Re: [xmca] Response to DK about Volition

From: Tony Whitson <twhitson who-is-at UDel.Edu>
Date: Sun Sep 09 2007 - 18:29:33 PDT


Peircean's such as Tom Sebeok and John Deely speak of humans as uniquely
semiotic animals. They are not uniquely semiosic animals. People and dogs
alike are participating all their lives in semiosis. The difference is
that humans are aware of semiosis in a way that dogs are not. Humans can
understand the earth revolving around the sun, despite the experience of
the surn rising every morning over that easterly horizon. The fact that
humans are aware of signs is what enables humans to understand the
fallibility of conceptions such as "ether."

For Peirce, thought is sign activity. To say that signs are merely tools
for thought spurs the question: what, then is thought itself?

On Mon, 10 Sep 2007, Andy Blunden wrote:

> 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.
> Andy
> At 05:23 PM 9/09/2007 -0700, you wrote:
>> Andy:
>> 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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> Andy Blunden : tel (H) +61 3 9380 9435, AIM
> identity: AndyMarxists mobile 0409 358 651
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Tony Whitson
UD School of Education

"those who fail to reread
  are obliged to read the same story everywhere"
                   -- Roland Barthes, S/Z (1970)
xmca mailing list
Received on Sun Sep 9 18:38 PDT 2007

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