The Universal Categories

  • Michael K. Bergman


The ideas behind Peircean pragmatism are how to think about signs and representations (semiosis); logically reason and handle new knowledge (abduction) and probabilities (induction); make economic research choices (pragmatic maxim); categorize; and let the scientific method inform our inquiry. The connections of Peirce’s sign theory, his three-fold logic of deduction-induction-abduction, the importance of the scientific method, and his understanding about a community of inquiry have all fed my intuition that Peirce was on to some fundamental insights suitable to knowledge representation. The very generalizations Peirce made around the somewhat amorphous designations of Firstness, Secondness, and Thirdness seemed to affirm that what he was genuinely getting at was a way of thinking, a method of ‘decomposing’ the world, that had universal applicability irrespective of domain or problem. We can summarize Firstness as unexpressed possibilities; Secondness as the particular instances that may populate our information space; and Thirdness as general types based on logical, shared attributes. This knowledge representation is like Peirce’s categorization of science or signs but is broader still in needing to capture the nature of relations and attributes and how they become building blocks to predicates and assertions. Scholars of Peirce acknowledge how infused his writings on logic, semiosis, philosophy, and knowledge are with the idea of ‘threes.’ Understanding, inquiry, and knowledge require this irreducible structure; connections, meaning, and communication depend on all three components, standing in relation to one another and subject to interpretation by multiple agents in multiple ways.


Firstness Secondness Thirdness Sign theory 


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© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Michael K. Bergman
    • 1
  1. 1.Cognonto CorporationCoralvilleUSA

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