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Comments to Semios-L

Fri, 5 Jul 1996 21:49:18 -0400
Steven Skaggs :
Re: TUT: Specificity;

>On Wed, 26 Jun 1996, Steven Skaggs wrote:
>(among other things)
>> Specificity is deconstruction upended. I mean that whereas deconstruction
>> makes the point (and remakes the point and remakes the point ad infinitum)
>> that there is no 'transcendental signified', we are saying "of course there
>> isn't" but let's look at how some messages seem to point toward a center
>> while others spin away.
Katya replies:
>Now that you mentioned Eco (in your next post), he is quite explicit in
>_The Limits of Interpretation_ that for Peirce there *is* something akin
>to the 'transcendental signified' in opposition to deconstructionism. Not
>transcendental in kantian, apriori, sense, but as intersubjective,
>aposteriori reality constructed by semiosis. Habit and community is where
>derridean endless play of the signifier ends (in peircean view, that is,
>according to Eco).

Yes, Katya. I think Peirce offers two ways to look at this: 1)there is the
habit and community which we could call the 'soft' signified because of its
provisional nature, and 2) there is the Final Interpretant which is about
as 'hard' and transcendent a signified as you can get because it is the
purported end state of semiosis. Now, Derrideans would say that 1 is not
tenable because we can never reach a standpoint outside the sign-exchange
from which we could agree that the community or habit is stable. It remains
unsettled, and what we get is a 'trace' or 'play' or 'slippage'. Peirce can
be partially reconciled with this view by admitting the provisional (i.e.:
unsettled over time) nature of the 'habit' - but the difference in the
viewpoints is  profound. As for 2, I don't know whether Derrida deals with
this idea of a Final Interpretant - but I suspect he would say that chances
are just as good that interpretations diverge over time rather than
converge. Or more likely, the idea of converging and diverging would be
dismissed because there's no reference or center toward which (or away from
which) to veer. In the Final Interpretant, Peirce reveals himself to be a
Realist. But it is such an interesting perspective. Essentially, although
the Final Interpretant is purported to be 'real', it lies at the end of
time. Put another way, one cannot reach the Final Interpretant until
semiosis itself ends!

Now to look at specificity in relation to these ideas, one must first be
very clear that there are at least three distinct perspectives in which
they can be framed:
        1) The position of an interpretant held intersubjectivly and communally
        2) The position of an interpretant (considered as an independent
thing) over a span of time, and
        3) The position of an interpretant held for a given interpreter at
a given moment.

In the work that Gary Shank and I have so far done, we treated the third
situation, and to some degree the second. We have not looked at the first.

KM> So, could we say that your "pointing
>towards the center" is the case of intersubjective, relatively settled
>signifieds? Whereas the spinning away are those with lowest degree of
>intersubjectivity, for example, squizophrenics' semiosis?

SS - I'll have to think about this...As mentioned above, we really haven't
thought much the intersubjective nature of the interpretant, although I
could easily think of applications for specificity to 'agreed upon'
cultural tenets. But it's very possible that the pschizophrenic's
experience is as specific and manifest as yours or mine. So from the
standpoint of the individual, one condition might hold while looked at from
the standpoint of the community another situation prevails. Interesting...

>Your idea of a spectrum between centripetal and centrifugal ranges of
>signifieds is very interesting, and points to consider that there is not only
>one but various degrees of sr/sd relations, some with relatively stable
>(manifest), others with highly volatile relations (manifold). While
>deduction corresponds to the former and abduction to the later, it seems
>to me that induction can be found in any point of the spectrum. As you
>mentioned Hume, that the sun will rise also tomorrow is a highly specific
>induction, or rather almost deduction because there are no cases known
>that contradict this expectation. So here induction becomes deduction.
>But there are cases of induction which are almost abduction (as in
>Holmes' inference of X having been in Post Office because of the red sand
>over his shoes).

SS - Yes, Peirce at one point called both induction and abduction
'synthetic' inferences...they are linked and certainly related concepts. It
depends how much you are lifting from another 'rule set' whether something
is inductive (working within a given rule set) or abductive (adapting a
separate rule set to explain the present situation). In our construction of
manifest and manifold conditions, we do not see any of these inferences as
clearly demarcated...but simply as occupying relative positions on the

>I found the concept of specificity and of marks in a spectrum very
>useful. And I will keep thinking about this code-inference correspondence

I'm glad, Katya...and as always, your comments are most cogent and stimulating.

Steven Skaggs

anyone, practical, software, faulty, defects
(five randomly chosen words from a computer manual)

pardon, brought, rum, falling, fruit
(five randomly chosen words from the Bible)

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