Selections from C.S. Peirce, “Minute Logic” (1902), CP 2.111–118
111. With Speculative Rhetoric, Logic, in the sense of Normative Semeotic, is brought to a close. But now we have to examine whether there be a doctrine of signs corresponding to Hegel’s objective logic; that is to say, whether there be a life in Signs, so that — the requisite vehicle being present — they will go through a certain order of development, and if so, whether this development be merely of such a nature that the same round of changes of form is described over and over again whatever be the matter of the thought or whether, in addition to such a repetitive order, there be also a greater life-history that every symbol furnished with a vehicle of life goes through, and what is the nature of it.
112. The first question, then, which I have to ask is: Supposing such a thing to be true, what is the kind of proof which I ought to demand to satisfy me of its truth? Am I simply to go through the actual process of development of symbols with my own thoughts, which are symbols, and am I to find in the sense of necessity and evidence of the following of one thought upon another an adequate assurance that the course followed is the necessary line of thought’s development? That is the way the question has usually been put, hitherto, both by Hegelians and by Anti-Hegelians.
But even if I were to find that the sequence of conceptions in Hegel’s logic carried my mind irresistibly along its current, that would not suffice to convince me of its universal validity. Nor, on the other hand, does the mere fact that I do not find a single step of Hegel’s logic, or any substitute for it that I have met with, either convincing or persuasive, give me any assurance whatever that there is no such life-history. It seems to me natural to suppose that it would be far easier satisfactorily to answer the question of whether there is such a thing than to find out what particular form that life-history would take if it were a reality; and not only natural to suppose so, but made as certain by solid reasons as any such anticipation in regard to proofs could well be.
114. But whatever be the kind and degree of our logical assurance that there is any real world, external or internal, that same kind and degree of assurance we certainly have that there not only may be a living symbol, realizing the full idea of a symbol, but even that there actually is one.
115. I examine the question from this point of view. It certainly seems as if the mere hypothesis of such a thing as a symbol sufficed to demonstrate such a life-history. Still, a fallacy is to be suspected. How can a mere hypothesis prove so much as this seems to prove, if it proves anything? I call in the data of experience, not exactly the every-minute experience which has hitherto been enough, but the experience of most men, together with the history of thought. The conclusion seems the same. Yet still, the evidence is unsatisfactory. The truth is that the hypothesis involves the idea of a different mode of being from that of existential fact. This mode of being seems to claim immediate recognition as evident in the mere idea of it. One asks whether there is not a fallacy in using the ordinary processes of logic either to support it or to refute it.
116. Aristotelianism admitted two modes of being. This position was attacked by William Ockham, on the ground that one kind sufficed to account for all the phenomena. The hosts of modern philosophers, to the very Hegels, have sided with Ockham in this matter. But now the question comes before us for reëxamination: What are the modes of being?
One might antecedently expect that the cenopythagorean categories would require three modes of being. But a little examination will show us that they could be brought into fairly presentable accordance with the theory that there were only two, or even only one. The question cannot be decided in that way. Besides, it would be illogical to rely upon the categories to decide so fundamental a question. The only safe way is to make an entirely fresh investigation.
But by what method are we to pursue it? In such abstract questions, as we shall have already found, the first step, often more than half the battle, is to ascertain what we mean by the question — what we possibly can mean by it. We know already how we must proceed in order to determine what the meaning of the question is. Our sole guide must be the consideration of the use to which the answer is to be put — not necessarily the practical application, but in what way it is to subserve the summum bonum. Within this principle is wrapped up the answer to the question, what being is, and what, therefore, its modes must be.
It is absolutely impossible that the word “Being” should bear any meaning whatever except with reference to the summum bonum. This is true of any word. But that which is true of one word in one respect, of another in another, of every word in some or another respect, that is precisely what the word “being” aims to express. There are other ways of conceiving Being — that it is that which manifests itself, that it is that which produces effects — which have to be considered, and their relations ascertained.
117. Having thus worked out a tolerable conception of Being, we turn to modes of being. But these are metaphysical conceptions. Let us first inquire how the validity of any metaphysical conception is to be determined. For this purpose we have only to apply the principles of Speculative Rhetoric. We sketch out the method and apply it to a few metaphysical conceptions, such as Reality, Necessity, etc. In process of this, we discover that all such metaphysical conceptions are but determinations of the categories, and consequently form a regular system. We also find that they can be held as valid only in approximative and imperfect senses.
118. But this seems to be in conflict with our conception of Being, particularly as derived from the notion of symbol; which, however, is solidly founded, too. We now begin to see the sense of talking of modes of being. They are elements of coöperation toward the summum bonum. The categories now come in to aid us materially, and we clearly make out three modes or factors of being, which we proceed to make clear to ourselves. Arrived at this point, we can construct a Weltanschauung. From this platform, ethics acquires a new significance, as will be shown. Logic, too, shines forth with all its native nobility. Common men carry this Weltanschauung in their breasts; and perhaps the pimp, the looting missionary, the Jay Gould, may, through the shadows of their degradation, catch now and then a purer glimpse of it, than the most earnest of citizens, the Cartises, the Emersons, the Bishop Myriels. It is beautifully universal; and one must acknowledge that there is something healthy in the philosophy of faith, with its resentment at logic as an impertinence. Only it is very infantile. Our final view of logic will exhibit it (on one side of it) as faith come to years of discretion.