Charles Sanders Peirce’s Nonduality

Jeff Carreira Philosophy 21 Comments

Here are some final thougts about my topic for the science and nonduality conference next week. If anyone who reads this blog happens to come to that event please introduce yourself to me.

Peirce’s inquiry continued as he strove to understand what the entire universe is made up of. What is it that evolves? What is the fundamental stuff, to use a term of William James, that the universe is most fundamentally made up of? Peirce concluded that the universe was made up of three aspects. He called these firstness, secondness and thirdness and he related them roughly to the I, we, it, pronouns which he felt contained the essential make up of the universe. Firstness, secondness and thirdness are not separate elements that combine to form the universe. They are inexorably mixed into the fabric of reality. They cannot be separated in the same way that the two sides of a sheet of paper cannot be separated. If you try to separate the two sides of the paper you end up with two sheets of paper each still having two sides.

Pierce’s conception of Firstness is as powerful a description of non-duality as you are likely to find anywhere. From his essay A Guess at the Riddle he writes,

The idea of the absolutely First must be entirely separated from all conception of or reference to anything else; for what involves a second is itself a second to that second. The First must therefore be present and immediate, so as not to be second to a representation. It must be fresh and new, for if old it is second to its former state. It must be initiative, original, spontaneous, and free; otherwise it is second to a determining cause. It is also something vivid and conscious; so only it avoids being the object of some sensation. It precedes all synthesis and all differentiation; it has no unity and no parts. It cannot be articulately thought: assert it, and it has already lost its characteristic innocence; for assertion always implies a denial of something else. Stop to think of it, and it has flown! What the world was to Adam on the day he opened his eyes to it, before he had drawn any distinctions, or had become conscious of his own existence—that is first, present, immediate, fresh, new, initiative, original, spontaneous, free, vivid, conscious, and evanescent. Only, remember that every description of it must be false to it.

As Peirce contemplated evolution he saw the development of life on Earth as a very small part of a much larger process of evolution through which the entire universe had come into being and was heading toward some final outcome. The universe had started in a state of absolute firstness, which is a state of absolute chance, pure possibility before anything ever happened. The universe will end with and absolute secondness, which is the final encounter with the initial state of firstness which gave birth to the universe. And so the universe that human beings have found themselves in is in the middle of an eternal process of encounter with its own absolute initial state. Everything that makes that encounter intelligible is the thirdness of the universe and it is in through the growth of thirdness that the universe evolves.

About the Author

Jeff Carreira
Jeff Carreira is a mystical philosopher and spiritual guide. He is the author of eleven books on meditation and philosophy. He teaches online programs and leads retreats throughout the world that teach people how to let go of their current perceptual habits so they are free to participate in the creation of a new paradigm. To put it simply, he supports people to live a spiritually inspired life, free from the constraints of fear, worry and self-doubt, and aligned with their own deepest sense of meaning and purpose.
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Liesbeth
Liesbeth
10 years ago

I am thinking about this thirdness, I have been reading a bit more about these concepts. The way I read about it (semiotics and pragmatism of Peirce), is that all three categories are about experience, which means IN the mind, which means: Oneness is the fact that we can somehow PERCEIVE reality (=consciousness, this would connect to non-dual awareness), Secondness is that we can NAME is (thinking, language, concepts) and Thirdness is how these two effect the world (pragmatism). In the way I understand evolution of consciousness, all three totally categories would evolve together.

Liesbeth
Liesbeth
10 years ago

“The typical ideas of firstness are qualities of feeling, or mere appearances [—] The idea of the present instant, which, whether it exists or not, is naturally thought as a point of time in which no thought can take place or any detail be separated, is an idea of Firstness.” (A Letter to Lady Welby, CP 8.329, 1904)

Liesbeth
Liesbeth
10 years ago

Reading on I found that you are right. The reason why I came to the wrong conclusion is because the book I was reading is about semiotics and THAT it is all about human expression.

Rambo
Rambo
10 years ago

Charles pierce was a dualistic he held mind and matter we seperate. Not quite sure why you are lumping him into nonduality. Confusing.

Rambo
Rambo
10 years ago

I did not know Peirce was a strict monist. Perhaps he could fit under this label. But actually i see him as a dualist http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dual-aspect_monism Charles peirce wrote: “If Materialism without Idealism is blind, Idealism without Materialism is void. ” http://www.informationphilosopher.com/solutions/dualisms/ He clearly saw 2 in everything. Articles by the Charles Peirce Society even put papers out on his dualism: http://www.jstor.org/pss/40319657 Maybe he was supporting some kind of dual aspect monism? The Nondual Conference sounds interesting becuase i have noticed there seems to be loads of speakers all putting forward contradicting and different ideas about nonduality none of them supporting… Read more »

Liesbeth
Liesbeth
10 years ago

According to this quote you are right: “The immediate present, could we seize it, would have no character but its Firstness. Not that I mean to say that immediate consciousness (a pure fiction, by the way), would be Firstness, but that the quality of what we are immediately conscious of, which is no fiction, is Firstness.” (Lowell Lectures, CP 1.343, 1903) But also: “The first is that whose being is simply in itself, not referring to anything nor lying behind anything.” Our discussion only starts when meaning is added, signs and interpretations, which is Secondness. Peirce explanation of semiotics: we… Read more »

Rambo
Rambo
10 years ago

My last post is waiting moderation becuase of the links in it.. but charles peirce said:

“Charles peirce wrote:

“If Materialism without Idealism is blind,
Idealism without Materialism is void. ”

He clearly made dualistic comments like this.. as mentioned maybe he was supporting a dual aspect type of monism.. but certainly not strict monism.

Arnie
Arnie
10 years ago

science and nonduality conference will there be video coverage of this? I would like to see some of this and you speaking. other than peirce which other philosophers or people will you be talking about? emerson? hegel?

Liesbeth
Liesbeth
10 years ago

Reading a more about Peirce, I found: When Peirce’ categories are applied to cosmology they receive the following specification (architecture of Theories) – First: Chance, mind – Second: Law, matter – Third: Habit taking, evolution Thirdness is the principle of continuation or ‘mediation’ between the First and Second. The principle of continuity here means that mind and matter are termini of a single continuum and this expresses Peirce’ radical anti-dualism. Thirdness, taken abstractly or generally may be regarded as ‘continuity in general’ and as such provides an alternative to ‘dualism in general’. In the physics of Democritus it seems fair… Read more »

Sam
Sam
10 years ago

Liesbeth id say your mind to filled up with philosophy which is just taking you away from the essence of nonduality. You are missing the point of nonduality when you go into detail, concepts. Nonduality is going beyond what is termed the “mind”. Talking hours about philosophy will not get you any experience of nonduality. Everyone is talking in words on this website. Words are duality.

Watch the video of the owner of the science and nondual conference.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2LKK17q3aiM

Liesbeth
Liesbeth
10 years ago

Dear Sam, thank you for this interesting video, I listened to this man before. I will not attend the conference, I live in Europe. I love studying philosophy, just like before I loved silent retreats. I think evolution produced a brain in us to use it. I just watched a beautiful programm of Stephan Hawkins about the origine of the world. I do not believe it is an illusion, I cannot get enough of using my brain to investigate all mysteries of the world. It is so amazing how this world came into being and that out of that process… Read more »

Liesbeth
Liesbeth
10 years ago

What I think is most important is that we know we have a choice. I agree that thinking did not bring us far, and today I enjoyed a day without thinking. Just looking at a leave of a tree with great intensity can bring that about. But you are free to choose to live that way and I can choose to investigate more. What I like about writing instead of talking is that nobody has to read what I write. And I hardly ever write what I think I only write down what I find interesting in great philosophers, I… Read more »

Liesbeth
Liesbeth
10 years ago

I am sorry, but I started thinking again. I do not think to problem is thinking itself. At this moment I can choose to continue being still or seriously think about what you bring up. The people who said the same thing to me, all think the same as you, they do not value thinking. I think it is all about intention. The reason at one point where I said ‘who cares what you think’ was as a reaction to a sentence like “I really hope the world will change”, I think the world will change through action not through… Read more »

Liesbeth
Liesbeth
10 years ago

From ‘the future evolution of Man’, the divine life upon earth, Sri Aurobindo. P.61f ..the supreme Self is one, but the souls of the Self are many and as is the soul’s formation of nature, so will be its spiritual self-expression. A diversity in oneness is the law of the manifestation; the supramental unification and integration must harmonize these diversities, but to abolish them is not the intention of the Spirit in Nature. If the terrestrial evolution where only to awaken man to the supreme Reality and to release him from ignorance and bondage, so the liberated soul could find… Read more »

Jack
Jack
10 years ago

Liesbeth how long have you been a dualist?

Anonymous
Anonymous
10 years ago

I see duality as the experience of separation. I believe in unity and knowing beyond mind, which is not individual. I also believe in taking responsibility as an individual and to learn to use the brain, like I said before, I do not think that our highly evolved brain is there for nothing. I think it is necessary that we use it ‘in Oneness’ (collective intelligence which is far better than individual thinking), but I do think I am individually responsible for my actions, which means I have to investigate reality in all possible ways.

Liesbeth
Liesbeth
10 years ago

Above post was written yesterday after reading Bergson who, in talking about ‘the real self’ mentiones both God and free will. I wrote about this a while ago, but it seems very relevant now. As different from intellect, Bergson mentioned intuition, which is unique and unspeakable; it is about the world as it is, without the utilitarian function of the mind. It is about direct knowledge, which we cannot communicate. Intuitive insight as opposite to analytical thinking. It is real knowledge as opposite to abstract concepts of reality. The real self is not a tool of life, individually or socially,… Read more »

donsalmon
6 years ago

Just got here – don’t know if this conversation is still going on. I found it fascinating that Jack misinterpreted Liesbeth’s evolutionary vision as necessarily being dualist. This seems to be the result of a confusion between the absolute and the relative, common among people who call themselves “non dualists.” In fact, Sri Aurobindo spent over 100 pages of The Life Divine criticizing Shankara’s partial non duality as being evidence of a similar confusion.