10 Jul 2016

Peirce (CP1.322-1.323) Collected Papers of Charles Sanders Peirce, Vol1/Bk3/Ch2/B/§1, "Feeling and Struggle", summary


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


B: Secondness


§1: Feeling and Struggle [1.322-1.323]



Brief summary:

Phenomenal experience exhibits three different aspects. The second of which, “secondness”, is our awareness of the contact of our forces of externalized exertion upon outside forces resisting our efforts. Secondness is therefore a matter of struggle. It is already a part of firstness, as the varying degrees of the vividness of our qualities of feeling suggest an inner commotion of sorts, and also these qualities resist efforts to alter them. One might object that really we are not struggling, because we are not capable of willful effort. For, all our actions are determined, and their force is the result of external forces causing us to act one way or another. However, one only needs to reflect on one’s own inner life to see that one does indeed willfully act, and also, any mechanistic laws that might be evoked in the claim for determinism cannot themselves be seen as actual causes of actions but rather at best just as being explanations for them.






[Secondness is a matter of struggle between two things regardless of a third or medium between them. There is struggle already in qualities of feeling, as their vividness suggests some inner commotion, and also they resist manipulation.]


[Peirce’s first phenomenological category, recall, is firstness, which is the pure fundamental quality of feeling of our inner experience. The second category or feature of phenomena is struggle. Peirce sees this element of struggle already in our simple experiences of feeling. I do not follow these points well. Peirce seems to mention two ways that struggle can be found in simple feeling. One is somehow in the “commotion” between soul and stimulus of an action and reaction. I am do not grasp that notion, and I cannot tell if the next idea is an elaboration of it or another idea altogether. The next point seems to be that qualities of feeling have a sort of inertia that resists them being changed. Peirce then clarifies that struggle is between two things without a third or a medium between them. Let me quote, as I do not follow so well.]

The second category that I find, the next simplest feature common to all that comes before the mind, is the element of struggle.


This is present even in such a rudimentary fragment of experience as a simple feeling. For such a feeling always has a degree of vividness, high or low; and this vividness is a sense of commotion, an action and reaction, between our soul and the stimulus. If, in the endeavor to find some idea which does not involve the element of struggle, we imagine a universe that consists of a single quality that never changes, still there must be some degree of steadiness in this imagination, or else we could not think about and ask whether there was an object having any positive suchness. Now this steadiness of the hypothesis that enables us to think about it – and to mentally manipulate it – which is a perfectly correct expression, because our thinking about the hypothesis really consists in making experiments upon it – this steadiness, I say, consists in this, that if our mental manipulation is delicate enough, the hypothesis will resist being changed. Now there can be no resistance where there is nothing of the nature of struggle or forceful action. By struggle I must explain that I mean mutual action between two things regardless of any sort of third or medium, and in particular regardless of any law of action.

(Peirce 161).





[Secondness involves our willful effort to exert our forces against external resistance. This is real voluntary effort, as it is not externally caused.]


[I am not certain, but Peirce’s next idea seems to be the following. Peirce is defining secondness in terms of struggle and the action of one thing on another, involving effort and resistance. This seems also therefore to involve our will to act against other things and to resist their actions against us. But one might object that there is no such voluntary will to exert oneself, as we are always in a sense being pushed by outside forces that determine our actions and that give our actions their force. Peirce’s reply is that people who claim to think this do not live as if they never willfully endeavor. And he also seems to say that even certain physical or mechanical events somehow are not always deterministic. I am not sure about his final point, when he says that no law of nature makes a stone fall, because does not the law of gravity explain its fall? Perhaps the idea is that such laws do not act as real causes but rather only describe how events unfold.]

I should not wonder if somebody were to suggest that perhaps the idea of a law is essential to the idea of one thing acting upon another. But surely that would be the most untenable suggestion in the world considering that there is no one of us who after lifelong discipline in looking at things from the necessitarian point of view has ever been able to train himself to dismiss the idea that he can perform any specifiable act of | the will. It is one of the most singular instances of how a preconceived theory will blind a man to facts that many necessitarians seem to think that nobody really believes in the freedom of the will, the fact being that he himself believes in it when he is not theorizing. However, I do not think it worth while to quarrel about that. Have your necessitarianism if you approve of it; but still I think you must admit that no law of nature makes a stone fall, or a Leyden jar to discharge, or a steam engine to work.





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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