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Professor Emeritus, Department of Philosophy
Institute for Studies in Pragmaticism
Texas Tech University
Lubbock, Texas 79409


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In Peircean semeiotic, the immediate object is the semeiotical object as it appears within the semeiosis process as representatively present therein, whereas the dynamical object is the object as it really is regardless of how or what it is represented as being in any given representation of it. The dynamical object is "the thing itself," transcending any given cognition though not beyond cognition generally, whereas the immediate object is the thing as immanent in semeiosis, the thing as it appears to be (is thought to be). Understanding this distinction is of the first importance for anyone interested in the epistemological import of semeiotic, as Charles Peirce conceived it; for the dynamical object is that to which our thoughts conform when they have the value of truth, whereas the immediate object is the object as we think it to be, regardless of whether or not that thought about it is true or false. The former is required for the possibility of truth, the latter for taking due account of the possibility of error. In what follows I want to convey a helpful understanding both of the use of this distinction and of the limitations on its use (the conditions under which it becomes useless and the attempt to use it becomes abusive) since the failure to understand when it is and when it is not pertinent to distinguish between the immediate and dynamical object is one of the confusions to which we are naturally prone which gives rise to the skeptical view that there is no passage from the way things appear to the way they really are.

(It should be understood that, in general, the argumentation in what follows is my own, not attributable to Peirce directly, though I believe it to be authentically Peircean in character. I would be willing both to defend it as such and to defend it independent of any such reference.)

The primary problem in understanding this distinction does not lie in understanding what it distinguishes, which is reasonably clear on the face of it, but rather in understanding the import and importance of the fact that it cannot be applied to any subject-matter apart from some concrete situation of puzzlement and inquiry wherein the semeiotical properties of things must be recognized and coordinated in order to settle the questions at issue therein. All things have semeiotical properties -- representation is a categorial conception -- but we are often uninterested in that aspect of them (sometimes rightly, sometimes not), and sometimes even oblivious of such properties. Apart from such an occasioning situation the distinction is of use only to theorists of various sorts -- such as the readers addressed by the present paper (myself included) -- who are concerned with understanding how inquiry in general works or who have a special interest in the way such properties function in life because of their relevance in devising methods of control by manipulation of their causal powers. But the theorists’ understanding that such a distinction can be drawn does not require the theorist to make use of it by actually drawing it except in special cases that pertain to what is problematic in their particular inquiries, and when the theorist does attempt to actually draw the distinction where there is no proper occasioning cause for doing so, the theorist may succeed only in creating a bogus distinction between what appears and what is real which can fairly be characterized as merely fanciful or as metaphysical in the pejorative sense. This is the abusive use referred to in the title of this paper.

Since the distinction between what is and what appears to be is implicit in the metaphysical dual substance distinction, this suggests that the mind-body problem as usually conceived may actually be no more than a complex of shadows cast by misunderstanding of the conditions of the use -- and uselessness -- of the distinction in question here and perhaps a number of other distinctions as well which have a valid use but only within certain limits which may never have been reflected on critically. This is perhaps what Peirce himself was alluding to -- at least in part -- in that gnomic passage in "The Fixation of Belief" where he says:

... the importance of what may be deduced from the assumptions involved in the logical question turns out to be greater than might be supposed, and this for reasons which it is difficult to exhibit at the outset. The only one which I shall here mention is, that conceptions which are really products of logical reflection, without being readily seen to be so, mingle with our ordinary thoughts, and are frequently the causes of great confusion. ... The truth is, that common-sense, or thought as it first emerges above the level of the narrowly practical, is deeply imbued with that bad logical quality to which the epithet metaphysical is commonly applied; and nothing can clear it up but a severe course of logic. (CP 5.369 or W3, 246, 1877)

A severe course in logic from Charles Peirce would be a severe course indeed! and it does not seem likely that Peirce is only saying that it would take an entire course to acquire a verbal understanding of the theoretical basis -- the doctrinal or argumentational basis -- for understanding how to avoid misleading metaphysics. It seems rather more likely that he is also saying, among other things, that only the development in practice of disciplined skills of critical logical reflection can effectively combat a certain tendency towards fallacious thinking to which we are naturally prone when we venture past the "tried and true" (but not impeccable) logica utens that provides the pre-reflective -- natural, implicit, instinctive -- rationality of normal daily life to explore and develop the reflective and self-conscious logica docens cultivated by the logician. (Compare Kant’s critique of the confusion underlying "transcendental dialectic", which is such that "even after its deceptiveness has been exposed, will not cease to play tricks with reason and continually entrap it into momentary aberrations ever and again calling for correction." (Critique of Pure Reason B354f, trans. Norman Kemp Smith.)

In any case, my aim here is to explain, in Part One, what the conditions -- and limitations -- of legitimate use of the immediate/dynamical object distinction are in such a way as to make clear how subtle the proper understanding of this is, thus making it imperative to recognize that a merely theoretical understanding of the matter will be of little value if it is if it is not translated into an educational discipline designed to develop and sustain life-long practices of critical reflection that can effectively hold in check the inevitable confusions that will arise regardless of any "good intentions" to the contrary. In Part Two, I will attempt to illustrate the theoretical value of the application of these considerations by reference to Peirce’s 1901 critical review of Karl Pearson’s positivistic theory of knowledge in The Grammar of Science, which is an essay of special importance in understanding Peirce’s combination of the doctrines of immediate and representative perception.



The formal basis for the immediate/dynamical object distinction within the general theoretical structure which underlies Peirce’s philosophical thinking across his entire career is present in his earliest formally published philosophical work, the 1867 paper "On a New List of Categories," wherein -- in intention, at least -- he establishes that structure in its most abstract form as foundational in logic and theory of cognition. In that paper, the conceptual element which corresponds formally to what Peirce later calls the "dynamical object" appears as "the IT in general," which he identifies with that which "is rendered in philosophical language by the word ‘substance’ in one of its meanings." His characterization of it is obviously intended to remind the reader of the Aristotelian conception of substance ("ousia") as the ultimate subject (object) of predication:

Before any comparison or discrimination can be made between what is present, what is present must have been recognized as such, as it, and subsequently the metaphysical parts which are recognized by abstraction are attributed to this it, but the it cannot itself be made a predicate. This it is thus neither predicated of a subject, nor in a subject, and accordingly is identical with the conception of substance. (W2, 49 or CP 1.547; 1867)

The conceptual element which corresponds to what Peirce later calls the "immediate object" appears in that analysis as the "correlate" to which reference is made in what he calls "the passage from substance to being," a phrase which he uses to describe the predicative process in general, which is identified in that paper with inference and with representation. The immediate/dynamical object distinction is thus grounded in formal considerations at the foundational level of Peirce's thought since it is the identification of inference with representation through the mediating conception of predication which, taken together with the analytical explication of predication in terms of the three-fold categorial structure, provides the foundations for critical logic, as he conceived it.

Notice, though, that I speak of the "conceptual elements" which "correspond to" the conceptions rather than simply identifying the IT and the correlate of the 1867 paper, respectively, with the dynamical and immediate objects proper. For these elements are not presented in that 1867 paper as a distinction-pair, and a philosophical distinction is a conceptual instrument the introduction of which is not justified merely by the fact that the things distinguished are capable of being differentiated from one another: there must also be some understanding of why it can be important or necessary to draw the distinction at certain times, and of the conditions under which it is or is not appropriate to do so. There are many more differences that could be taken into account in any subject-matter than actually are or should be taken into account for this or that particular philosophical purpose, and it is methodologically unwise to clutter up one's understanding by drawing distinctions that serve no purpose. Thus although the 1867 paper does make the terms of the distinction theoretically available, it does not convey an understanding of the relationship of these conceptions such as would be required to yield the immediate/dynamical object distinction proper; for Peirce's purpose in that paper includes nothing which requires that he introduce that distinction as such in that place, and he does not in fact do so except in the qualified sense just indicated.

In sum, then, given an understanding of the immediate/dynamical object distinction one can recognize the points of formal identity with the conceptions in the 1867 paper, but one cannot understand the distinction proper merely on the basis of that early paper in spite of its foundational status therein. In fact, I know of no passage in Peirce's writings before 1902 (possibly 1903) in which the distinction proper is explicitly drawn, in the sense of being explicitly established by Peirce as an instrument of analysis, though there are many passages in his work from early on in which the conceptual elements which provide the formal basis for the distinction are referred to in one way or another, sometimes singly, sometimes in contradistinction from one another; and there are many discussions in which the distinction proper could have been drawn and used though it was not, presumably because at least some of the logical job (or jobs) it can do can be handled without associating any special terminology with it.

Once the distinction is explicitly drawn, though, Peirce insists on its importance again and again. It seems to have been Peirce's extensive work on the principles of sign classification, chiefly during the period from 1903 through 1906, which occasioned the many passages in which he draws the distinction explicitly and insists upon its importance, especially its systemic role as coordinate with a trichotomic distinction of the interpretant, and it is worth remarking that the need for him to develop systematically the trichotomy of the interpretant seems to have been brought home to him forcibly by his discovery of Victoria Welby’s work on signification, which he found fundamentally akin to his own work.

There are two importantly different uses of the distinction between the immediate and the dynamical object (corresponding to two different sorts of intellectual situations within which its use is appropriate. I refer to these, respectively, as the theorist's use and the critical analyst's use. (One and the same person could be both theorist and analyst, but this would not collapse the distinction.) The theorist's use of the distinction is proper to an intellectual situation within which one is considering the formal or structural characteristics of the semeiosis process apart from concern with any particular case. Thus the two sorts of use correspond to the distinction between the abstract and the concrete or the decontextualized and the contextually or situationally understood case. ("Situational" and "contextual" are often used as if synonymous, but if a distinction is drawn between context and situation -- as I think should be -- then the term "situation" would be more appropriate, especially in view of Dewey's later insistence on the importance of "the problematic situation.") This is the situation of use which I have been taking for granted in my explanation of the distinction thus far (as, for example, when I speak of the one as being the object as representatively present and the other as being the object as it is in itself independent of any given representation of it). The critical analyst's use of the distinction is its use when some concrete case of semeiosis is actually under analysis, and its application is conditioned by the satisfaction of certain special conditions which are not met by all cases which are amenable to semeiotical analysis.) Let's see how this works.

We have characterized the dynamical object thus far as "the thing itself," as distinct from the thing as it appears in representation. However, unlike the Kantian Ding an sich, which is unknowable as it is in itself, the Peircean thing in itself is essentially representable (hence, cognizable) in every (i.e. any given) respect. Moreover, it, too, is -- in a sense -- in the semeiosis process, though in a different sense than the immediate object is in the process, namely, in the special sense in which the limit of an endless series is in the series of which it is the limiting case:

The object of representation can be nothing but a representation of which the first representation is the interpretant. But an endless series of representations, each representing the one behind it, may be conceived to have an absolute object at its limit. (CP 1.339; undated)

Such difficulties as may lie in the mathematical conception of a limit, or in Peirce's adaptation of this conception for philosophical purposes, will not be pursued here. But there is certainly a sense in which the dynamical object is in the sequence in virtue of being that which is represented, since as a term of the representation relation it is ipso facto in the sequence. This is so in spite of the fact that any concretely given object-term of the relation will be properly identifiable as the immediate object.

To make a distinction between the true conception of a thing and the thing itself is to regard one and the same thing from two different points of view. The immediate object of thought in a true judgment is the reality. (CP 8.16; 1871)

That reality is the dynamical object, which is

. . . [ultimately] a dark underlying something, which cannot be specified without its manifesting itself as a sign of something below. There is, we think, and reasonably think, a limit to this, an ultimate reality, like a zero of temperature. But in the nature of things, it can only be approached; can only be represented. The immediate object which any sign seeks to represent is itself a sign. (MS 599.35f; c.1902)

To speak of the dynamical object as "dark" in this way is presumably a way of saying that it must always be regarded as having properties as yet undiscovered. The important point is that in every semeiosis sequence there will be reference to something in that sequence (the immediate object) which will count as a reference to the object itself (the dynamical object) because it is a reference to it as representative of the object. Peirce illustrates this succinctly in a specifically epistemological context in the following passage:

For what does the thought-sign stand -- what does it name -- what is its suppositum? The outward thing, undoubtedly, when a real outward thing is thought of. But still, as the thought is determined by a previous thought of the same object, it only refers to the thing through denoting this previous thought. Let us suppose, for example, that Toussaint is thought of, and first thought of as a negro, but not distinctly as a man. If this distinctness is afterwards added, it is through the thought that a negro is a man; that is to say, the subsequent thought, man, refers to the outward thing by being predicated of that previous thought, negro, which has been had of that thing. If we afterwards think of Toussaint as a general, then we think that this negro, this man, was a general. And so in every case the subsequent thought denotes what was thought in the previous thought. (W 2,223f or CP 5.284; 1868)

Peirce is not illustrating the immediate/dynamical object as such in this passage. As I remarked above, he did not himself isolate it as an important philosophical distinction until much later. But the distinction he is making between the "outward thing" and the "previous thought" underlies the distinction we are concerned with and the example itself is well-suited for use in explaining certain things about it. What he here describes as "the previous thought of the thing" is the immediate object, whereas the dynamical object is the thing itself considered as that which is thought of.

This passage raises a question, though. The transition from "Toussaint was a negro" to "Toussaint was a man" would exemplify a simple deductive transition relying upon a material inference principle (implicit in the conception of a negro) to the effect that a negro is a human being, whereas the further transition from "This negro, Toussaint, is a man" to "This negro, this man, Toussaint, is a general" would presumably be a hypothetical ("abductive") inference instead, calling implicitly upon some further but unmentioned premises about Toussaint, such as, say, that he wore a uniform of such-and-such description, that he had been observed in effective command of certain troops, that he was regularly addressed in certain ways, and whatever else might be cited in justification of such an assertion. The question this raises is whether in the case of the assertion that Toussaint was a general the immediate object is to be regarded as including not only the idea of a negro human being but also whatever else would or could be cited in justification of that assertion (considered as something inferred) since being a negro human being obviously is not enough by itself to provide a basis for an inferential transition to the proposition that he was a general.

The reason for thinking that the immediate object would have to include this further information is that (1) by a shift in the focus of analytic attention the sign-term of the relation can be regarded as itself an interpretant of the sign or signs immediately prior to it; (2) the immediate object is constituted by signs prior in the sequence to the sign relative to which it is the immediate object; and (3) the sign-interpretant relationship is conceived by Peirce as a generalized form of the premise-conclusion relationship. Taking these together, the immediate object would be constituted by the premises or prior signs from which the sign in question (as interpretant thereof) is generated as a conclusion. And this is correct, I believe, provided that we are talking about the theorist's use of the distinction.

However, it is not correct if we have in mind the use of the distinction by someone engaged in an actual analysis of a concrete case requiring a semeiotical analysis. In the concrete case, the intellectual motivation for drawing the distinction is not rooted primarily in concern about the prior basis in the semeiosis sequence for the generation of the sign but rather about the basis for the identification of the object as subject-matter, owing to the fact that the object must be identifiable independently of what is or can be understood about it in virtue of whatever (supposed) sign or representation of it happens to be a matter of interest as such at a given time. For if the semeiotical object were identifiable only as being that of which the sign in question is (purportedly) a sign, the latter could not fail to be a sign of it, which is to say that misrepresentation of the object would be impossible. But there is, of course, such a thing as misrepresentation. Yet the semeiotical point of view also requires that we regard signs and representations as generated ultimately by the objects they represent, which means that we cannot represent a sign as misrepresenting its object; for this would be the same as to say at once that it does and does not represent that object.

This does not mean that we cannot account for misrepresentation at all or take due note of it, but rather that our way of representing representation should be such that if we have some concrete reason to suspect that a given representational complex actually involves some misrepresentation, we can analytically decompose it in such a way that we can isolate any elements in it which we have represented as representing something which they do not in fact represent: e.g. two distinct chains or complexes of semeiosis, involving two distinct and contextually or situationally unrelated semeiotical objects, may have been inadvertently conflated and confused with one another. Considered relative to the critical analyst's use of it, then, the immediate/dynamical object distinction can be understand as intellectually motivated primarily by the need to handle cases of suspected or real misrepresentation, the immediate object being those representations of the object which, at a given time, are functioning to identify it, regardless of whether or not the sign which purportedly represents it really does or does not do so.

That this consideration motivates the immediate/dynamical object distinction is made clear by Peirce himself in the following passage from a letter to Victoria Welby:

In order that a Form may be extended or communicated, it is necessary that it should have been really embodied in a Subject independently of the communication; and it is necessary that there should be another subject in which the same form is embodied only in consequence of the communication. The Form, (and the Form is the Object of the Sign), as it really determines the former Subject, is quite independent of the sign; yet we may and indeed must say that the object of a sign can be nothing but what that sign represents it to be. Therefore, in order to reconcile these apparently conflicting Truths, it is indispensable to distinguish the immediate object from the dynamical object. (Semeiotics & Significance, p. 196; 1906)

Its function as a distinction is not exhausted by this, but the steps one has to take in order to account for the possibility of error have an especially profound role to play in philosophy.

Considered abstractly and formalistically, misinterpretation is merely a special case of misrepresentation: an interpretant is represented as representing a sign or representation as such in a way which it does not. But there is a useful distinction to be drawn between considering the sign as a misrepresentation of its putative object and considering an interpretant as a misinterpretation of the sign(s) by which it has putatively been generated. We might say -- with allusion to Frege's Bedeutung/Sinn distinction, though without commitment to Frege's own understanding of it -- that there is a useful distinction to be drawn, both in theoretical discourse and in critical analytical practice, between errors of reference (Bedeutung) and errors of sense (Sinn). Understood in this light, the use of the immediate/dynamical object distinction has to do especially with the problem of accounting for errors of Bedeutung or reference, in contradistinction from accounting for misinterpretation or errors of sense. (The critical analyst is of course concerned with both sorts of error, but concern with the latter would involve recourse to the idea of the immediate interpretant, which is not being discussed here.)

Now any sign, of whatsoever kind, professes to mediate between an object, on the one hand, that to which it applies, and which is thus in a sense the cause of the sign, and, on the other hand, a meaning, or to use a preferable technical term, an interpretant, that which the sign expresses, the result which it produces in its capacity as sign. Discussions concerning logic can come to nothing but the muddle that prevailingly we find in the logic-books, unless (for one thing) the distinction between these two essential correlates of the sign be drawn clean and clear, and be kept so. To promote such clearness, a couple of remarks will be pertinent. The sole function of the object is identification, by which I mean that if any part or concomitant of the sign specially or separately represents the object rather than the meaning, it is to show that not any other than this very object is that to which the sign refers . . . . (MS 318; 1907)

In this passage Peirce can only mean by "the object" the immediate rather than the dynamical object, since it is the former which identifies, the latter being the object identified. In the analyst's use of the conception, then, the immediate object cannot be regarded as including the entire justificational basis for the sign itself considered as an interpretant-conclusion since that would make misrepresentation incomprehensible. It might include something which has functioned or could function as part of that basis; but even then it would not be being considered in its function as justificational insofar as it was being considered as the immediate object, whose sole purpose -- as Peirce says above -- is to identify the object of the sign, as distinct from providing the basis for its generation of the interpretant.

Suppose, for example, that the opinion that Toussaint is a general is at a certain time taken for granted, such that this supposed property of him functions either as premised or presupposed in all inquiry and discussion about him. In this case the proposition expressing that opinion is not functioning as an interpretant because it is not regarded functionally as a conclusion. It still is an interpretant, in the sense that there was not only a time when it did so function but there is also the possibility that it might once again so function. The theorist understands this in the abstract, and the theoretically informed critical analyst is of course capable of understanding it in this way, too. But still, it is not appropriate in the situation as just described to regard the proposition as interpretant since ex hypothesi it is not functioning as a conclusion and an interpretant is a conclusion. Insofar as it functions at this time as a premise it has the status rather of a sign-term of the relation, and the evidential basis for it, which formerly functioned as a sign relative to it, is no longer regarded as such but regarded rather as being a part of what Toussaint is.

Now, one might be inclined to say that this former evidential basis, taken together with everything else taken for granted about Toussaint, goes to make up the content of the immediate object, since it is Toussaint as Toussaint appears to be (is thought to be, is taken for granted as being) to everyone concerned at this time. Yet to do so in the concrete case would be idle verbiage, serving no analytical purpose. It is not situationally appropriate to say this because, ex hypothesi, there is no reason to invoke the distinction between the immediate object and the dynamical object in that situation to begin with. This co-ordinate pair of theoretical conceptions simply has no logical work to do in an unproblematic cognitive situation: where nothing is cognitively problematic there is just the object -- or rather, there is no object at all but just Toussaint, a person thought of sometimes in one respect, sometimes in another.

Suppose, though, that the question does arise as to whether or not Toussaint really was a general, after all: certain evidence is discovered, let us say, which puts into question the evidential status or value of some sign or signs of which this proposition was at one time an interpretant. To make the case as clear as possible, let us suppose that the new evidence is such as to put us in doubt about a number of things previously taken for granted about this individual because we now realize that there may have been some serious flaw in the way much of the earlier evidence about him was gathered (e.g. there might be reason to believe that racial biases on the part of witnesses, reporters, and historians led to the uncritical acceptance of a number of "facts" about him for which there was no real evidential basis at all). In that case, the proposition that Toussaint was a general acquires once again the functional status of an interpretant, albeit a highly questionable one. But then the very status of being explicitly recognized and identified as an interpretant supposes that there is some degree of questionability about the proposition which enjoys such a status since the articulation of the elements of the situation into such logical roles as object, sign, and interpretant is an articulation into the formal structure of a question. For a question is not constituted by a sentence with a question mark at the end of it (or a sequence of sounds pronounced with a certain intonation) but rather by something actually being in question: a real question is a quest, a cognitive search, an inquiry, an investigation, a process, not a merely verbal entity, and it is the matrix within which it becomes pertinent to concern oneself with the specifically semeiotical properties of things.

The reconsideration of the proposition in question as a putative interpretant also involves a reconsideration of the status of that upon which it is putatively based. Since we are now supposing that some substantial part of what previously functioned as the sign (relative to the interpretant-proposition that Toussaint was a general) has come into serious question, it might well become necessary to get clear on precisely what elements of that should now be regarded as evidentially worthless and hence impertinent thenceforth, what part of it can still reasonably be regarded as certain enough to function as an evidential base relative to the question of his generalship (hence to have the status of the sign-term in the relation), and what part is, at this time, so completely beyond reasonable doubt that to put it into question would be tantamount to raising the question of whether we could even agree any longer on who is being referred to in talking about somebody called "Toussaint." The content of the latter would be the content of the immediate object, as understood by the critical analyst of the process.

But there is something puzzling here. Since, from the analyst's point of view, none of the content of the immediate object is in doubt (for otherwise it would not be the immediate object), it would seem that the analyst cannot draw a substantive distinction between it and the dynamical object; for one cannot describe the immediate object as such while denying at the same time that the description is true of the dynamical object. (This is true for much the same reason that one cannot say something of the form "I believe that p, but p is not true.") Yet the mere consideration of what should or should not be counted as so completely secure cognitively as to be subject-identifying supposes that the subject as it is in itself and as it is identified are not necessarily the same, which is to say that a formal distinction between them is in fact implicit in the cognitive situation whenever the question of what is truly subject-identifying is raised. What is puzzling on the face of it, then, is that it seems that the distinction can only be formal rather than substantive, since any attempt to state what the immediate object is will necessarily be a statement about what the dynamical object is, notwithstanding the fact that the actual agreement of the properties of the immediate object and the dynamical object is not necessary!

The resolution of this seeming conundrum lies in the following two considerations. First, although the descriptive content of the immediate object is implicitly predicated of the dynamical object whenever the former is functioning as such, functioning to identify the subject (i.e. the object) as being such, there is always also a deictic or indicative function involved as well which is required for reference to the object, and this function is grounded in an existential or causal connection with the dynamical object which is not itself dependent upon the accuracy of the accompanying description. The formal place for this is made available in the New List analysis as well through the definition of the interpretant as a representation of the sign as being "a mediating representation which represents the relate to be a representation of the same correlate which this mediating representation itself represents," which specifies a dual reference of the interpretant to the object. (As regards the indexical sign: for our immediate purpose we need only understand that, in Peirce's view, all reference of a sign to its object involves -- though it is not reducible to -- something functioning indexically, which is a presupposed non-predicative sign relationship based on a non-semiotical property.)

Second, since such situations have the structure of a question, they are necessarily extended in time; for a question is a quest or inquiry, an ongoing process. Now, it is certainly possible that, as the inquiry or quest progresses, that which was at an earlier time functioning as the conceptual content of the immediate object will cease to have that status in virtue of further evidence and inference, in which case one would then have occasion for describing the immediate object differently than one described it before. (The independent indicative function mentioned above makes it possible for reference not to be lost -- though it does not guarantee it -- when one identifying description is abandoned and another replaces it.) Since any description of the immediate object is ipso facto a description of the dynamical object, a substantive and not merely formal distinction could thus be drawn between the earlier immediate object and the dynamical object. (This corresponds to the fact that although one cannot say "I believe that p and p is not true," one can say "I believed that p, and p is not true.")

Thus when we take due account of the fact that Peirce construes thought as essentially temporal or protracted rather than instantaneous, and as being of the nature of a process rather than a momentary state, we can see that it is possible, after all, for the critical analyst to draw a substantive and not merely formal distinction between the immediate and the dynamical object. But whether or not this distinction is really a substantive one in a given case, such that the immediate object is one thing and the dynamical object quite another, or only a formal one, constituted solely by the possibility that there might be a substantive distinction to be drawn, is situation-relative. Sometimes the immediate and dynamical objects are in fact different: the appearance is not the reality. But then, on the other hand, as Peirce says, "the immediate object of thought in a true judgment is the reality": the veritable thing-in-itself which is, indeed, just as it appears as being.

Two things here are all-important to assure oneself of and to remember. The first is that a person is not absolutely an individual. His thoughts are what he is "saying to himself," that is, is saying to that other self that is just coming into life in the flow of time. When one reasons, it is that critical self that one is trying to persuade; and all thought whatsoever is a sign, and is mostly of the nature of language. The second thing to remember is that the man's circle of society (however widely or narrowly this phrase may be understood), is a sort of loosely compacted person, in some respects of higher rank than the person of an individual organism. It is these two things alone that render it possible for you -- but only in the abstract, and in a Pickwickian sense -- to distinguish between absolute truth and what you do not doubt. (CP 5.421; 1905)

Although it may not be readily apparent, what he is concerned with in the context of this passage is substantially the same problem I am concerned with above: the distinction I draw between the theorist, thinking in the abstract, and the concretely "embedded" analyst is intended to explicate the peculiar logical position one is in which is such that one can only recognize an "abstract" and "Pickwickian" distinction between the immediate and the dynamical object.

Recognition of the peculiar duality of the semeiotical object thus functions philosophically to convert the traditional problem of the relation of the apparent to the real -- the dualism of the internal world and the external world, of the knowing mind and the known object -- into a question about a situationally contingent logical distinction. Insofar, then, as the metaphysical mind-body problem arises from the way we handle or mishandle the distinction between the apparent and the real (the knowing and the known, the "internal world" and the "external world," and so forth), Peirce's way of explicating these relationships results in the elimination of it as a metaphysical problem, and what is left in its place is only a matter of fact about what is and what is not in question at a given time.

Although it is tempting to suggest that Peirce has, without fanfare, implicitly "solved" the mind-body problem in general in this way, and I was initially inclined to make such a claim on his behalf, time and "returning reason" has compelled me to recognize that this is far too strong. For one thing, the problem which is vaguely so-labeled is so pervasive in modern philosophy generally -- in modern thinking generally -- that it is questionable whether it is reasonable to expect there to be any single all-purpose philosophical solution to it. If there is it certainly involves more than diagnosing the pathology of its metaphysical incoherence. But the ability in principle to trap the errors it involves at the point where they are enabled to manifest themselves as metaphysical insolubilia might be step important enough in its dissolution that one could perhaps justifiably think of it as providing a key to a general solution, if not the solution itself -- supposing any such solution is to be had.

On the other hand, a key never or only rarely and obscurely tried, which never becomes regularly successful at actual unlockings of things, is much like that diamond at the bottom of the ocean that is never put to the test. Peirce may actually have gotten it right, but so what? A solution that is never actually used might just as well not exist -- which is to say, as Peirce probably would say, that the rhetorical aspect of it must have some real vitality as well, and it is questionable whether it is in fact lively enough to find its niche as something existing in the real world. It is such a subtle consideration that one can’t help being a bit disappointed with it. Speaking for myself, at least, I had been hoping for a solution to the mind-body problem that would be akin to a transforming epiphany, rather than turning out to be a mere methodological admonition that promises only to help keep us from making certain errors if we maintain an appropriately high degree of rigor in our thinking that will enable us to know when it is pertinent to draw such a distinction and when it is not. But however that may be, if one does become careless about the difference between the theorist's use of the immediate/dynamical object distinction in the abstract and the analyst's use of it in a concrete situation under analysis -- if one simply conflates or confuses these uses of the distinction by failing to notice their relevance -- one's understanding of the crucially important role of the logically contingent factor in the concrete situation will be obliterated and the problem will appear once again in its traditional metaphysical garb. Only those who take a contextualist approach -- meaning by that an approach which recognizes both the logically essential role of concrete contextual considerations and of the situationally given intellectual motivations that determine what is contextually relevant -- can avail themselves of the kind of solution it offers.


Peirce's frequent use of mentalistic terminology and his characterization of himself as a "conditional idealist" (as distinct from an "absolute idealist") tends to mislead contemporary readers of his work who do not understand that he is nor an idealist in the sense which this term usually bears, as conditioned by the problematics of Cartesian dualism. Peirce is certainly an idealist in the sense of being an advocate of the view that ideals are realities which enter into the ongoing constitution of the universe and affect its character in a substantial way by shaping it in ways that otherwise would not be realized. But what it should be understood as meaning primarily is that he regards all things as having triadic relational properties -- semeiotical properties -- even if they are sometimes too slight in differential effect to engage our attention and interest, and the possession of such properties not only does not preclude materiality but presupposes it. Semeiotical properties are usually referred to by Peirce as "psychical", using the latter term in the sense it had before it became corrupted by its association with fortune-telling, paranormal mental powers, and the like. Among other things, I will be attempting to clarify this in what follows, focusing particularly on the relationship of logical mediation to experiential immediacy or directness in his theory of perception as at once representative and immediate.

In getting clear on this we are attempting to understand one important aspect, at least, of Peirce's way of understanding the mind-body relationship. Understanding what the solution is in terms of the theoretical moves it involves is one thing, however, and being able to state it in such a way that an intuitive understanding of how his approach addresses the traditional problem and in some sense resolves or dissolves it -- or at least contributes importantly to its dissolution -- is quite another. I will be concerned here mainly with the theoretical moves this involves, leaving for another time, perhaps, an attempt to explicate this on a more intuitive level.

In unreflective cognitional semeiosis -- that is, in ordinary unproblematic awareness of things -- the immediate object seems experientially just to be the object itself, as distinct from being something which substitutes for it and conveys information about it. This is obviously true in the case of unreflective sense-perception, but it is also true, though not so obvious, in other modes of awareness which are cognitively structured as well: e.g. in remembering, imagining, dreaming, hallucinating. For example, when we recall something experienced many years ago, the recall experience might be more or less intense, in the sense that the thing or occurrence recalled might appear in a more or less "full-bodied" and vivid way; yet even when it appears only feebly or dimly, what we seem to experience and normally regard ourselves as experiencing is the very thing or event itself, not some present "mental image" or other surrogate for it. In the case of sense-perception of a distant object, the feebleness of the perception may make it impossible to discern many of its characteristics clearly or indeed discern them at all, but we do not on that account regard ourselves as perceiving something other than the object itself but rather as perceiving it poorly or weakly; and the same is true of recall memory: I remember my old friend, not a mental image of my old friend. The explanation of why my perception or recall memory is so poor or weak or partial may prompt us to suppose that there is a mental image involved, the defects of which are responsible for the poorness of the perception of the object, but the notion that some such "subjective" entity is involved is not derived merely from the experience of recall any more than it is derived from the unreflective experience of sense-perceiving something.

Moreover, even the reflective side-thought that what one is recalling is in the past does not in itself cause us to regard the thing experienced as being other than the thing or event recalled. I spoke initially of "unreflective cognitional semeiosis" not because reflection per se changes how we regard what is experienced in this respect but rather because a certain special sort of reflective thought, namely, reflection informed (or deformed) by a metaphysical view according to which the past is available only through a present image or other surrogate of it, can confuse us at times about what is being experienced. This is clear from the fact that we commonly do recognize that in many cases not even what we are sense-perceiving is, at the moment of perception, the object as it presently is but only as it appeared to be at the time when the perception occurs, as e.g. in the case of all sense-perception of stellar phenomena, which are sense-perceived with the unaided eye not as they are now but as they were at least 4 light-years ago. Indeed, this is true, strictly speaking, of all sense-perception whatever since it all requires time to complete and the possibility of change in the object during that interval is always there. We ignore this for most sense-perception for purposes of convenience, of course, and tend to ignore it even when we know quite well that we see the stars as they were rather than as they are because no practical difference made by difference in time is usually involved except for people with highly specialized interests, such as astronomers.

This metaphysical view is of course the modernist metaphysics according to which we are, each of us, located spatially within our respective skulls (or skin) and temporally within the insubstantial flux of the present moment: the past is forever inaccessible directly or immediately, the future is gained only in that very moment in which it becomes lost to us by passing into the past, and even the present is available only through an intervening surrogate. "Now I have only my memories of the past" we say, and we may even think of our ability to recall and re-experience things which are past as if it were like accessing them via some fading mental photographs, and thus think of ourselves as having no direct experiential access at all to what once was. But although memory, in the sense of experiential recall, is indeed limited in some important ways, it is not necessary even in the case of reflectively informed memory to regard what is remembered as only indirectly accessible: the past is not "gone forever," in that sense, unless one has permanently forgotten it. Indeed, though it may be an unhealthy state of mind, it is not unusual to experience the past more vividly and immediately than the present, and sometimes even to experience the present as if it were something past, as when we say of someone "He is living in the past."

The point is not about memory in particular, though, but rather about our awareness of things generally. The reason for initially discussing recall memory is that the notion that there is an image of the object which somehow intervenes between us and the object itself seems to come closest to being illustrated experientially in the recall experience, though upon reflection we can see that even here, just as in the case of sense-perception, there is no actual experience of a mental image as such, except perhaps in some special cases. (One might recall oneself imagining something, though I don't think one is really recalling an image in such a case.) Similarly, we do not dream of mental images of things or hallucinate mental images or even imagine mental images when we imagine things. (What would it be like to imagine a mental image?) And the same is true if we speak more broadly in terms of "mental representation": in remembering events we do not remember representations of those events but the events themselves; we do not imagine mental representations of objects but the objects themselves; and so forth. (We may, of course, remember something being represented, but what is remembered in that sort of case is not a representation of something being represented.)

Yet, on the other hand, it is also true that from the critically reflective point of view there are reasons for saying that the object of experience is representatively present in the experience of it, regardless of whether or not the representation is specifically imagistic in character and regardless of what sort of experience we are concerned with. For example, even in sense-perception there is always the possibility that the object as it appears to be is actually other than it seems, a liability inherent in every sort of experience to which the conceptions of truth and reality are pertinent. Then, too, there is a vast quantity of evidence, stemming both from ordinary experience and from psychological experimentation, that much of the content even of sense-perception is actually supplied by memory and imagination. And there is also, of course, a substantial body of knowledge about the causal chains which run from the object of perception to the receptor organs for the nervous system, and thence through the nervous system itself, which seems to require positing some sort of mediating representation(s). And there are still other considerations which strongly suggest, if they do not strictly imply, that something of the sort is involved. A few years ago, for example, there was much discussion about the import of psychological experimentation that seems to support the thesis that we are able to "rotate" and otherwise "manipulate" certain sorts of supposed mental images "in our minds," and this, taken together with certain other considerations (e.g. the function of perceptual Gestalten), might also be construed as lending support to the view that our experience does involve the perception of intervening and intermediating mental images.

Thus there is a problem prima facie of how these two considerations -- the actual experience of immediacy versus the evidence for representational (including imagistic) mediation -- are to be reconciled. Although the dualistic metaphysics of modernism was not developed primarily in response to the problem of reconciling these considerations, it does provide a pertinent -- if unsatisfactory -- response to the problem, though there are other possible responses to it as well. I do not know of any other philosopher who handles the problem quite as Peirce does, though, and his distinction between the immediate object and the dynamical object plays an important role in this. Peirce's solution is difficult to summarize succinctly because it depends on understanding the essential role of contextual and situational factors in cognition and consequently on understanding the important difference explained here earlier -- a difference that usually goes unremarked -- between what the theorist as such can say from a position logically disconnected from any actual instance, and what the critical analyst of the concrete situation can say as such in virtue of his or her quite different relation to it. Confusion of these is perhaps the logical error at the root of the philosophical error of speaking as if from the "God's-eye" view of the way things are.

In any case, an explication of a rather long but extraordinarily lucid passage from Peirce's review of a work by the positivist logician Karl Pearson may be helpful in getting a more adequate understanding of how this works, and also provide occasion for explaining why Peirce so frequently resorts to seemingly "mentalistic" accounts in spite of his thoroughgoing commitment to a non-psychologistic conception of mind. This long passage is a single paragraph in its original form, but I have broken it up into shorter paragraphs -- nothing is omitted -- to facilitate the understanding of my comments on it.

[Pearson] will have it that knowledge is built up out of sense-impressions -- a correct enough statement of a conclusion of psychology. Understood, however, as Professor Pearson understands and applies it, as a statement of the nature of our logical data, of "the facts of science," it is altogether incorrect. He tells us that each of us is like the operator at a central telephone office, shut out from the external world, of which he is informed only by sense-impressions. Not at all! Few things are more completely hidden from my observation than those hypothetical elements of thought which the psychologist finds reason to pronounce "immediate," in his sense. But the starting point of all our reasoning is not in those sense-impressions, but in our percepts.

When we first wake up to the fact that we are thinking beings and can exercise some control over our reasonings, we have to set out upon our intellectual travels from the home where we already find ourselves. Now, this home is the parish of percepts. It is not inside our skulls, either, but out in the open.

It is the external world that we directly observe. What passes within we only know as it is mirrored in external objects. In a certain sense, there is such a thing as introspection; but it consists in an interpretation of phenomena presenting themselves as external percepts. We first see blue and red things. It is quite a discovery when we find the eye has anything to do with them, and a discovery still more recondite when we learn that there is an ego behind the eye, to which these qualities properly belong. Our logically initial data are percepts.

These percepts are undoubtedly purely psychical, altogether of the nature of thought. They involve three kinds of psychical elements, their qualities of feeling, their reaction against my will, and their generalizing or associating element. But all that we find out afterward.

I see an inkstand on the table: that is a percept. Moving my head, I get a different percept of the inkstand. It coalesces with the other. What I call the inkstand is a generalized percept, a quasi-inference from percepts, perhaps I might say a composite-photograph of percepts. In this psychical product is involved an element of resistance to me, which I am obscurely conscious of from the first. Subsequently, when I accept the hypothesis of an inward subject for my thoughts, I yield to that consciousness of resistance and admit the inkstand to the standing of an external object. Still later, I may call this in question. But as soon as I do that, I find that the inkstand appears there in spite of me. If I turn away my eyes, other witnesses will tell me that it still remains. If we all leave the room and dismiss the matter from our thoughts, still a photographic camera would show the inkstand still there, with the same roundness, polish and transparency, and with the same opaque liquid within.

Thus, or otherwise, I confirm myself in the opinion that its characters are what they are, and persist at every opportunity in revealing themselves, regardless of what you, or I, or any man, or generation of men, may think that they are. That conclusion to which I find myself driven, struggle against it as I may, I briefly express by saying that the inkstand is a real thing. Of course, in being real and external, it does not in the least cease to be a purely psychical product, a generalized percept, like everything of which I can take any sort of cognizance. (CP 8.144; 1901)

Since this passage does not make use of distinctively semeiotical terminology, let me restate and enlarge upon what Peirce is saying in a way which will make the implicitly semeiotical perspective and structure more obvious.

Roughly, Pearson's view is that in our understanding of things we start with subjective or mentalistic entities -- sense-impressions -- and somehow add thought to these simple and elementary units in a way which yields complex mentalistic structures which we then regard, unreflectively and thus uncritically, as being the objects which go to make up "the external world." Upon philosophical reflection, though, we are to recognize that these "objects" in the "external world" are actually just fictional constructs, and that "the world" so-called is just the fictional global framework within which these constructs are conceptually placed.

Peirce's response is to the following effect: From the logical (hence the semeiotical) point of view, we do not, in our understanding of things, construct the objects of experience in the sense Pearson has in mind. There is neither the need nor the occasion to do so. At any given time, we find ourselves already in relationship to things already there which have all sorts of characteristics, some as directly perceivable as anything could conceivably be, others which we know or surmise by more or less explicit inference of one sort and another. In the example given, does Peirce see directly that there is a liquid in the inkstand or does he only infer it from an appearance of liquidity? In the abstract, the question is idle. Not a question at all because there is nothing to ground it as such. Concretely, if the cognitive validity or reliability of the experience should actually come into question, it might be appropriate to say that he saw the liquid directly, but then again it might not be; for one can easily imagine circumstances in which it would be appropriate to say instead that he only saw something of liquid appearance and inferred that there was liquid there. As the case is actually presented in the passage quoted above, one can only say that he saw a round, polished, and transparent glass artifact with opaque liquid in it -- an inkstand -- on a table, possibly to the left or the right of other things on the table, such as pens and pieces of paper, and so forth. He did not "construct" the inkstand, the table, etc., out of anything -- certainly not out of "sense-impressions"! -- but just noted that it was there.

Now, Peirce does indeed talk in this passage about "percepts," which he characterizes as being "purely psychical" and "altogether of the nature of thought," and about which he says that they involve three kinds of "psychical elements," meaning three categorially distinct kinds of properties, here identified as (monadic) qualities of feeling, as (dyadic) reactions or resistances to his will, and as having a (triadic) generalizing or associational function. Moreover, he speaks of the inkstand as itself being "a generalized percept," and so forth. But Peirce is talking in these terms because Pearson himself has provided the context in which it is appropriate to do so by raising certain questions about the nature of evidence, inference, perception, cognition, and so forth; and Pearson has claimed, moreover, that physical things like inkstands are really just psychical (mental) products, constructed out of psychical elements (sense-impressions). In response, Peirce is explaining his own theory about why it is that we characterize things in these mentalistic ways in addition to regarding them as glass inkstands and the like. His point is that we talk about these things in mentalistic terms when we have occasion to reflect on our experiences of inkstands and the like as experiences. For Peirce, though, it does not follow from the fact that things can be talked about "mentalistically," in appropriate circumstances, that they are mere mental constructs or are reducible to mental entities only.

As he makes clear in his logical writings elsewhere, the sort of occasion when this kind of description of things becomes appropriate is, generally speaking, a situation in which some question has been raised about the experience of such things. Was it really his inkstand that Peirce saw there? Was it really an inkstand? How does he know or why does he think so? Could he have hallucinated it, perhaps? And so forth. For some reason or other such questions have arisen, and this is the logical starting point: not from sense-impressions but from a questionable situation that has actually come into question, a situation containing such things as, say, round, polished, and transparent glass artifacts with opaque liquid in them, i.e. inkstands. Or rather what seem to be such. For on such occasions we have concrete situational reason to talk about the appearances of inkstands, about apparent inkstands, about things that may or may not be inkstands -- indeed, may or may not be there at all -- and about the relation of these things, apparent or real, to ourselves as perceivers or misperceivers thereof. On such occasions we also have reason to draw distinctions between types of properties these things have by noting certain properties of those properties, such as, say, their qualitative character, their relational character, and their significational or representative or evidential value. We may also find it pertinent in such situations to talk about how inkstands and the like look from various points of view, and thus to refer to them as so perceived by speaking of them as "percepts." And so forth. But the inkstand -- seeming or real -- which is regarded as a "generalized percept" is still what it was before there was occasion to think of it in this further way. If it had physical properties before, it has them still, though we now recognize that there is a certain "psychical" or mental aspect to it as well, which is to say that we now recognize it under certain semeiotical descriptions; for whenever Peirce uses the term "psychical" one is entitled to substitute for it the term "semeiotical."

Now, at the time Peirce penned the words quoted above he was living in desperate poverty, was in ill-health, undernourished, and quite possibly taking a pain-killing drug. So, to make an explanatory point here, let us suppose that the inkstand which he saw (or thought he saw) before him really was not there. Perhaps the inkstand he thought he saw was a cherished and monetarily valuable piece of cut crystal which he had only a day or two before been forced to pawn for a tenth of its worth in order to buy firewood and food, though he has momentarily forgotten that it is now gone and does not immediately realize that the inkstand seemingly before him is only "an inkstand of the mind," a mere hallucination. In that case, the inkstand-like object seemingly before him in his visual field actually has no physical properties, though it still has some properties of all three categorial types. For it certainly has some qualitative (firstness) properties (including the appearance property of being-on-the-desk, though not the physical property of being on the desk). It has some secondness properties as well, such as being there apart from him and apart from other things on his desk as well, though if he were to try to pick it up his hand might find no resistance (even tactual qualities can be hallucinated, but it is relatively rare), and it would be a mistake for this and other reasons to identify these "secondness" properties with the physical properties which they visually resemble.

Or should we say that it has no secondness properties at all because it has no physical properties? Surely not. For one thing, the categories are phenomenologically conceived, which means that we cannot simply equate secondness and physicality or even suppose that properties of the latter sort constitute a subclass of secondness properties as such, notwithstanding the fact that physical properties are also phenomenological and typically dyadic, assuming that we are talking about the properties with which classical mechanics is concerned. The relationship of the phenomenological to the physical is not that simple: the latter involves presuppositions that have to be taken into account. It is certain, in any case, that in Peirce’s view objects which lack physicality are not deprived of their thirdness properties in virtue of that, and possession of these presupposes possession of secondness properties. There is, in other words, a systemic necessity here, though of course an appeal to such a consideration would be merely question-begging insofar as the validity of Peirce’s system was itself in question here.

Finally, it retains many of its significance (thirdness, semeiotical) properties as well, though not those dependent on its physical properties. It is certainly appropriate in this case to say that it is "a purely psychical product," given the suppositions about it which we have to make in order to consider it as an example.

It is true (on our present supposition) that the object visually before him is not really an inkstand, strictly speaking, though it looks just like his old inkstand, since e.g. its lack of physicality makes it useless for containing ink. But it is still an object with many properties, and still has its uses in virtue of these properties. Or at least so we can suppose. For example, we can suppose that his old inkstand was etched with an ingenious Celtic knot design and that the phantom inkstand seemingly before him exhibits exactly that design. And we can suppose that after a momentary disorientation and confusion, Peirce remembers that his old inkstand is actually at the pawnshop and realizes that the apparition before him can only be an apparition: a hypothesis which he quickly verifies by trying to push the thing, let us say, and finding that his hand meets no resistance. But an hallucination can sustain itself in experience even when one has correctly identified it as such. So let us suppose that even after he has verified that it is just an "insubstantial" visual object -- a mere apparition, an "inkstand of the mind" -- it still remains in his visual field as before, and that Peirce, noting its stubborn tenure there, decides to make the best of the situation by taking advantage of the fact that the hallucinated object does, after all, exhibit the same design as the old inkstand. So he allows himself a few minutes of peaceful visual meditation on the graceful intricacies of the knot-like design, thankful for this substitute, which he finds to be really quite as good -- as long as it lasts! -- for that purpose as the physical inkstand now gathering dust in the pawnshop would have been. (I do not know whether hallucinations identified as such can in fact persist in one's visual field so stubbornly that it would be possible to use them as meditation objects. This may be a psychological impossibility. But it is logically possible, and that is all that is required for our purposes here.)

And we can even suppose further that after this refreshing exploitation of the "firstness" of the object, Peirce -- much interested in certain problems in topology at that particular time -- begins to trace through the ingeniously constructed knot visually, regarding it now as what he would call an "icon" of a certain topologically interesting form (owing, say, to its incorporation of certain variations on the principle of the Möbius strip), whereupon -- Eureka! -- he perceives some relationships which, described appropriately, would provide the basis for a proof of a certain theorem of topical geometry. Let us suppose, then, that he works the proof out and manages to get it published soon thereafter, though like so many of his ideas it just seems "too wild" to the half-dozen or so contemporaries who read it: brilliant and oddly interesting, to be sure, but obviously "wrong-headed." So no one subsequently pays any attention to it for a century or so. But then one day a certain computer scientist, in despair over his inability to work out a coherent architecture for his quark-based computer, encounters Peirce's proof by chance and realizes that the generalized understanding of the topological characteristics of that knot which Peirce's proof establishes and elucidates provides the conceptual key to the solution of his design problem! I leave it to you to finish the story.

What is the moral to this fanciful tale -- protracted beyond what is required to make the logical point in order to enhance its suggestiveness? Well, one thing it might suggest is that even though it can make rather a large difference, for practical purposes, whether an object is real or imaginary, practical purposes are not the only purposes, and even some practical purposes can be served by paying due respect to the uses of phantoms and fancies, a respect which the devotees of physicalistic metaphysics are not usually in position to pay. As regards Peirce, though, the point is simply that, in his view, even if an object is only a "purely psychical product" it does not on that account fail to be an object, and the difference between such objects and those which are physically real is not always a difference that makes a difference.

As the example is actually given in the quotation, though, Peirce simply assumes that the inkstand is real. So let us now drop our temporary supposition that it is hallucinated and suppose instead that the inkstand is really there, just as he thinks it is and experiences it as being. Could we now legitimately say, as Peirce does indeed say, that this physical inkstand is "a purely psychical product"? Yes, we can. For "purely" does not mean merely. It is contextually clear that the word "purely" is functioning here as a rhetorical flourish, aimed at putting what Peirce is saying on par with Pearson's claim that it is psychical or mental, in order to draw an important contrast between how he and Pearson regard the import of that. Peirce is not saying or supposing that the inkstand has only psychical -- that is, semeiotical -- properties: nothing, be it hallucinated or real, has only semeiotical properties, in his view. For even if no question had ever been raised about the reality status of the inkstand or the cognitive validity of the experience of it, so that no occasion had arisen for attending specifically to its semeiotical ("psychical," "mental") properties as such, it would still have had those properties. To suppose otherwise would be to suppose that the logical properties which something has when the occasion for logical reflection arises are gratuitously "projected onto it" or "willed into it" at that time, which would mean that the ensuing logical criticism would be based on absolutely nothing. Thus there is nothing amiss in Peirce's concluding remark that "in being real and external, it does not in the least cease to be a purely psychical product, a generalized percept, like everything of which I can take any sort of cognizance"; for this is just to say that everything, including "the real and external," is capable of being regarded from the semeiotical point of view. I suggest that similar considerations can be adduced whenever one finds Peirce using mentalistic terminology in a way which seems at odds with his avowed non-psychologistic conception of mind.

Now, in the passage quoted, Peirce himself draws no explicit verbal distinction in his example between the immediate and dynamical object because he does not suppose that the identity or reality of the object has actually been put into question. But let us suppose for our own purposes that a question were to arise, not as to whether he hallucinated something there, but rather as to what sort of thing he saw there. No one doubts -- let us say -- that he saw something there, but it does seem that he may have confused it with a certain crystal paperweight of similar appearance. There is no doubt that he saw a round, polished, and transparent object, though what seemed to him to be an opaque liquid in it was only a misleading appearance arising from the reflective and refractive properties of the cut crystal. In that case the immediate object would be a round, polished, and transparent object on his desk, and the question concerns what the dynamical object of his perception was: inkstand or paperweight? Assuming that no occasion arises during the inquiry which causes the immediate object itself to come into question, then, as we saw earlier, the distinction between the immediate and the dynamical object remains, insofar, merely formal: from the theoretical perspective we can draw the distinction between them in the abstract (without reference to any substantive content which distinguishes them in the particular case); though from the point of view of the analyst of the concrete case there is, insofar, no basis for distinguishing them. But the "insofar" is important here. For the case does point up the fact that the immediate object also differs from the dynamical object in that it consists of only those properties just mentioned, whereas the dynamical object consists in more than that: the immediate object is distinguished as that part of the (putative) dynamical object which is regarded temporarily as having a certain special logical function. Yet this is still only a formal and not a substantive difference, regardless of whether the object is finally adjudged to be inkstand or paperweight.

Then when the inquiry ends and the logical or semeiotical or reflective point of view is ipso facto abandoned, the immediate object becomes altogether indistinguishable from the dynamical object, its logical function being performed and completed. That is, the distinction between them can no longer be drawn even in the abstract since, in the nonreflective understanding, there is just the object. Or rather, there is just the inkstand; for the conception of an object, like the other semeiotical conceptions, has no role to play on the unreflective or pre-critical level. If, however, the immediate object should come into question during the inquiry, then an explicit and substantive distinction between it and the dynamical object would occur at that point, though the point at which this occurred would also be precisely the point at which it was replaced conceptually as immediate object by something else previously taken for granted about the object but unmentioned in the example, and the properties which constituted the now abandoned immediate object take on a new status in the analysis of that semeiosis.

END OF:  Joseph Ransdell, "On the Use and Abuse of the immediate/dynamical object distinction"


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