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Steven Skaggs :
Wed, 12 Jun 1996 12:03:28 -0400

Responding to Dimitri's excellent post:
>John Fiske's definition, as Paul presented it, seems a good start for
>defining the sign concept. There are, in my opinion, two problems with this
>First, the 'something other than itself' need also to be something physical
>(perceivable to our senses, as Fiske names it). If one does not accept this,
>I think we could end up with a deconstructionist idea of the sign in which
>sings get their meaning by referring to other signs, which in their turn
>refer to other signs. At the end we need to arrive at the physical reality,
>if not we end up in a sort of idealism.

I certainly don't want to propogate the idea that I'm a big Peirce scholar,
but my understanding of Peirce is that he spent his life mediating, in a
sense, between nominalism and realism. Along Peircian lines, you don't want
to set up these 'physical-mental' bifurcations, because what he sees as the
real virtue of signs is that they are at a deeper level than either
physical or mental. For Peirce, the mediational relation (Thirdness) in
which semiosis is situated, is the only place in which 'knowing' happens.

I would recommend Nathan Houser's excellent book: _The Essential Peirce_.

>Umberto Eco wrote however a book about the sign. In that book he gives a
>visual representation of sign-conceptions derived from several authors. If I
>select only Peirce and Saussure, it gives something like this:
>                        interpretant (Peirce)
>                        concept (Saussure)
>                        image mental (Saussure, Peirce)
>                           /\
>                          /  \
>                         /    \
>  signe (Peirce)         ------    object (Peirce)
>  representamen (Peirce)
>  signifiant (Saussure)

Peirce doesn't do himself any favors with his terminology. Throw out his
earlier concept of 'sign'=representamen. Use REPRESENTAMEN, or better yet,
Morris's term: SIGN VEHICLE. Yes, SIGN VEHICLE is pretty synonymous with

If you take the idea:
a sign is something that stands for something to someone...

You could say:
a sign is an event in which a VEHICLE stands for its OBJECT while producing

This is not very different from the essential nature of experimental
science in which:
an experiment is an event in which a OBSERVATION stands for its OBJECT
while producing a RESULT.

And I think it was just this sort of method that Peirce saw as prime.

The idea from this is that all 'knowledge' is tentative, is the belief of
the moment. That's why Peirce's ideas prefigure so well those of Heisenberg
and current problems in quantum mechanics...but that's another story. I can
only urge you all to read the work of Scarfatti and Henty Stapp on the web
dealing with the quantum mechanics of consciousness. Semiotics translated.
Maybe we should just adopt their terms!

>Dimitri Mortelmans (R2.20)
>Departement Politieke en Sociale Wetenschappen
>Universitaire Instelling Antwerpen
>Universiteitsplein 1                    e-mail: mortel@uia.ua.ac.be
>2610 Wilrijk                            voice : 03/820.28.58.
>Belgium                                 fax   : 03/820.28.82.
Steven Skaggs

>> McCarthy: "Even machines as simple as thermostats can be said to have
<< Searle: "What beliefs does your thermostat have?"
>> McCarthy: "My thermostat has three beliefs - it is too hot in here, it
>>is too cold in here, and it is just right in here."

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