd, This performance of the act As effects a certain delivery, D, according to a certain contract, or agreement, C;

3rd, B is the subject of a certain acquisition of good, G, in return for the performance of a certain act, Ab;

4th, This performance of the act Ab effects a certain payment, P, according to the aforesaid contract C;

5th, The delivery, D, renders T the object of the acquisition of good G;

6th, The payment, P, renders M the object of the receipt of money, R.

Or we may define a sale as the execution of contract of sale. The contract of sale has two clauses. The first clause provides for a giving and a receiving. The giving is by the seller of the commodity; the receiving is by the buyer of the same commodity. The second clause provides for a giving and a receiving. The giving is by the buyer of the price; the receiving is by the seller of the same price. The execution is of the first clause and of the second, etc. But I do not think this latter definition as good as the other, since it introduces several unnecessary elements and also covertly brings in four pentadic relations, such as the relation of the buyer to the first and second clauses of the contract and to the separate executions of them.

Let me now resume the argument. To begin with, it is to be remarked that I use the word “experience” in a much broader sense than it carries in the special sciences. For those sciences, experience is that which their special means of observation directly bring to light, and it is contrasted with the interpretations of those observations which are effected by connecting these experiences with what we otherwise know. But for philosophy, which is the science which sets in order those observations which lie open to every man every day and hour, experience can only mean the total cognitive result of living, and includes interpretations quite as truly as it does the matter of sense. Even more truly, since this matter of sense is a hypothetical something which we never can seize as such, free from all interpretative working over. Such being what is here meant by experience, my argument is of the utmost simplicity. It consists merely in begging the reader to notice certain phenomena which he will find, I believe, in every corner of experience and to draw the simplest generalizations from them. The first phenomenon that I ask him to observe is, that he can detect elements in experience which are whatever they are each in its own simplicity. Namely, he will perceive that this is true of colors, smells, emotions, tones of mood, the characteristic flavors, if I may use this expression, attaching to certain ideas. Look, for instance, on anything yellow. That yellow quality is not in itself, as that mere quality, to be explained by anything else, or defined in terms of anything else; nor does it involve or imply anything else. This is surely evident. True, we know by experiment that a yellow color can be produced by mixing green and red light. But the yellow, as a quality of feeling, involves no reference to any other color. Every quality of feeling, as such, is perfectly simple and irrespective of anything else. The second phenomenon that I ask the reader to observe is that there are in experience occurrences; and in every experience of an occurrence two things are directly given as opposed, namely, what there was before the occurrence, which now appears as an ego, and what the occurrence forces upon the ego, a non-ego. This is particularly obvious in voluntary acts; but it is equally true of reactions of sense. If the latter are intense, or violent, the sense of reaction is particularly strong. There is a certain quality of feeling here, a brute arbitrariness, as I may call it, though it cannot be described any more than yellow can be described. But it is not this quality of feeling to which I wish to direct attention as peculiar, but the actual taking place. This actual taking place essentially involves two things, what there was before and what the occurrence introduces. I ask the reader to remark that such an occurrence cannot possibly be resolved into qualities of feeling. For in the first place, a quality of feeling is, in itself, simple and irrespective of anything else; so that anything compound necessarily involves something besides a quality of feeling. Secondly, a quality is merely something that might be realized, while an occurrence is something that actually takes place. The character of brute exertion that attaches to every occurrence is, no doubt, a quality of feeling; but experience of the occurrence itself, is something else. Such an element of experience I term a reaction in order to emphasize its essentially dual character. Thirdly, a reaction has an individuality. It happens only once. If it is repeated, the repetition is another occurrence, no matter how like the first it may be. It is anti-general. A quality, on the other hand, has no individuality. Two qualities are different only so far as they are unlike. Individuality is an aggressive unity, arising from an absolute refusal to be in any degree responsible for anything else. This a quality cannot have since it is too utterly irrespective of anything else even to deny it. A reaction, on the other hand, is an opposition, or pairedness of objects that are existentially correlative, neither existing except by virtue of this opposition.

CP 7.524-538
(For some of Peirce's late thoughts on continuity and time, see CP 4.642 and the note added by CP editors to CP 7.535 (after “Regularity implies generality” above); both are from a manuscript dated 1908.)

From phenomenology through representation to logic

In this extended excerpt from the Lowell Lectures of 1903 (CP 1.521-39), Peirce gives a “slight glimpse … of the sort of questions that busy the student of phenomenology, merely to lead up to Thirdness and to the particular kind and aspect of Thirdness which is the sole object of logical study.” This will conclude our mini-anthology of Peirce's writings on phaneroscopy and phenomenology.

Kinds of Secondness

Very wretched is the notion of [the categories] that can be conveyed in one lecture. They must grow up in the mind, under the hot sunshine of hard thought, daily, bright, well-focussed, and well-aimed thought; and you must have patience, for long time is required to ripen the fruit. They are no inventions of mine. Were they so, that would be sufficient to condemn them. Confused notions of these elements appear in the first infancy of philosophy, and they have never entirely been forgotten. Their fundamental importance is noticed in the beginning of Aristotle's De Caelo, where it is said that the Pythagoreans knew of them.

In Kant they come out with an approach to lucidity. For Kant possessed in a high degree all seven of the mental qualifications of a philosopher:

  1. The ability to discern what is before one's consciousness.
  2. Inventive originality.
  3. Generalizing power.
  4. Subtlety.
  5. Critical severity and sense of fact.
  6. Systematic procedure.
  7. Energy, diligence, persistency, and exclusive devotion to philosophy.

But Kant had not the slightest suspicion of the inexhaustible intricacy of the fabric of conceptions, which is such that I do not flatter myself that I have ever analyzed a single idea into its constituent elements.

Hegel, in some respects the greatest philosopher that ever lived, had a somewhat juster notion of this complication, though an inadequate notion, too. For if he had seen what the state of the case was, he would not have attempted in one lifetime to cover the vast field that he attempted to clear. But Hegel was lamentably deficient in that fifth requisite of critical severity and sense of fact. He brought out the three elements much more clearly [than Kant did]; but the element of Secondness, of hard fact, is not accorded its due place in his system; and in a lesser degree the same is true of Firstness. After Hegel wrote, there came fifty years that were remarkably fruitful in all the means for attaining that fifth requisite. Yet Hegel's followers, instead of going to work to reform their master's system, and to render his statement of it obsolete, as every true philosopher must desire that his disciples should do, only proposed, at best, some superficial changes without replacing at all the rotten material with which the system was built up.

I shall not inflict upon you any account of my own labors. Suffice it to say that my results have afforded me great aid in the study of logic.

I will, however, make a few remarks on these categories. By way of preface, I must explain that in saying that the three, Firstness, Secondness, and Thirdness, complete the list, I by no means deny that there are other categories. On the contrary, at every step of every analysis, conceptions are met with which presumably do not belong to this series of ideas. Nor did an investigation of them occupying me for two years reveal any analysis of them into these as their constituents. I shall say nothing further about them, except incidentally.

As to the three universal categories, as I call them, perhaps with no very good reason for thinking that they are more universal than the others, we first notice that Secondness and Thirdness are conceptions of complexity. That is not, however, to say that they are complex conceptions. When we think of Secondness, we naturally think of two reacting objects, a first and a second. And along with these, as subjects, there is their reaction. But these are not constituents out of which the Secondness is built up. The truth is just reverse, [in] that the being a first or a second or the being a reaction each involves Secondness. An object cannot be a second of itself. If it is a second, it has an element of being what another makes it to be. That is, the being a second involves Secondness. The reaction still more manifestly involves the being what another makes a subject to be. Thus, while Secondness is a fact of complexity, it is not a compound of two facts. It is a single fact about two objects. Similar remarks apply to Thirdness.

This remark at once leads to another. The Secondness of the second, whichever of the two objects be called the second, is different from the Secondness of the first. That is to say it generally is so. To kill and to be killed are different. In case there is one of the two which there is good reason for calling the first, while the other remains the second, it is that the Secondness is more accidental to the former than to the latter; that there is more or less approach to a state of things in which something, which is itself first, accidentally comes into a Secondness that does not really modify its Firstness, while its second in this Secondness is something whose being is of the nature of Secondness and which has no Firstness separate from this. It must be extremely difficult for those who are untrained to such analyses of conceptions to make any sense of all this. For that reason, I shall inflict very little of it upon you — just enough to show those who can carry what I say in their minds that it is by no means nonsense. The extreme kind of Secondness which I have just described is the relation of a quality to the matter in which that quality inheres. The mode of being of the quality is that of Firstness. That is to say, it is a possibility. It is related to the matter accidentally; and this relation does not change the quality at all, except that it imparts existence, that is to say, this very relation of inherence, to it. But the matter, on the other hand, has no being at all except the being a subject of qualities. This relation of really having qualities constitutes its existence. But if all its qualities were to be taken away, and it were to be left quality-less matter, it not only would not exist, but it would not have any positive definite possibility — such as an unembodied quality has. It would be nothing at all.

Thus we have a division of seconds into those whose very being, or Firstness, it is to be seconds, and those whose Secondness is only an accretion. This distinction springs out of the essential elements of Secondness. For Secondness involves Firstness. The concepts of the two kinds of Secondness are mixed concepts composed of Secondness and Firstness. One is the second whose very Firstness is Secondness. The other is a second whose Secondness is second to a Firstness. The idea of mingling Firstness and Secondness in this particular way is an idea distinct from the ideas of Firstness and Secondness that it combines. It appears to be a conception of an entirely different series of categories. At the same time, it is an idea of which Firstness, Secondness, and Thirdness are component parts, since the distinction depends on whether the two elements of Firstness and Secondness that are united are so united as to be one or whether they remain two. This distinction between two kinds of seconds, which is almost involved in the very idea of a second, makes a distinction between two kinds of Secondness; namely, the Secondness of genuine seconds, or matters, which I call genuine Secondness, and the Secondness in which one of the seconds is only a Firstness, which I call degenerate Secondness; so that this Secondness really amounts to nothing but this, that a subject, in its being a second, has a Firstness, or quality. It is to be remarked that this distinction arose from attending to extreme cases; and consequently subdivision will be attached to it according to the more or less essential or accidental nature of the genuine or the degenerate Secondness. With this distinction Thirdness has nothing to do, or at any rate has so little to do that a satisfactory account of the distinction need not mention Thirdness.

I will just mention that among Firstnesses there is no distinction of the genuine and the degenerate, while among Thirdnesses we find not only a genuine but two distinct grades of degeneracy.

The Firstness of Firstness, Secondness, and Thirdness

But now I wish to call your attention to a kind of distinction which affects Firstness more than it does Secondness, and Secondness more than it does Thirdness. This distinction arises from the circumstance that where you have a triplet you have three pairs; and where you have a pair, you have two units. Thus, Secondness is an essential part of Thirdness though not of Firstness, and Firstness is an essential element of both Secondness and Thirdness. Hence there is such a thing as the Firstness of Secondness and such a thing as the Firstness of Thirdness; and there is such a thing as the Secondness of Thirdness. But there is no Secondness of pure Firstness and no Thirdness of pure Firstness or Secondness. When you strive to get the purest conceptions you can of Firstness, Secondness, and Thirdness, thinking of quality, reaction, and mediation — what you are striving to apprehend is pure Firstness, the Firstness of Secondness — that is what Secondness is, of itself — and the Firstness of Thirdness. When you contrast the blind compulsion in an event of reaction considered as something which happens and which of its nature can never happen again, since you cannot cross the same river twice, when, I say, you contrast this compulsion with the logical necessitation of a meaning considered as something that has no being at all except so far as it actually gets embodied in an event of thought, and you regard this logical necessitation as a sort of actual compulsion, since the meaning must actually be embodied, what you are thinking of is a Secondness involved in Thirdness.

A Firstness is exemplified in every quality of a total feeling. It is perfectly simple and without parts; and everything has its quality. Thus the tragedy of King Lear has its Firstness, its flavor sui generis. That wherein all such qualities agree is universal Firstness, the very being of Firstness. The word possibility fits it, except that possibility implies a relation to what exists, while universal Firstness is the mode of being of itself. That is why a new word was required for it. Otherwise, "possibility" would have answered the purpose.

As to Secondness, I have said that our only direct knowledge of it is in willing and in the experience of a perception. It is in willing that the Secondness comes out most strongly. But it is not pure Secondness. For, in the first place, he who wills has a purpose; and that idea of purpose makes the act appear as a means to an end. Now the word means is almost an exact synonym to the word third. It certainly involves Thirdness. Moreover, he who wills is conscious of doing so, in the sense of representing to himself that he does so. But representation is precisely genuine Thirdness. You must conceive an instantaneous consciousness that is instantly and totally forgotten and an effort without purpose. It is a hopeless undertaking to try to realize what consciousness would be without the element of representation. It would be like unexpectedly hearing a great explosion of nitroglycerine before one had recovered oneself and merely had the sense of the breaking off of the quiet. Perhaps it might not be far from what ordinary common sense conceives to take place when one billiard ball caroms on another. One ball “acts” on the other; that is, it makes an exertion minus the element of representation. We may say with some approach to accuracy that the general Firstness of all true Secondness is existence, though this term more particularly applies to Secondness in so far as it is an element of the reacting first and second. If we mean Secondness as it is an element of the occurrence, the Firstness of it is actuality. But actuality and existence are words expressing the same idea in different applications. Secondness, strictly speaking, is just when and where it takes place, and has no other being; and therefore different Secondnesses, strictly speaking, have in themselves no quality in common. Accordingly, existence, or the universal Firstness of all Secondness, is really not a quality at all. An actual dollar to your credit in the bank does not differ in any respect from a possible imaginary dollar. For if it did, the imaginary dollar could be imagined to be changed in that respect, so as to agree with the actual dollar. We thus see that actuality is not a quality, or mere mode of feeling. Hence Hegel, whose neglect of Secondness was due chiefly to his not recognizing any other mode of being than existence — and what he calls existenz is a special variety of it merely — regarded pure being as pretty much the same as nothing. It is true that the word “existence” names, as if it were an abstract possibility, that which is precisely the not having any being in abstract possibility; and this circumstance, when you look upon existence as the only being, seems to make existence all but the same as nothing.

To express the Firstness of Thirdness, the peculiar flavor or color of mediation, we have no really good word. Mentality is, perhaps, as good as any, poor and inadequate as it is. Here, then, are three kinds of Firstness, qualitative possibility, existence, mentality, resulting from applying Firstness to the three categories. We might strike new words for them: primity, secundity, tertiality.

There are also three other kinds of Firstness which arise in a somewhat similar way; namely, the idea of a simple original quality, the idea of a quality essentially relative, such as that of being “an inch long”; and the idea of a quality that consists in the way something is thought or represented, such as the quality of being manifest.

I shall not enter into any exact analysis of these ideas. I only wished to give you such slight glimpse as I could of the sort of questions that busy the student of phenomenology, merely to lead up to Thirdness and to the particular kind and aspect of Thirdness which is the sole object of logical study. I want first to show you what genuine Thirdness is and what are its two degenerate forms. Now we found the genuine and degenerate forms of Secondness by considering the full ideas of first and second. Then the genuine Secondness was found to be reaction, where first and second are both true seconds and the Secondness is something distinct from them, while in degenerate Secondness, or mere reference, the first is a mere first never attaining full Secondness.

Let us proceed in the same way with Thirdness. We have here a first, a second, and a third. The first is a positive qualitative possibility, in itself nothing more. The second is an existent thing without any mode of being less than existence, but determined by that first. A third has a mode of being which consists in the Secondnesses that it determines, the mode of being of a law, or concept. Do not confound this with the ideal being of a quality in itself. A quality is something capable of being completely embodied. A law never can be embodied in its character as a law except by determining a habit. A quality is how something may or might have been. A law is how an endless future must continue to be.

Now in genuine Thirdness, the first, the second, and the third are all three of the nature of thirds, or thought, while in respect to one another they are first, second, and third. The first is thought in its capacity as mere possibility; that is, mere mind capable of thinking, or a mere vague idea. The second is thought playing the role of a Secondness, or event. That is, it is of the general nature of experience or information. The third is thought in its role as governing Secondness. It brings the information into the mind, or determines the idea and gives it body. It is informing thought, or cognition. But take away the psychological or accidental human element, and in this genuine Thirdness we see the operation of a sign.

Every sign stands for an object independent of itself; but it can only be a sign of that object in so far as that object is itself of the nature of a sign or thought. For the sign does not affect the object but is affected by it; so that the object must be able to convey thought, that is, must be of the nature of thought or of a sign. Every thought is a sign. But in the first degree of degeneracy the Thirdness affects the object, so that this is not of the nature of a Thirdness — not so, at least, as far as this operation of degenerate Thirdness is concerned. It is that the third brings about a Secondness but does not regard that Secondness as anything more than a fact. In short it is the operation of executing an intention. In the last degree of degeneracy of Thirdness, there is thought, but no conveyance or embodiment of thought at all. It is merely that a fact of which there must be, I suppose, something like knowledge is apprehended according to a possible idea. There is an instigation without any prompting. For example, you look at something and say, “It is red.” Well, I ask you what justification you have for such a judgment. You reply, “I saw it was red.” Not at all. You saw nothing in the least like that. You saw an image. There was no subject or predicate in it. It was just one unseparated image, not resembling a proposition in the smallest particular. It instigated you to your judgment, owing to a possibility of thought; but it never told you so. Now in all imagination and perception there is such an operation by which thought springs up; and its only justification is that it subsequently turns out to be useful.

Now it may be that logic ought to be the science of Thirdness in general. But as I have studied it, it is simply the science of what must be and ought to be true representation, so far as representation can be known without any gathering of special facts beyond our ordinary daily life. It is, in short, the philosophy of representation.

And that brings us to semiotics, the central concern of Peirce's work from 1903 on.

Reference list for secondary sources

(For abbreviations used in citing Peirce, see the main Peirce page on this site.)

Apel, Karl-Otto, tr. (1981) J.M. Krois, Charles S. Peirce From Pragmatism to Pragmaticism (Amherst, NY: Humanity Books, 1995).

Fisch, Max H., ed. (1986) by Kenneth Laine Ketner and Christian J. W. Kloesel, Peirce, Semeiotic and Pragmatism (Bloomington: Indiana University Press).

De Tienne, André (1993), ‘Peirce's Definitions of the Phaneron’, pp. 279-288 in Moore (ed.), Charles S. Peirce and the Philosophy of Science, Papers From the Harvard Sesquicentennial Congress (Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press).

De Tienne, André (2004), ‘Is Phaneroscopy as a Pre-Semiotic Science Possible?’ (PDF online at Arisbe).

Ransdell, Joseph (1989/1997), ‘Is Peirce a Phenomenologist?’ (online at Arisbe).

Spiegelberg, Herbert (1956), ‘Husserl's and Peirce's Phenomenologies: Coincidence or Interaction’. Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, Vol. 17, No. 2 (Dec. 1956), pp. 164-185.

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