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Dept of Philosophy
Institute for Studies in Pragmaticism

Texas Tech university
Lubbock, Texas 79409

Abstract: The claim of this paper is that Peirce's conception of the iconic sign provides the key conceptual element required to solve the major problem traditionally associated with the doctrine of representative perception, according to which all perceptual awareness of things is mediated through representations or "ideas" of them. The problem this has generated in the philosophical tradition is based on construing the representation not merely as mediating the perceptual awareness of something, but as intervening between the awareness and the thing represented (or misrepresented) in it, which makes it impossible in principle to give a coherent account of how we can know what the object perceived in and through the representation really is in itself, apart from its appearance therein. The solution suggested is that when a sign represents something iconically it does so transparently, enabling direct perceptual access to the object as it is in itself. This transparency is enabled by regarding perceptual objects as self-representing iconic signs: the representation can thus provide access without intervention. This solution is not available to those who regard all representation as conventional in type. This is presented here as a hypothesis worth serious further exploration, which will require understanding the role of the indexical and symbolic aspects of perception as well the iconic, as all three function cooperatively in the perceptual process. The reader addressed is anyone interested in basic philosophical problems. But I append, as an addendum addressed primarily (though not exclusively) to Peirce scholars, an account of how this understanding of the function of iconicity can also be used to reconcile certain seeming contradictions in Peirce's work which concern the so-called "ultimate opinion" toward which self-controlled inquiry supposedly tends.
     There are a number of minor cosmetic revisions in the present version of this paper, but the basic line of argumentation in the original version of 1979 is untouched. It appeared at that time in
Peirce Studies 1 (Institute for Studies in Pragmaticism at Texas Tech University, Lubbock,Texas), pp. 51-66, but it is rooted in still earlier work in my Ph.D. dissertation at Columbia University (Charles Peirce: The Idea of Representation, 1966).

1. Introductory Remarks

Peirce's semeiotic
<1> can be regarded as a theory of meaning and significance, as a theory of representation, as a theory of communication, as a theory of inference and implication, as a theory of mind, and as a theory of knowledge and truth. The list is not exhaustive. It can be regarded in all or any of these ways not because Peirce confusedly failed to distinguish these concerns, but because he adopted a point of view and forged out a system of concepts within which they find a common basis of expression and articulation. Or at least this is so in intent. The fact that Peirce attempts to incorporate all of these in a common medium of expression and analysis implies that we will not have an adequate grasp of any of his basic semeiotical conceptions until we are able to recognize in them all of these theoretical functions. But major problems of interpreting the massive corpus of his work remain and will persist until it is understood that semeiotic is not a special kind of theory about the nature of language nor a philosophy of language nor a theory about various kinds of language-like phenomena (as e.g. in the case of European semiology, often misleadingly called "semiotics"), but is rather an ambitious attempt at a philosophical understanding of the sort indicated above.

        In the present paper I focus upon only one of Peirce's semeiotical conceptions, the conception of the icon, and I do so especially from the perspective of theory of cognition: thought regarded as subject to the normative ideals of knowledge and truth. I avoid use of the term "epistemology" because it has become too heavily burdened with unwanted associations. This perspective on his semeiotical
conceptions needs to be explored as carefully as the semantic-grammatical aspects of it upon which attention has usually been focused, and we will be concerned here with a distinctively cognitive function of the icon in particular, especially in regard to one especially important context of interest. My primary aim here is to show how this conception of the icon can be regarded as the key element in the solution of a certain familiar and historically important philosophical problem which arises out of the doctrine of representative perception, a doctrine held by Peirce himself, though in a characteristically ingenious form. <2>

        The main problem connected with a theory of knowledge or understanding that relies upon this doctrine is the problem of scepticism concerning the real character of the represented object, and my aim is to show how the icon can be regarded as having an epistemic function which makes recognition of its cognitive role a key contribution toward a solution to that familiar problem. I do not present it as a full solution since the conception of the icon functions in cooperation with other semeiotical conceptions -- especially the co-ordinate conceptions of the symbol and the index -- in fully resolving the problem, and explaining that would require a more ambitious and lengthy account than can be undertaken here. But I hope it can be seen from what I say here that the hypothesis that the full solution lies in the direction Peirce took has some real plausibility. To the extent that this is true, the semeiotical approach to these matters is itself shown to have some prima facie plausibility as a general philosophical strategy.

2. The Problem of Representative Perception

Although the problem is a familiar one, its conceptual origin is worth sketching briefly (if somewhat crudely) here in order to put the relevant elements before us. The starting point is the fact of possible deception and error, which seems to require abandoning an attitude of "naive realism" in regard to the object of perception: It seems that what appears immediately in perception cannot in general be identified with the object itself toward which perception is directed since the entity which appears immediately sometimes fails to be consistent in character with what the object is otherwise known or found out to be. Thus that which appears is called an "idea" ("representation", "sign") of the object, and it is supposed that our perceptual knowledge of an object is always mediated by an appearance or idea of it. A three-term distinction is thereby set up, consisting of a knowing mind, a putatively known object, and an intervening or mediating idea through or by means of which the knowing mind is supposedly to be put in connection with the object. The problem is, then, as to how the knowing mind can manage to "get past" the intervening idea to the object itself in a logically acceptable way -- or, indeed, whether it can even be known that there is anything "past" the idea.

        In effect, the intervening idea comes to assume the epistemic status which the object itself has from the point of view of "naive realism," and the assumption that there is some further object beyond the idea then seems logically gratuitous. The transcendent object thus becomes at best a je ne sais quoi, incapable of playing any real cognitive role (contrary to the assumption which generates the position to begin with), and the groundwork is laid for a familiar kind of epistemic scepticism.

        Three of the assumptions which lead to this familiar result are: first, that all cognition is mediated by ideas or representations; second, that the object is always other than the idea of it; and third, the consequential proposition that the idea or representation must always be itself an object of knowledge
cognized independently of the cognition of the object. Peirce's strategy is to deny the second and third propositions by combining the doctrine of representative perception with what is usually understood to be its contrary: the doctrine of immediate perception. The conception of iconic representation can be understood as making this unusual combination intelligible.

3. An Historical Precedent

It might be helpful to note initially that a germinal idea underlying Peirce's strategy can be found in Aristotle. Consider the following passage from De Interpretatione (16a3-7):

Spoken words are symbols [symbola] of affections of the psyche; written words are symbols of spoken words. Like written words, spoken words are not the same for all persons. The affections of the psyche, however, of which these are primarily signs [semeia], are the same for all, as are also the objects [pragmata] of which the affections are likenesses [homoiomata].
The idea that the written word is a sign of the spoken word is not logically relevant here; the significant point for our purposes is rather the idea that the word is a sign of a psychic affection which is, in turn, a likeness of the object itself.

        Considered apart from the context of Aristotle's more general theory of understanding, this might appear to be an early version of what has sometimes been called an "imagist" theory of meaning of the sort usually associated with John Locke. But it should be recalled that, according to the doctrine of De
Anima, mind is that which is capable of becoming, in a sense, all things: mind as actualized in true cognition is identical with its object. The identity is only a formal one, however: that with which the mind becomes identical in cognition is the form of the object. (De Anima, Bk II, Chs 4-8) Hence, the idea that the spoken sign signifies immediately the "impression in the soul," "the mental image" or "idea," can be interpreted to mean that it signifies the very form (character, quality) of the object itself, in the case of veridical cognition, assuming that, precisely because these psychic affections are likenesses of the objects, they are formally identical with them (though not identical in every sense, inasmuch as the objects as existents are singular composites of form and matter).

        Although it cannot simply be identified with it, Peirce's conception of an "icon" is functionally analogous to the Aristotelian conception of a "mental sign" (sometimes also called, in the scholastic tradition, a "formal sign"), though Peirce generalizes his conception in a way which does not, so far as I know, have any comparable historical precedent unless it would be in the work of the 17th Century scholastic philosopher John Poinsot.
<4> For an iconic representation is simply anything which is like anything and which functions as a sign on that basis. Thus Peirce says:

Anything whatever, be it quality, existent individual, or law, is an Icon of anything, in so far as it is like that thing and used as a sign of it. (CP 2.247 (1903))
        In general, it is defined as a sign which is related to its object in virtue of a similarity, likeness, analogy, or resemblance with it.
<5> Peirce's original label for this sort of sign was "likeness" (CP 1.558 (1867)). But since Peirce was a philosophical idealist of sorts, and since from an idealist point of view everything is in a sense "mental" or "in the mind,"<6> this generalization of the conception does not in itself affect its functional similarity with the Aristotelian conception of a "mental sign," though I know of no basis in Aristotle for the generalized use to which the conception is put by Peirce.

4. The Phenomenological Stance

        The historical point is not crucial for our purposes here, nor is Peirce's idealist point of view as a whole. But one element in it is essentially important for us, namely, the assumption that the term "object" always means primarily "object of thought" or "object of awareness," so that objects in general are divisible into objects of sense or of perception generally, objects of memory, imaginary objects, dream objects, hallucinatory objects, and so on: in short, an object as such need not be a real object since it may be a mere object of thought. This is perhaps best explicated in terms of Peirce's "phaneroscopic" or "phenomenological" stance, which is similar to Husserl's phenomenological "bracketing" as a basic philosophical move.
<7> Phaneroscopy, Peirce says, "has nothing at all to do with the question of how far the phanerons it studies correspond to any realities." (CP 1.287 (c.1904); cf. 1.284 (1905)) The term "phaneron" (or "phenomenon") is not itself equivalent to the word "object" but rather to the word "appearance." But it is a conclusion of Peirce's phenomenology that all three of his basic categories are omnipresent in the phenomenon, which means that an object-structure is omnipresent therein. This means that there is always an "intentional object" in thought. Since phenomenology ignores the question of the reality of the entities it studies, intentional objects are not as such either real or unreal.

        Although Peirce's own term "immediate object" carries some of the same import as the borrowed term "intentional object," we can avoid some unnecessary complications here if we use the borrowed term instead, understanding by "intentional object" the object as it is in our thought, whether our thought be false or true of the object intended as it really is. (The distinction between the intentional object and the intended object is essential for the possibility of error.)

5. Icons and Iconic Signs

Another distinction important for our purposes here is between a sign which is an icon and an iconic sign. Peirce says that "a sign by Firstness [that is, an icon] is an image of its object and, more strictly speaking, can only be an idea." Omitting the reason he gives here, which would take us afield, he then goes on to say:

But most strictly speaking, even an idea, except in the sense of a possibility, or Firstness, cannot be an Icon. A possibility alone is an Icon purely by virtue of its quality; and its object can only be a Firstness. But a sign may be iconic, that is, may represent its object mainly by its similarity, no matter what its mode of being. If a substantive be wanted, an iconic representamen [i.e. sign] may be termed a hypoicon. Any material image, as a painting, is largely conventional in its mode of representation; but in itself, without legend or label, it may be called a hypoicon. (CP 2.276 (1903))
To minimize technical jargon here, let us use the more intuitive term "iconic sign" in place of "hypoicon", construing the import of this distinction as follows. An icon is any possible qualitative content of consciousness --- what Peirce calls a "Firstness" -- considered in respect to its possible function in cognition as the form (that is, quality or character) of an actual or possible object. An iconic sign ("hypoicon") is anything which does or can function as a sign in virtue of its embodiment of some icon proper. For example, a map is not an icon proper (since it is a material object), but it can function as an iconic sign for a given territory in virtue of the fact that it embodies a form or icon proper (exhibited by the lines drawn on it) which is identical with the form (structural features) exhibited by or embodied in that territory.

        Let us consider this identity further. Peirce says that the object of an icon proper "can only be a 'Firstness'," that is, can only be a form or quality. From this it follows that there is no distinction between an icon and its object just insofar as the icon is truly iconic with it. (It is true that the form functioning as icon may contain more than the form exhibited by its object, but then that remainder does not function as iconic in that relation.) The point here, tautological but important, is that sign and object are insofar undifferentiated, and in that sense identical, just as in the case of mind and object (in its formal aspect) in the Aristotelian epistemology.
<8> As regards the iconic sign, it also does not differ from its object in respect to that character or form which grounds its use as an iconic sign of the latter, though of course it may differ from the latter in other ways. For example, the map, to the extent that it is an accurate map, is formally identical with the territory in a certain respect, though not of course in all respects. (This explains why we can point, quite correctly, at the map, as well as at the territory, and say such things as "Here is where the road forks; you can take this turn; follow it to there," and so on.)<9>

        The point can also be expressed by saying that map and territory (iconic sign and object) have a formal identity (are iconic or isomorphic) though they are not materially or individually identical. For present purposes, let us restrict our consideration to individual objects functioning as iconic signs, omitting consideration here of laws and types which may function iconically.
<10> An iconic sign, then, will be an individual object functioning as a sign in virtue of the fact that some form or character which it embodies is functioning as an icon.

6. Potential and Actual Signs

Peirce also distinguishes between what, following Fitzgerald,
<11> we will call a "potential" and an "actual" sign:

". . . while no Representamen actually functions as such until it actually determines an Interpretant, yet it becomes a Representamen as soon as it is fully capable of doing this; and its Representative Quality is not necessarily dependent upon its ever actually determining an Interpretant, nor even upon its actually having an Object" (CP 2.275 (1903)).
        As regards the iconic sign, its significative character as iconic is constituted, of course, by the icon(s) it embodies, and it is thus a potential iconic sign of anything and everything with which it happens to have an iconic identity (formal or qualitative identity, isomorphism, likeness). However, an object is not an actual iconic sign of anything until it has been referred to that thing as an iconic sign of it. A's resemblance to B does not make A an actual iconic sign of B, though it does make it a potential iconic sign of B. To say that A is a potential iconic sign of B is simply to say that A could legitimately function as an actual sign of A, the legitimacy being grounded in the form (quality, character) which A and B both exhibit.

        This is independent of any causal relation in which A might or might not stand to B. For example, a photograph of one of two identical twins might look as much like one as it does the other, so that even though it was actually taken of Peter it would be equally capable of being an iconic sign of Paul; that is, it would be a potential iconic sign of either of them -- or of anybody else whom it did in fact happen to look like -- but it would be an actual iconic sign only of the one to which it was in fact referred in interpretation, which could just as well be Paul as Peter. This point can be underscored by noting that either Peter or Paul could be taken as iconic signs of the photograph -- or of each other -- if there was any reason to do so.

7. Reconciliation of Immediate and Representative Perception

This much premised, the reconciliation of the doctrines of immediate perception and representative perception is simple enough. There is iconic representation in every case of sensory perception in virtue of the fact that a form (content of consciousness, "Firstness") is referred to some object as the form (quality, character, phenomenal structure) of that object. Now, the constitutive or definitive intent of a sensory perception as such is that the intentional object shall be truly representative of the real or intended object; that is, the intent is that the formal or qualitative character(s) in perception shall in fact be ones which qualify the intended real object. This is to say that the form of the intentional object is treated as icon of the form of the intended object, or is referred to it as iconically representative of it. (I do not mean to be describing a psychological process here. This is a description of perception as it is to be reconstructively analyzed semeiotically.) If the perception is veridical then the form of the intentional object is ipso facto identical with the form of the intended object. As Peirce says, the icon ". . . does not draw any distinction between itself and its object. It represents whatever it may represent, and whatever it is like, it in so far is." (CP 5.74 (1903), my emphasis.)

        The doctrine of immediate perception, translated into the terminology used here, would then be that when the sensory perception is veridical the intentional and intended object are not only formally but materially or individually identical as well.
<12> The way in which the distinction between intended and intentional object was made above permits this kind of identification; for there is no inconsistency in saying that one and the same individual object has whatever characters it has regardless of what one thinks it to have and saying also that it does in fact have those characters which one thinks it to have. Hence, we may say that:

To make a distinction between the true conception of a thing and the thing itself is ... only to regard one and the same thing from two different points of view; for the immediate object of thought in a true judgment is the reality. (CP 8.16 (1871))
Another way of expressing this would be to speak of the intentional object as iconic sign of the intended object. In the case of veridical sensory perception, the real object perceived could then be said to be a self-represented (or self-representing) iconic sign: a self-represented iconic sign would be definable as an object, functioning as iconic sign, whose intended object is materially identical with it.

8. Examples

Most discussion of iconicity has concentrated chiefly upon such things as maps, portraits, diagrams, physical models, photographs, and the like, rather than upon the iconicity involved in the perception of all objects. Indeed, one gets the impression from some writers that these sorts of objects are supposed to be somehow especially paradigmatic of iconicity. In fact, however, these special types of iconic signs are special only because their very names -- "map," "portrait," "photograph," and so on -- analytically imply their iconic function. They are not in any other sense paradigmatic, and they have no peculiarly central role to play in semeiotic analysis. What these sorts of iconic signs do have in common, though, is that the use of them as iconic signs supposes that they have themselves been immediately perceived as sensory objects in their own right prior to their use as representative of something else. In terms of the above analysis, this means that they are both self-representing and other-representing iconic signs, which is to say that the icon which they embody is doubly referred, to themselves and to some other object as well. That is, in such cases the icon is to be thought of as being truly representative both of a certain sensory object immediately perceived (for example, the map) and of some object not in immediate perception (for example, the territory).

        The notion of "immediacy" can be ambiguous, though. Peirce says:

Icons [that is, iconic signs] are so completely substituted for their objects as hardly to be distinguished from them. Such are the diagrams of geometry. A diagram, indeed, so far as it has a general signification, is not a pure icon; but in the middle part of our reasonings we forget that abstractness in great measure, and the diagram is for us the very thing. So in contemplating a painting, there is a moment when we lose the consciousness that it is not the thing, the distinction of the real and the copy disappears, and it is for the moment a pure dream -- not any particular existence, and yet not general. At that moment we are contemplating an icon. (CP 3.362 (1885))
The point this may be taken to underscore is that there is a real sense in which even the other object -- for example, the territory represented by the map -- can be said to be immediately perceived, in the sense that, if the representation is a true one, the relevant features of the represented object are just as immediately present in consciousness as are the features of the representing object. On the other hand, there is a sense in which the represented object is only mediately perceived, since it is not at that time sensorily perceived.

        But there can be cases where it will not be easy to say whether a given object is iconically other-represented or self-represented. Consider, for example, the case of the television coverage of some current event, a football match, let us say, transmitted and reproduced on the viewer's screen as it occurs. Suppose television technology improved to the extent that the image on the screen had a three-dimensional appearance, natural color, sharp definition, and was large enough to encompass the total field of vision. In spite of the fact that the visual perception of the event via the screen might be experientially indistinguishable from the visual perception one would have sitting in the grandstand (or perhaps be even more "realistic"), the screen would nevertheless be an other-representing iconic sign of the football match itself. But suppose technology were also to make it possible to dispense with the screen in favor of some apparatus which connects with and stimulates the optic nerves directly in such a way that qualitatively the same visual experience occurs as would occur if one concentrated one's attention on the television screen -- or, as far as that goes, the same as if one watched the game with unaided vision from the grandstand. What would the iconic sign be in such a case? Would we say that the football match was immediately perceived since there was no mediating screen image? The perception would certainly be physically mediated through the television apparatus, eyeballs, optic nerves, etc. But then physical mediation (light waves, eyeballs, optic nerves, etc.) is present even in looking at the football match from the grandstand. Surely mediation in the logical sense is quite different from mediation in the physical sense. But if we were to say that the perception is logically immediate in the case of the eyeball-attachment device, why should we not also say this in the case of seeing the event on the television screen? The experiences are by hypothesis qualitatively identical in the two cases, the difference lying simply in the physical means by which they are brought about. Other examples, not of a fantastic sort, which might be worth pondering would be seeing something in a reflecting telescope, seeing something in a mirror, seeing something through eye glasses; hearing a sound through a loudspeaker, through a megaphone, through a hearing-aid, and so on.

9. Immediate/Mediate, Direct/Indirect

What all this suggests is not that there is no real distinction between an other-representing and a self-representing iconic sign, but rather that the distinction is not so obvious as it might at first seem to be, and that there will be a rather large range of borderline cases not clearly classifiable as being of one or the other type. It also suggests that the term "immediate perception" may be misleading. There is no immediate perception in the logical sense of the term "immediate." For all perception is mediated in the sense of being representative. Hence what Peirce calls "immediate" perception would be better called "direct" perception, which differs from "indirect" perception as self-representation differs from other-representation.

        The development of this would involve articulating the notion of the reference of the icon and the closely related notion of material or individual identity and diversity. Peirce's conception of the index would be the key concept in explicating that. But since we cannot venture into that area here, let it suffice for present purposes to note that while the iconic function can be "prescinded" from, that is, legitimately considered in abstraction from, the indexical or referential function, no actual case of iconic representation can be adequately or fully explicated without articulating the latter. ("Firstness" can be prescinded from "Secondness," as Peirce would say, but cannot occur in the absence of the latter.) My purpose here is limited to indicating how, and in what sense, perception can be said to be at once representative and immediate (direct), if analyzed semeiotically, and this amounts to showing the distinctions to be made in order to make this intelligible: the distinctions between icons and iconic signs, potential and actual signs, formal (qualitative) and material (individual) identity, intentional and intended objects, and self-representing and other-representing iconic signs.

10. Immediate Perception of Things Past

Now let us consider the case of memory awareness, that is, the recall of some event in my past experience: not the propositional knowledge that such-and-such occurred but rather the "re-living" in memory of some part of one's past.
<14> This would be a species of perception, in the broad sense of "perception" used here. Here, as in the case of sense perception, the distinction between intentional and intended object should be made, and for the same reason: the object (event) I intend to recall may not in fact be identical with what I actually think of when I attempt to recall it; that is, error is possible. Now, if the attempt to recall is successful, we may say of memory just what was said of sense perception: the intended object (the real event itself) and the intentional object are at least formally identical. Are they materially identical or diverse? Since a memory "image" is not a material entity, I see no basis for positing material diversity here and I conclude that the identity is both formal and material in the case of veridical memory of the type in question. That is, the object in consciousness is that very past object (event) itself. Memory perception of this sort is direct, and so we have direct as well as evidential access to the past.

        One consideration (rather weak) which might perhaps be thought to militate against this would be the fact that one is only aware of a very limited number of aspects or characters of the object in memory. But then sense perception is highly schematic or abstract in that sense as well. In fact, a memory awareness of an event can be more accurate and comprehensive than the original sensory perception of it (as is sometimes the case when the sensory experience occurred under conditions of stress or great excitement, for example).

        Another objection might be that the date of the object remembered is always different from the date of the remembering of it. But then this, too, is true of sensory perception as well. For example, the date of the sensory experience of a nonsolar stellar phenomenon is always at least four years later than the date of the phenomenon itself, and, indeed, one can sensorily perceive stellar phenomena which occurred long before one was born. Indeed, all sense perception involves a time lag due to the mediating function of the nervous system, which, however brief it may be, still determines different dates for the completed experience and that which is experienced. Since, strictly speaking, we never perceive anything through our senses but the past, the mere fact that the intended object is in the past cannot in itself be an objection to saying that veridical recall is direct perception of the recalled object.

        Finally, as in the case of sensory perception, we may, if we like, speak of the intentional object (the memory content) as being an iconic sign of the intended object (the event remembered), and thus we may speak of the successfully remembered object as a self-represented iconic sign. In general, sense perception and memory perception (of the sort in question) are essentially the same as regards the iconic representative function. There are other important differences between them, of course, but these differences would have to be explicated with the use of further semeiotical conceptions than those available to us in this paper. The important point for our purposes is that the combination of the doctrines of representative and immediate (direct) perception can be seen to apply to both sense and memory in in the same way.

11. And of Things Future?

I think it can also be seen at this point that the perception of the future -- provided this means the foreseeing, not the foresaying (predicting) -- might be amenable to the same sort of analysis, though of course there are, again, important differences to be explicated as well, and there will be the additional complication implicit in the fact that the perceived object is in this sort of case a contingency not merely in the sense in which any matter of putative fact is contingent but also in the further sense implicit in the fact that things future seem to have a present absence in a more profound sense than the present absence of objects which used to be but are no more, as the well-known thread of discussion since Aristotle's time about the outcome of the sea battle tomorrow suggests. But still, if it should turn out not to be feasible to extend the application of this analysis to that sort of case, it will not be because of any special logical difficulty implicit in the conception of representative perception but rather for what appear to be distinctively metaphysical rather than merely logical reasons, and my aim here has been only to show that the conception of the iconic sign provides the key consideration in the solution or resolution of the problem of representative perception insofar as the problem is rooted in the nature of representation itself, which is where the problem has usually been mislocated.

12. Conclusion

In sum, then, the concept of iconic representation, as I have interpreted it here, can be understood as synthesizing the traditional conceptions of representative and immediate (direct) perception into a single new conception which cannot strictly be identified with either of its ancestors in their traditional form, but which manages to incorporate the basic raison d'etre of both. Historically, the basic epistemological function of the conception of representative perception has been that of accounting, in a general way, for the possibility of error, but it has characteristically done so at the expense of leaving the object as an "I know not what." The doctrine of immediate perception, on the other hand, has the virtue of avoiding the latter problem, but it is faced with the difficulty of explaining how error is possible if our perception of the object is not mediated by anything which can be misrepresentative. I believe we can conclude provisionally from what has been said here that Peirce's conception appears to retain the virtues of both doctrines while eluding certain problems connected with them, though of course there are many further questions which must be raised in assessing the epistemological adequacy of this unusual synthesis.

Addendum: The "Ultimate Opinion" and Its Object

As an addendum to this study, I would like to show how these considerations also contribute to the solution of a problem which is related to the above, but which is more a problem of exegesis and interpretation special to Peirce's philosophy in particular than a recognized and standing problem for the philosophical tradition generally. Thus in addressing it here I treat it as an addendum addressed primarily to specialists in Peirce's work so that I can be free to make use of certain technical conceptions of his which enable me to treat it as briefly as possible. This is the problem of the relation between the ideal "ultimate opinion" in terms of which Peirce defines truth, and the object of that opinion, the reality it represents and reveals.
<15> This object is called "the real object," and the question is whether or not it is something other than that opinion, and precisely how or how not, as the case may be.

        This question is implicitly answered in this paper, I believe, since Peirce holds that all cognition is perceptual in the sense that it always involves (logically, not psychologically) an iconic presentation of the cognized object. For an opinion, semeiotically construed, is a symbolic entity, and Peirce held that "every symbol must have, organically attached to it, its Indices of Reaction and its Icons of Qualities" (CP 5.119 (1903)). Otherwise stated:

A symbol is a sign naturally fit to declare that the set of objects which is denoted by whatever set of indices may be in certain ways attached to it is represented by an icon associated with it. (CP 2.295 (1893))
This is a semeiotic version of the principle underlying the Pragmatic Maxim, I take it.
<16> In any case, in view of what I have argued to be the epistemic function of the icon, this means that the real object is in the ultimate opinion -- and in any actual opinion just insofar as it is identical with the ultimate opinion -- in the sense that it is representatively present in the iconic dimension of the opinion. In the case of the comprehensive ultimate opinion -- "the phantom ultimate issue of the aggregate of all possible inquiries" (CP 8.104 (1900)) -- the real object is wholly self-represented iconically since nothing falls outside the scope of that opinion and there can therefore be no indexical reference to a materially distinct entity external to it. (Indexical reference always occurs within an existential order.)

        In the case of any particular and actual opinion the object may be either self-represented or other-represented, but it follows from the above that, for any object, there is always a possible true opinion in which that object is iconically self-represented or "directly" present. (This may not be a possibility for you or me, however, given our human sensory limitation.) In short, all objects, without exception, are directly perceivable in principle, and of course many of them are in fact directly perceived, in the sense given to that here through the notion of iconic self-representation.

        In view of this, we clearly cannot say that the real object is other than the final opinion; for an opinion, semeiotically construed, is a complex representation relation involving symbolic, indexical, and iconic functions, and the object is in that relation in its iconic part.
<17> On the other hand, as a logical part of the opinion it is not identical with the opinion itself. This appears to be what Peirce is saying in his review of Royce's The World and the Individual when he writes, first, that:

. . . the only object to which inquiry seeks to make our opinion conform is itself something of the nature of thought; namely, it is the predestined ultimate idea, which is independent of what you, I, or any number of men may persist, for however long, in thinking, yet which remains thought, after all. (Collected Papers, 8.103 (1900))
and then says, in the next paragraph, that:

There is no escaping the admission that the ultimate end of inquiry -- the essential, not ulterior end -- the mould to which we endeavor to shape our opinions, cannot itself be of the nature of an opinion. Could it be realized, it would rather be like an insistent image, not referring to anything else, and in that sense concrete. Passing from the consideration of a single inquiry to that of the aggregate of all possible inquires, the phantom ultimate issue of them all would be the real object.
The real object is in thought, and thus is of the nature of thought, because it is in the opinion, but it is not identical with the opinion for that very reason. The term "idea" here clearly means a First cum Secondness, an indexed icon, an "insistent image," and the real object is here identified with it. The opinion itself is, of course, a Third, and thus categorially distinct from its object.

        However, Peirce also says in another place that "what we think of cannot possibly be of a different nature from thought itself. For the thought thinking and the immediate thought-object are the very same thing regarded from different points of view." (CP 6.339 (1908)) And, as noted earlier:

To make a distinction between the true conception of a thing and the thing itself is . . . only to regard one and the same thing from two different points of view; for the immediate object of thought in a true judgment is the reality. (CP 8.16 (1871))
Since the real object is the immediate object in the ultimate opinion, this seems to imply an outright identification of that opinion and its object, qualified only by the notion of "different points of view" rather than by the categorial difference implicit in the passage earlier cited. Shall we convict Peirce of an inconsistency here?

        I see no need to do so. There are two different ways in which the object can be regarded: (1) as that which in fact functions as the object term of a given representation relation, and (2) that object regarded just insofar as it is functioning as a term of that triadic relation. In the passage from the review of Royce's book Peirce is clearly thinking of the object in the first way, as "prescinded from" the triadic relation. The object as so thought of is not an object in the sense of "object in the world," or what we would ordinarily mean by "individual object"; for insofar as it is "in the world" it embodies Thirdness, which is an element of what is constitutive of such objectivity. It is, as Peirce says, simply an "insistent image." In the apparently conflicting passage from CP 6.339, on the other hand, Peirce may reasonably be supposed to be thinking of the object qua term of the relation, in which case it embodies Thirdness just as the thought thinking it does; and, indeed, there really is no difference between the thought thinking and the immediate thought object, given that the triadic representation relation is indecomposable and that any reference to any one term of the relation qua term is therefore necessarily (implicitly) a reference to the other two terms qua terms as well. Peirce's semeiotic can alternatively and equivalently be said to be a theory of signification, or a theory of objectification, or a theory of interpretation, depending upon whether one's focus of interest is upon the first, second, or third term of the relation, but it all comes to the same thing. To regard the representation as a thought thinking is to focus upon the interpretational term, whereas to regard it as an immediate thought-object is to focus upon the object term. That's all the difference there is, and I take it this is what he means by a "different point of view." But in whichever way the object is regarded, as prescinded or as unprescinded from the opinion, it is not thought of by him as something apart from that opinion.


1. The spelling "semeiotic" is suggested by Peirce himself (following the transliterated Greek spelling, as in Locke's "semeiotik
Â"), though he is not consistent in that usage, and I use it here to distinguish Peirce's theory uniquely from other forms of semiotic, which sometimes have little in common with Peirce's theory. I use "semiotics" as the plural of the generic term "semiotic". There is as yet no standard practice in this, though the use of the spelling "semeiotic" for Peirce's theory in particular is increasingly common among Peirce scholars in particular. I use "semeiotical" rather than "semeiotic" as the adjectival form in order to keep the usage paralled with the usage of "logic" and "logical".

2. As far as I know, Peirce nowhere explicitly points out that this is his solution to that problem. But this is not surprising since Peirce philosophized "architectonically" or systematically rather than problematically, given the special sense of "philosophical problem" that came to dominate Anglo-American philosophy after the First World War, which regarded the piece-meal approach as the only proper philosophical method. (This was, I think, the idea originally at the bottom of the idea of "analytic philosophy", which was resolutely opposed to a systematic approach as mistaken in principle. This view was becoming well-established by the time the first six volumes of the Collected Papers of Charles Sanders Peirce appeared in the early 1930's, which may explain the puzzling fact that the appearance of this edition of his work -- which the editors structured systematically, though in an inept and fragmentary way -- resulted in an eclipse in interest in Peirce's work rather than stimulating interest in it at the time when philosophy of science was also coming to the fore in Anglo-American philosophy.) Hence it is exceptional to find in his writings passages explicitly devoted to the solution of such particular and supposedly standard problems as, for example, the mind-body problem, the fact-value problem, the problem of other minds, or the problem at issue here. But this is not to say that he does not concern himself with these matters. Peirce would perhaps say that much of what still pass as philosophical problems are actually problems generated within particular theories or types of theories, symptomatic of failures and incoherence of those theories, rather than problems which any comprehensive philosophy must simply recognize as given to the philosophical enterprise generally. On the other hand, Peirce clearly regards philosophy as problem-based in the sense that it is ultimately rooted in the need to understand the many problems in the relation between thought and reality, given their characteristic disparity in human life. (The adage "To err is human" is as fundamental in Peirce's philosophy as is the recognition of one's ignorance in the Socratic philosophy.) He views the history of philosophy -- for which he has unusually high respect -- as a resource for ideas toward this understanding. Thus the "problem" dealt with in this paper is not actually a problem at all, if Peirce is correct, since his philosophy is systematically so constructed that it cannot appear, though it has certainly been a problem within the history of philosophical thought.

3. Epistemological scepticism should not be confused with epistemic scepticism. If scepticism is supposed to involve actual doubt than the latter is the true scepticism in that it involves a real doubt whereas epistemological scepticism characteristically involves assertions of the form "There are no good reasons for believing (or making the knowledge claim) that p," and this is not the expression of a doubt state and obviously does not require any such state. It is possible for one to move in one's personal thought from epistemological to epistemic scepticism, but there is no logical warrant for such a transition (or against it), inasmuch as epistemological scepticism concerns premise-conclusion relations whereas epistemic scepticism is an actual condition of a person or persons. Peirce was himself an epistemological sceptic as regards the hopes that underlie inquiry, as he makes clear in the last paragraph of the 1869 "Grounds of Validity of the Laws of Logic" (CP 5.357, Writings 2, p. 271f). For his views on epistemic scepticism see the first two paragraphs of the same paper (CP 5.318f, Writings 2, p. 242).

4. See John Deely's translation of Poinsot's Tractatus de signis (from his Ars Logica), under the title Tractatus de Signis: The Semiotic of John Poinsot (University of California Press, Berkeley, 1985). (Poinsot is also known under the name "John of St. Thomas".) The corresponding conception would be that of the "formal sign", and Deely translates Poinsot's "idolum" by "icon". There is extensive discussion of this in various places in Deely's masterfully arranged, beautifully produced, and extensively annotated volume. See also other work of Deely, such as "The Two Approaches to Language: Philosophical and Historical Reflections on the Point of Departure of Jean Poinsot's Semiotic," The Thomist, 38 (4 October 1974); "Antecedents to Peirce's Notion of Iconic Signs," in Semiotics 1980 (Proceedings of the Semiotic Society of America, Fifth Annual Meeting) ed. Margot D. Lenhart and Michael Hezfeld (New York: Plenum), pp. 109-120; and "Idolum: Archeology and Ontology of the Iconic Sign," in Iconicity: Essays on the Nature of Culture, ed. Paul Bouissac, Michael Herzfeld and Roland Pozner (The Hague: Mouton, 1985). I am hesitant about simply identifying Poinsot's formal sign and Peirce's iconic sign not only because of possible formal differences in their respective definitions but also because of my own lack of expert understanding of the assumed or presupposed framework of understanding that was developed in the work of the scholastic philosophers of the medieval era and early modern eras. Deely's extensive writings on semiotic should be consulted in this, where relevant considerations are frequently discussed and always informatively.

5. CP 1.369 (1885); 1.558 (1867); 2.247 (1903); 2.254f (1903); 2.276 (1903), 2.299f (1893); 2.314 (1903); 3.362 (1885); 3.433 (1896); 3.641 (1901); 4.368 (c.1903); 5.74 (1903); 6.471 (1908); 8.119 (1903).

6. This does not involve a denial that some objects (for example, objects of sense) are also "external" in the sense of being in the natural order. "It follows from our own existence," Peirce says, "that everything which is present to us is a phenomenal manifestation of ourselves. This does not prevent its being a phenomenon of something without us, just as a rainbow is at once a manifestation of both the sun and the rain." (CP 5.283 (1868)) The mind "is not a receptacle, which if a thing is in, it ceases to be out of." (CP 8.16 (1871))

7. See my paper "Peirce est-il un phénoménologue?", Etudes Phénoménologiques tome V, Nos 9-10 (1989), pp. 9-50. An English version of it is available at the Peirce website Arisbe: "Is Peirce a Phenomenologist?". The URL for that is:

8. In the essay "On a New List of Categories," Peirce says that, in the case of the icon (there called "likeness"), "the relate and the correlate are not distinguished." (CP 1.558 (1867))

9. I see no reason to suppose that the use of demonstratives is "parasitical" or somehow not strict in such cases, for one is not intending to point at the piece of paper before one but rather at the map qua map.

10. An idea of how laws can function iconically can be gathered by consulting the rather extensive literature on the function of models and analogies in theory construction in the sciences. See, for example, Ernest Nagel's The Structure of Science (New York: Harcourt, Brace, and World, Inc., 1961), chap. 6, especially his discussion of "formal" analogies, pp. 110ff.

11. John J. Fitzgerald, Peirce's Theory of Signs as a Foundation for his Pragmatism (The Hague: Mouton and Co., 1961), p. 50.

12. The notion of material identity, which I equate with individual identity, is left unexplicated here because to do so involves the notion of the indexical sign. This kind of identity is sometimes called "numerical' identity, but mistakenly so, in my opinion, for any kind of identification yields a basis for enumeration.

13. J. L. Austin's remarks on the distinction between "direct" and "indirect" perception are worth considering in this connection. See Sense and Sensibilia (Oxford, 1962), chap. 2.

14. This account of memory should be regarded as extrapolation rather than exegesis. Although Peirce does occasionally speak of memory in connection with immediate perception, this is usually in connection with the temporal "spread" involved in sensory perception and does not bear directly on the point at issue here. But see CP 1.38 (c. 1890) where he does speak in a way suggestive of my account.

15. In his response to my critique of his book, Peirce's Concept of Sign (The Hague: Mouton, 1973), Douglas Greenlee takes me to task for treating the real object as identical with the ultimate opinion: "The worst mistake to make," Greenlee says, "which, admittedly, some of Peirce's confusing formulations about the object do encourage, is to equate the ultimate opinion with the real or dynamical object." ("Peirce's Concept of Sign: Further Reflections," Transactions of the Charles S. Peirce Society, 12 [1976], p. 114.) My critique is in the same issue of the Transactions, pp. 98-110; see especially part III. I believe the considerations adduced here will establish that this was no mistake. (I should also like to point out that the rest of Greenlee's putative critical response to me is actually to views not held by me in any version of my paper.)
      These considerations also bear directly on a paper by Hanna Buczynska-Garewicz, "The Idea of Object of Knowledge in Peirce's Theory of Signs," read to the C. S. Peirce Bicentennial International Congress in Amsterdam, June, 1976, and subsequently published in the Proceedings volume put out by Texas Tech University in 1981 (pp. 35-43). Her conception of the status of the object is far closer to Peirce's than is Greenlee's, but I do not believe she succeeds in articulating it in a consistent way there, owing to her view that "every object can be approached by thought only indirectly" (p. 36). In CP 2.311 (1903), Peirce says of the icon: "In this kind of Representamen alone, then, the Interpretant may be the Object." Like other commentators, Professor Buczynska-Garewicz does not seem to see the importance of that possible identity, enabled by iconicity. In another paper, published in l978, she says: "The object in itself can never be grasped by the sign, because each sign is only a direct cognition and it cannot reach the real object; what is apprehended by it is only the immediate object, which is constituted by the representation." ("Sign and Continuity," ars semiotica, 2 [1978], pp. 3-15, see p. 10.) I think she means that the object can never be grasped by the interpretant, not, as she actually says, by the sign; but, in any case, it seems clear that it can be grasped by the interpretant. If it could not it would indeed by an unknowable Kantian Ding an sich. But, to repeat, the real object IS cognitively available, as it is in itself, in and through the immediate object. (Professor Buczynska-Garewicz almost certainly was not aware of the original 1979 version of this paper at the time she composed the 1981 paper since her paper was submitted to the editorial board for the Proceedings volume prior to 1979.)

16. Some other passages in the Collected Papers to this effect are: CP 2.278 (1895), 2.312 (1893), 2.316f (1903), 2.341 (c.1895), 2.360 (1901), 2.369 (1901), 4.56 (1893), 5.543 (c.1902), 7.203 (1901).

17. See CP 5.517 (c.1905), where this is indicated.

18. See also CP 6.173 (c. 1911) and 7.564 (1893) In the latter place, Peirce speaks of the "identification of knowledge and being."

END OF:  Ransdell, "The Epistemic Function of Iconicity in Perception"


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