An ‘Entirely Different Series of Categories’

This essay is essentially part one of a two part essay, even though the essays are not numbered as such in the titles.  The second part of the essay is “A Guess at the Other Riddle” (2012b).

These essays are a study in Peirce’s phenomenology (though he preferred to call the science phaneroscopy) and theory of the categories.  Peirce argued that there are three formal categories.  What those categories are becomes evident if we consider predication.  Consider, for example, the following three sentences with the subjects deleted:

_____ is red.

_____ sees _____.

_____ represents _____ to ______.

The first is a monadic predicate because it takes only one subject (e.g. the ball is red).  The second is a dyadic predicate because it takes two subjects (e.g. Richard sees a horse).  The third is a triadic predicate because it takes three subjects (e.g. The abstract painting represents the joy of life to Richard).

Peirce believed that all relata (e.g. being red, seeing, representing to) are either monadic (Firsts), dyadic (Seconds), or triadic (Thirds), and that all polyadic relata greater than three (Tetrads, Pentads, Hexads, etc.) can be reduced to triads.  Peirce maintained that this is a truth discovered in pure mathematics (see 2006).

The universality of those three relata led to Peirce to believe that in examining phenomena (or what seems or what is manifest—the “what it is like” of an experience) we should find features of phenomena corresponding to those relata.  (See also 2014b for comments on this.)  That is, we should find features of phenomena that are what they are independently of anything else (Firsts), we should find features of phenomena that relate two things (Seconds), and we should features of phenomena that relate three things (Thirds).  Should we find anything in the phenomena that is a First, it would fall under the category of Firstness.  Likewise, should we find anything in the phenomena that is a Second, it would fall under the category of Secondness.  The same consideration applies for Thirds.  Peirce thinks that the qualities of experiences (e.g. the red of seeing a red ball) are Firsts, brute reactions (e.g. the shrill whistle of a train awakening one from sleep) are Seconds, and representations (e.g. judgments about what one sees) are Thirds.

However, at various points Peirce suggests that in addition to the three formal categories of Firstness, Secondness, and Thirdness, there is a second set of categories.  I call these the material categories.  This essay is aimed at showing two things: (a) that Peirce indeed thought that there is a second set of categories and (b) that the second set of categories cannot be reduced to the first set of categories, i.e. the second set of categories is neither merely a different aspect of the formal categories nor generated from the formal categories.

Also in this essay are: (a) a discussion of the phaneroscopic isolation of the categories on analogy with Mendeleev’s periodic table of elements (Peirce was a trained chemist); (b) a discussion of Peirce’s phaneroscopy in relation to his classification of the sciences (see 2006); and (c) a discussion of Peirce’s failed distinction between the universal and particular categories, which he had modeled on Kant’s theory.