The Routledge Companion to Semiotics

By Paul Cobley | Go to book overview

6
PEIRCE, PHENOMENOLOGY AND SEMIOTICS

NATHAN HOUSER

Semiotics (or semeiotics) is a field of research that began in earnest with the innovative thought of Charles Sanders Peirce but that only began to be explored within mainstream disciplines in the late 1930s (for the history of sign theory and precursors to Peirce’s semiotics see Deely 2001a). At the opening of the twentieth century, Josiah Royce at Harvard, and a few philosophers in Europe, gave some attention to Peirce’s theory of signs, but it was in the 1930s and 40s that the Unity of Science philosophers, largely at the urging of Charles Morris, recognized the importance of the systematic study of signs and of sign relations and, through Morris’s influence on Carnap, incorporated a limited form of Peirce’s tripartite science into philosophy with their famous trilogy: syntactics, semantics and pragmatics. But semiotics, as a complete science, soon became marginalized and largely abandoned by philosophy and it survived by finding refuge in linguistics and in the interdisciplinary research programme founded by Morris’s student, Thomas A. Sebeok. During the last generation, with the weakening of the hegemony of Analytic philosophy, semiotics has shown evidence of returning to philosophy and other established disciplines; this is especially true in Europe and South America. It remains to be seen if semiotics will survive as an interdisciplinary field of research as Sebeok believed it should be, or if it will evolve into a discipline in its own right, as seems to be happening with informatics, or if it will devolve into a variety of discipline-specific programmes.

Charles Peirce was among the most informed logicians of his time, with respect to history as well as theory and technique, and there have been few logicians from any time who have surpassed him. Peirce was convinced that the mission of logic ought to be the study of representation, inference and argument, and that it should make classifications and establish norms within these areas. Logic should not be supposed to be the foundation for mathematics but, on the contrary, a beneficiary of mathematics insofar as it borrows from mathematics its formal structures and relational models. Logic, Peirce claimed, is the science of representation, broadly speaking, a normative science co-extensive with formal semiotics. Technically speaking, the subjects for logical analysis are signs and sign-operations. One of the principal realms of sign activity, or semiosis (semeiosis), is human thought; but semiosis prevails wherever there is life and there is some reason to believe that even the laws of nature are semiotic products. Peirce is well known for his claim that all thought is in signs and that minds should be regarded as systems of signs. Thus logic in Peirce’s broad sense, as

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The Routledge Companion to Semiotics
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • The Routledge Companion to Semiotics i
  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Contributors ix
  • Acknowledgements xvii
  • Using This Book xix
  • Part I- Understanding Semiotics 1
  • Introduction 3
  • 1 - Ancient Semiotics 13
  • 2 - Semiotics of Nature 29
  • 3 - Umwelt and Modelling 43
  • 4 - Logic and Cognition 57
  • 5 - Realism and Epistemology 74
  • 6 - Peirce, Phenomenology and Semiotics 89
  • 7 - The Saussurean Heritage 101
  • 8 - Sociosemiotics 118
  • 9 - Semiotics of Media and Culture 135
  • 10 - Semioethics 150
  • Part II - Key Themes and Major Figures in Semiotics 163
  • References 359
  • Index 389
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