Re: signs/symbols etc

From: Andy Blunden (
Date: Tue Jan 11 2005 - 18:06:27 PST

I think Don's advice (to adopt an interpretation of Peirce that you relate
to) is goo advice too. I think Peirce, like Hegel, was a Logician, who went
deeply enough into his subject, that it has ramifications for all of us,
and I take the same attitude to Hegel.
Nevertheless, I find the interpretation of Peirce's signs in terms of
people and relations between people, provides insights which are very
The idea of using things to mediate in human relations is central to
Vygotskian psychology, I think, but all the time, I think Vygotsky, like
Marx, holds to the fact that the thing in itself is a nothing: it is a
carrier of human activity and meaning. Marx's analysis of the commodity
relation was precisely to this point.
In particular, I think the icon-symbol-index relation shows us how, in
modern society, subjectivity can be complex in a way that was not possible
in traditional societies, because of the relative independence of icon,
symbol and index.

At 05:41 PM 11/01/2005 -0800, Mike Cole wrote:
>I did not respond to the note below, Andy, because there are so many
>different kinds of points in your note, some of which I thought I could
>follow, but many
>of which just left me perplexed.
>Recall, I started all of this because a student in Santiago asked
>about the relation of sign and symbol vis a vis tool in Vygotsky with
>special reference to tools. I was forced to wonder why a manuscript
>entitled "Orudie i znak" had been routinely translated as "Tool and
>symbol" when "znak" is ubquitously translated as "sign". I was also
>motivated by
>a current preoccupation with questions of the origins of symbolic
>thought in humans, so I do what I often do on such occasions, read a
>lot and ask elementary questions.
>I have come away with a treasure trove of interesting thoughts and I
>am greatful to the time that people have spent wondering in print
>about the issues here on xmca. I agree with you about Peirce/Vygotsky
>affinities, but also come away convinced there are some major
>differences I am as yet unclear about. I would like to take Don's advice:
>There are SO MANY different analyses of sign, symbol et al. that I
>think the best strategy is to find one you are comfortable with and
>then apply it consistently...... except I fear for the possibility of
>consistency. I am puzzling over the different kinds of meaning Peg
>talked about.
>Just to return a small opportunity to smile, not a joke --- at least
>-- not in its original context, I attach a picture I took in Turkey in the
>fall. It makes we
>wonderf about icons and people, although for sure when we look at the
>history of icons in
>human origins, people are its content. Not in this case though.
>On Mon, 10 Jan 2005 16:07:59 +1100, Andy Blunden <> wrote:
> > Mike,
> > I have been lurking in on this discussion about Peirce and Vygotsky, and
> > laughed out loud at the "yeah, yeah" joke. Semiology seems to lend
> itself to
> > jokes! But it also prompted me to share my thoughts, such as they are. With
> > so many heavyweight experts, not only in CHAT, but semiology, I have been a
> > bit reluctant to speak (believe it!). Nevertheless, I also see great
> > resonances between Peirce's semiology and Vygotsky and also Hegel. My
> > approach as ever is to try to relate the ideas to relations between people,
> > and how they are mediated.
> > Mainly I am interested in the icon-symbol-index trilogy, though the other
> > categorisations of signs in the discussion paper were immensely useful in
> > demystifying the idea of a sign, and also helped understand the way Hegel's
> > concepts find different applications in the same domain.
> > Firstly, I see the icon as above all a person, though it can be a group or
> > a practice or activity, but generally something in which a person not only
> > can see themselves, but because the icon is so impressive and attractive,
> > actually are motivated to see an image of themselves in the icon. The icon
> > is what teachers used to call a "role model,"
> > Secondly, there is symbol: the symbol is an expert or figure of authority
> > in the broader culture who gives an explanation of the experience or
> actions
> > of the icon, or demonstrates why and how one should emulate it. The symbol
> > would classically be highly mediated, taking the form of a "theory"
> > explaining the experiences and emotions of the icon in "scientific" or
> > otherwise socially legitimated terms. The symbol is a kind of book, or
> teacher, or a word.
> > Thirdly, the index is numbers of people who raise their hand and say "Me
> > too!", demonstrating that the icon genuinely does point to something
> > universal and not just individual or particular.
> > These three constitute a new subjectivity; ideally they coincide, with
> > every index looking just like the icon and capable of operating in the
> symbolic register.
> > For example, Kate Millett explains the meaning of sexism (here the
> > individual expert and the word are combined on different aspects of the
> > symbolic register). A group of women form a "consciousness raising group"
> > which receives publicity (Kate may be a member, but not necessarily, but
> > ideally the members of the group become about to replicate the explanation
> > of their action in terms of "sexism").
> > Finally, millions of women across the world form "consciousness raising
> > groups" to talk about sexism, and prove that they are experiencing it
> > themselves. etc., etc.
> > The importance of this approach for me is (1) we get away from "signs" in
> > the normal sense of the word, and making trivial (if humorous)
> observations,
> > (2) we get to talk about people, and (3) this clarifies how a new subject
> > (or social movement) gets on the road without the normal paraphenalia of
> > branches, party structures, leaders, etc.
> > What do you think?
> > Andy
> > At 12:30 PM 9/01/2005 -0800, you wrote:
> > > While the utterance meaning of "Yes" and "Yeah Yeah" might have been (at
> > > least near) synonyms; the speaker, Morgenbesser, exploits
> connotations (of
> > > the informal/slang), discourse role conventions, and expressive
> intonation
> > > (at least) to mean the antonym of 'yes'. Austin was working on sentence
> > > meaning (and that itself is more than combinatrics of the lexicon) in
> > > language as a cultural tool that can yield utterances when speakers
> use it.

Hegel Summer School: 18th February 2005 -

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