The Commens Dictionary

Quote from ‘Prolegomena to an Apology for Pragmaticism’


… an analysis of the essence of a sign, (stretching that word to its widest limits, as anything which, 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. [—] A Symbol incorporates a habit, and is indispensable to the application of any intellectual habit, at least. Moreover, Symbols afford the means of thinking about thoughts in ways in which we could not otherwise think of them. They enable us, for example, to create Abstractions, without which we should lack a great engine of discovery. These enable us to count; they teach us that collections are individuals (individual = individual object), and in many respects they are the very warp of reason. But since symbols rest exclusively on habits already definitely formed but not furnishing any observation even of themselves, and since knowledge is habit, they do not enable us to add to our knowledge even so much as a necessary consequent, unless by means of a definite preformed habit.

CP 4.531
‘Symbol’ (pub. 05.05.13-10:42). Quote in M. Bergman & S. Paavola (Eds.), The Commens Dictionary: Peirce's Terms in His Own Words. New Edition. Retrieved from
May 05, 2013, 10:42 by Sami Paavola
Last revised: 
Jan 07, 2014, 00:57 by Commens Admin