A Modest Proposal

James Piat piat1 at bellsouth.net
Sat May 4 14:57:13 EDT 2002

Hi Rhonda,

You wrote:

" This answer of yours to my query concerning S-R solidifies my
 of you as being potentially in the Peirce camp regarding triadic behavior.
 Peirce used communication between man and dog as an example of triadic
 communication.  Percy didn't seem to agree with this, seeming to limit such
 communication to that between people or between humans and God".

So for Percy one of the "so what's" of the triadic vs dyadic distinction is
that this is where the line is drawn between the meaningful universe of man
and God (or that God provides man) and the meaningless world of brutes,
vegetables and minerals (or whose meaning is known but to God)?  I think you
are right that Peirce did not draw the distinction quite this way (well, of
course,  Percy didn't draw it quite "this" way either but you know what I
mean -ha!).  Somewhere I recall Peirce uses the example of quartz (I think
it was quartz) that poloarizes light as an example of a true triad drawn
from the so called physical world.

" ALso, if I remember my brief education in S-R theory, part of the point is
that the behavior, the dog's salivating for example, occurs even when the
transaction is stripped of its meaning--no food to be found. If it does,
it's successful--the dog responds to the stimulus, not to the food. But it
 has no meaning for the dog if the food isn't present.  That may be why
 refers to it as a chain of dyads.  The complete transaction doesn't have
 genuine symbolic meaning".

Well, I would argue that is precisely because the dog does respond to the
stimulus bell in the absense of food that make the bell a meaningful
stimulus.  But of course you are right that if the bell is repeatedly rung
in the absense of food it will over time loose its symbolic
ignificance  --just as words fall out of usage and indeed whole languages
become dead and in some cases presumedly lost forever.

Earlier I said:
OK, but does that mean that when one is thinking to herself or privately
learning something new she is not engaged in symbolic formulation?

To which you responded:
" Formulation, yes, but until you communicate it through representation, is
 triadic? In other words, at least for Percy, my understanding of triadic
 behavior is that it is, by its nature, concerned with representing what's
 been formulated through the symbolic structure of language".

I think I am in agreement with you here.  I was trying to argue that even
learning from nature or through trial and error was a form of symbolic

" Also, how much of our through is entirely independent? I only have my own
 inner workings to draw from, so I'm a bit limited, but much of my thought,
 if not all of it, builds upon and reacts to others. For example, I may
 observe some sort of interesting animal behavior while watching my
 neighbor's dog's antics. I may reformulate some of my thought of S-R, but
 that reformulation will in part depend on our conversation here. I may even
 send you a message to communicate my new thoughts, but whether I do that or
 not, those thoughts are part of the triadic experience we are having".

Yes, I agree with you here whether my ideas on S-R as triadic hold water or
not.  I don't believe that thought or representation being a from of
communication is incompatible with S-R learning being triadic.  But if the
two are indeed incompatible than so much the worse for my view that S-R is
triadic as far as I'm concerned.

Earlier I said:
I think one can communicate
both with nature (a great teacher) as well as with other folks.  I think we
live in a meaningful universe and that all learning is meaningful and

To which you responded:
" I'll agree with that, but I'm not sure it's triadic unless you engage in
communication. At least, that's what Percy seems to say, but I'm not sure
 that Peirce would agree. I need to read more of Peirce".

I don't know exactly where either Percy or Peirce would come down on this
issue but you and I do seem to diverge a bit on this point.  I think that
God literally does speak to us through nature and learning in general  --I
take it you reserve the notion of symbolic communication more narrowly or
strickly to what is commonly called verbal language.

Earlier I said:
. . . I was not deliberately trying to
a distinction between Peirce and Percy.

To which you responded:
" I confess that I was.  I don't think Percy's entirely agreed with Peirce
 this issue, just as he didn't entirely agree with >Kierkegaard concerning
the  religious stage.  Maybe that's part of why Percy called himself a
 although Nikki and Dr. Ketner surely have a clearer idea of all this than I

Well I think you are right that Percy was selective in terms of his
acceptance of Peirce's philosophy.  When I said in an earlier post that
Percy was perhaps being facetious (I guess partially facetious would have
been better) what I had in mind was that he was half kidding about the
stealing part (elsewhere I think he does claim to have made a similar
independent discovery of the triadic nature of meaning ) but maybe joking
less (or not) about the one percent part. Actually, Rhonda, much of what
Percy writes strikes me as a bit wry, ironic or tongue in cheek.  There is
just something about his tone that strikes me as mischievious  --as though
he is watching the reader out of the corner of his eye  --deliberately
goading and teasing the reader a bit --in a way I personally find very funny
and delightful.   But I too defer to Nikki and Ken Ketner on this.  As I
said,  I started out here to give a go at Nikki's challenge and I think I've
gone a bit afield and lost my way. Actually I don't have strong convictions
regarding any of these issues (although I find them endlessly fascinating)
and I hope I'm not coming across and tediously argumentative.  Fact is I
fully agree with at least half of what you say and at least half agree with
all of it.

I've enjoyed our discussion and will shut up now for a bit and let others
get a word in!

Jim Piat

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