230. The word Sign will be used to denote an Object perceptible, or only imaginable, or even unimaginable in one sense -for the word "fast", which is a Sign, is not imaginable, since it is not this word itself that can be set down on paper or pronounced, but only an instance of it, and since it is the very same word when it is written as it is when it is pronounced, but is one word when it means "rapidly" and quite another when it means "immovable", and a third when it refers to abstinence. But in order that anything should be a Sign, it must "represent", as we say, something else, called its Object, although the condition that a Sign must be other than its Object is perhaps arbitrary, since, if we insist upon it we must at least make an exception in the case of a Sign that is a part of a Sign. Thus nothing prevents the actor who acts a character in an historical drama from carrying as a theatrical "property" the very relic that that article is supposed merely to represent, such as the crucifix that Bulwer's Richelieu holds up with such effect in his defiance. On a map of an island laid down upon the soil of that island there must, under all ordinary circumstances, be some position, some point, marked or not, that represents qua place on the map, the very same point qua place on the island. A sign may have more than one Object. Thus, the sentence "Cain killed Abel", which is a Sign, refers at least as much to Abel as to Cain, even if it be not regarded as it should, as having "a killing" as a third Object. But the set of objects may be regarded as making up one complex Object. In what follows and often elsewhere Signs will be treated as having but one object each for the sake of dividing difficulties of the study. If a Sign is other than its Object, there must exist, either in thought or in expression, some explanation or argument or other context, showing how -upon what system or for what reason the Sign represents the Object or set of Objects that it does. Now the Sign and the Explanation together make up another Sign, and since the explanation will be a Sign, it will probably require an additional explanation, which taken together with the already enlarged Sign will make up a still larger Sign; and proceeding in the same way, we shall, or should, ultimately reach a Sign of itself, containing its own explanation and those of all its significant parts; and according to this explanation each such part has some other part as its Object. According to this every Sign has, actually or virtually, what we may call a Precept of explanation according to which it is to be understood as a sort of emanation, so to speak, of its Object. (If the Sign be an Icon, a scholastic might say that the "species" of the Object emanating from it found its matter in the Icon. If the Sign be an Index, we may think of it as a fragment torn away from the Object, the two in their Existence being one whole or a part of such whole. If the Sign is a Symbol, we may think of it as embodying the "ratio", or reason, of the Object that has emanated from it. These, of course, are mere figures of speech; but that does not render them useless.)
The Sign can only represent the Object and tell about it. It cannot furnish acquaintance with or recognition of that Object; for that is what is meant in this volume by the Object of a Sign; namely, that with which it presupposes an acquaintance in order to convey some further information concerning it. No doubt there will be readers who will say they cannot comprehend this. They think a Sign need not relate to anything otherwise known, and can make neither head nor tail of the statement that every Sign must relate to such an Object. But if there be anything that conveys information and yet has absolutely no relation nor reference to anything with which the person to whom it conveys the information has, when he comprehends that information, the slightest acquaintance, direct or indirect -and a very strange sort of information that would be- the vehicle of that sort of information is not, in this volume, called a Sign.
232. Two men are standing on the seashore looking out to sea. One of them says to the other, "That vessel there carries no freight at all, but only passengers." Now, if the other, himself, sees no vessel, the first information he derives from the remark has for its Object the part of the sea that he does see, and informs him that a person with sharper eyes than his, or more trained in looking for such things, can see a vessel there; and then, that vessel having been thus introduced to his acquaintance, he is prepared to receive the information about it that it carries passengers exclusively. But the sentence as a whole has, for the person supposed, no other Object than that with which it finds him already acquainted. The Objects -for a Sign may have any number of them- may each be a single known existing thing or thing believed formerly to have existed or expected to exist, or a collection of such things, or a known quality or relation or fact, which single Object may be a collection, or whole of parts, or it may have some other mode of being, such as some act permitted whose being does not prevent its negation from being equally permitted, or something of a general nature desired, required, or invariably found under certain general circumstances.
Fin de: C. S. Peirce, "Signs and their Objects", CP 2. 230-232 (From "Meaning", 1910)
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Fecha del documento: 6 agosto 2003
Última actualización: 10 enero 2004