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76 Definitions of The Sign by C. S. Peirce
collected and analyzed by
Robert Marty
Department of Mathematics
University of Perpignan
Perpignan, France

With an Appendix of
12 Further Definitions or Equivalents
proposed by
Alfred Lang
Dept of Psychology
University of Bern
Bern, Switzerland

NOTE: This is a copy, with slight changes in formatting, of a document the original of which is to be found at Robert Marty's website, as part of a larger project on Peircean semiotics which Professor Marty has underway there. The present material is available at Marty's website in French and Spanish as well as English. Quotations from the present document should be verified against the version at the website: we will try to keep them in agreement by updating one whenever the other is modified, if it involves a scholarly correction, but this is not guaranteed at a given time. It should also be understood that these have not yet been proofread here at Arisbe against the originals in Peirce.
Also included below is Marty's global analysis of these definitions, and, in addition, some further definitions supplied by Alfred Lang from his own research into Peirce. The latter originally appear on a separate webpage in Marty's website but are reproduced here on this same page below, rather than made accessible by an external link, to help insure accessibility in case of bad network connections. The possibility of transcriptional error should be borne in mind here, too, as mentioned above. [Ed. Note, J. Ransdell, 7/1/97]
- Original paper at current location
- Marty's current website
- Albert Lang's additional material at current location there
— B.U. August 6, 2011

MS = Manuscripts
CP = Collected Papers of Charles Peirce
NEM = New Elements of Mathematics
SS = Semiotics and Significs: Letters to Lady Welby

DATED TEXTS (dates according to R. Robin)

1 - 1865 - MS 802 - Teleogical logic .

Representation is anything which is or is represented to stand for another and by which that other may be stood for by something which may stand for the representation.

Thing is that for which a representation stand prescinded from all that can serve to establish a relation with any possible relation.

Form is that respect in which a representation stands for a thing prescinded from all that can serve as the basis of a representation, therefore from its connection with the thing.

2 - 1867 - C.P. 1-554 - On a new list of categories .

[...] every comparison requires, besides the related thing, the ground, and the correlate, also a (mediating representation which) (represents the relate to be a representation of the same correlate) (which this mediating representation itself represents). Such a mediating representation may be termed an (interpretant), who says that a foreigner says the same thing which he himself says.

3 - 1868 - C.P. 5-283 - Consequences of four incapacities .

[...] Now a sign has, as such, three references : first, it is a sign to some thought which interprets it; second, it is a sign for some object to which in that thought it is equivalent, third, it is a sign, in some respect or quality, which brings it into connection with its object. Let us ask what the three correlates are to which a thought-sign refers.

4 - 1873 - MS 380 - Of logic as a study of signs .

A sign is something which stands for another thing to a mind. To it existence as such three things are requisite. On the first place, it must have characters which shall enable us to distinguish it from other objects. In the second place, it must be affected in some way by the object which it signified or at least something about it must vary as a consequence of a real causation with some variation of its object.

5 - 1873 - C.P. 7-356 - Logic. Chapter 5 .

Let us examine some of the characters of signs in general. A sign must in the first place have some qualities in itself which serve to distinguish it, a word must have a peculiar sound different from the sound of another word; but it makes no difference what the sound is, so long as it is something distinguishable. In the next place, a sign must have a real physical connection with the thing it signifies so as to be affected by that thing. A weather-cock, which is a sign of the direction of the wind, must really turn with the wind. This word in this connection is an indirect one; but unless there be some way or other which shall connect words with the things they signifie, and shall ensure their correspondance with them, they have no value as signs of those things. Whatever has these two characters is fit to become a sign. It is at least a symptom, but it is not actually a sign unless it is used as such; that is unless it is interpreted to thought and addresses itself to some mind. As thought is itself a sign we may express this by saying that the sign must be interpreted as another sign. [...]

6 - v. 1873,- MS 389 - On representations .

A representation is an object which stands for another so that an experience of the former affords us a knowledge of the latter. There are three essential conditions to which every representation must conform. It must in the first place like any other object have qualities independent of its meaning. It is only through a knowledge of these that we acquire any information concerning the object it represents.[...] In the second place, representation must have a real causal connection to its object. [...] In the third place, every representation addresses itself to a mind. It is only in as far as it does it that it is a representation. The idea of the representation itself excites in the mind another idea and in order that it may do this it is necessary that some principle of association between the two ideas should already be established in that mind. [...]

7 - 1885 - 3-360 - On the algebra of logic .

A sign is in a conjoint relation tothe thing denoted and to the mind. If this triple relation is not of a degenerate species, the sign is related to its object only in consequence of a mental association, and depend upon a habit. Such signs are always abstract and general, because because habits are general rules to which the organism has become subjected. They are, for the most part, conventional or arbitrary. They include all general words, the main body of speech, and any mode of conveying a judgement. For the sake of brevity I will call them tokens.

8 - 1896 - C.P. 1-480 - The logic of mathematics .

[...] Indeed, representation necessary involves a genuine triad. For it involves a sign, or representamen, of some kind, inward or outward, mediating between an object and an interpreting thought. [...]

9 - v. 1897_- C.P. 2-228 - Division of signs .

A sign, or representamen, is something which stands to somebody for something in some respect or capacity. It addresses somebody, that is, creates in the mind of that person an equivalent sign or perhaps a more developed sign. That sign which it creates I call the interpretant of the first sign. The sign stands for something, its object. It stands for that object, not in all respects, but in reference to a sort of idea, which I have sometimes called the ground of the representamen. [...]

10 - v 1899 - C.P. 1-564 - Notes on "A new list of categories" .

[...] A very broad and important class of triadics characters [consist of] representations. A representation is that character of a thing by virtue of which, for the production of a certain mental effect, it may stand in place of another thing. The thing having this character I term a representamen, the mental effect, or thought, its interpretant, the thing for which it stands, its object.

11 -l901- C.P. 5-569 -CP 5-569. Truth and falsity and error .

[...] A sign is only a sign in actu by virtue of its receiving an interpretation, that is, by virtue of its determining another sign of the same object. This is as true of mental judgments as it is of external signs.[...]

12 - 1902 - C.P. 2.303 - Dictionary Baldwin - "Sign" .

Anything which determines something else (its interpretant) to refer to an object to which itself refers (its object) in the same way, the interpretant becoming in turn a sign, and so on an infinitum.

No doubt, intelligent consciousness must enter into the series. If the series of successive interpretants comes to an end, the sign is thereby rendered imperfect, at least. If, an interpretant idea having been determined in an individual consciousness it determines no outward sign, but that consciousness becomes annihilated, or otherwise loses all memory or other significant effect of the sign, it becomes absolutely undiscoverable that there ever was such an idea in that consciousness; and in that case it is difficult to see how it could have any meaning to say that that consciousness ever had the idea, since the saying so would be an interpretant of that idea.

13 - 1902-2.92 - Partial synopsis of a proposed work in logic .

[...] Genuine mediation is the character of a Sign. A sign is anything which is related to a Second thing, its Object, in respect to a Quality, in such a way as to bring a Third thing, its Interpretant, into relation to the same Object, and that in such a way as to bring a Fourth into relation to that Object in the same form, ad infinitum. If the series is broken off, the Sign, in so far, falls short of the perfect significant character. It is not necessary that the Interpretant should actually exist. A being in futuro will suffice.

14 - 1902 - NEM IV pp. 20 - 2. Parts of Carnegie Applications .

On the definition of Logic.

Logic will here be defined as formal semiotic. A definition of a sign will be given which not more refers to human thought than does the definition of a line as the place with a particle occupies, part by part, during a lapse of time. Namely, a sign is something, A, which brings something, B, its interpretant sign determined or created by it, into the same sort of correspondence with something, C, its object, as that in which itself stand to C. It is from this definition, together with a definition of "formal", thah I deduce mathematically the principles of logic. [...]

15 - v. 1902 - C.P. 2-274- Syllabus .

A sign, or Representamen, is a First which stands in such a genuine triadic relation to a Second, called its Object, as to be capable of determining a Third, called its Interpretant, to assume the same triadic relation to its Object in which it stand itself to the same Object. The triadic relation is genuine, that is its three members are bound together by it in a way that does not consist in any complexus of dyadic relations. That is the reason the Interpretant, or Third, cannot stand in a mere dyadic relation to the Object, but must stand in such a relation to it as the Representamen itself does. Nor can the triadic relation in which the third stands be merely similar to that in which the First stands, for this would make the relation of the THird to the First a degenerate Secondness merely. The Third must indeed stand in such a relation, and thus be capable of determining a Third of its own; but besides that, it must have a second triadic relation in which the Representamen, or rather the relation there of to its Object, shall be its own (the Thrid's) Object, and must be capable of determining a Third to this relation. All ths must be equally be true of the Third's Third and so on endlessly; and this, and more, is involved in the familiar idea of a Sign; and the term Representamen is here used, nothing more is implied. A Sign is a Representamen with a mental Interpretant.

Possibly there may be Representamens that are not Signs. Thus, if a sunflower, in turning towards the sun, becomes by that very act fully capable, without further condition, of reproducing a sunflower which turns in precisely way toward the sun, and of doing so with the same reproductive power, the sunflower would become a Representamen of the sun. But thought is the chief, if not the only, mode of representation.

16 - v. 1902 - MS 599 -Reason's rules .

A Sign does not function as a sign unless it be understood as a sign. It is impossible, in the present state of knowledge, to say, at once fully precisely and with a satisfactory approach to certitude, what is to understand of a sign. ..., it does not seem that conciousness can be considered as essential to the understanding of a sign. But what is indispensable is that there should, actually or virtually, bring about a determination of a sign of the same object of which it is itself a sign. This interpreting sign, like every sign, only functions of a sign so for as it again is interpreted, that is, actually or virtually, determines a sign of the same object of which it is itself a sign. Thus there is a virtual endless series of signs when a sign is understood; and a sign neveer understood can hardly be said to be a sign.

17 - 1903 - C.P. 1=53B- - Lowell Lectures: Lecture III, vol. 21, 3d Draught .

Every sign stands for an object independent of itself; but it can only be a sign of that object in so far as that object is itself of the nature of a sign or thought. For the sign does not affect the object but is affected by it; so that the object must be able to convey thought, that is, must be of the nature of thought or a sign. [...]

18 - 1903 - C.P. 1-346 - Lowel Lectures: vol. I, 3d Draught .

[...] Now a sign is something, A, which denotes some fact or object, B, to some interpretant thought, C.

19 - 1903 - C.P. 1-540 - Lowell Lectures: Lecture III, vol. 21, 3d Draught.

[...] In the first place, as to my terminology I confine the word representation to the operation of a sign or its relation to the object for the interpreter of the representation. The concrete subject that represents I call a sign or representamen. I use these two words, sign and representamen, differently. By a sign I mean anything which conveys any definite notion of an object in any way, as such conveyers of thought are familiarly known tous. Now I start with this familiar idea and make the best analysis I can of what is essential to a sign, and I define a representamen as being whatever that analysis applies to. [...]

20 - 1903 - C.P. 1-541 - Lowell Lectures: Lecture III, vol. 21, 3d Draught .

My definition of a representamen is as follow:

A REPRESENTAMEN is a subject of a triadic relation TO a second, called its OBJECT, FOR a third, called is INTERPRETANT, this triadic relation being such that the REPRESENTAMEN determines its interpretant to stand in the same triadic relation to the same object for some interpretant.

21 - 1903 - C.P. 5-138 - Lowell Lectures: Lecture V .

The mode of being of a representamen is such that it is capable of repetition.[...] This repetitory character of the

representamen involves as a consequence that it is essential to a representamen that it should contribute to the determination of another representamen distinct from itself. [...] I call a representamen which is determined by another representamen, an interpretant of the latter. Every representamen is related or is capable of being related to a reacting thing, its object, and every representamen embodies, in some sense, some quality, which may be called its signification, what in the case of a common name J.S. Mill call its connotation, a particularly objectionable expression.

22 - 1903 - C.P. 2_242 - Nomenclature and Divisions of Triadic Relations, as far as they are determined .

A Representamen is the First Correlate of a triadic relation, the Second Correlate being termed its Object, and the possible Third Correlate being termed its Interpretant, by which triadic relation the possible Interpretant is determined to be the First Correlate of the same triadic relation to the same Object, and for some possible Interpretant. A Sign is a representamen of which some interpetant is a cognition of a mind. Signs are the only representamens that have been much studied.

23 - v. 1903 - Dichotomic Mathematics .

[...] As we know a sign, it is something which represents the real Truth, in some aspect of it, to somebody; that is, determines a knowledge of that Truth. This knowledge is itself of the nature of a sign. In its more perfect forms, it involves consciousness, or a representation in the conscious sign of itself to itself, somewhat as a map covering a country may represent itself. But knowledge is nothing, quite nothing but a counterfeit unless it would under some circumstances, determine conduct. It must have real effects. In fact any outward sign must, not merely as a thing, but as a sign produce physical effects in order to be communicated. [...]

24 - v. 1903 - MS 9. Foundations of Mathematics .

[...] A sign is intended to correspond to a real thing, or fact, or to something relatively real; and this object of the sign may be the very sign itself, as when a map is precisely superposed upon that which it maps. [...] A sign is also intended to determine, in a mind or elsewhere, a sign of the same object; and this interpretant of the sign may be the very sign itself; but as a general rule it will be different. [...]

25 - v. 1903 - MS 11. Foundations of Mathematics .

A sign is supposed to have an object or meaning, and also to determine an interpretant sign of the same object. It is convenient to speak as if the sign originated with an utterer and determined its interpretant in the mind of an interpreter.

26 - 1903 - MS 462. Lowell Lectures, 2nd Draught of 3rd lecture .

[...] Conversely, every thought proper involves the idea of a triadic relation. For every thought proper involves the idea of a sign. Now a sign is a thing related to an object and determining in the interpreter an interpreting sign of the same object. It involves the relation between sign, interpreting sign, and object. There is a threefold distinction between signs, which is not in the least psuchological in its nature, but is purely logical, and is of the atmost importance in logic.

27 - v. 1903 - MS 491. Logical Tracts (note) .

I call that which represents, a representamen. A Representation is that relation of the representamen to its object which consists in it determining a third (the interpretant representamen) to be in the same relation to that object.

28 - 1904 - C.P. 8-832 - Letter to Lady Welby dated "1904 Oct.12 .

[...] In its genuine form, thirdness is the triadic relation existing between a sign, its object, and the interpreting thought, itself a sign, considered as constituting the mode of being of a sign. A sign mediates between the interpretant sign and its object. Taking sign in its broadest sense, its interpretant is not necessarily a sign. [...]

A sign therefore is an object which is in relation to its object on the one hand and to an interpretant on the other, in such a way as to bring the interpretant into a relation to the object, corresponding to its own relation to the object. I might say similar to its own for a correspondence consist in a similarity; but perhaps correspondence is narrower.

29- 1905 - MS 939 - Notes on Portions of Hume's "Treatise of1 Human Nature" .

[...] It is difficult to define a sign in general. It is something which is in such a relation to an object that it determines, or might determine, another sign of the same object. This is true but considered as a definition it would involve a vicious circle, since it does not say what is meant by the interpretant being a "sign" of the same object. However, this much is clear ; that a sign has essentially two correlates, its object and its possible Interpretant sign. Of these three, Sign, Object, Interpretant, the sign as being the very thing under consideration is Monadic, the object is Dyadic, and the Interpretant is Triadic. We therefore look to see, whether there be not two Objects, the object as it is in itself (the Monadic Object), and the object as the sign represents it to be (the Dyadic Object). There are also three Interpretants; namely, 1, the Interpretant considered as an independent sign of the Object, 2, the Interpretant as it is as a fact determined by the Sign to be, and 3 the Interpretant as it is intended by, or is represented in, the Sign to be. [...]

30 - 1905 - SS. pp. 192-193 - Letter to Lady Welby (Draft) presumably July 1905 .

So then anything (generally in a mathematical sense) is a priman (not a priman element generally) and we might define a sign as follows:

A "sign" is anything, A, which,

(1) in addition to other characters of its own,

(2) stands in a dyadic relation , to a purely active correlate, B,

(3) and is also in a triadic relation to B for a purely passive correlate, C, this triadic relation being such as to determine C to be in a dyadic relation, , to B, the relation corresponding in a recognized way to the relation .

In the which statement the sense in which the words active and passive are used is that in a given relationship considering the various characters of all or some of the correlates with the exclusion of those only which involve all the correlates and are immediately implied in the statement of the relationship, none of those which involve only non-passive correlates will by immediately essential necessity vary with any variation of those involving only passive correlates; while no variation of characters involving only non-active elements will by immediately essential necessity involve a variation of any character involving only active elements. And it may be added that by active-passive is meant active and passive if the entire collection of correlates excluding the correlates under consideration be divided into two parts and one part and the other be alternately excluded from consideration; while purely active or passive means active or passive without being active-passive.

31 - 1905 - S.S. pp. 193 -Letter to Lady Welby (Draft) presumably July 1905 .

This definition avoids the niceties for the sake of emphasizing the principal factors of a sign. Nevertheless, some explanations may be desirable. But first for the terminology. I use "sign" in the widest sense of the definition. It is a wonderful case of an almost popular use of a very broad word in almost the exact sense of the scientific definition. [...]

I formerly preferred the word representamen. But there was no need of this horrid long word. [...]

My notion in preferring "representamen" was that it would seem more natural to apply it to representatives in legislatures, to deputies of various kinds, etc... I admit still that it aids the comprehension of the definition to compare it carefully with such cases. But they certainly depart from the definition, in that this requires that the action of the sign as such shall not affect the object represented. A legislative representative is, on the contrary, expected in his functions to improve the condition of this constituents; and any kind of attorney, even if he has no discretion, is expected to affect the condition of his principal. The truth is I went wrong from not having a formal definition all drawn up. This sort of thing is inevitable in the early stages of a strong logical study; for if a formal definition is attempted too soon, it will only shackle thought. [...]

I thought of a representamen as taking the place of the thing; but a sign is not a substitute. Ernst Mach has also fallen into that snare.

32 - v. 1905 - MS 283. p.125, 129, 131. The basis of Pragmaticism .

[...] A sign is plainly a species of medium of communication and medium of communication is a species of medium, and a medium is a species of third.[...]

A medium of communication is something, A, which being acted upon by something else, N, in its turn acts upon something, I, in a manner involving its determination by N, so that I shall thereby, through A and only through A, be acted upon by N. [...] A Sign, on the other hand, just in so far as it fulfill the function of a sign, and none other, perfectly conforms to the definition of a medium of communication. It is determined by the object, but in no other respect than goes to enable it to act upon the interpreting quasi mind ; and the more perfectly it fulfill its function as a sign, the less effect it has upon that quasi-mind other than that of determining it as if the object itself had acted upon it. [...]

It seems best to regard a sign as a determination of a quasi-mind; for if we regard it as an outward object, and as addressing itself to a human mind, that mind must first apprehend it as an object in itself, and only after that consider it in its significance; and the like must happen if the sign addresses itself to any quasi-mind. It must begin by forming a determination of that quasi-mind, and nothing will be lost by regarding that determination as the sign.

33 - 1906 - S.S. 196 - Letter to Lady Welby (Draft) dated "1906 March 9" .

I use the word "Sign" in the widest sense for any medium for the communication or extension of a Form (or feature). Being medium, it is determined by something, called its Object, and determines something, called its Interpretant or Interpretand. But some distinctions have to be borne in mind in order rightly to understand what is meant by the Object and by the Interpretant. 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 indispensible to distinguish the immediate object from the dynamical object.

The same form of distinction extends to the interpretant; but as applied to the interpretant, it is complicated by the circumstance that the sign not only determines the interpretant to represent (or to take the form of) the object, but also determines the interpretant to represent the sign. Indeed in what we may, from one point of view, regard as the principal kind of signs, there is one distinct part appropriated to representing the object, and another to representing how this very sign itself represents that object. The class of signs I refer to are the dicisigns. In "John is in love with Helen" the object signified is the pair, John and Helen. But the "is in love with" signifies the form this sign represents itself to represent John and Helen's Form to be. That this is so, is shown by the precise equivalence between any verb in the indicative and the same made the object of "I tell you". "Jesus wept" = "I tell you that Jesus wept".

34 - 1906 - C.P. 4-531 - Apology for pragmaticism .

First, an analysis of the essence of a sign, (stretching that word to its widest limits, as anything witch, being determined by an object, determines an interpretation to determination, through it, by the same object), leads to a proof that every sign is determined by its object, either first, by partaking in the characters of the object, when I call the sign an Icon; secondly, by being really and in its individual existence connected with the individual object, when I call the sign an Index; thirdly, by more or less approximate certainty that it will be interpreted as denoting the object, in consequence of a habit (which term I use as including a natural disposition), when I call the sign a Symbol.

35 - v, 1906 - C.P. 5-473 - Pragmatism .

[...] That thing which causes a sign as such is called the object (according to the usage of speech, the "real", but more accurately, the existent object) represented by the sign : the sign is determined to some species of correspondence with that object.[...]

For the proper significate outcome of a sign, I propose the name, the interpretant of the sign. [...]

Whether the interpretant be necessarily a triadic result is a question of words, that is, of how we limit the extension of the term "sign"; but it seems to me convenient to make the triadic production of the interpretant essential to a "sign", calling the wider concept like a Jacquard loom, for example, a "quasi-sign". [...]

36 - v. 1906 - MS 292. Prolegomena to an Apology for Pragmaticism .

A sign may be defined as something (not necessarily existent) which is so determined by a second something called its Object that it will tend in its turn to determine a third something called its Interpretant in such a way that in respect to the accomplishment of some end consisting in an effect made upon the interpretant the action of sign is (more or less) equivalent to what that of the object might have been had the circumstances been different.

37 - 1907 -MS 321. Pragmatism, pp. 15-16 .

[...] How any sign, of whatsoever kind, mediates between an Object to some sort of conformity with which it is moulded, and by which it is thus determined, and an effect which the sign is intended to bring about and which it represents to be the outcome of the object influence upon it. It is of the first importance in such studies as these that the two correlates of the sign should be clearly distinguished : the Object by which the sign is determined and the Meaning, or as I usually call it, the Interpretant, which is determined by the sign, and through it by the object. The meaning may itself be a sign, a concept, for exemple, as may also the object. But everyboby who looks out of his eyes well knows that thoughts bring about tremendous physical effects, that are not, as such, signs. Feelings, too, may be excited by signs without thereby and theorein being themselves signs. We observe that the very same object may be several entirely different signs ; or in some way in other sign. [...] There are meanings that are feelings, meanings that are existent things or facts, and meanings that are concepts. [...]

38 - 1907 - MS 612. Chapter I - Common Ground (Logic) .

[...] By a Sign, I mean anything that is, on the one hand, in some way determined by an object and, on the other hand, which determines some awareness, and this in such manner that the awareness is thus determined by that object. [...]

39 - 1907 - MS 277. The Prescott Book .

Of the distinction between the Objects, or better the "Originals" and the Interpretant of a Sign.

By "Sign" is meant any Ens which is determined by a single object or set of Objects called its Originals, all other than the Sign itself, and in its turn is capable of determining in a Mind something called its Interpretant, and that in such a way that the Mind is thereby mediately determined to some mode of conformity to the original or Set of originals. This is particularly intended to define (very imperfectly as yet) a complete Sign. But a complete sign has or may have Parts which partake of the nature of their whole; but often in a truncated fashion.

A Sign is in regard to its Interpretant in one or other of three grades of completeness, which may be called the Barely Overt, the Overter, and the Overtest. The Barely Overt of which a Name is an example does not expressly distinguish its original from its interpretant; nor its reference to either from the sign itself. The Overter sign of which an assertion is an exemple,... [phrase inacheve] Thus the Sign has a double function

1/ to affect a mind which understands its "Grammar" or method of signification, which signification is its substance significate or Interpretant.

2/ to indicate how to identify the conditions under which .... significate has the mode of being it is represented having [text unfinshed].

40 - v.1907 - MS 318, Pragmatism.

[...] 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. [...]

b - [...] Now any sign, of whatever kind, mediates between an object to some sort of conformity with which it is moulded, and which thus determines it, and an effect which it is intended to produce, and which it represents to be the outcome of the object. These two correlates of the sign have to be carefully distinguished. The former is called the object of the sign; the latter is the "meaning", or, as I usually term it, the "interpretant" of the sign. [...]

c - [...] Now the essential nature of a sign is that it mediates between its object which is supposed to determine it and to be, in some sense, the cause of it, and its meaning, or, as I prefer to say, in order to avoid certains ambiguities, its Interpretant which is determined by the sign, and is, in a sense, the effect of it; and which the sign represents to flow as an influences, from the object. [...]

d - [...] ...to which it is, therefore, conceived to be moulded, and by which to be determined, and an effect; on the other hand, which the sign is intended to bring about, representing it to be the outcome of the object influence upon it. I need not say that this influence is usually indirect and not of the nature of a force. [...]

e - [...] A sign is whatever there may be whose intent is to mediate between an utterer of it and an interpreter of it, both being repositories of thought, or quasi-minds, by conveying a meaning from the former to the latter. We may say that the sign is moulded to the meaning in the quasi-mind that utters it, where it was, virtually at least (i.e. if not in fact, yet the moulding of the sign took place as if it had been there) already an ingredient of thought.

But thought being itself a sign the meaning must have been conveyed to that quasi-mind, from some anterior utterer of the thought, of which the utterer of the moulded sign had been the interpreter. The meaning of the moulded sign being conveyed to its interpreter, became the meaning of a thought in that quasi-mind; and as these conveyed in a thought-sign required an interpreter, the interpreter of the moulded sign becoming the utterer of this new thought-sign".

f - I am now prepared to risk an attempt at defining a sign, -since in scientific inquiry, as in other enterprises, the maxim holds : nothing hazard, nothing gain. I will say that a sign is anything, of whatsoever mode of being, which mediates between an object and an interpretant; since it is both determined by the object relatively to the interpretant, and determining the interpretant in reference to the object, in such wise as to cause the interpretant to be determined by the object through the mediation of this "sign".

The object and the interpretant are thus merely the two correlates of the sign; the one being antecedent, the other consequent of the sign. Moreover, the sign being defined in terms of these correlative correlates, it is confidently to be expected that object and interpretant should precisely correspond, each to the other. In point of fact, we do find that the immediate object and emotional interpretant correspond, both being apprehensions, or are "subjective"; both, too, pertain to all signs without exception. The real object and energetic interpretant also correspond, both being real facts or things. But to our surprise, we find that the logical interpretant does not correspond with any kind of object. This defect of correspondance between object and interpretant must be rooted in the essential difference there is between the nature of an object and that of an interpretant; which difference is that former antecedes while the latter succeeds. The logical interpretant must, therefore, be in a relatively future tense.

46 - 1908 -_NEM III/2 p. 886 - Letter to P.E.B. Jourdain dated "1908 Dec 5" .

[...] My idea of a sign has been so generalized that I have at length despaired of making anybody comprehend it, so that for the sake of being understood, I now limit it, so as to define a sign as anything which is on the one hand so determined (or specialized) by an object and on the other hand so determines the mind of an interpreter of it that the latter is thereby determined mediately, or indirectly, by that real object that determines the sign. Even this may well be thought an excessively generalized definition. The determination of the Interpreter's mind I term the Interpretant of the sign. [...]

47 - 1908 - S.S. .p. 80 - Letter to Lady Welby dated "1908 Dec.23" .

It is clearly indispensable to start with an accurate and broad analysis of the nature of a Sign. I define a sign as an thing which is so determined by something else, called its Object, and so determines an effect upon a person, which effect I call its interpretant, that the latter is thereby mediately determined by the former. My insertion of "upon a person" is a sop to Cerberus, because I despair of making my own broader conception understood. [...]

48 - 1909 - C.P. 8-177 ou NEM III/2 p. 839 - Letter to William James dated "1909 Feb.26" .

A sign is a Cognizable that, on the one hand, is so determined (i.e. Specialized, bestimmt ), by something other than itself, called its object (or, in some cases, as if the Sign be the sentence "Cain killed Abel", in which Cain and Abel are equally Partial Objects, it may be more convenient to say that that which determines the Sign is the Complexus, or Totality, of Partial Objects. And in every case the object is accurately the Universe of which the special object is member, or part), while, on the other hand, it so determines some actual or potential Mind, the determination whereof I term the Interpretant created by the sign, that that interpreting mind is therein determined mediately by the Object.

49 - 1909 - NEM III/2 p. 840-1 - Letter to William James dated "1909 Feb.26" .

A sign is a Cognizable that, on the one hand, is so determined (i.e. Specialized, bestimmt ), by something other than itself, called its object (or, in some cases, as if the Sign be the sentence "Cain killed Abel", in which Cain and Abel are equally Partial Objects, it may be more convenient to say that that which determines the Sign is the Complexus, or Totality, of Partial Objects. And in every case the object is accurately the Universe of which the special object is member, or part), while, on the other hand, it so determines some actual or potential Mind, the determination whereof I term the Interpretant created by the sign, that that interpreting mind is therein determined mediately by the Object.

50 - 1909 - MS 278 : [Unidentified fragments] .

l909 Oct.28

Another endeavour to analyze a Sign.

A Sign is anything which represents something else (so far as it is complete) and if it represents itself it is as a part of another sign which represents something other than itself, and it represents itself in other circumstances, in other connections. A man may talk and he is a sign of that he relates, he may tell about himself as he was at another time. He cannot tell exactly what he is doing at that very moment. Yes, he may confess he is lying, but he must be a false sign, then. A sign, then, would seem to profess to represent something else.

Either a sign is to be defined as something which truly represents something or else as something which professes to represent something.

51 - 1909 - NEM III/2 p.867 - Letter to William James dated "1909 Dec 25".

[...] I start by defining what I mean by a sign. It is something determined by something else its object and itself influencing some person in such a way that that person becomes thereby mediately influenced or determined in some respect by that Object.[...]

52 - v. 1909 - C.P. 6-347 -Some Amazing Mazes, Fourth Curiosity.

[...] Suffice it to say that a sign endeavours to represent, in part at least, an Object, which is therefore in a sense the cause, or determinant, of the sign even if the sign represents its object falsely. But to say that it represents its object implies that it affects a mind, and so affects it as, in some respect, to determine in that mind something that is mediately due to the Object.

That determination of which the immediate cause, or determinant, is the sign, and of which the mediate cause is the Object may be termed the Interpretant [...]

53 - v. 1909 - C.P. 6-344 - Some Amazing Mazes, Fourth Curiosity .

Signs, the only thing swith which a human being can, without derogation, consent to have any transaction, being a sign himself, are triadic; since a sign denotes a subject, and signifies a form of fact, which latter it brings into connexion with the former. [...]

54 - 1910 - MS 654 : Essays (Essays 1st Pref.)

Bya sign I mean anything whatever, real or fictive, which is capable of a sensible form, is applicable to something other than itself, that is already known, and that is capable of being so interpreted in another sign which I call its interpretant as to communicate something that may not have been previously known about its object there is thus a triadic relation between an sign, an Object, and an Interpretant.

55 - 1910 - C.P. 2-230 - Meaning .

The word sign will be used to denote an Object perceptible, or only imaginable, or even unimaginable in one sense -for the word "fast", which is a sign, is not imaginable, since it is not this word itself that can be set down on paper or pronounced, but only an instance of it, and since it is the very same word when it is written as it is when it is pronounced, but is one word when it means "rapidly" and quite another when it means "immovable", and a third when it refers to abstinence. But in order that anything should be a Sign, it must "represent" , as we say, something else, called its Object, although the condition that a sign must be other than its Object is perhaps arbitrary, since, if we insist upon it we must at least make an exception in the case of a sign that is a part of a sign. [...] A sign may have more than one Object.

Thus, the sentence "Cain killed Abel", which is a sign, refers at least as much to Abel as to Cain, even if it be not regarded as it should, as having "a killing" as a third object. But the set of objects may be regarded as making up one complex Object. In what follows and often elsewhere signs will be treated as having but one object each for the sake of dividing difficulties of the study. If a Sign is other than its object, there must exist, either in thought or in expression, some explanation or argument or other context, showing how -upon what system or for what reason the sign represents the Object or set of Objects that it does. Now the sign and the Explanation together make up another sign, and since the explanation will be a Sign, it will probably require an additional explanation, which taken together with the already enlarged Sign will make up a still larger sign; and proceeding in the same way, we shall, or should, ultimately reach a sign of itself, containing its own explanation and those of all its significant parts; and according to this explanation each such part has some other part as its Object. According to this every sign has, actually or virtually, what we may call a Precept of explanation according to which it is to be understood as a sort of emanation, so to speak, of its Object.

56 - 1911 - MS 849 :

A logical Criticism of some articles of Religious Faith .

The word sign, as it will here be used, denotes any object of thought which excites any kind of mental action, whether voluntary or not, concerning something otherwise recognized. [...] Every sign denotes something, and the anything it denotes is termed an object of it. [... ] I term the idea or mental action that a sign exites and which it causes the interpreter to attribute to the Object or Objects of it, its interpretant. [...] For a Sign cannot denote an object not otherwise known to its interpreter, for the obvious reason that if he does not already know the Object at all, he cannot possess these ideas by means of which alone his attention can be narrowed to the very object denoted. Every object of experience excites an idea of some sort; but if that idea is not associated sufficiently and in the right way so with some previous experience so as to narrow the attention, it will not be a sign.

A Sign necessarily has for its Object some fragment of history, that is, of history of ideas. It must excite some idea. That idea may go wholly to narrowing the attention, as in such sign as "man", "virtue", "manner".

57 - v. 1911 - MS 675

A Sketch of logical critic .

[...] In the first place, a "Representamen", like a word, -indeed, most words are representamens-, is not a single thing, but is of the nature of a mental habit, it consists in the fact that, something would be. The twenty odd "the" on ordinary page are all one and the same word, - that is, they are so many instances of a single word. Here are two instances of Representamens: "--killed--", "a man". The first of several characters which are each of them either essential to a sign being truly an instance of a Representamen or else necessary properties of such an object, is that it should have power to draw the attention of any mind that is fit to "interpret" it to two or more "Objects" of it. [ The first of the above examples of instances of representamens has four objects ; the second has two.] The second such character is that at least two of the objects must be other than the representamen. A closer examination than I have made would I am sure lead to a fuller description of the character. The third is the property that the interpreter of the representamen must have some collateral experiential acquaintance, direct or indirect, with each object of the Representamen before he can perform his function [...]

58 - v. 1911 - MS 676 : A Sketch of logical critics .

[...] If by a "sign" we mean anything of whatsoever nature that is apt to produce a special mental effect upon a mind in which certain associations have been produced -and I invariably use the word "association" as the original associationists did, for a mental habit, and never for the act or effect of associational suggestion when we must admit that a musical air and a command given to a soldier by his officer are signs, although it would seem that a logician is hardly otherwise concerned with such emotional and imperative signs, than that, as long as nobody else concerns himself with the analysis of the action of such signs, the logician is obliged to assume that office in order by the did of its contrast with the action of cognitional signs to perfect the definition of this latter. [...]

59 - 1911 - MS 854 - Notes on logical critique of the essential Articles of religious Faith (20.11.1911) .

Nature of a Sign . Its object is all that the sign recognize; since the sign cannot be understood until the Object is already identically known, though it may be indefinite. It so, it need only be known in its indefiniteness. The interpretant is the mental action on the Object that the sign excites.

For instance the word dog -meaning some dog, implies the knowledge that there is some dog, but it remains indefinite. The Interpretant is the somewhat indefinite idea of the characters that the "some dog" referred to has. And we have to distinguish between the Real Object and the Object as implied in the sign. The latter is some one of the dogs known already by direct experience or some one of the dogs which we more or less believe to exist.

The word dog does not excite any other notion than of the characters that ..... to possess.

The "Object" dog causes us to think of is such a dog as the person addressed has any notion of. But the real Object includes alternatively other dogs which are not known to the party addressed as yet but which he may come to know .

As to the characters we know it has four legs, is a carnivorous animal, etc.. and here we must distinguish then

- first the essential characters which the word implies -the essential interpretant.

- second the idea it actually does excite in the particular interpreter.

- third the characters it was intended specially to excite -perhaps only a part of the essential characters perhaps others not essential and which the word now excites though no such thing has hitherto been known.

In order to understand a Sign better we must consider that what it excites some sort of mental action about is in its Real Being either a history or a Part of a history and one part of it may be a Sign of another part.

Some Dog is a ....

Excites the idea of a Dog....is sign of a Dog and its Interpretant is forced by the interpreter own belief in the truth of the sign to regard its being a dog to admit that it is possible a ratter.

The sign may appeal to the Interpreter himself to assert that the Matter of Fact denoted does call for the....of certain character... or the Sign may exert a Force to cause the Interpreter to attach some Idea to the Object of the Sign.

60 - MS 670 :

A Sign, then, is anythin whatsoever -whether an Actual or a May-be or a Would-be,- which affects a mind, its Interpreter, and draw that interpreter's attention to some Object whether Actual, May-be or Would-be) which has already come within the sphere of his experience; and beside this purely selective action of a sign, it has a power of exciting the mind (whether directly by the image or the sound or indirectly) to some kind of feeling, or to effort of some kind or to thought; [...]


61- C.P. 1-339 - unidentified fragment1.

The easiest of those which are of philosophical interest is the idea of a sign, or representation. A sign stands for something to the idea which it produces, or modifies. Or, it is a vehicle conveying into the mind something from without. That for which it stands is called its object; that which it conveys, its meaning; and the idea to which it gives rise, its interpretant. 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. The meaning of a representation can be nothing but a representation. In fact, it is nothing but the representation itself conceived as stripped of irrelevant clothing. But this clothing never can be completely stripped off; it is only changed for something more diaphanous. So there is an infinite regression here. Finally, the interpretant is nothing but another representation to which the torch of truth is handed along; and as representation, it has its interpretant again. Lo, another infinite series.

62 - NEM IV - p. XXI - From MS.142.

A sign is a thing which is the representative, or deputy, of another thing for the purpose of affecting a mind [...]

63 - NEM IV - P. 239 - Kaina stocheia.

Any sign, B, which a sign, A, is fitted so to determine, without violation of its A's, purpose, that is, in accordance with the "Truth", even though it, B, denotes but a part of the objects of the sign, A, and signifies but a part of its, A's characters, I call an interpretant of A.

64 - MS 381 -On the nature of Signs .

A sign is an object which stands for another to some mind. I propose to describe the characters of a sign. In the first place like any other thing it must have qualities which belong to it whether it be regarded as a sign or not thus a printed word is black, has a certain number of letters and those letters have certain shapes. Such characters of a sign I call its material quality. In the next place a sign must have some real connection with the thing it signifies so that when the object is present or is so as the sign signifies it to be the sign shall so signify it and otherwise not. [...] In the first place it is necessary for a sign to be a sign that it should be regarded as a sign for it is only a sign to that mind which so considers and if it is not a sign to any mind it is not a sign at all. It must be known to the mind first in its material qualities but also in its pure demonstrative application. That mind must conceive it to be connected with its object so that it is possible to reason from the sign to the thing. [...]

65 - MS 793 : [On Signs] .

But at this point certain distinctions are called for. That which is communicated from the object through the Sign to the interpretant is a Form; that is to say, it is nothing like an existent, but is a power, is the fact that something would happen under certain conditions. This form is really embodied in the object, meaning that the conditional relation which constitutes the form is true of the form or it is in the Object. In the Sign it is embodied only in a representative sense, meaning that whether by virtue of some real modification of the Sign, or otherwise, the Sign becomes endowed with the power of communicating it to an interpretant. It may be in the interpretant directly, as it is in the Object, or it may be in the Interpretant dynamically, as behaviour of the Interpretant (this happens when a military officer uses the sign "Halt !" or "Forward march !" and his men simply obey him, perhaps automatically) or it may be in the Interpretant likewise only representatively. In existential graphs the Interpretant is affected in the last way; but for the present, it is best to consider only the common characters of all signs.

66 - MS 793 - [On Signs] .

A Sign is an thing, A, which

(1) in addition to others characters of its own,

(2) stands in a dyadic relation to a purely active correlate, B, and is also

(3) in a triadic relation to B for a purely passive correlate, C, this triadic relation being such as to determine C to be in a relation, , to B, the relation corresponding in a recognized way to the relation , its dyadic relation to A would belong to it just the same even if A did not exist.

For instance, ...... the sign, the sentence "Let'songster of `Heliopolis' be our designation of the phenix" we may variously regard as B, either the phenix or the writer's determination, etc.. In any case howewer what is essential to the relation between the sentence and B is the writer's determination of mind to have the phenix called the songster of Heliopolis. This determination would be so shaped howewer whether expressed in this sentence or not. And the subsequent statement the sense in which certain correlates of a given relationship are said to be `active' or `passive' is that considering the different characters of all the correlates excepting only these that are immediately implied in the statement of the relationship none which involves only non-passives correlates will by immediate essential necessity vary with a variation of those involving only passive correlates; while no variation of which involve only non-active correlates will by immediate essential necessity carry with them variation of those which involve only active correlates; while by `active-passive' is meant active in respect to some correlates and passive in respect to others ........`active or passive' meaning........ active and ......without being active passive.

67 - MS 793 -[On Signs]1.

[...] which is communicated from the Object through the Sign to the Interpretant is a Form. It is not a singular thing; for if a Singular thing were first in the Object and afterward in the Interpretant outside the Object, it must thereby cease to be in the Object. The form that is communicated does not necessarily cease to be in one thing when it comes to be in a different thing, because its being is the being of a predicate. The Being of a Form consist in the truth of a conditional proposition. Under given circumstances something would be true. The Form is in the Object, one may say, entitatively, meaning that that conditional relation, or following of consequent upon reason, which constitutes the Form is literally true of the Object. In the Sign the Form may .... be embodied entitatively, but it must be embodied representatively, that is, in respect to the Form communicated, the Sign produce upon the interpretant an effect similar to that which the Object would under favorable circumstances.

68 - MS 793[On Signs] .

For the purpose of this inquiry a Sign may be defined as a Medium for the communication of a Form. It is not logically necessary that any thing possessing consciousness, that is, feeling or the peculiar commun quality of all our feeling should be concerned. But it is necessary that there should be two, if not three, quasi-minds, meaning things capable of varied determinations as to forms of the kind communicated.

As a medium the Sign is essentially in a triadic relation, to its Object which determines it and to its Interpretant which it determines. In its relation to the Object, the sign is passive, that is to say, its correspondence to the Object is brought about by on effect upon the sign, the Object remaining unaffected. On the other hand, in its relation to the Interpretant the sign is active determining the interpretant without bein itself thereby affected.

69 - MS 793 -[On Signs, quatre versions d'une certaine page 11] .

a - A Sign would be a Priman Secundan to something termed its Object and if anything were to be in a certain relation to the sign called being Interpretant to it, the Sign actively determines the Interpretant to be itself in a relation to the same Object, corresponding to its own.

b - b - A "Sign" is a genuinely genuine Tertian. It would generally be Priman in some characters, called its "Material Characters". But in addition, it is essentially (if only formally) Second to something termed its "Real Object", which is purely active in the Secundanity, being immediately unmodified by this secundanity; and these characters of the Real Object which are essential to the identity of the Sign constitute an ens rationis called the "Immediate Object". Moreover, the Sign is conceivably adapted to being Third to its Immediate Object for an ens rationis constituted thereby in the same (generic) relation to that Object in which the Sign itself stands to the same ; and this Third is termed the "Intended Interpretant", but the ... [unfinished]

c - A Sign would be in some respects Priman, and its determination as Priman are called its Material characters. But in addition it is Second to what is termed its Real Object, which is altogether active, and immediately unmodified by this Secundanity, and in so far as the Sign is second to it, it is termed the immediate Object. The Sign is conceivably adapted to being third to its Immediate Object for something in so far termed its Intended Interpretant; and the Sign only functions as such so far as the Intended Interpretant is Second to it for an Actual Interpretant which thus becomes adapted become a sign of the Immediate [there is a question mark above this word] Object for a further intended Interpretant, and in so far as the Interpretant is such Third it is termed Reflex Interpretant.

d - A "Sign" would be in some respects Priman, and its determinations as such are called its "Material characters". But in addition, it is Second to something termed its "Real Object", which is purely active being immediately unmodified by this Secundanity; and in so for as the sign is Second to it, it is termed the "Immediate Object" thereof. The Sign is conceivably adapted bo being Third to its Immediate Object for something which should thereby be brought into the generically same dyadic relation to that Object in which the Sign itself stands to that Object, and this Third is called the "Intended Interpretant"; but the Sign functions as such only in so far as the Intended Interpretant is Second to it and is Third to it for an existent termed the "Actual Interpretant", the modes of... [unfinished]

73 - MS 801 : Logic: Regarded as a Study of the general nature of Signs (Logic) .

By a sign I mean any thing which is in any way, direct or indirect, so influenced by any thing (which I term its object) and which in turn influence a mind that this mind is thereby influenced by the Object; and I term that which is called forth in the mind the Interpretant of the sign. This explanation will suffice for the present; but distinctions will have to be drawn are long.

74 - MS 810 :[On the formal Principles of Deductive Logic] .

A mental representation is something which puts the mind into relation to an object. A representation generally (I am here defining my use of the term) is something which brings one thing into relation with another. The conception of third is here involved, and therefore, also, the conceptions of second or other and of first or an. A representation is in fact nothing but a something which has a third through an other. We may therefore consider an object :

1. as a something, with inward determinations;

2. as related to an other;

3. as bringing a second into relation to a third.

75 - MS 914 : [ Firstness, Secondness, Thirness, and the Reductibility of Fourthness] .

The most characteristic form of thirdness is that of a sign; and it is shown that every cognition is of the nature of a sign. Every sign has an object, which may be regarded either as it is immediately represented in the sign to be, and as it is in its own firstness. It is equally essential to the function of a sign that it should determine an Interpretant, or a second correlate related to the object of the sign as the sign is itself related to that object; and this interpretant may be regarded as the sign represents it to be, as it is in its pure secondness to the object, and as it is in its own firstness.

76 - MS 1345.

On the Classification of the Sciences .

A Representamen can be considered from three formal points of view, namely, first, as the substance of the representation, or the vehicle of the Meaning which is common to the three representamen of the triad, second, as the quasi-agent in the representation, conformity to which makes its Truth, that is, as the Natural Object, and third, as the quasi-patient in the representation, or that which modification in the representation make its Intelligence, and this may be called the Interpretant. Thus, in looking at a map, the map itself is the vehicle, the country represented is the Natural Object, and the idea excited in the mind is the Interpretant.

Furthermore, every representamen may be considered as a reagent, its intellectual character being neglected; and both representamen and reagent may be considered as quales, their relative character being neglected. This we do, for example, when we say that the word man has three letters.


by Robert Marty

ABSTRACT: We show that one can clearly distinguish two successive conceptions. The first (before 1905) which we qualify as "global triadic" and the second, more precise than the first, that we qualify as "analytic triadic" .

The 76 texts on the sign spread from1865 to 1911 (for 60 of them that are dated or whose dates are estimated). A brief study of the dispersion of the dated texts shows that more than 80% of them were produced after 1902, that is to say when Peirce was in his sixties. The production reaches a climax in l903, the year of the Lowell conferences. In addition, if one assesses them by their content, most of the non dated texts, and notably the eight definitions grouped in MS 793 are from the same period. Our purpose not being to study the evolution of Peirce's thinking in general, we will be interested only in the different conceptions of the sign that he proposes if, nevertheless, one can speak first of their differences before underlining their unity. Is it necessary to remind ourselves that the fundamental unity of these conceptions is confirmed by the constant reaffirmation of the triadic character of the sign? By describing the Peircean sign as triadic we simply highlight the presence in all implicit or explicit definition of the sign according to Peirce, three constitutive elements (but the datum of these three elements does not exhaust the Peircean concept of the sign since the relationship that links them together is lacking).

Peirce has varied the denomination of these three elements for reasons that he has sometimes clarified. We should not forget that he is the author of a very rigorous moral terminological (C.P.2-219 to 2 - 226). To designate the object of direct experience necessarily at the origin of all semiotic phenomena, Peirce uses the words "representation", "representamen" and especially "sign". He uses the term "representation" to this end only in texts n1(1865), 6(1873) et 74 (n.d.), the other utilizations of the term designating the act or the fact of representing, as found in texts 10, 19, 27, 50, 52. In the text n61, this word is given as a synonym for "sign ". There is thus no reason to retain this term.

On the other hand, it is interesting to examine very closely the different uses and distinctions between sign and representamen that Peirce first considers as synonymous (n 9,1897) before making a distinction (n19, l903) and finally deciding to abandon "representamen" (n31, l905) since he explains that the popular usage of the word "sign" is very close to the exact sense of the scientific definition. In saying this, he makes the decision to put aside the formal distinction clearly established in l903 (n 22, l903). We find the fundamental reason for abandoning this distinction in the statement, so often repeated by Peirce, that it was impossible to observe a single representamen that was not a sign. This conclusion is at odds with a number of authors, but in agreement, it seems to me, with Peirce (since from l905 he no longer uses the word representamen in any definitions except towards 1911 in the text n57. However, the date attributed to this text being an estimation, it is possible to put it in doubt, and as in any event Peirce uses it in this text in a restricted sense, equivalent to legisign, there is no need to preserve this " horrible word " and "sign" should be quite suitable. There would have perhaps been some interest, on the other hand, in preserving representamen so as to concretize the different conceptualizations of semiotic phenomena as between the Saussuro-hjelmslevian tradition and the Peircean tradition. But the adoption of this viewpoint would be a sort of renunciation of the debates on the profound nature of these phenomena according to these two traditions ; the passive acceptance of the fact that both traditions should develop independently would thus deprive us of the clarity that the opening of conflicts can bring about in the semiotic field.

To designate the object of the sign, Peirce employs on nearly every occasion the word "object" accompanied with considerations that render it, explicitly or implicitly, that which is connected to this object of direct experience that is the sign. Sometimes Peirce designates it by the expression "some thing " and even in the text n23 the sign is said to represent an aspect of the "True" (the "Truth", the true universe), another representamen in the text n21, and a subject in the n53. Moreover, the object is often qualified: Real, Natural or Original in addition to the distinction between immediate object and dynamic objects.

Despite these remarks, there is no problem in denominating as "Object" this other object whose presence to the mind produced by the perception of the sign is characteristic of semiotic phenomena. It is clear that a third element is needed because it is essential in semiotic phenomena to define an element capable of explaining the necessary connection of the two objects that are potentially present to the mind (the perceived sign, as such, and the object to which it is connected). For if the sign, an object of direct experience, is distinguishable because it evokes another object different from itself, because it enables a supplementary perceptive choice (at least) it constitutes, by this very fact, an association between these two objects. That the sign is one of the two objects does not change anything in the matter; it both exists for itself and exists for another. But this association can be conceived only in the mind and by the mind to which the two objects are present. In a sign in actu this association is truly a matter of fact; it is a psychic fact that the mind that constructs two different perceptual judgements on the same percept is in a special state, different from that which it is in, in the case of ordinary phenomena, that is to say in the simple presentation of an object, due to the fact of this dual presence (it is the thesis that I develop in my work in French "The Algebra of signs" (1990, John Benjamins, Amsterdam/Philadelphia). One can say that this special state of mind gives at this very instant a real existence to this association, even in the most "natural " cases. Friday's footprint in the sand stands for a human presence only because of the association in Robinson's mind, even if its production and therefore its existence are totally independent of his mind. In every sign there intervenes therefore the determination of a mind, distinct from the two objects, which is therefore an element necessarily implied in the factuality of the sign and without which one cannot hope to describe semiotic phenomena correctly. The subject is therefore implied in a certain manner in this approach. It is necessary therefore to attach a third element to the Sign and to the Object. Peirce gives it the name of Interpretant. Now, let us examine the various denominations by which he himself grasped this necessity. Note immediately that the last sentence of the textn6 (1873) covers exactly the argument we have just developed: "The idea of the representation itself excites in the mind another idea and in order that it may do this it is necessary that some principle of association between the two ideas should already be established in that mind". One finds again this idea in the text n64 (n.d) :

That mind must conceive it to be connected with its object so that it is possible to reason from the sign to the thing.

and in the text n 58 (v.1911), the Interpretant is

"a special mental effect upon a mind in which certain associations have been produced".

A systematic list of the words that Peirce uses to give content to the concept of the interpretant shows that he attributes the following characteristics, according to what he is saying at that moment and to the maturation of his thinking: - it is a thought or interpretant thought in texts n,8, l0, 18, 28.

- - it is an effect created or determined or modelled by the sign on a person, a mind or a quasi -mind in textsn9, 12, 14, 16, 21, 32, 33,39, 40 (b,c,d, e),46, 47, 48, 49, 51, 56, 58,61, 73, 75.

-- it is a determination of a mind or quasi -mind or an influence on a person or a mind, this determination or influence being realised through the sign, the object by being the mediate cause in texts n34, 37, 40(a,b,c,e,f,) 52.

- It is a Third that according to the case is a third correlate of a triadic relationship or a "Tertian", (that is to say a member of the Third universe, a Thirdness) in texts n13,15, 20, 22, 36, 69(b,c,d,e). Moreover, in n30 iit is described as a "passive" correlate and in n76 it is a quasi - patient.

- it is a meaning, or cognition, or a result which it produces in textsn35,37, 38, 40(a,b).

- it is a sign of the same object in 11, 12, 16, 24,25, 26, 27, 29, 54.

One sees that these characteristics (by excluding the last that is of a radically different nature), can be classified in two groups:

- Those that refer to a sign in actu, that describe therefore this third element of the semiotic phenomenon in its particularity and that are practically reducible to an effect on a person or again to a determination of a mind, in the here and now of the perception.

- Those that refer to an abstract sign which come from the logical analysis of the phenomenon and form part of a formal construction, in which the interpretant is described as a correlate of a triadic relationship.

Peirce had a great deal of difficulty getting people to accept this conception, quite banal today, of a formal model of the sign. In his letter to Lady Welby dated 23 December l908 he complains about his difficulties by writing : "I have added 'on a person' so as to throw a cake to Cerberus, because I despair of making people understand my own conception which is larger. " In conclusion then, peircean conceptions of the sign lead us to retain three fundamental elements as theoretical universals resulting from the logical analysis of semiotic phenomena,:

- the Sign S, an object of direct experience ("external"or "internal"object").

- the Object O, present in the semiotic phenomenon because it is connected with the sign.

- the Interpretant I, present because it is a mental element which ensures this connection.

The reader will have noticed that these groups and subgroups of definitions possess common elements since the characteristics fundamental to them are not exclusive of each other. However by observing the placings of texts constituting the subgroups and by reminding ourselves that numbers l to 60 are classified by chronological order, this distribution shows a significant change, if not of doctrine, at least of his approach to this connection of the Sign to its Object. It suffices indeed to observe the pre-eminence from n29 (l905) of the characterization of this connection in terms of determination of S by O to arrive at the conclusion that Peirce has decided to take into account, round about l905, the dissymetric character of this relationship, which he has expressed by writing that if, in a sign, O acts on S, the reverse is not necessarily true. The consequence of this change will be the abandoning of the central position granted to the triad in the global approach to the sign. Indeed, to define a priori the sign as triadic implies that diadic relationships between two elements that are induced by the triadic relationship are symmetrical. Therefore if one wants to preserve the dissymmetry of this relationship, it is necessary either to abandon the idea of basing the sign on the notion of triad, or to add correctives (which would be difficult), or to change the perspective, which does not imply the renunciation of the triadicity but simply causes it to intervene at another level. We will see later, that a third approach, based on the notion of communication, will tend to unify the two precedent perspectives.

With regard to the connection between Sign and Interpretant, it is invariably conceived, each time than it is evoked, as a relationship of determination (when it is evoked in a formal model), an effect on interpreter or a determination of the mind of an interpreter (when it concerns the description of a sign in actu). In text n49 (l909) lthe Interpretant is even called "a creature of the sign ", a conception which is problematic if one thinks of the necessity, many time underlined by Peirce, that an association is a prerequisite in the mind in order that a sign might function as such, which obviously excludes the possibility that the sign could create the Interpretant ex-nihilo. It is what Peirce resumed in this text by specifying that the Interpretant is created by the Sign "in its capacity to support its determination by the Object". In one of his most formal approaches in which the triadic relationship is his point of departure, (C.P.2-233 and s.q.q., Division of Triadic Relations) Peirce defines the Representamen ( see n22, v.l903) as the first correlate of an authentic triadic relationship. In other words he considers that this first correlate determines the third correlate. Thus, at that moment, he approaches the sign through its triadicity to which he adds a corrective: the determination of the interpretant by the sign, the connections signs-object and object-interpretant being induced by the triadic relationship, the sign itself being a particular representamen , namely a representamen that determines a particular interpretant that is the "act of cognition of a mind".

By taking into account the dissymmetry of the relationship Object-Sign he has therefore, as we have noticed, abandoned the triadicity as founder principle and has resorted to a new notion, linked to the higthlighting of successive determinations (of the Sign by the Object and the Interpretant by the Sign) in the analysis of the sign in actu, the notion of mediation. It concerns a resumption of this notion already present in 1867 (" mediate representation "in text n8) and in l902 (" the authentic mediation is the character of a sign"in text n13).In l904, triadicity and mediation appear in the same text (n28). However one can observe that in the majority of texts after l905 that mention the two determinations cited above, one of words "mediation"or"medium "or the verb"to mediate"is present (texts n: 33, 37, 39, 40 (a,b,c,e,f) 46, 47, 48, 49,51, 52). It concerns a new theoretical approach (because the term" triad"does not figure in any of these texts) that is based this time on the determination of the Interpretant by the Object through the sign. This conception is partially clarified and formalized in text n 30 (l905) in which the triad is still present: the Sign is presented there as a passive correlate in its relationship to the Object, which relationship is incorporated in a triadic relationship in such a manner that the Interpretant is put in a diadic relationship with the Object, induced by this triadic relationship. What does not figure in this definition assuredly the most formalized of all, (and that one finds in text n66 in the undated manuscript n793) is precisely the determination of the Interpretant by the Sign.

It is in text n32 that the change appears fully with the notion of "medium of communication ". The next text (n33) is more precise: a sign is"a medium for the communication or the extension of a form (or figure)". One finds this idea of form in n 53 and 54 (19l0). It would seem that Peirce has attempted to explain the fact that the determination of the Sign by the Object was such that it produced the indirect determination of the Interpretant by the Object taking into account that a certain "form"was present in each of the three elements of the sign, as soon as the sign was established, and that the process of establishment of the sign consisted in communicating (or conveying) this form from the Object to the Interpreter through the Sign. This step does not exclude triadicity insofar as it is precisely the presence of this "form"that, we think, allows us to link triadically the three elements of the semiotic phenomenon (by being incorporated in each of them). It would be the ground evoked by Peirce in 2-228 (text n9, v.1897). One sees therefore that the two main theoretical approachs that we have just elucidated in this group of texts, are not exclusive. In conclusion we will distinguish therefore, without opposing them, two Peircean conceptions of the sign: - a conception that, for convenience, we will call "global triadic " derived from an analysis of semiotic phenomena which considers as essential the fact that the three elements therein are necessarily linked by a triadic relationship. - a conception that we will call" analytic triadic" derived from a finer analysis in terms of the determination of some elements by others (of the sign by the object and the interpretant by the sign), the interplay of these two determinations leading to the establishment of a triadic relationship between the three elements necessarily present in semiotic phenomena (it is the presence of the conveyed Form in the course of these successive determination that creates the triadic relationship). To grasp this second conception better it is necessary to clarify what Peirce understands by "determination" in the precise case of the sign, or, in view of the difficulty of the task, to try to discern this notion better. Because the explanations given by Peirce as to the sense in which he uses the words "active" and "passive"in texts n30 and 66 appear to us to be no longer operative. To the extent that we have been able to understand his thinking, it seems to us that Peirce considers that there is character determination of one correlate by those of another, the correlate B being active with reference to the correlate A, if all characters of this latter which are involved in the semiotic phenomenon are implied by the characters of B. Friday's footprint in the sand perfectly illustrates this notion since it is just what it is, that is to say possessed of characters that make it a sign, because the foot that has produced it has communicated them without being modified itself, and it is thus a purely active correlate. The imprint itself is a purely passive correlate for opposite reasons . However if now one photographs this imprint, it is going to produce an image on the film which owes all its characters to the imprint itself. In relation to this photographic image the imprint will be therefore an active correlate and it is clear that, for Peirce, the interpretant C is a purely passive correlate determined by the imprint, this interpretant, triadic in nature, being such that it incorporates, as an induced diadic relationship, the diadic relationship established between Friday's foot and its imprint. However the example that we quote is particular, it is a scholastic example. Nevertheless it is, we think, by generalizing the case of signs of this type ( index) that Peirce obtained the definition n 30.In others texts he has used terms that allow us to higthlight somewhat this conception:

- in texts n37 and 40a, the sign is said to be "modeled to a sort of conformity with its object".

- in 40c the Object is, in a certain sense, the cause of the sign which represents the influence of this object, and that this influence is "indirect and is not of the nature of a force" (40 d).

-in 46 and 48 the sign is said to be specialized (that Peirce strengthens by calling it in German "bestimmt") and in 47 and 48 he writes that the determination of the Sign by the Object is such that consequently it determines the Interpretant, what means that if the Sign is passive in relation to the Object and active when related to the Interpretant, it owes this last possibility to the action of the Object, as a pool ball becomes capable of moving another after having itself been knocked by another one. Moreover, in text n65, Peirce makes it clear that when the Form which comes from the Object is incorporated in the Sign the former becomes "endowed with the power to communicate it to an Interpretant".

- but it is certainly in text n 40 f, that Peirce clearly presents as an attempt to define the sign, that his conception of determination in semiotic phenomena is best expressed while being probably the most difficult to formalize: the sign, he writes, is both " determined by the object with respect to the interpretant and it determines the interpretant in reference to the object, in such a manner that the interpretant is determined by the object as a cause through the mediation of this sign". One sees that the determinations of elements one by other (of the Sign by the Object, the Interpretant by the Sign) are constructed dependant on the third, for lack of which, the semiotic phenomenon would be reduced to the compositionof two independent successive determinations, in contradiction with the consistant doctrine of Peirce. It is by taking into account the whole of Peirce's contributions, of which it is unnecessary to underline the wealth, the power but also the difficulty, that we have taken the risk (since we are agreement with Peirce -cf 40 f - that in scientific matters, as in other enterprises the maxim:"no risk, no profit" is valid ") of putting forward a formal definition of the sign that is operative and also mathematically formalizable, to reach as far as possible towards authentically scientific semiotics (cf " The Algebra of Signs " an essay in scientific semiotics according to Charles Sanders Peirce)


12 Further Sign Definitions or Equivalent proposed by Alfred Lang

Psychology, Univ. Bern, Switzerland (lang@psy.unibe.ch)


All texts proposed by Alfred Lang are not, stricto sensu, definitions of the sign; however they present aspects that relate closely to them. They confirm in all cases analyzes that I have proposed to the continuation of 76 definitions.[R. Marty]

[1] W1:307f. 1865 (An Unpsychological view of logic [...])

There are three aspects under which every phenomenon may be considered and which may be regarded also as three elements of the phenomenon. Every phenomenon is in the first place an image; so that it may be considered to be or to contain a representation. In the second place, the phenomenon may be objectified, or looked upon as a reality; in this way it is said to be or (more usually) to contain _matter_. For matter is that by virtue of which everything is. In the third place, the differences of its parts and its qualities may be considered, and in this point of view, it is said to be or (more usually) to contain _form_. For form is that by virtue of which anything is such as it is. [...] Corresponding, then, to internal representation we have a representation, in general, internal or external; which is a supposed thing standing for something else. Corresponding to the matter of phenomena we have the supposition of external realities or _things_; and corresponding to the matter of phenomena we have _qualities_. Of these, representation is not altogether hypothetical since we have at least something precisely similar in consciousness. _Things_ are legitimate hypotheses, as we shall see when we have developed the logic of hypothesis. _Qualities_ are fictions; for though it is true that roses are red, yet redness is nothing, but a fiction framed for the purpose of philosophizing; yet harmless so long as we remember that the scholastic realism it implies is false. When the element of quality is eliminated from _things_ by abstraction,; we have noumenal matter. When the connection with things is eliminated from qualities, we have Pure Forms. When the material and mental element is eliminated from representations we have Concepts or, as I prefer to say in order to avoid the apparent connection with the mind, Logoi. The three prescinced elements are fictions. The embodiment of a pure form in noumenal matter makes a thing with qualities. The realization of a pure form in the mind makes a mental representation. The embodiment of a pure form in a _logos_ united with noumenal matter gives an outward representation. The use of these phrases is to formulate the analysis of a thing, a thougth, and a representation into three several elements on the one side and one common element on the other.

The relevancy of this analysis consists in this, that if logic deals with the form of thought, it can be studied just as well in external as in internal representations, while by so doing we shall avoid all possible entanglement in the meshes of psychological controversy. Logic then deals with representations. But not with all kinds of representations.

Representations are of three sorts.

1st _Marks_ [Indexes, AL], by which I mean such representations as denote without connoting. if the applicability of a representation to a thing depends upon a convention which establihed precisely what it should denote, it would be a _mark_. A proper name is an instance.

2nd _Analogues_, why which I mean such representations as connote without denoting. A picture for instance which is a representation (whether intentional or not) of whatever looks like, really resembles everything more or less, and so denotes nothing; althoughjwe may infer what was intended.

3rd _Symbols_, by which I mean such representation as denote by connoting. Of these three kinds of representations logic evidently refers only to the last, taking account of signs and analogues only when their laws happen to coincide with those of symbols or when combinations of symbols produces non-denotative or non-connotative representations.

[2] W1:311f. 1865 An unpsychological view of logic [...], 2nd version

What else is a thing but that which a _perception_ or _sign_ stands for? To say that a quality is denoted is to say it is a thing. And this gives a hint of the veritable nature of such terms. They were framed at a time when all men were realists in the scholastic sense and consequently things were meant by them, entities which had not quality but that expressed by the word. They, therefore, must denote these things and connote the qualities they relate to.

[2'] And similarly, in a somewhat changed form, less explicitly semiotically, in another version of the same title: W1:313f. 1865, 2nd version]

[3] W1:490-504, 1866, Lowell Lecture XI, most of it, but with omission, also in CP 7.579-596 [The lecture is sort of studies for Some Consequences of the Four Incapacities and related papers and quite extensely deal with semiotic topics such as the true analogy between man and word and so of signs, symbols, things, meaning, stories etc.]

[4] Robin 404 1893 (Grand Logic -- The art of reasoning. Chapter II. What is a sign?) [Selected parts of it appear in CP 2.281, 2.285, 2.297-302 and a complete German translation is in Kloesel & Pape, Semiotische Schriften, Vol. 1:191-201. This text presents Similies, Indices and Symbols and their role in reasoning.]

[5] CP 2.302 1895? The art of reasoning, Ch. 2

Symbols grow. They come into being by development out of other signs, particularly from icons, or from mixed signs partaking of the nature of icons and symbols. We think only in signs. These mental signs are of mixed nature; the symbol-parts of them are called concepts. If a man makes a new symbol, it is by thoughts involving concepts. So it is only out of symbols that a new symbol can grow. _Omne symbolum de symbolo_. A symbol, once in being, spreads among the peoples. In use and in experience, its meaning grows. Such words as _force, law, wealth, marriage_, bear for us very different meanings from those they bore to our barbarous ancestors. The symbol may, with Emerson's sphynx, say to man, Of thine eye I am eyebeam.

[6] CP 3.433 1896.10

The regenerated logic When an assertion is made, there really is some speaker, writer, or other signmaker who delivers it; and he supposes there is, or will be, some hearer, reader, or other interpreter who will receive it. It may be a stranger upon a different planet, an aeon later; or it may be that very same man as he will be a second alter. In any case, the deliverer makes signals to the receiver. Some of these signs (or at least one of them) are supposed to excite in the mind of the receiver familiar images, pictures, or, we might almost say, dreams -- that is, reminiscences of sights, sounds, feelings, tastes, smells, or other sensations, now quite detached from the original circumstances of their first occurrence, so that they are free to be attached to new occasions. The deliverer is able to call up these images at will (with more or less effort) in his own mind; and he supposes the receiver can do the same.

[7] L75:235-237 draft D, 1902 Carnegie Application

I define logic very broadly as the tudy of the formal laws of signs, or formal semiotic. I define a sign as something, A, which brings something, B, its interpretant sign determined or created by it, into the same sort of correspondence with something, C, its object, as that in which itself stands to C. In this definition I make no more reference to anything like the human mind than I do when I define a line as the place within which a particle lies during a lapse of time. At the same time, by virtue of this definition, has some sort of meaning. That is implied in correspondence. Now meaning is mind in the logical sense.

[8] L107 1904.10.26 (Letter to M.M. Curtis [a philosophical autobiography of 25pp.)

Every sign is in a triadic relation to an object and to an interpretant, which is brought by the sign into a relation to the object similar to the sign's relation to the object.

[9] CP 8.225n10 1904.07 [Draft probably of a letter probably to Paul Carus]

No sign can function as such except so far as it is interpreted in another sign (for example, in a "thought," whatever that may be). Consequently it is absolutely essential to a sign that it should _affect_ another sign. In using this causal word, 'affect,' I do not refer to invariable accompaniment or sequence, merely, or necessarily. What I mean is that when there is a sign there _will be_ an interpretation in another sign. The essence of the relation is in the conditional futurity; but it is not essential that there should be absolutely no exception. If, for example, in the 'long run' (that is, in an endless series of experiences taken in their experiential order) there WOULD BE as many cases of interpreted signs as of signs, I should say that this 'would be' constitutes a causal relation, even though there were, as there might be, an infinite number of exceptions. If the exceptions are, as they occur, as many or nearly as many as the cases of following the rule, the causality would be in my terminology 'very weak.' But if there is any WOULD BE at all, there is more or less causation; for that is all I mean by causation.

[10] CP 5.554 1906 The basis of pragmaticism (Robin 283)

There must be an action of the object upon the sign to render the latter true. Without that, the object is not the representamen's object. [] So, then, a sign, in order to fulfill its office, to actualize its potency, must be compelled by its object. This is evidently the reason of the dichotomy between the true and the false. For it takes two to make a quarrel, and a compulsion involves as large a dose of quarrel as is requisite to make it quite impossible that there should be compulsion withouth resistance.

[11] CP 5.484 ,1907 (Robin 318, Pragmatism)

But by "semiosis" I mean, on the contrary, an action, or influence, which is, or involves, a cooperation of three subjects, such as a sign, its object, and its interpretant, this tri-relative influence not being in any way resolvable into actions between pairs. <<Semeiosis [Greek letters]>> in Greek of the Roman period, as early as Cicero's time, if I remember rightly, meant the action of almost any kind of sign; and my definition confers on anything that so acts the title of a "sign.")

[12] MS 278 1909

There are three kinds of interest we may take in a thing. First we may have a primary interest in it for itself. Second, we may have a secondary interest in it, on account of its reactions with other things. Third, we may have a mediatory interest in it, in so far as it conveys to a mind an idea about a thing. In so far as it does this, it is a sign; or representamen. (MS 278, p. 34; 1909)

END: Marty's "76 Definitions, etc", with Lang's additions

CONTRIBUTED BY: Robert Marty Marty[…]univ-perp . fr
CONTRIBUTED BY: Alfred Lang Lang[…]psy . unibe . ch

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