A Formative Phaneroscopic Model as a Pragmatic Theory of Perception: Charles S. Peirce and the Inventory of Perception

The present paper proposes to investigate a theory of perception that can be extracted from Charles S. Peirce’s philosophical discipline of phaneroscopy. Peirce himself has not developed a finalized theory of perception. He has left, however, important concepts regarding perception in relation to the systemic connection between semiotics and phaneroscopy. As it is possible to infer from the way Peirce defines the concept, phaneroscopy, which is another denomination for Peirce’s phenomenology, is tasked with the inventory of the phaneron in its presentness and determines what indivisible components are to be found within it. The characteristic presentness of the phaneron enables the connection between phaneral experience and the perceiving mind, whereby both coalesce in the presence of each other. The insistence of the positive presentness of this phaneral experience upon the perceiving mind provides perception with an inflow of phaneronic elements, which will, in turn, become the prime matter for representations, mediations, to take place. Semiotics, thus, depends upon the perceptive saturation of phaneral experience to acquire its prime matter. In the moment, in which mediation takes place, presentness vanishes and gives room to the observance of logical relations abstracted and generalized from the constant observation of the objectified phanera, focusing upon the logical relations abstracted therefrom. In order to grasp the passage from presentness to the objectivation of phanera, and from there to the logical relations inherent to the analyzed phanera, Peirce coined three new terms to better circumscribe this specific transitioning point. He denominates, first, the percept as the insistent flowing stream of phaneral experience in its strictest literalness into the senses. Second, he denominates facts of observation, consisting of a perceptive amalgama of imprinted images of aspects of the percepts, analogous, as Peirce informs, to a sort of composite photograph, formed by the constant repetition of the percept. The accumulation of these facts of observation, which, in the process, are separated from the continuous inflow of phaneral experience, leads, thirdly, to the pronunciation of perceptual judgements, that is, a formulation asserting, in propositional form, what the character of a percept directly present to the mind is. This formulation is an utterly uncontrolled event, as Peirce affirms. This dynamic of perception, as circumscribed by Peirce, clearly sets forth a model of perception based upon formative principles, i.e., there is an operative principle of formation of perceptive judgements through the accumulation and metabolization of imprints of percepts upon the senses, and also, at another level, the beginnings of myriads of semiotic processes.

The leading hypothesis guiding the present paper states that a reconstruction of the guidelines of Peirce’s project for a theory of perception puts forth a pragmatic theory of perception as a scaffold, a model, which, even if it is unfinished or incomplete, enables access to the inventory of the phaneral experience and the relationality inherent to future semioses.

Tiago da Costa e Silva

Department of Cultural History and Theory, Humboldt Universität zu Berlin

holds a degree in industrial design with a focus on visual communication from the State University of São Paulo, Brazil, and a master’s degree in communication and semiotics from the Pontifical Catholic University of São Paulo, Brazil. He completed his PhD on the logic of the design process at the Universität der Künste – UdK – Berlin, Germany, and worked at the Cluster of Excellence “Image Knowledge Gestaltung: An Interdisciplinary Laboratory” and at the Department for Cultural History and Theory of the Humboldt Universität zu Berlin. A specialist in the field of semiotics, Dr. Da Costa e Silva has been awarded the “Charles S. Peirce Young Scholar Award” by the Institute for Studies in Pragmaticism and by the German Society for Semiotics in 2017.

theory of perception
models of perception