[xmca] signs and scientific activity

From: Wolff-Michael Roth (mroth@uvic.ca)
Date: Wed Oct 18 2006 - 05:33:49 PDT

Hi all,

Tony Whitson had asked me to make this paper available, which will
appear some time next year in the special issue of SEMIOTICA edited
by Don Cunningham. Michael Hoffmann is a philosopher who did his PhD
in philosophy on Plato but then specialized on Peirce.

I paste the abstract and the link below.




The complementarity of a representational and an epistemological
function of signs in scientific activity
This contribution essentially is about the role of signs and sign
systems in the construction
of knowledge and understanding by social scientists (e.g.,
educational researchers,
psychologists) interpreting educational data and the constraints of
between the knowledge these scientists bring to the interpretation
and the
knowledge displayed in the data on the interpretative results. Signs
do not only “represent”
something for somebody, as Peirce’s definition goes, but they also
relations between us and our world, including ourselves, as has been
elaborated by
Vygotsky. By using signs we (a) make distinctions, (b) specify
objects and relations
we refer to in thinking and communication, (c) structure our
observations and experiences,
and (d) organize societal and cognitive activity. Based on the demand
that a
“semiotically inspired theory of teaching and learning” should
conceptualize the relation
between the semiotic approaches of Peirce and Vygotsky by the notion of
“complementarity” (Seeger 2005), this paper attempts to achieve this
goal in two
steps. First, we show that the same model can describe the
representational and the
epistemological function of signs—by interpreting it in two different
ways. This model
emphasizes that both functions of signs can only be fulfilled if we
presuppose what
Peirce called “collateral knowledge,” that is, a network of
different, mediating
knowledge forms. The central problem becoming visible in this way is
that the interpretation
of signs as well as the knowledge generating organization of our
world by
means of signs can be radically different depending on different
collateral knowledge.
This problem is the starting point for our second step. By reflecting
on examples
of our own scientific activity we will show (a) that this problem
causes the very
dynamics of scientific activity, and (b) that this dynamics can best
be described by a
dialectical process resulting from the complementary of the two sign
Keywords: epistemology; activity theory; collateral knowledge;
dialectic; Peirce; Vygotsky

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