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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 8: Immediate and Dynamical Object


8.1. Introduction

The previous chapters have shown how the distinction between Icons, Indices and Symbols depends on the nature of the link between the Sign and the semiotical Object. It has been concluded that the link between the Sign and the Object is selected according to a precise aim. It is not a relation that simply occurs and that the sign’s user discovers. The analysis of the Iconic Sign and the Indexical Sign has shown that even already existing relations require a reference to a possible criterion of use, in order to be selected as relevant. The previous existence of a relation among things is a presupposition for the emergence of a semiotic relation (iconic or indexical), but it is not yet the semiotic relation itself.

On the other side, the semiotic relation is not arbitrarily posed. The concept of Interpretant indicates that the selection of precisely that relation (among the infinite possible ones) is meaningful only if it is teleologically directed, that is if the assumption of that relation has a bearing on future, expected and desired, consequences, a bearing that otherwise cannot be granted. This is not simply a practical question, a matter of utility. Let us think to Peirce’s definition of reality: Since reality is the content of a final established opinion, the very possibility for a sign to grasp a part of the reality depends on the sign’s bearing on the establishment of the final opinion. This has been shown...

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