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That is logical which comes from the essential nature of a symbol.


"If we are to explain the universe, we must assume that there was
in the beginning a state of things in which there was nothing, no
reaction and no quality, no matter, no consciousness, no space and
no time, but just nothing at all.  Not determinately nothing.  For
that which is determinately not A supposes the being of A in some
mode.  Utter indetermination.  But a symbol alone is indeterminate.

Therefore, Nothing, the indeterminate of the absolute beginning, is
a symbol. That is the way in which the beginning of things can alone
be understood. What logically follows? We are not to content ourselves
with our instinctive sense of logicality. That is logical which comes
from the essential nature of a symbol. Now it is of the essential nature
of a symbol that it determines an interpretant, which is itself a symbol.

A symbol, therefore, produces an endless series of interpretants.  Does
anybody suspect all this of being sheer nonsense?  Distinguo.  There can,
it is true, be no positive information about what antedated the entire
Universe of being; because, to begin with, there was nothing to have
information about. But the universe is intelligible;  and therefore it
is possible to give a general account of it and its origin.  

This general account is a symbol; and from the nature of a symbol, it must begin with
the formal assertion that there was an indeterminate nothing of the nature
of a symbol.  This would be false if it conveyed any information.  But it
is the correct and logical manner of beginning an account of the universe.
As a symbol it produced its infinite series of interpretants, which in the
beginning were absolutely vague like itself.  But the direct interpretant
of any symbol must in the first stage of it be merely the tabula rasa for
an interpretant. Hence the immediate interpretant of this vague Nothing
was not even determinately vague, but only vaguely hovering between
determinacy and vagueness; and its immediate interpretant was vaguely
hovering between vaguely hovering between vagueness and determinacy and
determinate vagueness or determinacy, and so on, ad infinitum. 

But every endless series must logically have a limit.
 Leaving that line of thought unfinished for the present owing to the feeling
of insecurity it provokes, let us note, first, that it is of the nature of a
symbol to create a tabula rasa and therefore an endless series of tabulae rasae,
since such creation is merely representation, the tabulae rasae being entirely
indeterminate except to be representative. Herein is a real effect; but a symbol
could not be without that power of producing a real effect. The symbol represents
itself to be represented; and that representedness is real owing to its utter
vagueness. For all that is represented must be thoroughly borne out.

For reality is compulsive. But the compulsiveness is absolutely hic et nunc.
It is for an instant and it is gone. Let it be no more and it is absolutely
nothing. The reality only exists as an element of the regularity.  And the
regularity is the symbol.  Reality, therefore, can only be regarded as the
limit of the endless series of symbols.

A symbol is essentially a purpose, that is to say, is a representation
that seeks to make itself definite, or seeks to produce an interpretant
more definite than itself. For its whole signification consists in its
determining an interpretant; so that it is from its interpretant that
it derives the actuality of its signification.

A tabula rasa having been determined as representative of the symbol
that determines it, that tabula rasa tends to become determinate.  The
vague always tends to become determinate, simply because its vagueness
does not determine it to be vague (as the limit of an endless series).
In so far as the interpretant is the symbol, as it is in some measure,
the determination agrees with that of the symbol.  But in so far as it
fails to be its better self, it is liable to depart from the meaning
of the symbol.  Its purpose, however, is to represent the symbol in
its representation of its object; and therefore, the determination
is followed by a further development, in which it becomes corrected.
It is of the nature of a sign to be an individual replica and to be
in that replica a living general.  

By virtue of this, the interpretant is animated by the original replica, 
or by the sign it contains, with the power 
of representing the true character of the object.  
That the object has at all a character can only consist in a representation that
it has so, a representation having power to live down all opposition.
In these two steps, of determination and of correction, the interpretant
aims at the object more than at the original replica and may be truer
and fuller than the latter. The very entelechy of being lies in being
representable.  A sign cannot even be false without being a sign and so
far as it is a sign it must be true.  A symbol is an embryonic reality
endowed with power of growth into the very truth, the very entelechy of
reality.  This appears mystical and mysterious simply because we insist
on remaining blind to what is plain, that there can be no reality which
has not the life of a symbol.

How could such an idea as that of red arise?  It can only have been by
gradual determination from pure indeterminacy.  A vagueness not determined
to be vague, by its nature begins at once to determine itself.  Apparently
we can come no nearer than that to understanding the universe.

That is not necessarily logical which strikes me today as logical;
still less, as mathematics amply exemplifies, is nothing logical
except what appears to me so.  That is logical which it is necessary
to admit in order to render the universe intelligible.  And the first
of all logical principles is that the indeterminate should determine
itself as best it may.

A chaos of reactions utterly without any approach to law is absolutely nothing;
and therefore pure nothing was such a chaos.  Then pure indeterminacy having
developed determinate possibilities, creation consisted in mediating between
the lawless reactions and the general possibilities by the influx of a symbol.
This symbol was the purpose of creation.  Its object was the entelechy of being
which is the ultimate representation.

Charles Sanders Peirce from New Elements in The Essential Peirce

Cap tip Jon Awbry


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Stephen C. Rose Bio

Stephen C. Rose (1936-) was born in New York City and raised there. He currently lives there. He was educated at Trinity, Exeter, Williams and Union Theological Seminary. He served in the Student Interracial Ministry in Nashville. He founded and edited the prize-winning Renewal Magazine in Chicago and studied with C. A. Doxiadis in Athens. His first books "The Grass Roots Church" and "Who's Killing The Church" established him as a prominent critic of American Protestantism and American religion. He was and remains a civil rights activist. He has interviewed and done in depth pieces on Saul Alinsky and Martin Luther King, Jr. He won awards for editorial courage and for two documentary films. He has written and published many songs and musical works including "We Are All Americans". During the late 90s and early 2000s he worked for UN agencies, most recently editing CHOICES Magazine at UNDP. Since 2000 he has written several books for distribution via K…