Does anyone know the origin of this diagram based on Charles Sander Peirce's model of triadic signs?


Is it by Peirce and if so from what or is it from a reader on Peirce?

  • This diagram bears a close relationship with many geometric representations of the Holy Trinity (wiki: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trinity, 'The Christian doctrine of the Trinity -- Latin: Trinitas, lit. 'triad', from Greek τριάς and τριάδα, from Latin: trinus "threefold" -- holds that God is one God, but three coeternal consubstantial persons or hypostases—the Father, the Son (Jesus Christ), and the Holy Spirit—as "one God in three Divine Persons"'). One can't state unequivocally that this is the origin.
    – DJohnson
    Sep 11, 2018 at 12:35
  • 1
    @DJohnson: The semiotic triangle was never supposed to express a unity, but relations. It is like saying that geometry was based on representations of Trinity, or geopositioning. It simply has nothing to do with each other whatsoever. Also, the question is asking for the origin of this (particular!) diagram, i.e. where this particular diagram was originally used - as you would know if you read the comments to the answers. Long story short: Please try to use the comment function more carefully and only for relating to the specific posts.
    – Philip Klöcking
    Sep 11, 2018 at 14:08
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    @DJohnson There's a book on that: God and the World of Signs: Trinity, Evolution, and the Metaphysical Semiotics of C. S. Peirce by Andrew Robinson (2012).
    – Geremia
    Sep 11, 2018 at 17:07
  • @geremia Thanks for the link to a wonderful resource, Calibre Library!
    – DJohnson
    Sep 12, 2018 at 11:24
  • 1
    @DJohnson Did you see the references in the answer below?
    – Geremia
    Sep 13, 2018 at 22:23

3 Answers 3


Peirce' Theory of Signs is complex and - unfortunately - there are no complete treatises dedicated to semiotics by Peirce himself :

Across the course of his intellectual life, Peirce continually returned to and developed his ideas about signs and semiotic and there are three broadly delineable accounts: a concise Early Account from the 1860s; a complete and relatively neat Interim Account developed through the 1880s and 1890s and presented in 1903; and his speculative, rambling, and incomplete Final Account developed between 1906 and 1910.

For an early exposition, see : On a New List of Categories, Proceedings of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, 7 (1868). [See also Peirce's Categories.]

For a full-lenght book on Peirce's semiotics, see :

For relevant "semeiotics" quotes, see here. [See also Peirce's Triadic signs.]

It seems to me that the diagram is not present, also if we have clear "descriptions" of it :

The easiest of those which are of philosophical interest is the idea of a sign, or representation. A sign stands for something to the idea which it produces, or modifies. Or, it is a vehicle conveying into the mind something from without. That for which it stands is called its Object; that which it conveys, its Meaning; and the idea to which it gives rise, its Interpretant. [from a 1893-5 Ms., Chapter II: The Categories.]

A sign, or representamen, is something which stands to somebody for something in some respect or capacity. It addresses somebody, that is, creates in the mind of that person an equivalent sign, or perhaps a more developed sign. That sign which it creates I call the interpretant of the first sign. The sign stands for something, its object. [from a c.1897 Ms., On Signs.]

[...] a sign is a thing related to an object and determining in the interpreter an interpreting sign of the same object. It involves the relation between sign, interpreting sign, and object. [from the 1903 Ms.prepared for the Lowell Lectures of 1903.]

Possible source of the diagram (if my conjecture about its non-Peircian origin is sound) :

But Peirce's ideas are summarized into Appendix D [page 279-90] :

by far the most eleaborate and determined attempt to give an account of signs and their meaning is that of the American logician C.S.Peirce [...].

The diagram of Ogden & Richards is reproduced into :

The diagram in question is the well-known triangle, diffused in its most common form by Ogden and Richards (1923) [...]. The triangle apparently translates Peirce’s : [here you can find reproduced your diagram].

  • Many thanks for your answer but it really is that diagram I'm trying to trace and not what it means. The diagram looks too clean and precise to me to be original so I'm guessing it's in some reader where triadic signs are explained. Jan 1, 2016 at 13:45

Peirce invented the so-called "existential graphs". A good description of this is found in §4.7 "The geometry of thought: Existential graphs" (pp. 69-72) of Peirce: A Guide for the Perplexed by Cornelis de Waal.

More in-depth studies are:


It's not the Charles Key Ogden & Ivor Armstrong Richards diagram, that uses the terms Symbol, Thought or Reference and Referent and there is no indication of Semiosis.

I think I may have located the source. It seems to be the article from which the original image link I posted came - at least the post on this weblog (http://bpdp.blogspot.co.uk/2012/07/web-semiotics-web-as-sign-system.html) suggests that it's original to that article.

  • According to me, Eco is the source of Irvine; Eco's book was published in 1975 ! :-) Jan 1, 2016 at 15:44
  • Irvine seems to be the source of the specific diagram I originally asked the question about. That diagram (with circle of Semiosis) is reproduced in several places, none of which give any reference back to it's source. I assumed Irvines article was yet another use of the diagram without referencing it but according to the weblog post I mentioned Irvine is the source. Jan 1, 2016 at 18:20
  • Ok, as you like ... It is a fact that Prof.Martin Irvine received is B.A. at State University of New York at Buffalo, English, Philosophy, and Classics, in 1975 and in the same year was published a book on semiotics with exactly that diagram ... Jan 1, 2016 at 18:38

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