Re: [xmca] Response to DK about Volition

From: Andy Blunden <ablunden who-is-at>
Date: Sun Sep 09 2007 - 18:15:08 PDT

Peirce's insight was profound, wasn't it? That natural processes can be
understood as semiosis, that natural things and processes can be understood
as signs and communications, an entirely original insight, so far as I
know. But this was an intellectual achievement. "Sign," "Interpretant" and
so on, are concepts, tools-for-thought, used by people who, as
communicators, understand well the nature of signs, messages,
interpretants, etc..
Peirce showed that semiosis has a basis in nature, but so does phlogiston
and the ether. If you reject the idea that these concepts are essentially
"tools-for-thought," and insist instead that we have been able to acquire
them only because they really exist, in Nature, prior to and outside of
human activity, until someone "discovered" them, then we are into an
entirely different realm of ontology and epistemology: concepts (e.g.,
interpretant, republicanism, polka dot) exist in Nature and people discover
and name them, etc., etc. - but this is an epistemology and an ontology
which is surely unworthy of the creators of dialectics and semiosis.
I know what you mean if you say that iron existed in nature before people
discovered it. It would be pedantry in the extreme if I were to insist that
"iron" is a concept meaningful only within a culture in which iron is used,
for example, for weapons, etc. But if the "thing" being discovered is an
outright "tool-for-thought" I think I would be justified in opposing your
nominalism. The concept of "semiosis" arose in a society that had already
developed a division of labour in which the use of signs was a specialised
and self-conscious system of activity. It could not have arisen otherwise.
At 05:23 PM 9/09/2007 -0700, you wrote:
> If we reject the claim that nature is dialectical (in a non-trivial
> sense, in the same sense that human semiosis is dialogical), I have
> trouble making sense of Volosinov's description of how signs come into
> being. It seems to me that signs come into being precisely by human
> selection and voluntary reproduction of something pre-existing in nature.
> Volosinov describes two people in a room. Outside the it begins to
> snow. One of them says, "Well!"
> When we apply Peirce's (profoundly dialectical) notion of signs to the
> colloquy, we get:
> Sign: Snow
> Object: Lateness of spring
> Interpretant: Disappointment
> The first two things are clearly natural: snow means that spring will
> probably be late whether anyone notices it or not (any grizzly bear will
> tell you that). So I still think that human dialectics is a deliberate,
> volitional, selective reflection of a "natural dialectic" in the
> thinking, speaking, human subject.
> It seems to me that if we reject this continuity of natural semiosis
> into human semiosis, we end up rejecting either materialism (as Hegel
> did) or monism. No?
> David Kellogg
> Seoul Ntional University of Education
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Received on Sun Sep 9 18:16 PDT 2007

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