Sign Relations • Discussion 13

Re: Cybernetics • Cliff Joslyn (1) (2) (3)

Dear Cliff,

Backing up a little —

Whether a thing qualifies as a sign is not an ontological question, a matter of what it is in itself, but a pragmatic question, a matter of what role it plays in a particular application.

By extension, whether a triadic relation qualifies as a sign relation is not just a question of its abstract structure but a question of its potential applications, of its fitness for a particular purpose, namely, whether we can imagine it capturing aspects of objective structure immanent in the conduct of logical reasoning.

Because it’s difficult, and not even desirable, to place prior limits on “what we can imagine finding a use for”, there is seldom a good case for trying to reduce pragmatic definitions to ontological definitions.  That’s why I feel bound to leave the boundaries a bit fuzzy.

Just to sum up what I’ve been struggling to say here —

It’s not a bad idea to cast an oversized net at the outset, and the à priori method can take us a way with that, but developing semiotics beyond its first principles and early stages will depend on gathering more significant examples of sign relations and sign transformations approaching the level we actually employ in the practice of communication, computation, inquiry, learning, proof, and reasoning in general.  I think that’s probably the best way to see the real sense and utility of Peirce’s double definition of logic and signs.


  • Charles S. Peirce (1902), “Parts of Carnegie Application” (L 75), in Carolyn Eisele (ed., 1976), The New Elements of Mathematics by Charles S. Peirce, vol. 4, 13–73.  Online.


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This entry was posted in C.S. Peirce, Logic, Mathematics, Peirce, Relation Theory, Semiosis, Semiotics, Sign Relations and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Sign Relations • Discussion 13

  1. Pingback: Survey of Semiotics, Semiosis, Sign Relations • 3 | Inquiry Into Inquiry

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