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Actually, I didn't mean to say that I think Peirce is not relevant; I just
wanted to avoid suggesting a kind of relevance that I'm not qualified to
propose as regards LSV. I guess for "understanding Vygotsky" in the sense
exploring what his insights can be seen to mean -- rather than the more
exegetical sense of how he meant them consciously in light of others whom he
read, etc., Peirce would be extremely relevant.
Let me suggest something I see as strongly relevant for Activity Theory:
The MCA abstract notes that "For Peirce, a sign is as such because it stands
for something to somebody."
Although Peirce often referred to a human "somebody" as interpreting the
sign, he famously characterized this as a "sop to Cerberus," since humans
are not necessary (and hence don't belong in the definition).
It would be more strictly proper to say that
"A sign is as such because it
stands for something
to SOME INTELLIGENT SYSTEM."
By "intelligent system" he meant
any system with the capacity
to correct or improve its interpretations
on the basis of experience.
A human person is just one special case of an "intelligent system."
Although readers sometimes find it difficult to conceive what else, besides
human persons, would qualify as an "intelligent system" within this
definition of what makes something a sign, it seems to me that Activity
Theory does exactly that -- by articulating what activity systems are and
what they do, including through the response to something not just as
itself, but as a sign of something else, other than itself (the RESPONSE
being the INTERPRETANT, one of the three essential terms in the triadic
From: Cunningham, Donald J. [mailto:email@example.com]
Sent: Saturday, November 27, 2004 8:09 PM
Subject: RE: Vygotsky/tool/sign/symbol
I wonder if Peirce's thinking is more relevant to Vygotsky than you think.
This passage sounds to me, at least, quite compatible:
Peirce: CP 5.314 Cross-Ref:††
314. Without fatiguing the reader by stretching this parallelism too far, it
is sufficient to say that there is no element whatever of man's
consciousness which has not something corresponding to it in the word; and
the reason is obvious. It is that the word or sign which man uses is the man
himself. For, as the fact that every thought is a sign, taken in conjunction
with the fact that life is a train of thought, proves that man is a sign;
so, that every thought is an external sign, proves that man is an external
sign. That is to say, the man and the external sign are identical, in the
same sense in which the words homo and man are identical. Thus my language
is the sum total of myself; for the man is the thought.
The passage would be even stronger if it said:
"something corresponding to it in the _world_" as long as we understand the
word "corresponding" in its logical sense. And it should be said that while
all thought is in signs, not all signs are thoughts.
Ah, but this probably takes the discussion far afield from Mike's original
question. Sorry about that...........djc
PS: With respect, I do not believe that LBE is a good place to learn about
From: Tony Whitson [mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org]
Sent: Saturday, November 27, 2004 7:51 PM
Subject: RE: Vygotsky/tool/sign/symbol
If the first question for this group is one of understanding Vygotsky, then
Peirce's thinking might not be so relevant. On the other hand, for exploring
other ways of thinking, it could be productive to consider the
distinctiveness of Peirce's thinking in relation to the others. Here is my
contribution. I hope it doesn't spur people to vote against the Peirce
article. I'm sure that the Uslucan article is more reader-friendly (see the
Abstract at http://lchc.ucsd.edu/MCA/Journal/vol11.no2.html) than what I
have written here. In the paragraphs below, I tried to stay closer to the
formalism of Peirce's constructions, to resist easier assimilation to other
ways of thinking about signs.
Peg's examples are good ones for illustrating Peirce's distinction between
symbolic and indexical signs.
The spots signify measles INDEXICALLY.
The three rings of the bell symbolize the imminent stopping of the trolley
It is the existential relationship between spots and measles that gives rise
to the possibility of actions or events in which the spots are interpreted
as a signification of measles. Here, the 3 terms in the sign relation are
the REPRESENTAMEN (the spots, taken as signifying something other than just
spots), the OBJECT (measles -- what the spots are taken as signifying), and
the INTERPRETANT (the action(s) or event(s) which occur in response to the
spots not as just spots, but as a sign of measles.
The relationship between spots and measles which gives rise to this semiosic
possibility is a relationship that exists independently of the possibility
of triadic interpretation. The relationship between the three bellrings and
the imminent trollystopping occurs only by virtue of the possibility of
triadic interpretation. Hence, Peirce's category of "Thirdness" is fully
implicated in the semiosic efficacy of the 3 bells, whereas Thirdness is
implicated in a more "degenerate" form in the spots/measles/treatment
sign-triad. [Besides Indexical sign relations, Iconic sign-relations are the
other class of non-Symbolic sign relations.]
As a logician rather than a psychologist or linguist, Peirce developed his
theory of signs in terms of formal relationships among elements that make
signification possible, in formal terms that don't depend on anything
particular to human beings as such. Hence, his theory is articulated in
terms of the basic categories of Firstness, Secondness, and Thirdness; but
would not depend on more humanistic categories such as "natural" versus
"non-natural." (This can provide concepts and vocabulary for non-circular
discourse on human social and cultural activity).
Saussure's use of "signe" and "symbole" is sometimes represented as somewhat
the opposite of Peirce:
“A propos du mot de symbole: Nous avons grand scrupule à employer ce terme.
Le symbole a pour caractère de n’être jamais complètement arbitraire; le
symbole n’est pas vide. Il y a un rudiment de lien entre idée et signe, dans
My own inclination is to avoid that kind of comparison, because I think it's
more important to be clear that the triadic sign in Peirce is so different
from the binary (signifier/signified) sign in Saussure that they really are
not commensurable enough to say that use of "sign" and "symbol" are
more-or-less opposite in their respective theories. (There's not enough
apposition for such opposition.) (See my chapter in Kirshner & Whitson
(eds.): Situated Cognitio.)
As an aside on Ana's post, which arrived while I was writing this one:
The "green light" example maybe illustrates the impossibility of saying too
absolutely that any sign does not admit of polysemy. During the Cultural
Revolution in China, there was some effort to have "Red" mean "Go" and
"Green" mean "Stop" -- so it is possible to see other meanings even in a
case like this!
From: Peg Griffin [mailto:Peg.Griffin@worldnet.att.net]
Sent: Saturday, November 27, 2004 3:47 PM
Subject: Re: Vygotsky/tool/sign/symbol
Is the Pierce article the one for discussion?
Regarding sign or symbol, I would like to learn about what you, David, and
others in the seminar see as the possible consequences of one versus the
The definitions you found for sign and symbol make me think of Grice's
discussion of natural and non-natural meaning. "These spots mean measles"
is an example of natural; "Three rings of the bell means the trolley is
stop" is an example of non-natural.
Tools and symbols would both be non-natural. Signs would be natural.
For language, there is also a tripartite distinction among sentence meaning,
utterance meaning, and speaker meaning. Maybe that distinction would come
in handy when thinking about symbols that re-present in/for a
socio-historical community of users.
----- Original Message -----
From: "Mike Cole" <email@example.com>
Sent: Saturday, November 27, 2004 11:42 AM
What, for Vygotsky, was the relationship between tool, sign and symbol?
This question was raised in a seminar David Preiss and I are conducting
Santiago and La Jolla.
It turns out to be an interesting question because the answer is no
obvious. LSV's book,
part of which appears in *Mind in Society" was titled "orudie i znak"
in Russian, which,
litterally, should be trranslated as tool and sign. But sometimes is
translated as tool
and symbol vis, in mind and society!)..
The term, symbol, is little in evidence in the Collected works, but it
appears in phrases
like "symbolic activity."
Jaan Valsiner, when asked, said that the route to an answer lies
Jim Wertsch, when asked, said that the route to an answer lies through
If one googles "signsymbol" one comes up with various answers to the
sign symbol relationship. For example:
Signs—stands for or represent something else.
Artificial or conventional signs (There is no direct relationship with
Arbitrary and ambiguous
The article on Peirce in MCA is clearly relevant to this issue, but I
wonder if others have
considered it and might share their insights?