RE: Signs, signs, everywhere there's signs.

From: Michael Glassman (
Date: Fri Dec 17 2004 - 06:54:14 PST

I read Pierce and I always say to myself, "Who the hell understands Pierce anyway?" I mean in some respects the man wrote not to be understood. I find safer ground in Pragmatism with James, Dewey and Mead (by the way, I wonder about the idea of suggesting "I" and "me" are in some way separate entities and that there is a "dialectical" relationship between the two - it seems very unPragmatic to me) - but it is Pierce who came up with some of the bedrock ideas such as humans actually being a (logical) system of signs, much the same way that other logical systems coalesce (and I am using the Piercian-Deweyan vision of logic where it emerges from logical actions). So I wonder if Pierce is not really talking about signs as "signalling" or as "representation" (as a matter of fact I don't like the idea of representation at all in relation to Pragmatism), but what we do. We use them for rational purposes and they build up meaning as a result of these rational purposes - semiosis (sp?), one thought leading to another - years later Pepper puts this into the concrete in his chapter on contextualism). This is why signs are dynamic I think, because the rational purpose signs have in human activity. This idea I have been thinking lately (and I've said this before I think) reached its apotheosis in KNOWING AND THE KNOWN when Dewey seemed to make the argument (I believe this section was written by Dewey) that we should just forget about about mediation - not because it doesn't exist but because what the hell good does it do us if meaning is rational and dynamic. That is not to say that meaning can't be maintained - it can through habit. But this isn't really a good thing, it is human activity only on the margins of humanity. (There, in honor of Pierce I have been incredibly obtuse).
Just two more comments, one specific and one general:
Specific: I think the Pragmatists avoided discussions of development such as those discussed at the end of the article very much on purpose. They wanted to escape dualism and once you start talking about development you can't help but fall into a dualist trap.
General: As far as the relationship to Activity Theory I think a question that should be asked is how much Vygotsky was influenced by the Pragmatists. Boy, people get really upset when you raise that possibility, bu7t the Pragmatists were really, really important back then and I can't think Vygotsky wasn't exposed to them.


From: Andy Blunden []
Sent: Fri 12/17/2004 4:53 AM
Subject: Re: Signs, signs, everywhere there's signs.

But it seems to me that Peirce is not just talking about "signs" as the tools of "signalling" but, being things that "stand for" something else, as the way in which mind represents (not only communicates) the world. I was not previously aware of Peirce's triad of triads, but the icon/symbol/index triad - the different representations and the nearness or distance between them, are very much talking about how we understand things, not at all just how we communicate ideas about things - though that essentially and necessarily as well. It seems to be an approach to the reason/perception problem in knowledge.


At 12:09 PM 16/12/2004 -0500, you wrote:

        ... But I think I disagree with this: "The idea of a semiotic psychology is to
        look at how signs actually function in intrapersonal and interpersonal
        behavior. "
        Isn't the nature of semiosis, by involving signs that are always cultural,
        fundamentally and only interpersonal, never intrapersonal in the traditional
        sense, no matter how private is the private moment?

Hegel Summer School: 18th February 2005 -

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