Charles S. Peirce

Chap. 6th

MS 218 (Robin 379): Writings 3, 77-81
March 1973

March 10. 73

        We have seen that a cognition is a sign, and that every sign has these three elements: First, the qualities which belong to it in itself as an object; second, the character of addressing itself to a mind; and thirdly, a causal connection with the thing it signifies. In the Fourth Chapter we have seen what the general qualities of cognitions in themselves are. In the last chapter we have considered how they may address themselves to other cognitions. We have nown to consider what is the nature of the causal connection between a thought and the thing to which it relates. The whole effort in investigation is to make our beliefs represent the realities. What is a reality and how is it connected with thought? A reality is distinguished from a figment in that a figment is whatever we think it to be, while a reality is what it is whatever we may think it to be. Realities are either in the mind or out of the mind; for a thought is in itself a reality; something in the mind. An external reality is something which not only is what it is whatever we may think it to be, but also is independent of what we think about other things. An internal reality has characters dependent on our thoughts, although its characters are not changed by our thinking that it has a different set of characters from what we have hitherto supposed that it had. Thus if I really have the idea of a red object, that idea is an internal reality; its character depends upon what was In my mind at the time I had it. But if I make a false analysis, and think that what I thought consists in thinking of a certain rate of vibrations, that does not alter the fact that I was not really thinking of that rate of vibrations. A reality is that which is represented in the truth, and the truth is that which every judgment aims at. But we have seen that investigation and reasoning is but a particular case of that struggle which is occasioned by the irritation of doubt, and consequently we aim at nothing in investigation but to reach the final settled belief. It follows from this that the reality is nothing but what is represented in the final belief. The question is, whether this is owing to some peculiar faculty of ours by which our final belief will always represent the reality which is independent of it, or whether it is owing not to any particular effect of this kind, but merely to the reality and the object of final belief (two different modes of expressing the same thing); that is[,] to their being identical, not merely in our cases constituted as we are, but to a necessary identity between them, independent of any peculiarity in the constitution of the mind. Now , in the first place, the fact that the end of the struggle occasioned by the irritation of doubt is a settled belief, is not anything inferred from a particular law of the mind, but is only stating that two forms of expression are equivalent in meaning. It is only a means of distinctly expressing what we mean by saying that a struggle is occasioned by the irritation of doubt. Nor is there any matter of fact involved in saying that the truth is the object aimed at in investigation; for investigation implies that the conception of truth is developed, and it is absurd to suppose a mind which should say this is the truth but I do not believe it. Every mind therefore will believe the truth as soon as it finds it out, and therefore that is the end of investigation with any mind. So that the object of a final settled opinion not merely coincides with the truth, but is the truth by the definition of words.The truth is independent of what we may think about it and the object of an opinion is a creation of thought which is entirely dependent on what that opinion is. It exists by virtue of that opinion. There seems to be a contradiction here. But the secret of the matter is this. The final settled opinion is not any particular cognition in such and such a mind, at such and such a time, although an individual opinion may chance to coincide with it. If an opinion coincides with the final settled opinion, it is because the general current of investigation will not affect it. The object of that individual opinion is whatever is thought at that time. But if anything else than that one thing is thought, the object of that opinion changes and it thereby ceases to coincide with the object of the final opinion which does not change. The perversity or ignorance of mankind may make this thing or that to be held for true, for any number of generations, but it cannot affect what would be the result of sufficient experience and reasoning. And this it is which is meant by the final settled opinion. This therefore is no particular opinion but is entirely independent of what you, I, or any number of men may think about it; and therefore it directly satisfies the definition of reality. But the object of the final opinion is something which is capable of being thought, and does not transcend thought altogether, and therefore the reality is something which is capable of being thought, and in no case can transcend thought altogether. It follows from our reasoning, that this is not only a fact but is involved in the meanings of words. The reality or what exists is the most general of expressions, for even a figment is a reality, as we have seen, when it is considered as something in itself, and not as representing something else. What is meant by the word existing, therefore, is that wherein all objects agree. But all the objects which could be used to form such a general observation agree in being objects of thought. And consequently, what exists must itself be an object of thought. That is to say thought must be implied as a part of the meaning of the word. We can have no conception of anything which is not an object of thought; and a word to which no conception attaches, has no meaning at all. Consequently an attempt to find a word which shall express a thing that exists without implying that that thing is a possible object of thought, will result simply in a meaningless or contradictory expression. Let us define a thing in itself which is not an object of thought. The “is” is a word which means an object of thought. So that a thing in itself means an object of thought that is not an object of thought. Consider the matter in a less technical way. Let us suppose a mind placed in a universe, part of the objects in which could be objects of its thought, and part not. That mind would be entirely cut off from the latter part of this universe. It could have no idea of that whatever, direct or indirect, positive or negative. It could have no idea of being except as one of the things of the first part of that universe. The general idea of being it could not have, and the word which expresses it would be no word for that mind, or else would be used in a narrower sense. We, who are outside of that mind, may talk of objects that can not possibly be thought by it, but it could not use such an expression and attach any meaning to it. In the same way, it is clear, that we can no more transcend the limits of our mind, than that being could transcend its limits; and that that which can not possibly be thought by us is simply nonsensical expression. Let us consider the causal connection between the object of cognition and the cognition itself. The reality has an effect on our thought and therefore exists before that thought. But the object of the final opinion is contingent upon the future event. Thus the existence of something in the present depends upon the future conditional occurrence of a certain event. This may sound strange but the strangeness will disappear upon considering the numerous familiar instances of the same sort. A diamond is really hard. Its hardness is a quality which it possesses all the time. And now what does this hardness consist in? It consists in nothing else but this, that rock crystal will not scratch it. If no attempt has been made, as yet, to scratch it with rock crystal, its present hardness consists entirely in what wil happen in the future. The inkstand upon my table is heavy. And in what does its weight consist? It consists in the fact that if taken off the table and let fall it will drop. Its weight then, which exists all the time, consists in what will happen if it is taken off the table and let fall. What makes its weight consists only in the fact that it will always drop on any future occasion; and that, although its having weight is the cause of its falling.

         These conceptions are perfectly familiar to anybody who has considered the subject of forces. Every force resident in a body consists only in the fact that certain phenomena will occur under certain conditions. Matter is only the center of forces. Its existence consists only in the fact that attractions and repulsions center in it. And these attractions and repulsions themselves exist in what will happen under certain conditions. So that the existence of matter itself is of the same sort. We have already seen that all cognitions exist only in the effect they would have upon future cognitions. It is therefore but a small step to assert that all reality exists only by virtue of what will happen under certain conditions in the future. In this conception of the case all the laws and regularities of nature are resolved into a historic necessity in the process of investigation by which a certain conclusion is brought out. The final results of investigation are not in any degree determined by our opinions at the outset but are, as it were, predestinated. The method we pursue or the action of our will, may hasten or retard the time when this conclusion is reached; but it is fated to emerge at last. And every cognition ]?[ consists in what investigation is destined to result in.