We find ourselves at the thresh-old of yet another recurring discussion, this time concerning Peirce’s use of the adjectives formal and quasi-necessary with normative connotations, all of which I think is clear from the following sample of texts:
- Logic as Semiotic
C.S. Peirce (c. 1897), “Ground, Object, and Interpretant” (CP 2.227)
- On the Definition of Logic
C.S. Peirce (1902), “Carnegie Application” (NEM 4, 20–21, 54)
- Objective Logic
C.S. Peirce (1902), “Minute Logic” (CP 2.111–118)
As it happens, we had pretty much this same discussion regarding the meanings of formal, normal and peculiar, about this time five years ago, as the following instance, among others, shows:
The most general meaning of “formal” is “concerned with form”,
but the Latin “forma” can mean “beauty” in addition to “form”,
so perhaps a normative “goodness of form” enters at this root.
The Latin word “norma” literally means a “carpenter’s square”.
The Greek “gnomon” is a sundial pointer taking a similar form.
The most general meaning of “normative” is “having to do with
what a person ought to do”, but a pragmatic interpretation of
ethical imperatives tends to treat that as “having to do with
what a person ought to do in order to achieve a given object”,
so another formula might be “relating to the good that befits
a being of our kind, what must be done in order to bring that
good into being, and how to tell the signs that show the way”.
Defining logic as formal or normative semiotic differentiates
logic from other species of semiotic under the general theory
of signs, leaving a niche open for descriptive semiotic, just
to mention the obvious branch. This brings us to the question:
How does a concern with form, or goodness of form, along with
the question of what is required to achieve an object, modify
our perspective on sign relations in a way that duly marks it
as a logical point of view?
If I had to add any finer point now, I would take pains to point out that formal in the sense of concerned with form can mean either syntactic form or objective form and that it’s good form to keep that distinction in mind.