The First Trichotomy. Thought of the Day 119.0


As the sign consists of three components it comes hardly as a surprise that it may be analyzed in nine aspects – every one of the sign’s three components may be viewed under each of the three fundamental phenomenological categories. The least discussed of these so-called trichotomies is probably the first, concerning which property in the sign it is that functions, in fact, to make it a sign. It gives rise to the trichotomy qualisign, sinsign, legisign, or, in a little more sexy terminology, tone, token, type.

The oftenmost quoted definition is from ‘Syllabus’ (Charles S. Peirce, The Essential Peirce Selected Philosophical Writings, Volume 2):

According to the first division, a Sign may be termed a Qualisign, a Sinsign, or a Legisign.

A Qualisign is a quality which is a Sign. It cannot actually act as a sign until it is embodied; but the embodiment has nothing to do with its character as a sign.

A Sinsign (where the syllable sin is taken as meaning ‘being only once’, as in single, simple, Latin semel, etc.) is an actual existent thing or event which is a sign. It can only be so through its qualities; so that it involves a qualisign, or rather, several qualisigns. But these qualisigns are of a peculiar kind and only form a sign through being actually embodied.

A Legisign is a law that is a Sign. This law is usually [sic] established by men. Every conventional sign is a legisign. It is not a single object, but a general type which, it has been agreed, shall be significant. Every legisign signifies through an instance of its application, which may be termed a Replica of it. Thus, the word ‘the’ will usually occur from fifteen to twenty-five times on a page. It is in all these occurrences one and the same word, the same legisign. Each single instance of it is a Replica. The Replica is a Sinsign. Thus, every Legisign requires Sinsigns. But these are not ordinary Sinsigns, such as are peculiar occurrences that are regarded as significant. Nor would the Replica be significant if it were not for the law which renders it so.

In some sense, it is a strange fact that this first and basic trichotomy has not been widely discussed in relation to the continuity concept in Peirce, because it is crucial. It is evident from the second noticeable locus where this trichotomy is discussed, the letters to Lady Welby – here Peirce continues (after an introduction which brings less news):

The difference between a legisign and a qualisign, neither of which is an individual thing, is that a legisign has a definite identity, though usually admitting a great variety of appearances. Thus, &, and, and the sound are all one word. The qualisign, on the other hand, has no identity. It is the mere quality of an appearance and is not exactly the same throughout a second. Instead of identity, it has great similarity, and cannot differ much without being called quite another qualisign.

The legisign or type is distinguished as being general which is, in turn, defined by continuity: the type has a ‘great variety of appearances’; as a matter of fact, a continuous variation of appearances. In many cases even several continua of appearances (as &, and, and the spoken sound of ‘and’). Each continuity of appearances is gathered into one identity thanks to the type, making possible the repetition of identical signs. Reference is not yet discussed (it concerns the sign’s relation to its object), nor is meaning (referring to its relation to its interpretant) – what is at stake is merely the possibility for a type to incarnate a continuum of possible actualizations, however this be possible, and so repeatedly appear as one and the same sign despite other differences. Thus the reality of the type is the very foundation for Peirce’s ‘extreme realism’, and this for two reasons. First, seen from the side of the sign, the type provides the possibility of stable, repeatable signs: the type may – opposed to qualisigns and those sinsigns not being replicas of a type – be repeated as a self-identical occurrence, and this is what in the first place provides the stability which renders repeated sign use possible. Second, seen from the side of reality: because types, legisigns, are realized without reference to human subjectivity, the existence of types is the condition of possibility for a sign, in turn, to stably refer to stably occurring entities and objects. Here, the importance of the irreducible continuity in philosophy of mathematics appears for semiotics: it is that which grants the possibility of collecting a continuum in one identity, the special characteristic of the type concept. The opposition to the type is the qualisign or tone lacking the stability of the type – they are not self-identical even through a second, as Peirce says – they have, of course, the character of being infinitesimal entities, about which the principle of contradiction does not hold. The transformation from tone to type is thus the transformation from unstable pre-logic to stable logic – it covers, to phrase it in a Husserlian way, the phenomenology of logic. The legisign thus exerts its law over specific qualisigns and sinsigns – like in all Peirce’s trichotomies the higher sign types contain and govern specific instances of the lower types. The legisign is incarnated in singular, actual sinsigns representing the type – they are tokens of the type – and what they have in common are certain sets of qualities or qualisigns – tones – selected from continua delimited by the legisign. The amount of possible sinsigns, tokens, are summed up by a type, a stable and self-identical sign. Peirce’s despised nominalists would to some degree agree here: the universal as a type is indeed a ‘mere word’ – but the strong counterargument which Peirce’s position makes possible says that if ‘mere words’ may possess universality, then the world must contain it as well, because words are worldly phenomena like everything else. Here, nominalists will typically exclude words from the world and make them privileges of the subject, but for Peirce’s welding of idealism and naturalism nothing can be truly separated from the world – all what basically is in the mind must also exist in the world. Thus the synthetical continuum, which may, in some respects, be treated as one entity, becomes the very condition of possibility for the existence of types.

Whether some types or legisigns now refer to existing general objects or not is not a matter for the first trichotomy to decide; legisigns may be part of any number of false or nonsensical propositions, and not all legisigns are symbols, just like arguments, in turn, are only a subset of symbols – but all of them are legisigns because they must in themselves be general in order to provide the condition of possibility of identical repetition, of reference to general objects and of signifying general interpretants.

Husserl’s Melodies of the Absolute Flux. Note Quote.


Husserl elaborates the basic problem of time-consciousness by taking the simple example of a melody. Observing that what we perceive endures – i.e., a melody is experienced as a unity of discrete tones, with each tone and the melody as a whole grasped as unified enduring objects – he sets out to examine how this can occur. Clearly, more than one tone must be retained in consciousness, since if each disappeared entirely after it had sounded then their succession, and therefore the melody as a whole, could never be grasped: “in each moment we would have a tone, or perhaps an empty pause in the interval between the sounding of two tones, but never the representation of a melody.” And each tone must also undergo some form of modification in consciousness, enabling it to appear “as more or less past, as pushed back in time, as it were,” since otherwise “instead of a melody we would have a chord of simultaneous tones, or rather a disharmonious tangle of sound, as if we had struck simultaneously all the notes that had previously sounded“. It is in order to account for our ability to experience such temporally extended objects as temporally extended that Husserl takes an immanent tone as his phenomenological datum.

In the characteristic phenomenological move Husserl proposes, at the outset of his lectures, “the complete exclusion of every assumption, stipulation and conviction with respect to objective time”. This suspension of the “natural attitude” towards time leaves – as the phenomenological residue – the indisputable immanent time (succession and duration) of lived experience (erlebnis). And immanent temporal objects within the immanent time of the flow of consciousness will enable reflection of the phenomenon of temporal experience free of all transcendent presuppositions. Husserl can therefore declare his task as being to “exclude all transcendent apprehension and positing and take the tone purely as a hyletic datum”.

Posing the question of “How, in addition to ‘temporal objects,’ immanent and transcendent, does time itself – the duration and succession of objects – become constituted?” Husserl points out that these are “different lines of description….” For example: “When a tone sounds … [we] can make the tone itself, which endures and fades away, into an object and yet not make the duration of the tone or the tone in its duration into an object”. Focusing on the latter, we can observe that the tone appears in “a continuity of ‘modes’ in a ‘continual flow'” – that is, appears in the mode of (as) ‘now’ or as ‘immediately past’ – even though “‘Throughout’ this whole flow of consciousness, one and the same tone is intended as enduring, as now enduring”. Because the tone itself is the same but the manner in which it appears is continually different, then description of the tone itself must be distinguished from description of “the way in which we are ‘conscious’ of … the ‘appearing’ of the immanent tone”. It is this latter that the phenomenology of time-consciousness will analyze.

Husserl accounts for our experience of the duration of the tone by distinguishing the intended temporal determinations of ‘now,’ ‘just-past,’ and ‘about-to-be’ from the consciousness that intends them: the impressional, retentional and protentional consciousness which constitute present, past, and future, respectively. As he describes it, the “source-point” (Quellpunkt) of the enduring object in the flowing stream of consciousness is the “primal impression” – consciousness of the (constantly changing) “tone-now” (Tonjetzt). And as this ‘tone-now’ is modified into ‘something that has been,’ so the primal impression passes over into retention: “the tone-now changes into a tone-having-been; the impressional consciousness, constantly flowing, passes over into an ever new retentional consciousness”. Retention not only “holds in consciousness what has been produced and stamps on it the character of the ‘just-past'” – ensuring that consciousness is always “consciousness of what has just been and not merely consciousness of the now-point of the object that appears as enduring” – but each retention is also retention of the elapsed tone retention, including in itself “the entire series of elapsed intentions in the form of a chain of mediate intentions”. In this way, retention “extends the now-consciousness” such that the “now-apprehension is, as it were, the head attached to the comet’s tail of retentions”.

This description of the extended moment is completed with the addition of protention as the symmetrical futural counterpart of retention. Protention, the intuition of the immediate future, is “just as original and unique as the intuition of the past,” Husserl writes. “Every process that constitutes its object originally is animated by protentions that emptily constitute what is coming as coming”. Retention and protention together combine to form “the living horizon of the now,” for every primal impression “has its retentional and protentional halo” ensuring that “The now point … [always] has for consciousness a temporal fringe”. The punctual now is therefore only an ideal limit, which cannot be phenomenologically given or encountered. And this description of the now as an ideal abstraction therefore applies equally to the primal impression of which it is the correlate: “In the ideal sense … perception (impression) would be the phase of consciousness that constitutes the pure now…. But the now is precisely only an ideal limit, something abstract, which can be nothing by itself”.

The temporal phases of the immanent object are, then, on a different stratum of analysis than the consciousness of those phases; the impressional, retentional, and protentional consciousness which, in intending the object as ‘now,’ ‘just-past,’ or ‘about-to-be’ “constitute the very differences belonging to time”. Husserl reaches the heart of his phenomenological account of time-consciousness with his description of how these “acts that create time” – primal impression, retention, and protention – “can be understood as time-constituting consciousness, as moments of the flow”. The ‘flow’ is made up of these partial intentions which are not fully fledged acts as such because their correlates are not objects but the temporal phases of objects. Retention, for example, “is an intentionality” but it “is not an ‘act’ (that is, an immanent duration-unity constituted in a series of retentional phases)”. The intentionality of these elements of the primal flux differs from that of apprehending or perceptual acts – they in fact constitute as a unity the apprehending act: “In perception a complex of sensation-contents, which are themselves unities constituted in the original temporal flow, undergo unity of apprehension. And this unitary apprehension is again a constituted unity”.

Husserl can therefore distinguish and outline the three levels of his analysis of time and consciousness as follows: Firstly, “the things of empirical experience in objective time”; secondly, “the constituting multiplicities of appearance … the immanent unities in pre-empirical time”; and lastly, “the absolute time-constituting flow of consciousness” which, as that which “lies before all constitution,” is the ultimate stratum of the constitutive process. This absolute consciousness “is not itself content or object in phenomenological time”. It is a ‘flow’ of “continuous ‘change'” which cannot be described as having constancy or duration, nor even as a ‘process,’ since the concept of process presupposes persistence and a ‘something’ that persists and endures through change. However, the flow does possess, in a sense, something abiding: “What abides, above all, is the formal structure of the flow, the form of the flow”. This unchanging form of the absolute flux is the retentional/impressional/protentional structure by which “a now becomes constituted by means of an impression and … a trail of retentions and a horizon of protentions are attached to the impression”. The question remains, of course, of how we can know this flow which is neither content nor object:

Every temporal appearance, after phenomenological reduction, dissolves into … a flow. But I cannot perceive in turn this consciousness itself into which all of this is dissolved. For this new percept would again be something temporal that points back to a constituting consciousness of a similar sort, and so in infinitum. Hence the question arises: How do I come to know the constituting flow?

To deal with this question Husserl recalls the ‘double intentionality’ of retention. One of these is the “‘primary memory’ of the (just sensed) tone” which “serves for the constitution of the immanent object”. But there is also the other, the second retentional intentionality which “is constitutive of the unity of this primary memory in the flow”. This “retention of retention” ensures that “each past now retentionally shelters within itself all earlier stages” and also therefore that “there extends throughout the flow a horizontal intentionality [Längsintentionalität] that, in the course of the flow, continuously coincides with itself”. By means of this, the unity of the flow becomes itself “constituted in the flow of consciousness as a one-dimensional quasi-temporal order”. The absolute flux is, therefore, self-constituting. It constitutes the unity of immanent objects in a unitary immanent time and thereby, “as shocking (when not initially even absurd) as it may seem,” also its own unity:

two inseparably united intentionalities, requiring one another like two sides of one and the same thing, are interwoven with one another in the one, unique flow of consciousness. By virtue of on limits of language of the intentionalities, immanent time becomes constituted…. In the other intentionality, it is the quasi-temporal arrangement of the phases of the flow that becomes constituted…. This prephenomenal, preimmanent temporality becomes constituted intentionally as the form of the time-constituting consciousness and in itself.

And it is this second retentional intentionality that gives us our oblique self-awareness of the flux, removing the problem of infinite regress whilst simultaneously resolving the difficulty of knowing the flow. “The self-appearance of the flow does not require a second flow: on the contrary, it constitutes itself as a phenomenon in itself”. It requires no second flow because this is a non-objectivating awareness – experienced in the same way as we experience acts, in a perceptual objectivation, without thematizing them. Unlike such acts, however, it cannot itself be made an object of reflection. Because there is no object or substance that endures, and no ‘time’ here as such, our ability to speak of the absolute flux runs up against the limits of language and conceptual thought. “We can say nothing other than the following: This flow is something we speak of in conformity with what is constituted, but it is not ‘something in objective time.’ It is absolute subjectivity and has the absolute properties of something to be designated metaphorically as ‘flow’.” Husserl is blunt about the inescapable inadequacy of his vocabulary here: “For all of this, we lack names”.

In a sense Husserl’s project in the lectures on time-consciousness can be understood as an inquiry into the constitution of constitution; into the way in which intentional acts of consciousness are constituted as temporal unities able to have as their correlate the transcendent temporally extended object. As he observes: “It is certainly evident that the perception of a temporal object itself has temporality, that the perception of duration itself presupposes duration of perception, that the perception of any temporal form itself has temporal form”. Yet Ricoeur writes that “The fact that the perception of duration never ceases to presuppose the duration of perception did not seem to trouble Husserl“, implying that Husserl was blind to the significance of his own observation. This rather offhand remark plays little role in Ricoeur’s argument for the conflict between Kant and Husserl’s respective treatments of time, but given that Husserl was clearly sorely troubled by this ‘fact’ – that it is arguably the very observation that led him beyond Kant’s standpoint to explore the temporality of the constitutive act itself.

Of Phenomenology, Noumenology and Appearances. Note Quote.

Heidegger’s project in Being and Time does not itself escape completely the problematic of transcendental reflection. The idea of fundamental ontology and its foundation in Dasein, which is concerned “with being” and the analysis of Dasein, at first seemed simply to mark a new dimension within transcendental phenomenology. But under the title of a hermeneutics of facticity, Heidegger objected to Husserl’s eidetic phenomenology that a hermeneutic phenomenology must contain also the theory of facticity, which is not in itself an eidos, Husserl’s phenomenology which consistently holds to the central idea of proto-I cannot be accepted without reservation in interpretation theory in particular that this eidos belong only to the eidetic sphere of universal essences. Phenomenology should be based ontologically on the facticity of the Dasein, and this existence cannot be derived from anything else.

Nevertheless, Heidegger’s complete reversal of reflection and its redirection of it toward “Being”, i.e, the turn or kehre, still is not so much an alteration of his point of view as the indirect result of his critique of Husserl’s concept of transcendental reflection, which had not yet become fully effective in Being and Time. Gadamer, however, would incorporate Husserl’s ideal of an eidetic ontology somewhat “alongside” transcendental constitutional research. Here, the philosophical justification lies ultimately in the completion of the transcendental reduction, which can come only at a higher level of direct access of the individual to the object. Thus there is a question of how our awareness of essences remains subordinated to transcendental phenomenology, but this does not rule out the possibility of turning transcendental phenomenology into an essence-oriented mundane science.

Heidegger does not follow Husserl from eidetic to transcendental phenomenology, but stays with the interpretation of phenomena in relation to their essences. As ‘hermeneutic’, his phenomenology still proceeds from a given Dasein in order to determine the meaning of existence, but now it takes the form of a fundamental ontology. By his careful discussion of the etymology of the words “phenomenon” and “Logos” he shows that “phenomenology” must be taken as letting that which shows itself be seen from itself, and in the very way in it which shows itself from itself. The more genuinely a methodological concept is worked out and the more comprehensively it determines the principles on which a science is to be conducted, the more deeply and primordially it is rooted in terms of the things themselves; whereas if understanding is restricted to the things themselves only so far as they correspond to those judgments considered “first in themselves”, then the things themselves cannot be addressed beyond particular judgements regarding events.

The doctrine of the thing-in-itself entails the possibility of a continuous transition from one aspect of a thing to another, which alone makes possible a unified matrix of experience. Husserl’s idea of the thing-in-itself, as Gadamer introduces it, must be understood in terms of the hermeneutic progress of our knowledge. In other words, in the hermeneutical context the maxim to the thing itself signifies to the text itself. Phenomenology here means grasping the text in such a way that every interpretation about the text must be considered first as directly exhibiting the text and then as demonstrating it with regard to other texts.

Heidegger called this “descriptive phenomenology” which is fundamentally tautological. He explains that phenomenon in Greek first signifies that which looks like something, or secondly that which is semblant or a semblance (das scheinbare, der Schein). He sees both these expressions as structurally interconnected, and having nothing to do with what is called an “appearance” or mere “appearance”. Based on the ordinary conception of phenomenon, the definition of “appearance” as referring to can be regarded also as characterizing the phenomenological concern for the text in itself and for itself. Only through referring to the text in itself can we have a real phenomenology based on appearance. This theory, however, requires a broad meaning of appearance including what does the referring as well as the noumenon.

Heidegger explains that what does the referring must show itself in itself. Further, the appearance “of something” does not mean showing-itself, but that the thing itself announces itself through something which does show itself. Thus, Heidegger urges that what appears does not show itself and anything which fails to show itself can never seem. On the other hand, while appearing is never a showing-itself in the sense of phenomenon, it is preconditioned by something showing-itself (through which the thing announces itself). This showing itself is not appearing itself, but makes the appearing possible. Appearing then is an announcing-itself (das sich-melden) through something that shows itself.

Also, a phenomenon cannot be represented by the word “appearance” if it alludes to that wherein something appears without itself being an appearance. That wherein something appears means that wherein something announces itself without showing itself, in other words without being itself an “appearance” (appearance signifying the showing itself which belongs essentially to that “wherein” something announces itself). Based upon this argument, phenomena are never appearances. This, however, does not deny the fact that every appearance is dependent on phenomena.