Philosophy of Education in the Semiotics of Charles Peirce

A Cosmology of Learning and Loving

by Alin Olteanu (Author)
©2015 Monographs VIII, 282 Pages


This book investigates the philosophy of education implicit in the semiotics of Charles Peirce. It is commonly accepted that the acts of learning and teaching imply affection of some sort, and Charles Peirce’s evolutionary semiotics thoroughly explains learning as an act of love. According to Peirce, we evolved to learn and to love; learning from other people has proved to be one of the best ways to carry out our infinite pursuit of truth, since love is the very characteristic of truth. As such, the teacher and the student practise love in their relation with one another.
Grounded within an edusemiotics framework and also exploring the iconic turn in semiotics and recent developments in biosemiotics, this is the first book-length study of Peirce’s contribution to the philosophy of education.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author(s)/editor(s)
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Acknowledgements
  • Introduction
  • Part I
  • Chapter 1 Semiotics and Education
  • Chapter 2 Charles S. Peirce’s List of Categories and Taxonomy of Signs
  • Chapter 3 Semiotics as Pragmatic Logic
  • Chapter 4 Education in Peirce’s Divisions of Science
  • Chapter 5 Suprasubjective Being and Suprasubjective Learning
  • Part II
  • Chapter 6 From Icon to Argument
  • Chapter 7 Diagrammatic Reasoning and Learning
  • Chapter 8 Agapic Learning
  • Part III
  • Chapter 9 The Peircean Theory of Learning and Phenomenology
  • Chapter 10 Possible Objections
  • Conclusion
  • Bibliography
  • Index

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I am indebted, first of all, to my Director of Studies, Professor Andrew Stables, and to my co-supervisor, Professor Lorella Terzi, who offered their wholehearted academic and moral support. Their sincere interest in the accomplishing of my PhD was essential.

I am also indebted to Professor Frederik Stjernfelt, Professor Costantino Marmo, Dr Derek Pigrum, Professor Winfried Nöth, and Dr Dumitru Bortun, whom I have consulted on various topics that are essential for this book.

I would also like to express my gratitude for their support to Professor Solomon Marcus, Dr Vladimir Cvetkovic, Dr Carmen Cvetkovic, Dr Inna Semetsky, Dr Eetu Pikkarainen, Professor Torill Strand, Dr Sebastien Pesce, Professor Christiane Moro, Dr Andreas Andreopoulos, Dr Waldmir Araujo-Neto, and Professor Charles Lock.

My family’s wholehearted support was essential.

Note: the following abbreviations are used in the text when referring to Charles S. Peirce’s work. Please see the Bibliography for full details.

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A. The main argument

This monograph advances a theory of learning grounded in the semiotics of Charles S. Peirce. It develops a teleological semiotic view of education, thus approaching learning and education in terms of signification phenomena. On the grounds of Peirce’s pragmaticism and his semiotic terminology, the theory is a thoroughly philosophical expression of the critical common-sense opinion that only love is a purpose in itself. One of the central assumptions is that any growth can only be a going out of the self (an ecstasy). As such, the self has to focus on a non-self, on the other, in order to evolve. Therefore, to expand a self’s knowledge by learning is to go out of the self, towards the other, towards the knowledge of the other and her intention of sharing her knowledge. Teaching is characterized by the same movement: going out of the self, reaching for the other’s knowledge with the intention of giving, of offering, whatever the self has to offer (be it second degree equations, Kantian deontology, information about the weather, or chocolate). As such, learning, education, research and all other human endeavours are justified by and have solely this rationale: to fulfil the principle of love. The main argument is that learning, as well generally as in educational contexts, is only possible as a manifestation of love. This is supported on the ground that learning can only occur freely, being a phenomenon of discovery of similarities, and love is characterized by freedom. Following a Peircean argumentation, I explain that the learning-education-research continuity is an embodiment of signification that reflects its underpinning principles of cosmological and biological evolution. ← 1 | 2 →

B. Autobiography

How did the idea of writing such a text on Peirce, education, and love come about? If the author of the work would not trust his own argument, autobiography would claim that the work was written by itself, slaloming through contemporary ideas in semiotics. Though, in the spirit of the present work itself, I shall declare that my maîtres à penser wrote it. It is only in the shortcomings of the developed theory that the author’s own mark is felt.

The prelude of this book’s journey is the MA thesis which I wrote in 2011 while I was a student at the Centre for Semiotics, at Aarhus University. I am very grateful to Professor Frederik Stjernfelt who accepted to supervise my thesis The History of the Concept of Icon. Frederik offered me his full support. Due to his seminars at Aarhus University and his work, Diagrammatology (2007), I developed a strong interest for Charles Peirce and for the role of icons in signification and, particularly, in learning. Therefore, I wrote a thesis in which I explored the history of the idea of icon, from late antiquity to early modernity. The purpose of the investigation was to find the roots of Peirce’s concept of icon. I am also indebted to Professor Costantino Marmo whose course on the History of Semiotics, which I undertook at the University of Bologna, was essential for writing that thesis. By undertaking this study I confirmed all the more my idea that the icon sign type is particularly relevant for learning and that it should become a major interest in philosophy of mind (which, in contemporary semiotics, should be understood as equivalent to embodiment philosophy). As such, I became interested in the works of Professor Andrew Stables, who was recruiting research students for the doctorate Semiotics as Foundation for Philosophy of Education, then at the University of Bath. The present monograph is a meliorated version, with a more personal input, of the PhD thesis which I wrote, supervised by Professor Andrew Stables. The monograph brings a stronger personal voice, with the addition of more thorough explanations of my own understanding of the developed arguments, but does not lack the academic and philosophical rigour of the PhD. This is one of the necessary strengths of a philosophical work on Peirce’s ← 2 | 3 → thought on education. Peirce’s terminology appears quite difficult, rigorous and at times peculiar. His vast scholarship and comprehensive writings in the context of our contemporary effort to understand his thought urge the Peircean scholar to academic rigour.

The PhD was eventually completed at the University of Roehampton. The first year of this PhD consisted of further explorations of the concept of icon and of twentieth-century semiotics and semiology. Andrew encouraged me to investigate as much and as broadly as I liked. His supervision was vital. We met often and discussed the thesis thoroughly. Our conversations guided my writing and influenced not only the thesis, but my whole self. Andrew quickly became a maître à penser and a friend. Our regular conversations have been essential to completing this work.

I engaged in dialogue with many scholars who influenced me, such as Winfried Nöth, Eetu Pikkarainen, Inna Semetsky, Torril Strand, Sebastien Pesce and Charles Lock. Among the many scholars that helped me on the path of writing this work, a particularly important input was given by my two co-supervisors Lorella Terzi, especially on matters of phenomenology and semiology, and Derek Pigrum, on matters of aesthetics and schematic signification. The second year of the PhD consisted of a struggle to write down in a systematized form the many ideas piling up. Several conferences of the Education and Semiotics Network provided new insights. A confirmation that I was looking in the right direction was the 8th conference of the Nordic Association of Semiotic Studies, in 2013, which had the topic of Sign Evolution. My investigations had led me precisely to this topic. I was trying to develop an approach to learning as evolution of signification, starting from the icon sign type. The conversations on Peirce which I had at this conference with Francesco Bellucci are embodied in the present book.

At the beginning of the third year of the PhD I had accumulated many more or less organized ideas, but I could not see a PhD thesis coming into structure. I knew that the work would be an apology for anti-dualist postmodernism, promoting a philosophy of education driven by an understanding of learning as free play (icon manipulation). My readings of various phenomenologist authors, such as Paul Florensky and Emmanuel Levinas, started to spin around the interrelation of love and learning. In the autumn ← 3 | 4 → of 2013 I read Fr Nicholas Sakharov’s work I love therefore I am (2002).1 Curiously, without referring directly to it, the present monograph was strongly influenced by Sakharov’s work. In his work I found a new answer to dismissing modern dualism, namely an ontology of love where personhood is a manifestation of love. As such learning should be personal:

[Martin Buber] defines scientific knowledge in terms of the “I-it” detached analysis of things, but when the knowledge of the other person is involved, then I-Thou knowledge presupposes “total involvement and participation of the whole self”.2 (p. 44)

This determined me to read Peirce’s paper which I had avoided until then, namely Evolutionary Love (1893). It is here that I found the central argument that collects Peirce’s understanding of learning. This paper was written at the beginning of Peirce’s most intellectually fertile period. It marks the moment when Peirce’s semiotics had reached full maturity. The idea which Peirce developed here is coherent with the approaches to love that I had found in the mentioned phenomenologists. In this paper Peirce explained his understanding of an evolutionary cosmology, evolving from chance to necessity and to love. These three criteria of evolution account for learning and explain it not as a cold, isolated operation of mind or senses or both. Learning appears here as a personal endeavor. This was my experience of learning as well. Learning for me has been my personal relation with my professors, who became mentors, of whom I would strive to become a disciple. Peirce’s idea of agapistic evolution became the core argument of a PhD thesis entitled A Peircean Theory of Learning. My thesis also benefitted from my dialogue with other scholars, such as Solomon Marcus, Jordan Zlatev, and John Deely. I am very grateful to Suzy Harris and Paul Standish who examined my PhD and provided many valuable insights and suggestions. ← 4 | 5 →

Writing this monograph was possible first of all due to Andrew Stables. His supervision of my PhD was not a mere detached tutorial practice, but a personal engagement with me. He has shown genuine interest in the success of this research and he has shared with me all the aspects of the life behind the research – joys, frustrations, patience, efforts.

I consider that love, as general as it is, should be further explored in relation to learning, especially in an educational context. I consider that love is to be found as the basis of learning between the lines of many authors, from all ages, among which I mention Paul Florensky, St Augustine (in Confessions), Emmanuel Levinas, Martin Buber, Erich Fromm, John of the Cross.


VIII, 282
ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2015 (June)
philosophy education edusemiotics biosemiotics
Oxford, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, New York, Wien, 2015. VIII, 282 pp., 4 b/w ill.

Biographical notes

Alin Olteanu (Author)

Alin Olteanu holds a PhD in Philosophy of Education from the University of Roehampton. He is a member of the Semiotics and Education Network and an active researcher in these fields. His other main research interests are diagrammatic reasoning, the history of semiotics, phenomenology and medieval philosophy.


Title: Philosophy of Education in the Semiotics of Charles Peirce