Glory Met in Unspeakable Flux
A Critical Comparison of the Semiotics of Religious Experience in the General Theory of Signs of Charles Morris, the Semiotic of Charles Sanders Peirce, and the Philosophy of Symbolic Forms of Ernst Cassirer


I am, as far as I know, a pioneer, or rather a backwoodsman, in the work of clearing and opening up what I call semiotic, that is, the doctrine of the essential nature and fundamental varieties of possible semiosis; and I find the field too vast, the labor too great, for a firstcomer.1

When philosopher Charles Sanders Peirce (1839-1914) wrote these words shortly after the turn of the century, the field of semiotics was indeed very like a frontier wilderness; as Peirce remarked to Lady Welby in 1908, "I have myself been entirely absorbed in the very same subject since 1863, without meeting, before I made your acquaintance, a single mind to whom it did not seem very like bosh. " (8.376)

In the years since then, and especially since the early 1960's, the field of semiotics has undergone considerable development. Thomas A. Sebeok distinguishes three major strands in this course of development, which he designates the biological, the philosophical, and the linguistic traditions. The first tradition is rooted in medical practice and diagnostic methodology; Baltic biologist Jakob von Uexküll brought this approach to explicitly semiotic form in his study of animal behavior and perception between the two world wars. The second tradition leads from Plato and Aristotle through Augustine and the medieval scholastics via Leibniz, Locke, and others to thinkers such as Peirce, "the real founder and first systematic investigator of modern semiotic." The third tradition in its overtly semiotic form leads from Ferdinand de Saussure to writers such as Louis Hjelmslev, Roman Jakobson, and Roland Barthes. Although there has been creative borrowing among these traditions, Sebeok notes a continuing tension between more linguistically oriented and more philosophically oriented semiotic approaches.2

Among those who have dealt with questions of signs and symbols from a philosophical perspective, two whom it is especially fruitful to compare to Peirce are Ernst Cassirer (1874-1946) and Charles Morris (1901-79). Cassirer's philosophy of symbolic forms and Morris' general theory of signs both have interesting points of convergence with Peirce's semiotic, while their divergences from Peirce's approach lie roughly in opposite directions. Cassirer, who draws heavily on Kant, develops what could be described as "a kind of idealistic 'phenomenology of culture.'"3 On the other hand, Morris, indebted to the thought of his mentor George H. Mead, puts forth a theory with a heavy empirical and behavioral thrust.4 Peirce unites both these emphases, the empiricist and the idealist, as opposite extremes along a single graded continuum, a move in keeping with Peirce's strategy of "synechism," or the taking up of apparent philosophical dualisms into a more general "law of relationship."5

In this paper I will undertake a critical comparison of Morris' general theory of signs and Cassirer's philosophy of symbolic forms with Peirce's semiotic. This comparison will then enable us to explore some striking similarities among the three thinkers' respective accounts of the semiotic structure of religious experience.

The General Theory of Signs of Charles Morris

Charles Morris was familiar with the works of Peirce, and admitted his indebtedness to Peirce on certain semiotic issues, although according to Morris, George H. Mead provided him with his initial impetus toward semiotics, and Morris only later became acquainted with Peirce's writings. Nonetheless there are many points of resemblance between Morris' semiotic and Peirce's, the most obvious of which is that Morris' sign, like Peirce's, is irreducibly triadic.7

In the process of semiosis, according to Morris,

something takes account of something else mediately, i.e. by means of a third something. Semiosis is accordingly a mediated-taking-account-of. The mediators are sign vehicles; the takings-account-of are interpretants; ...what is taken account of are designata. [Morris often refers to the designatum as the denotatum, and to the sign vehicle simply as the sign-- PB]8

Morris differs from Peirce here in that Morris' sign is not perfectly general, but is restricted to situations of "goal-seeking behavior in which signs exercise control."9 The three elements of Morris' sign derive from Mead's division of human action into three phases: orientation, in which a stimulus (Morris' sign-vehicle or sign) orients a person toward a goal; consummation, in which a sensory impulse (Morris' denotatum) indicates that the goal has been consummated by the impulse's partially or completely relieving the "state of the organism (the 'need')" induced by the stimulus; and manipulation, in which the person attempts by some course of action (Morris' interpretant) to move from stimulus to consummation.10

This is strikingly similar to Peirce's account of intentional or goal-directed semiosis in 5.472ff., in which an "event, A, produces a second event, B, as a means to the production of a third event C." Here, in Peircean terms, A is a sign which determines interpretant B, and B itself then determines a further interpretant C. Morris' denotatum is nothing other than this further interpretant; his sign and interpretant are the Peircean sign and interpretant respectively.

According to T.L. Short's analysis of Peirce's account of intentionality, "because the action, B, is elicited by the stimulus, A, but is directed toward goal C, it interprets A as signifying an object, O, which, if it obtains, would make B a means for achieving C... [Of course,] O need not obtain."11 The Peircean object has no precise equivalent in Morris' theory, though Morris does recognize as the significatum of the sign "those conditions which are such that whatever fulfills them is a denotatum."12

There are other important points of convergence between Morris' sign and Peirce's. Notable among these are: the connection between behavior and inquiry; the role of the interpretant in changing habits; the generality of signs; fallibilistic processes of feedback; and the conditional nature of the sign. We will deal with these in order.

Behavior and inquiry. We have just seen important similarities between Morris' and Peirce's accounts of intentional activity. But Peirce affirmed even broader ties between semiosis and behavioral response in his "doubt-belief" theory of inquiry.

According to Peirce, "man is a bundle of habits." (6.228) When these habits are stable enough and well enough established that we act upon them in practice, we call them beliefs: "The feeling of believing is a more or less sure indication of there being established in our nature some habit which will determine our actions." (5.371) Doubt is the unsettling of this stability; it is a state of dissatisfaction, an itch which calls to be scratched. Inquiry is the process of seeking to rest in a new state of belief by removing the dissatisfactory stimulus; inquiry ends when, and only when, the community of investigation is no longer in a state of doubt (5.265-266)

For Peirce, this process of seeking to rest in a state of satisfaction is biologically based, and so characterizes not only scientific inquiry, but also everyday human activity and even animal behavior from the protozoa on up (cf. "A Guess at the Riddle," 1.496ff.). These views are similar to those of Morris, though in Peirce's case they are complicated by the presence of other factors consistent with but not reducible to a behavioral interpretation.13

Interpretant and habit-change. For Morris an interpretant, though it acts itself out in some form of behavior, becomes meaningful outside its original context by modifying a person's disposition to respond, that is, by contributing to a change in habit. Morris calls a sign with such an interpretant a symbol: symbols, though more error-prone than other signs, are relatively independent of context, and their "time-binding" capability is vital to the development of any very complex pattern of response. Likewise, the interpretant of the Peircean sign need not be actual, but can be (and in the case of the growth of a sign must involve) a change in habit, "a modification of a person's tendencies toward action." (5.476)14

Generality and particularity in signs. Just as Peirce distinguishes between sinsign and legisign (2.245-246), so Morris draws a graded distinction between a unisituational sign, one that "has signification in only one situation"; and a plurisituational sign, one that belongs to a sign-family or "set of similar sign-vehicles which for a given interpreter have the same significata."15 And similarly, Morris' graduated distinction between singular signs whose "significatum permits only one denotatum," and more or less general signs, parallels somewhat Peirce's division of index and symbol: a Morrisian singular sign by its singularity functions deictically and so is a Peircean index, and a Morrisian general sign is a Peircean symbol, as the latter "cannot indicate any particular thing; it denotes a kind of thing." (2.301)16 But the converses do not hold, since Peirce's division is founded not only, like that of Morris, on logical distinctions, but on Peirce's universal categories, which include but are not limited to logical structures.17

Feedback and fallibilism. Circular processes of feedback find a place in both systems. But Peirce's distinction between immediate and dynamical object, and the process of fallibilistic investigation which this distinction entails, reflects his interest in epistemology in general and scientific method in particular. Morris' interest focuses more on behavioral learning in general and in particular on communicative interaction.

Morris parallels Peirce's twofold division of object with his own distinction between denotatum and significatum: "while a sign must signify, it may or may not denote. The buzzer can signify to the dog food at a given place without there being food at the place in question" (in which case the buzzer would have a significatum but no denotatum).18 And Morris observes that such signs, depending on the degree of their reliability, will tend to strengthen or weaken habits, and thus are integral to learning.19 But Morris devotes special attention to the sort of feedback processes operative in human language and communication. The behavior of an interpreter A may elicit responses from interpreter B which condition later actions by A, setting up a one-way (or two-way) feedback loop which Morris calls an insignificant (or significant) symbol.20 Extended interaction between A and B may depend on expectations set up by such feedback, and if A and B share the same set of expectations and if the symbols they exchange are subject to a shared set of rules and combination (that is, a syntax), then their system of symbols can be considered a language.21

Although Peirce too deals with feedback in a linguistic context (cf. especially "Man, a Sign," 5.310-317), his approach lends itself more readily to application in developmental psychology. By contrast, Morris' approach, as Morris himself realized, is especially relevant to issues of individual and social pathology.22

Conditionality. Morris' sign shares with Peirce's a conditional, "if-then" structure. The sign comes into operation only if appropriate conditions are satisfied: "...under certain additional conditions the response in question takes place. These additional conditions may be quite complex," including internal states such as belief and perceived need, as well as impinging factors in the environment.23 Peirce's sign also operates only under appropriate conditions, though semiotic conditionality for Peirce, due to the ontological status he attributed to his signs, is a very complicated and nuanced state of affairs to which conditionality in any formalized logical sense would be only a rough approximation.24

Morris' dimensions of signification, sign use, and value. Morris' sign, as we have seen, parallels on the logical front certain aspects of Peirce's division of signs. But Peirce's three categories, on which this division is based, also have to then a phenomenological side; and to find the closest parallel to this in Morris, we must turn to Morris' analysis of signs according to dimensions of signification, sign use, and value. This analysis arises from the fact that Morrisian symbols can signify independently of temporal context; therefore, as signs are built up out of smaller signs, responses originally appropriate to one of Mead's three stages (orientation, manipulation, consummation) can occur during any of these three stages. Morris distinguishes as a fourth class signs and behavior appropriate to the making of necessary formal or logical distinctions.

Dimensions of signification. Behavior during the orientation stage appropriate to each of the three stages of behavior gives rise, respectively, to designative, prescriptive, and appraisive signs. Designative signs help gather relevant information regarding "the nature of the environment in which the organism operates." Prescriptive signs guide the actor's behavior according to "the ways in which the organism must act upon the environment in order to satisfy its need." And appraisive signs enable the organism to evaluate "the import or relevance of this environment for the needs of the organism," hence whether consummation has been achieved. In addition, formative signs make logical distinctions in the orientation phase. These dimensions of signification may be present together in the same sign to varying degrees.25

Dimensions of sign use. Behavior appropriate to Mead's three stages, when transposed to the manipulation phase, characterizes what Morris calls informative, incitive, and valuative signs. "An individual may use signs to inform himself or others... with respect to signs or non-semiosical events": informative signs. "He may use signs to incite a particular response... to call out submission... to provoke cooperative or disruptive behavior": incitive signs. "He may use signs to confer for himself or others a preferential status": valuative signs. "And he may use signs to further influence behavior already called out by signs," via logical distinctions: systemic signs. Again, these dimensions may be co-present in varying proportion.26

Dimensions of value. Behavior from Mead's stages transposed to the consummation phase determines which objects will be most valued as the denotatum of a sign, as well as how the "actor can transfer his choice of an impulse-satisfying object from the consummation phase to the orientation phase." Signs in which dependence dominates incline the actor "to release and indulge existing desires in the presence of objects appropriate to the satisfaction of the desires." Signs of dominance promote "tendencies to manipulate and remake the world in the service of the satisfaction of existing desires." And signs of detachment underwrite "tendencies to self-control, to solitude, to meditation, to detachment, to self-containment."27

Morris' three trichotomies are logically somewhat similar to Peirce's categorial division of his sign (2.227ff).28 The phenomenological connection is less obvious, until we consider that each of Morris' trichotomies exhibits a division roughly correlate to that of feeling, action, and cognition; or the aesthetic, the ethical, and the logical. The reader of Peirce will immediately recognize the former as aspects of Firstness, Secondness, and Thirdness, respectively; while aesthetics, ethics, and logic comprise Peirce's categorial division of the "normative sciences" which govern goal-directed behavior (2.196-201).

A final point of comparison between Peirce and Morris is Morris' classic division of semiotics into syntactics, semantics, and pragmatics: syntactics studies "the formal relation of signs to one another," semantics "the relations of signs to the objects to which the signs are applicable," and pragmatics "the relations of signs to interpreters." Morris himself confessed in later years his indebtedness here to Peirce's slightly different division of semiotics into pure grammar, logic, and pure rhetoric.29

Ernst Cassirer's Philosophy of Symbolic Forms

Cassirer, like Peirce, turned to the study of what he called "symbolic forms" in an attempt to move past Kant's "turn to the subject," although Cassirer's break with Kant was far less radical than Peirce's.30 Cassirer's thought differs from Kant's in that Cassirer replaces Kant's synthetic a prioris (space, time, number, etc.) with his symbolic forms, which are dynamic and relative to human culture rather than static and absolute. These symbolic forms Cassirer develops in considerable detail in the areas of language, myth, perception, and scientific knowledge in his three-volume Philosophy of Symbolic Forms, and in varying detail over a wide range of human culture in such other works as An Essay on Man.

Modern natural science, for Cassirer as for Peirce, casts in a clear light the symbolic character of human knowledge and experience. Knowledge as symbolic can no longer be seen as static, or as related to its object simply by "vague... similarity of content" (cf. Peirce's icon); rather, "the rigid concept of being seems to be thrown into flux," a flux on which the intellect gradually imposes a structured relational order "expressed [in] a highly complex logical relation... which the basic concepts of physical knowledge must satisfy" (cf. Peirce's symbol).31 Although Cassirer states that the relational unity of a symbol is that "which the phenomena must produce out of themselves" (cf. Peirce's index), this "fundamental relation" is purely relative to the purpose and place of the symbolic process within human culture, and thus its meaning is actively formed by "an original, formative power of the human spirit." Cassirer quotes scientist Heinrich Hertz: "'Actually we do not know and have no means of finding out whether our ideas of things accord with them in any other respect than in this one fundamental relation.'"32

Here Cassirer follows Kant more closely than does Peirce, for whom the world is intrinsically intelligible. For Peirce, a hypothesis is projected in semiosis as the immediate object of the sign, but insofar as that hypothesis would stand up to the long run of inquiry, what the sign presents to the interpretant in the immediate object is the dynamical object, which to that degree determines the interpretant as a further sign of the dynamical object.33

For Cassirer, a symbol is to a symbolic form as particular is to universal:34 any particular is a symbol insofar as it is an instance of, and points toward, a "symbolic form" or more general continuous relational structure. The entire web of aesthetic possibilities of a school of art, the entire theoretical structure of a science, the practice and beliefs of a religious tradition, the entire world of expression which a language opens up: any such general structure of totality, taken as an organic, growing temporal whole, would be an example of Cassirer's symbolic form.

The symbolic form is approximately what Peirce calls a legisign, and Cassirer's symbol is what Peirce calls a replica of a legisign, "a peculiar kind of sinsign." (2.246) A Peircean legisign may be icon, index, or symbol, and as we have seen the symbolic form incorporates, to one degree or another, dimensions functionally similar to all three. However although for Peirce every sign is an instance of Thirdness, Peirce's three categories are mutually irreducible and so icon, index, and symbol remain distinct in principle even when co-present in the same sign. By contrast, Cassirer's thought, though not a pure idealism, contains strong idealizing tendencies,35 and thus there is a progressive tendency for the other dimensions of the symbolic form to be subsumed into the generality of the symbolic form. We will see this process more clearly when we examine the growth of symbolic forms.

Another major point of similarity between Cassirer and Peirce is the role continuity plays in their thought. Just as for Peirce the generality of the sign was an implication of its continuity (6.172), a concept Peirce borrowed from calculus, so for Cassirer too the symbolic form is general as it is a continuous structure, on analogy with a continuous mathematical function of several variables:

Not only science, but language, myth, art, and religion as well, provide the building stones from which the world of "reality" is constructed for us... Like scientific cognition, they are not simple structures which we can insert into a given world, we must understand them as functions... If we designate the "elements" as a, b, c, d, etc., their combinations, as we have seen, form a precisely graduated and internally differentiated system of diverse function: F(a,b),(c,d), etc.36

Cassirer further remarks: "If we wished to characterize this process by a mathematical metaphor... despite the fact that it goes beyond the sphere of the mathematical, we might... choose the term 'integration.'"37 An even more apt mathematical metaphor for the symbolic form, I submit, would be that of a manifold, or curved n-dimensional surface in some higher-dimensional space. Under this metaphor, each particular symbol would be a mathematical point lying on the manifold.38

Using individual symbols as "bench marks," one can "survey" the topography of a symbolic form and thereby map out its structure in terms of how it deals with space, time, number, quality, and causality, as dynamic and not just static features.39 The equivalent Peircean analysis of the structure of a legisign would use as "factors" Peirce's three categories, which would individually and jointly cover the same "territory," albeit according to a different "coordinate system"!

To be more precise, quality would come under Peircean Firstness; space, under Secondness, except that certain structures of spatial symmetry would necessitate the invocation of Thirdness; time, under Thirdness both genuine and degenerate; causality, under Secondness (physical causality) and Thirdness (logical and physical causality); number would come under the logical aspect of Thirdness, except for those peculiar aspects of number which, as Cassirer notes, in more primitive thought possess a specific "tonality," more pronominal than numerical, "which sets them apart from the uniform and homogeneous sequence of numbers," and which Peirce distributed "across" his three categories.40

The common ingredient of structured continuity underlies three other points in which Cassirer's symbolic form resembles Peirce's sign: its conditionality and its relation to meaning and to representation. And it is related to the growth of symbolic forms, a point which leads on to other similarities between Peirce and Cassirer.

Conditionality. This follows directly from Cassirer's "functional" idea of the symbolic form. If a symbolic form be compared to "the setting up of a formula which designates the universal quantitative relations of magnitude but leaves the particular magnitudes unspecified," then "before it can be applied in a specific case, the unspecified magnitudes x, y, z must be replaced by specific magnitudes."41 For Cassirer these conditions form "so dense a mesh of modifiers" that they can scarcely be disentangled from one another or from the "specific cases" in which they obtain; and in any event neither their identity nor their characteristics are given in advance. Thus for Cassirer as for Peirce, elaborating the conditions under which a given symbolic form obtains, entails a "dense" exploration of conditions for which both extensional "breadth" and intensional "depth" may be of arbitrarily "messy" structure.42

Meaning: For Cassirer, meaning lies in the reciprocal relation between symbol and symbolic form. Each relatively particular symbol has meaning by its place in the relatively more general structure of the symbolic form. Conversely, "the ideal form is known only by and in the aggregate of the sensible signs which it uses for its expression."43 In particular, the symbolic form binds symbols together in a temporal unity as "representatives of a totality," so that "the flux of contents is replaced by a self-contained and enduring unity of form."44

This is comparable to Peirce's condition that a sign is meaningful insofar as its interpretant is itself a sign capable of determining a further interpretant within the continuous flow of interpretation (2.278), so that the "meaning" of a sign is the totality of practical consequences which might arise as future interpretants of the sign (cf. 5.9), although due to Peirce's formulation of meaning in terms of his pragmaticism, conditionality is integral to meaning for Peirce in a way in which it is not explicitly so for Cassirer.45

Representation. Cassirer sharply attacks what he calls "naive copy theories" of knowledge,46 and states that it is a fundamental error to consider knowledge as simple "production" of an object apart from continual "reproduction." "For the function of language is not merely to repeat definitions and distinctions which are already present in the mind, but to formulate them and make them intelligible as such."47 Thus integral to representational knowledge is the placement of particulars "in an extraordinarily rich and finely articulated complex of relations," in which "one blow strikes a thousand connected chords which all vibrate more or less forcefully and clearly in the sign."48 In other words, representational knowledge can be distinguished but never separated from meaning.

Although Peirce places much heavier emphasis on the object of knowledge in its own right, he would agree that knowledge (the sign-object relationship) is distinguishable but inseparable from meaning (the sign-interpretant relationship) as a sign is triadic, "irreducible to any complexus of dyads." (2.274)

The growth of symbolic forms. In a "Partial Synopsis of a Proposed Work in Logic," Peirce speculates:

...whether there be a life in Signs, so that-- the requisite vehicle being present-- they will go through a certain order of development, and if so, whether this development be merely of such a nature that the same round of changes of form is described over and over again whatever be the matter of the thought or whether, in addition to such a repetitive order, there be also a greater life-history that every symbol furnished with a vehicle of life goes through, and what is the nature of it. (2.111)

Though Peirce often writes in general terms of the "growth" of signs, it is seldom that he does so in detail (but see his essay on "Evolutionary Love," 6.287-317). However, although Peirce could not have known it, his remark is an uncannily accurate description of what constitutes the great bulk of Cassirer's writings on symbolic forms. Although Cassirer defended fiercely the autonomy of his symbolic forms one from another, still there emerges a general rhythm of growth in each instance, a veritable "life of signs" in which three ascending modes of symbolic representation can be discerned. It is noteworthy that these three stages roughly correspond to the phenomenological aspect of Peirce's three categories.

In the mode of the "expression function," qualities focused to a single point confront us "in stark uniqueness and singleness,"49 as if with an emotion of numinous terror. One thing presents itself spontaneously, and it and nothing else is apprehended. "Instead of expansion... we have here an impulse toward concentration; instead of extensive distribution, intensive compression."50 Conceptually unrelated number systems are applied to men, to horses, to canoes; thick, dense emotional and sensuous freight clings to a word so that it pertains only to a single instance or a single activity, and bears about it an aura of mana and word-magic.51

Compare Peircean phenomenological Firstness, in which any "quality of feeling" is considered purely as it is in itself, regardless of any Second, spontaneous and sui generis (1.300-321). "The poetic mood approaches the state in which [Firstness] appears as it is present. Is poetry so abstract and colorless?" (5.44)

In the mode of the "intuition function," these qualities are assembled, through their function in human culture, into the objects and activities of the everyday world of space and time. Thus arises awareness of objects as individual objects, of actions as composed of "little pieces" of discrete event; spatial relationships; awareness of the "I-concept."

Compare Peirce's Secondness, the hard here-and-now facticity of physical objects, distinguishing individual entities as individuals, present in spatial interaction and relation, responsible for the "hypothesis" of the "ego" which arises from encounter with error (1.322-336).

Finally, in the mode of the "conceptual function," these particular ideas are built up into ever more general ideas and laws, patterns and relationships, temporally unfolding-- Cassirer's symbolic form proper. The resemblance to Peircean phenomenological Thirdness is too obvious to require elaboration (cf. 1.337-353).

The growth of the symbolic form commences with the occurrence of spontaneous sense impressions which are fixed in a rudimentary symbolic form. As this growth proceeds, individual objects are identified, but only in fragmentation at first. As individual entities "accrete," so eventually do general concepts which, as their generality grows into greater and greater unity, come in time to predominate over individual and quality.

This process closely resembles that in Peirce's scattered remarks on the "life of signs":

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... 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. The symbol may, with Emerson's sphynx, say to man,

Of thine eye I am eyebeam. (2.302, emphasis added)52

Morris, Peirce, and Cassirer on the Semiotics of Religious Experience

As we have seen, there are striking similarities of thought among Morris, Peirce, and Cassirer. As an illustration of how these similarities work themselves out in a particular context, we turn now to the semiotic analysis each of them makes of religious experience.

Morris on Mysticism and "Maitreyism"

Morris deals with the semiotics of religious experience in two places: in a book entitled Paths of Life: Preface to a World Religion (1942; reissued 1972)53 and in an article called "Mysticism and Its Language" (1957). Integral to his view is the concept of disparate, even contradictory, signs brought together and dynamically balanced in a larger semiotic structure.

Morris begins his article with the claim of Zen Buddhist scholar Daisetz Teitaro Suzuki that mystical experience transcends the law of identity, "A is A": not merely mystical language, but the experience itself, is constituted in contradiction and paradox. If logic is thus inadequate to experience, argues Suzuki, then it is time for "a new system of thinking to fit the experience, and not conversely." This, claims Morris, semiotics can furnish: "we shall attempt to view [mystical experience] as a complex sign process amenable to analysis in terms of a theory of signs."54

Morris defines as a post-language sign "a sign which is not a language sign, but which requires the operation of language to gain its signification. An example is the reader's perception of a star... [which] results from the fact that one has heard about or read about the astronomical theories developed in Western culture." Such a post-language sign may over a period of time be "built up" through its habitual use in the same context as certain events, sounds, or gestures, whose rational and pre-rational connotations come to be associated with the sign:

When built up these signs tend to arouse the interpretants of a whole host of designative, appraisive, and prescriptive linguistic utterances which have occurred in their presence. Talking is necessary for their development but not for their subsequent operation. When talking ceases the post-language signs reverberate the meaning which language conferred upon them in their formation.55

There is no semiotic or neurological reason, argues Morris, "why the interpretants of contradictory signs cannot be aroused simultaneously, though the corresponding reactions could not be simultaneously performed." The result would be, or could be built up into, semiotic structures incorporating post-language sign analogues of statements of the form "A and not-A": "In this way one can be symbolically both here and not here... can be both the fish that swims and the gull that dives." But the attempt to translate such experience back into spoken language is "felt to be both partial and inadequate:

And rightly so, since the complex network of symbolic processes which [one] is attempting to translate included contradictions. Positions in space and time were symbolized, but no single positions; selves were symbolized, but also non-selves; minute things, but also vast things; good things, but also terrible things. So the whole of the experience is not characterizable in positive noncontradictory terms.56

Morris connects this hypothetical semiotic process with experiences of transformation and renewal beyond a mystical context: "The post-language perception of a star brings forward no new sensory datum but only a higher-level process of symbolization... This experience is liberating. Einstein has testified to this, and has even spoken of it as 'the sower of all true art and science.'"57

Morris sees such a process, freely flowing and spontaneous with the different dimensions of discourse in dynamic balance, as integral to the healthy functioning of society, including the healthy functioning of religious discourse.58 In his book Paths of Life, Morris applies this perspective to a typological study of personality types as expressed in religious "paths of life," analyzing religious traditions according to the relative priority they assign to Morris' three semiotic dimensions of value, "dionysian" dependence, "promethean" dominance, and "buddhist" detachment. Six possible relative rankings of these values yield six religious types, most of which cut across the boundaries of any given religious tradition. Morris examines each of the six types ("Buddhist," "Dionysian," "Promethean," "Apollonian," "Christian," and "Mohammedan") at length, characterizing them respectively as the ways of detachment from desire, abandonment to instinct, ceaseless making and shaping, rational moderation, sympathetic love, and violent subjugation.59

In line with his concern for dynamic balance, Morris tries to envision a "seventh way," the "Maitreyan" way of balanced synthesis and integration, of "detached-attachment." Morris essays a utopian sketch of a hypothetical "world religion of Maitreyism":

Western society may furnish a favorable soil for the initiation of the Maitreyan epoch... Deep is his love for mankind and sacred he holds its future-- but the vision of the votary of Maitreya is not bounded by mankind nor is his dwelling place in the future. The salvation he seeks is a quality to be imparted to life while living. It is a quality of life akin to good sportsmanship-- the deepest concrete expression which the West has given to the attitude of detached-attachment... At home everywhere, needing no home anywhere; mixed with all and hovering over all; aware of the dawns which follow midnights, and the midnights which gather the harvest sown in the dawns and ripened in the days-- such are the sources of his solemnity, his agony, his peace, his vision, his abandonment, his activity, and his joy.60

Peirce on Community, Musement, and the Neglected Argument

Several elements of Charles Peirce's thinking shed light on an account of the semiotic structure of religious experience. These elements include the communal nature of semiosis, the role of pre-rational levels of semiosis in matters of "practical concern,," the growth of symbols, and Peirce's account of meditative "musement" in his "A Neglected Argument for the Reality of God."

The key concept behind Peirce's triadic sign is that of structured relationship, and because of the complete generality of Peirce's sign, his semiotic purports to yield an ontology, an ontology of coinherent relationship. Thus fundamental to Peirce's anthropology is the Peircean community of interpretation, an embodied community within a real and inherently intelligible physical world. In such a world, the sign mediates the object to the interpretant onto-relationally, "just as a rainbow is at once a manifestation both of the sun and of the rain." (5.283)

Thus the human being, as an embodied sign, is constituted as a person within and only within "a COMMUNITY." (5.311, Peirce's capitalization) Consciousness, knowledge, and experience are logically subsequent to, and are constituted by, ontological relationship: they arise as a function of the give and take of relationship with the community and with the world, an interaction in which communal semiotic structures are also reciprocally built up: "Thus my language is the sum total of myself... The individual man... so far as he is anything apart from his fellows, and from what he and they are to be, is only a negation." (5.314, 317)61

Peirce's friend and colleague Josiah Royce developed some possible religious implications of such an outlook most fully in his The Problem of Christianity. But Peirce himself (especially in his later years) often wrote, from his perspective as a convert to the Episcopal Church, of communities of faith in a similar vein: "Religion can not reside in its totality in a single individual. Like every species of reality, it is essentially a social, a public affair. It is the idea of a whole church, welding all its members together in one organic, systemic perception of the Glory of the Highest." (6.429) And this "systemic perception" was for Peirce not only-- not even chiefly-- a matter of rational reflection, but "a living belief--- a thing to be lived rather than said or thought." (6.439) In terms of Peirce's categories, it encompasses not only Thirdness, but also pre-rational Secondness and Firstness.

Because of this, here as in all "vitally important" matters of "practical concern," Peirce stressed the importance of relying on "instinct," that is, on the pre-rational semiotic structures built up in one by one's community and by experience in the world:

Here we are in this workaday world, little creatures, mere cells in a social organism itself a poor and little thing enough, and we must look to see what little and definite task out circumstances have set before our little strength to do. The performance of that task will require us to draw upon all our powers, reason included. And in the doing of it we should depend not upon that department of the soul which is most superficial and fallible-- I mean our reason-- but upon that department that is deep and sure-- which is instinct. Instinct is capable of development and growth... [and] the soul's deeper parts can only be reached through its surface. (6.647-648)

This is just as true, Peirce argues, in matters of religion:

If, walking in a garden on a dark night, you were suddenly to hear the voice of your sister crying out to you to rescue her from a villain, would you stop to reason out the metaphysical question of whether it were possible for one mind to cause material waves of sound and for another mind to perceive them? If you did, the problem might probably occupy the remainder of your days. In the same way, if a man undergoes any religious experience... [complete ellipsis] for him to halt till he has adjusted a philosophical difficulty would seem to be an analogous sort of thing, whether you call it stupid or whether you call it disgusting. (6.655)

Thus, Peirce often distinguishes sharply between God as such, and the "Absolute," or God as accessible to rational investigation: "The Absolute is strictly speaking only God, in a Pickwickian sense, that is, in a sense that has no effect." (8.277) Moreover, "as between an old-fashioned God and a modern patent Absolute... [the former] is more likely to be about the truth."62

With all this in mind, we are ready to proceed to Peirce's "Neglected Argument for the Reality of God" (1908). Here Peirce distinguishes "Argumentations" formulated on rational principles from an "Argument," which is "any process of thought reasonably tending to produce a definite belief." (6.456) Only the latter is broad enough to encompass all three "Universes of Experience" which we meet with as everywhere co-present in the world: the Universe of "Ideas" as pure Firsts, that of "Brute Actuality" or Secondness, and that of "Signs" or Thirdness. (6.455)

Peirce commends, as a path of encounter with these Three Universes, "a certain agreeable occupation of mind... In fact, it is Pure Play." Peirce names this form of pure play "musement": "The particular occupation I mean... may take either the form of aesthetic contemplation, or that of distant castle-building... or that of considering some wonder in one of the Universes, or some connection between two of the three, with speculation concerning its cause." (6.458)

Musement "begins passively enough with drinking in the impression of some nook in one of the three Universes. But impression soon passes into attentive observation, observation into musing, musing into a lively give and take..." (6.459) Since "different people have such wonderfully different ways of thinking," Peirce hesitates to lay out boundaries for musement, but he illustrates "musings" over "the diverse and delicate beauties of flowers... the forms of trees, the compositions of sunsets, the nature of pleasure and pain." (6.462) One might turn to the fact that "every small part of space, however remote, is bounded by just such neighbouring parts as every other"; to "the constitution of the hydrogen atom"; even to "aggregates of unformulated but partly experienced phenomena." (6.463-464)

In the midst of this musement, abduction will lead eventually, then again and again, to "the hypothesis of God." "The more [one] ponders it, the more it will find response in every part of his mind, for its beauty, for its supplying an ideal of life, and for its thoroughly satisfactory explanation of his whole threefold environment." (6.465-567) Though Peirce concedes that he "cannot tell how every man will think," still Peirce believes that, the more one considers this hypothesis, "the more he will be enwrapt with Love of this idea." (6.501)

This first stage of abductive musement, since it is rooted in communally formed pre-rational semiosis, is accessible to anyone (6.483), and Peirce argues that it is a genuine (albeit pre-rational and very vague) "direct experience" of God (6.492-493). But abduction "does not afford security. The hypothesis must be tested." (6.470) Thus Peirce sketches, as a mere "table of contents," a brief but very dense outline of how such a hypothesis might be tested by deductively working up a thick description of it and its implications, and then inductively "ascertaining how far those consequents accord with Experience, and of judging accordingly whether the hypothesis is sensibly correct, or requires some inessential modification, or must be entirely rejected." (6.468-473)

As Vincent Potter has observed, it is certainly noteworthy that Peirce's brief "table of contents" here is nothing more or less than "a rapid and terse outline of that philosophical view called 'pragmaticism' which he had elaborated over the preceding half-century... nothing but a marshaling of the conclusions he had reached concerning the nature of reasoning."63 The very creative process that Peirce sometimes referred to as "the growth of signs" was itself, for Peirce, the ongoing "pragmatic" test of the "hypothesis of God." Peirce meant more than first meets the eye when he wrote to William James in 1905 that his belief in God was "good sound solid strong pragmatism." (8.262)

Cassirer on Religion as a Symbolic Form

Because the same rhythm runs so markedly through all Cassirer's thought on symbolic forms, our treatment of Cassirer on religious experience can be relatively brief.

"Myth and primitive religion are by no means entirely incoherent, they are not bereft of sense or reason. But their coherence depends much more upon unity of feeling than upon logical rules."64 This feeling, in the sensuous phase, is an "immediate qualitativeness" which strikes a person as fear and awe in the face of the numinous, the mysterium tremendum et fascinosum, and to which the human response is the structured play of ritual.65 It is not irrational, but pre-rational. In a world filled with a sensation of mana as if with an electric charge, perception of the numinous in a site or event gives rise to confession of what Usener called "momentary gods": "water found by a thirsty person, a termite mound that hides and saves someone, any new object that inspires a man with sudden terror... [it is] as though by virtue of [the highest degree of condensation that] the objective form of the god were created so that it veritably burst forth from the experience."66

In the intuitive phase, these qualities are assembled, through their function in human culture, into "functional gods," so that every concrete sphere has its patron god: "the first breaking of fallow soil, the second plowing, the acts of sowing, of weeding, the cutting of the grain and likewise the harvesting; and none of these undertakings can be successful unless its appropriate god has been invoked." Each such god inherits a multitude of names from the sensuous stage.67

Finally, in the conceptual phase, we arrive at a concept of God which is universal and personal. "Primitive mythology is attacked and overcome by a new force, a purely ethical force."68 Holiness as the numinous is generalized, and subsumed, into holiness as the righteous: "Here too we find the conception of the 'sympathy of the Whole,' but it is now understood and interpreted in a new ethical sense."69 Generality issues in fuller and fuller unity until this unity is expressible only in two of the "most difficult and... fundamental, linguistically grounded concepts-- the concept of 'Being,' and the concept of the 'Ego.'"70 This tendency, writes Cassirer, in its final form "excludes all other forms:

When God, revealing himself to Moses, is asked what name Moses should bear to the Israelites, in case they want to know what god has sent him to them, the answer is: "I am that I am. Thus thou shalt say to them: I am has sent me unto you." It is only by this transformation of objective existence into subjective being that the Deity is really elevated to the "absolute" realm, to a state that cannot be expressed through any analogy with things or names of things.71

Thus the conceptual function of the symbolic form of religion terminates, for Cassirer, at that level at which "all separate, concrete and individual divine names have been resolved into the one name of Being; the Divine excludes from itself all particular attributes, it cannot be described through anything else, but can be predicated only of itself."72

Conclusion: A Synthesis of Morris, Peirce, and Cassirer on the Semiotics of Religious Experience

In their semiotic analyses of religious experience, Morris, Peirce, and Cassirer display considerable variety in tone and emphasis. They display at least one substantive difference as well: Morris works out of a tacit philosophy of history of the type Peirce dubbed "elliptical," whereas Peirce and Cassirer assume what Peirce called a "hyperbolic" philosophy of history.73 However, there is a substantial common pattern which runs through the accounts of all three. We are now in a position to attempt to synthesize this pattern in a brief sketch, which will be framed in chiefly Peircean terms.

The first moment in the semiotic flow of religious experience is on the level of Firstness: Firsts present themselves, spontaneous, fresh, semiotically quite vague, in a process much like pure play. As Firsts they are heavily freighted with new-minted sensuous qualities of feeling. These may but need not run in the channels of a sense of the numinous; in any event, each First puts itself forth on its own pre-rational terms, fresh as "what the world was to Adam on the day he first opened his eyes to it." (1.357)

First joins with First in an extremely rudimentary and vague pattern of Thirdness.74 Since the law of contradiction applies to Firstness and Thirdness only to the degree that they are precise (cf. 4.612-613, 5.448, 6.496), this vague structure may conjoin Firsts in pre-rational configurations which would seem incongruous or even contradictory from a logical perspective. But here the process is yet at a pre-rational level. Firsts accrete with Firsts in vague iconic/symbolic networks of association. And at some more or less indeterminate point, abduction joins these networks with individual particulars, whether supplied out of one's religious tradition or whether abductively suggested in the course of the play itself.

This is the entrance to the second moment in the process. It is exemplified by the emergence of Peirce's "hypothesis of God" or Cassirer's "functional gods." Secondness steps in: one sign in each symbolic network of associations now has an indexical (as well as iconic and symbolic) dimension, and all the thick, sensuous qualities of feeling bound up in the network are now available for predicative attribution to the object of this indexical sign. But this sign, and all its nuanced connotations, are still quite vague. It is a relatively degenerate index: it is not yet very clear to what it may refer. And the introduction of Secondness leaves us still on a pre-rational level. The first moment of pure play is prolonged while this second moment of indexicality elaborates itself. Richer and richer the symbolic networks are built up and deductively worked out in increasingly dense descriptions of the object of a degenerate index still vague and pre-rational. This phase encompasses both the "lively give and take" of Peirce's musement, and his stage of deductive followup on the hypothesis of God.75

The third moment in the process arrives when the patterns in religious experience begin to exhibit a marked unity of feeling, action, and relational structure. Thirdness has already been present, and necessary to provide the structure with any coherence at all, but it has been a low-grade Thirdness. Now Thirdness becomes more and more prominent as networks of association are more and more melded together in continuity, and interwoven in the outworking of an ever thicker and thicker descriptive structure like "a cable whose fibers may be ever so slender, provided they are sufficiently numerous and intimately connected." (5.265)

This moment of Thirdness is rational-- the moreso the more unified it becomes-- but it continues to presuppose the two pre-rational moments prolonged within it, as sensuous and even numinous Firsts continue to feed into it and to be deductively elaborated. Thus, although the object to which religious experience in its second moment indexically refers is capable of somewhat more precise and unified determination, this reference remains highly vague and incapable of reduction to precise, purely rational statement.76 But it is quite amenable to rational interpretation, and taken thus as a sign, it is a source both rich and inexhaustible of infinite sequences of interpretants.77 For roughly put, the indexical dimension is capable of indefinite development and ever fuller determination, but only as the iconic and symbolic dimensions ever outpace it in even richer and more rapid growth. Vagueness, in this third moment, points through reason toward ineffability.78

This third moment bridges both the stage in Peirce's musement in which one is "enwrapt with Love" at the hypothesis of God (6.501), and the inductive stage in which this hypothesis is pragmatically tested and adjusted (6.470) in the conduct of the entire course of life (6.473). Thus, as for Morris, Peirce, and Cassirer, religious experience issues in ethical response.

I think this is a fair synthesis (and further interpretation!) of the common strands running through these thinkers' semiotic descriptions of religious experience. One point stands out clearly, and I think it merits further investigation. It is striking how closely the formal structure of each of these accounts parallels that attributed by many writers to metaphor. I have tried especially to accent this parallel in my synthesis. Some such parallels have been noted before but they have not, to my knowledge, been developed from a Peircean semiotic perspective.79

Of course, especially from such a Peircean viewpoint, further observations could be developed. Our account ought to be situated in its larger semiotic context. For example, we could detail much further the role that a person's community of faith plays, through its traditions and liturgy, in informing that person's religious experience and shaping the semiotic channels in which that experience will tend to flow. We could draw reciprocal connections by inquiring into some formal similarities between our account, especially on the level of musement, and liturgy itself, especially considered as ritual play.80 And from a Peircean viewpoint, the term "experience" itself may be something of a misnomer! For in Peirce's thought it is the movement of structured relationships which is fundamental, and "experience" as such arises only as a function of semiotic relationship.

All these, however, are questions for another time. For the time being, we shall content ourselves with having scouted out and perhaps even cleared a bit more of what Peirce called the semiotic "backwoods"; and, at the end of a long spell of hard work in semiotics, close with one further remark of Peirce's on his mode of "pure play":

There is no kind of reasoning that I should wish to discourage in Musement; and I should lament to find anybody confining it to a method of such moderate fertility as logical analysis... So, continuing the counsels that had been asked of me, I should say, "Enter your skiff of Musement, push off into the lake of thought, and leave the breath of heaven to swell your sail. With your eyes open, awake to what is about or within you, and open conversation with yourself; for such is all meditation." It is, however, not a conversation in words alone, but is illustrated, like a lecture, with diagrams and experiments. (6.461)


Cassirer, Ernst. An Essay on Man. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1944.

________. Language and Myth. Translated by Susanne Langer. New York: Dover Publications, Inc., 1953.

________. The Philosophy of Symbolic Forms. Translated by Ralph Manheim, introduction by Charles W. Hendel. Three volumes. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1955.

Hartshorne, Charles, and Weiss, Paul, editors (volumes 1-6); Burks, Arthur W., editor (volumes 7-8). Collected Papers of Charles Sanders Peirce. Eight volumes. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1931-36, 1957-58.

Morris, Charles W. Writings on the General Theory of Signs. Volume 16 in "Approaches to Semiotics," Thomas A. Sebeok, editor. The Hague: Mouton, 1971.

Potter, Vincent. "'Vaguely Like a Man': The Theism of Charles S. Peirce." In God Knowable and Unknowable. Robert J. Roth, editor. New York: Fordham University Press, 1973.

Smith, John E. "Religion and Theology in Peirce." In Studies in the Philosophy of Charles Sanders Peirce (First Series). Philip Wiener and Fredric Young, editors. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1952, pp. 251-67.


1Charles Sanders Peirce, "A Survey of Pragmaticism" (ca. 1906), in Charles Hartshorne and Paul Weiss, eds., Collected Papers of Charles Sanders Peirce (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1934), 5.488. As is customary, citations from the Collected Papers will indicate volume and paragraph number: 5.488, for example, signifies volume 5, paragraph 488.

2For a summary of Sebeok's own approach, which attempts to balance this "semiotic tripod," see Eugen Baer, "Thomas A. Sebeok's Doctrine of Signs," in Classics of Semiotics, ed. Martin Krampen et al. (New York and London: Plenum Press, 1987), pp. 181-210. See also Sebeok's remarks on the history of semiotics in Contributions to the Doctrine of Signs, vol. 5 of "Studies in Semiotics" (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1976), especially "'Semiotics' and Its Congeners," pp. 47-58, and "The Semiotic Web: A Chronicle of Prejudices," pp. 149-88.

A good account of some of the historical antecedents of modern semiotics can be found in Ernst Cassirer, The Philosophy of Symbolic Forms, trans. Ralph Manheim, 3 vols. (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1955), 1:117-76.

3Charles W. Hendel, in the introduction to The Philosophy of Symbolic Forms, 1:63.

4Cf. Roland Posner, "Charles Morris and the Behavioral Foundations of Semiotics," Classics in Semiotics, pp. 23-58.

5Peirce: "Synechism is that tendency of philosophical thought which insists upon the idea of continuity as of prime importance in philosophy and, in particular, upon the necessity of hypotheses involving true continuity... The general motive is to avoid the hypothesis that this or that is inexplicable... [For] to suppose a thing inexplicable is not only to fail to explain it, and so to make an unjustifiable hypothesis, but much worse, it is to set up a barrier across the road of science, and to forbid all attempt to understand the phenomenon... So the synechist will not believe that some things are conscious and some unconscious, unless by consciousness be meant a certain grade of feeling. He will rather ask what are the circumstances which raise this grade; nor will he consider that a chemical formula for protoplasm would be a sufficient answer." (6.169-173)

6For reasons of economy of space, I will assume the reader's familiarity with Peirce's semiotic. For a brief summary thereof, see my paper from last semester, "Why Triadic? Challenges to the Structure of Peirce's Semiotic."

7But in defending himself against John Dewey's claim that he, Morris, had misinterpreted Peirce's semiotic (John Dewey, "Peirce's Theory of Linguistic Signs, Thought, and Meaning, Journal of Philosophy 43(1946):85-96), Morris states: "I should like to make clear that the position developed in Signs, Language, and Behavior did not start from Peirce. George H. Mead first stimulated me to think about signs behaviorally... Only later did I work earnestly at Peirce, Ogden and Richards, Russell, and Carnap, and still later at Tolman and Hull. All of these persons influences in various ways the formulation of Signs, Language, and Behavior. Nevertheless, in historical perspective, it seems to me that that position of Signs, Language, and Behavior, though its orientation was not derived from Peirce, is in effect 'an attempt to carry out resolutely' his approach to semiotic." Morris, "Signs About Signs About Signs," in Writings on the General Theory of Signs, vol. 16 in "Approaches to Semiotics," ed. Thomas A. Sebeok (The Hague: Mouton, 1971), pp. 444-45.

See also Morris' critical discussion of "Charles Peirce on Signs," Writings, pp. 337-40.

8Morris, p. 19. Compare one of Peirce's best known definitions of the sign: "A Sign or Representamen, is a First which stands in such a genuine triadic relation to a Second, called its Object, as to be capable of determining a Third, called its Interpretant, to assume the same triadic relation to its Object in which it stands itself to the same Object." As Morris remarks, p. 338, Peirce's definition is "much wider" than his own.

9Morris, p. 85.

10Morris, pp. 82-88.

11T.L. Short, "Semiosis and Intentionality," Transactions of the Charles S. Peirce Society, 17:197-223; here p. 208.

12Morris, p. 94. Cf. Peirce's concept of ground:"The sign stands for something, its object. It stands for that object, not in all respects, but in reference to a sort of idea, which I have sometimes called the ground of the representamen." (2.228; cf. 1.551)

13See Peirce's monograph on "Evolutionary Love," 6.287-317, in which, in addition to the deterministic dimension of anancasm in individual and cultural development, Peirce argues for the presence in all biological development of a tychastic dimension of sheer random spontaneity, and an agapastic dimension of teleological orientation to God. These dimensions of tychasm, anancasm, and agapasm parallel Peirce's three universal categories of Firstness, Secondness, and Thirdness.

14Morris' discussion, pp. 99-103, in fact cites this passage from Peirce.

It is interesting that Peirce, like Morris, views complex symbols as indispensable but less reliable: he remarks often how much less likely animals are than human beings to go wrong in their responses, and how much more reliable for "vital practical affairs" pre-rational, pre-reflective responses are than complex rational thought (cf. 6.648ff).


16Morris, pp. 97-98.

17Thus, for Peirce, "Anything which startles us is an index, in so far as it marks the junction between two portions of experience," (2.285); and relative pronouns, prepositions, and noun cases are usually indexical signs (2.289-290). And a symbol may under certain circumstances represent an individual object: "A Symbol is a law, or regularity of the indefinite future... and so must be also the complete immediate Object, or meaning. But a law necessarily governs, or 'is embodied in individuals... [Thus] there are two ways in which a Symbol may have a real Existential Thing as its real Object. First, the thing may conform to it, whether accidentally or by virtue of the Symbol having the virtue of a growing habit, and secondly, by the Symbol having an Index as a part of itself." (2.293 and fn.)

18Morris, p. 94. Morris' claim that the buzzer may have no denotatum calls to mind the current controversy among Peirce scholars over whether a sign which represents its object erroneously can be said to have any dynamical object at all, or only an immediate object. For the latter view, see Douglas Greenlee, Peirce's Concept of Sign (The Hague: Mouton, 1976); for a rejoinder in defense of the former view, Vincent Colapietro, Peirce's Approach to the Self: A Semiotic Perspective on Human Subjectivity (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1989), pp. 15-20. Among the issues at stake here are whether Peirce's notion of representation is adequate, whether Peirce's semiotic is fully general, and how necessary it is for a full account of semiosis to take into account not only the object of a sign, but its context as well.

19Morris, 198f. Morris distinguishes reliability-- the degree to which "members of the sign-family to which [a sign] belongs denote" (p. 98)-- from adequacy-- "the degree to which a sign achieves the purpose for which it is used." (p. 173) Because of this, Morris is often more aware than Peirce of ways investigative progress can go awry: for example, "Certain beliefs may have become of central importance in the organization of a personality, and prove highly resistant to change even when the signs expressing a belief are shown to be highly unreliable." (p.199)

20Morris, pp. 119-22, on "Mead's Concept of the Significant Symbol."

21Morris, pp. 110-19. Note that this language need not be verbal: "we can... differentiate between auditory, visual, tactual languages, depending on the sign-vehicles which occur." (p. 116)

22See Colapietro, ch. 3, "The Relevance of Peirce's Semiotics to Psychology." See also Morris, pp. 279-84, "The Pathology of Signs" and "Signs and Personality Disturbances," and pp. 290-92, "The Social Pathology of Signs."

23Morris, p. 86; cf. p. 37.

24Note, for instance, Peirce's consistent refusal to equate the mere "validity" of formally valid logic with the "truth" value Peirce reserved for logic with noncounterfactual pragmatic import (cf. 3.441ff). For further complications in Peirce's view of conditionals, see fn. 42.

25Morris, pp. 142, 163, 165-67.

26Morris, p. 175.

27Charles W. Morris, Paths of Life: Preface to a World Religion (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1970; orig. edn., 1942), pp. 24-25. Cf. Posner, Classics in Semiotics, pp. 43ff. This trichotomy, which Morris did not develop in his earlier writings as fully as the other two trichotomies, appears to possess no purely formal fourth element: as Morris notes in Signification and Significance (1970), he attempted in his later work "to do away with the formative dimension of signification." (Cf. Writings, p. 414)

28This formal similarity becomes even more apparent when we consider that, within the context of the sign, Peirce's sign, object, and interpretant can be considered as a First, a Second, and a Third respectively. However, Morris has nothing equivalent to Peirce's degenerate categories to restrict his division to only ten classes like Peirce's.

29See Morris, p. 21; Peirce, 2.229.

30Hendel, in Symbolic Forms, 1:1.

31Symbolic Forms, 1:73-77.

32Symbolic Forms, 1:75-78.

33See Peirce's letters to Lady Welby and to William James in vol. 8 of the Collected Papers. [also 8.16]

34Symbolic Forms, 1:86.

35Hendel, in Symbolic Forms, 1:63.

36Symbolic Forms, 1:91, 103.

37Symbolic Forms, 1:104.

38I do not know whether anyone has remarked on it before, but seen from this angle Cassirer's symbolic form bears a striking resemblance to Oswald Spengler's notion of the "new number-idea" of "numbers as pure relation... the function itself as unit," which was to Spengler the notion of number characteristic of our present "Faustian" Western civilization: " we may say that our world-picture is an actualizing of an infinite space in which things visible appear very nearly as realities of a lower order, limited in the presence of the illimitable. The symbol of the West is an idea of which no other Culture gives even a hint, the idea of Function." Oswald Spengler, The Decline of the West, trans. Charles Francis Atkinson, 2 vols. (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1926-28), 1:74-78.

39Symbolic Forms, 1:94-97.

40This peculiar characteristic of numbers, which Cassirer deals with in "The Linguistic Development of the Concept of Number" (cf. esp. 1:244), is remarked upon by Peirce in almost identical terms: "the highest and last lesson which the numbers whisper in our ear is that of the supremacy of the forms of relation for which their tawdry outside is the mere shell of the casket." (4.681)

Or: "This is one of the matters concerning which a man can only learn from his own reflections, but I believe that if my suggestions are followed out, the reader will grant that one, two, three are more than mere count-words like 'eeny, meeny, miny, mo,' but carry vast, though vague ideas." (1.362)

41Symbolic Forms, 1:94-97.

42See Peirce on the extension and intension ("breadth" and "depth" of logical terms, 2.391-394. Peirce also questioned the inverse proportionality of extension and intension (2.400-406), and emphasized that the increase of information coming with any increase in breadth or depth "may be certain or doubtful." (2.420)

43Symbolic Forms, 1:86.

44Symbolic Forms, 1:89-90.

45Cf. Thomas Goudge, The Thought of C.S. Peirce (New York: Dover Publications, Inc., 1969), pp. 153-54, on Peirce's formulation of pragmaticism: "An alternative way of putting the same thing is to say that every theoretical judgment... needs to be translated into a practical maxim expressed in a conditional sentence having its apodasis in the imperative mood. Only if this translation can be effected does the original statement possess any meaning... It is also clear why [Peirce thus] regards all propositions as having at bottom a conditional form."

46Symbolic Forms, 1:105.

47Symbolic Forms, 1:107.

48Symbolic Forms, 1:108-09.

49Ernst Cassirer, Language and Myth, trans. Susanne Langer (New York: Dover Publications, Inc., 1953), PAGE REF?

50Language and Myth, p. 33.

51Symbolic Forms, 1:233; Language and Myth, pp. 44ff., 63ff. See also, for example, Cassirer's contention that yellow as "yellow" and red as "red" preceded either yellow or red as "color" (1:282), or his treatment of the highly irregular grammatical form of suppletives such as the Latin fero, tuli, latus (1:2990-91).

52Another fertile source for comparison to Cassirer with regard to the origin and growth of signs would be Peirce's semiotically influenced cosmology (cf. 1.406-416; 6.33; 6.189-221; 6.490, etc). Although, as far as I know, Peirce's cosmological remarks have never been interpreted in this way, when so read they provide an even more obvious and detailed parallel to Cassirer's account of the growth of symbolic forms.

53For a more general and technical sociological treatment of the notions Morris applies here to religious experience, see his Varieties of Human Value (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1956).

54Morris, "Mysticism and Its Language," in Writings, pp. 456-57.

55Morris, pp. 458-59, emphasis added.

56Morris, pp. 458-61.

57Morris, pp. 462-63.

58Cf. Morris, pp. 269-300 ("Individual and Social Import of Signs").

59Paths of Life, p. 30f.

60Paths of Life, pp. 174, 178-79. As Morris explains, "Maitreya" was the name given in Buddhism of "the predicted Enlightened One." Of his utopian vision Morris remarks (p. 166): "There is a genuine sense in which this religion continues the religious quest where early Buddhism left off"-- though it would counsel not "the negation of all desires" but the balancing of all human potentialities.

61But for an account of the positive but limited role which Peirce does accord the individual within this schema, see Colapietro, ch. 5, "Inwardness and Autonomy."

62Peirce never cites Pascal in this connection. But the similarity is evident between Peirce's view here, and Pascal's famous "Dieu d'Abraham, d'Isaac, et de Jacob, non des philosophes."

63Vincent Potter, "'Vaguely Like a Man': The Theism of Charles S. Peirce," in God Knowable and Unknowable, ed. Robert J. Roth (New York: Fordham University Press, 1973), p. 242.

64Ernst Cassirer, An Essay on Man (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1944).

65An Essay on Man, pp. 79, 85-87.

66Language and Myth, pp. 33-34.

67Language and Myth, pp. 20-21. Examples would be the gods of ancient Greek religion, and, on a somewhat more rudimentary level, those of ancient Roman religion. Cf. An Essay on Man, pp. 96-99.

68An Essay on Man, p. 99.

69An Essay on Man, p. 102.

70Language and Myth, p. 74.

71Language and Myth, p. 77.

72Language and Myth, p. 76.

73Peirce: "One of the questions philosophy has to consider is whether the development of the universe is like the increase of an angle, so that it proceeds forever without tending toward anything unattained... or whether the universe sprang from a chaos in the infinitely distant past to tend toward something different in the infinitely distant future, or whether the universe sprang from nothing in the past to go on indefinitely toward a point in the infinitely distant future which, were it attained, would be the mere nothing from which it set out." (6.27)

These are the views which Peirce elsewhere (6.582) names "elliptic," "hyperbolic," and "parabolic," respectively, on analogy with the relationship between these conic sections and the ideal line at infinity. The "hyperbolic" and "parabolic" views resemble what have sometimes been referred to as "linear" and "circular" ideas of history, respectively.

74It is important to note that, although in the "hierarchy" of Peirce's categories the progression is from Firstness to Secondness to Thirdness, yet Peirce states (6.33; cf. 2.302) that the order of their temporal development is from Firstness through Thirdness to Secondness. However, when Peirce's cosmology prescinds from questions of temporality, the order is again Firstness-Secondness-Thirdness! (cf. 1.416, 6.189-221)

Are we to chalk this up as simply another of Peirce's inconsistencies or obscurities? Logically, Thirdness cannot be present without Secondness, yet each sequence when carefully considered on its own terms seems correct. The only coherent solution I see is to take the order of temporal development as the order of progression in which the categories predominate phenomenologically in the first two moments and especially for sign-object referentiality, and the order prescinded from temporality as the order of progression in which the categories predominate phenomenologically "in the large" across all three moments together and hence especially for sign-interpretant meaningfulness, both in a situation where all three categories are logically already all co-present.

To work this problem out in detail would take us far beyond the scope of this paper, and would involve the fine points of the relation between the icon-index-symbol and term-proposition-argument trichotomies in Peirce's division of signs. It would address the question of why and how, in religious experience, one often seems to "know" far more than one can put in words. Cf. 2.278ff.

75The "give and take" is clearly a matter of Secondness; deduction, though its result is a First, involves an act of judgment in which Secondness predominates. This, according to Peirce, is why deduction is precise, unlike induction and abduction (see sections on inference in vol. 2 of the Collected Papers).

76Cf. Peirce's repeated emphasis upon the vagueness of language about God, as in "Answers to Questions Concerning My Belief in God," 6.4994-521. Potter's article, pp. 247ff., works out in detail the grounding of this emphasis in the "hard-core" logical side of Peirce's semiotic.

77Compare this to Peirce, 2.763: "What is the chief end of man? Answer: To actualize ideas of the immortal, ceaselessly prolific kind. To that end it is needful to get beliefs that the believer will take satisfaction in acting upon, not mere rules set down upon paper..."

A Presbyterian eye recognizes this immediately as Peirce's pragmatist paraphrase of the first question in the Westminster Shorter Catechism: "Q. What is the chief end of man? A. To glorify God and to enjoy Him forever..."

78As the reader may gather, I intend my semiotic account at this point to correlate with those various philosophical and theological accounts according to which God is seen as somehow beyond reason and yet at the same time both ground and telos of reason.

79Cassirer however was quite aware of these connections. See the closing section of Language and Myth, entitled "The Power of Metaphor."

For Peircean semiotic accounts of metaphor, see 2.222, 2.277, 2.290fn.; Douglas Anderson, "Peirce on Metaphor," TCSPS 20:453-468; Carl Hausman, "Metaphorical Reference and Peirce's Dynamical Object," TCSPS 23:381-410; Anderson, Creativity and the Philosophy of C.S. Peirce (Dordrecht: Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, 1987); and Michael Cabot Haley, The Semeiosis of Poetic Metaphor, Peirce Studies No. 4, Kenneth Laine Ketner, gen. ed. (Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1988).

For a philosophical account of metaphor in many ways parallel to these, see Janet Martin Soskice, Metaphor and Religious Language (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1985).

80See, for example, Johan Huizinga, Homo Ludens: A Study of the Play Element in Culture (Boston: The Beacon Press, 1955). It is interesting that the trichotomy Huizinga draws in his preface-- homo ludens, homo faber, and homo sapiens-- can be seen from a Peircean viewpoint as a division correlate to Peirce's three categories.