Uslucan's Peirce

From: Jay Lemke (
Date: Fri Dec 17 2004 - 20:28:26 PST

I did not realize, reading backwards from my most recent xmca mail (if I'd
read forwards from where I left off, I'd still be in October!), that the
Peirce discussion was really around Uslucan's article in MCA. So I wrote my
last posting before I read Uslucan.

I don't envy him the task of summarizing Peirce for the MCA readership in
an article of reasonable length. He certainly does a pretty good job, and I
hope entices more people to read more from Peirce (which is especially
difficult as there is not much between a few edited selection volumes and
the labyrinth of the Collected Works). It's certainly useful to frame CSP
as an anti-psychologist, though perhaps anti-mentalist would be more to the

The similarities drawn to Bakhtin are interesting, I think, as well as
those to LSV. One might even make a case that CSP has basic similarities to
Marx insofar as Peircean "man" is made by his interactions with the
material world, which endows the world, and ourselves, with meaning. In
this sense Marx's notions of labor and use-value are the economic
equivalent of what CSP describes as semiosis and meaning. Both of them
share an admiration for natural science as a way of producing useful truth
by engaging with the world, and for both of them truth is therefore defined
by its use-value, which is essentially social, or at least trans-individual
in nature, and not Platonic.

One might imagine that dialogue is the interpersonal equivalent of labor:
the way we have commerce with our fellow humans, changing them and being
changed by our efforts in turn, just as in the case of labor on the (rest
of the) material world. So thought Bakhtin, and pretty much so also LSV.
CSP of course focuses much more on the "ideal" aspects of these
transactions, but he always closes the cycle (like Bateson) so that chains
of interpretations of signs, meanings begetting meanings, begin and end
with bodily action in the world. Uslucan notes this in terms of habits, and
indeed CSP's notion of habit-taking can be mapped onto Bourdieu's habitus,
albeit with different timescales foregrounded. Social meaning is made
visible and is embodied in modes of action and dispositions for action.
Education, rhetoric, legal proceedings, and much of commerce these days are
examples of labor under the sign of dialogue.

All this makes possible an interesting reversal, first suggested to me by
Michael Halliday: that our ways of interpreting the material world in
signs, particularly language, actually have their origin in our ways of
interacting interpersonally with other humans through signs. Dialogue is
then the prototype for labor in general, rather than merely a special case
of it.

A final point. Uslucan may be a little hard on Peirce over the matter of
feelings and affect. It's true that they don't qualify for CSP as either
bearers of Truth, which must be propositional, or as unmediated inner
percepts (in the argument against the core of mentalism: private inner
knowings). But because they are themselves also sign-mediated, and so in
some respect also social and cultural (as we would say today), they are
part of the domain of semiotics, aspects or kinds of meanings made, and so
part of what it is to be us. CSP did not get as far as a theory of
identity. In his day perhaps it was less an issue for people than it is
today. But weaving feeling into the semiosic process, with its bodily and
social dynamic, still sounds like a good idea to me.


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

Tel. 734-763-9276

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