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Aspects of Sign

The fan of eleven foldings

Peirce never declared what relation he imagined to exist between the 3-trichotomic classification, based on three correlates and published in the Syllabus, in 1903, and his later attempts based on ten trichotomies. Some commentators affirm that the 10-tricotomic classification supplanted the previous ones (and, consequently, the early versions should be discarded). Others, in agreement to our opinion, suggest that the two classifications may have an illative relation: the 10-tricotomic must be considered a detailed development of the 3-tricotomic one, which remains valid to the analysis of less complex phenomena.

We think that the introduction of the new trichotomies opens the fan of the three correlates to show their minute constitution, revealing the detailed constitutive characters of each class of sign. In fact, the classification based on the three correlates seems to be rougher, while the 10-trichotomic presents a finer grain. Maybe that is why the idea of degeneration and its associated concepts, such as the hypoicons, hyposemes and sub-indexes, all treated with some importance until 1903, disappear after 1905, probably turning out to be unnecessary thanks to the distinctions enabled by the new trichotomies.

The proposal of classification we will offer next is based on the distinction of eleven (and not ten, as Peirce did) essential characters of the sign, their ordering according to the rule of material implication, the trichotomic division of each one of the eleven characters according to the ontological categories and, finally, on what we believe is the dynamic movement that enlivens semiosis. Our starting point will be the list of 10 trichotomies Peirce presents in his manuscripts and some of the letters he exchanged with Lady Welby (CP 8.342 and ff; EP2: 477-491) after 1905.

There are many similarities between our proposal and Peirce’s late attempts, but there are also many important differences. Although it is possible to overlap mine and Peirce’s classification to some degree, the fact is that the introduction of the eleventh trichotomy blocks any possibility of correspondence point by point between them. In addition, we should not forget that Peirce did not explain in detail many of his new trichotomies, which would make the comparison even more difficult. We opted therefore for an analysis of our eleven trichotomies respecting the internal logic of our system, hoping the rationale we are using to construct the 66 classes of signs is sound.

The expansion of the trichotomies

After 1905 Peirce saw the need to expand his semeiotic in order to handle the results he had obtained in studies such as the Theory of Perception. In addition, he hoped to extract from an enlarged semeiotic his longed-for proof of Pragmatism. His studies in phenomenology led him to distinguish between the two types of objects: the dynamic, which is the object that determines the sign and always remains out of it; and the immediate, which is the object represented inside the sign.

In this same period Peirce also started to distinguish three types of interpretants, named by him, most of the time, immediate, dynamic and final (CP 4.536). Actually, this terminology varied quite much between 1905 and 1908, the period he was dedicating much attention to the division of interpretants, probably influenced, as we have seen, by the exchange of letters with Lady Welby.

In total, Peirce’s mature semeiotic counts six elementary trichotomies, now called aspects:

Sign (S)

Immediate Object (IO)

Dynamic Object (DO)

Immediate Interpretant (II)

Dynamic Interpretant (DI)

Final Interpretant (FI)

Peirce’s Ten Aspects

In the letters sent to Welby in 1908, Peirce worked with the hypothesis that the sign could be analyzed into ten trichotomies or ten aspects (CP 8.344) he listed this way:

1st, According to the Mode of Apprehension of the sign itself,
2nd, According to the Mode of Presentation of the Immediate Object,
3rd, According to the Mode of Being of the Dynamical Object,
4th, According to the Relation of the sign to its Dynamical Object,
5th, According to the Mode of Presentation of the Immediate Interpretant,
6th, According to the Mode of Being of the Dynamical Interpretant,
7th, According to the Relation of the sign to the Dynamical Interpretant,
8th, According to the Nature of the Normal Interpretant,
9th, According to the Relation of the sign to the Normal Interpretant,
10th, According to the Triadic Relation of the sign to its Dynamical Object and to its Normal Interpretant.

The result of the trichotomization of these ten aspects, including the names that Peirce suggested for each of the internal divisions in different moments, can be summarized in a table as Queiroz (2004, p. 101) did:

1st, according to the mode of apprehension of the sign sign itself S 1.qualisign (tone, mark, potisign)
2.sinsign (token, actisign, replica)
3.legisign (type, famisign)
2nd, according to the mode of presentation of the immediate object immediate object (degenerated) IO 1.descriptive
2.denominative (designative)
3.distributive (copulative, copulant)
3rd, according to the mode of being of the dynamic object dynamic object (external, dynamic, dynamoid) DO 1.abstractive (possible)
2.concretive (occurrences)
3.collective (collection)
4th, according to the relation of the sign to its dynamic object relation of the sign to the dynamic object S-DO 1.icon
5th, according to the mode of presentation of the immediate interpretant immediate interpretant (felt, doubled degenerated, destinate, emotional) II 1.hypothetical (ejaculative)
2.categoric (singular, imperative)
3.relative (significative)
6th, according to the mode of being of the dynamic interpretant dynamic interpretant (singularly degenerated, effective, energetic) DI 1.sympathetic (congruentive)
7th, according to the relation of the sign to the dynamic interpretant relation of the sign to the dynamic interpretant (mode of appealing to the dynamic interpretant) S-DI 1.suggestive (ejaculatum)
2.imperative (interrogative)
3.indicative (cognificative);
8th, according to the nature of the normal interpretant final interpretant (explicit, logic, logical, normal, occasional) FI 1.gratific
2.practical (produce action)
3.pragmatistic (produce self-control)
9th, according to the relation of the sign to the normal interpretant relation of the sign to the normal interpretant (nature of the influence of the sign) S-FI 1.rhema (seme, term, sumisign)
2.dicent sign (feme, proposition)
3.argument (deloma, suadisign)
10th, according to the triadic relation of the sign to the dynamic object for the normal interpretant triadic relation of the sign to the dynamic object for the final interpretant (nature of the guarantee of the declaration, relation of the logic interpretant or final with the object) S-DO-FI 1.instinctive (guaranteed by [of] instinct)
2.experiencial (guaranteed by [of] experience)
3.habitual (guaranteed by [of] form)

The aspects extracted from the analysis of the phaneron

The phaneron is formed by the collection of everything present in any mind at any given moment. It is the perfect sign, dynamic and built synthetically by the triadic relation S-DO-FI. The first work of the semioticist is to “break” these relations, in a way similar to what a chemist does with a substance, to achieve its elements and constructive relations.

When we apply the analytical tools given by phenomenology, we produce an analysis of the relations that goes from the genuinely triadic level towards the most degenerated ones until we achieve the constitutive elements of the sign. We will call Analytical Cascade of the Phaneron the representation of this analysis:


In the figure above, we count eleven trichotomies and not ten as Peirce insisted during all the mature phase of his research. The new trichotomy is the relation among sign, dynamic object and dynamic interpretant (S- DO- DI) and the question that naturally arises is about its impact in the arrangement of the classes of signs and how it can help us to produce a complete classification of all possible types of signs.

Descriptions of the new trichotomies

We have already described the six elementary aspects of sign – those which do not involve relations. We are now going to describe the ones formed by dyadic and triadic relations.

Peirce explains that when we compose these relations, we shall take into consideration only those trichotomies in which the sign is a member of the relation. This rule excludes, for example, relations such as DO-DI, DO-FI or DI-FI (see in Liszka, 1996, p.130-131, a list with all possible relations left out due to this rule of exclusion).

Relation of the Sign to the Dynamic Object (S-DO)

Relation of the Sign to the Dynamic Interpretant (S-DI)

Relation of the Sign to the Final Interpretant (S-FI)

Relation among Sign, Dynamic Object and Dynamic Interpretant (S-DO-DI)

Relation among Sign, Dynamic Object and Final Interpretant (S-DO-FI)

Axes of Semeiosis

The Analytical Cascade also enables us to divise the three great axes of Semeiosis. They are:

Objectivation (Ob):

IO ——–DO——–S-DO———S-DO-DI——— S-DO-FI

Interpretation (In):


Signification (Si):

S ———-FI————S-FI———–S-DO-FI

The rule of the Triangle of Existence

The trichotomization of the eleven aspects of the sign would lead to the production of seventy-eight classes. However, not all of them are logically possible. Twelve classes are logic aberrancies because they do not respect what we will call the rule of the triangle of existence.

This rule is necessary to preserve the reality of secondness in semeiosis. If the sign is an existent, for instance, it should be materially connected either to an immediate object or to a dynamic object. One cannot have a fingerprint without having it materially connected to an existent finger, nor can one satisfy the desire of eating a piece of cake without having a piece of cake really being eaten (or at least a hallucination that guarantees a fictional experience of a fingerprint and of a piece of cake being eaten).

The rule of the triangle of existence has two parts:

1) determines that there cannot be secondness on the signification axes without having secondness in each of the other two axes. This must be true when we see secondness in any of the four trichotomies placed on the signification axes: S, FI, S-FI and S-DO-FI.

2) establishes that there should be a number of triangles of existence always equal to the number of seconds manifested on the signification axes. Thus:

a) If on the signification axis there are existents in two periods, so there should be two existent triangles linking the three axes (one nested into the other).
b) In case S, FI and S-FI are existents, there should, correspondingly, be three nested existent triangles uniting the axes

There is another important observation to be made: the trichotomy S-DO-DI participates both in the objectivation and the Interpretation axes (because it is construed with DO and DI), so it is enough for S-DO-DI to be existent in order to guarantee existence conditions for both axes. Similarly, the trichotomy S-DO-FI participates in the three axes, so that the occurrence of an existent in this trichotomy automatically produces an existence triangle covering the flow of semeiosis.