Peirce, Signs, and Meaning

Peirce, Signs, and Meaning

Copyright Date: 1997
Pages: 408
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  • Book Info
    Peirce, Signs, and Meaning
    Book Description:

    C.S. Peirce, the founder of pragmatism, was an American philosopher and mathematician whose influence has been enormous on the field of semiotics. Merrell uses Pierce's theories to reply to the all-important question: "What and where is meaning?"

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-7833-0
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Introduction
    (pp. vii-2)

    So I guess I had to embark on another book, which you now have in your hands. It all began almost a decade ago when I sifted through a pile of notes and wroteSigns Becoming Signs: Our Perfusive, Pervasive Universe(1991), which celebrated Charles S. Peirce’sprocessual semiotics. Then, focus onsigns amongst signs, that is, signs now actualized and offering themselves up to their interpreters – who are, themselves, so many signs – culminated in another book,Semiosis in the Postmodern Age(1995a). Finally, the general concept of signs growing, developing, evolving motivated the third volume of a...

  4. Preamble: Is Meaning Possible within Indefinite Semiosis?
    (pp. 3-22)

    Alpha: ... but ... any reliable account of meaning, it seems to me ... must use words that express what they have hitherto obscured. This makes unbearable demands on us, no? We are expected to saywhatour sayingis, but we cannot sayit, for itis whatwe are saying.

    Omega: Good Lord! Like Nietzsche, Heidegger, Derrida, and other assorted poets, mystics, and nihilists, you gleefully embrace paradox. Forget paradoxes, along with Foucault, Baudrillard, Lyotard, and all other prophets of conundrums. The fact is that language mustrefer to something, for if not, it couldn’t mean anything. Such...

  5. Part I: All Too Human?
    • 1 Our Blissful Unknowing Knowing
      (pp. 25-51)

      This chapter and the next consist of reflections on: (1) Peirce’s triadic concept of the sign; (2) relations between sign and mind and the ‘semiotically real’ and the ‘real’ in regards to a key set of terms that will pop up repeatedly during the course of this inquiry,vaguenessandgeneralityandinconsistencyandincompleteness; (3) the dialogical self as a sign among signs; and (4) our vain individualism stemming from the imperious belief that we can make and break our signs by the sheer force of our will. This preliminary stage is essential, I believe, insofar as it provides...

    • 2 The Self as a Sign among Signs
      (pp. 52-68)

      Peirce’s most basic trio of signs consists oficons(signs by resemblance – triangles for mountains),indices(signs whose very nature relates them to someother– lightning and thunder), andsymbols(signs of convention – ‘horse’ related to a horse or to a/the class of horses). (I will briefly discuss Peirce’s sign types in chapter 14, after a rather large expanse of terrain has been adequately prepared. For the time being, I would ask the patience of those readers who might be unfamiliar with Peirce’s concept of the sign.)

      Peirce’s fundamental types ofsymbolsincludeterms,propositions, andarguments...

  6. Part II: Or Merely What Comes Naturally?
    • 3 Thought-Signs: Jungle or Wasteland?
      (pp. 71-97)

      In the preceding chapters I outlined what I perceive to be the essential background for a Peircean conception of meaning: triadic relations, self-other dialogic, self-mind as sign, the ‘logic’ ofsemiosis, the poverty of our pretentious individualism, and symbolicity’s elusive, illusive capacity for ‘deceit.’ In chapters 3 and 4 I further address the fiction-‘real,’ and ‘inner-outer’ problems, which cannot but influence how we take our signs and how they mean. Then, in chapter 5, I begin entry into a discussion of the relevance of Charles Peirce to contemporary disquisitions and ruminations on the nature of meaning.

      We are incorrigible fabricators...

    • 4 Sign-Events Meet Thought-Signs
      (pp. 98-117)

      In light of the preceding chapter, there can no all-or-nothing line of demarcation between the ‘semiotically real’ and fictionality. What seems to hold is that the relation between the two involves meaning. For the meaning of something conceived as a ‘real’ entity (that is, the conception of itas ifthat conception were somehow coterminous with the entity itself) cannot be absolutely divorced from fictionality (the taking of some entityas ifit were the ‘real’ article). In arguing this point, I briefly return to Peirce’s notion of the ‘real’ in light of his enigmatic ‘objective idealist’ posture. Then I...

    • 5 The Sign: Mirror or Lamp?
      (pp. 118-130)

      After the foregoing, it might behoove us to turn our attention to what is traditionally considered the problem ofcontradictions,inconsistencies, and full-blownparadoxes, whether the result of a Meinong proliferation of signs or not, and whether in the arena of hard-nosed logic and formal systems, the carpeted surroundings of cultural concerns, or the give-and-take of the business world, politics, and everyday life in general.

      I might as well lay my cards on the table by reiterating my contention that, outside the discourse of logicians, mathematicians, and philosophers, contradictions, inconsistencies, and paradoxes often lose their sting. Our recent tradition relegated...

  7. An Interlude
    • 6 Whither Meaning, Then?
      (pp. 133-144)

      A legitimate Peircean notion of triadicity to which I have summarily alluded in the preceding chapters sheds light on a serious flaw in what is customarily portrayed as a ‘semiotic triangle.’

      Nevertheless, semiotic triangularity has persisted. There is an ample chorus of models to choose from: Ogden and Richards’s (1923)symbol,thought, andreferent, Carnap’s (1942)lexis(sign),intension, andextension, Charles Morris’s (1938)sign vehicle,designatumorsignificatum, anddenotatum, Frege’s (1970)Sinn,Zeichen, andBedeutung, and Peirce’srepresentamen,interpretant, andobject, to mention only a few. These sets of terms are in most instances dutifully and delightfully presented...

  8. Part III: Or Perhaps Merely Signs among Signs?
    • 7 Fabricated Rather than Found
      (pp. 147-169)

      The general thrust of Whitehead’sProcess and Reality(1946) is that our minds are finite, yet even in these circumstances of finitude we are open to possibilities that are infinite, and the purpose of life is to grasp as much as we can of that infinite sphere, however infinitesimal our yield may be. In this chapter and the next, I attempt to expound on this theme.

      What is grasped from the indeterminable array of possibilities directly involves Secondness – the act of fishingactualsfrom the sea of Firstness and placing them in conventional categories of Thirdness. The experienced angler’s...

    • 8 What Else Is a Self-Respecting Sign to Do?
      (pp. 170-187)

      It is now common knowledge that, to the chagrin of many a committed bystander, the twentieth-century saw repeated crises in the foundations of mathematics as a result of work revealing inherent limitations to all axiomatic systems.

      Kurt Gödel and Thoralf Skolem proved to be two of the most unwanted guests in this respect. Gödel entered the scene to declare that no system of a minimal level of richness would ever be powerful enough to say any and all ‘truths’ about itself. Skolem served notice that if the axioms of a system bared themselves to any interpretation of certain key terms...

    • 9 Caught Within
      (pp. 188-206)

      Obviously, under normal circumstances we somehow manage to find meaning. But one might wish to pose the query, What’s the use of it all if there can be no solid footing underneath? Regarding this question, Putnam’s voice resurfaces.

      Putnam asks us to suppose an ant crawling on a patch of sand happens to trace a pattern that looks like Winston Churchill (1981:1–5). Good sense tells us that the creature has notintentionallyconstructed a Churchill caricature (‘intentionality’ is here used in the philosophical sense as the property of consciousness whereby it ‘intends’ [refers to] an object). In this manner...

  9. Part IV: If So, Then into the Breakers, Vortices, Cross-Currents, and Undertows of Semiosis
    • 10 Dreaming the Impossible Dream?
      (pp. 209-229)

      Approaching the heartbeat of this disquisition, and moving closer to our own times, we find ourselves in a hell-bent-for-leather, fast-track pluralism of discourse, narration, rumination, rhetorical delirium, rank exhibitionism, a hodge-podge of images, themes, and ideas, past, present, and projected into the future, an age of heated debates over stakes embarrassingly small yet waged over as if they were a fight to the death, of mediocrity parading around in gala dress and spewing forth a congestion of buzz-words especially designed to enshroud intellectual poverty in a numbing mist. Yet there are still a few voices of giants emanating from the...

    • 11 How We Can Go Wrong
      (pp. 230-244)

      In Quine’s paradigm example, as we have seen, when I speak of rabbits, for all I know you may be conceptualizing ‘undetached rabbit parts,’ ‘space-time slices of rabbithood,’ ‘fuzzy, elongated, horizontal greyness with vertical appendages in motion amongst green patches against a brownish background,’ or some such thing. Quine’s thought experiment is bizarre. But Putnam does him one better, leading us by the hand to the brink and playfully giving us a gentle nudge.

      Putnam’s story tells how minds can be the same though their signs are entirely different, or conversely, how signs can be the same but minds different....

    • 12 Rules Are There to Be Broken?
      (pp. 245-272)

      Taking our examples from mathematics – that is, a formal language – into the domain of natural language, we saw in chapter 11 that retranslation-reinterpretation of sentences can follow unexpected, unintended, unwanted, undecidable pathways. In fact, potentially there are infinitely many translations-interpretations of the predicates of a language, and each one of them can be elevated to the status of ‘truth’ by an indefinite number of semiotic agents, given indefinitely varied settings.

      In Quine’s example, ‘Gavagai!’ could be interpreted as ‘Rabbit,’ ‘Rabbit stage’ (a ‘rabbit-slice’ in three-dimensions as a point in the four-dimensional space-time rabbit continuum), ‘Undetached rabbit parts,’ or...

    • 13 From Conundrum to Quality Icon
      (pp. 273-294)

      Rorty writes that the relevance of Peirce today is above all evident in his having ‘envisaged, and repudiated in advance, the stages in the development of empiricism which logical positivism represented’ (1961:197–8). And in Christopher Hookway’s view, Peirce ‘seems one of the most modern of contemporary philosophers. If many of his views are controversial or implausible, still, on reading his work, we are likely to feel that many of his problems are close to the issues that are philosophically pressing today’ (1985:1).

      Hookway goes on to note Peirce’s contributions in logic, the philosophical analysis of meaning, problems of truth...

  10. Part V: And Finally, Navigating Back, Wherever That Was
    • 14 Out of Sign, Out of Mind
      (pp. 297-314)

      In this, the final stage of our journey, corporeality is joined with intellect, that proud intellect, the obsessive focus of Western thought over the ages, to suggest that there is a middle path – nonpropositional, neological,vagueyet occasionallyinconsistent,generalyet inevitablyincomplete, product of the sphere ofoverdetermination, and on the road toward knowing, though it is destined to remainunderdetermined. This chapter discusses Peirce’s basic decalogue of signs, linguistic and nonlinguistic alike, which prepares the terrain for a move to place the body properly in the signs in chapter 15, as a necessary step toward knowing what...

    • 15 Putting the Body Back in the Sign
      (pp. 315-342)

      To recap, the style-intonation pair of terms discussed in chapter 1 blur the overrated literary-language/ordinary-language and literary-language/logico-scientific-language clashes. This blurring of age-old lines of demarcation also applies to the presumed chasm between the fictive and the ‘real’ – or the ‘semiotically real’ and the ‘real’ – as was observed in the following pair of chapters. These pages, in addition, debunked the customary priorities of extension over intension, symbolicity over iconicity-indexicality, and the self-centred ‘I’ over its respectiveothers. Then in subsequent chapters, during discussion of the various and sundry views of contemporary philosophy, it was suggested that the notion of...

  11. Appendix: On the Pragmatic Maxim
    (pp. 343-352)
  12. References
    (pp. 353-372)
  13. Index
    (pp. 373-384)