Interpreter and Interpretant • Discussion

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Jon Awbrey

Feb 1, 2024, 4:56:32 PMFeb 1
to Conceptual Graphs, Cybernetic Communications, Laws of Form, Structural Modeling, SysSciWG
Interpreter and Interpretant • Discussion 1

Re: Conceptual Graphs

Helmut Raulien:
❝I find it a bit problematic to say, that the sign determines the
interpretant, because the sign doesn't infer, it is the interpreter,
who does the inference. But ok, I guess we might say, that Peirce
prescinds the semiosis from the interpreter, so, ok, the flow of
determination goes from the sign to the interpretant, because it
is the interpreter, who receives the sign, and then forms the
interpretant […]❞


Thanks for this. Something about the way you expressed
the question led me to think of a new angle on it.

What makes an interpretant is fairly simple, at least, here's
the catch, once you have the appropriate mathematical framework
in place — An interpretant is whatever appears in the third place
of a sign‑relational triple (o, s, i).

What makes an interpreter is more complex.
I'll take that up as I get more time.

Resources —

Pragmatic Maxim

Hypostatic Abstraction




Jon Awbrey

Feb 3, 2024, 1:08:29 PMFeb 3
to Conceptual Graphs, Cybernetic Communications, Laws of Form, Structural Modeling, SysSciWG
Interpreter and Interpretant • Discussion 2

Re: Interpreter and Interpretant • Selection 1

Figure 1. The Sign Relation in Aristotle

Re: Laws of Form • Lyle Anderson

LA: You can not find “ground” in Aristotle.
If the past three years have shown us
anything it is that his assertion:

❝But the mental affections themselves, of which these words
are primarily signs (semeia), are the same for the whole of
mankind, as are also the objects (pragmata) of which those
affections are representations or likenesses, images, copies

LA: Is just plain wrong. The whole of mankind does not have the
same “mental affectations”, some are sane and some are insane.


What prompted the present review of basic issues in semiotics was
a couple of recent instances where one of the most nagging questions
in the whole field reared its shaggy head again. As I posed it this
time around —

❝In a theory of three‑place relations among objects, signs,
and interpretant signs, where indeed is there any place
for the interpretive agent?❞

It's best to take the Selections I gathered not as Scripture but
as case studies in the conduct of inquiry where the inquirers in
question managed to capture significant features of the way triadic
sign relations structure the phenomena of cognition, communication,
and computation. No one in science gets everything right all the
time, much less at first, but first approximations taken for what
they're worth prime the pump of stepwise refinement in semiotics
as in computer science.

In that spirit, Susan Awbrey and I summed up our estimation of
Aristotle's Approximation to the Sign Relation in the following way.

<QUOTE Awbrey & Awbrey:>
Aristotle's description contains two claims of constancy, that ideas and
objects are the same for all interpreters. This view does not allow for
the plurality and mutability of interpreters, two features that we must
be concerned with in hermeneutics and education. John Dewey expresses
this point well:

<QUOTE Dewey:> ❝Thinking is specific, in that different things suggest their
own appropriate meanings, tell their own unique stories, and in that they do
this in very different ways with different persons.❞ (Dewey 1910/1991, 39).

However, this account of Aristotle's may be considered in part a reasonable
approximation and in part a suggestive metaphor, suitable as a first approach
to a complex subject. (Awbrey and Awbrey, 1992/1995).

References —

Aristotle, “On Interpretation” (De Interp.), Harold P. Cooke (trans.),
pp. 111–179 in Aristotle, Volume 1, Loeb Classical Library, William
Heinemann, London, UK, 1938.

Awbrey, J.L., and Awbrey, S.M. (1995), “Interpretation as Action : The Risk
of Inquiry”, Inquiry : Critical Thinking Across the Disciplines 15(1), 40–52.


Awbrey & Awbrey 1995 • Figure 1.png

Jon Awbrey

Feb 5, 2024, 4:08:39 PMFeb 5
to Conceptual Graphs, Cybernetic Communications, Laws of Form, Structural Modeling, SysSciWG
Interpreter and Interpretant • Discussion 3

Re: Interpreter and Interpretant • Selection 4

Figure 2. Dewey's “Sign of Rain” Example

Re: Conceptual Graphs • Tom Gollier

❝Given your diagram of Dewey's example, I don't see how the event of rain
can be the object (O). The objects seem more clearly to be the air and
the clouds which in their coolness and darkness are being taken as signs (S).
The event of rain is only included in this situation via the interpretant (I),
the thought to the likelihood of rain.

❝What's more, the ambiguity of this interpretant, being both a “thought
of the likelihood of rain” and the object, “rain”, might be a clue to
getting at the nature of the interpretant in general as we move along?❞


The meaning of the word “object” in pragmatic thought is another one
of those topics we keep circling back to. There are more thought‑out
thoughts I shared in my early days on the Peirce List, but since this
very issue arose just recently in other discussions I'll save myself
a modicum of mental effort by linking to my latest attempts to clarify
the point.

The object of reasoning is to find out …

I can think of no better beginning than to meditate on Peirce's object
in using the word “object” as he does in the following two statements.

❝No longer wondered what I would do in life but defined my object.❞

— C.S. Peirce (1861), “My Life, written for the Class-Book”,
(Chronological Edition 1, 3)

❝The object of reasoning is to find out, from the consideration
of what we already know, something else which we do not know.❞

— C.S. Peirce (1877), “The Fixation of Belief”, (Collected Papers 5.365)

If the object of an investigation is to find out something
we do not know then the clues we discover along the way are
the signs which determine that object.

People will continue to be confused about determination so long as they
can think of no other forms but analytic-behaviorist-causal-dyadic-temporal,
object-as-stimulus, sign-as-response varieties. It's true ordinary language
biases us toward billiard‑ball styles of dyadic determination but there are
triadic forms of constraint, determination, and interaction not captured by
S‑R chains of that order.

Pragmatic objects of signs and concepts are anything we talk or think about
and semiosis does not conduct its transactions within the bounds of object
as cue, sign as cue ball, and interpretants as solids, stripes, and pockets.

References —
Dewey, J. (1910), How We Think, D.C. Heath, Boston, MA.
Reprinted (1991), Prometheus Books, Buffalo, NY.

Peirce, C.S. (1859–1861), “My Life, written for the Class-Book”, pp. 1–3 in
Writings of Charles S. Peirce : A Chronological Edition, Volume 1, 1857–1866,
Peirce Edition Project, Indiana University Press, Bloomington, IN, 1982.

Peirce, C.S. (1877), “The Fixation Of Belief”, Popular Science Monthly 12
(Nov 1877), pp. 1–15. Reprinted in Collected Papers, CP 5.358–387.



Dewey's Sign of Rain Example.jpg

Jon Awbrey

Feb 6, 2024, 1:10:29 PMFeb 6
to Conceptual Graphs, Cybernetic Communications, Laws of Form, Structural Modeling, SysSciWG
Interpreter and Interpretant • Discussion 4

Another discussion coming to mind is one we had on this subject
in 2016. Once again I'll save a measure of strain on my brain
by repeating that here and picking up from that point.

Re: Peirce List • Tom Gollier

I know we've discussed the various meanings of the word “object”
which make sense in Peirce's semiotics and pragmatism generally,
so let me just link to a recent comment I found in my search for
previous mentions.

Objects, Objectives, Objectivity

I am constantly reminded of the following line from Peirce.

“No longer wondered what I would do in life but defined my object.”

— C.S. Peirce (1861), “My Life, written for the Class-Book” (CE 1, 3)

The question of Objects, Objectives, and Objectivity is a persistent one.

The Latin-rooted English “object” springs from deeper roots in
the Greek “pragma”. It was a personal revelation to me on first
looking into Liddell and Scott and reading all the meanings and
ramifications of that vast pragmatic semantic complex.

It is especially the senses of the word “object” referring
to aims and purposes, in other words, intentional objects and
objects of intention, that we are likely to miss if we don't
remind ourselves of their pertinence to pragmatic thinking.

Keeping that variety of meanings in mind, a few more words
may help to clarify the reading from last time ...

1. There are of course the usual run of behaviorist, causal,
stimulus-response theories of “signal processing” and
“verbal behavior” that have enjoyed their popularity and
never-say-die revivals from the days of Charles Morris
to B.F. Skinner, but Peirce's semiotics includes them as
degenerate species of the more solid genre he had in mind.

2. Peirce's definition of a triadic sign relation is cast at such
a level of generality that nothing in it prevents a sign relation
L ⊆ O × S × I from having intentional objects in its object domain O.

3. To say that coolness is a sign of rain is a perfectly natural
statement in English and I think it would be a more troubling
narrowness to exclude it from sense.

4. Semiotic objects are any objects of discussion or thought.
It should be obvious that we talk and think about future,
imaginary, intentional, or “virtual” objects all the time.

5. The fact that coolness might be a sign of many other things
is exactly what calls for our peripatetic hero to abduce a
hypothesis (rain?), to deduce a prediction (dark clouds?),
and to test the prediction against further observations
(look up!). All of those features are why we chose Dewey's
story as an illustration of a full-blown inquiry.

Reference —

It helps to read “object” in a fuller sense than we often do in
billiard-ball philosophies, as a lot gets lost in the translation
from the Greek “pragma” from which pragmatism naturally takes its cue.
For a sample of that fuller sense see the following lexicon entry.

πρᾶγμα • Liddell and Scott (1925/1940), A Greek-English Lexicon


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