published on December 15, 2015
André De Tienne
Why Semiotics? A Question Requiring a Fundamental Answer for Peirces Sake
This address begins with a few historical considerations regarding the foundation of the Semiotic Society of America and how the founders came to define the purpose of the Society as that of advancing the study of signs. The question of what it means to ask “Why semiotics?” is then taken up, introduced, and framed within a strictly Peircean framework. How would Peirce have answered it, he the paramount logician of signs? Taking inspiration from his 1902 essay “Why Study Logic?”, of Peirce’s answer to that seminal question I extend important elements to semiotics understood as logic in a much broader sense than Peirce’s 1902 conception of logic. Then I make it clear that Peirce’s approach to our main question would have been as demanding and rigorous as the spirit in which he expected semiotics to be studied: in a genuine scientific spirit of fundamental inquiry. I expand about Peirce’s conception of fundamentality, and then show how it entails properties that are common to a particular class of fundamental concepts Peirce called “continuous predicates”. Taking advantage of a recent publication by Francesco Bellucci on the subject, I illustrate what makes continuous predicates so special, and how it is that Peirce’s general definition of a sign relation conforms exactly to the inherent form of continuous predicates. This has a direct consequence on the definition of semiotics itself, and thus on the expression of its most fundamental purpose, which is then spelled out. The address concludes with considerations about what it would take to accomplish such a fundamental purpose.