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[On Reality]
MS 194; Fall 1872
Draft material, editorially titled
From the Writings Of Charles S. Peirce vol 3, pp 28ff

The question is, “Whether corresponding to our thoughts and sensations, and represented in some sense by them, there are realities, which are not only independent of the thought of you, and me, any number of men, but which are absolutely independent of thought altogether." The objective final opinion is independent of the thoughts of any particular men, but is not independent of thought in general. That is to say, if there were no thought, there would be no opinion, and therefore, no final opinion. All that we directly experience is our thought—what passes through our minds; and that only at the moment at which it is passing through. We here see, thoughts determining and causing other thoughts, and a chain of reasoning or of association is produced. But the beginning and the end of this chain, are not distinctly perceived. A current is another image under which thought is often spoken of, and perhaps more suitably. We have particularly drawn attention to the point to which thought flows, and that it finally reaches; a certain level, as it were—a certain basin, where reality becomes unchanging. It has reached its destination, and that permanency, that fixed reality, which every thought strives to represent and image, we have placed in this objective point, towards which the current of thought flows. But the matter has often been regarded from an opposite point of view; attention being particularly drawn to the spring, and origin of thought. It is said that all other thoughts are ultimately derived from sensations; that all conclusions of reasoning are valid only so far as they are true to the sensations; that the real cause of sensation therefore, is the reality which thought presents. Now such a reality, which causes all thought, would seem to be wholly external to the mind—at least to the thinking part of the mind, as distinguished from the feeling part; for it might be conceived to be, in some way, dependent upon sensation. Here then are two opposite modes of conceiving reality. The one which has before been developed at some length, and which naturally results from the principles which have been set forth in the previous chapters of this book is an idea which was obscurely in the minds of the medieval realists; while the other was the motive principle of nominalism. I do not think that the two views are absolutely irreconcilable, although they are taken from very widely separated standpoints. The realistic view emphasizes particularly the permanence and fixity of reality; the nominalistic view emphasizes its externality. But the realists need not, and should not deny, that the reality exists externally to the mind; nor have they historically done so, as a general thing. That is external to the mind, which is what it is, whatever our thoughts may be on any subject; just as that is real which is what it is, whatever our thoughts may be concerning that particular subject. Thus an emotion of the mind is real, in the sense that it exists in the mind whether we are distinctly conscious of it or not. But it is not external because although it does not depend upon what we think about it, it does depend upon the state of our thoughts about something. Now the object of the final opinion which we have seen to be independent of what any particular person thinks, may very well be external to the mind. And there is no objection to saying that this external reality causes the sensation, and through the sensation has caused all that line of thought which has finally led to the belief. At first sight it seems no doubt a paradoxical statement that, "The object of final belief which exists only in consequence of the belief should itself produce the belief”; but there have been a great many instances in which we have adopted a conception of existence similar to this. The object of the belief exists it is true, only because the belief exists; but this is not the same as to say that it begins to exist first when the belief begins to exist. We say that a diamond is hard. And in what does its hardness consist? It consists merely in the fact that nothing will scratch it; therefore its hardness is entirely constituted by the fact of something as rubbing against it with force without scratching it. And were it impossible that anything should rub against it in this way, it would be quite without meaning, to say that it was hard, just as it is entirely without meaning to say that virtue or any other abstraction is hard. But though the hardness is entirely constituted by the fact of another stone rubbing against the diamond yet we do not conceive of it as beginning to be hard when the other stone is rubbed against it; on the contrary, we say that it is really hard the whole time, and has been hard since it began to be a diamond. And yet there was no fact, no event, nothing whatever, which made it different from any other thing which is not so hard, until the other stone was rubbed against it. So we say that the inkstand upon the table is heavy. And what do we mean by that? We only mean, that if its support be removed it will fall to the ground. This may perhaps never happen to it at all—and yet we say that it is really heavy all the time; though there is no respect whatever, in which it is different from what it would be if it were not heavy, until that support is taken away from it. The same is true in regard to the existence of any other force. It exists only by virtue of a condition, that something will happen under certain circumstances; but we do not conceive it as first beginning to exist when these circumstances arise; on the contrary, it will exist though the circumstances should never happen to arise. And now, what is matter itself ? The physicist is perfectly accused to conceive of it as merely the centre of the forces. It exists, therefore, only so far as those forces exist. Since, therefore, these forces exist only in virtue of the fact, that something will happen under certain circumstances, it follows that matter itself only exists in this way. Nor is this conception one which is peculiar to the physicists and to our views of the external world. A man is said to know a foreign language. And what does that mean? Only that if the occasion arises, the words of that language will come into his mind; it does not mean that they are actually in his mind all the time. And yet we do not say that he only knows the language at the moment that the particular words occur to him that he is to say; for in that way he never could be certain of knowing the whole language if he only knew the particular word necessary at the time. So that his knowledge of the thing which exists all the time, exists only by virtue of the fact that when a certain occasion arises a certain idea will come into his mind. A man is said to possess certain mental powers and susceptibilities, and we conceive of him as constantly endowed with these faculties; but they only consist in the fact that he will have certain ideas in his mind under certain circumstances; and not in the fact of his having certain ideas in his mind all the time. It is perfectly conceivable that the man should have faculties which are never called forth: in which case the existence of the faculties depends upon a condition which never occurs. But what is the mind itself but the focus of all the faculties? and what does the existence of the mind consist in but in these faculties? Does the mind cease to exist when it sleeps? and is it a new man who wakes every morning? It appears then that the existence of mind equally with that of matter according to these arguments which have led to this view which is held by all psychologists, as well as physicists depends only upon certain hypothetical conditions which may first occur in the future, or which may not occur at all. There is nothing extraordinary therefore, in saying that the existence of external realities depends upon the fact, that opinion will finally settle in the belief in them. And yet that, these realities existed before the belief took rise, and were even the cause of that belief, just as the force of gravity is the cause of the falling of the inkstand—although the force of gravity consists merely in the fact that the inkstand and other objects will fall. But if it be asked us, whether some realities do not exist, which are entirely independent of thought; I would in turn ask, what is meant by such an expression and what can be meant by it. What idea can be attached to that of which there is no idea? For if there be an idea of such a reality, it is the object of that idea of which we are speaking, and which is not independent of thought. It is clear that it is quite beyond the power of the mind to have an idea of something entirely independent of thought–it would have to extract itself from itself for that purpose; and since there is no such idea there is no meaning in the expression. The experience of ignorance, or of error, which we have, and which we gain by means of correcting our errors, or enlarging our knowledge, does enable us to experience and conceive something which is independent of our own limited views; but as there can be no correction of the sum total of opinions, and no enlargement of the sum total of knowledge, we have no such means, and can have no such means of acquiring a conception of something independent of all opinion and thought.