Two Letters to Lady Welby
The two letters in this chapter are written by the US philosopher Charles Sanders Peirce. They form an essential part of Lady Welby’s own intellectual and philosophical development, and are of greatest importance for those who study semiotics and in Peircean philosophy in general, with its emphasis on meaning, significance and the categories of Firstness, Secondness and Thirdness. The letters are a great dialogue, and add powerful autobiographical lines to their profile.
The first letter is dated October 12, 1904 and the Editors of Peirce’s Collected Papers entitled this document as “On Signs and the Categories”. Definitions of the Categories, the philosophical mood in which hey are presented, their logical embedding and consequences for semiotic thought formation are clear in this context. Firstness is perhaps the most important category, in vicinity to sign awareness and the positioning of human consciousness.
The second letter, also in the Collected Papers, is dated on several days in December 1908, on the 24th, 25th and 28th of that month, and attempt to understand the various meanings and functions of signs. Peirce considers the difference between significs and semiotics again. The most frequently quoted definition of a sign is written in this letter: “I define a Sign as anything which on the one hand is so determined by an Object and on the other hand so determines an idea in a person’s mind, that this latter determination, which I term the Interpretant of the sign, is thereby mediately determined by that Object. A sign, therefore, has a triadic relation to its Object and to its Interpretant. “A close companionship of mind is in the last part of the second letter”.