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Telos and Object

The relation between sign and object as a teleological relation in the semiotics of Charles S. Peirce


Luca Russo

The semiotics of Charles S. Peirce is conceived as an essential part of a comprehensive philosophical outlook. The study of signs is carried on for its bearing on the knowledge of reality; therefore the relation of signs to objects is the core concern of Peirce’s semiotics. This study looks at this question on the background of Peirce’s philosophical system, individuating in the theories of reality and of knowledge the key issues which allow a philosophically grounded definition of the sign-object relation. The concepts of teleology and of final cause reveal themselves to be the essential conception which emerges from these two issues. The underlying teleological tendencies in the use of signs justify their gnoseological reliableness.

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Chapter 3: The Essence of the Triadic Structure of Signs: The Role of the Interpretant


3.1. Why does the Semiotic Structure require three Relates? A Justification of the Interpretant

So far, the reasons why Peirce’s three elements could be considered the appropriate members of the triadic relation have been taken into consideration. Yet a more fundamental question should be asked, namely whether it is really necessary for the sign-relation to consist of three relates. Does it not suffice to say that the semiotic relation is a relation between a sign and that for which is stands? Would not be a third element superfluous? Usually, the focus of such objections is the interpretant, although some have argued that the unnecessary element of the triad is the object.301 This second issue will be treated later, since a solution involves the distinction between the immediate and dynamic Object. In this chapter, the necessity for a triadic structure including the interpretant as third relate will be defended.

At first, a justification for the notion of ‘interpretant’ is that it is insufficient to say that the sign “is in relation” to something or that it “stands for” something. It must also be specified what the relation consists in, or in which sense the sign stands for its Object. This could easily be conceded for conventional signs: the relation between the sign and its Object, in fact, is in this case given by the fact that the sign is understood as standing in for something else. Without the concourse of an interpreting mind (and maybe,...

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