Signs Conveying Information: On the Range of Peirce’s Notion of Propositions: Dicisigns

Signs Conveying Information: On the Range of Peirce’s Notion of Propositions: Dicisigns

Frederik Stjernfelt (Aarhus University, Denmark)
Copyright: © 2011 |Pages: 13
DOI: 10.4018/ijsss.2011070103
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This paper introduces Peirce’s notion of proposition, “Dicisign.” It goes through its main characteristics and argues that its strengths have been overlooked. It does not fall prey to some of the problems in the received notion of propositions (their dependence upon language, upon compositionality, upon human intention). This implies the extension of Peircean Dicisigns is wider in two respects: they comprise 1) propositions not or only partially linguistic, using instead gesture, picture, diagrams, etc.; 2) non-human propositions in biology studied by biosemiotics.
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Peirce’s notion of “Dicisigns” has led a strangely silent life in Peirce reception. It is, of course, Peirce’s notion for propositions, and the central place of that notion in the development of 20 C logic and analytical philosophy probably has lead many Peirce scholars to presume Peirce’s notion was merely a forerunner to that development, lacking any intrinsic interest. This is not true, and the goal of this paper is to give an overview over Peirce’s notion of Dicisign as well as to highlight those aspects of it which differ from the received notion of propositions in logic and philosophy. Peirce’s notion of Dicisign includes logical propositions, and is closely related to Peirce’s many discoveries in logic – but due to Peirce’s semiotic approach to logic, he is not only, like the logic mainstram, interested in the formalization of propositions and their structures, but also takes a crucial interest in which sign types may carry propositions. This is why Peirce’s Dicisign transgresses the narrowly logical notion of propositions in at least two respects.

One is that a Peircean Dicisign needs not be expressed in language; ordinary or formal. A Dicisign may use gestures, pictures, diagrams only, or it may use such devices in combination with language. Thus, the notion of Dicisigns covers a much larger range of human semiotic activity than ordinarily conceived of in the notion of propositions (it is true that most often, logic does not consider that range, focusing instead on logical properties of propositions and propositional content, however expressed) – it gives a much broader idea of which human activities implies claiming something to be the case.

The other extension in the notion of Dicisigns as compared to propositions is that Dicisigns, not being confined to language, also cover animal communication and lower biological sign use studied by biosemiotics. This should not come as a great surprise: communication of any sort couldn’t possible reach any high degree of efficiency if it is not able to indicate things to be the case, such as a central property of Dicisigns. Many of the biological cases, however, do not imply that the signs used correspond to conscious, deliberate claims on the part of a communicating or signifying biological agent – which is probably why many scholars immediately refrain from considering the possibility of Dicisigns in biology.

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