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.]
Charles Sanders Peirce
Collected Papers of Charles Sanders Peirce
Volume 1: Principles of Philosophy
Book 3: Phenomenology
Chapter 2: The Categories in Detail
§6: Ego and Non-Ego [1.332-1.334]
Volition involves dyadic relations. We have the will to exert our forces upon the world to influence it, and we have the will not to have ourselves become influenced by the external world impinging upon us in a disruptive way. So we have an active volition of “reform” and a passive, inertial volition of “conservatism”. Our passive volition, which strives for an inner homeostasis and a protection from exterior influence, is able to maintain stasis when perceptions are relatively expectable. Even though our perceptions come from outside, there is a feeling of control, because those perceptions do not correspond to disruptions in our inner stasis. However, unexpected perceptions change our inner feelings and states, which means our passive, innertial volition of “conservatism” is checked. The degree to which our passive volition is checked is the power of the shock we feel in those cases. We have a sensation whenever the unexpected perceptions initiate in us a new feeling. This pure qualitative feeling persists even as the intensity of the sensation dies down, and the feeling is only changed to another one when we are shocked by a new sensation from another unexpected perception. Pleasure and pain are not essential to feeling. Rather, we volitionally strive to attain pleasure and avoid pain, and to these volitions we have the feeling of volitionally striving for pleasure or pain.
[There are phenomenological differences between feeling, volition, and cognition. Feeling has no parts. Volition however is always a matter of opposing relations. There is an active volition that is related with a volition of reform, and there is a passive volition (a volitional inertia) that is related with a volition of conservatism. We have sensations whenever we are shocked by unexpected perceptions. In these cases, our inertial volition loses its capacity to maintain a homeostasis of passive volitional expenditure, and the degree to which its energies are checked is the strength of the shock. All unexpected perceptions have some degree of shock, and they involve the sensing of an external non-ego. Sensations are also the initiations of feeling. The pure feeling persists even as the shock of the sensation dies down, and it is only changed to another feeling when we are shocked by a new sensation from another unexpected perception].
[Peirce says that he performed careful phenomenological analysis of his own acts of consciousness, and he has found that feeling, volition, and cognition involve three very different modes of awareness. There are psychological differences between these three, but Peirce is interested more in their phenomenological differences, namely, he wants to examine “the differences between that of which we are aware in feeling, volition, and cognition” (emphasis mine). A feeling is a quality, but purely as such, it does not involve some particular subject (see section 1.303 and section 1.305). (I am not sure about his next idea. It seems to be that a feeling is not grasped by means of our reason. And somehow the expression “to have a jaundiced mind” “well expresses feeling without reason”. But I do not understand what he means by this. He discuses how feelings cannot be conceived in sections 1.306 and 1.310.) (Feeling does not have component parts), and thus it is “unanalyzed” (see section 1.303, and sections 1.306 and 1.307). However, unlike feeling, which has no parts, “Volition is through and through dual”. It involves such dualities as between agent and patient, effort and resistance, active effort and inhibition, and of acting on self and acting on external objects. Peirce then distinguishes types of volitions which are duals: active volition and passive volition (or inertia), and (these following might be synonymous with the prior pair, but I am not sure) the volition of reform and the volition of conservatism. Peirce then notes how volition is involved in experiences of shock. We experience shock when we are unexpectedly forced to recognize something with the pressing need to provide some explanation for it. The shock itself is our sense of volitional inertia of expectation that is being checked and thus strikes us like the “blow of a water-hammer”. (I am not entirely sure what is meant. The volitional inertia is being checked. What does this mean? He distinguished active volition from passive volition, and the second one he said was inertial. So although it is inertial, it is still volitional. Given how he defined volition in section 1.331, this means that it involves our efforts and intentions having effect in the world. But the fact that it is passive suggests that they are in action in an automatic, perhaps unconscious, sort of way. So we are acting volitionally in the world, perhaps having some relative sense of control over the environment as a result of our volitional interference in it. And then this inertial passive volition is suddenly checked when we no longer feel that control over the situation, and we instead are forced to try to understand a situation that previously posed us no such critical problems. Now we bring into this the notion of the volition of conservatism. I am not sure what this is (and it might even be synonymous with inertial or passive volition) but it perhaps is our efforts to not alter our patterns of volitional expenditure and to maintain a sort of automatic volitional status quo or homeostasis. It was contrasted to the volition of reform. So this is further reason to suppose that we might think then that what is being checked is our efforts to prevent changes in how we exert our efforts. Peirce says that the energy of the shock can be measured as the amount of energy of the conservative volition that is being checked. So perhaps something is very shocking if we cease investing much energy in our efforts to maintain a status quo, or rather, if that energy is prevented from making that investment. I wonder if we might simply say that when we are shocked by something, we lose our feeling of control or mastery in the situation and over our own abilities to maintain stability or stasis in our functioning. Peirce then writes, “Low grades of this shock doubtless accompany all unexpected perceptions; and every perception is more or less unexpected”. Lower levels of shock are the result of our awareness of externality, which is also the presence of a non-ego. This non-ego, or perhaps the shock of our awareness of it, is what helps us distinguish waking perceptions from acts of dreaming. (Peirce discussed non-ego in section 1.325. Here it seemed to be understood in terms of the otherness of the world that resists our willful exertions.) (For the next point, recall Peirce’s use of this example in prior sections of this text. In section 1.304, he used the sound of a train whistle is an example of something (of a phaneron) with a pure qualitative feeling that can be understood apart from the actual experience of it. He wrote: “Among phanerons there are certain qualities of feeling, such as the color of magenta, the odor of attar, the sound of a railway whistle, the taste of quinine, the quality of the emotion upon contemplating a fine mathematical demonstration, the quality of feeling of love, etc. I do not mean the sense of actually experiencing these feelings, whether primarily or in any memory or imagination. That is something that involves these qualities as an element of it. But I mean the qualities themselves which, in themselves, are mere may-bes, not necessarily realized” (150). In section 1.305, he uses the example of a train whistle again to make roughly the same point, namely, that we are to conceive of the quality of feeling apart from the experience of it and from the many sorts of conditions surrounding that experience. But here he also has us think of the train whistle sound as going on eternally and unvarying. This is because in order to conceive it as a pure qualitative feeling, we cannot think of it as having temporal determinations. He writes, “Suppose I begin by inquiring of you, Reader, in what particulars a feeling of redness or of purple without beginning, end, or change; or an eternally sounding and unvarying railway whistle; or a sempiterne thrill of joyous delight – or rather, such as would afford us delight, but supposed to be in that respect quite neutral – that should constitute the entire universe, would differ from a substance?” (151).) Peirce then defines sensation and feeling, but his manner of presenting these related concepts makes it a bit hard to clearly distinguish and adequately characterize them. Let us start with his example of hearing a train whistle. He has us consider it as having three main parts. There is a sensation at the very beginning when it first sounds. And this sensation ends after it has been “going on for any considerable fraction of a minute”. So it ends after it sustains for some noticeable extent of time. The third part is the second sensation that appears as soon as the sound stops. (This part is ambiguous. He says “at the instant it stops there is a second sensation”, but it is not clear if the “it” refers to the sound or to the sensation. They might be identical or at least cotemporaneous, but I am not sure.) In between the two sensations is a state of feeling. Before giving this example, Peirce defined feeling as “nothing but sensation minus the attribution of it to any particular subject”. So the feeling is the sensation as a pure quality. He defined sensation as the “initiation of a state of feeling.” What I find unclear is how we are to understand the whistle example in relation to these definitions. One interpretation would say that when the whistle starts, we have a sensation as the initiation of the feeling corresponding to the experience of the whistle, with this feeling being the sensation minus an attribution of it as being our own sensation. Then, before we have another sensation, there is a state of feeling. And then when the sounds stops, we have a second sensation, which would have to be the initiation of another state of feeling, either from the experience of some other sound or other stimulus, or from the experience of silence or of the transition to silence. What is unclear to me here is that we are saying that in between the two sensations is a state of feeling, but we are defining feeling as a sensation (minus the attribution to a subject). So on the one hand, we seem to be saying that between the sensations there is a lack of sensation, but on the other hand we seem to be saying that there is a sustained sensation of some kind. So perhaps when Peirce defined sensation, he could have also said that sensation is “the initiation or continuation of a state of feeling.” But given the context of shock, another interpretation could be that there is only sensation when there is the experience of unexpected variation. This would bring it more in lines with Deleuze’s account of sensation. A third interpretation would take issue with the “between” in “Between them (the two sensations) there is a state of feeling.” Here we would not actually conceive there being some duration between one sensation and the next, as if there is a period of no sensation. Rather, we would say that one follows immediately after the other, and by “between them” we mean something like “among them” or “during them”. Yet one more interpretation to consider is that sensations can have temporal limits and durations, while states of feeling cannot. So to say “between them there is a state of feeling” would not mean that the feeling as a pure quality has some duration lying between limits. It might work like the following. We have sensations whenever we are shocked by unexpected perceptions, but these shocks can be relatively minor ones. Yet our experiences on this sensory level have two aspects. On the one hand, we experience the sensation as our own, that is, as attributed to us as the one having them. At the same time, we experience the firstness of the phenomenon. Here the sensations have a certain qualitative feel to them that we do not experience as belonging to us at that moment but that rather have some sort of non-durational quality to them. Now, with this in mind, we will say that the physical, self-attributable sensation can cease even as the stimulus continues. So at first the loud whistle gives us a sensation. But that sensation diminishes as we become accustomed to hearing the noise. However, all the while, even as the sensation diminishes, we also experience the qualitative feel of that whistle sound, which was initiated by the onset of the sensation, and which continues undiminished until another sensation brings about another feeling. Peirce said in section 1.305 that qualities of feeling cannot be understood as having certain qualitative and quantitative determinations, including it having certain intensities, for this involves comparison and thus secondness. So it is conceivable that although the feeling is sensation minus the attribution to a subject, nonetheless that feeling maintains itself even as the sensation causing it dies away. This is how I propose we understand the difficult passages at the end of this paragraph. Note by the way that so far this interpretation still remains in line with Deleuze’s account of sensation, because it is still understood as existing only for as long as it is unexpected and shocking. One more important thing to note with Peirce’s account in relation to Deleuze is the possibility that Peirce understands the sensation not to be the sensation of some particular stimulus but rather as the sensation of a difference in what stimulates our senses. This is suggested especially by the fact that in the example, the second sensation comes when the whistle sound ceases. So we might on the one hand say that the sensation of silence is the second sensation. But this can be an odd thing to say, namely that we are sensing a lack of stimulus (at least if we regard sensations to arise from stimuli). It would seem on the other hand more accurate to say that we sense a change in the stimulus, that is to say, that we notice it has stopped, rather than saying we notice its lack. But as we will see in the next main section entitled “Shock and the Sense of Change”, he will use the example of the Doppler effect altering the train whistle’s sound. He says specifically that we do not sense the change. Rather, we just sense the lower note, but not the change in note. We will examine this next in greater detail. But he will say that we cognize the change, and this cognition is a matter of experiencing the change rather than sensing it. The shock of this experience is caused by the fact that we volitionally make efforts to continue our perception of the sound as it is, such that when it changes, it is met with our own volitional resistance. So he is in fact saying that we do not sense the change in notes. However, he is saying that we have a new sensation when the notes change, which initiates a new feeling. So Peirce seems to have the following view. We are always having sensations while we are having perceptions. We directly sense the stimulus. So our sensations change as the stimulus changes. But we do not directly sense the change in the stimulus itself. This happens when our internal systems volitionally make efforts to maintain our state of experience, but these efforts are thwarted when some perception forces us to change our state of experience. Our experiential awareness of our internal resistance to the forces disturbing our homeostasis is the source of our shock, and the energy of that shock is as great as the volitional effort that is being thwarted by the disruptive force of the unexpected perception. Thus we would have to say that Peirce’s model differs from Deleuze’s account. For Peirce, we directly sense stimuli of different kinds, but we do not sense the differences between them. For Deleuze, as I read him, we do not directly sense stimuli as whole constituted things but rather we directly sense variations in stimuli, and only on higher orders of perception do we artificially constitute unified coherent perceptions.]
The triad, feeling, volition, cognition, is usually regarded as a purely psychological division. Long series of carefully planned self-experiments, persistent and much varied, though only qualitative, have left me little doubt, if any, that there are in those elements three quite disparate modes of awareness. That is a psychological proposition; but that which | now concerns us is not psychological, particularly; namely the differences between that of which we are aware in feeling, volition, and cognition. Feeling is a quality, but so far as there is mere feeling, the quality is not limited to any definite subject. We hear of a man whose mind is jaundiced. That phrase well expresses feeling without reason. Feeling also as such is unanalyzed. Volition is through and through dual. There is the duality of agent and patient, of effort and resistance, of active effort and inhibition, of acting on self and on external objects. Moreover, there is active volition and passive volition, or inertia, the volition of reform and the volition of conservatism. That shock which we experience when anything particularly unexpected forces itself upon our recognition (which has a cognitive utility as being a call for explanation of the presentment), is simply the sense of the volitional inertia of expectation, which strikes a blow like a water-hammer when it is checked; and the force of this blow, if one could measure it, would be the measure of the energy of the conservative volition that gets checked. Low grades of this shock doubtless accompany all unexpected perceptions; and every perception is more or less unexpected. Its lower grades are, as I opine, not without experimental tests of the hypothesis, that sense of externality, of the presence of a non-ego, which accompanies perception generally and helps to distinguish it from dreaming. This is present in all sensation, meaning by sensation the initiation of a state of feeling; – for by feeling I mean nothing but sensation minus the attribution of it to any particular subject. In my use of words, when an earsplitting, soul-bursting locomotive whistle starts, there is a sensation, which ceases when the screech has been going on for any considerable fraction of a minute; and at the instant it stops there is a second sensation. Between them there is a state of feeling.
[Pleasure and pain are not essential to feeling. Rather, we volitionally strive to attain pleasure and avoid pain, and to these volitions we have the feeling of volitionally striving for pleasure or pain.]
[Kant and other thinkers consider pleasure and pain as being essential to feeling. One reason they may think this is because they apply the word feeling to different modifications of awareness (I am not sure how this is reasoning for considering pleasure and pain to be of the essence of feeling. Perhaps the idea is that all modifications of our awareness are accompanied by some pleasure or pain even if slight.) Another reason they may think this is because they have wrongly analyzed feeling or pain and pleasure. Peirce however thinks that pure unadulterated feeling bears not relation to pain and pleasure. He says that instead pleasure and pain are related to our volition, as we volitionally make efforts to avoid pain and seek pleasure. So if there is any way that feeling is related to pain and pleasure, it is not a direct relation. Rather, it would be the feeling of volitionally trying to avoid pain and the feeling of volitionally trying to seek pleasure. But to be clear, this does not mean that there is a feeling common to all pleasures and one common to all pains. Peirce then elaborates this insight by discussing a flaw in hedonist thinking. The hedonist regards this feeling of volitionally trying to seek pleasure (and avoid pain) as being like guiding forces or principles for our behavior (as if they are like desire or drives, or as he puts it, as if they are “active agencies”). But these feelings are really just indicators of the workings of our unconscious volitional behavior (he says they are “conscious indications of real determinations of our subconscious volitional beings”. It seems he is saying that it is not that we have feelings that drive our volitions to make us seek pleasure but rather that our volitions are already structured such that they drive us to seek pleasure, and the feelings we have in this regard is merely the feeling of volitionally trying to seek that pleasure. Or perhaps it would be better to say that our volitions are structured such that they aim for certain things, and whenever we attain those aims, we have pleasure (and whenever we fail to, we have pain). And so it is not that our volitions are shaped by our drives for pleasure and pain but rather that our volitions create the conditions for us having pleasure or pain, depending on how successful those volitions are.) Peirce also does not think that pain is merely a privation of pleasure. However, he does acknowledge that pain indicates an active determination of our volitional being and pleasure indicates a passive determination of our volitional being. (I am not sure what he means by that however.)]
As for pleasure and pain, which Kant and others have represented to be of the essence of feeling, whether it be merely because they and the section of the psychological world for which at this moment I have the presumption to speak apply the word feeling to different modifications of awareness, or whether there be a faulty analysis on the one part or the other, we certainly do not think that unadulterated feeling, if that element could be isolated, would have any relation to pain or | to pleasure. For in our opinion if there be any quality of feeling common to all pleasurable experiences or components of experience, and another one quality of feeling common to all that is painful (which we are inclined to doubt, to say the least), then we hold the opinion that the one is the feeling of being attracted, the other that of being repelled, by the present state of experience. If there be two such feelings, they are feelings of states of volition. But perhaps pleasure and pain are nothing more than names for the state of being attracted and that of being repelled by present experience. Of course, feelings accompany them, but under the latter hypothesis no feeling would be common to all pleasures, and none to all pains. If we are right, the position of the hedonists is preposterous, in that they make mere feelings to be active agencies, instead of being merely conscious indications of real determinations of our subconscious volitional beings. [I may mention that their talk (however it may be with their thought) is further preposterous as seeming to make pain a mere privation of pleasure, although it is plain that it is pain that indicates an active, and pleasure only a passive, determination of our volitional being.]
[Volition is “the momentary direct dyadic consciousness of an ego and a non-ego.” As such, there are two sides to this one unified mode of consciousness. The ego side: there is the active and intentional volition of our muscular contractions as we try to exert our influence on the world around us. The non-ego side: there is the passive and unintentional volition that gives us feelings of shock when it is checked by external forces acting on us (which we detect perceptually) and also this side of the awareness gives us our sense of externality (because it involves our awareness of the external world impinging on us and affecting our inner workings). ]
[Peirce now explains that he considers volition to be no more than the “momentary direct dyadic consciousness of an ego and a non-ego then and there present and reacting each upon the other”. (Peirce says also that he will expand the meaning of volition in another way, but I could not discern what that is.) I am not certain, but Peirce’s next point seems to be that in the ego the activity (of the volition) is more active, and in the non-ego it is more passive. He writes specifically, “I would limit it to the momentary direct dyadic consciousness of an ego and a non-ego then and there present and reacting each upon the other. In one, the action is generally more active, in the other more passive; but precisely what this difference consists in I do not feel sure. I think, however, that the will to produce a change is active, the will to resist a change is passive.” The next point is a little confusing, because we might think that sensation is passive, as we seem to be receiving stimuli. However, he says that not only is sensation active, it is so by its very definition. [Recall from above that he defined sensation as the initiation of a state of feeling. Since something is active when it produces a change, and since sensation produces a change in states of feeling, then perhaps that is why it is by definition active. But it does not seem to be active in the sense that we actively enact our sensations and control them somehow.] He then addresses an objection. [I do not follow this part very well, and I am not even sure I know what the objection is against. If it is against the idea that sensation is by definition active, then I do not know how to make sense of what follows. If the objection is against the idea that the will to produce a change is active and the will to resist a change is passive, then perhaps I can work through the objection. So the next point might be that according to this view just stated, were we to resist a change, it should not involve a sense of effort (since we said it is passive). The next point I do not follow, but it seems to have the following idea. We can distinguish between the sense of externality in willing and in perception. In willing, perhaps, our sense of externality is one of us acting upon it, and in perception, perhaps, our sense of externality is one of it acting upon us. But how all this constitutes as an objection I do not know, which means I misinterpreted it. The text is quoted below for your own interpretation. Then Peirce makes a point that seems to be his reply to the objection. It at any rate seems to be a statement of what he is arguing, and it is an interesting point. He says that “the sense of externality in perception consists in a sense of powerlessness before the overwhelming force of perception.” I am not sure about the next point, because he says something about learning forces, but I do not know what it means to learn a force (unless it means to learn about a force or to learn that a force is present). His overall point seems to be that we have two classes of volition. One is the active and intentional volition of muscular contraction (our acting willfully to influence the external world) and the other is the passive unintentional volition that is the source of shock when we are surprised by unexpected perceptions and that give us a sense of externality (as it acts upon and influences us). Peirce’s main idea here is that there are not two distinct modes of consciousness. Rather, they are one act of awareness, that is, of an ego/non-ego dyad, which has two sides to that awareness, namely the active side of us exerting our volition on the world and the passive side of it affecting us and blocking our volitions.]
As for volition, I would limit the term in one way and extend it in another. I would limit it to the momentary direct dyadic consciousness of an ego and a non-ego then and there present and reacting each upon the other. In one, the action is generally more active, in the other more passive; but precisely what this difference consists in I do not feel sure. I think, however, that the will to produce a change is active, the will to resist a change is passive. All sensation is essentially, by its very definition, active. The objection to this is that, according to it, the voluntary inhibition of a reflex should not give a sense of effort; and probably the definition of the distinction between the sense of externality in willing and in perception requires a supplement or other slight modification on this account. But the important point [is] that the sense of externality in perception consists in a sense of powerlessness before the overwhelming force of perception. Now the only way in which any force can be learned is by something like trying to oppose it. That we do something like this is shown by the shock we receive from any unexpected experience. It is the inertia of the mind, which tends to remain in the state in which it is. No doubt | there is a marked difference between the active and intentional volition of muscular contraction and the passive and unintentional volition that gives the shock of surprise and the sense of externality. But the two are to be classed together as alike modes of double consciousness, that is, of awareness, at once and in the same awareness, of an ego and a non-ego. . . .
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 .