sign mediation and artifact mediation

From: Jay Lemke (
Date: Fri Dec 17 2004 - 19:33:55 PST

It's been too long since I've found the time to read and write on xmca.
I've not caught up, this time, but just come in at the present moment of
the discussion, as it happens to be on a topic of long interest to me.

While I doubt that many people "understand" Peirce the way(s) he understood
himself, which do seem to have changed over his lifetime (thank God!), I
have always found more profoundly novel and interesting ideas in his work
than I have in Dewey or James or the American pragmatists who claimed debt
to him. Perhaps that is because he tried to think about _everything_ in his
way, and wrote so much of it down! Somewhere in there is bound to be gold
(though I realize this argument does not apply to many others!).

1st, 2nd, 3rd -nesses are the most abstract formulation of his basic ideas
about logic, which he used to tease apart the ideas of his day. It is his
dialectic, if you will, a way of getting beyond dualisms, and particularly
the dualism of (representation/reality), which can be read also as
(signifier/signified), or if you like (mind/body), (ideal/real). I
sometimes think he got carried away with triads, but because he is
basically a logician by method, he follows the triune logic often to its
ptolemaic conclusion.

But fortunately, he does not really believe in conclusions, and is not just
another structuralist-idealist. His great admiration is for the method of
natural science, and he is pretty much a materialist, and definitely a
dynamicist or processualist. Semiosis is a process, not a relationship. It
never stops. And some of the ideas of his sent recently to the list reflect
this dynamical view, e.g. that consciousness happens across time, a kind of
generative dialogue among my momentary selves. And so anticipates a lot of
Phenomenology. He _does_ discuss "development", but under the name of
"evolution" and in a special case "habit taking" (becoming more specified
with time, as from plenipotent to specialized cells, etc.). He always seems
to feel caught between the static-structuralist patterns generated by his
three-fold Logick and his insight that it's all really about Process. It's
exactly what Marx, and probably Hegel (who understands Hegel?), were trying
to do with dialectic: to get from the certainty of logic to the contingency
of history. From relation to process, from pattern to change.

Peircean semiotics is, I think, a good partner for CHAT. Used selectively
and critically, and creatively.

I especially like the suggestion that a Peircean take on mediation might be
useful for thinking about artifact mediation in CHAT. The application of
the Peircean 1-2-3 is recursive (unfortunately for beginners). The
Wartofsky application is first-order: primary, secondary, tertiary
artifacts. But we could take just primary artifacts in this sense, real
material tools that mediate, and apply the old 1-2-3 again. So, tools
mediate in one sense or mode by creating a similarity of characteristics
(Firstness, iconicity): the hand bends to the shape of the tool in using
it, the tool fits some objects better than others by its shape, the
mediation in a sense allows us to transform the shape of the subject to
mediatedly-fit the shape of the object ... and in many more ways than
literal "shape". I think it is a very interesting proposition to think
about how subjects come to be more like the objects we pursue, and how
tools help us do so.

Secondness, in its simplest version, is rather like material causation
(efficient cause ala Aristotle, and yes one could say that formal cause is
like 1st-ness and final cause maybe more like 3rd-ness; play the game if
you enjoy it!) ... the sense in which tools mediate between subject and
object by creating the possibility of a material-causal chain across them
(and not just in one direction, either). I think this is our usual sense
about tool mediation.

Thirdness is the most protean of the logical categories, corresponding in a
way to Synthesis in the dialectic. It is also the point where the inner
contradiction of logic and process is most acute. Thirds are not just
relational in the pattern sense, they are dynamic and meta-level, while
still entirely material (though CSP may lose sight of this sometimes --
don't we all?). I think we would say today in the language of complex
systems theory that 3rds are _emergent_, and so tool mediation means here
the sense in which subject-tool-object forms a dynamic whole, a new
emergent unity, the sense in which a tool allows subject and object to
become two parts or aspects or "moments" in a higher-order material system.
Indeed this is a possible reading of LSV's original triangle. But this
emergent new whole is not just a physical fusion (already implied by
mediation-as-secondness), but a system with emergent properties and new
meanings, new affordances, new possibilities for action. Thirds are always
more than halfway towards semiosis, they always have a component of meaning
(or ideality), at least tacit or implied. The relation between the
components and the emergent Third can only be apprehended through semiosis,
though at this point we reach the standoff between epistemology and
ontology. And that's where I get off.

So, I think even this little fantasia on a theme of CSP suggests that his
approach could be a useful heuristic for developing notions of artifact
mediation a few steps further.



Jay Lemke
University of Michigan
School of Education
610 East University
Ann Arbor, MI 48109

Tel. 734-763-9276

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