I believe we both agree that "the book of the world" is full of mysterious
signs, and to read it we need to know its language, syntax, grammar,
semantics and pragmatics, how to apply its rules and regularities for human
goods. Here are the ontological assumptions on signs with some
1. there are things that are just things but which MAY have meanings (the
things of the
external world, as all sorts of indications, evidences, symptoms, and
2. there are signs that ALWAYS have senses and meanings (the entities of the
mind and the natural signs of the physical world causally related);
3.there are signs that HAVE to get their meanings (as cultural symbols and
Some comments below
----- Original Message -----
From: "John F. Sowa" <sowa@xxxxxxxxxxx>
Sent: Friday, August 20, 2010 9:39 PM
Subject: Re: [ontolog-forum] Triadic Sign Relations (01)
> I'd just like to comment on those three points:
>> 1. There are things that are just things, not any sign at all;
>> 2. There are things that are also signs of other things
>> (as natural signs of the physical world and mental
>> signs of the mind);
>> 3. There are things that are always signs, as languages
>> (natural and artificial) and other cultural nonverbal
>> symbols, as documents, money, ceremonies, and rites.
> Let's start with a something fairly simple, such as a cup of coffee.
> Is that an example of point #1 -- "just things, not any sign at all" ?
> I'll admit that the configuration of a cup with some liquid in it
> exists outside of our minds. But how does the idea of a cup of coffee
> get into the mind? What kind of idea gets into the mind? And what
> causes that idea to get there?
> Is it the the visual pattern? The smell? The taste? The weight
> of the cup when you pick it up? The heat of the coffee, the flow
> from the cup into the mouth and down the esophagus? The memory
> of previous cups of coffee? The contrast with other food or drink
> in the same situation or in similar (or different) situations in
> the past? Is it the entire configuration of all those aspects,
> or is it just some aspect or selection from them?
> That brings us to Peirce's observation: All knowledge comes
> from signs.
AA: Agree, if he meant empirical knowledge
For something as simple as a cup of coffee, it
> might exist independently of us, but we can't know anything
> about it without signs. As Peirce said, everything that we
> perceive is a source of one or more signs that give evidence
> of its existence and at least some aspects of its nature.
> If the lights are out, we can't see the coffee, but we might be
> able to smell it. But if we're outdoors at night and the wind
> is blowing away from the coffee, we can't see it or smell it.
> Without some signs and the means for transmitting them, we
> can have no knowledge about it.
> As Peirce said, everything that we perceive is a source of one
> or more signs that give evidence of its existence and at least
> some aspects of its nature. Those signs are natural (i.e.,
> not conventional).
AA: Here is another example, a new quintessence, "dark energy" and "dark
matter", supposedly constiting 74 % and 22 % of the physical universe.
Currently, both of them are just things, and not any sign at all.
> For point #2, the question of "other" is not clear. Is the
> sight of the coffee or the smell of the coffee some "other"
Yes. Considering that "a sign as a thing which not only causes something
else to come into mind, but it also acts on the senses" to create the senses
and meanings in the percieving mind.
Where do you draw the distinction between the "same"
> thing and some "other" thing that is a sign of it?
AA: A sign appears as a property, character, characteristics, attribute,
index, indication, mark, portent, prognostic, token or type of this
"something else." (a smoke vapor and the coffee substance)
> For point #3, the question of what is "always" a sign is
> not clear? Are there any things that could not be signs?
AA: That's right concern. They have to get their meanings as being
intentionally devised for the purpose of signifying and human communication.
Although conventional signs are partly artificial, created by human
institution and convention, and partly natural due to human constitution,
mental and physical.
> If so, how would we know about them?
> And how is the sign related to the person who perceives it?
AA: We have to see natural signs as a system, related as cause and effect or
part and whole, according to our experience and knowledge, be it the
knowledge of plants, soil, animals, topography, or night sky. More knowledge
of natural regularities, more capacity to read the mysterious "Book of
> If I take a walk in the woods, I might enjoy the experience,
> but there are huge numbers of signs that I miss.
> An expert hunter, for example, would immediately point out
> signs of all kinds of animals that had passed by and left
> tracks, bent twigs, and scratches that I had never seen.
> A biologist could point out all kinds of interdependencies among
> the plants and animals and the subtle signs that show them.
> A geologist would note how the color of the soil, the rocks,
> and the shape of the hills were related to the geological
> formations and to the effects of glaciers that had covered
> the ground thousands of years ago.
> The number of signs are endless. And the same leaf or scratch
> on the ground could be interpreted by the hunter, the biologist,
> or the geologist in very different ways for very different reasons.
> In short, everything we know and believe is the result of signs of
> signs of signs.
AA: That's just right. But we need to systematize their relationships, to
know the syntax.
We interpret linguistic signs on the basis of other
> pre-linguistic signs, and those linguistic signs enable us to re-
> interpret the natural signs in many more ways than we could ever
> have discovered for ourselves.
> What I just said is "obvious" -- but most people don't think
> about it. Peirce not only thought about it, he analyzed it in
> great detail and showed how those ideas are central to all thought,
> language, reasoning -- and their study in every branch of science.
Yes. That's a really great deed.
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