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A Suggestion for a Semeiotic Theory of Ideals and Values

Torkild Thellefsen & Bent Sørensen




One of the easiest questions to pose is: what is a value? Regretfully, it is a very difficult question to answer satisfactorily. However, values seem to be everyday phenomena, which govern people’s behaviour in certain situations. In Denmark (presumably elsewhere, too), it has caused severe political discussions between left and right wing parties. This battle for the "right" values has, among other things, caused a deep crisis in the academic environment in Denmark. Here, the humanistic sciences have paid for this battle of values with decreasing fundings in favour of the more applicable sciences such as research within i.e. nano technology. In other words, applicable sciences are valued over theoretical sciences, and profits are valued over the search of truth. Obviously, this has some consequences for the development of science in general. Values have a great impact on how people act but neither politicians nor laymen seldom have deep insight into the nature of values and ideals to which fulfilment, the values contribute. In this article, we will try to define and discuss values based on Charles S. Peirce’s (1839-1914) semeiotics.

In order to create a semeiotically inspired epistemology for ideals and values, we have to address the following questions: What are ideals and what are values and how are they related? Let us start by presenting our own semeiotically inspired definition of values and ideals:

A value is a habit of conduct containing certain conditions that qualify and determine a certain understanding in a certain direction in relation to an ideal in relation to which the meaning of the value is evoked.
This definition contains implications that need further elaboration:

     What is the relation between an ideal, a value and a habit of conduct?

     What are the nature of the certain conditions?

Figure 1 below suggests the relation between the ideal, the value and the habit of conduct as Firstness, Secondness, and Thirdness respectively. This means that the ideal is a Firstness of Thirdness (it has already undergone semeiosis, and, therefore, it cannot be a genuine Firstness. It already contains a stabilizing element). The value is the instantiation of the ideal, thus it is a Secondness of Thirdness (it has already undergone semeiosis, and therefore it cannot be a genuine Secondness. It is a degenerated Secondness but still refers to the ideal as a symbol since they share qualities). The habit of conduct is a Thirdness of Thirdness (generality, lawfulness, reasonableness) (cf. Potter 1997: 17). The habit of conduct enables us to understand the value in relation to an ideal, and it makes it possible to see when the value is in disharmony with the ideal. Whenever this is the case, the relation between the ideal and the value disappears. Thus there is no connection between the ideal and the value until the habit of conduct through use and experience has been re-established. An example: An organisation has the following ideal: "the employee is to be respected as a complete person", which means that the organisation has to make room for and respect both the working person and the family person. This ideal produces the following values:
  • Respect for the individual
  • Acknowledgement of leisure value
  • Acknowledgement of time pressure for families with children
  • Flexible working hours

However, if the organisation proclaims such an ideal and does not live up to, the values this ideal cause, the habit of conduct is unable to mediate between the ideal and the actions of the organisation simply because we, as part of a certain culture, know what to expect from such an ideal. Thus, the relation between the ideal and the value disappears and we have to dismiss the ideal. Consequently, we get to know the ideal through the actions it causes (and values as Secondness are action).

Figure 1. The relationship between the ideal as Firstness of Thirdness, the value as Secondness of Thirdness and the habit of conduct as Thirdness of Thirdness.

In the following, we will set up a theoretical framework that enables us to investigate the ideal, the value and the habit of conduct in terms of esthetical values, ethical values and logical values respectively. By understanding the ideal as an esthetical value, we underline the status of the ideal as a Firstness of Thirdness. As noted above, the ideal is not a genuine Firstness, it is a Firstness of Thirdness, a value that has grown into an ideal through semeiosis. Furthermore, we understand value as ethical since the value is an ethical action. In Peirce’s words it is "an end" – an ought to do but need not to. Thus, the ethical value is an instantiation of the esthetical value containing the same qualities as the esthetical value. Finally, we understand the habit of conduct as logical values mediating between the esthetical values and the ethical values, and it is the logical values, which enable us to identify and recognize the ethical values caused by the esthetical values as parts of a certain culture sharing collateral experience. Consequently, the esthetical value refers to an objective ideal that has been established in semeiosis. The ethical value refers to actions in relation to ends related to a governing esthetical value. And, the logical value mediates and maintains the relation between the esthetical and ethical value.

Therefore, in order to get deeper into the relationship between the esthetical, the ethical and the logical values, we will make a detour into the normative sciences: esthetics, ethics and logic, which can provide the theoretical background. We will also make a recourse to Peirce’s hyperbolic philosophy. This will enable us to answer the above stated questions simply because it will provide us with the necessary insight concerning the inner nature of esthetical, ethical and logical values and their intricate relationship. In this section, we also touch upon the concept of teleology or, in Peircean/Aristotelian terms causa finalis because esthetical, ethical and logical values involve a goal-directed meaning. The hyperbolic philosophy is necessary in order to understand the evolution of the habit of conduct. The section ends with our attempt to write a general epistemology of ideals and values that can be used to understand how ideals and values are used and ought to be used in organisations.

The Place of the Normative Sciences in the Classification of the Sciences

If we are to address the normative sciences as described by Peirce, we have to understand the placement of the normative science with the non-normative science, and we have to understand why the normative sciences are indeed normative. In 1903, Peirce formulated "An outline Classification of the Sciences". This classification was his final classification and we take our point of departure here. However, we also incorporate the schematic and conceptual basic elements from Peirce’s classification "An Outline Classification of the Sciences" from 1902.

Peirce starts "An Outline Classification of the Sciences" in the following way:

This classification, which aims to base itself on the principal affinities of the objects classified, is concerned not with all possible sciences, nor with so many branches of knowledge, but with sciences in their present condition, as so many businesses of groups of living men. It borrows its idea from Comte's classification; namely, the idea that one science depends upon another for fundamental principles, but does not furnish such principles to that other. (CP 1.180)

As it appears from "A detailed Classification of the Sciences", science is, according to Peirce, "a pursuit of living men" rather than "systematized and established knowledge" (CP 1.232). Therefore, he classified the sciences in correspondence with the different groups of scientists. Peirce understood these groups as natural classes. According to Peirce, a natural class is "a class of which all the members owe their existence as members of the class to a common final cause" (CP 1.205) Furthermore, Peirce described the natural class as follows:

Every class has its definition, which is an idea; but it is not every class where the existence, that is, the occurrence in the universe of its members is due to the active causality of the defining idea of the class. That circumstance makes the epithet natural particularly appropriate to the class. (CP 1.214)
In this way, Peirce gave potency to the idea. According to Peirce, the idea has "life, generative life" (CP 1.219). Returning to the natural class of scientists, this may become a bit clearer. A member of a given class of scientists is only able to be a member due to a given idea of science; this idea creates the scientist, not the other way around. Thus, ideas have "a power of finding or creating their vehicles, and having found them, of conferring upon them the ability to transform the face of the earth" (CP 1.217). Indeed, this may sound like pure intellectualism but Peirce clarifies the definition by adding:

Do I mean that the idea calls new matter into existence? Certainly not. That would be pure intellectualism, which denies that blind force is an element of experience distinct from rationality, or logical force…What I mean by the idea's conferring existence upon the individual members of the class is that it confers upon them the power of working out results in this world, that it confers upon them, that is to say, organic existence, or, in one word, life. (CP 1.220)

The idea of science gives life to the single members of the natural class of scientists, of course not a life in flesh and blood but life as scientists. The idea makes them tend to act like scientists ought to act, (because the idea acts like a causa finalis). In Peirce’s words: it makes them point "…the bow upon truth, with intentness in the eye, with energy in the arm" (CP 1.235).

Based on this, Peirce tried to formulate: "the true and only" (CP 2.204) classification of the sciences. Of course, Peirce was well aware that new sciences could appear and sciences could disappear and thereby make the classification in need of rearrangement. However, the principle of the classification would remain the same. This principle is A. Comte’s (1798-1857) principle that sciences depend upon each other. Based on this principle, Peirce organised the sciences in a hierarchy, where the placement of the individual science refers to the level of abstractness of its objects. The higher the level of object abstractness, the more fundamental place the science receives in the hierarchy. In connection to this, "each science [when it has to do with general principles] draws regulating principles from those superior to it in abstractness, while drawing data for its inductions from the sciences inferior to it in abstractness" (CP 3.427) This means that as soon as a science has been placed in the classification, it will be clear what kind of science it is. Furthermore, it will be clear from which sciences it should receive regulatory principles and from which sciences it may draw resources in terms of research objects. This also applies for esthetics. In figure 2, we bring an excerpt of the classification dating from 1902.

Figure 2. The figure is an excerpt of the classification from 1902. However, our discussion of esthetics as the objectively admirable in itself is based upon the classification from 1903 from "A Syllabus of certain Topics of Logic". Concepts written in grey are of no immediate importance to our errand.

The classification seems to function as a way of clarifying the concepts. The direction in the classification moves from the most abstract level (theoretical sciences) and becomes more specific as it develops. The classification is divided into branches, sub-branches, classes, subclasses, orders, sub-orders, families and sub-families. Esthetics, ethics and logic are placed in the sub-orders of normative sciences. Esthetics is the first sub-order of the normative sciences, ethics and logic the second and third sub-order of the normative sciences. Consequently, esthetics, ethics and logic belong to the class of philosophy and they are the sub-branch of sciences of discovery and esthetics must be a theoretical science. This provides the following order, in a straight line: Starting from the most general level, the normative sciences: esthetics, ethics and logic are: theoretical sciences; they are sciences of discovery; they belong to philosophy; they are the sub-orders of the normative sciences.

The normative sciences as theoretical sciences

Belonging to the theoretical sciences, the normative sciences are in search of the truth of the objectively admirable. As a theoretical science, the normative sciences have to attempt to analyse and define the objectively admirable (cf. CP 1.575). It has nothing to do with any kind of practice or "belief of action" (cf. CP 1.635, cf. Stuhr 1994: 7, Braga 2001). Indeed, a theoretical science is a science "whose purpose is simply and solely knowledge of God’s truth." (CP 1.239, cf. 8.143). This means that the normative sciences are devoted to truth for the sake of truth concerning the objectively admirable as it is expressed in the categories: truth, sui generis, in its capacity of Firstness. S. M. Harrison makes the following points about what constitutes a theoretical science:

"As theoretical, the normative sciences analyze, clarify, and define basic notions and principles (CP 1575). Thus, the task of Ethics as a normative science is not to work on particular moral conflicts but, rather, to develop and to justify the conceptions of ‘right’ and ‘wrong’. …
Ethics…is not concerned directly with pronouncing this course of action right and that wrong, but with determining what makes right right and wrong wrong. It has to do with norms or ideals in terms of which these categories have meaning. Action presupposes having ends, and the conformity of our actions to them is what makes an action right. Having knowledge of these ends and what counts as conformity is what Peirce regarded as theoretical. It makes it possible to judge rightly in particular cases about rightness and wrongness, but such judging is not part of the "science" of Ethics for Peirce. That task belongs to what Peirce considered practical or applied ethics" (Potter 1997: Foreword XIV)
This definition of theoretical sciences is also important to our objective. Our suggestion for an epistemology for values is also theoretical in the sense that we do not pass judgement on whether the esthetical values of an organisation are wrong or right. Our objective is to investigate the relation between esthetical values and ethical values mediated by logical values. Our interest is to investigate the possible breakdown of the cominterpretant when there is a discrepancy between the esthetical value, and the ethical value, and the logical value as the mediator between the esthetical and ethical values.

The normative sciences as sciences of discovery

Also belonging to the sciences of discovery, the normative sciences are in search of new truths about the objectively admirable. In "Peirce’s Theory of Science as a Foundation for Pragmatism" (1966), J.J. Fitzgerald refers to the two sub-branches of the theoretical sciences:

The sub-branches of theoretical science are the science of discovery and the science of review. This division is based on a modification of a knowers proposing to seek truth for its own sake. The knower may be attempting to elucidate new principles, or he may be merely trying to synthesize what has already been discovered…A science of discovery…is the pursuit of new truths, or perhaps, the pursuit of truth taking reality itself, rather that the works of others, as the object studied. (p. 19)
Of course, both of the theoretical sciences are concerned with advancing knowledge and, therefore, both are trying to bring new ideas into existence. A science of discovery involves a kind of novelty, which is a step beyond rearrangement, whereas, in a science of review, old ideas are merely rearranged. To stress the novelty in a science of discovery, we can use an example from D. R. Anderson’s "Creativity and the Philosophy of C. S. Peirce" (1984: 48). When I. Newton (1642-1727) proposed his hypothesis concerning gravitation based on mathematical principles, this hypothesis could not be reduced to a combination of already known ideas concerning the organization of cosmos. It was, in itself, a new idea. Of course, Newton did not create gravitation but he created the theory of gravitation and this theory was a radical, new idea within scientific knowledge. Yet, the theory was no more radical than it was grounded in already well-established knowledge (cf. Anderson 1984: 166, n. 50). Consequently, the radical, new idea is not new in the sense of being unique and autonomous. Rephrased into Peirce’s words, a sign presupposes a sign, which again presupposes a sign, which again presupposes a sign, etc. However, this does not mean that the idea cannot be exceptional, as in Newton’s case. Consequently, this leaves us with the following description of the normative sciences as sciences of discovery: We already know, of course, that particular esthetics are in the search for truth for its own sake concerning the objectively admirable but now, we can specify that the normative sciences must attempt to throw light upon new principles or pursue new truths; and that the novelty involved must be of the radical kind.

The normative sciences belonging to philosophy

Belonging to philosophy, the normative sciences are in search of the truth of the objectively admirable, which can be deduced from what is in the ordinary experience. It can hardly be a surprise that Peirce was of the opinion that "all knowledge whatever comes from observation…" (CP 1.238). Exactly as a machine that cannot function unless it is connected to some kind of power supply, the machinery of the mind can "only transform knowledge, but never originate it, unless it be fed with facts of observation" (CP 5.392). There is nothing in the intellect, which has not already been perceived. Consequently, there is nothing in the meaning of a representation of cognition that has not already been in the perceptual judgement; nihil est in intellectu quod non prius fuerit in sensu. To put it short, Peirce agreed with his old teacher L. Agassiz (1807-1873) that "observation is the ‘ways and the means’ of attaining purpose in science" (CP 1.238).

Before we take a closer look at this mode of observation, it may be necessary to point out the most general epistemological elements of observation. According to Peirce, observation is characterized by an "attentive experience, an act of voluntary attentive experience, usually with some, often great, effort" (CP 2.605). If we understand perception as a process that involves a form of analysis, we can designate observation in Peirce’s own words: "observation – that is perceiving by the aid of analysis" (CP 1.34).

In "A Guess at the Riddle" (1890) where Peirce had left the idea that it is the concept that reduces the multitude of sensory data to a wholeness on the level of perception, he criticized I. Kant (1732-1804) (cf. CP 1.545) in the following way:

Kant gives the erroneous view that ideas are presented separated and then thought together by the mind. This is his doctrine that a mental synthesis precedes every analysis. What really happens is that something is presented which in itself has no parts, but which nevertheless is analysed by the mind, that is to say, its having parts consists in this, that the mind afterward recognized those parts in it. (CP 1.384)
After that critique, Peirce no longer used the concepts "impression" and "conception". Instead, he used "percept" and "perceptual judgement". To Peirce, these concepts now made up the two basic epistemological elements in observation. (cf. Goudge 1950: 29)

According to Peirce, the relation between the percept and the perceptual judgement is continuous. We are only able to gain knowledge about the percept by abstracting (i.e. precision cf. 1.549) it from the perceptual judgement. "We know nothing about the percept otherwise than by testimony of the perceptual judgement" (CP 7.643)

By percept, Peirce meant "the object perceived in a single act of perceiving" (MS 639b). In relation to the categories, the percept is related to both Firstness and Secondness. The percept involves a quality of feeling, which is "something positive and sui generis, being such as it is regardless of how or what anything else is" (CP 7.625). A visual percept of a blue desk with four legs and an adjustable table top is a single and undivided whole; as a percept, it involves no analytic parts; the single characteristics of the table can only be separated by aid of the mind as a perceptual judgement. The percept does not represent the parts. The percept does not describe itself, it does not claim anything, it is "stupid" and empty, it simply is (cf. CP 7.625). Furthermore, in "Telepathy and Perception" (1903), Peirce described it as:

...(the percept) makes no professions of any kind, essentially embodies no intentions of any kind, does not stand for anything (CP 7.619)
Being Secondness, the percept "brutally forces itself upon us" (CP 1.253); it concerns the here-and-nowness of the percept. It is determined by "a single event happening hic et nunc… an actual passage at arms between the non-ego and the ego" (CP 2.146). To perceive is to meet resistance from a world, which you have not constructed; a world, which inevitably forces itself upon us; a world you cannot escape from. In a review of J. Royces (1855-1916) "The religious Aspect of Philosophy" (1885), Peirce writes the following concerning the dyadic aspect of the percept:
It involves the sense of action and reaction, resistance, externality, otherness, pair-edness. It is the sense that something has hit me or that I am hitting something, it might be called the sense of collision or clash. (CP 8.41)
Furthermore, a perceptual judgement represents the percept – and, bearing the categories in mind, the perceptual judgement is related to Thirdness. It describes the percept; it interprets it. Consequently, Peirce designated the perceptual judgement as "a judgement asserting in prepositional form what a character of a percept directly present to the mind is" (CP 5.54) and furthermore, "an act of formation of a mental proposition combined with an adoption or act of assent to it." (CP 5.115) Based on this, there is a big difference between the cognitive form of action, the perceptual judgement and the percept. If we return to the blue desk as we left it above, we can conclude that where the percept represents the blue desk as a whole unit, the perceptual judgement e.g. separates the blue colour from the desk. Consequently, the blue colour becomes the predicate of the table. (cf. CP 7.631). In addition, where the percept is singular, carefully specific so to speak, the perceptual judgement involves generality. Peirce writes:
In a perceptual judgement the mind professes to tell the mind’s future self what the character of the present percept is. (CP 7.630)
The perceptual judgement "this desk is blue" means "take any what so ever blue object and compare it to the desk and you will see that they on the whole resembles each other when it comes to colour". (cf. CP 7.632) The generality of the predicate allows it to cover all blue objects and the entire spectrum of blueness. Hereby, we have moved into a state of general commonness. The percept does not allow the perceiver any interpretative freedom. The percept makes "this desk" independent of any other desk. In the perceptual judgement, a certain possibility exists that makes it possible by aid of abstraction to identify qualities that may be lost in the closeness of the percept.

Bearing this in mind, it may not be a surprise that T. A. Goudge in "The Thought of C. S. Peirce" (1950) determines observation in a Peircean perspective to be:

...a combination of matter and form. The matter is produced by the external world impinging upon us in our percepts; the form is provided by our characterization of these percepts in perceptual judgements. The bare "having" of percepts does not constitute knowledge. They are known immediately through the perceptual judgement, which interpret them. The kind of proposition yielded by a perceptual judgement is always a singular whose predicate involves a modicum of generality. It is exclusively on the basis of these judgements that the inference found in all inquiry takes place. (:35)
The percept and the perceptual judgement are the two epistemological elements of the observation. In the perceptual judgement, the percept is interpreted. This is a hypothesis concerning the present percept. It asserts that the percept contains certain qualities. The perceptual judgement is a function of the real generality, and since it contains general qualities, universal assertions can be deduced from it (cf. CP 5.181, 5,156). Goudge (1950) formulates it as follows: "Perceptual judgements are the vehicles by which generality and universality enter into our knowledge" (: 31).

Observation forms the initial phase of any inquiry. The perceptual judgement forms the exordium and the first premises to any form of reasoning. Of course, this also applies to the reasoning that takes place in any inquiry.

Peirce understood observation as a voluntary attentive experience, a kind of perception, which is assisted by analysis or abstraction. In the inquiry, the entire ordinary experience is observed and by aid of different procedures of abstraction - e.g. hypostatic abstraction and generalisation (cf. CP 2.428, 4.235), its pertinent characteristics relative to the object under observation is sorted out.

Thus, the domain of observation of the normative sciences are those elements of experience which are continuously present, i.e. those elements which daily and all the time force themselves upon us and stare every person directly in the eyes (cf. EP II 147) – and because of that, it is extremely difficult to observe, as Peirce remarked in "The Idea of a Law of Nature among the Comtemporaries of David Hume and among Thinkers of the Present Day" (c. 1894)

To assume…that the observational part of philosophy, because it is not particularly laborious, is therefore easy, is a dreadful mistake, into which the student is very apt to fall, and which gives the death-blow to any possibility of his success in this study. It is, on the contrary, extremely difficult to bring our attention to elements of experience which are continually present. (CP 1.133)
Consequently, Peirce stressed, in "A Detailed Classification of the Sciences" (1902), that the most relevant observations of philosophy escape "…the untrained eye…because they permeate all our lives, just as a man who never take off his blue spectacles soon ceases to see the blue things" (CP 1.241). Observations of what commonly appear to us are seldom noticed, as we have no apparent reason to do so. Thus, these possible observations are often left in lofty indifference (cf. Greenlee 1973: 20). Not until e.g. a scientist inquires into normative matters and needs answers to his questions or when his hypotheses are being submitted to testing, elements, which reside in commonness, are being observed. Hereby, what resides in commonness is endowed with a special meaning, which is related to a more or less sophisticated normative discourse, which obtains status as data and as such no longer resides in commonness.

Let us try to relate this very difficult and abstract section to our errand. Peirce makes an important point in CP 1.241, concerning the man wearing blue spectacles who soon ceases to see blue things. Consider how difficult it is to conceive the physical and mental changes in the development of e.g. a child when living with the child every day compared to seeing the child with months apart. In the first case, the development, which is observed continuously, is not very easy to observe, whereas, the development conceived abruptly, is much easier to observe. Or living in a society where certain norms and ideals become such strong habits that they seem unquestionable. Such dominating norms become almost ontological, and these can block e.g. the conduct of life or the road of inquiry. Such norms can e.g. be of scientific, political, religious or economical nature. The development of such norms or ideals does not take place in leaps; on the contrary, the development takes place almost unnoticeable – continuously and gradually seemingly with no abrupt leaps. We discuss the development of habits in the section "The hyperbolic philosophy". Peirce’s point concerning the difficulty of observing elements of experience, which are continually present, therefore seems to be very important. Relating observation and perception to the basic categories of Firstness, Secondness and Thirdness, it seems plausible to say that every observation is of the nature of Thirdness. Returning to "the case of what is continually present", in order to observe anything, there has to be a break in symmetry to wake our attention. This is not the case in everyday experience since it simply appears to us as what is. Consequently, in order to notice certain ideals and values, they have to cause unexpected consequences, or else they just contribute to the slow development of our habits of conduct, which ultimately does not question our own point of departure. Therefore, our suggestion for an epistemology of values also belongs to philosophy, since we base our identification of values and ideals on cenoscopic observation.

Esthetics, Ethics and Logic as normative sciences

ESTHETICS is a normative science because it considers what it means to be an end or something good in itself.

ETHICS is normative because it analyses the ends to which thought should be directed.

LOGIC is normative because it governs thought and aims at truth.

Being normative sciences: Esthetics, Ethics and Logic are in search of what one ought to but not what one has to be ready to admire for its own sake. Peirce hesitated a long time (cf. CP 1.575) before he placed the normative science in his philosophic system (cf. CP 1.573, cf Potter 1997: 8 pp.), and the placement took place on the Secondness level of the system. Peirce wrote that a normative science "…treats of the laws of the relation of phenomena to ends; that is, it treats of phenomena in their Secondness." (CP 5.123). Being located on the Secondness level of the philosophical system, the three normative sciences rest on the cognitions of phenomenology (thus, phenomenology is located on the Firstness level of the system) (cf. CP 5.37), while once again, the three normative sciences raise cognitions to metaphysics (thus, metaphysic is located on the Thirdness level) With affinity, a normative science is the study of "…what ought to be…" (CP 1.28), [but need not be] (cf. CP 2.156); or as Potter formulates:

…it sets up norms or rules which need not but ought to be followed… "Ought" then excludes compulsion, coercion, and determinism. It is always possible to act contrary to the "ought". The "ought" rather implies ideals, ends, purposes which attract and guide…deliberate conduct. (Potter 1997: 25)
ESTHETICS, the first of the normative sciences, and thus the most fundamental studies of the admirable, the ideals of ideals, the summum bonum. As such, it is the science of ideals "…or of that which is objectively admirable without any ulterior reason" (CP 1.191) As an example, M. Harrison writes "For example, the task of esthetics as a theoretic discipline is not to decide whether the cathedral of Chartres is beautiful but to determine "what makes the beautiful beautiful, and the ugly ugly" (Potter 1997, foreword p. XIV). In other words, the purpose of esthetics is the decision of "…what…one ought deliberately to admire…in itself regardless of what it may lead to and regardless of its bearing upon human conduct." (CP 5.36) Peirce decided to endorse to the group of thinkers "…who have attributed to the end the same kind of being that a law of nature has, making it lie in the rationalization of the universe." (CP 1.590) Consequently, Peirce made the growth in the "concrete reasonableness" (CP 5.3, cf 433), the ultimate admirable and emphasized:
I do not see how one can have a more satisfying ideal of the admirable than the development of reason…The one thing whose admirableness is not due to an ulterior reason is Reason itself comprehended in all its fullness, so far as we can comprehend it. (CP 1.615)
More precisely, the ultimate admirable has to be understood as the growth in "[the] governing [of] individual events" (CP 1.615) through the general, i.e. the ongoing development of reason. For reason consists in governing individual events, it depends on these to instantiate it. Without these instantiations, it would have no real being (cf. Potter 1997: 201). Nevertheless, reason cannot be reduced to a finite number of instantiations. The instantiations can never exhaust its potentiality, since it refers to possible instantiations. (cf. Goudge 1969: 303) In Peirce’s own words:
…the essence of Reason is such that its being never can have been completely perfected. It always must be in a state of incipience, of growth. It is like the character of man which consists in the ideas that he will conceive and in the efforts that he will make, and only develops as the occasions actually arise. Yet in all his life no son of Adam has ever fully manifested what there was in him. Soon, then, the development of Reason requires as a part of it the occurrence of more individual events than ever can occur. (CP 1.615)
In other words, reason is a general, and, being a general, its mode of being is esse in futuro (cf CP 2.148). Reason therefore "…always looks forward to an endless future and expects endlessly to improve its results." (CP 1.614) It is self-satisfied, meaning that something other than itself cannot justify it. Every justification must appeal to reason, yet it is not a stationary result. It involves openness and dynamism. Thus, the esthetic ideal of Peirce contrasts with a static, fixed and non-general telos, or an ideal defined in terms of an individual gratification (cf. Anderson 2001: 42) As Peirce noticed regarding how to experience the growth in the concrete reasonableness:
…[it is] the…total unanalyzable impression of a Reasonableness that has expressed itself in creation. It is a pure feeling but a feeling that is the Impress of a Reasonableness that Creates. It is the Firstness that truly belongs to a Thirdness in its achievement of Secondness. (MS 310)
In the light of the categories the esthetic ideal is a character, Firstness, of the ongoing instantiation, Secondness, of Reason, Thirdness. (cf. Anderson 2001: 42)

ETHICS, the second of the normative sciences, studies what ought to be admirable in relation to action. The ethic science depends on the conclusions of esthetics (cf. CP 5.36), as Peirce emphasized:

Ethics asks to what end all effort shall be directed. That question obviously depends upon the question what it would be that, independently of the effort, we should like to experience. (CP 2.199)
The last question is the exact errand of esthetics but it is the task of ethics to observe and insert the ideal in a certain kind of context or to make a transformation of the ideal to a summum bonum of functional view (cf. Anderson 2001: 43) and to give answers to the questions:
What am I prepared deliberately to accept as the statement of what I want to do, what am I to aim at, what am I after? To what is the force of my will to be directed…Is it Ethics which defines that end? (CP 2.198)
Thus, ethics is the science concerning self-controlled and deliberate conduct (cf. CP 1.191, 5.35). Conduct of this kind is not, as D. R. Anderson stresses: "…sheer free activity, rather…it" and he continues with the following quote from E. Petry: "includes, as a part of its meaning, the idea that as free ourselves from undesirable compulsions, we also exemplify a prior habit, or we bring to the fore consciousness of an attraction towards ideals that we have not yet actualised." (Petry 1990: 74) (Anderson 2001: 43). We ought to modify our habits of actions so that they correspond to a deliberately chosen ideal, and ethics helps us do so. But what does the ethical ideal consist in? Peirce made the growth in the concrete reasonableness the ultimate ideal; therefore, the ideal of action must consist in endowing the world with more reasonableness. Thus Peirce wrote:
Under this conception, the ideal of conduct will be to execute our little function in the operation of the creation by giving a hand toward rendering the world more reasonable whenever, as the slang is, it is "up to us" to do so. (CP 1.615)
In short, by aid of ethics we ought to cultivate our habits of action in a way that we contribute to the growth in the concrete reasonableness.

Finally, LOGIC investigates what ought to be admirable in relation to reasoning. Logic is a substantial part of Peirce’s philosophy; so much that we are unable to pay it justice in this brief discussion. However, in this discussion, it seems reasonable to discuss logic as Reasoning and thus Thirdness that mediates between the esthetical ideal of the growth in the concrete reasonableness and the ethical ideal of our habits of action that, in the end, should contribute to the growth. By mediating, we are able to identify the relation between the esthetical ideal and the ethical ideal. Thus we can cultivate or attune our habits of action to meet the esthetical ideal. This will also cultivate our habits of reasoning and make our habits of reasoning able to contribute to the growth in the concrete reasonableness. Peirce defines logic as a normative science in the following way:

The term "logic" is unscientifically by me employed in two distinct senses. In its narrower sense, it is the science of the necessary conditions of the attainment of truth. In its broader sense, it is the science of the necessary laws of thought, or, still better (thought always taking place by means of signs), it is general semeiotic, treating not merely of truth, but also of the general conditions of signs being signs (which Duns Scotus called grammatica speculativa, also of the laws of the evolution of thought, which since it coincides with the study of the necessary conditions of the transmission of meaning by signs from mind to mind, and from one state of mind to another, ought, for the sake of taking advantage of an old association of terms, be called rhetorica speculativa, but which I content myself with inaccurately calling objective logic, because that conveys the correct idea that it is like Hegel's logic.

And furthermore from "On a new list of categories" (1867)

We come, therefore, to this, that logic treats of the reference of symbols in general to their objects. In this view it is one of a trivium of conceivable sciences. The first would treat of the formal conditions of symbols having meaning, that is of the reference of symbols in general to their grounds or imputed characters, and this might be called formal grammar; the second, logic, would treat of the formal conditions of the truth of symbols; and the third would treat of the formal conditions of the force of symbols, or their power of appealing to a mind, that is, of their reference in general to interpretants, and this might be called formal rhetoric (CP 1.559)

From these quotes Potter (1997: 22) forms the following scheme:

Speculative grammar concerning signs being signs
(Also named formal grammar cf. 1.116, 8.342)
Logic in broad sense               
(Normative logic)
Logic (in narrow sense) concerning truth of signs
(Also named Critic cf. 1.191, 2.92)
Speculative rhetoric, concerning communication
of signs (also named methodeutics cf. CP 2.93,
2.105, 2.207)

According to Potter (ibid. 22) Speculative or formal grammar relates to Firstness since it deals with signs as signs and nothing else. It is normative in the sense that it is a science that analyses and classifies signs and tries to formulate rules and standards concerning relations and functions of the signs.

Critic relates to Secondness since it concerns formal conditions of the truth of signs. (cf. CP 1.559, 2.93) It classifies arguments, their validity and their degree of force. (cf. 1.191).

Speculative rhetoric relates to Thirdness since it treats signs as communication; not only in relation to what they signify but also for whom they signify. It deals with the aims of reasoning to approach truth. (cf. CP 2.106) And it investigates which methods we should follow to develop knowledge as quickly as possibly. (cf CP 1.615)

Having discussed and defined the placement of the normative sciences in the classification of the sciences as proposed by Peirce, we have gained basic knowledge about the relation between esthetical, ethical and logical values in relation to esthetics, ethics and logic. The esthetical, ethical and logical values are values which are part of the theoretical sciences. Hence they are part of the sciences of discovery, and belonging to philosophy, values are observational. Being part of the normative sciences, values are sciences of what ought to be but need not be. The esthetical value is of the nature of an ideal and as such it is comprised of a complex of values to which the ethical values are related. The relation which is basically of symbolic character is the logical value. As an example, consider democracy as the governing esthetical value, the execution of democratic rights is the ethical values and the mediation that enables us to evaluate the ethical values to be in accordance with the esthetical value is the logical value – the interpretant. One might ask why democracy is an esthetical value – an ideal. This ideal seems to be of utmost importance to the western world. It is an ideal that has become so strong that we (generally speaking) do not question its legitimacy – it is a truth. The actions as ethical values that either confirm democracy or break democracy bear enormous weight upon us – some nations even go to war in order to protect the democratic ideal. However, democracy is still "an ought to be but need not be". As metaphysic realists, we understand the esthetic value – that is the very idea of democracy to be the esthetical value of democratic nations to follow. However, the versions of democracy that we witness both within nations, within different discourse communities and within organizations are manifestations of the ultimate idea of democracy – these instantiations add to our knowledge of democracy. Again, it is only through these instantiations we will gain knowledge about the governing esthetical value. However, the relation between the esthetical value as a dynamic object and the ethical value, the immediate object as an instantiation make us in search for the dynamic object. We do not hesitate calling an esthetical value the dynamic object that forces our attention in a certain direction; hence the dynamic object contains a telos – which aims at the ultimate exhaustion of the potential of the esthetical value. Consequently, the idea of democracy is the esthetical value containing a hard core of potentiality – of iconicity. The instantiation of democracy, wherever it may take place, is an action (in Peirce’s terms: an end) and as such an ethical value and that makes us able to judge whether or not these instantiations which follow the esthetical value are the logical value – the cominterpretant.

In the following section, we shall take a closer look at the hyperbolic philosophy. The hyperbolic philosophy describes a general movement from a state of pure potentiality to a state of pure regularity and law e.g.: from a sign to an object mediated by a interpretant, from an icon to an index mediated by a symbol, from an esthetical value to an ethical value mediated by a logical value and so on. This movement is fundamental in Peirce’s view of semeiosis.

The hyperbolic philosophy

Even though Peirce’s hyperbolic philosophy is related to a cosmogony, (a theory of the origin and the evolution of the universe), it seems very apt to describe the development of values, as Esposito accentuates: "Peirce…is committed to showing how the forms of hyperbolic evolution apply to all of creation, to the realms of nature, history, culture and though". (1980: 174). The hyperbolic development moves from a state of potentiality to a state of habits, from Firstness to Thirdness, from icon to symbol, from immediate interpretant to final interpretant, from esthetical values to logical values, etc. The hyperbolic movement seems to be present in any sign development as the following will show. In an incomplete letter to Mrs. Franklin, dated 1891, Peirce defines the hyperbolic principle of development in the following way:

This theory is that the evolution of the world is hyperbolic, that is, proceeds from one state of things in the infinite past, to a different state of things in the infinite future. The state of things in the infinite past is chaos, tohu bohu, the nothingness of which consists in the total absence of regularity. The state of things in the infinite future is death, the nothingness of which consists in the complete triumph of law and absence of all spontaneity. Between these, we have on our side a state of things in which there is some absolute spontaneity counter to all law, and some degree of conformity to law, which is constantly on the increase owing to the growth of habit. The tendency to form habits or tendency to generalize, is something which grows by its own action, by the habit of taking habits itself growing. Its first germs arose from pure chance. There were slight tendencies to obey rules that had been followed, and these tendencies were rules which were more and more obeyed by their own action. There were also slight tendencies to do otherwise than previously, and these destroyed themselves. To be sure, they would sometimes be strengthened by the opposite tendency, but the stronger they became the more they would tend to destroy themselves. As to the part of time on the further side of eternity which leads back from the infinite future to the infinite past, it evidently proceeds by contraries. (CP 8.318)
And further from a paper "Logic and spiritualism" dated 1905:

In regard to the principle of movement, three philosophies are possible. 1. Elliptic philosophy. Starting-point and stopping-point are not even ideal. Movement of nature recedes from no point, advances towards no point, has no definite tendency, but only flits from position to position.

2. Parabolic philosophy. Reason or nature develops itself according to one universal formula; but the point toward which that development tends is the very same nothingness from which it advances.

3. Hyperbolic philosophy. Reason marches from premisses to conclusion; nature has ideal end different from its origin." (CP 2.582)

The main points in these quotes are:

1. The general movement of evolution tends to move from spontaneity towards habit formation and, in this movement, the object of evolution becomes hidebound with habits reducing the amount of potentiality. However, the habit being Thirdness and thus an interpretant carries qualities from the spontaneous element of Firstness which is also a representamen.

2. Evolution involves a definite development from lesser to greater organization. Can variety and diversity be understood in terms of uniformity? Certainly not! Uniformity can be understood in terms of variety and diversity. Thus, cosmos is developing from chaos to order and symmetry and intelligibility – the "epicurian" and the "cyclic" conceptions of time has to be dismissed. (cf. Potter 1997: 193)

3. The general nature of evolution is a sign’s tendency to become habitual; thus, as Peirce claims in Issues of Pragmaticism (1905), the universe is perfused with signs:

It seems a strange thing, when one comes to ponder over it, that a sign should leave its interpreter to supply a part of its meaning; but the explanation of the phenomenon lies in the fact that the entire universe -- not merely the universe of existents, but all that wider universe, embracing the universe of existents as a part, the universe which we are all accustomed to refer to as "the truth" -- that all this universe is perfused with signs, if it is not composed exclusively of signs. (Endnote to CP 5.448)
Following Peirce, we can replace the state of spontaneity with iconicity and the habitual state with symbolicity. This is important since any value starts from an iconical level and gradually develops (as the value become fixed and used) into a symbol.

Consequently, consisting of irregularity and the tendency to take habits or to generalize the hyperbolic philosophy is, as far as we can see, one of the most central parts of Peirce’s metaphysics. However, as Peirce writes in CP 8.318, these two elements form the infinite past and the infinite future creating a time span we cannot grasp. This form of semeiosis can be called a metasemeiosis or metaevolution. This is the universal principle of movement. However, what lies between these two distant and infinite points? Infinite billions of evolutionary processes each evolving by the same principle of hyperbolicity and all contributing to the growth of the concrete reasonableness. Moreover, because these infinite evolutionary processes share the same evolutionary principle, they all function as habit makers intending to remove or reduce the room for spontaneity and create stable structures, which indeed are the result of this growth.

This principle is the same whether we discuss sign processes in the universe, development of values in organizations, consumer artefacts, or scientific concepts. According to the latter, let us see how strong these habits of conduct are. Consider an ordinary artefact e.g. a baseball cap. Looking at the cap, the degree of interpretive freedom is very limited. We cannot just call the cap ‘lemonade’ or ‘lollipop’. If we did, it would not help us when we wanted to buy a cap. When we refer to an object as a cap, then we have created another sign to represent the first sign (the object is in fact also a sign), the sign in itself is capable of being anything from a lollipop to a baseball cap, since it has a meaning potential. The sign we bring to life carries the meaning of the sign which holds limited interpretive freedom. This sign is interpreted on the basis of our culture and the cultural agreement that maintains the culture. Bearing the two kinds of objects in mind, the sign that occurs when interpreting the lollipop is an immediate object; this sign is a replica and it refers to the dynamical object, the idea or concept of all lollipops. To be able to create the immediate object, we have to possess collateral experience or beforehand knowledge of what the difference between a lollipop and a baseball cap is. This collateral knowledge seems to be created by the universe of discourse, which defines the culture we are part of. Consequently, the network of symbols that constitute our culture force upon us the correct interpretation and the culture interprets this specific symbol to be a baseball cap, no more and no less. Consider the concept of aesthetics. The sign in itself has a knowledge potential that is abstract and unlimited but within the conditions of e.g. pragmatic semeiotics, the knowledge potential is reduced and limited, and the actualization of the knowledge potential - the creation of a new sign holds no interpretive freedom. In agreement with Peircean semeiotics, the symbol also dictates how it is to be interpreted. In both examples, the degree of interpretive freedom is small, which, according to the hyperbolic developmental principle, is the result of a reduced potential of development. Symbols grow and habits unfold their interpretive powers upon further interpretations. As Peirce writes in "The Art of Reasoning" 1895:

Symbols grow. They come into being by development out of other signs, particularly from icons, or from mixed signs partaking of the nature of icons and symbols. We think only in signs. These mental signs are of mixed nature; the symbol-parts of them are called concepts. If a man makes a new symbol, it is by thoughts involving concepts. So it is only out of symbols that a new symbol can grow. Omne symbolum de symbolo. A symbol, once in being, spreads among the peoples. In use and in experience, its meaning grows. Such words as force, law, wealth, marriage, bear for us very different meanings from those they bore to our barbarous ancestors. (CP 2.302)
And furthermore from "Syllabus of Certain Topics of Logic" 1903:
…For every symbol is a living thing, in a very strict sense that is no mere figure of speech. The body of the symbol changes slowly, but its meaning inevitably grows, incorporates new elements and throws off old ones. (CP 2.222)
A stable context is a prerequisite for the meaning of symbols, or for the symbol to be able to be a symbol. In the case of the baseball cap, we have a stable culture that interprets the sign to be a baseball cap. In aesthetics as understood within pragmatic semeiotics, we also consider the context to be stable. Therefore, the interpretive freedom is limited. The room for spontaneity decreases as the context stability increases. The contexts arise because habits produce habits or as Peirce said, "The tendency to take habits is something which grows by its own action, by the habit of taking habits itself growing." (CP 8.318) However, this does not mean that signs cannot alter meaning during the course of evolution; it simply means that signs tend to create stable structures of meaning, and stability is the opposite of spontaneity. The creation of stable structures is a process that grows by its own action. Again, the movement from spontaneity towards regularity is based on the formation of habits. Consequently, when introducing the world to a scientific idea, a product, or a set of values and being able to perform knowledge management, we have to reduce the element of spontaneity. In order to make this discussion less abstract consider figure 3:

Figure 3. The life of a value. The timeline of a value is the movement from its iconic state reducing its potential for interpretation as it gradually becomes symbolic.

Figure 3 depicts the life of a value. In the iconic state of the value, i.e. when the value is an esthetical value, it contains a vast amount of potentiality, and its development can take any direction. The oblique lines suggest conditions that decrease the potentiality as the value moves from an esthetical value state into an ethical value mediated by a logical value. Furthermore, the oblique lines or conditions have to be understood as the use of the value resulting in experiences that create the ethical value. The core element in Peirce’s pragmaticism is that the meaning of an idea is the sum of its reasonable consequences. The more we learn from an idea, the less potential the idea contains and the more symbolic the idea gets. However, the oblique lines never meet and leave room for further development. Even the most ingrown habit contains an element of spontaneity, which enables the symbol to develop.

Summing up, the hyperbolic movement moves from Firstness to Thirdness reducing the potential of Firstness and strengthening the interpretative habits of Thirdness.

Returning to our discussion and definition of values, we are now ready to answer the questions we stated in the beginning of the chapter.

     What is the relation between an ideal, a value and a habit of conduct?

     What are the nature of the certain conditions?

ESTHETICAL VALUES are values that correspond to Firstness of Thirdness. Therefore, they are potential. However, being both potential and general, they also correspond to Thirdness. An esthetical value is general because it has undergone an evolution from a mere quality to a general idea containing a set of conditions. In the classification of signs, an esthetical value is an iconic symbol containing a vast amount of potentiality. Thus, an esthetical value is a value that governs most of our actions in certain situations; such general values could be e.g. democracy, a scientific paradigm, an ontology, etc., i.e. a general set of norms comprised to a general value or an ideal that is seldom questioned.

ETHICAL VALUES are values brought into action – the potential is instantiated. An ethical value corresponds to Secondness and is an instantiation of an esthetical value. Ethical values are general norms brought into action. In relation to the esthetical value, democracy, an ethical value could be the execution of our democratic rights. Thus, the ethical value can only be understood in relation to the esthetical value. Consequently, it is the ethical values that allow us to get a glimpse of the esthetical value. This corresponds to Peirce’s doctrine of pragmaticism, where the meaning of a concept resides in its reasonable consequences. Ethical values are consequences of esthetical values, replicas – the esthetical values are brought into action – the esthetical values are instantiated. And by investigating and observing the ethical values, we will learn more of the esthetical values.

LOGICAL VALUES are general norms mediating between (and maintaining) the esthetical value and the ethical value. However, the logical values emanate from the esthetical values when manifested by the ethical values and this process creates new norms based on the esthetical values. As a norm, and what Peirce describes as "what ought to but not need to be" values must be symbols. As such the logical values are the habits that make us act in accordance with the esthetical values. The logical value is what makes us capable of recognizing the relation between the esthetical value and the ethical values. In the example stated above, the logical value is what maintains the relation between our understanding of an esthetical value and the execution of this esthetical value into ethical values. If we break the rules of the esthetical value in some way, we break the relation between the esthetical value and the ethical values. Thus, we cannot establish a logical value. Logical values enable us to identify and understand the relation between the esthetical and ethical values.

Figure 4 The relation of the esthetical value, the ethical value and the logical value.

Returning to our general definition of values: a value is a habit of conduct containing certain conditions that qualify and determine a certain understanding in a certain direction in relation to an ideal in relation to which the meaning of the value is evoked.

Qualifying this definition based on the above sections lead us to the following more specific definition of values: an esthetical value contains elements of Thirdness, which is those certain conditions (constraints that determine the meaning of the esthetical value in a certain direction towards exhaustion of its potential of meaning) that qualify and determine a certain understanding in a certain direction in relation to an ethical value in relation to which the meaning of the esthetical value is evoked.

Within scientific knowledge domains, the conditions equal their epistemology. For an non-scientific organization, such conditions equal the logical values of an esthetical value, because the logical values determine the rights and wrongs as judgements of a certain ethical value in relation to its esthetical value.


We have suggested an epistemology for values. We have defined esthetical, ethical, and logical values on the background of Peirce’s placement of the normative sciences in the classification of the sciences. We have discussed the concept of value in the nature of belonging to theoretical sciences, sciences of discovery, philosophy and normative sciences. A few words have been written concerning the telos of the values as realistic objects that forces us in a certain direction. Based on the hyperbolic philosophy, we have discussed and suggested an evolution theory that also applies for values, which could also be called "condensing of symbols". In the beginning of any evolution process, the symbol contains a vast amount of iconicity (spontaneity) making the symbol unstable; as the symbol becomes condensed, it looses its spontaneity as it becomes hidebound with habits.


Anderson, Douglass R (1984). Creativity and the Philosophy of C. S. Peirce. Dordrecht: Martinus Nijhoff.

Fitzgerald, John .J. (1966). Peirce’s Theory of Signs as a Foundation for Pragmaticism, The Hague: Mouton.

Goudge, Thomas A. (1950). The Thought of C. S. Peirce. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

Greenlee, Douglas (1973). Peirce’s Concept of Sign. The Hague: Mouton.

Peirce, Charles S (1931-1958). Collected Papers, vols. 1-6, Hartshorne, C. & Weiss, P. (eds.); vols. 7-8, Burks, A W. (ed.), Cambridge Mass.: Harvard University Press.

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Potter, Vincent G (1997). Charles S. Peirce On Norms and Ideals. New York: Fordham University Press.

Sørensen, B. & Thellefsen, T. (2004) Making the Knowledge Profile of C. S. Peirce's Concept of Esthetics". Semiotica 151 2004. p. 1-39

END OF:  Thellefsen & Sørensen "A Suggestion for a Semeiotic Theory of Ideals and Values"


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