C. S. Peirce in Antioch

Yesterday we had an experience that made me take a second look at the ideas of the American logician Charles Sanders Peirce.

In his theory of categories in human cognition, Peirce operated with the terms Firstness, Secondness and Thirdness. Firstness is the abstraction of a quality as it is immediately felt. Secondness is the brute fact behind the Firstness, and Thirdness is the “mode of being of that which is such as it is bringing a second and a third into relation to each other.”[i]

This brings us to the semiotics of Piece. He explains signification with the three concepts of representamen (the sign), object (the subject matter of the sign) and interpretant (the interpreting sign).[ii]

Yesterday, while sitting in the upper chamber of my Antioch house, I heard a loud thunder. However, the sky was blue, and besides, the thunder did not stop. On the contrary, it became louder. I experienced firstness. The thunder, furthermore, was a representamen, a sign – in this case an index – of what created the sign, the secondness. My mind, when recognising the representamen, created an interpretant: a fighter aircraft. And there the object was! Thundering past us on the blue sky!

But this was not the end of it. In my mind the interpretant itself became a new representamen (or sign): What is the interpretant of a fighter in the sky? Most often it is a drill or a war game. Nevertheless, Antakya (Antioch) is located only 50 kilometres from the civil war in Syria. The situation between Turkey and Syria is not too good, and a Turkish fighter has been shot down by the Syrians. Due to this situation, and as the noise of more fighters reached my ear, my mind inevitably created another interpretant: war.

It was interesting to experience how a change in one’s personal situation also changes the connotations in one’s mind.

Having looked at the sky for a couple of minutes, we saw that the fighters made white lines, drawing pictures on the sky. The first interpretant was dismissed: no war anyway! What then? After a couple of seconds, a new interpretant popped up in my mind: a drill in preparation of the Turkish national holiday of October 29.

Our mind always tries to understand what it finds obscure. If no immediate explanation is found, it resorts to abduction; but as things are sorted out in our mind, the explanation is found by induction and deduction.


[i] Charles Sanders Peirce, A Letter to Lady Welby, CP 8.328, 1904, quoted at http://www.helsinki.fi/science/commens/terms/thirdness.html,  accessed October 29, 2013.

[ii] “Charles Sanders Peirce,” Wikipedia, accessed October 29, 2013.

About Antiochene

Writer and translatorliving in Antioch on the Orontes (Antakya, Turkey) and Copenhagen.
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