The whole Truth

In his 1818 preface to Die Welt als Wille und Vorstellung, Arthur Schopenhauer told readers that his whole book was really ‘a single thought,’ which he could find no shorter way of imparting. Despite the linear order imposed by the book format, the real order connecting the parts was ‘organic’:

every part supports the whole just as much as it is supported by the whole; a connexion in which no part is first and no part last, in which the whole gains in clearness from every part, and even the smallest part cannot be fully understood until the whole has been first understood.’

— Schopenhauer (1859, xii)

His advice to the reader, therefore, was to read the book twice. My advice to the Ideal Reader of Turning Signs is to take the whole thought of the Obverse as context for every point to be presented on the Reverse (and here in the Universe).

Here we have another turn of the hermeneutic circle. But if the ‘single thought’ of the book cannot be expressed in a single sentence, or indeed in any shorter form than the book itself, how can any actual reader see it as a single thought? Can you really see it all at once? This question applies to the meaning cycle in all its guises, because it arises from the very nature of signs, which according to Peirce are of virtually unlimited size and complexity.

Giving to the word sign the full scope that reasonably belongs to it for logical purposes, a whole book is a sign; and a translation of it is a replica of the same sign. A whole literature is a sign.

— Peirce, EP2:303

Nor is the question limited in scope to books, or even to language in all its forms. Every sign is ‘connected with the “Truth,” i.e. the entire Universe of being’ (Peirce, EP2:303). A complete and explicit model of the connections would take up no less meaning space than that Universe itself, ‘perfused with signs.’ But a model working implicitly can be represented by the smallest possible sign, which will then show simply the wholeness of the “Truth.”

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