10 Jul 2016

Peirce (CP1.324) Collected Papers of Charles Sanders Peirce, Vol1/Bk3/Ch2/B/§2, "Action and Perception", 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


§2: Action and Perception [1.324]



Brief summary:

Phenomenal experiences can be classified in accordance with their basic structural features. Secondness appears when our efforts aimed at modifying the exterior world are met with resistance from without. Our awareness in such a situation is double-sided. On the one hand we are aware of our own inner efforts, while on the other hand we are aware of the exterior resistance to those efforts and to the modifying influence they have upon us. This gives us a sense of otherness and of the not-self, and we even come to understand exterior objects in terms of their resistances to one another. Our efforts to modify the exterior world is on the side of our action, while the exterior resistance to our efforts which modifies our own thinking and ideas is on the side of perception.

[Additional reference notes: cf. Bergson’s perception, affection, and action in Matter and Memory]






[In secondness, we are aware of both our own inner efforts to modify the world (our actions) and as well of exterior resistance to them which modifies our inner thinking and ideas (perception). This gives us the notion of otherness or not self and more generally of objectivity.]


[Recall from section 1.321 how our inner world of fancy is under our domain, although the exterior world of facts can impose upon our inner world and modify our thinking by importing ideas from the outside. Peirce seems to be working with a similar notion here. So we have in our minds the image of something we expect, but then the world imposes something different upon our experiences. We “are continually bumping up against hard fact” which “forces that [inner] idea [of our expectation] into the background, and compels us to think quite differently”. Here again Peirce uses the shoulder against the jammed door analogy. In such a situation, we sense both resistance from the outside and effort on our part from the inside. We cannot have resistance without effort and vice versa. Thus there are two ways to describe the same experience of secondness. It is a double consciousness, meaning perhaps that we are doubly aware both of our inner effort and the exterior resistance to it. Now, the exterior resistance is not from us. In a sense, it is the not-self. Since the awareness is double, we therefore when being aware of secondness are doubly aware of our self and of our not-self. So when we are aware of secondness, we are aware of reaction (that is, of our reaction against exterior resistance to our efforts and its resisting reaction to our efforts.) This consciousness of reaction has two sides: {1} the side of action where our efforts to modify other things are more prominent (in our awareness) than their reaction upon us, and {2} the side of perception where their effect on us is much greater than our effect on them. This means further that our notion of otherness is based on reactivity of one thing to another actions, and in fact, we come to understand other beings’s objective existence in terms of their reactions upon one another. This idea of the other is also the idea of not, and it is fundamental to our thinking. Peirce, again, calls it secondness.]

[There is a category] which the rough and tumble of life renders most familiarly prominent. We are continually bumping up against hard fact. We expected one thing, or passively took it for granted, and had the image of it in our minds, but experience forces that idea into the background, and compels us to think quite differently. You get this kind of consciousness in some approach to purity when you put your shoulder against a door and try to force it open. You have a sense of resistance and at the same time a sense of effort. There can be no resistance without effort; there can be no effort without resistance. They are only two ways of describing the same experience. It is a double consciousness. We become aware of ourself in becoming aware of the not-self. The waking state is a consciousness of reaction; and as the consciousness itself is two-sided, so it has also two varieties; namely, action, where our modification of other things is more prominent than their reaction on us, and perception, where their effect on us is overwhelmingly greater than our effect on them. And this notion, of being such as other things make us, is such a prominent part of our life that we conceive other things also to exist by virtue of their reactions against each other. The idea of other, of not, becomes a very pivot of thought. To this element I give the name of Secondness.




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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