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The least-known but most promising branch of philosophy ending in -ics
A typical device in film is to have a character narrating what is going on (sometimes by voice-over), but this narration is not always a reliable guide to the events. According to Maier, distortions may be caused by the narrator’s intent, naivety, use of drugs, and/or cognitive disorder/illness. What is common to these various causes, he argues, is the presence of a point of view, which appears in a movie as shots. While this perspective-based account of unreliability covers most cases, I unpack its methodological consequences and gesture at a possibility that Maier’s analysis overlooks. A narration, I suggest, can be unreliable simply because it is ill-timed with the events shown on screen. In such a case, the distortion is not due to any character’s point of view; rather, it comes from the film medium’s ability to divorce what is seen and what is heard. As a consequence of this mismatch, it is possible to have a reliable narrator but an unreliable narration. Since voice and context of utterance usually match in ordinary speech, I conclude that philosophy of language may be ill-suited to properly understand this particular phenomenon.
The pandemic’s seclusion has resulted in a lot of us spending more time with our immediate families. It has also brought increased opportunities to waste away one’s hours browsing a Smartphone. Our cognitive resources are limited, so such devices designed to capture our attention necessarily divert us from other—potentially more rewarding—concerns. It would be nice, then, to have in one’s philosophical toolbox a discipline that halts those ordinary reflexes. I want to use Husserl and Peirce's phenomenology to accomplish just that.
Metaphysics is like semiotics: you either do it well or do it badly, but avoiding commitments in that domain is not an option. However, when we engage explicitly in metaphysical reflection, we realize that semiosis enjoys a double standing. On the one hand, the action of signs must be relied on to even raise the question of what is real and what is not. Yet, even if one is willing to accept that the conveyance of meaning currently under way (as you read these words) is as real as the ink and/or photons which support it, signs – as relations – are not mentioned in the official vocabulary of science. I explore three basic ways to respond to this exclusion: 1. One can bite the bullet and accept that semiosis is not real in the mind-independent sense. 2. One can retain the view that to be real is to be mind-independent yet show that semiosis is indeed mind-independent, thereby securing its status as real. 3. One can reject the view that to be real is to be mind-independent. Far from being a matter of personal preference, each stance has distinctive work to do in order to be justified: 1ʹ. Since the action of signs must be relied on in order to adjudicate debates about what is real and what is not, one must show how denying the reality of semiosis is not self-defeating. 2ʹ. One must show how, exactly, semiosis is mind-independent. 3ʹ. One must show how the mind-independent construal of reality can be rejected without lapsing into an implausible view of reality as wholly fabricated. I look at each of these argumentative trajectories in turn and conclude that 1ʹ cannot be shown whereas 2ʹ and 3ʹ could, with some work, be rendered tenable.
Since Peirce defined the first operators for three-valued logic, it is usually assumed that he rejected the principle of bivalence. However, I argue that, because bivalence is a principle, the strategy used by Peirce to defend logical principles can be used to defend bivalence. Construing logic as the study of substitutions of equivalent representations, Peirce showed that some patterns of substitution get realized in the very act of questioning them. While I recognize that we can devise non-classical notations, I argue that, when we make claims about those notations, we inevitably get saddled with bivalent commitments. I present several simple inferences to show this. The argument that results from those examples is ‘pragmatic’, because the inevitability of the principle is revealed in use (not mention); and it is ‘semiotic’, because this revelation happens in the use of signs.
In Natural propositions (2014), Stjernfelt contends that the interpretation of a proposition or dicisign requires the joint action of two kinds of signs. A proposition must contain a sign that conveys a general quality. This function can be served by a similarity-based icon or code-based symbol. In addition, a proposition must situate or apply this general quality, so that the predication can become liable of being true or false. This function is served by an index. Stjernfelt rightly considers the co-localization of these two parts to be a primitive phenomenon. Although this primitive character would seem to bar any further analysis, I endeavor to clarify the degree of proximity sufficient to enable co-localization. Siding with Pietarinen (2014), who argues that the whole issue should not be construed in metric terms, I conclude that one cannot make sense of propositional co-localization without appealing to some form of first-person perspective.
Semiotics, the least-known branch of philosophy ending in -ics, can advance current debates about consciousness. Many philosophers of mind have urged us to distinguish between what an experience does and what an experience feels like. This distinction seems sensible enough, but it renders scientific inquiry insufficient, insofar as experimental methods can only track an experience's detectable effects. However, Charles Sanders Peirce, the polymath who coined the term "qualia," saw no tension in this function/quality distinction. Peirce was the founder of American pragmatism and a professional scientist, so he clearly valued tangible verification. Still, his philosophical system countenanced intrinsic qualities under the heading of "Firstness." Since qualia are usually considered to be at odds with pragmatic verification , I set out to understand how Peirce could (or thought he could) have it both ways. The key, I suggest, is to see how we can sometimes insert distinctions between features that are always bound together. Such "prescissive" distinctions are essential to understanding how signs work. So, while semiotics is currently the least known branch of philosophy ending in-ics, a better understanding of that branch can remedy much of the current puzzlement about qualia.
In Basics of Semiotics (1990), John Deely allotted considerable ontological space for “physiosemiosis,” that is, sign-action purportedly occurring at the level of purely material interactions. However, despite enjoying some limited argumentative underpinnings, commitment to such abiotic semiosis continues to trade principally on intuitions - even its detractors frequently rest their case on nothing more than derision. Obviously, it would be nice if, without prejudging its ultimate outcome, the debate could move past this stage. With that in mind, I should like to identify a pitfall that attends less careful inquiries into “physiosemiosis.” Specifically, I think it needs to be stressed that, in order to truly establish the presence of sign-action in the non-living world, all the components of a triadic sign - including the interpretant - would have to be abiotic (that is, not dependent on a living organism). Failure to heed this necessary condition can lead one to hastily confuse a natural sign (like smoke coming from fire) for an instance of abiotic semiosis. Since, as I will show, this mistake has already surfaced in print (Newsome, “Chemiosemiotics,” 2009), a more rigorous and reserved approach to the topic is called for.
Some have suggested that images can be arguments. Images can certainly bolster the acceptability of individual premises. We worry, though, that the static nature of images prevents them from ever playing a genuinely argumentative role. To show this, we call attention to a dilemma. The conclusion of a visual argument will either be explicit or implicit. If a visual argument includes its (explicit) conclusion, then that conclusion must be demarcated from the premise(s) or otherwise the argument will beg the question. If a visual argument does not include its (implicit) conclusion, then the premises on display must license that specific conclusion and not its opposite, in accordance with some demonstrable rationale. We show how major examples from the literature fail to escape this dilemma. Drawing inspiration from the graphical logic of C. S. Peirce, we suggest instead that images can be manipulated (erased, dragged, copied, etc.) in a way that overcomes the dilemma. Diagrammatic reasoning can take one stepwise from an initial visual layout to a conclusion—thereby providing a principled rationale that bars opposite conclusions—and the visual inscription of this correct conclusion can come afterward in time—thereby distinguishing the conclusion from the premises. Even though this practical application of Peirce’s logical ideas to informal contexts requires that one make adjustments, we believe it points to a dynamic conception of visual argumentation that will prove more fertile in the long run.
Si on veut promouvoir un rapprochement entres les traditions dites "analytiques" et "continentales", il faut articuler des études ciblées. La philosophie du langage semble un bon point d"attelage. Or, si l"enquête philosophique à grande échelle sur le langage a beaucoup approfondie notre connaissance de cet aspect essentiel du fait humain, elle a aussi suscitée des arguments qui demeurent parfois difficile à éclaircir. Deux cas représentent des pôles exemplaires de ce double bilan. D"une part, on doit à Ferdinand de Saussure la mise en relief de la nature foncièrement arbitraire du signe linguistique. D"autre part, Saul Kripke a fait ressortir la portée indiciaire des noms. La laxité du signe arbitraire semble aller de soi, alors que la rigidité du signe indiciaire froisse aisément les intuitions. Or, nous chercherons à démontrer que ce souque à la corde est illusoire, dans la mesure où tout signe permet deux sortes de permutations : le sémiologue Suisse aurait gardé le signifié fixe et porté l"attention sur d"autres signifiants possibles, alors que le sémanticien Américain a gardé le signifiant fixe et attiré le regard sur d"autre signifiés possibles. Notre objectif sera donc de monter en quoi il y a une réciprocité, telle que si le premier type de permutation modale est admissible, le second type de permutation doit être admis au même chef.
The recent wave of data on exoplanets lends support to METI ventures (Messaging to Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence), insofar as the more exoplanets we find, the more likely it is that “exominds” await our messages. Yet, despite these astronomical advances, there are presently no well-confirmed tests against which to check the design of interstellar messages. In the meantime, the best we can do is distance ourselves from terracentric assumptions. There is no reason, for example, to assume that all inferential abilities are language-like. With that in mind, I argue that logical reasoning does not have to be couched in symbolic notation. In diagrammatic reasoning, inferences are underwritten, not by rules, but by transformations of self-same qualitative signs. I use the Existential Graphs of C. S. Peirce to show this. Since diagrams are less dependent on convention and might even be generalized to cover non-visual senses, I argue that METI researchers should add some form of diagrammatic representations to their repertoire. Doing so can shed light, not just on alien minds, but on the deepest structures of reasoning itself.
It was C. S. Peirce who introduced the term “icon” to characterize those sign-vehicles that signify their objects in virtue of some shared quality. This qualitative kinship, however, threatens to collapse the relata of an iconic sign into one and the same thing. Accordingly, the late-medieval philosopher of signs John Poinsot held that, “no matter how perfect, a concept [...] always retains a distinction, therefore, between the thing signified and itself signifying.” Poinsot is touted by his present-day advocates as a realist, but I believe his requirement of minimal dissimilarity backfires. Poinsot thinks that, in analyzing the sign, we should stop at two things, before a merger between sign-vehicle and object is reached; whereas Peirce thinks that we should push our analysis all the way down to one, where there is a merger. Because such a qualitative merger can lend support to realism, I favour Peirce’s stance.
The last time I addressed this Metaphysical Club, it was to sketch my programmatic aspiration of introducing Peircean iconicity into mainstream debates. Now, exactly five months later, I want to pause and share with you one result of my ongoing inquiries. Specifically, I want to voice an intellectual response to a series of lectures that Robert Brandom gave at the Helsinki Collegium for Advanced Studies in early October. The results I will share with you add one more dot to the trajectory I originally plotted: I think that Brandom's account of knowledge and meaning is hampered by its lack of an iconic dimension. Once again, I want to try and rectify this.
In his book, Consciousness and the Philosophy of Signs, Marc Champagne argues that current philosophical puzzlement about the qualitative dimension of consciousness stems, historically and logically, from a failure to properly handle the fine-grained distinctions found in the semiotic theory of the American polymath, Charles Sanders Peirce. The aim of this symposium is to reflect on what that might mean for the other body of ideas Peirce is known for, pragmatism. Most philosophers are familiar with the term-of-art “qualia,” but few know that it originally came from Peirce (Livingston 2004). The conjunction of Consciousness and the Philosophy of Signs is thus a natural one. In an essay titled “What is a Sign?,” Peirce tells the reader that “[i]t is necessary to recognize three different states of mind” (EP2, 4). The first state of mind Peirce invites us to consider is that of a red feeling, and nothing else. The reader who, saddled with an unexamined folk semiotic theory, came in expecting a discussion of traffic signals, will likely wonder at this point whether Peirce has veered off topic. He has not. Peirce’s goal is to evince the conditions for the possibility of sign-action. He wants to make a point: with a quality like red and just red, there can be no flow of consciousness. If one finds such a flow, the impetus must have come from a source different from the quality itself. Implicitly, Peirce is making an additional point, just as important, which is that we can follow through with his invitation to consider a quality like red in complete isolation from anything else. Logically, as well as psychologically, it can be done. Peirce makes sure to emphasize that “nobody is really in a state of feeling, pure and simple” as he just described it. Yet, he observes that “whenever we are awake, something is present to the mind, and what is present, without reference to any compulsion or reason, is feeling” (ibid.). Hence, on this reading, Peirce is not a “verificationist” who denies the experience of qualia. Much the opposite, he begins by telling us that qualia are the most fundamental constituents of any mind. Champagne’s claim, in essence, is that Peircean semiotics is exactly the sort of “fundamental theory” David Chalmers has been searching for since his 1996 The Conscious Mind. The question posed by this symposium is: can one agree with this semiotic account of consciousness and still identify as a “pragmatist?” One might argue that, because Chalmers (1996) asks us to imagine “zombies” who display no practical difference from regular humans, that idea violates the founding intent of Peirce’s pragmatic maxim. Still, before Chalmers can delete qualia from such experience-free zombies, he has to focus on a very narrow construal that deletes all relations from a given quality. This construal of a lone quality bears a striking resemblance to what Peirce wrote about “Firstness.” Participants to this symposium are thus invited to reflect on whether the commitments of pragmatism require a complete dismissal of conscious experience.
Handwritten notes of a brief tutorial on the method of Existential Graphs (Alpha system). Delivered before the members of the Trent University Critical Thinking Group on January 18, 2017.
This paper suggests that it is largely a want of notional distinctions which fosters the “explanatory gap” that has beset the study of consciousness since T. Nagel’s revival of the topic. Modifying Ned Block’s controversial claim that we should countenance a “phenomenal-consciousness” which exists in its own right, we argue that there is a way to recuperate the intuitions he appeals to without engaging in an onerous reification of the facet in question. By renewing with the full type/token/tone trichotomy developed by C. S. Peirce, we think the distinctness Block (rightly) calls attention to can be seen as stemming not from any separate module lurking within the mind, but rather from our ability to prescind qualities from occurrences.
Prompted by the thesis that an organism's umwelt possesses not just a descriptive dimension, but a normative one as well, some have sought to annex semiotics with ethics. Yet the pronouncements made in this vein have consisted mainly in rehearsing accepted moral intuitions, and have failed to concretely fur-ther our knowledge of why or how a creature comes to order objects in its environ-ment in accordance with axiological charges of value or disvalue. For want of a more explicit account, theorists writing on the topic have relied almost exclusively on semiotic insights about perception originally designed as part of a sophisti-cated refutation of idealism. The end result, which has been a form of direct given-ness, has thus been far from convincing. In an effort to bring substance to the right-headed suggestion that values are rooted in the biological and conform to species-specific requirements, we present a novel conception that strives to make explicit the elemental structure underlying umwelt normativity. Building and expanding on the seminal work of Ayn Rand in metaethics, we describe values as an intertwined lattice which takes a creature's own embodied life as its ultimate standard; and endeavour to show how, from this, all subsequent valuations can in principle be determined.
Building on the notational principles of C. S. Peirce’s graphical logic, Pietarinen has tried to develop a propositional logic unfolding in the medium of sound. Apart from its intrinsic interest, this project serves as a concrete test of logic’s range. However, I argue that Pietarinen’s inaugural proposal, while promising, has an important shortcoming, since it cannot portray double-negation without thereby portraying a contradiction.