Or not.The picture is a rendition of the Ogden semiotic triangle, which I thought related to some of our theoretical arguments about semantics. I was especially curious about whether the post-structuralists would agree or diagree with the pictured analysis of meaning. Is the sign/signified relation the symbol-concept connection, the concept-referent connection, or the symbol-referent connection, or some combination of them?
i don't think a post-structuralist would buy the uni-directionality of the lines on this drawing, in particular. i don't see how there's such a clear distinction between referent and symbol. i mean (to use the terminology of this drawing), doesn't a referent 'activate' a concept? doesn't a concept relate to a symbol? also, i'm not crazy about the fact that the 'referent' is sort of the endpoint of all the arrows. don't worry, i'm not going to claim there's no referrentiality; i just don't think symbols and concepts have to be activated by or point to referents.also, i think a good post-structuralist would argue that a concept and a referent are always somewhat symbolic. we don't have access to them outside of representation.thanks for posting this! it's colorful and interesting. is it related to pierce's semiotic system? i know his was also triangular.
Unfortunately, I don't know jack about Peirce's semiotics. Every time I try to look them up on-line my head explodes and I wake up a few minutes later. L( However, I think this was related to Peirce, somehow.I don't understand a lot of your critique though. Distinguishing between a symbol and its referent is distinguishing between the word "tank" and tanks. They are different things, right? Tanks are being ridden around Iraq by the U.S. military, "tank" is not, unless the Pentagon isn't telling us some very interesting secrets. How does the post-structuralist argue for these two things to be identical, or the line between them to be blurry?If the concept and referent are also symbolic, what do they symbolize? What is the referent of the referent?
well, suppose i've never seen an army tank. but i use the word, and i'd think anyone would say that i 'know what a tank is.' let's say you play devil's advocate and say: 'but you've seen them in movies, and on the news, and you've heard a lot about them. you wrote a report about them in 4th grade.' now suppose all the tanks i've seen in movies aren't real, or aren't authentic. they're cardboard, or they're modern tanks painted to look old or whatever. in what sense, then, are they not symbolic?suppose further that tanks don't really exist. they exist in stories, movies, photographs, but not in real life. (this is true of lots of things--the USS Enterprise, for instance.)you might argue 'well, we're supposing a lot to get to this point.' but a post-structuralist would say that these possibilities are part of the structure of language or of a sign. any sign can function in the absence of a referent, or in the case that any particular hearer has no 'concept' to go with the sign. to compound the difficulty of making a diagram like this, our access to referents comes from sensory information or from language or other descriptions. all these paths are mediated. our access to an object is mediated by our bodies and brains and pre-conceived mental categories and cultural constructs and on and on and on. in that sense, a referent isn't purely separated from a symbol. and as i've argued before, our access to 'concepts' is mediated in the same ways, and is only communicable to each other in language or other representations, which are all 'signs' themselves.also, the whole thing just strikes me as fairly fuzzy. what does it mean that a concept 'relates to' a referent? i've seen a lot of these kinds of diagrams, and i feel like their abstractness and vagueness makes them pretty unuseful empirically.
Re: tanksThere's a lot here. Most of it makes sense, but I want to go step by step.suppose i've never seen an army tank. but i use the word, and i'd think anyone would say that i 'know what a tank is.'Yes. However, I'm not sure it would be correct to say this in the Fake Tank World you describe later. We all might have thought we knew what tanks were, but when we discover that it's really just a government scam, then we might think we had been wrong about what tanks are after all.post-structuralist would say that these possibilities are part of the structure of language or of a sign. any sign can function in the absence of a referentThis makes a lot of sense to me. To be honest, reference has always struck me as a little fishy for just this sort of reason. I think the post-structuralists really have some insight here. Do they say anything else constructive about the structure of language and the sign? Like, is there any positive claim like "The structure of the sign is like this..." which could replace the Ogden triangle? or in the case that any particular hearer has no 'concept' to go with the sign.This I think I reject, depending on what you mean. I don't see how a sign could be a sign without it 'activating' somebody's concept. For those whom a sign has no conceptual relevance, that sign is dead. It's not a sign at all.Actually, we probably ought to be more specific. Or at least I should. When I said "sign" above, I think I meant "symbol." My understanding is that "sign" is a more comprehensive term--I've sometimes seen it as sort of a circle drawn around symbol and concept. Does that sound right?---I disagree with your second section (beginning "to compound the difficulty...") a lot. I think you may be mixing up a bunch of different issues:1. "our access to referents comes from sensory information or from language or other descriptions. all these paths are mediated. our access to an object is mediated by our bodies and brains and pre-conceived mental categories and cultural constructs and on and on and on."I generally agree, although there is an old but still kickin' debate in metaphysics on this topic. Those that would call themselves "transcendental idealists"--like Kant--might disagree with you here. He would say (I think--I've never really read him...) that objects, as they are relevant to us, are phenomenal--they are directly accessed by our perception. Some (perhaps many) are illusory or unreal, but in principle the objects we should care about are those that appear to us, as they appear to us. Distinguishing what is real and what is unreal is a matter of distinguishing between these appearences, not "getting behind" them.I can't believe I'm defending Kant. I'm normally playing devil's advocate on the other side.Where was I? Oh.2. "in that sense, a referent isn't purely separated from a symbol."This confused me a lot. I don't see how our interactions with objects being mediated by our bodies, concepts, etc. means that there isn't a useful (pure? what do you mean?) separation between symbol and referent (in the cases where a referent exists). There are tanks on the border of Lebanon, there is the word for "tank" in several different languages, there are iconic images of tanks--these are different things. Why do we have any reason to suspect otherwise? It may be true that some of them don't exist (tanks in Lebanon, for exanple), but the can't be the word "tank" because the word "tank" can't demolish Hezbollah military stations.3. "and as i've argued before, our access to 'concepts' is mediated in the same ways, and is only communicable to each other in language or other representations, which are all 'signs' themselves."Polluted access to concepts, if it exists, or limits on our ability to communicate them without use of symbols doesn't make them any less real or different from symbols. It just makes communication more difficult.But there's something that this paragraph turned up which I find interesting. You spoke of "access to concepts"--as if we need a kind of introspective view of them if they are to matter to us. But that assumes a kind of Cartesian theatre of the mind, which I don't think is a good thing to assume. A lot of empirical research has gone to show that there is a lot going on in our heads--a lot of important mental stuff--which isn't stuff we "access" in the way we access, say, a memory (when we "relive" the memory). Rather, according to a lot of philosophies of mind, our mental states are just things that are part of us. Views differ, but my personal favorite is functionalism (very different from functionalists in the social sciences, btw), according to which a mental state, like a concept, is identified by its causal role in the world--how it affects my behavior and interacts with my other mental states. That means that to have a concept, I don't need to "access" it--I don't need a picture of it in my mind. (Criticism of this goes back to Wittgenstein, in PI--he noted that if our meanings depend on mental pictures of things, then we get an infinite regress of pictures with nothing else to them. That's partly why he started his whole "meaning is use" thing. In my opinion, it was overly dependent on language, but there's a modern version of it, conceptual role semantics, which I'm investigating now and am excited by that puts more emphasis on mental states as seen in a functionalist framework. Long parenthetical! Oh my!)Rather than a picture, I need a mental state, which is a part of me. To some extent I am my concepts.Maybe this gets to the heart of a difference between you and I. You've said repeatedly that you don't think there's truth outside of representation. I'm turning to the position that it's action, not representation, which is primary. Truth is, literally, a way of being. I'm going to outer space, I know.
This I think I reject, depending on what you mean. I don't see how a sign could be a sign without it 'activating' somebody's concept. For those whom a sign has no conceptual relevance, that sign is dead. It's not a sign at all.This I think I reject, or depending upon your intended meaning uphold. A sign is never dead. An irrelevant sign (one not capable of activating its intended concepts, say?) forms the 'concept' of the indecipherable. I've not a fit of knowledge regarding the 'meaning' of the ideographic languages of japan, china and elsewhere. However, they still function as signs to me but just as a marker of unknowledge, the form of language or my own incurable foreignness.Regarding your 3rd point, Mr. Seb, I think you've misinterpreted Cristi's point (or perhaps I will here). When Cristi says "access to concepts", I believe she means our ability to discuss them. Without a system of communication how can a concept of "concepts" exist? This, I fear, brings us perilously close to the mango debate.Indirectly, this whole debate acts as evidence of her point. The debate over reference hinges upon the intended meanings/references of the words being used to discuss reference. It's why words like 'concept' and 'activate' and 'access' appear so often here and elsewhere in quotations and italics. There is instability to the entire discussion. Polluted is the wrong word, impossible is the right one.
scott's comment raises another interesting point. the blurring of the symbol/object distinction goes both ways, because a symbol is also an object with a physical existence. a japanese character doesn't mean its 'intended' meaning to me, but it can still be used (displayed as an object) to represent indecipherability or foreign-ness, as scott points out. but we'd be hard pressed to say it 'means' those things or 'activates them' as the semiotic triangles would probably try to say.
Scott:We're speaking past each other, I think. I said:"I don't see how a sign could be a sign without it 'activating' somebody's concept. For those whom a sign has no conceptual relevance, that sign is dead."You said "A sign is never dead. An irrelevant sign (one not capable of activating its intended concepts, say?) forms the 'concept' of the indecipherable. I've not a fit of knowledge regarding the 'meaning' of the ideographic languages of japan, china and elsewhere...."By your very description, the thing you describe (the Japanese ideograph) is activating a concept for you. Hence, it doesn't meet my description of dead sign, which is something which doesn't activate a concept at all. If you say that the Japanese ideograph is a sign to you of your own incurable foreignness, I'm not going to tell you otherwise.However, I think that, intuitively, that there is something about the kind of "concept activation" that is characteristic of a symbolic relationship such that not any concept activation counts. Sorry--that was roundabout. This is really what I want to say: If somebody starts speaking to me in Japanese, I think it would be fair to say (of my experience) that I would be confused, without going so far as to say that the Japanese words being spoken to me were a symbol for confusion. If I misunderstood Cristi on the "access" point, I apologize. Of course communicating concepts requires language.However, I still believe pretty passionately that concepts can exist without a system of communication. You can't get this point past me by asserting it again. I WILL throw a mango at you.I don't understand your last point. Yes, of course our debate is going to require language, communication, etc., and we are going to have intend meanings and referents and all the rest. But how does that refute anything I'm saying or support Cristi? I'm no more denying that language exists than she is denying reference exists.I think the best explanation for the varied use of quotations and italics is because we haven't agreed on a notation. Also, sometimes I use italics for emphasis. But while that may confuse the discussion--the actual exchange of words--that doesn't mean that either my or Cristi's thoughts (emphatic italics!) are unclear or hopelessly unstable. I'm pretty sure my thinking has been consistent the entire time. If I had my druthers, I would agree on a completely unambiguous, formal notation with you. Maybe that should be an endeavor for a future post?Cristi:I don't see how the symbol's being a physical object blurs the symbol/object distinction. While it may be that the same physical thing (say, the Japanese character equivalent to "dog" written somewhere) is both the referent of the symbol "the Japanese character equivalent to "dog" written somewhere" and the symbol (to the literate Japanese) whose referent is a dog, that doesn't mean that either of those relationships is unclear.That may not have been what you're getting at though.As I was replying to Scott above, I agree that the Japanese character's meaning of indecipherability is a different kind of animal than conventional linguistic meaning. For one thing, it doesn't really have a referent. Stop signs are another good example: are stop signs signs? They don't have referents. They seem to instead communicate an imperative, generally? I dunno.So the Ogden triangle is an incomplete account of meaning. But at the very least it's an account of meaning--maybe an account some meanings, only. But what is the account of meaning offered by the post-structuralists?
i do not believe "there is something about the kind of "concept activation" that is characteristic of a symbolic relationship such that not any concept activation counts."i don't think you and scott are talking past each other. you said that if a sign doesn't activate a concept, it's dead. he said that if a thing doesn't activate a concept, it's not a sign at all (dead or otherwise). it's nothing. it's a lack of existence, it's air in front of your face that you see through. anything you can instantiate is always already a sign. also, post-structuralists don't really have a competing theory. as far as i know, linguistics is still done by structuralists. post-structuralism isn't a philosophy. it's a way of reading. (see my next post!)got to run, sorry to be so scatter-shot
i do not believe "there is something about the kind of "concept activation" that is characteristic of a symbolic relationship such that not any concept activation counts."Really? Suppose there is some mad scientist hiding in the room with a mind-control gun that messes with my brain with magnetic waves that make me uncontrollably fixate on...mangos.I can't see the gun, or the magnetic waves. Yet my concept of mangoes is activated.Is the gun, or the magnetic waves, or the mad scientist, a symbol? Is does the gun refer to mangos?you said that if a sign doesn't activate a concept, it's dead. he said that if a thing doesn't activate a concept, it's not a sign at all (dead or otherwise).If that's what he meant, I don't disagree. As I said, "I don't see how a sign could be a sign without it 'activating' somebody's concept." So yes, a sign that does not activate a concept is not a sign--in order to be a sign it needs to be able to activate a concept. Sorry if my use of "dead" was confusing.it's nothing. it's a lack of existence, it's air in front of your face that you see through. This I don't understand. Air in front of my face that I see through is not a lack of existence. I breathe it all the time. anything you can instantiate is always already a sign. What do you mean by 'instantiate' here?
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Lets discard the apostrophe. Its pointless.