Letter of Charles S. Peirce to Mario Calderoni on Pragmaticism
(L 67, 1905)


This is a draft of 39 pp., of which pp.1-17 were published as CP 8.205-213. The transcription of the pages not included in CP was done by Luis Ramirez in August 2002 from the manuscript kept in the Houghton Library at Harvard.

Dear Signor Calderoni,

I have delayed thanking you, as I now very warmly do, for sending me the three numbers of Leonardo, and for your too flattering references to my formulation. In the April number of the Monist I proposed that the word "pragmatism" should hereafter be used somewhat loosely to signify affiliation with Schiller, James, Dewey, Royce, and the rest of us, while the particular doctrine which I invented the word to denote, which is your kind of pragmatism, should be called "pragmaticism". The extra syllable will indicate the narrower meaning.

Pragmaticism is not a system of philosophy. It is only a method of thinking; and your correspondent, Giuliano il Sofista, is quite right in saying that it is not a new way of thinking. If it were so, that, to my mind, would be almost sufficient to condemn it. It is only the formulation of it which was new thirty years ago, unless your correspondent is prepared to cite the volume and page on which an equivalent formulation had already been given. From his tone, I infer that he is quite prepared to do this: and I shall thus congratulate myself on a unknown fellow-thinker. Of those who have used this way of thinking Berkeley is the clearest example, though Locke (especially in the fourth book if his Essay), Spinoza, and Kant may be claimed as adherents of it.

Although pragmaticism is not a philosophy, yet, as you rightly say, it best comports with the English philosophy, and more particularly with the Scotch doctrine of common sense.

In an article which should have appeared in the July Monist, but which seems to have been crowded out by matters of superior importance, magic squares and the like, I specify six errors which I find in the Scotch doctrine of common sense, of which the most important is that those philosophers failed to remark the extreme vagueness of our indubitable beliefs. For example, everybody's actions show that it is impossible to doubt that there is an element of order in the world; but the moment we attempt to define that orderliness we find room for doubt. There is, besides, another respect in which pragmaticism is at issue not only with English philosophy more particularly, but with all modern philosophy more or less, even with Hegel; and that is that it involves a complete rupture with nominalism. Even Duns Scotus is too nominalistic when he says that universals are contracted to the mode of individuality in singulars meaning as he does, by singulars, ordinary existing things. The pragmaticist cannot admit that. I myself went too far in the direction of nominalism when I said that it was a mere question of the convenience of speech whether we say that a diamond is hard when it is not pressed upon, or whether we say that it is soft until it is pressed upon. I now say that experiment will prove that the diamond is hard, as a positive fact. That is, it is a real fact that it would resist pressure, which amounts to extreme scholastic realism. I deny that pragmaticism as originally defined by me made the intellectual purport of symbols to consist in our conduct. On the contrary, I was most careful to say that it consists in our concept of what our conduct would be upon conceivable occasions. For I had long before declared that absolute individuals were entia rationis, and not realities. A concept determinate in all respects is as fictious as a concept definite in all respects. I do not think we can ever have a logical right to infer, even as probable, the existence of anything entirely contrary in its nature to all that we can experience or imagine. But a nominalist must do this. For he must say that all future events are the total of all that will have happened and therefore that the future is not endless; and therefore, that there will be an event not followed by an event. This may be, inconceivable as it is; but the nominalistic must say that it will else he will make the future to be endless, that is, to have a mode of being consisting in the truth of a general law. For every future event will have been completed, but the endless future will not have been completed. There are many other turns that may be given to this argument; and the conclusion of it that it is only the general which we can understand. What we commonly designate by pointing at it or otherwise indicating it we assume to be singular. But so far as we can comprehend it, it will be found not to be so. We can only indicate the real universe; if we are asked to describe it, we can only say that it includes whatever there may be that really is. This is a universal, not a singular.

The truth of pragmaticism may be proved in various ways. I would conduct the argument somewhat as follows. In the first place, there are but three elementary kinds of reasoning. The first, which I call abduction (on the theory, the doubtful theory, I confess, that the meaning of the XXVth chapter of the second book of the Prior Analytics has been completely diverted from Aristotle's meaning by a single wrong word having been inserted by Apellicon where the original word was illegible) consists in examining a mass of facts and in allowing these facts to suggest a theory. In this way we gain new ideas; but there is no force in the reasoning. The second kind of reasoning is deduction, or necessary reasoning. It is applicable only to an ideal state of things, or to a state of things in so far as it may conform to an ideal. It merely gives a new aspect to the premises. It consists in constructing an image or diagram in accordance with a general precept, in observing in that image certain relations of parts not explicitly laid down in the precept, and in convincing oneself that the same relations will always occur when that precept is followed out. For example, having convinced ourselves of the truth of the pons asinorum with the aid of a diagram drawn with a common lead pencil, we are quite sure it would be the same with a diagram drawn in red; and a form of syllogism which is certain in black is equally so in red. A phenomenon having been observed in a laboratory though we may not know on what conditions it depends, yet we are quite sure that it would make no difference whether the number of degrees of the longitude of the planet Eros just one week previous were a prime or composite number. The third way of reasoning is induction, or experimental research. Its procedure is this. Abduction having suggested a theory, we employ deduction to deduce from that ideal theory a promiscuous variety of consequences to the effect that if we perform certain acts, we shall find ourselves confronted with certain experiences. We then proceed to try these experiments, and if the predications of the theory are verified, we have a proportionate confidence that the experiments that remain to be tried will confirm the theory. I say that these three are the only elementary modes of reasoning there are. I am convinced of it both a priori and a posteriori. The a priori reasoning is contained in my paper in the Proceedings of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences for April 9, 1867. I will not repeat it. But I will mention that it turns in part upon the fact that induction is, as Aristotle says, the inference of the truth of the major premiss of a syllogism of which the minor premiss is made to be true and the conclusion is found to be true, while abduction is the inference of the truth of the minor premiss of a syllogism of which the major premiss is selected as known already to be true while the conclusion is found to be true. Abduction furnishes all our ideas concerning real things, beyond what are given in perception, but is mere conjecture, without probative force. Deduction is certain but relates only to ideal objects. Induction gives us the only approach to certainty concerning the real that we can have. In forty years diligent study of arguments, I have never found one which did not consist of those elements. The successes of modern science ought to convince us that induction is the only capable imperator of truth-seeking. Now pragmaticism is simply the doctrine that the inductive method is the only essential to the ascertainment of the intellectual purport of any symbol.

This argument must be supplemented by examples of the wholesome effect of pragmatistic interpretations. Among the most signal of these is the explanation of probability. We begin by asking, what is the use of calculations of probabilities; and the answer is that the great business of insurance rests upon such calculations. The probability upon which this business proceeds consists in the practical certainty that for every ten thousand dollars paid in about a certain number of dollars will have to be paid out. In the rare, the very rare, case in which decidedly more must be paid out, there are not only reserves more than ample, but there is the knowledge that such large payments will cause a great increase in the amounts paid in. A probability, therefore, is the know ratio of frequency of a specific future event to a generic future event which includes it. That is what probability must mean in order to have any importance for business. What, then, does it mean to say that if a man sees a phenomenon occur on m successive days, the probability is m + 1 / m + 2 that the same phenomenon will appear on the next following day? Does it mean that if we put a large number of universes in a bag, shake them up well, and draw out one at random this will be the average result? It plainly means nothing at all of any consequence.

But all this neither proves, nor tends to prove, the whole proposition. It goes to show that the practical consequences are much, but not that they are all the meaning of a concept. A new argument must supplement the above. All the more active functions of animals are adaptive characters calculated to insure the continuance of the stock. Can there be the slightest hesitation in saying, then, that the human intellect is implanted in man, either by a creator or by a quasi-intentional effect of the struggle for existence, virtually in order, and solely in order, to insure the continuance of mankind? But how can it have such effect except by regulating human conduct? Shall we not conclude then that the conduct of men is the sole purpose and sense of thinking, and that if it be asked why should the human stock be continued, the only answer is that that is among the inscrutable purposes of God or the virtual purposes of nature which for the present remain secrets to us?

So it would seem. But this conclusion is too vastly far-reaching to be admitted without further examination. Man seems to himself to have some glimmer of co-understanding with God, or with Nature. The fact that he has been able in some degree to predict how Nature will act, to formulate general "laws" to which future events conform, seems to furnish inductive proof that man really penetrates in some measure the ideas that govern creation. Now man cannot believe that creation has not some ideal purpose. If so, it is not mere action, but the development of an idea which is the purpose of thought; and so a doubt is cast upon the ultra pragmatic notion that action is the sole end and purpose of thought.

It was in the desperate endeavor to make a beginning of penetrating into that riddle that 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.

I find that there are in the phaneron, 1st, elements each of which is (that is, appear to be, for we are speaking of phanera) such as it is positively and regardless of anything else. I call this Priman elements; 2nd, elements each of which is such as it is relatively to something over against it, regardless of any third. Such an element may also have a character in itself, a priman character, inseparable from what it is to the other. But however inseparable that priman character may be, it can be distinguished from the Secundan element, which is the designation I give to that which is such as it is to another, regardless of any third. 3rd, elements each of which is as it is to a second and for a third, that is, its very being, as phaneron, consists in its bringing that second and that third into relationship. Such an element I call a Tertian element. You naturally expect Quartan elements, and so forth. But I not merely opine, but can strictly demonstrate that every quartan part of a phaneron is reducible to a combination of Tertian elements. You might thoughtlessly ask why then a Tertian part cannot be reduced to a combination of a Secundan elements. But a moment's reflection will show that this is a senseless and purely verbal suggestion, inasmuch as combination is already a Tertian idea.

Thus it can be made mathematically evident that elements of the phaneron of these three grades of structure there may be, and that none others can there be.

So, without looking deeper (for a deeper look might modify our notion) we may naturally expect to find seven different schools of metaphysicians, one for every day of the week.

If you will permit a little nonsense to relieve this solemn subject we can [assign] a particular day to each school. The metaphysician ought to begin by trying the simplest hypothesis first, that is, by admitting only Priman elements, as the Berkeleians and Hedonists do, and in their doing this fiat lux, light, and a splendid light was brought upon all the chaotic notions of humans society which had prevailed before Beccaria and Bentham. So you will permit me to call this school the Sunday school. The blaze of this extreme nominalism ought, and I should think, must pass, perhaps insensibly, into the lesser light of Philistine, ordinary, materialistic, and stoical nominalism, which admits Secundan elements and a firmament of existence, which consists only in struggle. This will be the school of Monday. But after all, those Priman elements effect nothing they are mere epiphenomens. This reflection will produce the arid school of pure dynamism, mere brutal Mars, highly appropriate for Tuesday. But Tertian elements, elements derived from life, evolutionary influences will slip into the explanations of dynamism. Mars will give way to Mercurius, and we have a Spencerian Wednesday school. But then ought to come the reflection, why retain these Secundan elements, since it is the Tertian that suffice to effect everything, and the result will be a Hegelian intellectualism, the Begriff the sole constituent. This will be the dies Jovis. But then it will be felt that, after all, the Priman elements must be admitted, and we shall have that neohegelianism of Royce and others who admit Priman along with their Tertian elements, but cannot see that there is any brute force in the universe at all. They make the world a law court in which the Priman elements are the witnesses and the Tertian element the judge. But as for the sheriff, il commissario, with his sword and his shackles, they do not see that he is not a mere emanation of the judge's mind. A soft Venus world is their idea. They belong to the day of Frigga. At last comes the return to Aristotelianism, which recognizes that an account of the world must admit Priman, Secundan, and Tertian elements. In that there is rest. It is the day of old Saturn.

Of course, this is mere arbitrary fancy; but it has given me an opportunity to point out something of the aspects of these three kinds of elements. Now let us endeavour to especify examples of the three elements in consciousness. The Priman elements of consciousness are the pure qualities of feeling, red, green, the harmony of a chord, the quality of a tooth-ache, its insistency being left out of account, the glow of a contemplation of any situation, as mere quality. That wherein the perception of red and the imagination or memory of red agree and are the same is Priman. As an example of a Secundan element, take, effort, which can only be in so far as there is a resistance to it. Without a counter-resistance there is no effort. Also, the shock of a surprise is of this nature. In a long sea voyage in the trade-winds, one day just like another, I get up some morning and coming on deck see something quite novel. The inertia of habitual expectation is borne down, but not without a brief struggle; for I rub my eyes, I shake myself, before I admit the unexpected to be real. Experience may be defined as the cognitive element which the course of life has brutally forced upon me, without reason. It implies a conservative, inert clinging to former ideas which has been conquered. This purely brute force is Secundan. If it had any reason, it would be Tertian. But even when a stone falls in accordance with the law of gravity, the mere law, of itself, is of no avail. It is like a judge on the bench without any sheriff. The sheriff obeys the judge, it is true. Nevertheless, it is the brute force of his arm that acts and that brute force, considered apart from the reason behind it, is Secundan. That mode of being which we call existence, the reaction of everything in the universe against every other, the crowding out of a place for itself, acting most on things near, less on things far, but brutally insisting on a place is Secundan. I say "brutally", because no law, so far as we know, makes any single object to exist. Law only determines in what way things shall behave, once they do exist.

The Tertian elements are exemplified most clearly in the action of signs. An orderly or aide-de-camp from a general rides up to a colonel. He sends into his ear some slight aerial vibrations whose energy is so slight that no other instrument than an ear could detect them at all. How is this energy transformed? It sets a million men in fierce, heroic, ebriate, life-prodigal violence against another million, overthrows a government, gives hundreds of millions of people an altogether different life. How is this done? By brute force? No; by force of logic. Sitting here writing in my study, I find forced upon my attention that the air of my room is, as we say in English, "stuffy", that is, just beginning to embarrass respiration, without any definite recognizable quality. I reason. I say to myself, this should not be; it is unfavorable to work. How remedy it? The window must be opened. If the window is to be opened, I must open it. To open the window, I must be near it. To be near it, I must cross the room. To cross the room, I must rise from my chair. To rise from my chair I must bend my trunk and contract the muscles of my legs after planting my feet under my chair. About there I lose the power of recognizing my reasoning and the next thing I am aware of is that I am moving across the room. My muscles seem to be making complicated systematic contractions; but I am sure I do not know what they are doing. I have only in mind my purpose to have the air let in. I forget even that, my mind going back to what I was writing; but I still move to the window and the next thing I know I am taking up my pen. I have to look up to make sure that I did open the window. But of course I did. A sign cannot function at all without producing a physical effect. All our thoughts of every description are signs. A sign is triadic because it determines an interpretant sign of the same object to which it refers itself. A sign is thus a sign of an object, for an interpretant.

Now I find, at any rate, forty years of industrious and sceptical investigation have confirmed me in thinking, that every Secundan has two varieties, a more "genuine", more Secundan Secundan, and a more "degenerate", more Priman Secundan. And the genuine Secundan Secundan has in turn two varieties of the same sort, and so on, I cannot say how far this goes. Moreover, what is much more unexpected, instead of there being six or seven different grades of Tertians, as I should have confidently anticipated (and did, in fact, long endeavor to detect), I find there are only three, the Priman Tertian, the Secundan Tertian, and the genuine Tertian. Of the Secundan Tertian there are two grades, the degenerate and the genuine. Of the genuine Tertian there are three grades, and so forth. The Priman admits no variation of form.

Before giving examples of these things, I must say that although there is but one pure Priman, there are impure and pseudo Primans, as well as Pseudo Secundans. For example, a Leibnizian monad is something which is represented to be all that it is in itself, by itself, and for itself. But this is self-contradictory. If the monad really were for itself alone one could have no more conception of it than one has of the inner life of a pebble on the beach. It would be simply nothing to us. I say, then, that the monad has an "imputed" Primanity, or that it is pseudo-priman. It is represented to be Priman; but, just as being represented, it is really Tertian. Just so, a book upon exact logic might begin with this sentence: "Consider a number of individual objects, A, B, C, D, etc., all exactly alike and indistinguishable". Here again the ideas are vague, or indefinite, and like all vague objects are not subject to the principle of contradiction (in every respect, although they must be so in some respects, for no thought can be perfectly vague). The objects A, B, C, D which are said to be absolutely indistinguishable (see for example, Kempe's great memoir in the Philosophical Transactions for 1886, p. 14, section 73 where he studies minutely collections of objects "undistinguished from one another in dress or other circumstance") are in the very same breath distinguished as A, B, C, etc.; and indeed it is these distinct signs alone that enable us to have any sort of notion of the indistinguishable and essentially vague objects to which they are supposed to be attached. This is another case of imputed Primanity. So likewise in all those relations called "concurrencies", as when ordinary limitative adjectives are regarded as relative terms, the Secundanity is imputed merely. Those dyadic relations called "references", such as the references of attribute to subject, are another kind of imputed Secundanity. There is, moreover, another kind of impure Primanity.

Consider, a real individual object, as it is in itself. This is Priman, being such as it is in itself, regardless of other things. Yet this Primanity is not the original, essential, Primanity of a quality of feeling, but is merely due to the otherness of the individual from everything else in the universe.

I will give some examples of the difference between degenerate and genuine Secundanity, and of the differences between Priman, Secundan, and genuine Tertianity. A genuine Secundanity affects the very mode of being of the Second. An effort cannot occur at all without a resistance. A father is not a father if his son dies, and has not that mode of being that he had when his son lived. A man who is taller than another is not really taller unless the shorter man exists. But that Secundanity which consists in one man's having a stature of 6 feet and another man's having a stature of 5 feet is a degenerate Secundanity, since each would be just what he is if the other were not there, and would be Second in the same way to a merely possible but non-existent man. The genuine Secundanity divides again into a more and a less genuine kind. Being "taller" is a genuine Secundanity. Yet, after all, it is merely what is essentially involved in this distinct facts each relating to a single individual. It might be said to be degenerately genuine as compared with the Secundanity of two brothers; for this cannot be resolved into two facts involving only the two individuals. Still, it is not so genuine as the Secundanity of Cain's Killing Abel; since after all their brotherhood resulted from the two facts that Cain was the son of Adam and Eve and that Abel was son of Adam and Eve. The killing cannot be resolved into two separate facts. Still, even this Secundanity, is not so genuine as that of effort and resistance, since Cain would have been Cain just the same even if he had not killed Abel.

Without fatiguing you with all the divisions of Priman an Secundan Tertianity, I will merely remark, what everybody can think out for himself, that Priman Tertianity is that Tertianity which consists in possibilities and Secundan Tertianity is that Tertianity which consists in brute, physical, or quasi-physical facts, while genuine Tertianity consists in rational truths and understandings. The genuine Tertian is again Primanly genuine, Secundanly genuine, and genuinely genuine Tertians, which last are signs. A sign is something which is Secundan to an Object and determines an Interpretant to be correspondingly Secundan to the same Object. But we can distinguish two Objects; the object as it is represented to be, and the object as it is. We can also distinguish three Interpretans; the Interpretant as it is in itself regardless of the sign, the Interpretant as it is actually caused by the sign, and the Interpretant as the sign represents it to be intended.

Signs may be divided in three ways; first, according to their modes of being as Entia in themselves; second, according to their relations to their Objects; third, according to the mode of their appeal to their intepretants.

A sign in itself may be an indefinite possibility, when I term as a Qualisign, or it may be an existent thing or event, when I term it a Sinsign [sin-is the sim-of simul, simplex, etc.], or it may be a general type, when I call it a Legisign. For example, a metaphor of a given description may have been actually employed or it may not. In any case, it is a possibility, as a possible description, we will suppose, of a physical motion, that it is a sign of a state of feeling. I call that a qualisign. Chiaroscuro is a qualisign. The word il may occur twenty times on an Italian page. Each occurrence of it is a separate sign, and all occurrences are instances of one and the same sign. The occurrences are so many sinsigns. The one word is a legisign. It is not indefinite, like chiaroscuro in general. In their relations to their objects, signs are divisible in two ways, according as we have in view the object as it is or the object as represented. The former division is merely into signs of possibilities, signs of existents, and signs of types. The other division is more important. It is into, 1st, icons, or those signs which represent their objects by virtue of a resemblance or analogy with them, such as a mathematical diagram, say [a, b, c / a', b', c' / a'', b'', c''] to represent a determinant; 2nd, indices, or those signs which represent their objects by virtued of being connected with them in fact, like a clock, or a barometer, a weathercock, a photograph, etc. [The photograph involves a icon, as indeed do very many indices, while on the other hand drawings, portraits in so far they afford information do so because it is known that they actually imitated the natural objects and as such they are indices, not icons. But if you draw a fancy picture of a man with certain physiognomical peculiarities in order to see what sort of an impression of such a man's disposition you will get in this way, or if you construct a geometrical diagram according to a certain precept and observe certain relations between its parts which appear to be consequences though they were not explicitly required by the precept construction, these things are signs of their objects merely, by virtue of the analogy, and are true icons]. 3rd, Symbols, or those signs which represent their objects simply because they will be interpreted to refer to those objects, like all conventional and natural signs.

In their appeals to their interpretants signs are divisible in three ways, according as we have in view the interpretant, as it is in itself, or as it is the actual effect of the sign, or as it is intended (or professed to be intended) by the sign.

Fin de: L 67: Charles S. Peirce to Mario Calderoni on Pragmaticism (1905)

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Fecha del documento: 15 enero 2003
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