[percy-l] Peirce/Percy

Mike Frentz mfrentz at bbn.com
Mon Aug 18 17:46:11 EDT 2003


Sorry for the delay, I missed this note until now.  Deledalle and Deacon 
are the two places I would start (Deacon, mainly for one of the best 
applications I am aware of some of the core ideas, not to mention right in 
line with WP's language theories.  Unfortunately Deacon is by far my best 
reference in this vein -- to my chagrin (and no doubt Percy's if he were 
alive today -- CSP is still very much an outcast among most respectable 
Cambridge scholars, per my personal sampling..).  I assume that you know 
that the Collected Papers are available on CD from Intelex for about 
$125.  A nice implementation (great search capabilities).  Great deal.

Peirce is interesting (and difficult) because he published for fifty odd 
years, and seemed to have terrible problems with some type of mental 
illness, not to mention his rather wordy and abstract way of expressing 
things even in good times.  Somebody like Deledalle (who spent his life 
studying Peirce) is invaluable for tracing the larger patterns in his 
thought rather than getting caught up in the hills and valleys of each 
article.  Meanings of words changed somewhat throughout CSP's professional 
life, and he wrote also wrote differently depending on who he was writing 
to.  Deledalle makes it all make more sense (the easy way).

The Essential Peirce two volumes are (truly) essential.  Takes a lot of the 
gibberish of the CP's (that apparently were dropped on the floor a few too 
many times) and recompiles articles in a much more coherent fashion (same 
info, radically different presentation, not to mention chronologically 
arranged).  The Chronological edition will be a boon, but I hope both of us 
live long enough to see it to completion (no offense, Ken K!  Keep it up!)

As you've gathered, WP was of the opinion that CSP was anti-Catholic in a 
lot of ways (some of which he was).  Definitely had problems with organized 
religion, but, to my read, many of CSP's present day scholars like to 
overly read their own pantheistic theologies onto CSP (that I believe are 
totally off).  Despite being raised a Unitarian, he was apparently a 
practicing Trinitarian (Episcopalian to be exact, non-gay variety, 
presumably) for the last two decades of his life.  His famous letter of 
1892, where he basically feels the need to confess having taken "Holy 
Communion" unworthily after having what he termed a mystical experience 
seemed to precede his return to Trinitarian practice.

A mature Trinitarian viewpoint (which is entirely unknown [indeed, 
incomprehensible?] to most present day CSP scholars it does appear), is 
actually very consistent with CSP's struggles.  I, personally, think WP was 
a little too hard on CSP in this regard -- CSP was voicing very common 
misconceptions/prejudices of the Catholic faith in that place and time that 
would have been hard to overcome without proper guidance (e.g. bumping into 
John Henry Newman  :-).  I think he was more ignorant, than malicious, for 
the most part.  One of CSP's discussions of transubstantiation was actually 
kind of Frank Sheed-like in its profundity (it's not in the CP), but it 
went something like "transubstantiation is changing of substance while 
keeping the same form; while transformation is the changing of form while 
keeping the same substance".  Kind of makes the Eucharist seem more 
believable than a butterfly.

The thing I find most fascinating about the triangle is this: 
interpretation of the triad from any two starting points gives a different 
mode of inference.  Start with representamen and interpretant and you get 
deductive reasoning (resulting in a semiotic object -- examples are reading 
simple text or following a marked trail), start with interpretant and 
(semiotic) object and you get inductive reasoning (resulting in a sign -- 
examples are writing prose or tool-making), start with representaman and 
(semiotic) object and you get abductive reasoning (resulting in an 
interpretant -- examples are two seemingly serendipitous independent 
scientific observations, or a rock balanced precariously above your doorway).


At 12:16 PM 8/16/2003 -0400, you wrote:
>Thanks for the references, that was just what I was looking for.  The 
>Peirce literature is so comprehensive it's overwhelming, and unlike my 
>studies of Percy, I have no idea where to start.  I almost didn't do this 
>topic because I am not trained in semiotics (semeiotics?) and most of this 
>is now self taught.  But I have been reading "American Signatures" which 
>says that most semioticians are self taught (as was Percy).  So I'm not 
>alone, but I still don't have a clear path of reading mapped out.
>Percy says in several places that Susanne Langer dropped the ball and he 
>intended to pick it up -- he says it in the essays, the conversations, 
>etc.  But only one place do I recall that he actually says WHAT she 
>dropped -- what she missed.  I believe it was early in my reading, in 
>"Message," but I don't remember what it was and I'm going to have to go 
>back and look.  I thought someone else might have been familiar with it.
>Peirce, unlike Percy, was eagerly ready to reject that which did not 
>conform to "the method of science" as a manner of fixing belief.  So he 
>rejected the "method of tradition" "method of authority" and "method of 
>fashion."   The infallibility of the Catholic church would fall under 
>those.  And if anyone has read Peirce's "Fixation of Belief," which was 
>the first essay I read, Peirce clearly asserts that the idea of 
>transubstantiation just can't be.  I don't know if he continued with this 
>opinion or not for the rest of his life, as it seems he changed as he grew 
>older.  However, this is clearly contradictory to Percy's beliefs, and 
>explains why Percy called himself only a "Thief of Peirce" rather than 
>embracing Peirce's whole philosophy.  Still, Percy gives no reason (that I 
>have found) for rejecting the triad in favor of the triangle.  Your 
>solution of viewing the AREA of the triangle as the triadic content is one 
>resolution to the problem, but was Percy viewing it that way?  I think he 
>wanted to put it all on the interpretant (one point of the triangle) to 
>differentiate it from dyadic behavior and to say something special was 
>happening there, within the interpretant. That's where the triadic event 
>was taking place.  But then why do we need the idea of the triangle at 
>all?  It gets back to Cartesian dualism (something non-material is within 
>man) and this is why I think Percy was expressing in his letters to Ken 
>Ketner some doubt as to whether Peirce's triads (notwithstanding Peirce's 
>other writings) could refute Descartes.  However, I don't quite get how 
>Peirce's triads solve the problem either.
>Just some things I'm wondering about.  I am interested in the work that 
>has been done on this after Percy.  Any way to find out what that is?
>----- Original Message -----
>From: <mailto:mfrentz at bbn.com>Mike Frentz
>To: <mailto:percy-l at lists.ibiblio.org>Percy-L: Literary and Philosophical 
>Sent: Friday, August 15, 2003 4:04 PM
>Subject: Re: [percy-l] gays, biblical authority and Percy's language theory --
>re your first question -- this paper was "discovered" yesterday and 
>floated on the peirce-l list (though the paper is four years old, I wasn't 
>aware of it either and I'm a big fan of Deacon).  Interesting coupling of 
>the "reproductive properties" of memes in terms of semiosis (interpretant 
>spawning yet another sign).
>Terrence W. Deacon, Memes as Signs
>  http://www.chass.utoronto.ca/epc/srb/srb/10-3edit.html
>Unfortunately the two other books he comments on as upcoming in "Note 10" 
>still aren't to be found.  Floyd Merrel's 1997 book on Peirce, Signs, and 
>Meaning is also quite an interesting read in this area.
>re the second question -- I personally think this whole notion is 
>irrelevant, as long as the triangle is interpreted by the area rather than 
>the edges, all vertices are connected to the other two, a dyadic 
>relationships aren't necessarily implied to me by this.  I find it 
>interesting that Peirce doesn't really seem to have used either notation 
>in his various descriptions of the same concepts (at least not in the 
>Collected Papers), yet he his existential graphs are nothing less than a 
>graphical computer.  BTW, a *great* reference for anyone attempting to 
>surf the CP on their own is 
>S. Peirce's Philosophy of Signs: Essays in Comparative Semiotics (Advances 
>in Semiotics)
>by Gerard Deledalle, 2001 (Deledalle, a French philosopher who did much to 
>bring CSP to Europe's attention, just died a few months back).  Like 
>having a Fodor's to the CSP wilderness (I think WP would have loved to 
>have had this book)
>I find it striking how different research is today because of the web vs. 
>when Percy was working this a little over a decade ago (per Ketner's Thief 
>of Peirce dialogues).  Also, a lot of work has been done in this area 
>since his death.
>re the third question:  I dunno?  I'd be interested if you do find the 
>reference.  I have on occasion started to look up Langer's work but came 
>away with the impression that she had drifted so far off in less Pe*rc*an 
>directions that aren't of particular interest to me that I've never 
>followed through on what it was that Percy was fond of in Langer's work 
>wrt CSP's legacy.
>At 03:24 PM 8/15/2003 -0400, you wrote:
>>No -- I'm certainly no moderator!  But I am fascinated by the fact that 
>>gays and Biblical authority have garnered so much response, but Percy's 
>>language theory doesn't get much interest?  There's so much he left 
>>unfinished and so much to investigate.  If he had lived longer, I think 
>>something tremendous might have come out of it -- like, the answer to, 
>>what is the interpretant?  He died before he could solve it.
>>So, here's what I would discuss if I had the choice...
>>What is the interpretant?
>>Why did he use triangles instead of triads, even when a good argument was 
>>given against it?
>>What did Susanne Langer drop that he picked up?  (I believe he says what 
>>it is in one place, but I lost it somewhere)
>>----- Original Message -----
>>From: <mailto:PARLINS at culver.org>Parlin, Steven
>>To: <mailto:percy-l at lists.ibiblio.org>'Percy-L: Literary and 
>>Philosophical Discussion'
>>Sent: Thursday, August 14, 2003 10:52 PM
>>Subject: RE: [percy-l] West Wing
>>Because some of my replies that contradict Karey are not showing up in my
>>inbox, I assumed (wrongly it seems) that I had angered her (isn't she the
>>moderator?), and that she was preventing my postings from going to the list.
>>I owe you an all an apology...but especially Karey.
>>Please forgive my presumption.
>>I'm an ass.
>>-----Original Message-----
>>From: David Alan Beck [mailto:dabeck at iupui.edu]
>>Sent: Thursday, August 14, 2003 9:45 PM
>>To: Percy-L: Literary and Philosophical Discussion
>>Subject: Re: [percy-l] West Wing
>>Why are we getting triplicates of your posting??
>>On Thu, 14 Aug 2003, Parlin, Steven wrote:
>>   [NON-Text Body part not included]
>>David Beck
>>An archive of all list discussion is available at
>>Visit the Walker Percy Project at 
>>An archive of all list discussion is available at 
>>Visit the Walker Percy Project at 
>>An archive of all list discussion is available at 
>>Visit the Walker Percy Project at http://www.ibiblio.org/wpercy
>An archive of all list discussion is available at 
>Visit the Walker Percy Project at http://www.ibiblio.org/wpercy
>An archive of all list discussion is available at 
>Visit the Walker Percy Project at http://www.ibiblio.org/wpercy
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