6 Jun 2016

Peirce (CP1.302) Collected Papers of Charles Sanders Peirce, Vol1/Bk3/Ch2/A/§2, “The Manifestation of Firstness"


by Corry Shores

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[The following is summary. Boldface and bracketed commentary are mine. Proofreading is incomplete, so please forgive my typos.]



Summary of


Charles Sanders Peirce


Collected Papers of Charles Sanders Peirce


Volume 1: Principles of Philosophy


Book 3: Phenomenology


Chapter 2: The Categories in Detail


A: Firstness


§2: The Manifestation of Firstness [1.302]




Brief summary:

Peirce is detailing his categories of thought, beginning with Firstness. Contained in this most primary notion are the ideas of freedom, freshness, and life. Firstness is the predominant category not on account of it being the most general one but rather from it being completely self-contained and unlimited by any other concepts.






[The first category of thought is Firstness. It carries with it the notions of freedom, freshness, and life. What makes Firstness the predominant category is not that it is the most general but rather that it is self-contained.]


[Recall what Peirce wrote regarding firstness in section 1.25:

Firstness is the mode of being which consists in its subject's being positively such as it is regardless of aught else. That can only be a possibility. For as long as things do not act upon one another there is no sense or meaning in saying that they have any being, unless it be that they are such in themselves that they may perhaps come into relation with others. The mode of being a redness, before anything in the universe was yet red, was nevertheless a positive qualitative possibility. And redness in itself, even if it be embodied, is something positive and sui generis. That I call Firstness. We naturally attribute Firstness to outward objects, that is we suppose they have capacities in themselves which may or may not be already actualized, which may or may not ever be actualized, although we can know nothing of such possibilities [except] so far as they are actualized.

] Peirce will characterize the idea of First [that is, of firstness]. When we conceive the notion of First, we also think of freshness, life, and freedom. Peirce then defines freedom as having nothing behind determining something’s actions. [I do not follow his next point about negation. It might be that we cannot even think this idea of there not being something else causally behind something that is First, because by doing so, we have already conceived of another idea that challenges the primacy of the First idea. See the quote coming later.] [The next idea is that freedom “can only manifest itself in unlimited and uncontrolled variety and multiplicity”. This is a little confusing, because First would seem to be something singular, as we said there cannot be ideas of other things involved. So what is the uncontrolled variety and multiplicity? Perhaps the notion is that there should be no limits on what the First thing/idea can mutate into. For if there were any such limits, it would not be free.] Since freedom cannot be limited but rather must manifest in unlimited and uncontrolled variety and multiplicity, we find the First factoring into notions of measureless variety and multiplicity. Specifically, this freedom of the First is found in Kant’s notion of the manifold of sense. [Peirce then says that Kant’s synthetic unity of the manifold is also contaminated by thirdness. I am not sure how. Perhaps it comes from the fact that the unity of the manifold, the togetherness of the parts, is related to the unity of the transcendental ego, as the grounds of its cohesion.] What makes Firstness predominate is not that it is so abstract [that nothing can be said to be more general than it] but rather that it is self-contained [and thus is not in any way dependent on other things/ideas.] [Peirce then also says that its predominance is not from its being separated from qualities. But the idea of it being separated from qualities I do not grasp, because I thought that Firstness was to be understood as qualitative.] Insofar as it factors into our experiences, we find the First as being a matter of our feeling as distinguished from our perception, will, and thought.

The idea of First is predominant in the ideas of freshness, life, freedom. The free is that which has not another behind it, determining its actions; but so far as the idea of the negation of another enters, the idea of another enters; and such negative idea must be put in the background, or else we cannot say that the Firstness is predominant. Freedom can only manifest itself in unlimited and uncontrolled variety and multiplicity; and thus the first becomes predominant in the ideas of measureless variety and multiplicity. It is the leading idea of Kant's “manifold of sense.” But in Kant's synthetic unity the idea of Thirdness is predominant. It is an attained unity; and would better have been called totality; for that is the one of his categories in which it finds a home. In the idea of being, Firstness is predominant, not necessarily on account of the abstractness of that idea, but on account of its self-containedness. It is not in being separated from qualities that Firstness is most predominant, but in being something peculiar and idiosyncratic. The first is predominant in feeling, as distinct from objective perception, will, and thought.





Peirce, C.S. Collected Papers of Charles Sanders Peirce, Vol 1: Principles of Philosophy.  In Collected Papers of Charles Sanders Peirce [Two Volumes in One], Vols. 1 and 2. Edited by Charles Hartshorne and Paul Weiss. Cambridge, Massachusetts: 1965 [1931].



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