Notes on Pierce and Triads

by 504student

Notes on Pierce and Triads

As noted in previous classes and in Dr. Conway’s distillation of firstness, secondness, and thirdness, we are likely to focus on Pierce’s use of the triad.  I can remember three things, index, icon, and symbol etc. Yet, Pierce’s grounding of semiotics in “that which is observed” seems a more interesting way into understanding Pierce’s later, more opaque, explanations of how language creates meaning.  For Pierce, everything communicated must eventually lead back to an object.  The object becomes symbolic through his described processes of relational building (I believe Liska coins “modes of production”) from index to icon, from icon to symbol provides a rather concise explanation of the correlative nature of Pierce’s triads at work.

As an aside, the casting of semiotics alongside science still seems to be a concerted effort to legitimate the study of language in all its iterations (history, literature, communication etc.). There is a distinct advantage to systemizing the “ologies.” Doing so allows us to enter through another door in the vast array of language building and language meaning.  The real fortune, I believe, is not Pierce’s use of triads whether you are talking about the correlational meaning of firstness to thirdness, nor is it the more identifiable index, icon, and symbol; rather it is the casting of all of these triads into “that which is observed.”  Not only does Pierce’s first move account for a study of semiotics as it relates to the sciences of ethnography and anthropology, but it also allows us to dissect the processes of translation as culture-building.  Though this is not immediately apparent (to me this is a slippery concept), the notion of simultaneity and Messianic time (which for my research purposes are not entirely mutually explicit) along with Pierce’s notion of observation and the correlation of his processes of firstness, secondness and thirdness, makes this wild assertion more apparent for me.  Perhaps this becomes clearer if we consider some of Liska’s explanation of the ten classes of signs.

Prior to examining Pierce’s classes of signs, Liska examines Pierce’s notion of breadth and depth.  Liska explains this concept using an example of arsenic.  He says that Arsenic may have breadth as because it is identifiable as a chemical but its meaning is only fully realized when we consider its depth as a chemical that can kill (Liska, 29). This notion of breadth and depth becomes pivotal when positioned against Pierce’s idea of the Dominance Rule, the idea that one subset of trichotomy may take precedence over another (Liska, 46).  So, when Liska gets to explaining the Rhematic Symbolic Legisign (“any conventional sign which correlates with its object primarily through some conventional, habitual, or lawlike means, and acts primarily in conveying a general sense or depth about the object it represents” [Liska, 50]), and its relation to the Dicentic Indexical Sinsign (“indices which not only indicate their object but also are able to represent some sense or depth about the object they refer to” [Liska, 50]), we are able to understand that language is multidimensional.  It has breadth, depth, and object, and a meaning that it is positioned against that is similar to the way in which translation operates.  This triad of Dominance Rule, RSL, and DIS allows us to examine the complex symbolic language prevalent in culture, politics, and metaphor.

            I understand that this “summary” is further from Dr. Conway’s more holistic distillation of what Pierce and Liska are examining.  I am attempting, and yes, stumbling to find meaning beyond a first reading approach.  My apologies to my classmates if you found this summary less useful than previous iterations.