Peirce on Signs: Writings on Semiotic

Peirce on Signs: Writings on Semiotic

Peirce on Signs: Writings on Semiotic

Peirce on Signs: Writings on Semiotic


Charles Sanders Peirce (1839-1914) is rapidly becoming recognized as the greatest American philosopher. At the center of his philosophy was a revolutionary model of the way human beings think. Peirce, a logician, challenged traditional models by describing thoughts not as "ideas" but as "signs," external to the self and without meaning unless interpreted by a subsequent thought. His general theory of signs or semiotic is especially pertinent to methodologies currently being debated in many disciplines.

This anthology, the first one-volume work devoted to Peirce's writings on semiotic, provides a much-needed, basic introduction to a complex aspect of his work. James Hoopes has selected the most authoritative texts and supplemented them with informative headnotes. His introduction explains the place of Peirce's semiotic in the history of philosophy and compares Peirce's theory of signs to theories developed in literature and linguistics.


The following is from the first of a group of brief essays, written in the summer of 1859 and unpublished in Peirce's lifetime. Here he argues that though some notions, such as the idea of God, are literally unthinkable and cannot be immediately present in the mind, they can nevertheless be represented and can therefore be thought of. While this view was not radical, the assertion that thinking can be done in signs was a step along the path to Peirce's eventual conclusion that all thinking is in signs.

Source: Writings of Charles S. Peirce, 1:37.

What can we discuss? Can we discuss nothing we do not comprehend? Can we not even discuss that which has no existence in nature or the imagination? We can discuss whatever we can syllogise upon. We can syllogize upon whatever we can define. and strange as it is we can give intelligible comprehensible definitions of many things which can never be themselves comprehended.

I will give two instances of this; one simple and the other practical. Suppose somebody should talk about an og and when you asked him what he meant he should say it was a four-sided triangle. You would proceed to show that he . . .

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